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Hope & Hip Hop October 29, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Artists, Music, Politics.
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Our friend, Dina (The Salsa Queen!) forwarded this link on Youtube.  I must confess that my father warned me I should NEVER blog about politics or religion – but this is ART!  MC Yogi grew up in a group home for “at risk youth” and then discovered the transformative power of yoga.  Who would have thunk it?  His music appears on the White Swan label, home to another of my faves, Deva Premal.  Got art?  If you want to see an AWESOME video, click here:  MC Yogi: Obama ’08 Vote for Hope.

Obama Cholo October 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Art, Politics.
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My friend Angela had this poster on her front door, and it was love at first sight (a primera vista). She told me her hairstylist, David Cordova, had made it which led to an after school jaunt through the winding hills above Eagle Rock to meet him. He had an Obama event that night, and his supply was running dangerously low, but I bought four posters at $5 a pop ($10 at the event!) and was ecstatic.

David said he came up with the idea for the poster because many Latinos are still hesitant to vote for an African American (the brown vs. black issue that I’ve encountered in my own classroom over the years – though less so lately). But according to a front page story in the Los Angeles Times today, a growing number of Latino voters argue that anyone who has faced discrimination would be good for all minorities. Besides, for most voters, it’s no longer a white, black, or brown issue, or even a red or blue one. It all comes down to green – it’s the economy.

David said he took some of the color out of Obama’s skin, added the Mexican day laborer bandana, and the classic cholo shirt. Que milagro! Barack gone barrio. This way Latinos can see that Obama is not so very different from themselves.

I have to admit that in the poster, Obama looks surprisingly like the Mexican cook who works back in the kitchen at the local sushi bar. So in that sense, Obama Cholo (as David refers to him) IS every man – at least in Los Angeles.

Acronyms Are Da Bomb October 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Language, Teaching.
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I’ve recently rejoined the living after a 21-day Teacher Cold, so I’m tempted to say that ASAP stands for Antibiotics Sudafed And Prednisone, but that could be the meds talking. 

Forget Navajo code talk.  When I was growing up my father was a master of acronyms.  My brother and I often qualified as a PITA (Pain In The Ass), a distinction we still proudly claim.  So it’s only natural that I introduce my students, most of them English Language Learners (ELLs to civilians), to the English language’s many acronyms – some which are endemic to a certain third-grade classroom.  

When I first taught my students that FYI means For Your Information and ASAP means As Soon As Possible, you’d have thought they’d deciphered the Rosetta Stone.   My students know the difference between 12 o’clock noon and 12 o’clock midnight because at noon it turns to pizza munching time and Cinderella had to be home at midnight.  My personal favorite is XYZ, which I explain in a hushed tone of voice, means “eXamine Your Zipper.” The boys particularly appreciate this snide aside and quickly zip up.

This year we have a new math program that my students are less than enthusiastic about.  I got tired of their disgruntled mutterings every day when it was time to pull out the math book, so I christened it Da BOMB (The Big Old Math Book).  Now when I say it’s time for math, I simply tell them to take out Da BOMB. When we’re done with the lesson, they “diffuse” Da BOMB and put it back in their desk.  Hey, it keeps me entertained, and if the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

If you’ve got a problem with that, you need to MYOB (Mind Your Own Business).  When a student from two years ago came up to me the other day and discreetly whispered “XYZ,” I knew my work was done.  My kids might not be able to tell you what NCLB means, but even if their scores aren’t up, their zippers are.  Since they’re only in third grade, I spare them KISS and they can figure out IRS (or in some cases INS), when the time comes.  

If you’d like to decipher cryptic text messages, or catch a glimpse of the English Language which is evolving as I write this, you can go to the Urban Dictionary and find more information than you ever wanted or needed to know.  WTF?  But that’s IMO.

