Kickin' It Old School

17 September 2009

I've been on the hunt recently for high-quality examples of assessments and rubrics for educational technology. So far, these items appear to be as rare as "ghosts, goblins, virgins, and other mythical creatures." I've found several multiple-choice tests for tech literacy. Yawn. It's far more amusing to find examples of assessments past their expiration date.

Consider Exhibits A and B (shown below) from Standard 5 of the Math, Science, and Technology curriculum from New York. But before we get there, note the cautionary tale posted on the website:
Some of the learning experiences sections are very graphically intensive in order to show the detail of student work. As an example, the 28 Learning Standards file (1310K) took 10.5 minutes to download on a 486/66 PC using a 28.8 modem and Windows 3.11. It took 35 minutes to print on a Canon 600 InkJet printer. It took less than 5 minutes on a laser printer. Your experiences may vary. If you have lower end equipment, your experience will be considerably slower. Many older printers with limited graphics capabilities may not be able to print these sections. Other printers may run out of memory. You may be able to get around this by printing in smaller pieces.
Yes, friends...these tech lessons/targets/assessments are brought to you fresh from the year 1996. They are vintage tasks. Antiques, as it were.

So, assuming that you've dusted off your 2880 baud are a couple of things for your students to do.

I got the giggles with this one. A coworker was convinced the book title was "Moose Code," until I corrected her. Is that a walkie talkie I see in the top set of, um, art? And keyboard keys attempting to escape the tech ghetto they're in? Why is there a ballpoint pen in the same set as the bongos? Do you think the floppy disk bay in the computer is for a 3.5" disk...or is really old school and awaiting a 5.25" version? I love the lines around the clip art. Somebody really did physically cut and paste these pictures. (Wonder if the images are/were copyright-free?)

But the best was yet to come:

If you can't read the task (and don't want to "click to embiggen" the graphic), you're missing the following suggestion: " a plan for the construction of a homemade radio speaker for the eight ohm speaker jack on an inexpensive transistor radio or cassette recorder."

We have a veritable museum of technology options.

Hey, I understand that websites have a tendency to grow beyond their original borders. It's easy to forget what pages are live and the paths they take. There's probably a lot of information from 1996 still floating around on state department of education websites.

But do you see what I see in the bottom right corner of the page? It says "Last Updated: May 27, 2009." Someone looked at this a few months ago and considered it current enough to keep. Does this mean these standards and assessments are still in use? Please, NY, please tell me you have something less than 13 years old for 13-year olds to work with...something a bit less old school.

Labels: , ,

Class of 2013 Mindset List

23 August 2009

Every year, Beloit College in Wisconsin puts together a list for its faculty. The list "provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Emeritus Public Affairs Director Ron Nief. It is used around the world as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation."

I've blogged about a couple of the lists in the past (Classes of 2009 and 2010), but this year's version is special for me. Those entering college this year were born the year I started my career: 1991. So, as I look at this list, I see a time capsule of my life in education. You can find the entire Class of 2013 version here, but a sample is below:

  • They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
  • Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
  • Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
  • Text has always been hyper.
  • Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
  • They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
  • American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
  • Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
  • State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
  • The European Union has always existed.
  • McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
  • Condoms have always been advertised on television.
  • Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
  • Women have always outnumbered men in college.
  • We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
  • Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
  • There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
My sense of time is different now than when I was in the classroom. There is no beginning/end to the school year for me---no winter/spring summer holiday. Starting a new job on September 1 is about as close as I'll get to ringing in Year 19 of my career. In the meantime, it's fun for me to look at this list and think about not only how the world has changed since I started down this road, but how I have, too.

Labels: ,

Memorial Day Amusements

25 May 2009

I think the last state holiday was in the Memorial Day weekend has been a long time coming. We have gorgeous weather here in western Washington and I'll be out enjoying the sunshine. If you're stuck inside, however, perhaps these suggestions will give you reasons to smile:
  • There are new babies in the edusphere. Visit Jonathan Pratt and Leesepea and wish them well on their adventures in parenthood. Both have had small additions to their family in the last couple of weeks.
  • We can only hope that neither Jon nor Leesa will ever be featured on Awkward Family Photos; however, those who are now immortalized there will have you hoping no one scans those pictures hanging in grandma's hallway.
  • I don't know if Jon or Leesa have an artistic bent, but if they do, they may one day discover themselves taking requests from a Tiny Art Director. This is my new favourite find. I love seeing how much the preschooler's view contrasts with our own.
  • Criggo is always good for a giggle, too. There are scans of newspaper advertisements---ads gone awry, as it were. Kinda makes me wish I subscribed to a newspaper just to scan for these sorts of things.
Time to go acquire a sunburn. Enjoy your holiday!


