Monday, February 28, 2011

Filling the Silence

It was 7th period at the continuation high school. We spent the period reading a play (well, actually a teleplay of this). After, they had questions to answer. During the last five minutes of class, I collected the packets with the play and their work. Then, dead silence.

It was eerie. They were all sitting in class, staring at me. Most other classes get into groups and talk for that last couple minutes, but not these kids. The silence stretched out...

"Someone, tell a joke..." 

Of course, none of them got the reference. I had to explain it to them (although I forgot the correct name of the movie...). I told them it was a good movie. I told them they should seek it out and see it. They just stared at me.

Generally, I'm okay with silence. When they were working on the questions, the silence was great. And I don't mind having their eyes on me, especially while I'm explaining something or giving instructions. But we were done. I didn't need their undivided attention.

I tried other things. Did they have a good weekend? Nothing. What did they think of the play we read? Again, nothing.

Then the bell rang. And they were gone.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Over My Head

I got called to cover chemistry this morning. I figured that I knew enough to handle whatever assignment they had. But then I got to school, and I got a look at the assigned worksheet.

The first question was to find the definition of solvation. Now, I've heard of solvents and solutes, but solvation? They had 60 questions about water and solutions, and most of the questions looked foreign to me. And, it was multiple choice.

The first two classes were honors. I followed along as they worked through the questions, looking things up in the textbook as I could. I found a few of the answers. I knew that I wasn't going to be much help to them.

"What's the formula for salt?"

I knew that one. I replied: "NaCl".

I didn't hear the question, but a girl at another table said to her table mate, "She went to college." I assume that the first girl wondered how I knew that. I didn't see what the big deal was.  The girl at the table that wanted the formula explained, "Ms. D. went over this yesterday, and I still don't remember it."

I guess I know more than I thought. At least I didn't make a fool of myself trying to do their worksheet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Aspiring to be a Bum

Jake and Evan in the same class? I should have seen this coming. 

They didn't want to do the math worksheet (two-step algebra problems with fractions). Too easy. I reminded them that any work completed would help them get math credits. They need something like 20 math credits to graduate. 

Jake explained that he didn't want to graduate. When he turns 17 1/2, he's going to drop out. Then he intends to become a bum. (If I believed any of this, I might have been more concerned.) 

Evan then said he wanted to be a bum, too. Jake and Evan congratulated each other, and they promised to share a box under the freeway. 

Jake told us of his future bum plans. He planned to beg for change outside the local McDonald's. As soon as he got enough, he'd go inside and buy something. Then he'd go back outside and repeat the process. 

Someone (it might have been me) pointed out that it gets cold outside during the winter. It's supposed to get really cold (for us) this weekend. That didn't bother Jake. He said he'd pair up with a female bum. 

Once Jake had exhausted the bum thing, he had another story to tell. I asked if it involved math. (At this point, I knew getting them on task was probably pointless, but I had to try nonetheless.) Jake said it did. I knew if he got math into the story he'd be stretching for it, but I knew that I wasn't going to be able to stop him. (Jake can spin a story.) 

Jake was at a drug store. Some woman asked him for change. He gave her a couple dollars. She was grateful, and she told a sob story about not having money and Christmas was coming and she had children... A couple minutes later, Jake walked away and the woman drove away. She saw him on the street and called him over to her car. She asked for change. 

Jake told the woman that he had just given her change. She was a bit surprised. She told him that "you all look the same". Jake wondered what she was on that would make her short-term memory go like that. I didn't have an answer for him. 

That boy needs a blog. I told him he should write these stories down. He didn't see my point.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finding the Floor

Okay, my mind has turned to mush.

I finally finished following all my fellow Crusaders. Whew! You wouldn't think that something as simple as following others would be so hard, but just the physical act of clicking follow over 200 times...

It was a daunting task to start. It reminded me a bit of a "game" I used to play years ago when I worked retail (at a toy store that shall not be named).