Sneezin’ in Parisian October 22, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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It’s officially Day 20 of my cold.  I’ve had three days of antibiotics and my head still feels like it’s stuffed with cotton.  The minimum wage employee who answered the phone at my doctor’s office assured me that he would “talk” to my doctor.  My doctor is supposed to call in a prescription for an even BETTER antibiotic, but I’m not holding my breath.  Today, I actually asked a student to lean closer to talk in my ear.  When that didn’t work, I told her she needed to yell.  I walked around the classroom clinging to a box of tissues.  Then my cell phone rang.  When I saw the call was from my friend, Lesley, in England, I HAD to answer it.  Yes, I actually had my cell phone on me (and thankfully not in my bra, where I stoop to carrying it when I have no pockets).  

Lesley was calling to tell me she and her husband are in Paris and it’s FABULOUS.  The kid who’s new to our school and just moved from Perris, California perked up at the mention of Paris.  I mouthed to him, “Paris, as in FRANCE.”  

Least you think I robbed my students of precious educational minutes while I chatting on the phone in front of the entire class, I turned this surprise call into what we teachers call a “teachable moment.”  I drew a popsicle stick with a student’s name on it, and the girl got to talk to Lesley and listen to her oh-so British accent.  They compared ages:  8<45 (an Inequality), and I had her ask Lesley how to spell “color.”  My student looked confused when she repeated “C-O-L-O-U-R.”  My class in unison said, “Weird!”  After the call, we calculated the 8-hour time difference.  That’s Elapsed Time in Teacher Talk.

When the box of tissues was exhausted, I switched to the roll of paper towels I’d brought from home.  With the roll under my arm, I received the following text messages from Lesley later in the day. 

“Hi darling!  Lovely to hear your voice.  We are on the left bank in a little cafe eating french onion soup. We have just been to the eiffel tower.”  

Half a roll of paper towels later, I received the following message.

“It was lit up and looked like a giant christmas tree. Going 2 the louve tomorrow and the moulin rouge in the evening.  XXX Lesley”

What’s wrong with this picture?  I’d rather be in Paris.  Bonne chance!

Old Cold Blues October 14, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Health, Teaching.
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It’s Day 13 of my not-so-common cold, and today I lost my voice.  This does not bode well as when you’re a teacher you have to talk all day long. I’d like to believe my voice sounds sultry, even sexy, but in reality, I sound like a bullfrog in mating season one minute and Mickey Mouse the next.

For a week now, I’ve been taking anything that ends with -Quil, so I’m officially on Elvis Time. (see Quotation Rotation #1).  “Why don’t you just use sign language,” my oh-so-thoughtful students suggested. Yes, I do sign a lot of directions in my class.  But really, it’s not like I know how to sign, “Quit thumping that pencil.” (or I’m going to stick it in your ear). That, by the way, is an imperative sentence – something my students need to know next week for The Test.

I get two colds a year.  It could be worse, considering I’m surrounded by 20 kids whose first impulse when they feel like throwing up is to run toward me. “Teacher!  I feel sick!”  With outstretched arms, I form a cross with my fingers, as if to ward off vampires.  “Move away from the teacher, ” I repeat calmly, as I back away from them and toss them a plastic grocery bag. Whew! Another ticking biological bomb diffused.

The classroom is one big germfest, so I’m not the only one sick.  I looked over today and saw that my new student from Korea had a stalactite of snot hanging from his nose. We were just finishing the spelling pretest.  I’ve got some really good spellers who asked, “What about a challenge word?”  I didn’t hesitate. “Snotty,” I said, straight-faced, as I handed Mr. Stalactite a tissue.  In my class you get one tissue per day.  “Uno solamente,” I told him, forgetting, in my -Quil induced haze, that he speaks Korean.  If I didn’t ration tissues, the kids would go through two boxes a day, just so they can get out of their seat to get one, and then get out of their seat again to throw it away.  Repeat this ritual ten times a day – you get the picture.

I like to look at the glass (of Robitussin, that is) as half full, so I’m trying to look on the bright side. All my students spelled “snotty” correctly.

