31 December 2007

Do Your Part...

"I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. I'm asking you to believe in yours." - Barack Obama

Quit being apathetic, scared, nervous, shy, disillusioned, indifferent, irresponsible, lazy, or whatever your reason is for not caucusing on the 3rd if you are an Iowa resident. You live in the number one state when it comes to choosing our next presidential candidate. In what other situation can you say that our state has the first and most influential say in our entire nation about anything? You don't have to be a political wonk or a governmental policy expert to show your support. Pick a candidate on their platform, their ideals, their experience, their name or their tie.

Another Reason I Side with Barack...

"What would you say is the most painful and character-building experience of your life that puts you in an important position to make important decisions of life and death and the well-being of our country?"

After a brief pause, Obama talked about his childhood:

"I would say the fact that I grew up without a father in the home. What that meant was, I had to learn very early on to figure out what was important and what wasn't and exercise my own judgment, in some ways to raise myself. I mean, my mother was wonderful, and was a foundation of love for me. But as a young man growing up, I didn't have a lot of role models, and I made a lot of mistakes. But I learned to figure out that there were certain values that were important to me, that I had to be true to. Nobody was going to force me to be honest. Nobody was going to force me to work hard. Nobody was going to force me to have drive and ambition. Nobody was going to force me to have empathy for other people. But if I really thought those values were important, then I had to live them out...That's why it's so important for me now, both as a United States senator, as presidential candidate, but also as a father and a husband to wake up every morning and ask myself am I living up to those values that I say I think are important. Because if I'm not, I shouldn't be president."

Best High Schools

I picked up the recent issue of U.S. News & World Report after my attention was grabbed by its "America's Best High Schools" cover story. I've looked at the list that Newsweek puts together each year and I have not been impressed. They base their list entirely on the ratio of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes offered per number of students. That has always seemed like a very narrow-minded view of what a 'best' high school should be. What about those high schools that do an excellent job of raising the achievement level of their students, but don't have enough demand (or aptitude) to justify offering a slew of AP courses? Anyways, it turns out U.S. News was thinking the same thing, so they have came up with their own list for the first time. The are using a different, three-tiered evaluation which in their words "measured how each school's students performed on state tests, adjusting for student circumstances. We next evaluated how well each school's disadvantaged students did. Finally, we looked at whether the school was successful in providing college-level coursework" if you need more detail than that you can read more about here. Unfortunately, eleven states and the District of Columbia were not included due to failure to provide adequate information. (Nebraska is one of them). One of the parts of the article that I enjoyed the most was this piece on "What Matters Most in Measuring".
As far as familiar names on the Gold, Silver or Bronze lists, Nishna Valley, South Page and Oakland all made the bronze list. The usual suspects in Chicago made the top of the list, Northside College Prep, Payton, Young and Lincoln Park all were Gold medal schools.
I haven't had a chance to read the pieces on the Boston MATCH school or the school in Texas, but they look very interesting. I like reading about the unique and varied strategies some of the top schools in disadvantaged areas use to help their students reach amazing heights.

30 December 2007

Once

So I watched the Irish movie "Once" over break and totally loved it. And after reading up more on the actors in the movie and how they've became a couple in real-life as well, I loved it even more. The soundtrack is great as well. On the "Once" website you can watch a little video where Glen talks about the history behind his battered & worn guitar. This clip from the Today show is touching, both on the woman's kindness and Glen's gratitude.

28 December 2007

2007 Book List

OK, so another delicious list for you to feast on:

1. When Courage Was Stronger Than Fear by Peter Hellman
Remarkable Stories of Christians Who Saved Jews from the Holocaust.
Five accounts of true selfless heroism.