There were times when my work area would be inundated with merchandise. It would take over. Boxes everywhere. It would get so bad that there was barely any room to walk. The thought of cleaning it up was too overwhelming.

The trick, of course, is to not look at the whole mess, but to take it in stages. Do a little bit at a time. Not worry about finishing the whole task, but just work on the one thing you can complete. So, bit by bit, I would get through all the boxes. Eventually, I would find the floor.

This is a nice metaphor for writing a novel as well.

Anyway, that's what I've been doing. I've been playing a blog version of Find the Floor. First, I had to follow everybody. I've finished that now. Next comes dropping by everyone's blog.

I've started the whole dropping by thing, but it's going to take some time before I get around to everyone's blog. If I do it little by little, box by box, I'll eventually get it done. I can again find the floor.

(I'm not much of a commenter, though. I only comment when I have something to say. This is true in real life, too.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Needing Help

A bunch of math teachers had a meeting today, so I got to cover algebra. Yippee.

The students were factoring quadratic equations. Ms. R. had a different way of doing this, so she made sure I understood her method before the day began. After glancing through the notes, I was up to speed pretty quickly. (It's a great way to do it. Simple and easy for the math-phobic to do once they get the hang of it. If I wasn't sure I'd bore you, I'd give details.)

At the beginning of each class, I stated that I could help if any of them needed it. I prefaced this by saying that they should look through their notes first. I think that was the problem.

It was fourth period. I walked around and helped those that needed it. But there were two at the back of the class who seemed to be doing more talking than working. As I was busy helping various students, I didn't get a chance to call them on it, at least not until near the end of the period.

I approached them in my usual manner: "Are you having some difficulty with the assignment."

They told me yes.

Yes is not the answer I usually get.  I usually get students who remember that they should be working, and they at least make a pretense of working after that. So, I followed up the question with, "Why didn't you ask me for help sooner?" I guess my "could help" sounded like "couldn't help" at the back of the room.

There was a little time, so I spent it trying to get those students up to speed. I don't think I succeeded. I didn't have the time I needed.

If only I had asked that question sooner.

**Before I finish, I need to tell what my lie was. That paper I couldn't write: 3rd grade, not 4th. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan and Jeanne both were in the right paragraph, although they didn't pinpoint the exact lie (which was such a small one anyway), so I'm giving them credit for guessing it.** 

Monday, February 21, 2011

First Crusader Challenge

It’s time for the first Crusader Challenge. Okay, I’ll play.

Secret: Sometimes I surf the Internet while I’m working. Shhh. In my defense, I only do so when I have to, such as while watching a movie for the 5th time. And only if I’m not having behavior issues. I have to do something or else I might lose my mind.

Interesting quirk/annoying habit: Which is which? I’m not sure, so I’ll let you decide.

I use “big words” all the time. (I had no idea what fuliguline meant, but I had heard the word bloviate before.) This annoys the students, but most of the time I don’t realize I’m doing it. Someone has to tell me, and then I don’t understand. “That was a ‘big word’?”

I have to load the dishwasher in a specific way, and I will pull things out and put them back to make sure that it’s loaded “correctly”. The cups have a specific order, the knife blades must be aligned, and the plates have only one spot they can be in.

As for a best character trait… I have no idea. I’m not good at praising myself. It’s so bad that back in the 4th grade when we had a writing assignment called “What is special about me,” I couldn’t do it. I stared at that paper for an hour, and I didn’t write a thing. It was the only assignment that I didn’t do that year. So, sorry, I can’t answer that one.

Favorite thing: I love to make things. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I have a finished object. I make many of my Christmas presents, like this past year I made a soft rabbit-shaped pillow for my baby nephew.

I may have revealed something about me that isn’t strictly true. Can you guess what it is?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Keeping Track of Attendance

"Can you sign permission slips?"

Normally, the answer is no, but today they were having a special assembly second period only for students who had permission. Since I was the teacher for the day, I figured I was authorized to give that permission. (And I was so thrilled that I didn't have to go!)