Memories Are Made of This

24 February 2008

I attended a science fair this week. I had a great time and it brought back plenty of memories from my own trials and tribulations involving science projects. I remember doing one where I investigated whether or not crickets would go to a light or dark environment. I used crickets another year...but I don't remember the experiment. The third year, the investigation was "To Clot or not to Clot." (Cut me some slack...I was in 8th grade.) I looked at factors influencing clotting time for cow blood. And for my swan song with science projects, I did a fruit fly eye pigment lab.

If you like the cartoon from Left-Handed Toons (by right-handed people) shown above, you might also enjoy a visit to a virtual fair put together by Photo Basement. There are 41 projects, all with catchy titles like my 8th grade one (Garlic: The Silent Killer, Juicy Beans...), as well as pictures which forever immortalize the adolescent pain. Memories are indeed made of this.

Labels: ,

How to Grade Finals

03 February 2008

In case any of you readers are new or soon-to-be teachers, I thought I'd post this handy guide to grading final exams.

  1. Retrieve exams from car. Notice that elves have not magically been working on them.
  2. Curse elves.
  3. Set finals on desk, table, or other workspace. Notice that the surrounding area needs cleaning. Do that first.
  4. Fix a snack and put a movie in the DVD player to watch while you work on marking papers.
  5. Read one paper. Resist urge to commit Hari Kari over poor work.
  6. Take a break.
  7. Call a friend. Perhaps s/he would like to help you read? Listen to sound of hysterical laughter.
  8. Curse friend.
  9. Try looking at another paper or two. That's a big stack, isn't it? Wonder aloud why you aren't one of those scan-tron teachers.
  10. Curse self.
  11. Start the laundry. Work on paying the bills.
  12. Read a few more papers.
  13. Take a nap. You've earned it after working so hard.
  14. Decide to get serious. Grading this is akin to band-aid removal: the faster you make it happen, the sooner the pain will subside.
  15. Speaking of painkiller, get a glass of nice red wine as attitude adjustment.
  16. Mark several more papers.
  17. Refill wine glass.
  18. Repeat steps 16 and 17 as often as necessary to finish grading final exams. This part of the list will move quickly.
  19. The next morning, curse hangover.
There, that's not so bad, is it?

Labels: ,

Way to (Mis)Communicate

02 October 2007

Things are a little busy here at the moment, as I am ensconced in drafting the proposal for the doctoral study. (No, I haven't bought the ring yet.)

However, I saw a link for a very interesting Flickr pool. It's all about bad signs. Not the astrological kind. Not things misbehaving. These are postings from all over the world that just make you go "Hmmm."I'm thinking about how to use some of these with my classes. As I continue to work with kids this year about using their writing to explain thinking in science, perhaps these might provide some much-needed humor. Not all of them are classroom appropriate, but they are amusing.

A couple of samples are below. For more follow the link above. A word of warning---you can end up spending more time there than you intend!


The Goddess Can't Help It

16 September 2007

Although a major shift in my grading practices is my focus this year, for the day-to-day work in the classroom I'm wanting to do a far better job teaching kids to use informational text and develop their vocabulary.

We've been reading small chunk at a time, spending most of that looking at the pictures and diagrams. I know that sounds a little odd, but kids aren't trained to pay attention to the graphics in most textbooks. In science, those pictures really are worth a thousand words. I need kids to spend time interpreting them. I had a kid remark this week that "I like how we look at the pictures in this class." It's a habit I hope to develop in them so they can be more independent about it. Our reading sessions last no more than 15 minutes, so about the time the kids are getting bored/antsy, we move on to another activity.

As for vocabulary, I'm trying a variety of things. I used a Frayer model for the term system, as this term is how our science standards are organized. We did a think-pair-share with the model. I was disheartened, at first, with the "think" portion. I thought that system would be a general enough term that even if kids didn't know how to place it in the context of science, they would at least have something come to mind. Few did. As we continued to process the word, I perked up. We ended up with a great discussion.

