My Dog's Better Than Your Dog

05 February 2007

My apologies to those of you who now have the jingle from the old Ken-L Ration commercial stuck in your heads for the day, but it was the first thing that came to my mind when I read this article in the Washington Post where teens are engaging in one-upsmanship over who is taking the hardest course of study.

Fierce but subtle rivalries are playing out among the teenage academic elite in the Washington area as high schools expand college-level courses. Like Ivy Leaguers who debate ad nauseam whether Harvard, Yale or Princeton reigns supreme, many high schoolers enjoy engaging in a game of one-upmanship over their brand-name curricula.

Their tit for tats might appear trifling, but students say the debates help them answer fundamental questions about their high-achieving existence: Whose life is most out of control? Which program is more impressive to colleges? Which provides the best education? Who suffers the heaviest workload?

There's much more to read in the whole article. I became more and more incredulous as I read. Please understand that I support the idea of a rigorous education for all students---whatever may be appropriate to their abilities and interests; but, this article points to something out of control, in my opinion. It is a gross consumerism of grades and status without any value placed on learning. What does it say about a kid whose goal is to prove that they have the greatest lack of a personal life? Or the colleges who value these candidates?

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Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard

16 September 2006

One of my resolutions for this new school year is a stealth project: Save the Julio! Julio is one of those teachers who drives me to have conversations like the one below.

INT: Hallway at central office. Science and math specialists are walking from opposite directions. The math specialist is scowling.

Science specialist: Is everything all right?
Math specialist: I...I think I might be bald by the end of this school year.
Science specialist: Oh, that's nothing. I was just sitting at my computer reading e-mail and realized I was going to have an aneurysm. That would be it. I'd just slump over at my computer. I have to take a little walk now.

Julio is an energetic and intellectually curious man. He has a passion for teaching but no clue about student learning. There are unit binders full of pre-printed notes for the overhead. The idea is just to have kids copy down the notes. If they don't learn from that, too bad...because, hey, he taught it, right? So my mission this year is to shake Julio up a bit. It's a good time as he's picking up a program that I once taught---and is receptive to mentoring.

I saw Julio on Friday morning as I was moving between different schools. He was stressed about getting a lab set up for next week. "Gee, should I come back after school? I could help you set up." He liked that idea and it was the perfect "in" to having another session with him to talk about things. He has already tried a couple of ideas from our previous talk and is happy with the results. I just need to keep him from reverting to his old habits...and then see if he'll transfer any of these ideas to other classes he teaches. We're having some good conversations for now and that is useful.

Julio does care about what happens in the classroom, it's just that his entire focus is on himself. I may very well be wrong in thinking this, but I think that what happens in the classroom should be about kids. Can I get him to to move more to that side of the continuum this year? I think I might...as long as I don't have that aneurysm first.

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Good Juju

26 May 2006

Okay, so I'm not really superstitious. But I have to tell ya', whenever I wear a certain pair of earrings, it doesn't rain. There must be some good juju there. I'd take a picture and display them, but I don't want to cause any riots. Everybody would want a pair. Anyway, we needed something extra our our side today because it was supposed to be rather stormy most of the time.

I took my kiddos on a field trip to the zoo today. We had a good time and I learned some new things today. There was an elderly couple that I met while watching the Siamangs. One of the animals came up to the glass and put her hand against it to meet up with the palm of the woman. It was obvious the ape recognized her. A bit further down were the orangutans. Again, one of the females followed her along the glass and sat down while the woman showed her several different sparkly objects. The couple spends a lot of time at the zoo, apparently, and so the animals know them and enjoy the communication.

I watched fruit bats respond in a Pavlovian way to a light cue...and then have some territorial behaviour displays around the food.

I heard a 3-year old remark "Holy shit! That's a big bear!" to his mother...who was unfazed.

And I saw former students during each ferry ride. They were fun to chat with and catch up as to where their lives were leading. I'm always so proud of them.

It wasn't until the ride home that I realized that this was it: the last field trip I will organize and take with kids for awhile. And then I figured out that I have 17 days left in the classroom. Out of the 2700 (roughly) of my career, I will soon be down to single digits. Holy s..! Well, you get the idea. Thank goodness for all of the favourable juju over the last 15 years. I hope there's plenty more in the tank for the next 15.

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Obstetricians in Training

12 May 2006

Several years ago, I had a kid tell me how his mom had to go see the obstetrician at Costco. And while I don't doubt that big box stores may someday get around to making those sorts of services available, what the kid really meant to say was that his mom had seen the optician. That's a whole different ball game, honey. We got it straightened out.

My AP kids are now done with the Curriculum and we have some room in our schedule for other pursuits. For several years now, that has included a "naughty bits lab," which consists of dissecting uteri from pregnant cows. The kids were so excited (and silly) yesterday, that they just had to get out their camera phones once the "babies" had been delivered. Awwww...aren't they cute?


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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Whew...We Made It

08 May 2006

The Exam was today. The big one that's for all the marbles: the 2006 AP Biology Exam, brought to you by the College Board.

I met the kids starting about 6:45 in our cafeteria to get them a bit of breakfast, deal with some last minute questions, and get them on the bus to the testing site. The bus was supposed to pick them up at 7. It was late, which worked out well since two of my charges had yet to arrive.

The last kid didn't arrive quite late enough. She showed up in the cafeteria about 7:10 to tell me that she didn't think she wanted to take the test. I don't think this was really true---although I have no doubt she had some nerves to deal with. If you don't want to take the test, you show up for class later in the day or not at all. You don't show up just before the bus leaves and claim you've changed your mind. The other kids and I reminded her that she had nothing to lose by trying---just go and do it. And she did.

I next saw them at noon. We had arranged to meet for lunch and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. As always, they looked like they'd been hit by a bus, but they were otherwise doing all right. We had accurately predicted which lab would be the source of one of the free response questions, so they felt really good about that. It'll be a long wait until August to see the scores.

The next AP Bio teacher is already making plans and I am ready to hand off the program. Last year, I really had a lot of ambivalence over the reduction in my teaching day. This year, I am comfortable with the elimination of it. There are wonderful opportunities for me in Curriculum and I know that it will serve future AP students well to have a teacher who can give them more attention. We'll all come out ahead.

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They Came...They Saw...They Studied

06 May 2006

My students stopped by this afternoon for a few hours of comaraderie, copious amounts of Wheat Thins, and some last minute biology.

I will miss working with students of my own next year, no matter how many classrooms I visit. Their energy and positive outlook is always refreshing---especially when I can think of adults I know who have nothing but hate and misery in their hearts. It's so good to see kids...the future...that has hope and possibility.

How will they do on Monday? It's a guessing game. Six of the eight have a very good shot at a three or better. But I have known students who could have easily done well on the test and just didn't perform well...and others I was sure wouldn't "pass," and did.

We are looking forward to our celebratory lunch on Monday. We all deserve a reward.

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Preparing for the Onslaught

The AP Bio Exam is bright and early Monday morning. My kids are (finally) starting to get a little panicky about taking it, so I'm having an open study session at my place this afternoon to calm their nerves and see what final pieces of advice I can dispense.