It was selfish on my part. This was a two-day assignment, so I had already dealt with second period, and it wasn't good. They were watching a movie. I spent much of class time on top of talking students. I figured with a few of them out of the room, I might have a better chance at keeping the class quiet. It turned out I was right.

During the passing period, a few other students came in with their permission slips. I signed all of them. I didn't really keep track. I didn't really need to. When I took roll for second period, I marked them all absent.

I sort of enjoy taking attendance. It's on the computer. They give us subs a temporary password to access the system. I click on the absent button, and poof, absent. I click on submit, and I'm done.

During the next class, after submitting attendance, I went back into second period's roll just to see. Of the nine I had marked absent, four of those "absents" had been replaced with "verified school activity". I guess their permission slips cleared. Then the period after that, the number of "verified school activity" went up to six.

Technology is so cool! It's a little game I play. I like to check back on previous classes to see if the students' absences are verified. Many times, a student I marked absent in first period will later show up as "illness". And later in the day, I'll find that I don't have to mark some students absent as the system will already show them as absent.

Yeah, I'm way too enamored of the attendance taking procedure.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A DNA Model

When I got to the classroom this morning, I found the door open. The teacher next door, Ms. S, was directing traffic. Mr. E was out sick, but the biology students' DNA model was still due. 

It's an interesting project. The students were to construct a model of part of a strand of DNA. They used different materials: some used beads, some used clay, many used Styrofoam, and a couple even used candy. I've seen this project in previous years, but usually the teacher is at school the day its due. It was interesting to get to see them as they scrambled to get it turned in on time. 

Many of the students dropped off their models before school started. Once I got to the room I took over directing traffic, and Ms. S got the video I was going to need. It was a bit of a scramble, but everything was squared away by the time the tardy bell rang. 

During class time, the students all had to look at all the models. Many complained that theirs weren't very good. When I questioned them about this, they admitted that they hadn't spent much time on theirs. I heard claims of being up late and not getting much sleep. One student didn't give herself enough time for the glue to dry. 

I asked the obvious question. How long did they know about the assignment? Two weeks. 

(As I'm writing this, it's lunch time, and two girls are examining all the projects. They told me that yesterday's sub asked how many of them had started the assignment yesterday. Maybe 3. The rest of them planned on doing the whole thing last night. Including the two girls.) 

Procrastination is alive and well in the high school. Although, it's not like this was a surprise. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finally the End

Three-day weekends aren't a good idea at the continuation high school. First period, a girl walked in and informed me that she wasn't going to be able to do any work today. Why? She was hung over.

Good thing the lesson plan was a video.

They were finishing up The Outsiders. As luck would have it, I was their sub when they started the movie a couple weeks ago. (They've been reading the book in class.) It was nice for me. I finally got to see the end! This is a rare occurrence.

Because the movie wasn't going to take all period, they had time to finish a previous assignment afterwards. I warned them about this before starting the movie.

As it was on DVD, I started the movie in the chapter just before they left off last time. I expected complaints about having to watch some stuff over. I got only one.

It was second period. One student insisted that he had not seen the part I started at. He claimed that he had not seen when the two characters got haircuts--five chapters previous.

I knew he was lying. I also knew what he was up to. If he got me back far enough, they wouldn't have time to do any writing-type work.

I would have done it, but I wanted to make sure that we got to the end today, and I didn't want to take any chances. Maybe that's too nice of me, but I didn't have to battle them today. I tend to be nicer when I don't have to battle them.

As it was, they had less than 15 minutes of book work time. And they got an excellent note.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Design Modifications

A little over a month ago, I posted a picture of the cozy I made for my nook.

nook cozy

I loved the thing. I loved the way it looked. I loved the way it felt. The cable pattern is a favorite of mine, and I was happy I had a chance to use it in something. Unfortunately, there was a flaw in the cozy. It slid down the top, leaving some of the nook exposed.

another shot of nook cozy

The whole point of the cozy was to protect the nook from dings and scratches while it was in my school bag. I decided that I needed to find a way to keep the cozy from slipping.

