Tuesday, May 31, 2016

S Minus Twenty- three

There have been school years past where the students honestly did not know when summer vacation (or any other break for that matter) actually began. when that happens, it is actually no problem to teach almost up to the end, filling the last weeks and days with sweet activities that bring the term to a satisfying close.

This year is not one of those. Returning to class after a sultry three day weekend that quite publicly kicks off the summer season was kind of challenging. Not that the kids were rude or mean-spirited, or anything of that nature. Nope, their collective sixth-soon-to-be-seventh-grade brain was simply focused elsewhere, and to be honest? I found it hard to blame them. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

One Stop

We went to our favorite grocery store today. The nearest location is a bit of a hike from our place, but it's totally worth it. With a natural food section that rivals America's Healthiest Grocery Store, an impressive international food selection, a variety of most of the beer and wine you could ever desire, amazing produce, butcher, baker, fish, and cheese, plus regular groceries at competitive, economical prices, the place is this shopper's dream.

Did I mention the prepared food? It is good enough that we almost always plan to have lunch there before we shop. Today, as we were cleaning up our table getting ready for the main event, we passed a couple sitting at a table not far from our own. Between them was a whole pecan pie and a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream, two forks and two spoons.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

So That's How It's Going to Be?

On Saturday night of the three day weekend officially kicking off summer, we decided to do the summery thing of catching up on our Marvel movies, and so we watched Deadpool on pay-per-view.

What? It had the biggest opening of any R-rated movie. Ever. It also smashed box office records for February films, over Valentine's Day weekend. Plus, Ryan Reynolds-- he was super cute with Sandra Bullock and Betty White in The Proposal.

Oh my.

The fact that we are neither prudes nor snobs did not matter. We barely even got credit for spending 8 hours a day with middle school kids, because from the opening sequence it was clear that we were strangers in this land-- the raunchy, super-violent flick was not made with us in mind.

Did we see it through? Sure. But to completely appreciate the movie I do believe we would have had to have been thirty years younger with a Y-chromosome.

The demographics are catching up with us.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Primary Source

One of the students who is interviewing me for the profile project has chosen gardening as her angle. Because they have to get some secondary quotes, she asked me who else has "seen me gardening."

My nephew, Treat, has helped me before, I told her. Since my budding journalists have a limited travel budget, most of them rely on the kindness of their subject to pass along their written questions. As it is the 21st century, some have used Google Docs and email for this task, but I have a stack of index cards for those who want or need to go old school. The kids persist in calling them postcards, though, a misdesignation which I find so charming that I never correct them. And so it was that this particular student brought me a collection of three "postcards" for Treat:

Hi Ms. S's Nephew I need to ask you some questions about her because I'm doing the thing about her, read the first one, and below that the word Questions! with lots of dots and underlines. At the bottom it read From Samantha R

The next card had two questions: Have you ever seen her struggle when she's gardening? and have you noticed her strengths?

And the final card asked, how can you describe her garden in 3 words?

Rather than transcribe the inquiry, I texted photos of the cards to Treat. As a potential primary source, I wanted him to appreciate the primary questions. I believe he did, because his answers were very much in the spirit of the project:

1) I've never observed ms s. struggling in the garden. I do believe that there is an upward limit to her strength but I haven't observed it

2) yes, as mentioned, I haven't been able to determine her strength exactly but I believe it to be very great

3) the vegetables!!! yum!!

I can't wait to share them with Samantha!

Friday, May 27, 2016

A is for Air Conditioning

When I was a kid, we did not have air conditioning and neither did many people we knew. Back then, the windows were always open, and if you had a box fan wedged between the sill and the sash on hot nights, you were lucky. Even so, our pillows and hair were damp with sweat each morning. We didn't care though: barefoot, in shorts, or bathing suits, being hot in summer was normal, and we swam through the heat like fish through water.

Air conditioning changed everything, and now at the slightest threat of hot weather, we close up the house like a box and crank the a/c, sealing ourselves away from any discomfort. Summer days inside are so gelid that the heat is like a wall when you finally go out.  I have noticed that when I leave school in the early evenings, my skin is literally refrigerated; it stays unnaturally cold for a good ten minutes

Here at home, though, it seems that our heat pump is a total loss, and so we have spent the last couple of days sweating, windows open, looking for the slightest trace of a cross breeze. Just like the old days, all our meals are light and cool (the stove would add way too much heat to the house), the dog pants contentedly on the cool tile floor, and we sleep with nothing but a sheet covering us.