In previous years, I did a much more intensive review session, but I hadn't planned on one for this year because my students are very independent and introverted. The idea of a "group" event didn't seem to be one they would cotton to; however, earlier this week, the kids were asking if we could do something over the weekend, and I have hastily made some invitations.

This morning, I need to arrange for some snacks and get the place straightened up a bit. I hope I remembered to bring home the "right" sorts of materials for the review. If not, it should still be all right. Today is more about building up confidence than learning. Better to have them here together than stewing alone at their homes.

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The Other Countdown

09 April 2006

The AP Bio Exam is now less than a month away. I could always use more time to prepare the kids, but we're on track to finish talking about the major topics in the next couple of weeks.

This time of year always makes us (teachers and kids) a little anxious. The next session of the WASL will start in just over a week, with AP testing on its heels. There's going to be plenty of stressed out people running around.

I feel good about the chances my kids have to do well on The Exam this year. It's a small group, but they're committed to doing well and have a solid knowledge of the curriculum and have accumulated some good test-taking strategies and essay writing skills. They'll be okay if they can just hang in there another month.

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Big Double D's

19 March 2006

My AP kids are knee-deep into our genetics unit at the moment. We've been talking about different ways to track traits and make predictions about what might happen from different parental combinations.

Last week, we started talking about pedigrees: charts of ancestry like the one shown below. Circles represent females; males are shown by using a square. Circles and squares that are coloured in are for whatever trait is being tracked by the chart. Older generations are at the top. Lines between two people represent parents. Lines connected above are for siblings.
Anyway, the kids were looking at a practice pedigree on Deaf-Mutism. They were supposed to write the genotypes (gene combinations) for each person on the chart. An uppercase "D" was for a normal gene and a lowercase "d" for the deaf-mute trait. For this particular trait, this means that every blackened circle and square meant that the gene combo was "dd." Anything blank had at least one uppercase D.

A few minutes after working through the pedigree and assigning D/d's to people, a girl looked up and asked, "How do you get big double D's?"

I gave her the first answer that came to mind: "implants."

Never a dull moment in the classroom, is there?

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Another One Bites the Dust

17 March 2006

I lost another AP kiddo today. She was my best student in some ways. Her work was always very high quality. But her attendance was of the very worst. I think she had only managed to show up for one exam day this entire year.

It's one of those cases where the parent is rather needy and demands a lot of kid in terms of attention. I will miss this little gal, but I hope that she can escape to college next year. She'd probably like to just be able to focus on her studies as opposed to continually being pulled into mom's drama. It might also be nice to be able to attend class more than once a week.

We really only have two more weeks left of content and then we'll wind down and review. It seems a shame for anyone to have to quit now.

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Nudge, Nudge...Wink, Wink...Say No More

09 March 2006

I think I solved the problem I was whining about the other day. I shared the following information with my AP kids:

  • 1st period meets from 7:50 - 8:10 each day
  • There is a "study hall" from 8:10 - 9:50; some AP classes will have practice tests (not ours); some students may work on their senior projects or other items
  • On Monday and Wednesday, our class will meet from 10:00 - 11:20. I will take roll for the first time at 10:00.

My question to them was, what time do you need to show up for school? One of them timidly volunteered, "Ten o'clock?"

What a bright young thing.

I pointed out that I was not telling them to skip school. However, if they had things they needed to do at home...and parents who understood their need to be there...then they could make what they wanted of next week's schedule. And if they had to come to school, they were welcome to hang out in my class.

Any guesses how many kids I'll see before 10 on Monday?

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Role Reversal

28 February 2006

I have a situation in my AP class that is completely new to me: a kid wants to stay in the class...and his parents want him to drop. I'm used to the other situation---where a kid wants to get out of a class and his/her parents think they should keep at it. I don't know quite what to do this time, because the student is in a very awkward position: to stay in the class means defying his parents.

I talked with his mother. I explained that I had offered for her son to take the class "Pass/Fail." That way, he would still have credit, it would show up on his transcript, but it wouldn't impact his GPA. This would relieve some pressure on the kid and yet allow him to stay in the class. Her stance is that if he isn't earning a grade, what's the point in taking a class?

The kid would be happy to stay in and take the class Pass/Fail. With only two months to go until The Test (not that he's planning on taking it), we are very nearly done with our curriculum. Why "quit" now?

We'll see what happens. I talked to his counselor so that she would know the situation the kid is in and I guess we'll go from there. I'm hoping that this will be the first and last time I run across this sort of dilemma.

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Feelin' Groovy

02 November 2005
















I really enjoyed being a teacher today. I feel like things have been going just perfectly the last couple of days.

You see this thing above? It's a graphic representation of what happens during nerve transmission---and in my experience, it's devilishly hard for most kids to wrap their minds around fully. There are lots of things going on: diffusion of ions, embedded proteins, electrical currents, and more. Students have to be able to integrate all of this and the last few years, I haven't felt like I've done very well at helping them.

But this year is different. We started yesterday modeling the membrane and just looking at how the electrical charges were set up and why. Today, I took the papers they created from the models and put them up on the chalkboard. There were four to represent the stages above (we combined "threshhold" and "depolarization." Instead of having the kids use manipulatives, I had them draw in the different items (sodium, potassium, chlorine, large anions) so that we had a big timeline to look at. We then looked at the above diagram in terms of graphing what we had represented in our timeline. So far, so good.

Next, I handed out a case study entitled "Bad Fish." I have adapted it a bit from the ones you will see if you follow the link. It's a good way to get kids to apply their knowledge. We worked through a lot of the case today, using the timeline on the board to reference the learning. It seemed to be extremely successful. Students were very tuned into the discussion and interested in the problem.

It's exciting to me to have found a successful way to teach this. We have more to attach to this skeleton of information tomorrow...but I feel like the kids are ready. I haven't had to force feed the information and hope they keep it down. I'll let you know how the next challenge (above) goes.

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Brainless Halloween

31 October 2005

I got to school today, all ready to dissect some sheep brains with my kids. We've been lurking in the nervous system chapter for a few days---even used some swim caps to draw brain anatomy on. But being Halloween, it seemed like the perfect time to poke around in the real deal.

I made the requisite copies, checked the web references to make sure they were still "live," and pulled the dissecting tools. And then I discovered that we were brainless. Nary a brain to be found in the entire department. If this had been a day to look at pig hearts, I would have been set---we have boxes of them.

So, we moved on to some other material and I've promised the kids that we'll get back to the dissection later...once the brains have been located. They did suggest a scavenger hunt, but the school was already wired on Halloween candy. Sending out my spooks would have been a major disruption.

Other than that, it was a pretty good Monday. I actually got some good work done and my "to do" list didn't incur any significant growth. Tonight I'll spend a little time with TCM and MNF. TCM is showing one of my most favourite movies: The Uninvited.

Happy Halloween!

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Monday in the Classroom

26 September 2005

I had two different classroom experiences today.