I didn't want to have to remake the thing. However, button holes are easy. All I was going to have to do was to rip out the edging (crocheted on after I finished the knitting, so it was a minor inconvenience). And then I'd have to figure out buttons.

But buttons were a problem. Where would I attach them? If I put them on the inside, then the nook could get scratched. If I attached them to the outside, then I'd interrupt the beautiful cable pattern.

That's when I hit upon the idea of making a strap, and then it all fell together.


Since I have an I-cord maker (because making I-cords by hand is tedious and annoying), the whole process took me about an hour. Well, it took a little longer as I was experimenting and figuring out how I wanted things to go, but once I had the procedure down, this pink cozy took me less than an hour to fix.



I like how it turned out. The cozy no longer slips. The nook is secure in my bag. I'm kind of happy at how it all turned out.

Sometimes ripping out something to fix it makes it a whole lot better.

Friday, February 11, 2011

10 Steps to a Bad Note

Here's a short list of things a class can do to tick me off: 
  1. Run in late after the tardy bell. Claim that you were sharpening your pencil by the door, even though I can clearly see the pencil sharpener, and you were nowhere near it. 
  2. Continue talking while I try to introduce myself. Don't stop when I give out the instructions for the day. 
  3. Move out of your assigned seat. I'm a sub. The class rules must not apply to me. 
  4. When I tell you to go back to your assigned seat, don't do it. Inform me that the teacher always lets you move (even though the lesson plan contradicts you). 
  5. Continue talking while I pass out the quiz. 
  6. Start talking again when you've turned in your quiz. Never mind that half the class is still working on theirs. Insist upon me loudly reminding you that there are still quizzes out and that you should not be talking. 
  7. Talk during the video. 
  8. Continue to talk during the video even after I have asked you to stop talking during the video. 
  9. When the Valentine Gram students come in, confuse them. Sure, the student they're there to sing to is absent, but they don't have to know that. Why not waste two minutes of their time acting as if the student is in class? 
  10. After the video is over, immediately turn in your notes, even though I'm clearly indicating that we're going to discuss some things you watched. 
Period 4 managed to do all of these things. I consider this "not cooperative", and I said so in my note to their teacher. 

Luckily, this was only one class. The rest of the day went very well, thank you very much. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Notes on a First Draft

I was back at the continuation high school today. English class (next door to yesterday's math class). They were beginning an essay on Of Mice and Men.

Yesterday, their teacher spent the period brainstorming the essay with them. Today they were supposed to be ready to start it. They finished the book. They had the instructions. This was the last thing they needed to do before moving on to a new topic.

Luckily, I had an incentive to get them to work. They had to complete at least two paragraphs (of a five paragraph essay) of their rough draft if they wanted to buy out.

Many of them had a hard time getting started. I offered my help, and some of them actually took me up on it.

They had a hard time figuring out what to write as their first sentence. My advice: don't. Since the first sentence, is the hardest to write, why write it first? I encouraged them to start with the second sentence and let the first sentence come to them later.

Then in 3rd period towards the end of the period, one girl told me that she was not going to finish the two paragraphs. She explained that she wanted to get them just right, and she didn't have time to do this. I reminded her that this was a first draft and it wasn't supposed to be perfect. It should be a mess. Mistakes could be made. It was more important to get something to work with to edit later than to get a pristine draft.

The girl disagreed. She said that it would be easier later if her essay was almost perfect now. Then all she would have to do would be to type up what she wrote in the first draft. I attempted to explain that spending time editing and perfecting later was a good thing, but she wasn't having any of it.

I encouraged the others to make a mess of the draft. They asked for erasers to erase mistakes. I encouraged them to draw a line through the stuff they didn't like and just continue writing. This horrified them.