Perhaps it's because I know the a/c will be fixed tomorrow, but tonight, far from being hot and cranky, I am inclined to let summer in. 

Life Lesson: “Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” ~Russell Baker

Thursday, May 26, 2016

B is for Birthday Buddies

Perhaps it stems from an inflated estimate of my own importance, but I have long believed that one’s birthday is a very special day and should be well-marked, and as such, I have always had an excellent memory for birthdays. When I was a kid, birthdays seemed like singular events, and the only people I knew who shared one were the twins next door, Lois and Laura. The more people I met, however, the more the birthdays doubled, and even tripled, up.

For example, my friend Mary shares her birthday with my brother-in-law, Jordan, and there is a week in July where my nephew Treat and our god-daughter Delaney have the same birthday, as do Treat’s brother, Riley and our other nephew, Kyle, and Delaney’s sister Allyn and our dearest dog, Isabel.

And now that I’ve been teaching for a while, there are birthday buddies for everyone. It only makes sense when you consider 2000 kids spread over 366 days. In addition to my own birthday buddies, Abby and Matt , I’ve even known a couple of February 29-ers—if they’d like someone to commiserate with for getting the short straw when it comes to birthdays, I can definitely hook them up!

Somewhere along the line I began to consider celebrity birthdays, too, and soon the notion of famous birthday buddies became a minor fascination.

How interesting to think that my brother shared his birthday with Thomas Jefferson, and my sister hers with Florence Nightingale, Yogi Berra, and Katherine Hepburn. My mother’s birthday buddies are George HW Bush and Anne Frank, but my dad and I never really seemed to have anyone very impressive, or even that recognizable.

In the last few years, my birthday buddy list has expanded a bit to include Vincent D’Onofrio, Mike Tyson, and Michael Phelps, but I’m still waiting for someone to represent our special day in a more historical way. I wonder if those guys are waiting, too.

Life Lesson:
You say it's your birthday?
Well, it's my birthday too, yeah!
They say it's your birthday—
we’re gonna have a good time.
I'm glad it's your birthday.
Happy birthday to you.
We’re gonna have a party, party!
~John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

C is for Charlotte's Web

I was out for a walk a couple of weeks ago when at last I heard the final chapter of the Alexander Hamilton biography that had occupied my time and mind for three months. At a loss for what to listen to next, I punched play on another, shorter biography that I had downloaded two summers ago, the last time we were in Maine. It is the story of EB White's life, but the angle is clear in the title: The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B.White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic.

One of my favorite books when I was a kid was Charlotte's Web. I remember when my second grade teacher, Miss King, read it to our class. Everyone was in tears on the day we heard chapter 21, Last Day. 

As a student and a teacher of writing, I have come to recognize the magical simplicity of E.B. White's prose. My sixth graders often to look to their independent reading books to find examples of the crafts and tools of the professional. Once when we were studying figurative language, a student came to me with her copy of Charlotte's Web. "I can't find anything," she complained.

"Really?" I asked, and borrowed the book for a moment. She was right. White does not embellish his tale with comparisons. His description is solid, detailed, and real, grounding the reader in the timeless truth of the fantasy.

A few years ago I purchased the audio recording of E.B. White himself reading his most famous book. The story goes that it took all day and several takes in the studio until he could read the lines at the end of chapter 21 without breaking down. Even so, you can clearly hear the crack in his voice when he gets to that part of the story.

Well, you can if you're not crying too hard yourself.

When I first started teaching, I read Charlotte's Web to a first grade summer school class I was teaching, but most of the kids were unmoved when we came to Last Day. "Didn't you guys think that was sad?" I asked them, after covertly wiping a tear from my nose.

"What?" asked one little boy.

"When Charlotte died," I answered.

"What? Charlotte died?!" he repeated. Everyone seemed a little shocked. 

"Yeah," I said, and re-read the passage at the end of the chapter: 

She never moved again. Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died.

He burst into tears, and soon the whole class was crying.

That's more like it, I thought.