2. Maus: My Father Bleeds History, Here My Troubles Began by Art Spielgelman
My first ever graphic novel and it was amazing. There is so much written into the illustrations. The incredible Pulitzer Prize winning story of the father relating his WWII & Auschwitz experience as well as the relationship between the father and the son.
3. To End a War by Richard Holbrooke
One of my Bosnian themed readings over the summer. A great inside look at the difficulties & dynamics of international diplomacy.
4. The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin (audiobook)
My Life in the Kitchen.
This was such a fun autobiography to listen to. It was one of the highlights of my trip to Chicago with homebase.

5. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
One of only two pieces of fiction on my list, and another Pulitzer Prize winner. This was very enjoyable. I watched it on a recommendation from Connie and after watching "The Namesake", which was based on another one of her books.
6. Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Unis
Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty.
A great documentation of how small ideas can have massive impact.

7. Augusta, Gone by Martha Tod Dudman
Whew. This is a rough one. I was riveted reading this mom's story of the endless battle with her daughter.
8. Paddy on the Hardwood by Rus Bradburd
A journey in Irish Hoops.
This was a very fun story of a coach who ends up coaching a semi-pro team in Ireland and his challenges in getting things going as well as his own exploits in learning to play the fiddle.
9. Redemption by Leon Uris
The sequel to "Trinity". It was good, but it spent a lot of time retelling the storyline from "Trinity". Still very fun.
10. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time.
Pretty incredible, the devotion, determination and single-mindedness of this guy. And I was able to see him speak too!

11. Witness to Genocide by Roy Gutman
The First Inside Account of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia
Pulitzer Prize winning documenting that help break the news of the atrocities in Bosnia.

12. Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipovic
A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo
It's so interesting to read a young teen's account of extraordinary circumstances. Not as spellbinding as Anne Frank's Diary, but still very good.

13. Heat by Bill Buford
An Amateur's Adventure as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-maker and Apprentice to a Dante-quoting Butcher in Tuscany.
Lots of fun and I learned some things too! A great look at the dynamic of a kitchen and also lots of interesting stuff about Italy, Italian food, pasta-making, Mario Batali, and butchers.

14. The Freedom Writers' Diary by Erin Gruwell
How a Teacher and 150 Teens used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.
A good motivator and 'feel-good' teaching story. Some very exciting, original, powerful lesson/teaching ideas. We read it in our advisory/home room when I was student teaching.
15. Pursuit of Happyness by Chris Gardner
Another one read aloud to homeroom. The movie is very good, but there is SO much more in the book!

I also had a couple fun re-reads of some of my favorites, Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Leon Uris' Trinity.
I only got halfway through The Worldly Philosophers, but I'd like to get back to it at some point. And I've started four different books right now and they all are great!

26 December 2007

Devotional Candles


My family has a fondness for these devotional candles discussed in this NY Times article. (the $1-$2 ones, not the $12-$15 ones). And as I got to thinking about it, these are the only candles I buy!

25 December 2007

Cell Warfare

NY Times has an interesting article about (unwanted) technology in the classroom. Even the name rubs me the wrong way, "Teacher vs. Technology." The professor's plan to smash the first cell phone that rang in his class was definitely original and clear.
My thoughts are...I don't have problems with students doing a quick check of messages or even sending one quick message. Texting is simply part of that generation's socializing and communication. The students that actually want to do well in the class or that might contribute to discussion are the ones that also know to keep their cell usage to a manageable minimum. The ones that don't are usually the same ones that wouldn't be participating much anyways.
My favorite part of the article is the part where it, rightly, states that part of the problem might be unengaging, boring lessons. Notice that the professor's reply talks about the 'subject matter' being relatively boring, not his lessons or his teaching. :)

"Naturally, there will be many students and no small number of high-tech and progressive-ed apologists ready to lay the blame on boring lessons. One of the great condemnations in education jargon these days, after all, is the “teacher-centered lesson.”

"I’m so tired of that excuse. The idea that subject matter is boring is truly relative. Boring as opposed to what? Buying shoes on eBay? The fact is, we’re not here to entertain. We’re here to stimulate the life of the mind. Education requires contemplation. It requires critical thinking.""