I find this with students all the time (especially middle school students, but high school students too). They'll spend ten minutes erasing something rather than crossing it out and moving on. While there are some circumstances where the thing they turn in should be pretty pristine, many times the assignment doesn't necessarily need to be completely blemish free.

Some of them finished two paragraphs and stopped working. Some of them got a complete first draft done.

A couple of them asked me to read their essays. I had to be careful not to go all grammar police on them (I can get brutal). I wanted to encourage them. Mostly, they had done a fairly good job.

They have a couple more days to work on this. I was glad to see that mostly they made good progress. (I guess the buyout carrot worked.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ninja Skills

I was at the continuation high school today. Math class. The students do all their work on computers. They access their textbook and work through the problems at their own pace. The program has animated examples, so the students pretty much work on their own all period.

My job was to assist when the students got stuck (sometimes they had a hard time understanding the examples) and to check off the assignments on their sheets when they finished. They had to get at least 70% correct on each before they got credit. Many managed to get through two or three sections during class.

The computers were set up along the three walls of the class. The front wall was where the teacher's desk was. When the students were working, their backs were to the front of class, so I could see what was on their computers, but they would have to turn around to see me.

One student raised her hand. I checked off her assignment; she got 100%, so I initialed her paper. Two students over, one boy was having a conversation that was inappropriate for class.

I wasn't really listening. All I heard was the F-bomb. So, I called him on it. And I shocked him.

"Man, you've got ninja skills."

He didn't realize that I was right behind him. He hadn't heard me. And I guess he didn't feel me behind him.

I played like I heard the entire conversation (it was more fun that way), and I reminded him that he shouldn't be saying such things in class. (I couldn't really pull the "get to work" bit that I usually pull as he was on task at that moment. His side conversation was more of a random comment.) Then I walked away.

It's fun to catch students off guard like that. It happens to me a lot. They'll say something and then realize that I heard every word. Their reactions are priceless.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

On Joining the Crusade

I'm not working today. I was kind of glad not to be called. Another migraine hit last night, and it's nice to have today to get all the way through it.

This gives me the perfect opportunity to mention that I'm joining the Second Writer's Platform-Building Crusade. It sounds like a great opportunity to meet other bloggers and find new blogs. I hope you're planning on joining as well.

I have some writing to do, and then I'm going to take it easy today. The headache is mostly gone, but I don't want a reappearance any time soon.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Great Ideas

Today I covered government and economics classes. I like subbing for this teacher and not just because she has seniors. She's organized. And her classroom is full of interesting ideas. Some of them are kind of brilliant, so I thought I'd share.

Her classroom setup has all the chairs facing the middle of the room with a long aisle down the center. When she passes out handouts, she gives a bunch to the front corner of each side. They pass them back, and whatever is left over goes in a tray marked "extras" that is at the back of the room. This tray is an easy reach for the students who sit back there. Then later, all I have to do is go and collect the extras.

Today's worksheet was of the class set variety. In the top right hand corner, there was an icon of a pencil with the circle and line through it. Under this icon was the statement: "Class set. Do not write on this. Return to teacher at the end of the period."

On one side of the room, there was a station where the students could get any handouts that they might have missed due to an absence. There was a file folder which contained handouts. There was a list of the work that was still outstanding. And there was an inbox for late work.

My favorite thing in the room, though, was the restroom pass setup. She had a timer that was specifically made for restroom passes. Above this was a white board. When a student left the room, he/she wrote his/her name on the white board, and then he/she took the timer with them. The timer counted how long each student was out of the room. And it was very easy to look up and see who was not in the room at the time.

These were only a couple of several clever ideas. I bet these make her days so much easier.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Baby Bridges

I have been semi-aware of this game for some time. It's one of those things that gets referenced at times when I can't follow up. Or, I hear a bit of it, and I put a stop to it. It wasn't until yesterday that someone finally explained the rules to me, and I thought I'd share.  