Life Lesson:  “The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year - the days when summer is changing into autumn - the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.” ~E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

D is for Dead or Alive?

"Is Ms. S here today?" a student asked one of my colleagues in home room.

"Yes," the teacher answered.

"Oh good," the student replied.

"Why? Did you miss her?" the teacher asked.

"No! I was worried she might be dead," the student said.

Oh my! Rumors fly when you are out unexpectedly for a couple of days!

Never fear kids-- you're stuck with me for another month. (Knock wood!)

Life Lesson: "Always wear a helmet when biking, skating, skiing, or jumping to conclusions." ~Anonymous

Monday, May 23, 2016

E is for Educational Experiences Everywhere

 My mom is in town until tomorrow, and since she lives so far away, it just seemed like a missed opportunity to go to work while she was still here. So I took the day off, and we decided to explore a couple of the lesser-known attractions in our very historic and cultural area.

First stop? Woodlawn Plantation, a home that was built in 1800 by George Washington's nephew and his bride, Martha Washington's granddaughter. Originally the main residence on a 2000 acre farm that Washington gave the couple as a wedding gift, today's much smaller property is only about three miles from Mount Vernon. The house, with its two-foot thick brick walls, survives today despite being abandoned in the late 1800s, and is actually grander than Mount Vernon in some ways.

On the very same property, there is also a mid 20th century dwelling designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Pope-Leighey House was originally constructed in 1949 in Falls Church, but the expansion of Route 66 in 1967 created a move it or lose it imminent domain situation that was resolved by an imaginative deal with the US Register of Historic Places which resulted in moving the home piece-by-piece 20 miles to the south and rebuilding it on a corner of the Woodlawn property. This design is an example of Wright's Usonian ideals, or a small, functional house for a regular family (as long as they didn't Have any furniture or need any storage!). It was cool, though, and it would have fit right in with a current episode of Tiny Houses.

Our next stop was Gunston Hall, George Mason's home, built in 1750. It, too, was a pleasant surprise. Remarkably preserved and restored, the house looked deceptively compact from the outside, but it has 2400 square feet on each level. It's main hall, eight bedrooms, formal dining room, and two parlors were gracious and spacious. In fact, the main parlor is one of the 100 most beautiful rooms in America, according to Helen Comstock's book. It's hard to disagree when you stand beneath the 12 foot ceiling, surrounded by intricately carved walnut moulding, crimson silk damask walls, deep blue paint, and gilded trim.

On a Monday in May, we had each of these places, these gems, practically to ourselves, and besides being a really fun day? We learned a lot! Plus I got to spend the day with my mom.🙂

Life Lesson: "There's treasure everywhere." --Bill Watterson

Sunday, May 22, 2016

F is for Finding Fun

Today was the 9th annual Post Hunt, a crazy puzzle-palooza that sends participants scampering around downtown trying to solve big, silly puzzles. My nephew, Treat, and I have been doing it together since it started back in 2008, and over the years we've enlisted Josh, my mom, and this year, my brother Bill joined the team!

Before leaving the convention center, the five of us cheerfully watched an ear-splitting performance from a tuba, oboe, violin, and piano (answer: tu o vi pi, or 206314) and then found ourselves in the middle of a demonstration by the rainbow coalition brandishing colorful signs with rebus symbols on them. (In ROYGBIV order the signs read: pea-knock-L deck mine-s golden rings, 43 of course.)

Even the pouring rain couldn't dampen our spirits as we searched out a giant white square with a little 76 in the upper lefthand corner, and we huddled under the umbrella a long time before making an association with the crossword puzzle in the back of the magazine. Solving the two clues gave us fen and fight.

The letter F just didn't seem right, but we decided to move on to the next one. On the way, Treat connected fen and fight with one of the illustrations on the map, and we made a detour. There we found an identical square with an E where the F might be. Stumped, we continued on our way to a park where a volunteer held this sign:

 C-11 on the map was the Reflecting Pool, so Mom whipped out a mirror and, upon examining the lower left-hand flourish, backward, we read Date of Abe's Address (answer? 1119)

We were walking to our next challenge, still thinking, considering, and pondering the one we hadn't solved, when Treat realized that if we swapped the E for the F in the crossword, we had een and eight, or eighteen.