I read this post on the Fischbowl blog and thought she did a good job of touching on a lot of the same concerns & feelings regarding this issue that I have. It's a good blog that I check periodically.

Bottled Water Tax

Chicago is imposing a five cent per bottle on water. The Trib speculates on possible economic impact of bottled-water lovers driving to the 'burbs to stock up and avoid paying the extra $1.20 per case. I don't see the economic sense of that decision when gasoline tops $3 per gallon in Chicago and a trip to the 'burbs would probably take an hour of driving. Even if you buy your water three cases at a time, your savings would still only equal 1 gallon of gas. And then you have the whole ecological argument for encouraging consumers to drink more tap water. The article states that 17 million barrels of oil are used in the creation of all those bottles and I was skeptical of the 23 percent figure that the article says gets recycled.
I say, "Way to go, Chicago!" and the suburb communities should follow suit. Better grab your Nalgene!

24 December 2007

Blog 3.0

As I get ready to celebrate three years of blogging, I am also rolling out the annual make-over of my blog for the new year. I switched to a new template for the first time (it's actually only a different version of the Minima template) which has a darker background color than I've ever had before. I usually favor a white or just off-white background, but this 'Ochre' caught my eye and I thought it'd be a nice change. I also am planning on using photo images as part of my header this year. The images will probably change often, maybe with the seasons, maybe whenever I get a chance. Other than that, it mostly is some color changes and a few font changes. No change in the main font used for posts; I am partial to this one that I've been using since the beginning. Let me know if you have any problems or comments with the new colors or anything. Happy holidays!

22 December 2007

Top Albums & Songs of 2007

It is a wonderful time of year. No, not because of the holidays but because of all the year-end 'best of' lists! I love music and I love lists, so it is a delightful merger. I won't bore you with links to all the different lists I've been scouring over the past week or two. Instead I will only direct you to two of my main sources of music information. NPR: All Songs Considered and Rolling Stone. The links should show you their top CD's of the year lists, NPR offers 25, as voted on by their listeners (me included, my picks came in at 24, 23, 15, 11 and 8!) and Rolling Stone gives their 50 best. I downloaded the NPR podcast of their countdown so I could listen to that on my way home. There is also a list of the top 100 singles from Rolling Stone and iTunes also have a good list of their most downloaded singles of the year.
So, here's what I would call my top CD's of the year:
  1. M.I.A. - Kala
    • I love this CD. There's only one track I don't care for. The sounds are so global, the lyrics so worldly, economic, political and socially aware. The artist is gorgeous. I didn't think it would be possible to match how much I loved her first CD, "Arular", but she did it!
    • Favorite tracks: Paper Planes, $20, Jimmy, Boyz, Come Around, The Turn
  2. Tegan & Sara - The Con
    • Again, I wasn't sure if, after all the anticipation, that this CD could live up to how much I love their last CD, "So Jealous." I don't think this one has the two or three songs that really stand out like "So Jealous" did, but this one might actually be a better body of work.
    • Favorite tracks: The Con, Like O Like H, Back in Your Head, Hop a Plane
  3. The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
    • I actually like this one better than "Chutes Too Narrow". I can put it on and not have a bad moment of listening until it starts to repeat. So mellow & lush and great lyrics too.
    • Favorite tracks: Phantom Limb, Red Rabbits, Turn On Me, Sea Legs
  4. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
    • Yes, I was drawn to her by 'Rehab' but after listening to the rest of this album, I'm not sure that is even the best track! This girl has had her share of personal challenges this year too, but you've got to enjoy this CD as great work, regardless.
    • Favorite tracks: Tears Dry On Their Own, You Know I'm No Good, Rehab
  5. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
    • Another young Brit female chanteuse that I got introduced to this year. A good counter to Winehouse's bluesy, soulful songs, Lily Allen is bright, fun and upbeat. I love her style too, couture dresses matched with Nike trainers. Very nice.
    • Favorite tracks: LDN, Smile, Knock 'Em Out
  6. Maroon 5 - It Won't Be Soon Before Long
    • Here's one that didn't quite fill the big shoes of its previous CD's success. I listened to "Songs About Jane" pretty much non-stop when I was in Chicago. There are some very good ones on this new CD, but overall the album didn't connect with me like the last one.
    • Favorite tracks: Wake-up Call, Not Falling Apart, Nothing Lasts Forever
  7. White Stripes - Icky Thump
    • There was no way this one could match "Get Behind Me Satan". I voted that one as my top CD two years ago. This one just didn't have the non-stop quality like 'Satan'.
    • Favorite tracks: Rag & Bone, Icky Thump, Conquest
I'm only listing seven because that's all that I felt that I really gave the entire album a good listen. Some other ones that I enjoyed but just need to explore more...Miranda Lambert, Dropkick Murphy's, Bright Eyes, The Kooks, Kanye West.