My first was with my own kids. I was particularly pleased with the way the lesson turned out. On Friday, I had provided each student with an index card that had the name of something written on it. The "something" was different for each card. The student's task was to decide if the item on his/her card was alive and then provide a couple of supporting statements for their choice. But I didn't give them very many straightforward items: prion, virus, unfertilized egg, etc. Each kid had to wrestle a bit in their thinking. Today, I drew a line on the board with "not alive" at one end and "alive" at the other. Students took turns going up to the board with their card, placing it along the line where they thought it was a best fit, and then talking a bit about their choice. Afterwards, we had a discussion about the continuum and some suggestions for changing up the order of things. I then worked with them on a Frayer model for the term "life." By the end of the discussion, they needed to write their own definition for the term. After that, we moved on to classification and review from last week.

Second period, I joined a group of other teachers on a classroom observation protocol. The idea here was to watch the class for a bit and then go and reflect on what we saw. We were not there to judge the teacher or class---just think about how this related to our own classroom practice. I found this interesting because people saw such different things in the lesson. Or in some cases, others seemed to observe things that I didn't. My guess is that with more practice with this strategy, the more likely it is that people will agree on what they did and didn't see. But again, that's not really the goal.

It is still the September honeymoon period and I continue to be excited about life in the classroom. I hope the good buzz lasts for awhile longer.

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So, here's the deal...

19 September 2005

I didn't quite get the "diagnostic" into the shape I wanted to use with kids today---but I'm going to keep picking at it. (Yeah, I know, it'll never heal if I do.) And I hope to build in more opportunities for students to reflect during future classes.

What we did today was have a movable feast of study aids. I had the class split up into 4 groups. There were four stations that each group moved to during the class period (about 12 minutes per spot). At one point, a group spent time looking at the resources their book provided at the ends of the chapters, as well as covering the captions for diagrams with their hands and then explaining the picture to a buddy. Another station was for investigating the on-line resources: website for the class and for the text. The third and fourth were two types of graphic organizers. The first was a giant 3-way Venn diagram on carbs, fats, and proteins. The other was a concept map on atoms, bonding, properties of carbon, and functional groups. I really felt like this worked well. It kept kids moving and talking about the material---they did some very nice work.

We had a discussion about these different ways to use information. Not all of them appeal to every kid---and that's okay. But I want them to understand the tools that are at their disposal and also think about how they could use their time with a study partner or group. We also talked about how the average person needs ~21 times of working with new information before they have a "B" level of understanding. Not all of those 21 times can be in class...and more importantly, they have to find a way to "own" all of this information.

We'll see how they do on the test tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I'm still fighting the good fight on being allowed to have the kids blog from school. Our district tech people have been supportive, but slow moving in terms of figuring out how to allow one blog through the internet filter without letting them all through. I finally got fed up with hearing "no," and e-mailed the tech support of the company who makes the filter. Lo and behold, there IS a way to allow a single blog through the filter. I e-mailed the information to our district tech people, who hemmed and hawed, but finally figured it out. As of today, my class now has the only district-allowed blog. Huzzah!

Not bad for a Monday. :)

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How do they know if they know?

18 September 2005

The only class I'm teaching this year is an Advanced Placement (AP) Biology class. It's a challenge for both the students and me. The College Board provides us with a syllabus and it is then up to us to figure out how to manage it.

AP is not standards-based, which makes it a vastly different animal than other courses in our department. I am training some biology thoroughbreds to run a race at the end of the year. It is a race in which they are competing against one another---and well over 100,000 other students. Only the top 20% of them can get the most desirable score of "5." Not everyone can "pass" the test and it is designed to make very specific distinctions in what students know. This is a contrast to the WASL---in which every student can pass (although not all of them do).

I've been working on the first exam of the year for my kids. We've had some really good classes so far, spending time working with the information in different ways: reading, using graphic organizers, building models, creating "foldables," etc. These are bright and highly motivated students. But as we wrap up this unit, I am wondering if they know what they do and don't understand about things. How do I help them reflect on the material and figure out what their level of understanding is? A test is really too late---in fact, tomorrow (the day before the test) is likely too late. More often than not, a test says more to me about what a kid knows. I could change this by developing some questions for them to think about as they look at a graded exam. I assume that they do this, but it's likely that most of them don't---they're just too focused on what the "right" answer was as opposed to why they missed it.

Obviously, this sort of reflection and metacognition needs to be built into the daily routine. But we'll start tomorrow with our review (better late than never). I'm trying to create some sort of generic diagnostic tool for them...something to help them pinpoint what concepts they do and don't have. The next part is then helping them identify ways to "fix up" their weak points.

I'm having a hard time with the "diagnostic." What questions should one ask oneself in order to determine a level of understanding? How do you know if you know something? Anyway, I'm starting with that...reflecting on how I do it...and trying to put it on paper. I hope to be able to process this some with students tomorrow, along with some different resources they can use when they need help.

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Anticlimactic Finish

02 September 2005

The last day of inservice was yesterday, followed by Open House. I was all geared up for it...and not a single parent showed up to meet me. Sigh.

I did find out yesterday that I may be gaining a few more students (and parents). The other high school is cancelling its AP Biology class due to lack of interest (only 6 students were enrolled)---so a kid or two may come over to our school for that class. What makes this an interesting tidbit is that the other high school is the "beautiful school" in the district...the one in Newsweek's Top 500 High Schools list. This list is generated by the number of students enrolled who take AP courses and tests (and schools nominate themselves). The mere idea of them cancelling any AP course is akin to sacrilege.

You may be wondering why a school with such a large enrollment in AP courses has trouble filling out their Biology class. The primary reason is simply that their science staff is rather cutthroat with one another in terms of getting students into "their" classes. I suspect that another part of the reason is that the AP Bio teacher is a bit of a harpy...and the others are all too happy to get in their digs if they can. (And perhaps the students are more drawn to the other personalities, too.)

It's frightening to think how close I came to being the only AP Bio teacher in the district---as I was nearly hired to take on the class at the other secondary school (grades 7 - 12), too.

Anyway, I'm disappointed with the lack of turnout last night. Since this may be my last year in the classroom, I would have liked to kick it off a bit differently. But perhaps a bad dress rehearsal will mean a great opening night.

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Equal vs. Fair

29 July 2005

I subscribe to a few listservs. I find the one sponsored by the College Board for AP Biology to be particularly good. Help on almost any topic (no matter how obscure the question) is just a click away. I have several folders full of suggestions on making the required labs run more smoothly, ways to demonstrate or model information for kids, and so on. There are always all sorts of discussion threads running at once, although a few seem to repeat from year to year.

One of these threads has to do with pre-requisites for taking AP Biology. There are a variety of schools of thought here. The College Board recommends that students have taken chemistry prior to AP Bio, and many schools follow this suggestion (my school was one of them). Some schools have no pre-requisite requirements. Others have several. The push in my district is to remove any "gates" for upper division courses. If a kid wants to try a class, let him/her do so. In some ways, I have no problem with this. Perhaps a certain lack in their academic background is a handicap, but I can think of plenty of kids I've had who have had the proper course "pedigree" but didn't want to make an effort to apply it. I'm happy to have the kid who wants to try to make a go of the class, regardless of their previous preparation.