The last puzzle was a web address that, once pulled up on our phone's browsers gave us the warning, Watch your temperature. You’re almost freezing. You’re risking hypothermia. You need to be normal. Hint: Get the blood circulating. Walking around may help!

It was basically a high-tech version of the warmer-cooler-burning up game we used to play as kids, and we knew that we were looking for the place where our reading would be 98.6. There we found a giant blue C, which we took to mean that we needed to convert our temperature to Celsius. (37 was correct!)

Satisfied at solving the first part of the hunt we grabbed a table at the convention center, ate our picnic lunch, and mulled over the five clues we had. With half an hour to go until the final clue and the commencement of the end game, it seemed like anything was possible, but I didn't care if we won; the day was perfect already.

Life Lesson: “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” ~Dale Carnegie

Saturday, May 21, 2016

G is for Get Ready!

On a day in late May when the skies were wet and leaden, and a jacket was a necessity, we chose to go to the movies. There the posters and previews promise hot hits and blockbusters fitting for the scorching days ahead. A quick shopping stop reveals that the dollar section at a Target is loaded with red, white, and blue trinkets, and next week's forecast calls for temperatures approaching 90. Seeing as we are halfway through the end of the year testing, and on the downhill side of the fourth quarter, I would have to say it's pretty much undeniable:

Summer is coming.

Life Lesson: “One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by." ~Jeanette Walls

Friday, May 20, 2016

H is for History

As we were planning our end of the year field trips, our social studies teacher put together a visit to Ford's Theater and the Petersen house across the street where the wounded president was carried and died. There was a little extra time at the end of the day, and so she decided to include an IMAX movie at a near-by museum . One of the choices was Dinosaurs! In 3D.

"That's the one!" she said.

"Lincoln AND dinosaurs??" I teased her. "What a span! Is your theme going to be, WellTHAT happened...?"

"Yeah!" she told me. "It's all history!"

Life Lesson: “If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree. ” ~Michael Crichton

Thursday, May 19, 2016

I is for It's Hard to Explain

"If 'Good is the enemy of Great,' then how come 'Life is Good' is good enough?" a student asked the other day, looking around at some of the inspirational posters I have hanging in my classroom.

It was a good question.


It was a great question.

"Good is the enemy of great," I told her, "because if you settle for good, you'll never work for great."

She nodded expectantly.

"But, 'Life is Good' is an overall philosophy about life in general. It's not just 'good;' it's 'gooooood'." I made a smooth motion with my hand in the air. "See what I mean?" I tried to explain.

"You mean that says, 'Life is Goooood'?" she asked.

"Yeah!" I told her. "It's to remind us to appreciate the good things in life!"

She shook her head. She still didn't get it.

Fortunately, the bell rang right then.

Good timing!

No, great timing

Life Lesson: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't know it well enough." ~Albert Einstein

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

J is for Just One More Thing

If you ask me, any assessment should be low stakes because, like Heisenberg famously asserted, you change anything by trying to measure it. That principle is especially true when it comes to middle school standardized tests. We make such a big fuss over them that it seems to hard to believe they could possibly be an accurate measure.

Oh, we are always motivated by good intentions; the tests have become so important, that we just want our students to do the very best they can. And so we give them boot camps, review sessions, and pep talks in the weeks leading up to the test, and then on the day of there are wristbands, pencils, bookmarks, and a free breakfast for everyone.

So today, after all that, when we finally sat down to actually start the test, one student raised his hand. "Do we get mints?" he wanted to know.

The answer was actually yes; I was saving them for a little later, but I really couldn't help myself when I replied, "Oh my gosh! Is this the SOL or an all you can eat buffet??"

The group laughed, and I gave them their Wint-o-green Lifesavers before starting my script, Today you are taking the sixth grade reading SOL... and crossing my fingers that they would all pass.

Life Lesson: "An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them." ~Werner Heisenberg

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

K is for Keep this in Mind

It's personal profile time in my little corner of the sixth grade world, and that means students are conducting (and giving) interviews so that each can write a 500 word journalism piece, with a specific focus and theme, about another member of our class. In sections where there are an odd number of students, for the sake of logistics, I get to participate, too.

So, this morning I was being interviewed by a fledgling reporter who asked me what I considered my greatest strength to be. I was stumped by the question.