I placed the term system up on our word wall, another strategy I'm being more purposeful about this year. I realize that word walls are typically associated with elementary classrooms, but the benefit at secondary is that kids already have some training in how to use them. They just need to know where to look in my classroom in order to "use their words." My main problem at this point is paring down the mass of vocabulary terms in science to just the most important to place on the wall. I really don't want to put up more than 5 or 6 in a given week (and from what I've read, even that could be too many). I'm using one colour of paper for content terms (system, ecology, biotic...), another for process terms (variables, hypothesis...), and another for word parts (Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes).

Finally, I had a bit of fun with my kids on Friday. We had just started reading a passage on ecosystems. The first paragraph contained the word species. It wasn't boldfaced and it wasn't a term we had seen before. I stopped reading and asked the class if there were any terms in that paragraph which were unfamiliar. Blank stares. I directly asked about species. Students volunteered some ideas for a definition and through collective wisdom, most classes had a fairly good concept. We didn't draw the Frayer model, but we did talk about some examples (e.g. horse, donkey) and non-examples (e.g. mule). I wondered aloud if kids could think of any other non-examples---and they were able to supply a few, naming the cross of animals involved (lion + tiger = liger).

It was the end of a long week, and I was feeling punchy. I just couldn't help but ask them: What do you get if you cross an elephant and a rhino? They thought I was dead serious. You could see the look of wonder on some of their faces that such an animal might exist. You can imagine the looks of surprise and shy smiles when I delivered the punchline: 'Elephino. :) (Did she just say what we thought she said?!)

Who says vocabulary has to make for dull learning?

UPDATE: A reader was kind enough to send me the link to the video below. It's the Muppet version of the "Elephino" joke.

Labels: ,


13 September 2007

I was trying to help my students this week with their writing. Most of them like to take the easy way out and treats words like they're on a budget. (Maybe the result text messaging?) I'm not a flowery writer, myself. I'm not complaining about the lack of adjectives. The lack of explanation or support for the statements they make? Oh, yeah. I'm on them about that.

One thing I learned about during the expository writing classes in Seattle is that the words "because" and "but" become something akin to characters in their written pieces. The word "because" prompts thinking. It is a window into the minds of students. When I'm talking with students, I often respond to their statements with "Because..." Some of them are starting to spontaneously include it with what they share in class. This is a good thing and makes formative assessment even simpler.

As for "but," this word is important because it sets up contrasts. We use it for a variety of reasons in science, especially our concluding statements. I wrote but on the board and then drew (in my own inimitably painful style) a superhero form around it...cape and all. I used the phrase I had heard to so often in Seattle: The Power of But. As you can imagine, this all went over rather well with the teens. (I'm sure it is even more amusing with elementary kids.) But-Man was born.

We haven't had to call upon the powers of But-Man too much yet. Students have an experiment in progress which will run over the weekend. Come Monday, however, we're going to put him to the test as we summarize the results of the investigation. Hooray for But-Man!

Labels: ,

The Calm Before the Storm

04 September 2007

'Twas the night before school year,
And all through the room...

A teacher was working,
And wishing for June.

The bulletin boards done, papered with care,
Knowing that children soon would be there.

The admins long gone, snug in their beds,
With visions of PowerPoints dancing in their heads...

Okay, so the day before the first day of school really has more of a New Year's Eve sense to it than Christmas Eve. It's the time for new beginnings, resolutions, and the promise of hope that a new year contains.

It is the last bit of fantasy before reality starts slapping you around in the morning.

To the edublogger community, best wishes for a smooth start to the school year. I know that many of you are already navigating the waters. Thanks for assuring us that it's still fun and can be done. Happy School Year to all...and to all a good night.


Labour Day Levity

03 September 2007

I was sorting through some clippings recently and rediscovered one from the Austin American-Statesman. It's a column by Mike Kelley (I think from 1989) about some misquotes Richard Lederer had collected from students. Below are some of the better ones. My two favourites are at the end.