Today, one of the members of the listserv posted these thoughts about doing away with pre-requisites:

Why do we need to be more inclusive for those kids who want in to AP classes? This mindset really bothers me. Our policy is too lenient as it is at having a 90% in Bio 1 and passing Chem 1 to get into AP Bio. It should be tougher than that. These kids need a taste of reality. Should we let anyone into med school who wants? What about law school? NO. They have to learn that you have to earn spots in certain cases. It should be an honor to get into the class and the kids who get in should feel a sense of pride about it, not look across the room at some kid who shouldn’t be in there. I am sorry if I offended anyone, but this mindset that this country is moving towards of making everything equal just fires me up. There is a huge difference between equal and fair. I agree with being fair, but everything will not always be equal.

Hmmm...

Stepping back to take a look at the larger picture, I can't quite agree with this particular view of "equal vs. fair." It is absolutely true that there are limited numbers of spots for different post-graduate programs, but why should a high school class be as competitive as med school? Is it "fair" that many students nationwide have been "tracked" away from more rigorous curriculum because of their skin colour and/or socio-economic status---and now they can't get out because they weren't allowed to take the pre-requisite courses? (Are these the kids who "shouldn't be there" that the other students will have to look at?) Is it "fair" to tell a kid that because they slacked off their studies when they were 14 and didn't get a certain grade in a class that they should be prohibited from showing they can and want to apply themselves to their studies? It's true, not everything will be equal. But I would like to think that we could at least level the playing field a bit and make it fair for students of all backgrounds.

My Boss Lady in Curriculum is an exceptional woman and I am learning a lot from her. One of the things that I have liked is watching her listen to someone on a rant about which classes are appropriate for which students (in their opinions). She actively listens. She shows concern. And then she simply states that we have to teach the kids who show up. We can't control how much money their families have...or how much time they spend on homework...or what they eat. What we can control is what happens in our classrooms during the moments those kids are in there. What will you do to make the most of that time for them? And how can I support you?

Like it or not, she's right. Every kid deserves the opportunity for a rigorous education. This does not mean that every kid needs to take AP Biology, only that we need to be in the business of helping kids find their potential---not keep them from doing so. All things being equal, that seems pretty fair to me.

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Scores and More

25 July 2005

I had to run into the nearest town today and take care of a few items of business. This included the most important (to me) job: retrieving my AP score report from my school mailbox. Overall, I have to say that I am pleased with the scores---with 2/3 of the kids "passing" with a score of 3, 4, or 5. It is good to know most of my students managed to succeed in spite of me. :)

Speaking of AP, I did delve into the Big Blue Box I brought home for the summer. It contains my resources for that class, compartmentalized into fifteen folders. Each folder represents one unit of study. At the moment, things are placed in the folders by topic, but they are unorganized. I spent some time looking at them today. I also retooled my curriculum a bit. I am pretty happy with the format I've used the last two years. I do think that I'll try a slightly different sequence at the beginning of the year next year and see what happens. I'm basing this on feedback I got from last year's students---what would have helped them more. I also tried to organize my thoughts regarding a class blog and some other new things I'd like to attempt this year.

WASL scores should be available very soon. As in "later this week," I hope. Our district testing coordinator said that I could start hounding her for them the last week in July. I am, however, forbidden to share them with anyone until she has made a formal presentation of them to school principals mid-August.

I also outlined the two curriculum days for staff that I have to help with next month and corralled some resources. It's likely that I won't look at this stuff again for a couple more weeks, but at least I have captured some thoughts for now.

Meanwhile, I got my car all checked out and a had a minor engine repair tended to. This process took longer than I had anticipated, mainly because the mechanic thought there was an odd vibration to things after it was all put back together. I have to tell you, from a woman's point of view, that vibration is rather nice. And if it's only going to be felt when the car is sitting in traffic, then that's all the better to pass the time. Ahem.

I took in a Pontiac that looks like this:
And while there, a Pontiac like this arrived:

I asked to take the pretty black one with the fins home with me. Instead, I was sent home with the one that brung me. Ah, those fleeting summer loves.

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Tying Up Loose Ends

24 June 2005

It is the nature of Education to leave a lot of unfinished business. Kids move on to other schools, initiatives come and go, and so on. As for me---I hate unfinished business. I like to know how the stories end. I've been thinking that I've left a few in such a state here. So in that spirit...

  • I ended up Reading 2126 books last week in Lincoln. As predicted, we finished my question by break time on Sunday morning---with all questions finishing less than an hour later. I didn't win the pool we had going at our table, although I should have. However, I was provided with enough blind foolish luck earlier in the week at the racetrack...so I can't complain.
  • Things did seem to end somewhat pleasantly at school for the year. I have learned that our PE chair and Math Chair have both left for other opportunities. It makes me sad, in some ways to see so much change at our school. Out of the 60 or so staff members on board when I arrived, I think maybe 18 are still there. And as much as Suzanne was willing to dismiss me with a "You can go home now." after 9 years of working together, I wasn't quite ready to do that. I did leave a nice gift in her box, wish her well. I hope she finds her smile again.
  • And DC? It looked like he would stay on...until I read my e-mail this morning. This is his lovely parting gift, which he sent to the entire staff of our school:

Howdy All:

I sincerely hope that your summer is going well and that you are relaxing and enjoying the things in life that matter most, in my case family. With that thought in mind, I am writing you to let you know that I have decided to leave for greener pastures. Unfortunately, I am not leaving with the best of feelings.
I have had my opinions of the school's leadership, direction, and spirit, which admittedly, are not the highest. I just wanted you to know that I have greatly enjoyed working with the staff, it is the leadership (or lack there of) that has caused me to finally part ways, not my colleagues. I hold most of the staff in high regards and hope that I have positively contributed in my own way.
The final straw that broke the camel's back for me was the leadership's decision to not hire my highly qualified, very experienced, and well recommended wife as a science teacher to fill one of our two vacancies. We were hoping that this school was a more progressive and family oriented school with a closer "feel." What I encountered was not what I had anticipated. The only way to effect change is to realize that you need to change first.
Ironically, most of the people involved in making decisions are very uninvolved and uncommitted to the school. So, yes, I feel unwanted, unappreciated, and uninspired to stay as my wife and I had hoped for a considerable time. My family and I were very stressed and upset over this, but no one seemed to care. I am sure that someone in the Science Department will take up where I left off with the Science Club and they will all stay there for twenty plus years of dedicated service. (Please excuse the sarcasm.)
As I said before change only happens when people stand up and acknowledge that change need to happen first. I need a change and the school needs a change of leadership Where was the vision, the family atmosphere, the forward thinking? Oh well, as I also said, it is not you but the leadership that I have serious issue with. I just wanted to let the staff know why I am leaving, please do not listen to rumors or think poorly of me, and realize that I truly do like working with you. I just could not stay now knowing the circumstances and dealing with the leadership. I apologize if this causes discomfort for some of you (Controversy happens.)
God had always taken very good care of us and I think that there is a purpose in everything. Basically, I think that this school was not the right place for us. Oh well. Just as things were looking bleak a ray of hope appeared. As my best friend always reminds me "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans for the future." Also, as the old adage goes, as one door closes another opens. I have accepted a position for an integrated math/science teacher in another district. It is more me (I guess I'm a small town country guy at heart and we already live on the "other side" of the bridge anyhow.). This school has come through where OHS did not.
Unfortunately, do the untimeliness of the hiring process; I was robbed of the chance to say goodbye in person to you or my students. As we say in the Navy, "Fair wind and following seas." Take care and God bless. I will miss you all.