One of the reasons I value being an active part of the project is that it allows me to model what I want my students to achieve, but the bigger pay-off is that it puts me in their shoes. "Um, I guess, I'm curious?" I answered. But then I recovered, delivering some good evidence as to how and why such a description fits me. Even so, it's hard to be interviewed!

Later I thought about that conversation when I looked at the recipe for gambas al ajillo that I wanted to make for dinner. Take 20 cloves of garlic... it started. That seemed like a lot to me, but I wanted to prepare the recipe according to direction before I made too many changes. Peeling that much garlic though? That would be a pain!

Fortunately, I remembered reading about a clever way to peel garlic which involved putting the cloves in a container and shaking them vigorously until the papery skin fell away. I grabbed a jar, dropped my 20 cloves inside, screwed on the lid, and proceeded to swing that baby up and down until every little piece of garlic was stripped naked. It only took about 10 seconds.

Wow! I thought. I should have said my greatest strength is that I have a good memory!

Life Lesson: "Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. Attention is vitality." ~Susan Sontag

Monday, May 16, 2016

L is for It's a Little Late

When I was in graduate school, my Shakespeare professor told us a story the week before our first exam.

A young woman who was failing a class made an appointment to speak to her instructor. "I really need to pass this course," she said, "and I'll do anything to make it happen."

He raised his eyebrows at her. "Anything?" he asked.

"Anything," she repeated.

"Then STUDY, damn it!" he told her.

In sixth grade the more common inquiry at report card time is "Why is my grade so low?" and when you tell the student it's because a few things are missing, the next question is always, "Can I do extra credit to bring it up?"

Extra credit!

How about regular credit?!

Just do the work, kids, and we'll go from there.

Life Lesson: “Forever is composed of nows.” ~Emily Dickinson

Sunday, May 15, 2016

M is for Man I'm Tired!

It was a whirlwind weekend! We busted out of school at 2:30 on Thursday headed for the airport and a flight to Atlanta to surprise my little sister for her big birthday. Fate was not on our side, however, and after several gate changes and an hour of sitting on the plane at the gate, our flight was canceled and we were scrambling.

There was no way we would make it there that night, but I was happy that my mom and my brother were both able to deliver their surprises, and when my sister jokingly texted me "Are you on the front porch?" she had no idea how true my answer was.

"I wish!"

We did make it early the next afternoon, and it was a fun surprise. Two of her oldest friends were flying in as well, and so the eleven of us celebrated my sister and made merry late into the night all weekend long. It seemed much too soon when the alarm rang this morning and we packed and piled into the rental car at 9 AM, happy to have been there, but sad to be leaving.

In an earlier post this month, I mentioned a rule we have around here, which is that you're never allowed to say I am sick. There's another one kind of like it: No naps! In general, I just think that when you are tired in the middle of the day, it's better to get moving and try to make it to an early bedtime.

I tried to follow my own rule today; we went grocery shopping and came home to walk the dog before dinner, but that couch just looked so inviting! I had to lie down for a quick minute. An hour later? I finally forced myself up and into the kitchen to put the groceries away, but you know what?

I felt much better! Maybe naps aren't all bad after all!

Life Lesson: "It is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, May 14, 2016

N is for Noticing

We spent part of our morning geocaching. For those who are unfamiliar, Wikipedia defines Geocaching as follows:

Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world.

A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook (with a pen or pencil). The geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name. After signing the log, the cache must be placed back exactly where the person found it. Larger containers such as plastic storage containers (Tupperware or similar) or ammunition boxes can also contain items for trading, such as toys or trinkets.

So basically it's a world-wide treasure hunt, and you might be surprised to discover that there are probably several geocaches within easy traveling distance of your present location. Just go to the website and look. Finding the troves can be challenging; they are usually hidden very cleverly and the rules of the game call for you to be stealthy in your hunt.

My older nephews and I have spent many a fun afternoon chasing down a cache or two or five, and they were always very good at ferreting them out, although we have been stumped on several occasions. Today it was my niece Annabelle who was our lead searcher, and she turned out to be the best spotter yet-- she located both of our quarries in under a minute. That's impressive, but when I told her mom, my sister said, "I'm not surprised. She notices everything!"

