Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Y2K + 17

For a loooooong time I resisted the use of slide show presentations in my class. Because personally? Although I recognize the advantages of organizing your remarks with a visual aid, I have sat through too many boring power points where the presenter reads from slide after uninspired or otherwise flawed slide.

My opinion began to flex when I saw how engaged my students were when the intern teacher structured his 10 minute mini-lessons with a slide show, punctuated with interesting images and a video or two. Then, when I taught the persuasive techniques unit and used TV commercials to illustrate the concepts, that medium turned out to be the most efficient way to present the information. So much so, that I invested in a wireless remote so that I could roam the room as I clicked from slide to slide.

And now, I'm hooked. Just this morning I threw together a Google slideshow on plot structure, complete with Disney and Pixar movie clips to illustrate the key points. Another upside is that I can also post the presentation in our Google classroom so that students can return to it as they need to, or any absent student who is so motivated can work through the material from home.

There is danger in the approach, to be sure: I know if I'm not judicious, I could end up with too much talking time for the teacher and too much seat time for the kids, but so far, my little digital natives seem to dig the big screen.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Buckle Up!

Since I was out of school today (#familyoscarholiday), one of the activities I left for my students was a little survey to gauge their interest in our up-coming writing challenge. With three options, required, reward, and full-on commitment, 48% are in it to win it. 22% are minimalists, and the other 30% are hedging their bets.

The data is interesting, but the comments explaining their choices are way better!

Definitely will:

I love to write so doing this is going to boost my writing. I also love challenges.
I want to go for 100 days because I want to push my self to my fullest potential.
Because I want the shirt.
I feel like this can improve my writing techniques to help me be a better writer
I might still thinking
I don't know exactly what it is but I will try to go all out.
I love writing and want it become a better author!
I think it will be a valuable experience and will help make my writing better.
I want a challenge
I will do it so my mom does not yell at me
I'm gonna try to write 100 days so my grade in english can go up.
I want extra credt
I might
I want to challenge my self
I want a t-shirts
I really want to challenge myself and I want to get fun prizes and a T SHIRT-!!!!!!!!!
I want to do the challenge because i want to grow as a writer and I don't think I will be able to do it so I want to prove myself wrong
I will try hard
Because I don't want to get a shirt but my mom she wants one so I'm going to do it for her.
I will try by best to do the 100 day challenge to the best of my ability
Because I want to
I do need a little writing help
I'm wanting to get the shirt and I already got a few designs in my mind.
I feel that it will boost my writing skills
I really want the funny t-shirts
I want to challenge myself in writing
I'm pumped and wanna get a shirt.
I want to get the cool shirts and get good at writing.
I want to do the 100 days but I'll probably not be able to do it
I want to see if I can REALLY become a better writer and see if I can write everyday.
I am going to try my best complete the 100 day writing challenge
I think It will be a grI will do atleast 20 times and if I like it , I will do more.
It's hard for me sometimes to figure out what to write and I might miss a lot of days
I want to try it, and 100 days seems like after a I wouldn't want to do it.
I don't think I'll be able to do 100 but I guess then I can do 20.
I want to become a better writer, but I have already committed to other activities and I know I won't have enough time some days
Because I feel like it'll be a fun challenge and if I'm into it I'll go for the 100 day writing challenge!!

In the middle:

I will do at least 20 times and if I like it , I will do more.
It's hard for me sometimes to figure out what to write and I might miss a lot of days
I want to try it, and 100 days seems like after a I wouldn't want to do it.
I don't think I'll be able to do 100 but I guess then I can do 20.
I want to become a better writer, but I have already committed to other activities and I know I won't have enough time some days
Because I feel like it'll be a fun challenge and if I'm into it I'll go for the 100 day writing challenge!!
I want to do more than the required amount but at the same time I don't want to do more than the limit. Just in the middle,
I have so many activities after school so I don't have enough time to write 100 days.
I'm happy whith 20 days and a prize
I don't have the time to do 💯 days but I don't just want to do the bare minimum of 10 days
cause you get a prize
I don't know if I'll be able to do it every day
So it's a bit easier
I will do 20 days.
Because I don't want to but it might be fun
because i dont have 100 things exiting about my life so i will do te 20 day challenge
I have never really enjoyed writing but if I do the 10 days that won't challenge me enough.
I am trying to write 20 days or more t improve my writing
I'm gonna try hard to get 100 but I might be busy
I definitely will do the 20 days, but I will try to do the 100 days because I want to improve my writing.
Because I am not that good and this will be a good goal for me

Just the minimum:

i think its best for my mental health
I will do this because I write a lot anyway
I don't like writing
I can't really because I'm going to have baseball games and practices in Spring
I going to do 10 days because if I do 100 days I can't think any ideas or i might give up
Because I want to
Because I don't like writing.
I don't want to put to much pressure on myself
10 days are required so I will do 10 days
Because I don't know if I want to right for a long time
I'm not sure what I'm doing yet
I'm not big on writing but I know I have to improve in writing
I'm going to start with the ten days and then if I like it I will continue to write.
Because I can go buy those prizes from 7 11

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Head v. Heart

Every year we face the same dilemma: enter the Oscar pool using strategy and conventional wisdom, or vote for the films and performances you have loved. Oh, there is certainly money and bragging rights at stake, but after seeing so many movies in a relatively short time, it's hard not to support the ones that made you laugh, or cry, or think, and hope that they touched the members of the academy in the same way, too.

This year Bill finally pulled the trigger on what we have been considering for a long time-- he filled out two ballots-- one for his head and one for his heart. As for me, as I looked over my ballot this evening I realized how fond I really was of so many of the nominees, and for this year, at least, my head and my heart were not the conflict.

And in the end? It was a riveting race until the final award was announced. Bill's heart was never a contender, but his head edged us all out.

But it was close!

Congrats on the two-fer, Bill!

UPDATE 12:10 AM: After that stunning reversal of the best picture award, there was a change in our results as well! Victor ended up tied with Bill, because his heart made him pick Moonlight.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Where in the World

I often torture myself trying to guess where in the world all those gorgeous, screen-saving landscapes on my Amazon Fire might possibly be located.Vietnam? New Zealand? Switzerland? Alaska? And I was doing that exact thing this evening as we all relaxed in the great room of our Oscar-weekend beach rental. A rare February thunderstorm boomed overhead and rain swished hard down the roof while Josh and I threw out place names to match the scenes gliding across the TV screen.

"I wish they would just tell us where they are so we could know if we were right!" I complained. "I'm going to write Amazon and ask them to do that! Wouldn't that be a fun game?"

"Well," interjected Victor, "there is a game that is similar to that. It's called GeoGuessr and it uses Google maps to basically drop you down in the middle of somewhere and make you guess your location."

Well, it wasn't long before we had that app up on the big screen collectively scrubbing every detail of the image to try to figure out just where in the world it might be. Look at the lines on the road! What does that sign say? What sort of plants are those? What color is the soil? What kind of car is that? What about the architecture?

Oh, the pictures weren't nearly as pretty, but the game was a lot of fun. Our results varied from as far off as we could possibly be (for the record that is only half-way around the world!) to within 33 yards.

AND? We always knew where it was in the end!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Start Your Engines

Hard to believe, but it was 2,917 days ago that I started posting this daily blog. The milestone was on my mind today as I introduced my latest group of sixth graders to the 100 Day Writing Challenge.

Over the years I have learned that, while daily diligence is mandatory for me, when the rules are completely unforgiving, a single misstep will almost certainly lead to quitting for my students. And so I have built in safety nets on either end of the challenge, such as the next five days before the official March 1 kick-off. Any kids who post practice pieces will be able to count them toward the ones they miss. There are also some extra days at the end for those writers who are oh-so-close.