Sincerely, DC

Oh, boy! What a way to start the day. I can't say that I'm surprised by his leaving. I can say that his wife wasn't offered a job because she wasn't qualified for the position. I can also say that most of his comments in the e-mail are very unprofessional, in my opinion. But at least he is out of our hair.

If there are any other tales from the year where you need "the rest of the story," send along a reminder and I'll do what I can to fill in the details.

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Nearly to the Bitter End

18 June 2005

Two questions are now done Reading...but not mine. My table has a pool going for when we'll finish tomorrow. I guessed 9:53 a.m. :) The CB didn't update the question totals today, so I'm not sure how close we are to finishing---but I'm guessing no more than 7000 more exams. This is easily doable by 96 Readers in under two hours.

Even if we are finished, we still have to sit quietly at our tables. Why? Because the CB is paying for our time. Our fannies are their provenance until 5 p.m. tomorrow. However, my guess is that all Reading will be done by noon. After lunch, they'll do the "debriefing" session where we hear about the other questions. I may or may not go for that. If they start at 3, I definitely won't---as I have a date with my Sweetie.

We are not allowed to discuss the individual ramblings of students. Every year, though, I learn all kinds of new things. I won't give any specific student remarks, but here are some general observations students made:
  • Mosses aren't as successful (evolutionarily) as flowering plants because they're not pretty and don't taste good. Also, they're parasites---primarily of trees..the poor bastards.
  • Plants are very private with their sexual habits. Hence the need for flowers and other adaptations. No sense in being indiscreet, right?
  • Alternation of Generations (plant life cycle) involves the crossing of a red flower with a white flower and getting pink flowers...which then produce red and white offsping.

I will say that this question didn't generate as many funny comments from students as the ones I have read in the past. There were still plenty of essays about Marilyn Manson, prom, and how much a particular AP Bio teacher/class sucked. As Readers, we are required to read everything a student writes---just in case a point is hiding in there somewhere. Oy. I've read so much bad biology this week that I can hardly remember what the real facts of the matter are.

My 5.5 day total stands at 1980 books. I will probably Read 100 or so more and that will be all until next year. It's kinda exciting.

It is unlikely that I'll be posting anything until Wednesday. I'll be with my Sweetie until late afternoon on Tuesday when I'll head back home. Sometime after midnight I'll tumble into bed, only to have to get up and teach a class at 8 a.m. the next morning. Oh, and my adoptive mother arrives the next day (with my birthmother following shortly thereafter). Should make for an interesting couple of weeks.

Stay cool and I'll catch up with you next week!

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Ag Hall, sweet Ag Hall

17 June 2005

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Ah, there it is. The land of AP and the home of the Read.

This point in the Read is always the hardest in terms of staying motivated. This morning, Sunday sure seemed like a long way off. The Chief Reader was kind enough to let us quit at 4:30 today, which was just as well. I think everyone's brain had about gone mushy. Plus, we're doing really well and will definitely finish on time. I fully expect two of the questions to be done by the end of the day tomorrow. Here are the current totals for all you sports fans:
  • Question #1: 83,954
  • Question #2: 95,996
  • Question #3: 84,828 (I've done ~1550 by now)
  • Question #4: 98,221

One of the best things about doing this job is the ability to "network." AP is such an odd animal. It's nice to find people who have their heads wrapped around parts of it and can share their wisdom. It's also good to catch up from year to year and find out how everbody's time has been. People have been telling me this year that I look good and seem happy. It's validating to know that...to know that whatever choices and changes I've made in my personal and professional lives agree with me. I think they're good, but if people I only see once a year notice, then maybe I really am doing things right.

It is Friday night in Lincoln and most of the Readers are headed out on the town---either to the festival at the Haymarket or to the Saltdogs game. People do love to play hard while they're here. As for me, I'm thinking about doing some laundry. Perhaps that's not quite as exciting as checking out a street festival---but then, it would also be nice to not go home with a suitcase of sweaty clothes. The other thing I have to face is organizing my thoughts for the class I'm teaching Wednesday morning.

Merry Weekend, to those of you who will have one. As for me, it's back to the Ag Hall bright and early tomorrow morning. (Sunday, too.)

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Still Reading...

16 June 2005

Today was another full day for the Read. Lunchtime marked the halfway point (in terms of days), but we are not quite halfway through the books:

Question #1: 57,697
Question #2: 67,615
Question #3: 58,097 (I have now read ~1100)
Question #4: 70,123

Tomorrow will be the hardest day. It's still too far from Sunday and the amount of books left to score is beyond overwhelming. We'll keep plugging away.

After we finished, I went to the racetrack to watch the ponies. The track is just behind the Ag Hall where we are working and many Readers took advantage of the beautiful evening. I only watched four races. I spent $1 to get in...$2 on beer...$1.50 on tacos...and $6 in bets. And I won $46.70 on the second race. Not too bad, eh? My Sweetie and I were needing a little extra cash for the weekend as we are changing some plans. How nice to have this windfall---and all from liking the way a horse looked (and had 22:1 odds).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Today was the official last day of school. I managed to do my grades long distance, my sub survived her tenure this week, and summer has officially started. One of our new teachers passed along the list below. If you're part of the Edusphere, you will no doubt recognize these:

YOU MAY BE (or have been) A SCHOOL EMPLOYEE IF......
  1. You believe the playground should be equipped with a Ritalin salt lick.
  2. You want to slap the next person who says, "Must be nice to work 8 to 3:00 and have summers free."
  3. You can tell it's a full moon without looking outside.
  4. You believe "shallow gene pool" should have its own check box on a report card.
  5. You believe that unspeakable evils will befall you if anyone says: "Boy, the kids sure are mellow today."
  6. When out in public you feel the urge to snap your fingers at children you do not know and correct their behavior.
  7. You have no social life between August and June.
  8. Marking all A's on report cards would make your life SO easy.
  9. You think people should be required to get a government permit before being allowed to reproduce.
  10. You wonder how some parents ever MANAGED to reproduce.
  11. You laugh uncontrollably when people refer to the staff room as the "lounge."
  12. You encourage an obnoxious parent to check into charter schools or Homeschooling.
  13. You can't have children because there's no name you could give a child that wouldn't bring on high blood pressure the moment you heard it.
  14. You think caffeine should be available in intravenous form.
  15. You know you are in for a major project when a parent says, "I have a great idea I'd like to discuss. I think it would be such fun."
  16. Meeting a child's parent instantly answers the question, "Why is this kid like this?"

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Tidbits

15 June 2005

I'm too tired to pull together much of a coherent post for the day. (Some of you may wonder if I ever do.)

Summer arrived here today. For me, this is my first taste---as we still have unseasonably cool and rainy weather where I live. It's nice to have blue sky and feel the heat. The walk to and from the Read is about a mile (each way). I enjoyed walking it twice today. Being out and moving around was good for my body and mind after sitting still and concentrating for several hours.