Life Lesson: "Between those who notice such things and those who don't, I prefer those who do.” ~Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Friday, May 13, 2016

O is for One Hundred Twenty Water Balloons

While shopping for writing challenge prizes the other day I came across an ingenious product. Forty balloons banded to plastic straws which are in turn attached to a hose connector. The whole shebang screws right onto the spigot, and, with three to a package, in no time flat you have yourself over 100 water bombs.

How could I resist such a purchase, especially knowing that I would be spending the weekend with my niece and nephew in Atlanta? It was nearly 80 degrees and sunny here this afternoon when we decided to give the battle balloons a whirl, and they did not disappoint. Richard, Annabelle, my brother Bill, and I had all the ammunition we needed to thoroughly drench each other in an awesom water war.  

"You can't imagine what a luxury it was to have so many water balloons!" I told a friend tonight at dinner.

She laughed. "You're right, I can't!" 

Life Lesson: “It's never too late to have a happy childhood.” ~Tom Robbins

Thursday, May 12, 2016

P is for Police Week

I learned recently that anytime you see police activity in our community, a simple tweet to the police department will get you an explanation, via Twitter, in less than an hour. I like that. It seems like an excellent customer service attitude, because frankly, a lot of cop cars in your neighborhood can be rather alarming.

That said, I've only used the service twice, and both times were for police escorts. It was clear to me that something pretty fancy was going down, and I wanted to know what it was. The first time, it was for a luncheon for medal of honor recipients at a hotel near my house. That's kind of cool.

Today traffic was stopped on the on-ramp to a busy interstate right around rush hour while at least 30 motorcycle cops rode by in two-by-two formation, lights flashing, but sirens off. "What was the motorcade on 395 North just now?" I tweeted to @ArlingtonVaPD.

A few minutes later I got a reply. "It was for National Police Week."

Interesting! And good to know. "Happy National Police Week!" I tweeted back. "Thank you for your service."

Life Lesson: "The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge." ~Thomas Berger

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Q is for Quizizz

This year I have created a bunch of review materials for our state standardized tests and put them in the form of "Quizizz" a Google-friendly app that allows students to compete against each other in a game-like environment. The teacher gets data as well, both at the question and the student level. Besides being high-interest, another benefit is that kids can access it independently, and so it fits in with a workshop approach where everyone is working at individual speeds and levels.

As a result, reviewing for the test is integrated into our class, but it is not the focus, and we can move on with other projects. Which we have. But when I told students today that they would be conducting the first interviews for their personal profile pieces on Tuesday, a very conscientious student raised her hand. "But wait! Isn't the SOL on Wednesday?" 

And when I nodded, she continued, "Shouldn't we be reviewing?!?"

I get what she's saying, but I shook my head and laughed. "If you don't know it by then," I told her, "one more class period of review won't help."

"I better do those Quizizz!" she said.

That's what they're there for!

Life Lesson: “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today." ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

R is for Record Breaker

I heard today that we are in record setting territory when it comes to measurable rain. As of this morning, in our area there have been 13 straight days of .01 inches or more of rain, which shatters the old record of ten, set in 1938.

I don't know about that, but I do know it has been a gray stretch of days going back at least a couple of weeks. Usually the weather doesn't bother me; a little hot, a little cold, some snow, rain, humidity, whatever-- it is what it is and will probably change soon. But that's the key, right? I like the contrast.

Think about it-- whatever your perfect weather might be, it is only perfect because you don't have it all the time. Like yin and yang, darkness and light, good weather and bad are necessarily defined by each other.

Life Lesson: “Too much of anything could destroy you, Simon thought. Too much darkness could kill, but too much light could blind.” ~Cassandra Clare, City of Lost Souls

Monday, May 9, 2016

S is for Same Book as Last Time

In my reading class we play a little game on Fridays where students have time to read the book of their choice and then write three clues about it. Afterwards hey have five minutes to interview as many other students about the books they are reading. Then we have a contest where the clues are read and a student's name is drawn at random. Will he or she be able to identify the book, or will he or she be forced to confess, as one student did so frequently last year that it has become a trademark of the game, "My mind is a blank!"

Winners get candy; there is also incentive to pay close attention because, time-permitting, we go through the clues again, and anyone who doesn't get called will get a chance in the second round. It's a fun way to have the students identify three important traits of their books and to do book talks.