  • The pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain. The Egyptians built the pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube.
  • David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Finkelsteins, a race of people who lived in Biblical times. Solomon, one of David's sons, had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.
  • Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock. After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline.
  • In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java.
  • There were no wars in Greece, as the mountains were so high that they couldn't climb over to see what their neighbours were doing.
  • Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March murdered him. Dying, he gasped out the words, "Tee hee, Brutus."
  • King Alfred conquered the Dames. Joan of Arc was cannonized by Bernard Shaw. And victims of the bluebonnet plague grew boobs on their necks. Finally, Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offense.
  • The government of England was a limited mockery. From the womb of Henry VIII Protestantism was born. He found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee.
  • Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen." When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted "Hurrah!"
  • The greatest writer of the futile ages was Chaucer. During this time, people put on morality plays about ghosts, goblins, virgins, and other mythical creatures. Another story was about William Tell, who shot an arrow through an apple while standing on his son's head.
  • Johann Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in the attic. Bach died from 1750 to the present.
Have your students shared any insightful comments like these with you? In biology, I often hear about the testicles of an octopus (instead of "tentacles") and how all orgasms have cells (er, organisms).

Labels: ,

Worst Jobs in Science: 2007 Edition

17 June 2007

Popular Science has been publishing an annual list of The Worst Jobs in Science. They refer to it as their "annual bottom-10 list, in which we salute the men and women to do what no salary can adequately reward." So, without further adieu, here's the 2007 edition:

10: Whale Feces Researcher (they use sniffer dogs to help)
9: Forensic Entomologist (not sure I agree with this one...I think it might be cool)
8: Olympic Drug Tester (4000 cups of pee in 21 days)
7: Gravity Research Subject (which doesn't involve being dropped off the top of tall buildings)
6: Microsoft Security Grunt ('nuff said)
5: Coursework Carcass Preparer (hey, all those dissection specimens have to come from somewhere)
4: Garbologist ("Think Indiana a dumpster")
3: Elephant Vasectomist (somehow "snip snip" doesn't quite work here)
2: Oceanographer (depressing)


1: Hazmat Diver (swim in sewage, toxic waste, and other...things)

Maybe a hard day in Curriculum isn't so bad. :) Want to know about more jobs that are likely worse than yours? Check out the 2005, 2004, and/or 2003 lists.

Labels: ,

Conversation of the Day

12 June 2007

Fifth grade teachers were looking at some science content GLEs and talking about the systems concept as it applied to Sun, Moon, and stars. The goal was to create some descriptors representing performance levels of 1, 2, 3, 4.

"We could make a 4 represent a student who is able to explain why the appearance of the Moon changes over time."

"I can hear it now: 'God did it.'"

"No, honey. That would be a 1...not a 4."

Labels: ,

A Pocket of Excellent Deviants

15 May 2007

A trainer recently told our department that it is desirable to find those pockets of deviant excellence within a school and "grow" them in order to effect change. Those of us in Curriculum, however, much preferred the idea of being a pocket of excellent deviants. I think it should be our department motto. But I digress.

It seems to us that the Gurus in Education (Wiggins, McTighe, Tomlinson, Stiggins, O'Connor, Danielson...) deserve a fan base. When was the last time one of them was asked to autograph a body part? Does anyone ever throw their undies at the podium when they present? Perhaps nicknames are in order: Wiggy and Tiggy, The Stiginator, and so on. Are there "Tomlinson-heads," perhaps, who follow presentations around the country? I told a friend at work that I was geeking out because Ken O'Connor left a comment on one of my recent blog posts. "I'll never wash that blog page again." :)

We're silly, I know. But sometimes you just have to entertain yourself at work...try things in new contexts and see what fits. I can't imagine that we'll deviate much from this.


It's My Grade in a Box!

12 May 2007

It started out innocently enough. We have many teachers changing buildings and/or grade levels for the next school year and Curriculum wanted to put together some support materials. We termed them "Grade in a Box," and later added "Building in a Box." The idea is to provide an insider's guide and all the need-to-know information in a reference tool.

Little did we know that the whole thing would be corrupted through the efforts of Justin Timberlake and the cast of Saturday Night Live.

The mere mention of "Grade in a Box" is enough to elicit naughty smiles and outright giggling. It's been suggested that we rename our creation before sending it out to teachers next month.

For those of you unfamiliar with the " a Box" phenomenon, enjoy the YouTube clip below. (FYI: It's "not safe for work" or toddlers with a mind like a steel trap and a voice like a bullhorn.)