Instead of compiling a whole list of top singles, I'll just add these to the ones listed above:
  • Shipping Up to Boston - Dropkick Murphy's
  • Low - Flo Rida
  • Music is My Hot, Hot Sex - CSS
  • Snape vs. Snape - Ministry of Magic
  • Umbrella - Rihianna & Jay Z
  • Bubbly - Colbie Caillat
  • Stronger - Kanye West
  • Cupid's Chokehold - Gym Class Heros
  • Hey There Delilah - Plain White T's
  • Crank That - Soulja Boy
  • Gunpowder & Lead - Miranda Lambert

21 December 2007

Blogger Play

Just a note to direct attention to a new link that I added to my sidebar. Blogger Play. It is a perpetual slideshow of photos that have been posted to blogs. I checked it out a month or two ago and liked it, but then I kinda forgot about it. I saw it again today and watched it for a while. I love it. It appeals to the people-watching/voyeur part of me that loves to see how other people live. Be sure to turn on the 'show info' option in the bottom-right corner to see the captions for each picture. So if you are bored or just looking for a look into what other people are doing (or at least posting pictures about), stop on by for a while.

Insurer to be Charged with Manslaughter?

Not a great story to read during the holiday season, but stories involving health insurance companies and their handling of claims always interests me. This one sounds similar to "The Rainmaker", except for the added twist that in this instance, Cigna reversed their denial but too late to save the teenagers life. Say a prayer for the family, and let's hope the insurance company gets hit with some massive punitive damages.

20 December 2007

I Made It

Christmas break has arrived.

I sat there and enjoyed the glow of relief and happiness yesterday after school got out. There were a few points in there when I wasn't sure if I'd make it to break or not, but here I am! It was a fun and productive day yesterday. It was a day to work on making up missing assignments and the kids did a good job with it. I had one girl, who I've been pestering about her missing work (she hadn't turned much in at all) walk in to class and hand me eleven chapters worth of work. I was shocked and thrilled. I told her that was a great present for me. I know many teachers don't allow late work and would have given up on that girl by this point, but whatever...it's my first year. I'm learning what works for me. And we're encourage to 'not let them fail', and to continually dog them and fight for them, so I figure that's what I'm doing. Oh, and I got a plate of homemade cookies, some homemade jam and a little bag of chocolates. I love the holidays!

18 December 2007

32 years later...Let's improve our cars!

Senate and House have passed legislation to require automakers to raise the average MPG of their fleet of cars, trucks and SUV's to 35 mpg. Unfortunately the bill gives them until 2020 to meet the new requirement. Incredibly the mpg level has not be changed for 32 years. How's that for a testament to the power of the auto & gas lobbyists! There were also items in the bill outlining increases in the production of ethanol and also energy mandates for appliances.
I'll have to look into this one more when I get a minute.