The walk takes us past a cement mixing company. We also pass some sort of building owned by the University that has a sign saying that all the trees in its area have been treated with fox urine. I don't know why they feel compelled to share this information. There are also several sets of train tracks---and frequent trains. If you don't time things well, getting to the Read becomes a rather Darwinian sort of exercise.

It is always a guessing game as to whether or not we will finish Reading all the exams by the end of the Read. According to the College Board, we have to (even if it means longer hours)---although in years' past they have made other arrangements when a question didn't finish. Out of the 120,000 exams, here are how many are done (as of 4 p.m. CDT today):
  • Question #1: 34,200
  • Question #2: 42,649
  • Question #3: 35,300 (of which I have Read ~850)
  • Question #4: 44,475

The Read ends on Sunday, but no one really wants to be there all day. There are two newbies at my table who are S-L-O-W. They're definitely going to have to pick up the pace if we are going to finish.

We are not allowed to make any marks on student papers. So, if you were to spy on us, you would see several hundred people counting on their fingers or other more unusual ways to keep track of points.

There are things to do here in the evening. Many people head downtown and/or to the Haymarket to eat, drink, watch movies, and be merry. Some take in a Saltdogs ballgame or make the trip to Omaha to see part of the College World Series. Tonight, the campus bookstore is staying open until 8:30. Morrill Hall, which has a fantastic collection of fossil elephant skeletons (and more) along with the planetarium will be open until 10. There is also a lot of beer and bs available in the "biology lounge."

I'm anxious to get out of here on Sunday as I have a hot date in Omaha with my Sweetie. All work and no play makes a Goddess a very dull girl. For now, though, I'm okay with being a dull girl. :)

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Accommodations

14 June 2005

The College Board does do its best to take care of us Readers. There are huge amounts of food for all 3 meals...plus 2 heavy duty "snacks" each day. Various forms of entertainment are available in the evenings (if one is so inclined). And we all get a room in the dorm.

Keep in mind that most of us haven't lived the college life in more than a few years. We stay in the Abel and Mari Sandoz Halls here at UN.

Each Reader has his or her own room and there are community bathrooms. For some reason, the rooms are made up for 2 people:

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As you can see, there's a bed with an ancient blanket. I originally thought it might have dated to the War Between the States, but I have since upgraded its time period to The Great War. There's a desk and nice window (facing west).

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There's also a bit of closet space, a chest of drawers and a mirror that is the right height if you happen to be at least 6 feet tall with a long reach. Actually, I can't knock it too much. Last year I was staying on a floor that is used by men when college is in session---and I could only see the top of my head in the mirror. This year, I can see from the shoulders up.

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I managed to snake through about 300 books today. The question isn't reading quite as speedily as I would hope. We've only gotten through about 11,500 books. Another question has completed over 17,000. I'm guessing that they'll have to start moving some Readers over to my question in a couple of days if we are ever to finish by Sunday.

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What It's Like on the Inside: AP Reading Edition

13 June 2005

Today was the first official day of The Read. We trained on the scoring guides during the morning session, which is always the worst part. There are always a variety of troublemakers who want to bring up every hypothetical they can think of---never mind that they'll never actually see a paper with it. Anyway, after lunch, we trooped over to the Ag Hall of the Nebraska State Fairgrounds to begin our task.

There are about 120,000 exams this year. This is what they look like when they arrive and are waiting for us:

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And this isn't even all of the boxes of tests. (There are 500 total.) Anyway, all the tests kids took from all over the world are here after being trucked in from Princeton, NJ.

The boxes are then distributed:

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As we Read, we can hear the creak of the handcart as boxes with completed exams are dropped off and new ones arrive. By Thursday or Friday, we will begin to dread this sound. It will seem like the stream of exams is endless.

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The "rooms" for each of the four questions are really just curtained off areas within the big space of the Ag Hall. Monitors have a few boxes of tests on their tables. As you can see, each box has marks on the outside for questions 1, 2, 3, 4. These are "x'ed" out as the question for those exams is complete. The boxes are rotated to different rooms. Inside the boxes are nine yellow folders. Each folder holds 25 student exams.

Here is a shot of most of my "room":

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There are twelve tables of eight Readers each. We have our scoring guides at hand. The College Board also gifted us with umbrellas this year. Special pencils and erasers must be used, which the CB also provides. Although the CB keeps us supplied with plenty of food and drink, open containers are not allowed on the table. The risk of damage to exams from spills is not one we're allowed to take. (Rumor has it that a kid's test was "washed away" last year when some water spilled on it and the water-soluble ink the kid had used to write their essays didn't survive.)

I should mention that those windows you can see toward the top of the picture represents the area where the PTB hang out. That's where stats are kept, newsletters are generated, and who knows what other nefarious activities. We don't get to go up there.

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The pink things are the actual test booklets. Since we only score one particular question, we read through each booklet in a folder. We have a bubble sheet to record each score, along with our particulars. All of this information is then scanned and tracked.

So, there you have it---the setup, anyway. With all of the training, buddy reading, etc. today, I only ended up doing about 50 books on my own. Tomorrow the real work will begin. Stay tuned for accommodations.

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I'm here!

12 June 2005

After a long day of travel, I'm finally in genuine Nebraska. The trip was uneventful and I am thankful for that. Highlights included a guy with the worst case of dandruff I've ever seen---who was removing his jacket and shaking his "snow" all over me in the security line. Then there was someone next to me on the first flight with an extreme case of dragon breath.

But I really need your help sorting out some things. On my first flight, the movie shown was Million Dollar Baby. I had been wanting to see it and figured that a bowdlerized airplane version would at least pass the time. And it did. In fact, we arrived in Phoenix 30 minutes ahead of schedule---which means that there was no chance to finish the film. I'm guessing there was about 10 minutes of it left. (Frankie had just been to the priest to talk about pulling the plug on Maggie.) I am very interested to know the answers to the following, if anyone can provide some insight:
  • Do we ever learn what Maggie's nickname (Mo ---) means? If so, what is it?
  • Does Frankie pull the plug?
  • Do we find out why Frankie and his daughter are estranged? Please do share.

On the bus from Omaha to Lincoln, I sat next to a very nice Cuban immigrant who is here for the AP Physics read. It was nice to gaze out at the cornfields and ponder a different landscape.

Tomorrow, the real fun begins. Here is the question that I've been assigned to Read this year:

Angiosperms (flowering plants) have wide distribution in the biosphere and the largest number of species in the plant kingdom.

  • Discuss the function of FOUR structures for reproduction found in angiosperms and the adaptive (evolutionary) significance of each.
  • Mosses (bryophytes) have not achieved the widespread terrestrial success of angiosperms. Discuss how the anatomy and reproductive strategies of mosses limited their distribution.
  • Explain alternation of generations in either angiosperms or mosses.

What do you think? Pretty exciting stuff, eh? The last two years, I have been assigned to the questions which I was least interested in. And this year, my ship has come in---as I get my favourite topic.

I'm off to meet and greet for a bit...catch up with people I haven't seen in awhile...and unpack. I hope your week is as interesting as mine looks to be.

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The Read

11 June 2005

I'll leave early tomorrow morning for Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the 2005 AP Biology Read. You see, last month about 120,000 students (including 21 of mine) took The Exam. The Exam includes 100 multiple choice questions which are scored by computer. It also includes four free response questions which must be scored by mortals.