Labels: ,


27 March 2007

It was a pretty afternoon on Monday and after I got home, I played in the yard for awhile. I am still a little shy of an area where I ticked off a group of yellowjackets last summer. It's still too early for them to be out in full force again, but I haven't forgotten their venomous ways. I didn't realize until a few days ago, however, that there is actually a scale for those wacky hymenopterans and their toxic vengeance. The Schmidt Sting Pain Index was written by an entomologist who has a passion for all things ant and wasp-like. It is rich in imagery.

  • 1.0 Sweat bee: Light ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
  • 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.
  • 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
  • 2.0 Baldfaced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
  • 2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
  • 2.x Honey bee and European hornet.
  • 3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
  • 3.0 Paper Wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
  • 4.0 Pepsis Wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drying has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).
  • 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3" nail in your heel.
The "2.0" version was quite enough for me (many times over). I'm not sure I want to find myself in situations where I'm going to want to just lie down and scream. I think I'd prefer either some "Ant-ique" wallpaper:

Or maybe some ant sugar?

Revenge is supposed to be sweet, isn't it?

Labels: , ,

Consensus and Coffee

01 February 2007

Four of us in the office were planning to meet this morning and talk about standards-based grading and its possible role for secondary schools. I know it sounds like a serious topic, but our planning was anything but. Here's how the organization went via e-mail this morning:

Specialist A:
In light of
  • the brain trust occupying the conference room
  • I'm hungry and need caffeine
  • it's cold in here
I recommend we hold our meeting at Starbucks. Any objections? Remember, it's all about me, no matter what Boss Lady 2.0 tells you.

Specialist B:
I have been quiet on this issue---but actually, I think it is all about me.

Where is Starbucks, anyway? I normally don't patronize mega corporations if there are alternatives, but I am willing to be flexible in this case.

Specialist A:
All I care about is food and caffeine. We can go to the bakery if the group prefers.

(For future reference in case you have a moment of weakness, Starbucks is by Albertson's.)

Science Goddess:
And here, I thought the hokey pokey was what it was all about.

It's Washington. If we drive around for a few minutes, we're bound to run into a Starbucks; but, I could be happy at the bakery, too.

Specialist A:
I think it would be fun to take a picture of B at Starbucks.

Specialist C:
I'm open to any and all of the above, just haul me out of here when it is time and lead me to the sugar.

Specialist B:
Well, I have my Chaco's on today. As long as you get my feet in the picture.

And so off we went to Starbucks, which was overrun with people who apparently had the same idea this morning for their meetings. We didn't even get a picture of B, chacos or no chacos. We ended up at a smaller coffee place and had a great discussion...perhaps even a good plan in mind for introducing the concept of standards-based grading to secondary staff. It was good to have a bit of levity to start our morning and caffeine to get us through the afternoon.

Labels: , ,

Butterflies Are A Little Too Free

05 January 2007

The following was written by one of our teachers to describe her experience with the Butterfly kit. I guess I'm not the only one for whom they wouldn't behave. Remember my Dinopillars?

The Defliant Ones

The prisoners bang against the walls of their cell. First one, then another; soon the cacophony is impossible to ignore. The lights go down but the inmates pay no heed: seeming to feed on one another’s frenzy the noise is now deafening. Then, two escape, arm in arm a’ la The Defiant Ones, the Sidney Poitier movie in which a black and white prisoner chained together at the legs are forced to look after one another’s welfare despite misunderstanding and mutual prejudice, in that their fates are inextricably entwined. The lights blaze overhead and the alarm sounds: “Derek!,” wails the siren, “The butterflies have escaped again!”

I should have known this batch of butterflies would be nothing but trouble. From the time the innocent-looking miniature caterpillars arrived they made my life difficult. First, each minuscule larva had to have his or her (its?) individual abode prepared. (What, they were too good to bunk together like the previous batches had?) Yes, for these caterpillars I had to prepare 23 cups of food, “tamped down lightly” and then ever so gently, with a paintbrush, lest I maul their wormlike bodies or harm their little psyches, place them into their deluxe caterpillar suites. The extra caterpillars (Now, why did they give us 10 or 12 extras?) I housed, flophouse style, in an old fish bowl with a not too secure lid.