Drug Testing in High School

Marian Catholic high school in Chicago is voting on implementing mandatory drug tests for all students. The yearly tests would use a hair follicle and would test for marijuana, ecstasy, coke, PCP, but interestingly, not steroids. They would cost $50 per student and would show any use in the last three months or so. The article mentions a couple other private schools in the area that have already started the program.
They mention that they don't have a big drug problem and I'm left wondering, if your drug problem isn't pervasive and very harmful, isn't there a better use of those thousands of dollars? I agree that it is important for us to guide our students (as much as we can) to make good choices about drugs and alcohol, but when I thought about my school doing this, I know that we could spend the necessary $65,000 in more productive ways.
My favorite line, "A student who fails two tests in a school year would be asked to withdraw from the school..." and enroll in public school. :)

16 December 2007

Students meet Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman was in Des Moines this weekend as part of the public library's AVID program. (The same program that brought Greg Mortenson to talk about "Three Cups of Tea") I was definitely looking forward to hear him speak. I had received a copy of his highly-regarded textbook at the AP seminar I attended this summer and I've flipped through his most recent book that he was here to discuss, " The Conscience of a Liberal". His credentials are impressive to say the least, professor at Princeton, prior teaching gigs at MIT, Berkley, Stanford, Yale and the London School of Economics. Clark Medal winner, adviser in Reagan's administration (that's right, Reagan!), and biweekly NY Times columnist ( The Washington Weekly called him "the most important political columnist in America"). The Economist magazine has called him the most celebrated economics of his time. So I tried to drum up some excitement for the event when I told all my classes about it this week. I also put out the powerful lure of late-in-the-semester extra credit. Considering that the last time I had told my students about an event I had three take me up on it, I was not expecting anything different this time. Adding to that, it was on a Saturday afternoon and the same day as our winter formal dance, so some of the girls had already regretfully told me they had appointments to get their hair done at that time (OK, most weren't too regretful.) Students behavior will always surprise you, though. And by the end of the talk, I had nineteen names written down, all of which came over to say hi, or at least made sure I saw them so they would get the extra credit. One student told me he had walked there (it was cold and snowing), and he quickly followed that with, "We're the youngest people here by 40 years!"
Mr. Krugman delivered a good talk lasting just under an hour (thank goodness, since I had told my students that he wouldn't talk more than an hour). He talked a lot about some negative trends he sees in our country and government, focusing a lot on the need for universal health care and the growing inequality of wealth. I was happy that he mentioned a lot of the topics we've covered this semester in my classroom, hopefully the students caught some of that. I also said I would give additional extra credit if they asked a question during the Q&A session. I had three students get called on to ask their questions and I was happy to see that all three stood up, spoke up and delivered their question well. While they weren't deep economic questions ("Are you going to write another book?" "What was your motivation to write your book?" and "Among the Democratic candidates, who do you think has the best health care plan?") I think they were just fine and I was proud of them. There were enough people asking about the housing crisis, Bernanke's actions and the value of the dollar. I think he probably enjoyed a little variety in the questions. Each of them, after asking their question, turned and made eye contact with me & I flashed them each a thumbs-up.
Another teacher from my school down there, one that I really admire and respect and she came up to me afterwards and very excitedly asked how many students I had down there. After I told her, she said, "Aren't you just so thrilled?" I couldn't keep the smile off my face and I replied, "Yep! It's probably the best moment of my first semester."

15 December 2007

Declaration of War


Round three of middleson vs the mice has begun. I began aware of an added presence in our apartment a week or so ago and, as usual, I did not harbor any ill-will until last night. I saw that one of my bags of granola had been compromised and I was not pleased. I am a firm believer in everyone pulling their own weight. I've been able to put together a pretty firm idea of their traffic pattern since I often see them as I'm sitting and doing work. My stationary pose must fool them. So, this morning I picked up a set of traps and they are now locked loaded, two with peanut butter and two with cheese. I went exclusively with the standard trap, after the debacle we had last year. Maybe I should've used scotcheroo's since they were so successful two years ago. Now we wait, and listen for the crack...