This is my third year as a Reader. I applied for the position at the end of my first year of teaching AP Bio and was sent along following my second (even though the College Board would like you to have three years of experience teaching the course). The CB makes all the travel arrangements, takes care of your accommodations, feeds you wonderful food, provides entertainment and transportation while you're there---and generally does whatever it can in order to make it simple for you to focus on your work. (And yes, they provide and honorarium, too.) Readers come from all over the world and from all walks of education: public ones like me, nuns from Catholic schools, college professors, teachers from overseas, some from private schools. There will be about 400 of us who will do this job sitting in an agricultural exhibition hall on the Nebraska State Fairgrounds.

At the outset, things appear grueling. A Reader is assigned to score only one question. This means that you may read a couple of thousand books containing responses to the same prompt. You Read for eight hours every day that you are there. A system of checks and balances is built in: you sit at a table with 7 others, one of whom is the Table Leader. The TL spot checks essays you have read to be sure that you are scoring consistently. There is even a Question Leader who samples all of the tables. Huge amounts of statistics are kept: how many books you read, what your average score is, what your standard deviation from the overall norm is, and so on. All of these things are designed to make this process as fair to a student as possible. After all, it shouldn't matter which Reader scores their question, whether it's the first or last day of the Read, or what time of the day it is. It also doesn't matter how much we like the scoring guide or if it is how we would do things in our classrooms. It only matters that we score things as consistently as possible. It's not "hard" work. It is a "brain drain." By the fourth day, it is pretty darned difficult to have any kind of motivation about going back and Reading again.

Why do any of us do this job? For me, it's about being a good teacher for my kids. If I'm not invested in the process---how can I share it with them? It's a way for me to learn how The Exam is scored and then demystify the process for students. It also reassures my kiddos that real people are indeed reading their work and doing the best that they can to be fair.

I am excited about my travel plans tomorrow...about the opportunity to connect with people I haven't seen for a year...to learn some new things and participate in different adventures. My laptop is traveling with me (as is my digital camera), so updates will be forthcoming.

And now, back to packing...

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Trippin'

23 May 2005

Today, I took most of my APers on a field trip to the zoo. Field trips are always a "love-hate" kind of thing with me. They're great (and rare) opportunities to do some learning outside the classroom, but oh, the paperwork and headaches they generate.

I really should have been a little smarter with this one: I was the only chaperone on the trip. It is always good to have another pair of adult eyes. Mind you, we had a wonderful day and nothing untoward occurred---but if it had, it would have been mighty difficult for me to manage alone. I always feel hypervigilant at these events, counting my chicks over and over again. At least most of them have cell phones. It makes for a nice safety blanket when someone is late checking in.

The kids are always hopped up about going to the zoo. Most of them haven't been in a long time and they have fond memories. The interesting thing is their reaction at this point in their life. Now they stop and think about the ethics involved with trapping, transporting, and housing exotic animals. As children, it was just fun to point and look at the elephant. Today they wondered how "fair" it is to keep a social animal isolated in a pen...an animal which might normally travel 20 miles in a day.

The weather was lovely today. Blue skies, sun, but not too hot. We all enjoyed getting out of the classroom and getting some fresh air. It's a reminder of what awaits us after we spend 12 more days chained to our desks.

Too bad the elephant doesn't get a summer holiday.

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Making Choices

10 May 2005

I suppose not every AP Bio student yesterday had a happy day. Take this one, for example. A high school senior in New Hampshire will not graduate because she took AP Biology instead of a gym class.

The student had been attending school in Seattle and moved last year. As the article notes, waivers for PE credits are given in this part of the country to students like this one who are engaged in varsity athletics and are taking a heavy academic load. Mind you, a lot of that is at the discretion of the principal or counselor. Very few waivers are granted. Her waiver didn't transfer to her new school.

There is a somewhat happy ending for the story. The student has already been accepted to college (where she plans to major in biology). So, as long as she gets her GED between now and the fall, she can continue on with her future plans. I do think it's a shame that she can't walk at graduation and get her diploma.

She did have a choice. Although she was poorly advised last spring when signing up for classes for her senior year, she did have an opportunity to make the change and take the PE class. But it would have meant dropping AP Bio or Calculus and she was more interested in her academics. I can't decide if she "cut her nose to spite her face" or if I should applaud her for knowing what she wants. I suppose all I can really do is wish her the best for the future...and a "5" on The Test.

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Nailed it!

09 May 2005

Today, as you know, was the day of The Test: the mother of all biology tests, a/k/a "AP Biology." I have been fretting over how well I've been able to help students prepare this year. In the past, kids have returned from the test not feeling too good about things---even when it turned out that they did well. But today was different. Today, they came to lunch with smiles on their faces and all sorts of positive energy. They felt like The Test was easy. I told them that I thought that was good---if they've worked hard, then it should be easy. I am so very pleased for all of them. Of course, I won't know their scores until August, but waiting should be easier.

While my APers were testing, I took my sophs to an elementary school. In March, my kids had made pop-up books about human body systems. The books had to target the 5th Grade Level Expectations for body stuff. This was their day to go and show off their work. They did a marvelous job in both creating the books and in working with young students. I was very proud of them. Since I'll no longer have sophs next year, I will miss this particular project. I have done it for 7 years now and it is always one of my favourites.

I feel like all is right with the world for the time being. There aren't many days in this profession where that happens. But today, today is a great day to be a teacher.

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The Calm Before the Storm

06 May 2005

I took a half day of leave this afternoon. This means that my sub (who showed up 15 minutes late), only had to cover 30 minutes of class time with kids and get paid for a half day's work. Why didn't I just stick around the extra 30 minutes and then sneak off for the afternoon? I did think about it, but (a) with my luck, I'd get caught...and really there's no excuse for just skipping work and (b) I did leave a half day's work for the sub. She got to spend her afternoon marking all the labs and exams that came in today. :) Sounds like a great deal to me.

I have spent part of my afternoon preparing for tomorrow's big review with my AP kids. (The other part of the afternoon I spent napping.) I have the car packed up with everything but the perishable food items. I have some indoor and outdoor games for them to play when we take a break. I have the materials gathered for AP Lab 9, which we need to run tomorrow in case it is the basis for an essay on The Test. I believe I have enough food to feed 20 teenagers. However, there may not be enough food in the world for such a crowd. I have provided them with outlines of the material, practice essays, graphic organizers for their information, and more. I have another practice test to work through with them tomorrow. The rain is supposed to hold off until later in the afternoon (hopefully about the time we wrap up) so that we can get out on the beach and into the woods for some review of plants and animals.

This is the third year I've hosted a big review for my kiddos. Does it make a difference in their scores? There's no way to tell. I like to think the extra attention and confidence boost they get can give them a small edge. I hope that they get a few items cleared up and identify a few more that they can focus on before Monday morning.

A kid who can take on and deal efficiently with the AP Biology curriculum is something special. I hope that tomorrow, they will truly feel that way.

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The Test is Coming! The Test is Coming!

01 May 2005

It's about this time each year that I start to get nervous. And I'm not even the one who has to take The Test. But this year, I have 21 kids who do. In just over a week, they will face down the AP Biology Exam.