As result, this Friday evening finds me reading through a collection of hundred-word self-portraits of my students' lives, and as ever, I am exceedingly moved by the small details they choose to share and the honesty with which they examine them. They are thoughtful, inventive, wise, and quirky.

Here are just a few of their observations:

Yesterday, I woke up to the stramatic yelling of my mother.

I want to be happy, but the thought of my electives haunts me.

Onstage I am the worst at jump roping, so I figured that if I practiced and practiced, I would get so good that I would be able to jump better than the king of jump roping.

Today in English while our teacher was talking I completely zoned out for like five minutes.

Her team has only won once, but they have been trying really hard. That is why I love my sister's basketball game.

I felt like a monster was crawling up my throat and trying to belt out the national anthem.

Now, if you really love birds or just any animal then stop reading now. 
(This particular writer waved me over as he was working. He had a very serious look on his face. "I'm writing about a dead bird I saw on the way to school," he told me, "but I'm afraid it is way too intense for some kids, so I'm going to add a warning.")

Peace out! Stay Alive and ask yourself what does the fox say? Serious. I really don't know? Tell me soon!

It's going to be an exceptional 100 days.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Connecting the Dots

A friend and colleague stopped by my classroom this afternoon with her dad. I was grading reading assignments and more than happy to take a break to meet a man I had been hearing about for over twenty years. When he found out that I was an English teacher, he gamely turned the conversation to correct usage and grammar (or the lack there of) these days. In a minute or two we had covered text-speak and spelling and dialects and the power structure.

"I'll tell you who does value exact grammar," he said. "Lawyers! One comma in the wrong place can mean the difference between damages and no damages for their clients."

I nodded. "It's like that old joke: Let's eat, Grandma versus Let's eat Grandma. Commas can save lives!"

We laughed, and then he asked, "How did we get to cannibalism from grammar?"

"Well," I answered, "I was just grading some work on a book about the Donner Party. It might have something to do with that!"

And we were off again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Authentic Assessment

While the last few groups of students finished shooting and editing their commercials today, the other kids played a couple of online quiz games on persuasive techniques that I found for them.

Not having created the questions, I played along with the first group, confident in my ability and knowledge.

And when I came in second?


I was proud of the boy who beat me.

Aw, heck! I'm proud of all of them-- they've done a great job on this project. They almost make me want to buy back my own kitchen gadgets.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Talking 'bout my Demographic

"I really like this show!" I said as I clicked off the second episode of The Good Fight. A spinoff of the popular prime time legal drama The Good Wife, so far it can only be seen on CBS's subscription streaming service.

"It has familiar characters," I started.

"And strong women? Relevant political and social issues? Compelling drama?" Heidi added.

I nodded.

"That pretty much checks all my boxes," she agreed.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Too Short

Animated and live-action shorts were the marquis event of the day as we willingly sacrificed another 60+ degree day in winter to sit in a dark theater. Was it the weather, the movies, or the intrinsic melancholy of that third day of three-day weekend that cast the slightest of palls over the feature presentations?

Oh, I wouldn't have missed the anthology of films, and the company was stellar as always, but I found my attention wandering, and I must confess to being a little disappointed when the lights came up and we were a few hours closer to the beginning of another work week.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

We'll Be Back

We tried to get out and hike this morning, and it seemed like such a good idea to finally do Section B of the Billy Goat Trail. After over 25 years of hiking the most iconic route of our region, the last time I was there I was astonished to notice a section B AND a section C on one of the trail maps along the canal, located a few miles south of the Visitor's Center.

And so we headed out at a little after nine, but by the time we arrived at the trailhead, all the parking was taken. Many cars were even parked along the road, right under all the No Parking signs. Perhaps the popularity can be explained by the small(ish) lot, which is actually a little bit closer to town, or maybe it's because it costs five bucks to get into the national park, and from here, you can walk in for free. Everybody wants a deal.