14 December 2007

8th Homocide This Year

Eighth homicide this year.
That is one way to view it. And that's how we usually process this type of news story. This type of things seems to just keep coming...Virginia Tech in April, Las Vegas on Tuesday, LSU yesterday. But there's so much more to it, as I'm sure there is to the previous seven homicides here. What if the victim is the same age as all your students? What about if some of your students had known the victim since childhood (What's that even mean? They don't seem that far from childhood right now!) What do you say to that? They don't teach grief/tragedy counseling in education classes. I need to work on handling these situations better, doing more, helping more.

Why am I Looking Forward to Winter Break?

I'm looking forward to waking up without the first thought in my head being, "How soon can I get to school because I've got things I need to do before first period?" which is quickly followed by, "What should I do if my lesson ends with ten minutes left in the period?" and "How many copies do I need to make before class?" I'm looking forward to sitting in silence or maybe some soft music and reading...for fun! Our hallways (and sometimes classrooms) are a constant high volume barrage on eardrums and nerves alike. Silence is so soothing after that. I can't wait to not hear strings of inappropriate and vulgar comments, spoken without a care who is listening. To have a few weeks where, when I see someone with a cell phone or an iPod or a hat, I don't have to approach them to put it away/take it off (while still using a friendly tone of voice). No one asking "Did I miss anything yesterday?" "Can I make up that test?" "What's my grade?" "Can I go to the bathroom/get a drink/go to my locker/get my book/borrow a pen?" And finally, not having to say the words "Shhh" or "Quiet".
Besides all that, I'm looking forward to sleeping in (well, at least til 7:30 or 8), seeing family, cooking, enjoying wonderful food and treats, shopping, taking pictures, listening to music, checking out some movies on Christmas Day, seeing high school friends, going to Christmas mass.

11 December 2007

Amaryllis In Need


Some of you may remember the difficulties, and ensuing enjoyment I got out of the amaryllis homebase got me last year. This year, I received a white one and it was making great progress. There was one area of concern, though, and that was that the plant, despite having grown a good foot and a half or so, had not put out a main shoot. It was only leaves. So that was a bit curious. And then I came into the kitchen this morning and saw that the leaves had just flopped over. They just kinda gave up. So I had to resort to taping up my plant for the second year in a row. It turns out that the amaryllis that homebase was growing was pulling the same sort of tricks and she has exchanged it for a new one. Hopefully mine will step up, otherwise it might be getting exchanged over Christmas as well!

Snow Day...

..."School's closed & I can't wait." I love that song by Jimmy Fallon and it is perfect for today. I woke up at 6:15 and tried to listen to the traffic outside to get an idea of the conditions. I was seriously hoping for a snow day. It just sounded like it was very wet. So I peaked out the window and the streets just looked very wet, but no accumulation of snow. Very much bummed out, I checked online to see, just in case. Amazingly there were 149 cancellations on KCCI's website (that number is now up to 274). So conditions must be worse than they appeared. So I bounded back into bed for another hour or so of shut-eye and then an hour of laying in bed and reading. What a way to start the day!
I've never been one to let a snow day or early out restrict my travel plans; in high school when we got out early due to snow or ice, we always took that to mean we should head to Shen and get movies and food. So, in keeping with that tradition, I'm off to seek out some food and some groceries.

10 December 2007

Black Teachers / White Teachers

stoppable sent me the link to an interesting article, "Understand?" by Nicholas Kristof, several weeks ago, which I read and put on the 'I need to blog about this' list. I'm just now getting around to sharing on it. The article is from a NY Times blog, authored by a Chicago Public Schools teacher. The post focuses on whether there are certain positives in having black teachers instructing in schools where a majority of students are also black. Now, the blog merely presents one teachers findings from having his students expound on the issue and some of the teachers' views he shares seem a little biased (saying they are "just building their resume for when they can go teach at some rich school in the suburbs.") He does present some valid points, that I recognize and understand. After finishing his article, it is good to remember that he points out that half of his students didn't think the race of their teacher mattered, and half of them did. I would be interested in seeing how those two groups fell in terms of achievement level.
He has some other interesting posts if you care to check out his other blogs or his photography website.