Multiplication Rocks October 12, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the dreaded words. Drill and kill. Yes, you heard me right. Drill and kill. Unlike a certain vice-presidential candidate, I’m not talking about the solution to end our dependence on foreign oil, or my weekend plans to pick off wildlife with a high-powered rifle from low-flying aircraft. No, what I have in the cross hairs of my scope is a more elusive target – multiplication.

Third grade is the beachhead for mastering multiplication. Students who are promoted to fourth grade and haven’t memorized their times tables should prepare to hunker down in the trenches of “And would you like fries with that?” Study after study has shown that the majority of students who struggle with math in middle and high school never learned their multiplication facts.

I attended a week-long math training last summer and the trainer taught all sorts of alternatives to the dreaded drill and kill technique. She demonstrated ways to calculate facts by contorting your hands and fingers so that you ultimately came up with the answer, while also getting a vigorous physical workout. These alternatives fell somewhere between throwing up gang signs and cheerleading. Hello? 3×7 is 21!  I knew that, and I didn’t even have to slap my thighs and yodel the answer!

By the end of third grade, students should be able to complete 100 multiplication facts in five minutes. One fact I know is that they haven’t really memorized the facts unless they can do them in three minutes. That’s why I have “The 3-Minute Club.”  Last year, 18 out of my 20 students were proud members. The remaining two could do their facts in five minutes, but I saw some secretive finger counting under the table. (I’ve been known to make them sit on one hand when they do fact practice, math meanie that I am!)

Some people call it drill and kill, but my students call it FUN!  They literally salivate at the chance to practice math facts. It wasn’t always like that. Five years ago I attended a New Management Seminar given by Rick Morris, who has lots of creative ideas on classroom management. That’s where I learned about the TeachTimer, which can be used on any standard overhead projector. It functions as a clock and a timer, and can count up or down. It costs around $40 (divide by $3.75 to calculate the number of lattes this equals). I’ve only had to replace the battery once, which makes it one of the best investments I’ve made.

Here’s how I do it.  My friend, Jen, gave me sheets of 100 math facts – various levels of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. My students drill daily and by introducing the timer on Day 1, they get over their fear of being timed.

The rules are simple. No one gets to shout, “Yes!” or dramatically flip their paper over to let the entire class know they’ve already finished. The great thing about the TeachTimer is I can set it to count down, so those students who finish early can write the time remaining. Once they’ve written 2:00, they know they’re “in the club.”

I give students the same facts every day for a week. On Monday they write M-5, as they have five minutes. Tuesday is also T-5.  But then we speed things up, so Wednesday is W-4, and Thursday is R-3 (yes, I have to explain why I use R instead of Th, but they quickly catch on). On Friday, they once again take the same test in five minutes (F-5). That’s the one I grade. When the timer beeps, I say, “Pencils down, correcting crayons out.”

And here’s the best part. The students correct it them themselves!  Those who’ve finished the row raise their hands and I call on one.  “Einstein, Row A,” and Einstein ticks off the answers. Row B!  Row C! Most of my students are ELLs (English Language Learners), so this also gives them the opportunity to speak.  Most ELLs are more comfortable with math and saying numbers aloud.

At the beginning of the year, I have students practice reading the answers at just the right pace, and how to project their voice. If someone gives a wrong answer, there’s an incredulous chorus of “Huhs?” and the mistake is rectified. Students put a tick mark next to each correct answer (no stars!) as they correct. If they get an answer wrong, they just circle it, as there’s no time to write the correct answer. After practicing last year, we timed ourselves. It took SEVEN MINUTES to do a five-minute drill AND correct it!

Last Friday I put one of my students in charge of correcting. He called on students and they rattled off the answers. This gave me TWO WHOLE MINUTES to do something productive like figure out where I’d put my brain. Do you know how many teachers would kill for just two extra minutes?  It was bliss, and the kids were totally running the show.

The drawing above was done by one of my students who was a crackerjack reader, but was flirting with early arthritis from chronic finger counting. He drew the picture at the end of the year after his confidence had soared 100 times (and yes, he could calculate x 100 using that neato zero trick). Drill and kill?  Just ask my students. They’ll tell you multiplication rocks!