I always throw a card with my current book as well, but the last couple of months have been a little predictable in that respect. I have come up with a slew of clues about Alexander Hamilton, and used my new found knowledge as a springboard for several short conversations, but this afternoon I reached the part in the many hundred paged text where Hamilton accepted Aaron Burr's challenge to a duel of honor, was mortally wounded, and died.

At Burr's shot, I clapped my forehead in sorrow and a little self-contempt. Why did I spend so much time with this guy when I knew what he was going to do? I wondered. And what am I going to listen to next? Because even though I didn't like the ending? I would definitely do it all again.

Life Lesson: "A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous." ~Alexander Hamilton

Sunday, May 8, 2016

T is for There are Two Ways to Look at Anything

Even though the torrential rain and unseasonably chilly temperatures over the last couple of weeks kept me from working in my garden, today when I finally got out there in those seventy perfectly sunny degrees, because the ground was still so damp, the weeds slipped free like children from their jackets on a warm day.

In less than two hours, 6 bags were filled, the plot was cleared, and we were heading home with the sunroof open and the radio blasting, and all because of the rain!

Life Lesson:  “Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.” ~Helen Keller

Saturday, May 7, 2016

U is for Under the Weather

In my house, there are three words that you are never allowed to say, and they are:


Why? Well, it's because I believe in the power of words, and I don't think anyone should use the verb "to be" for anything other than the best part of themselves. I am a teacher? Yes! I am a wife, daughter, sister, aunt? You betcha. But even if I lose, I'm not a loser, and if I feel tired or bored, there's more to me than just being tired or bored. 

And so when we have a little scratch in our throats, or a stomach ache, or anything else, around here we don't define ourselves by that, we simply describe our symptoms, say something like, I don't feel good, and look forward to a better day tomorrow.

Life Lesson: “You gwyne to have considerable trouble in yo' life, en considerable joy. Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you's gwyne to git well agin.”~Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Friday, May 6, 2016

V is for Vth Grade

One of the poetry challenges last month was to write six stanzas in the style of Wallace Stevens' poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Every student who tried it did a terrific job-- it was some of the most imaginative and descriptive poetry of the month. One part of the directions was a little confusing to some, however. "Excuse me, Ms. S." one student said quietly. "I don't really get Roman numerals." He was referring to the way Stevens numbers his stanzas of course.

I learned Roman numerals a long time ago in 5th grade. The basics seemed easy enough. I equaled 1, and then it was hash marks until four. The word 'five' has a 'V' in it, four is one before five, and six is one after five, and so on. Ten and X? There was no trick to help with that, but once you knew it, you were fine.

I would have been totally lost when it came to the bigger numbers if my teacher hadn't taught us a phrase to remember them by: Little Cats Drink Milk. 'L' is 50, 'C' 100, 'D' 500, and 'M' is 1000. With that knowledge, I could write or decipher any Roman numeral you gave me. (It also helped that they always showed the copyright date at the end of movies and TV shows in Roman numerals.)

Once I showed that student the pattern, he too, was able to do it without any problem, and he was free to write a great poem.

Life Lesson: "I do not know which to prefer,/ The beauty of inflections/ Or the beauty of innuendoes" ~Wallace Stevens

Thursday, May 5, 2016

W is for What if?

If there's one thing that drives any writing teacher crazy, it's when you give the students a prompt to write about, such as write about a time you were afraid, or write about someone you admire, or write about an unforgettable moment, and inevitably someone raises a hand and asks, "What if I never had that happen?"

Really? Really?

If students can't answer a question on a math assignment, do they need to ask what will happen? They'll get that one wrong. If they can't write about an atom or an amendment to the constitution in science or social studies, then their grade will be lower on that assignment. So why do we think that writing about our experiences is any different?

Part of being an effective writer is being able to find something to write about. Is it hard? Yep.  But as a teacher, I will never excuse a student from trying. (I will help, though!)

Life Lesson: "This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It's that easy, and that hard." ~Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

X is for eX-tra Sensory Perception (and X-ray)

The first x-ray I ever had was in 7th grade. The date was Friday, January 3, a day that I strongly believed that

in school.

And yet, there I was on the second day of a two-day school week, RIGHT AFTER WINTER BREAK!'