For a week or so, the caterpillars made no new demands. I had to admit, the children were ever so excited to have their own little baby caterpillar to examine with a magnifying glass. It was fascinating to learn about and see their propeds (temporary legs) and their strangely punkish hairiness. For awhile, much as newborns everywhere, they ate, grew, presumably slept, and defecated. Then, the children started to name them. “Okay, Bob, back to the nursery. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then, the tragedy one or two days later: “Bob isn’t moving anymore. What’s wrong with Bob?” Finally, Thanksgiving weekend came. As some of the children gave thanks that their caterpillar had not met Bob’s fate, others had a lesson in nature’s harshness.

Returning after the long Thanksgiving holiday, we discovered that the caterpillars had really GROWN. Then, much like the adolescents they were, the flophouse caterpillars began running (creeping) away. I’d tuck them all in safely before leaving each afternoon only to return the next day and find 2 or 3 of them attempting to crawl to freedom. Obviously they didn’t think it was fair that their many siblings got their own rooms while they had to share.

Next came the waiting and waiting: Would they ever hang upside down, spin chrysalises and fly away from the nest or would they mooch on their families forever? Day by day one or two would form chrysalises which I would have to painstakingly detach and move to the butterfly penthouse. Of course the caterpillars couldn’t all form at the same rate so each day I would have to move the latest bloomers. Finally, the last caterpillar had formed its chrysalis. Now, to wait for them to burst out in butterfly beauty to the oohs and ahs of the children. Natch, it was 2 days before Christmas vacation and there was no way they could grow up that fast. The pathetic part of it was, I had become strangely attached to the little critters. I couldn’t leave them in an unheated classroom, all alone. What to do??? Get a babysitter! Frantically I began typing a parent letter, emphasizing the beauty of nature in action and minimizing the pain in the a—factor of raising “God’s living flowers: Butterflies.” Alas, before some poor sucker I mean some science-oriented and sensitive parent could respond to my plea, school was unexpectedly closed a day early.

Well, I caught Sidney and he’s back with the rest of the cell block. Maybe I’ll have to punish him by giving him a sponge with no sugar, only water. Meanwhile, the other fugitive flies around my kitchen, taunting me. It’s getting personal, now.

Labels: ,

Non Sequitors

30 November 2006

Some parliamentarians in France are recommending that schoolchildren there should learn about wine. Anyone interested in volunteering to write the curriculum for that one? Perhaps do the test item selection?

And, a tip of the hat to Bits and Pieces for the item below. I hope you laugh as much as I did.

Labels: ,


26 September 2006

Or maybe I should say Catersaurs.

This is one of those "best laid plans of mice and men" sorts of stories.

We have a new elementary science kit curriculum this year and I had set aside today's cadre meeting to introduce the butterfly kit. I ordered my caterpillars ahead of time so that we'd have them to look at and talk about today. The little beauties arrived a little less than two weeks ago and proceeded to do what caterpillars do: eat, grow...and pupate.

Pupate?! Crap. I didn't need them in that form, but by Friday of last week, my overachieving beasties were already doing what they weren't scheduled to do until Friday of this week.

I pondered a variety of possibilities for substitutions. Could I find wild caterpillars at this time of year? Might I substitute another non-threatening invertebrate (like pillbugs) for our observations? I finally settled on buying some plastic caterpillars...maybe a little bag of insects from Toys R Us. It's getting on toward Halloween---there ought to be creepy crawlies to buy, right?


I looked three different places and the best I could do was a bag of little dinosaurs. I stood there considering the prospect of replacing caterpillars with dinosaurs like some sort of Sanka experiment gone horribly awry. I decided I might as well go big or go home.

Today, the teachers got their caterpillar cups ready. There was food that they observed...we talked about the exciting arrival of caterpillars...and then I plunked tiny dinosaurs into everyone's cup. Thank goodness people have a sense of humor---and are teachers who understand that not everything always goes as planned.

Labels: ,

Time to Lighten Up

23 September 2006

Things have been pretty heavy around here recently. And hey, it's the weekend. Don't we deserve a little fun?

Pratie Place shared this wonderful link to the Science Fair SWAT over at Something Awful, where two writers break down projects such as the one shown below.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Head on over. Enjoy the Donuts, Lumpy Milk, Skittles, and the Spurt. You'll'll'll be much much better than Cats. Want more? Then check out the Return to the Science Fair.


Student Mindset: the 2010 Version

25 August 2006

Every year, Beloit College in Wisconsin releases a "student mindset" list regarding their incoming freshman class. The list is designed for staff in order to help them realize some things about the generation entered their hallowed halls.