For free math fact practice sheets, you can go to mathfactcafe.com

Halloween for Queen Porcine October 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Pets.
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Never fail, the first trick-or-treaters arrive while we’re still eating dinner. Our dogs bark wildly and have to be herded into the den.  They’re convinced each time the doorbell rings, it’s just the mailman wearing a different disguise.  But our pig, Maisie, springs to her feet (okay, technically they’re hooves) and actually trots over to the front door. She’s been waiting for this night all year. For Maisie, Halloween is tantamount to a walk down the red carpet on Oscar night. The pig paparazzi – dads with video cameras – vie for the best angle to capture a shot of their little princess/Transformer with a REAL pig.

Did I mention that this real pig is wearing an orange witch’s hat with a purple moon and stars on it?  Yes, I’ve become one of THOSE people. People who dress their pets in costumes. The minute I strap on her hat, Maisie knows it’s show time. This will be her 12th year greeting trick-or-treaters.

You should know that our neighborhood is a throw back to times gone by, so come Halloween, busloads of extended families arrive from the Other Side of the freeway (aka barrio). Three generations holding outstretched pillow cases. There is always an adult who holds one out while motioning that it’s for the baby, who’s all of two weeks old.  Yeah, right.

The first year, we had over 300 trick-or-treaters descend on our house. They chewed through the candy like a swarm of locusts in a field of spring corn. Since then, I’ve beefed up the inventory and I’ve developed a smooth slight of hand move so I can drop a lone jawbreaker into a plastic pail in such a way, that they actually think I gave them an entire handful of candy!

The first Halloween we had Maisie, she stood out on the front porch “in costume.” People walking by would suddenly stop. “What IS that?” they’d ask. We enjoyed telling people it was a dog in a pig costume. “Good costume, huh?” we’d say, relishing their confused reaction. They’d edge closer. ” Holy sh*t!”

For 11 years people have returned each Halloween asking, “Is this the house with the pig?” Maisie’s got the routine down. All I have to do is say, “Trick or Treat!” and she ambles (when you’re as big as Maisie, ambling is your peak speed) out onto the front porch, makes a very wide U-turn, plops down, and then opens her mouth.  She looks like those oh-so-cute dolphins waiting to be rewarded with a fish. Maisie, though, is happy to feast on miniature Tootsie-Rolls or Now and Laters, paper and all.  She hasn’t met a candy yet that she doesn’t love.  Halloween means lots of photo ops and photo ops mean lots of treats.   Pigs are smart – diabolically so – and this pig knows how to work a crowd.

One year it was growing late and it was obvious the trick-or-treaters had moved two blocks south to where the houses are bigger and people pass out full-sized brand name candy. Maisie had called it a night and retired to the den.

The doorbell rang and I was tempted not to answer, but I looked outside and saw a father and his little boy. I opened the door.  “My little boy really just wanted to see the pig,” the father explained.  When I told them Maisie was asleep, they both looked heartbroken. Sucker that I am, I offered to usher the little boy back to the den, so he could take a quick peek at the pig. His father nodded approvingly.

But when I opened the den door, there was our fox terrier, Wily, wildly humping Maisie, who was laying sound asleep with a big grin on her face. The little boy’s eyes grew large as I mumbled something about them “playing.” I grabbed the boy’s hand and took him back to his father.  “Did you see the pig?” his dad asked.  I didn’t wait for the kid to answer.  I dumped all the remaining candy in his bucket and cheerily waved them off.  “Happy Halloween!”  Once they’d stepped off the front porch, I quickly locked the front door and turned off all the lights. Only then did I burst out laughing. Geez!

Last weekend, I lugged down the box of Halloween decorations and unpacked the plug-in foam jack-o-lantern that we set next to the front door. Maisie’s ears twitched and she stuck her nose into the air and snorted. She knows it won’t be long now.  Halloween is in the air. She can almost smell the Tootsie Rolls.

.

October Mao October 1, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Monthly Mao.
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