"Why can't they just give us two more days, which would be four more days, of vacation?" I asked my mother on New Year's Day. 

"You have to go back sometime," she said, "why not tomorrow?"

"Because it's dumb!" I answered. "I really don't want to go!"

The whole conversation was silly, because I really did like school-- I guess I just liked vacation better. That night I had a dream that I broke my arm. When I told my mother, she said I still had to go to school.

As far as I remember, the first day back was fine, but on the second day, we were playing Steal the Bacon Basketball in PE and when my number was called, instead of grabbing the ball, dribbling down the court, and scoring before my opponent, I fell in front of everybody and took the walk of shame back to the line after the other kid made the basket.

It was then I noticed how strange my arm looked, U-shaped, almost like the pipe under the sink, and how much it hurt, too. When I showed my gym teacher his eyes grew wide and he looked like he might barf.

"Let's get you to the nurse!" he said.

A couple of hours later I was getting that x-ray, and soon after, a cast all the way past my elbow.

"I told you I shouldn't go to school this week!" I told my mom.

Life Lesson: “Knowing too much of your future is never a good thing.” ~Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Y is for Yellow

When I was little my favorite color was yellow, and even today, if you ask me what color I prefer, I'll say yellow, but I'm not sure how true that is anymore. For example I rarely wear anything yellow, and although my very first car was a yellow Volkswagen Rabbit, I would never buy a yellow car now. It's true that some walls in my house are yellow, but we chose that because it was light and it went with the brown, green, and red of our furniture.

Why do people even have favorite colors, anyway? A quick Google search will give you a couple of psychology articles and some even more fun personality tests along the lines of What does your favorite color tell about you? I looked at yellow, of course, and found that those who prefer it (statistically less than 5% of the population) are happy idealists who are underestimated far too often."People who love yellow sometimes come off as whacky or aloof, but that's just because the moody folks are straight-up jealous."

Maybe that's me, but just to be sure, I looked at some of the other colors I like. Blue folks are calm and cool like the ocean, green overvalue money (but why not nature?), and those who favor black are moody and sophisticated. And in case you are interested? Red is bold, orange is a drama queen, purple is mystical, gray can't decide, pink is naive, white is innocent (what else?), and brown is simple and comfortable.

They all sound pretty reasonable... now I know why I don't have a favorite color!

Life Lesson: "Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud." ~Maya Angelou

Monday, May 2, 2016

Z is for Zucchini, Spiralized!

It is May, and that means it is time for the annual Alphabiography Challenge in my 6th grade English class. (If you're not sure what that means, then click on the label at the end of this post for some illumination!)

When I decided to participate along with the kids this year, I was going to go in alphabetical order, but that was before I got my nifty new gadget in the mail today. Now it seems like a no-brainer to do the challenge in reverse!

Spiralized vegetables are definitely enjoying a moment; they are a lighter alternative to pasta, and frankly pretty delicious. So, after paying upwards of ten bucks for a tray of some fancy-julienned squash, I calculated that I could get my money back in six weeks were I to purchase my own device. That decision made? I ordered it with free one-day shipping and bought some zucchini in anticipation.

Arriving home from school, I dropped my book and lunch bags and grabbed a pair of scissors to slice open the brown box awaiting me. I wasn't in the house ten minutes before a bountiful bowl of long green curls sat upon my counter. Not long after, a lovely sauce of fresh tomatoes, olives, and basil accompanied them, and shortly, dinner will be served.

Life Lesson: "Sometimes a tool may have other uses that you don't know. Sometimes in doing what you intend, you also do what the knife intends, without knowing.” ~Philip Pullman

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Goldilocks and the Promise of Spring

What a cold, gray weekend we have had here! And yet, last night when we emerged from the theater at 7:45, there was still a lot of light outside, filtered through the rain clouds though it was.

And today turned out to be just the day to repot the tiny pepper sprouts that have been growing in our bathroom. I put them out on the deck in a little make-shift greenhouse where they joined the newly-planted hanging baskets and the other seedlings we purchased at the Veggiemania sale up at our local nursery.

Contrary to suffering from transplant shock, all the plants seemed quite pleased with their new digs and the soft weather, which was neither too sunny, nor too cold, nor too dry for them.

Dare I say it?

It was just right.