In any case, we chalked it up to live and learn and cruised off to find some other way to enjoy yet another incredibly beautiful day in February.

Bonus: We did discover that, unlike on the original Billy Goat, dogs are allowed on those sections of the trail. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Susie or Sam

The weather was amazingly, unseasonably warm this afternoon, and lots of folks were out to prove it. Dogless as we are, we decided to drive down to a regional park with an amazing wetland boardwalk that does not allow canine companions. As a result, even though we have visited the park on many occasions, we have missed out on its main attraction.

Today it did not disappoint-- we saw geese and ducks and blackbirds, crows, a heron, a bluebird and a couple of turtles, but the star of the show was definitely that cute little muskrat chewing on swamp grass.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading Social Cues

My students are busy making commercials to demonstrate their understanding of persuasive techniques. Before shooting video, they were required to create a storyboard to organize their ideas. As they worked, I circulated through the room providing advice and encouragement.

“What’s your concept?” I asked one group of boys.

“We want to convince the audience that this is a fun new toy!” one said.

“Yeah!” his classmate agreed. “We’re going to show kids playing with it and some old person playing with something boring.” He paused. “But we need someone old.”

Four boys turned expectantly to me.

I raised my eyebrows.

“We’re going to keep looking!” another boy assured me.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Proofreading V. Editing

"Can I ask you a favor?" a colleague poked his head in the door this afternoon.

I laughed and gave my standard reply. "You can ask!"

"Will you proofread a paper I am writing for grad school?" he started. "I don't need it until next week, so you can totally take your time," he added quickly.

"Sure," I shrugged.

He sighed. "Thank goodness, because my professor suggested the writing center, but I thought, Why would I ask a bunch of 19-year-olds, when I have a much better option right across the hall?"

"Wait," I said. "Did your professor say that to you or everyone?" Because right then? I was wondering what I had just agreed to.

"I'm sure it was everyone," he waved his hand dismissively. 

"Okay," I nodded, "but why don't you give me that paper right now."


His paper was fine, but I did suggest a few changes. I don't know what that professor was expecting, but that seems like another blog post altogether.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reading the Signs

The sugar-fueled sixth grade Valentine's Day celebration spilled over into today when one of my homeroom students sheepishly asked permission to distribute little tins of candy. "I just forgot yesterday," she shrugged.

The other kids were, of course, more than willing to accept her belated offerings which turned out to be those chalky little hearts stamped with corny messages. As one guy snacked contentedly in the rocking chair I couldn't resist messing with him. "Close your eyes and pick one at random!" I said. "Then read it to us-- it will be a message from the Universe!" I promised.

He was happy to comply. Slamming his eyes shut, he plucked a single heart from the tiny tin and held it between his thumb and forefinger.

"What does it say? What does it say?" his classmates pestered him.

"It says..." he paused dramatically, squinting at the candy. "It says, 'Marry me'!" he did a literal double-take and blushed as the other kids roared with laughter.

"The Universe is weird," he concluded, popping the heart into his mouth.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Read Aloud

This rotation my intervention group is 11 boys who, well, let's be honest, do not like to read. I did my best this morning to hook them with snacks and choice.

"We can read the same book all together," I suggested, "or you can pick a book to read with a partner. Take a few minutes to decide."

The murmur quickly exploded to a hubbub. "I hear so many good ideas and questions," I said. "Why don't we talk again as a group?"

When they were settled I told them, "This would be a good chance for you to read something that always seemed a little too hard or too long. Or maybe something that sounded really good, but you just couldn't get into." I looked around expectantly. "Why don't you all go ahead and take a look at the bookshelves to get some ideas?"

As they browsed, I noticed a few eying the Harry Potter series. "That would be a good choice!" I encouraged them. "It's great, but it can be hard to get involved with."