What's at stake? A lot, in some ways. They pay $83 to take the test. Depending upon their score (and the college they attend), they can get credit for their score. Savings on tuition, room, and board can be up to $4000 for one of our state schools. If you're a kid who is going to struggle to pay for college, it's worth your efforts to score well on The Test.

Yes, we've worked hard all year. Yes, we've done all but one of the requisite labs. We've taken a practice test and talked about strategies for multiple choice and free response questions. On Saturday, the kids are coming over to spend the day with me. We'll run the final lab...take a walk on the beach and through the woods to review plants, animals, and taxonomy. We'll eat and play and build up our confidence as best we can.

But I want so much for them to do well. That's why I get nervous. I know they've worked hard. I want them to be rewarded.

I hate that each year when my kids return from The Exam that they look so defeated. We always go to lunch together and try to relax. I do my best to make them feel better about their efforts and to get them to celebrate their accomplishments. Even if they don't "pass" The Test, I always hope that they'll feel like it was worth it just to try.

Anyway, I plan on a lot of tossing and turning the next few nights. I'll be glad when this annual event passes.

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Cadaver Day

29 April 2005

A nearby community college hosts an event each year that they term "Surgical Demonstrations." What it's really about is showing cadavers to advanced high school students in order to further their knowledge of anatomy.

This is the third year that I've attended the event. The Anatomy teacher at my school also goes. Kids are invited to drive over after school and see the presentations with us. No one is required to go. Students who do are usually the ones interested in the medical field---some of whom want to know if they can handle being around a cadaver before they get involved with nursing or med school. This isn't the kind of field trip where you get a lot of "looky-loo" kind of kids...although there is the occasional student who came along due to peer pressure.

Anyway, the first year that we did this, the Anatomy teacher and I went earlier than the kids. Neither of us had encountered a cadaver during our schooling. We were curious as to whether or not we would be ones running from the rooms. As it turns out, it's really an okay kind of thing. The cadavers are obviously people...very much human...but their "person-ness" is not present, if that makes any sense. To me, having to attend a "viewing" before a funeral is far creepier. I have a hard time dealing with a recently departed someone who has been made up to look as though they're still who we knew.

The demonstrations always have at least one whole cadaver. They get a new one each spring and keep it for two years. There is a class of students who takes care of prepping the specimens. There is also another cadaver that is not whole. Parts are in different rooms (a chest cavity and head here, a leg there, a lower torso hither, and an arm thither). Each room then focuses on something specific: cardiac anatomy or reproductive organs or blood vessels. And as morbid as that sounds, it's actually okay, too. It is as if their state of detachment also allows you to mentally detach a bit and focus on the information without being distracted by "Oh my God! That man is holding a leg...a human leg with no human attached! And that girl is showing me the inside of the knee!"

We had a very good turnout this year. Between the two groups (Anatomy and AP Bio), there were at least 25 students. They all seemed involved in what they were seeing and learning. I'm sure it was an experience that they will never forget.

Mind you, I had to juxtapose all of this information with finding out that a former student of mine had died. Apparently, he died (car accident) almost a week ago...but in my building's inimitable style, no one bothered to pass along that information to those of us who had had this young man in class just a couple of years ago. I wasn't particularly close to this kid, but I liked him and he always had interesting questions and comments. He's not a name without a face to me.

Time for a glass of wine and a start to the weekend, I think.

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Don't ask the question if you don't want the answer.

19 April 2005

A short note today, as my AP kids took the "free response" portion of a practice exam. So, I have about 150 essays staring at me from the depths of my book bag. Plenty of answers to work with for an evening.

My sophs seemed to feel okay about the testing this morning. No specifics, mind you---but they didn't think anything on there was unfair. Their primary negative comment was just that it takes a long time to do. I agree.

In the meantime, as a pseudo-follow-up to yesterday's post, here's an article from today's Seattle Times regarding just how "high stakes" WASL has gotten this year.

And now, time for me to get out the red pen and bleed on some essays.

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Do they make strap-ons for those?

07 March 2005

Faithful readers of this merry little blog may remember that last month was "Infectious Disease Month" in my sophomore biology class. In fact, I even got to make a kid pass out on the very first day. This month in my AP class, it's Sex Month.

Last week, we got into the nitty gritty details of kinky plant sex. How they have threesomes right there in the ovary. How they'll trick a poor bee into thinking the orchid is a willing sex partner. How it makes you look at those Georgia O'Keefe paintings just a little bit differently.

And this week, it's time for some animal sex. Today, it was all about the ovarian and menstrual cycles. My guys were all given imaginary ovaries for the week (since apparently there aren't strap-on versions). We talked about the bossy hypothalamus demanding estrogen levels raised. I asked my kids to chart out a cycle and see the hormone dance...and think about what happens when all those chemicals don't play nice. We watched a story of a woman's pregnancy, told primarily from the perspective of the embryo. My kids agreed to go home tonight and thank their mothers.

Tomorrow, they'll watch an episode from the PBS Evolution series entitled "Why sex?" as a start at our look at the evolutionary biology of sex. By Wednesday, they'll be ready to be sex therapists to an animal in need. And by next week? Why, it's on to the "Naughty Bits Lab," where they'll get to dissect some pregnant reproductive tracts from different animals.

The students in these classes are primarily seniors and tend to handle things well. I never have any parent complaints, but for some kids, it's the first time that an adult hasn't presented sex as being something "dirty." I feel sorry for the kids who already have a complex about sex before they've even had an opportunity to do anything about it. This is not to say that I condone or promote promiscuity. In fact, I don't comment on what I think is or isn't inappropriate about their sex lives (or lack thereof). But I would hope that the "abstinence until marriage" kids would have a better reason for their beliefs other than "sex is dirty," and have a disgusted look upon their faces. I just hope that they're pleasantly surprised later on in life. :)

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Inching to the Finish Line

26 January 2005

The goddess has been feeling very mortal the past 24 hours. Some sort of stomach ailment and I'll save you the details beyond that.

Tomorrow marks the end of the "fall" semester. Finally. I have several kids leaving my classes. For once, I'm not fighting it. Usually, I call parents and check to make sure that this is really what they want and that they know the full story. Usually, I spend some time with the kid to find out what the problem is...because most of the time, it's "winter blahs." It's been a long time since summer vacation and we still have a ways to go until the finish line. They feel like they need a mulligan on the year, but after talking about it, they're ready to keep soldiering on. But not this time. This time, I am signing their schedule change forms and sending them out the door without a word.

Perhaps it is the virus I have. Perhaps it is just my own exhaustion from the semester. Perhaps it is the realization that most parents and (all of my school's) "guidance" counselors don't realize what a fabulous opportunity a public school education can be.

What an amazing system we have. Every child is guaranteed a place at the education table. And it's free. All they have to do is show up each day and participate. What a wealth of course offerings---vocational, technical, academic, physical, and more---that are all here for them. And yet, I have kids who would rather sleep later in the morning than make an effort to come to school and take full advantage of their opportunity to learn. The parents say, "Okay." The guidance counselors say, "The parents signed the form."

Sigh. Fiddle-dee-dee. Tomorrow is another semester.

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