As they have a normal conversation, the kids are not allowed to use the letter B. I don't know why they chose B,  although there was one day when another letter was chosen (I think it was F that day). If one of them says a word containing said B, all the others in the group get to sock him/her in the arm (hence why I frown on this game in class).  

If, however, the person realizes that he/she used a B somewhere, if he/she immediately says, "baby bridges," the B is erased, and no hitting occurs.  

I wonder about things like this. Where did it come from? How long have they been doing it? (I don't recall noticing it before this school year.) How widespread is the adoption of the game?  

I'll be keeping an ear out for random "baby bridges" from now on. I wonder how long this fad will last.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Busted by Sis

It's been chilly all week, but by sixth period the classroom can be a bit stuffy. Today, I left the door propped open to let in a little fresh air.

The students are all supposed to be in class, but the occasional student will walk by. One teacher took a class up to the library, and as they passed, one of the students jumped up, caught a branch on a tree, and did a pull up. This got a reaction from my group. The girls started a discussion about the boy's looks; they decided that he was not attractive.

Occasionally, the students in the room will wave hello to the students who pass by. Since these things tend to not take much time, I don't bother too much with it. But when one girl called out loudly to someone on the outside, I was concerned.

The girl in class yelled at the boy outside. "What are you doing there? Aren't you supposed to be in class? Come back here!"

The boy outside passed from view. Then I got an explanation.

The boy was the girl's little brother. She saw him walking with his girlfriend, and to her it looked like they were ditching. She knew that he should have been in class and not walking around campus, and she was not pleased.

I have a feeling that boy is going to get it at home tonight.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Racist Assignment

"It's too much work. That's racist."

It was a large assignment. They were supposed to do definitions, notes, section reviews, and problems. (8th grade science: the section was on molecules and compounds.) The assignment encompassed two chapters, each having two sections apiece. I would have been surprised if any of them were able to finish.

But racist?

Certain students throw out the racist card frequently, and this student fit the stereotype. He was in the isolation seat. He did little work. I had to keep after him to keep him in his seat, to keep him from bothering others, and to keep him from disrupting the class.

When I questioned his assessment ("How can the science work be racist?"), he pointed out the racial make up of the class. Since there weren't any white students, the teacher was clearly being racist against the class by giving them too much to do. Then the student proceeded to count the number of minority students (who were in the majority in the room).

The accusation was ridiculous. The assignment had nothing to do with the racial make up of the class. I attempted to explain that there were white students in other periods, and they were getting the exact same assignment. The student didn't believe me, and he continued tallying the various Latinos, African-Americans, and others (I think we had a Pacific Islander or two).

The student population is fairly racially diverse. I don't pay much attention to race, or at least I try not to. Today, it had nothing to do with the difference between a compound and a mixture. The student didn't see it that way.

I walked away from the student after reminding him that he needed to get his work done. He continued counting the students of various races. The rest of the class ignored him.

At the end of the period, I glanced at the student's notebook. He had barely done two questions. I was not surprised.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Pleasant Surprise

The worst thing I can say about today's groups was that they talked a bit too much. For 8th graders, that's high praise. 

Things were a bit chaotic when I got to school. All I found in the classroom was a hastily written note on a Post-It with Monday's lesson plans. I was just about in panic mode when a neighboring teacher came by with the lesson plans for today. 

So, I was kinda expecting to have to do battle with the students. I was pleasantly surprised. 

It was third period, and they were talking. I walked the room to make sure that they were on task. Several students had the same complaint: their teacher gives them too much work. I listened, but I didn't have much sympathy. 

I hear all sorts of complaints about the class' teacher on a daily basis. Sometimes I can see their point. Sometimes I've met the teacher, and I agree with them (inwardly--I can't say such things to the students). But today, I did not agree with them. This teacher is obviously doing something right. 

8th graders can get wild and out-of-control so easily. It's nice when I don't have to do battle. It's wonderful when they actually do their work. 

One class even worked silently for the entire period. Silently!