A few boys shrugged until the assistant that I am lucky to be working with this time grabbed a copy. "Would it be okay if I read the first chapter out loud?" he said. "Then if you like what you hear, you'll know it's a good fit for you."

Three boys followed him to the corner and were rapt as he began to read. I continued making quiet suggestions to the others until, one by one, they drifted over to him, sat down, and began to listen.

Monday, February 13, 2017


Another quarter, another reading of "What Was I Scared Of?"

As usual, I did my this-is-so-weird-and-silly schtick, riffing on the nocturnal bear, the creepy pants, the Grin-itch spinach, and so on. BUT today, I noticed a new flaw in the book. "Look at that moon!" I cried. "The text says it's a week later, but the PHASE OF THE MOON HASN'T CHANGED!" I threw my hands up in mock exasperation. "I'm sorry! I don't even think this story takes place on earth!"

The students laughed good-naturedly, and one boy raised his hand. "How many times did you read that story before you noticed the moon?" he wanted to know.

I paused and shrugged. "This is the first time I saw that," I confessed. "So, considering I first read this book when I was seven or eight?"

I looked out at the class; their eyes were wide.

"Let's just say, Several," I told them with a nod.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Multitudinous Story

Oh! The Oscar-nominated documentary shorts!

Each year I eagerly look forward to that curated and concentrated glimpse into some other realities than my own. The movies can be joyful, but more commonly are hard to watch, and this year was heavy on the latter.

Three of the five were centered around the war in Syria and its catastrophic fallout. Although the indomitable spirit of many Syrians was front and center, so was the devastating scope of the tragedy that has been unfolding for the last six years. It made the grave subjects of the other two films-- end of life care choices and the path of a violin from the Holocaust to the poorest county in the US-- seem almost, almost, minor, although of course that could never be true.

And, that is why I love them so.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Worth It

I have to admit that I'd never considered a sous vide setup for my kitchen until the other night when a friend mentioned that her husband had one. The stars must have aligned, because a day or two after that, I saw an online deal-of-the-day for one at one-third its usual price. Compact and easy to use, a new toy was clearly in my future.

For those who are unfamiliar, sous vide involves cooking food sealed in a vacuum packed bag in a precisely heated water bath so that whatever you are preparing cooks to that temperature and no higher. Such a technique yields food that is cooked evenly throughout.

And it is fun to play with! So far I've cooked salmon, ribeye, and eggs with varying degrees of success. The steak was perfectly medium rare and a quick sear in a hot skillet made it gorgeous, too. The water temperature for the salmon should have been a few degrees cooler-- I can fix that next time-- it was still pretty good though, and the eggs were the coolest texture ever, almost like custardy melted cheese.

I'll keep you posted about what I cook next!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Context is Everything

As always, at our International Baccalaureate school, the activity ended with a reflection.

Today, the whole school had viewed the moving documentary, He Called me Malala, and the students were asked to name their favorite part. Later, after they were gone, another teacher on the team came to my room to share one of her student's responses:

My favorite part was when she took one right to the forehead.

I gasped. And then laughed, because he has obviously been influenced by popular media, and his phrasing was (excuse the pun) right on target.

Fortunately, the students were also asked to explain their answers, and so he continued:

I couldn't believe she survived to tell us how important school is.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Snow Hole

January 7, 2017:

Washington: trace
Richmond: 8"
Yorktown: 12"
Virginia Beach 10"

February 9, 2017:

Washington: trace
Baltimore: <1 p="">Philadelphia: 4"
New York: 10"

All my teacher friends are beginning to despair!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Clean Your Ears, Lassie

I was only listening with half an ear this morning when I heard a school announcement that made me take notice.
The NJHS is sponsoring a kilt drive. If you have any lightly worn kilts that you no longer need please bring them to school. All kilts will be cleaned before being offered to students and families who may need them.
A bonny parade of tartan capes, bagpipes and Glengarry and Balmoral bonnets whirled through my imagination as I considered who might have a few extra kilts around and better yet, who might want them?