This year's list is about the class of 2010. Here are a few highlights:

  • The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.
  • There has always been only one Germany.
  • They have never had to distinguish between the St. Louis Cardinals baseball and football teams.
  • "Google" has always been a verb.
  • Phantom of the Opera has always been on Broadway.
  • Computerized player pianos have always been tinkling in the lobby. (ed note: Get that piano some paper training!)
  • They have no idea why we needed to ask "...can we all get along?"
  • Public school officials have always had the right to censor school newspapers.
  • Television stations have never concluded the broadcast day with the national anthem.
  • Richard M. Daley has always been the Mayor of Chicago.
Most of these (and the others on the list) make me feel old(er). I keep asking myself, "Has it really been 18 years?"

Our kindergartners are the Class of 2018. Makes you wonder what will be on the list by that time.


Under Attack

21 July 2006

Maybe it's the heat, but this picture from one of the webcams focused on Mt. St. Helens makes me laugh. Okay, so silly things are supposed to do that. Anyway, perhaps you, too, will enjoy seeing the volcano under attack from a giant insect.

Here's to cooler temps and being less punchy. 99 degrees for western Washington is too darned hot for any serious blogging.


Summer Reading

07 July 2006

Time for a little levity around here. And just in time for my 500th post! Someone forwarded a list of 25 analogies and metaphors gone awry, supposedly submitted by English teachers across the country. Take that idea with the same large grain of salt that one does with any multi-forwarded e-mail, but enjoy them all the same. I just picked my 10 faves.

  1. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  2. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  3. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  4. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  5. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  6. McBride fell twelve stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  7. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  8. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  9. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
  10. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.


Hope You Enjoyed Yourself

24 June 2006

Cliff Arnall, a scholar at a British university, has developed a formula that can be used to calculate the happiest day of the year.

"He used what he considers a 'simple equation' to reach his conclusion: O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He.

O stands for outdoor activities, N for nature, S for social interaction, Cpm for childhood summers and positive memories, T for temperature and He for holidays and looking forward to time off."

Based on this information, yesterday, June 23, was the happiest day of the year. So I hope you enjoyed it. It's all downhill from here. (January 23 is the saddest day, according to Arnall's equation.)

Personally, Thursday was a much better fit for this equation for me. The Boss Lady toasted me at lunch as the "Queen of Everything"...I received a card and healthy gift certificate to a local nursery as a "thank you" from my department...and I got to go to a lovely garden party at the end of the day, boosting the O, N, and S factors. School ended on Wednesday, so that increased my ranking for Cpm and He. Some people thought that Thursday was a bit on the chilly side, but I thought it was quite nice.

It was a pretty great week, all-in-all. There was lots of positive energy and I was able to lose 300 pounds of hideous fat on Friday, although I think my friends are going to miss reading all of the very entertaining letters that have been sent to me over the last few months. But I am grateful, as always, for the good people I know who seek out truth and examine both sides before reaching conclusions...people who believe in what's right and not in what's petty. Let's see if we can find a way to improve on June 23. It can't be all bad if Bambi I and II show up in your yard on June 24, right?


McDonald's in Africa


Only in Texas

21 June 2006

The class of '86 will be having it's 20-year reunion soon (Can mine really be just a year away?!). I love the way they're kicking things off next weekend:

"Registration and Bar-B-Que at The C------ Bar (We're sure everyone remembers where the C------ Bar is located!). Children are welcome to join in on the fun!"


Bird Flu Hits Florida Trailer Park!

06 June 2006

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Another Reason for a Strong Math and Science Program

22 May 2006

Donald Rumsfeld is briefing George Bush in the Oval Office. "Oh and finally, sir, three Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq today."

Bush goes pale, his jaw hanging open in stunned disbelief. He buries his face in his hands, muttering, "My God...My God."

"Mr. President," says Rumsfeld, "we lose soldiers all the time, and it's terrible. But I've never seen you so upset. What's the matter?"

Bush looks up and says..."How many is a 'Brazilian'?"


A Man and His Tapeworm

03 May 2006

For the love of Mike and a great laugh, go read this.


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?

Labels: ,

On the Loose

11 March 2006

VH1 is running another of their mini-series on pop cutlure. This time around: toys. Number 24 on the list of 100 was water guns. Seeing this triggered a memory from my first year of teaching.