And then I realized with more than a wee twinge of disappointment that I had misunderstood the student announcer. We were having a plain old coat drive.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I'd Like to Buy a Vowel

Each quarter we give a "predictor" assessment for the high stakes test which lies ahead. The kids know the routine; there is even a special app on their iPads so that they can access the test that much more conveniently.

As the teacher it is my role to "green light" the test, and in doing so I have a few options. One is to put a download password on the assessment. I have the sense that the creators meant for this feature to prevent students from taking the test outside of class where, presumably, they could get unauthorized assistance.

That concern is not very relevant to me. I've found that 6th graders don't really want to take the test in class, much less anywhere else, nor do they care enough about the results to bother cheating. I personally like the password because it forces everyone to stop and perhaps even listen to me for a moment before they plunge into multiple choice land, and I try to make my passwords somewhat amusing.

A few years ago, a student actually guessed the download key before I could give it, and ever since then it's been my practice to challenge the kids to guess what it might be. Today was no exception, and after a few hollered-out inaccurate predictions, one of the students suggested we play hangman for the answer.

It was brilliant!

Analyzing the word cues and clues and employing other strategies to decipher the password was a perfect warmup for the test. And? Although I can't prove any causal correlation, as a group, they didn't do too bad at all.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Student Concerns

"Does C. have any friends?" the counselor asked at our weekly student concern meeting.

"He and E. are pretty tight," one teacher noted.

"Yeah," the counselor nodded, "but they went to elementary school together, and I'm wondering if either one is branching out."

"They're both kind of quiet," I said. "But how come you only asked about C?"

"Well," she started, "maybe it's just resting sad face--"

"You mean RSF?" someone wise-cracked. "That's a thing?"

"He just seems a little withdrawn," the counselor finished. She shrugged. "I'll probably just put him and E on different teams next year."

"Hey now!" I said. "Why do you have to be so extreme??"

She looked confused. "What do you mean? I just want them to make more friends."

"That is an introvert's nightmare!"

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Throwin' Stones

I am a person who likes to go places when I exercise. For hikes, the top of the mountain or some other scenic view is sufficient, and a long bike ride will also do, but if I'm walking, I want it to be to somewhere for something; the farmers market, the grocery store, the post office, a restaurant, you get the picture: I stroll with a purpose.

And in fact, we were walking home from the movies this afternoon when I saw a woman jogging purposefully our way with a library book in hand. Even so, I couldn't help giggle when she passed. "It must be overdue!" I whispered to Heidi.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What I Learned Today

I'm taking a quick graduate class on word study-- 3 credits in 6 Saturday sessions-- and today was the first meeting. A few observations:

For the teacher with the second most years in the field, the ice-breaker was not too onerous.

What size is my vocabulary, anyway?
(According to a couple of online tests, somewhere between 28 and 35 thousand.)

What the hell is an affricate?
(Answer: a phoneme that combines a plosive with an immediately following fricative or spirant sharing the same place of articulation, e.g., ch as in chair and j as in jar.)

The new(ish) thing is to refer to students as "kiddos."

When certain kiddos dominate the group activity, other kiddos check out.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Offering

"We brought donuts," the parents said as they joined the special education eligibility committee in the conference room. What followed was a tense discussion about psychological and educational testing as well as teacher, parent, counselor, and self-observation rating scales about their 11-year-old son. We struggled to interpret the data as accurately as we could to best support this student: He was definitely in the clinically significant range for ADHD, but not quite on the autism spectrum. He had an outside diagnosis of conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, but did his school behavior rise to the level of an emotional disability? Even though we were all on the same side, the conversation was fraught.

In the end, we settled on the most certain identification knowing that the committee could be reconvened at any time. It was quiet in the room as the legal documents made their way around the conference table where in the center, sat a box of a dozen had-rolled, small batch gourmet donuts sat untouched.

In general? I am not a donut eater; they have a lot of calories, and I'm a calorie counter. But then I looked at the parents. They seemed overwhelmed and drained.

"Let's dig into those donuts!" I suggested.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

This They Believe

As we make our way towards the end of the essay unit, my students are writing persuasive pieces on topics of their choice. Want to know what's going on in your local 11 to 12 year-old-brain? Here's a peek:

Dogs are better than cats
Cats are just as good as dogs.
School lunches should be replaced with healthy fast food.
Kids don’t have enough breaks.
The Patriots suck.
Kids should be home-schooled.
Tanning is bad.
Our school should have block scheduling.
Students should not have uniforms.
Schools should not offer fast food options for lunch.
Students should not have any homework.
Students should wear uniforms.
No testing makeup on animals.
Trust your guardian to guide you in the right direction.
Our town needs an Anime store.
School lunches should be better.
Bullying has to stop.
Elementary students should not have iPads.
The U.S. should allow refugees to immigrate here.
School should start later.
Donald Trump is unfit to be president.
Women should be paid equally to men.
School should be more fun.
The U.S. should adopt the metric system.
P.E. performance standards should be the same for boys and girls in middle school.
Factories should convert to renewable power sources.
Hotels are better than Airbnb.
A PC is better than a gaming system.
School’s should have less strict dress codes.
There should be more afterschool activities at our school.
Gym class activities should be free choice.
Vegetables are better than fruit.
Hockey is the best sport.
Candy should be healthier.
Apple products were better before Steve Jobs died.
Kids should be able to listen to music in class.
Kids should be able to vote.
Soccer is the best sport.
Kids should have more breaks during the school day.
People should respect gay people more.
There should be fewer tests in school.
Women’s professional sports should get as much attention as men's.
Fossil fuels should be banned.
Schools should have longer summer vacations.
Schools should have four day weeks.
School should be canceled whenever it snows.
Math is important to learn.
Gaming consoles are better than PCs.
Housing should be more affordable for everyone.
The school lunch period should be longer.

And, finally...

Legos are relevant!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Magic Chicken

I may have mentioned before that one of the students in my homeroom this year is a guy who is in our school's functional life skills program, which is designed for people who are cognitively or intellectually impaired. He comes every morning with an instructional assistant whose job it is to help keep him on track as he participates in the same activities we all do.

A few days ago, though, I noticed that he did not stand during the Pledge. It was possible (but doubtful) that he didn't realize where we were in our morning routine, but when the assistant prompted him, he refused to stand. He is on the autism spectrum and verbal communication is at a minimum for him, but it is far from impossible to get through to him.

As soon as the minute of silence was over, grabbing my novelty chicken, the one that plays a little song and lays candy eggs, I walked over to the kid right next to him. "Kieran," I said, "did you stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance today?"

Kieran eyed me with some confusion. "Uhhh," he started, "yes?"

"Good job!" I congratulated him. "Thank you for doing what you were supposed to do. Have a candy egg!"

Kieran pushed on the plastic poultry which clucked a merry tune and delivered a chewy sweet tart to him. I moved to the next student. "Edwin? Did you stand for the pledge?"

And so it went. With each student who received candy, my non-stander's eyes grew wider. Finally he could take it no more. He came over to me. "D?" I asked him. "Did you stand for the pledge?"

He was silent, which is not unusual for him.

"Oh, that's right," I said. "You did not follow the directions today." I shook my head sadly and held the chicken. "I hope you will tomorrow!"

His hand flew to his heart and he recited the pledge as fast as he could.

"Great!" I told him. "Do it just like that tomorrow!"

And he did!

Meanwhile, there was another student who has been chronically late to school recently, but he made it to homeroom that day. He watched first with confusion, and then in amazement as I again offered each student the chicken.

"When did this happen?" he asked. "When did we start getting candy for standing up during The Pledge of Allegiance?"

"I know, right?" I told him. "You should totally make it here on time!"

And he has!