At the end of the year was a sort of non-student day. The kids would come in the morning to pick up their final report card, but that only occupied an hour or so. We had to hang out the whole day, even though there was really nothing left to do. For whatever reason, water guns had been very popular with the kids that spring. There were a few boxes full of confiscated toys in the office. It's probably not hard to imagine what you get when you combine a summer day, a school full of bored staff, and lots of water guns. I'm sure that this was not how taxpayers imagined their dollars being spent, but we had a great time.

Labels: ,

Is there really a Santa Claus?: A Scientific Rationale

13 December 2005

I picked up this piece many years ago. I didn't author it, but I wish I could credit the proper person.

  1. No known species of reindeer can fly, BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified. And while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
  2. There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. But since Santa doesn’t (appear to) handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total: 378 million. At an average census rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes that there is at least one good child in each.
  3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming that he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park (on the roof, of course), hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh, and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth, we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household: a total trip of 75.5. million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding, etc. This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, or 3000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth (the Ulysses space probe) moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second. Conversely, a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
  4. The payload on the sleigh add another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa...who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) can pull ten times the normal amount, Santa cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. He needs 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload---not even counting the weight of the sleigh---to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
  5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously---exposing the reindeer behind them---creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within .00426 seconds. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion, if Santa did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he’s dead now. Merry Christmas, all!


Could Be Worse

03 November 2005

Popular Science has published its annual list of the "The Worst Jobs in Science." Check out the article for more details, but here are the top 10 jobs that will make you feel like yours is akin to Utopia:

10. Organutan Pee-Collector
9. NASA Ballerina
8. Do-Gooder
7. Semen Washer
6. Volcanologist
5. Nuclear Weapons Scientist
4. Extremophile Excavator
3. Kansas Biology Teacher
2. Manure Inspector


1. Human Lab Rat

Want more? Check out the lists from 2003 and 2004. They'll make you feel a whole lot better about your job.

Labels: ,

For Your Amusement

22 August 2005

Found on the AP Bio listserv this morning:

"Give a man a link and he can waste an afternoon. Teach a man to Google and he can waste a lifetime."



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?"

Labels: ,

Caution: Teachers at Play

31 May 2005

The staff at my school is like most others. We’re willing to jump in and give one another some help when we’re asked. For example, last week one of our newer staff members sent out this request:

Question: So I'm trying to pick anyone's brain who has lived here for a while who knows how to clam and crab around these parts? My family's coming over to visit me this weekend and they want to go clamming/crabbing! Does anyone know anything about how to do this, what to use, where to buy, good/bad tide info?? HELP!

A teacher in our English department offered this advice:

You need to go to the fishery-supply outlet and get yourself some good crab sticks. Shrimp sticks will work if you can't find the crab-specific product. Anyway, you sneak up behind them (their eyes pivot so you must be stealthy) and then give them a good whoppin’ with the stick. I have a pair of leather-handled sticks from Crustacean Sensations - this company is to crabbing what Nike is to a tennis shoe. But I'm just name dropping. Anyway, if you can't find any you can borrow mine. Hey, for clams you just need a good shovel. Snow shovels can move the mud and sand faster. Be careful not to harvest clams if you notice any effluence leaking into your digging area from shore side. Be wary of brown clams. Good luck on your venture.

Next, our attendance secretary helped:

Clam "guns" work better for razor clams. Just be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot.

And finally, my department Chair chimed in:

I like the crab stick method, as well, but I find bringing the crab to me works more effectively than trying to sneak up on them. I generally hide among the seaweed and use a crab-caller to lure the crabs in close. It produces a high frequency sound which mimics the sound of a mussel in distress. I believe Crustacean Sensations carries these as well.

Can you tell that Summer Fever has us in its grip? 8 more...


Didn't I say that botany was sexy?

23 April 2005

Image hosted by

This photo is from Yahoo! It is of the Titan Arum, the largest flower in the world. Look how happy the botanist is.


Botany Made Sexy

28 February 2005

This photoshop was created by Brian Pfohl, who graciously allowed me to post it here. I think it's just awesome. It also happens to be something my kids (and colleagues) enjoy very much. My students love being able to "be in on the joke." What better reason for learning some botany?

Hosted by

Labels: ,