09 December 2007

Hawks Upset Cyclones on the Mat

Iowa's wrestlers notched a nice upset of Iowa State, who was previously ranked number one in the nation. The Hawkeyes took a 20-13 win back to Iowa City with them. To make this even more impressive, the Hawkeyes were without Mark Perry. Lastly, a promising sign of this to come is that there was only 1 senior and 1 junior in the lineup today!

07 December 2007

Schiano Sticking with Rutgers

Yet another reason to cheer for the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers (that nickname is another one!), their coach has turned down Michigan's overtures and has announced he is staying at Rutgers. He turned down Miami last year and now Michigan, so the guy has had some pretty tempting offers. He stated at press conference, "I have a job to do here in New Jersey and I will stay here and keep chopping." (No, actually, I made that last part up.) :)

Infamy Day

Sixty years have passed since the bewilderment of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I stumbled on to this article from the NY Daily News. I thought it was interesting & wanted to share.

04 December 2007

Campaign Digging

The dirt diggers have reached a new level. Check out this press release from Hillary's camp. It looks like you had better keep in mind all those papers you wrote in kindergarten before making any statements about your intents and beliefs now as a 41 year old. People have been jumping all over it today. I love John Edwards' response to all the silliness, "I want to confess to all of you right now," he told his audience, "in third grade, I wanted to be two things: I wanted to be a cowboy, and I wanted to be Superman." Better to disclose it now, than pay for it later!

Bus Fleet Felled

This is taking a senior prank more than a little too far. 60-70 tires punctured, a little spray paint, costing around $20,000 in damages. Classes had to be cancelled due to an inoperable bus fleet since the school has over half of its students using the bus system. Nothing like adding some criminal charges to the memories of your senior year.

Sneak Attack!

stoppable had planned a fun little Monday night trip out last night to transport a suit, a slide projector and an air bubble out here (how's that for a mix of items!) So I was getting things around and cleaning up the kitchen since we were planning on cooking dinner. When he knocked & I opened the door, I was very happily surprised to find all three kids with him as well (and all still in school uniforms)! I had checked in with him several times as he drove over here and they must've been very quiet because I never heard a peep. It was a very fun little evening together. stoppable, caboose and brig went to the grocery store while NTW and I played chess and emily munched chips. I was challenged to 5 games of chess over the few hours they were here! We had a good time putting together some yummy tuna casserole, perfect for a chilly evening. It was a very fun enjoyable night and many thanks to all those that made the drive and made it possible!

02 December 2007

Maus


As forecasted, we got hit by a bit of an ice storm on Saturday. Since it was Educator Discount day at Barnes & Noble, I was not to be deterred, so I thawed and scraped the sheet of ice off my car, and slowly made my way to the mall. I was very glad I did because once I got there, the place was practically empty, which never happens on a weekend. I browsed around and collected a stack of books and then took a seat in the cafe, accompanied by a cinnamon scone and a chai. One of the books I picked up was "Maus: A Survivor's Tale" by Art Spiegelman. I had seen this book before and thought it looked very interesting. It is a graphic novel that tells the story of the author's father, the build up to WWII, the Nazi occupation of Poland, and surviving Auschwitz. A substory that gets told is the relationship between the father & the son, as the son is having the story retold to him. I don't read graphic novels, but this one was very good. It won a Pulitizer Prize in 1992. The black & white drawings are interesting and provide an added richness & depth to the storyline. The Jews are drawn as mice, the Nazis are cats, Poles as pigs, and Americans as dogs. I read the entire first volume (My Father Bleeds History) in about an hour and now I can't wait to go get the other volume (And Here My Troubles Began) from the library. And if you are a teacher you can check out this site for teaching tips and discussion questions.

28 November 2007

More Green News!

Heard something about this on the radio this morning...a wind turbine manufacturing plant is planning to move into one of the areas in Newton that was vacated when Maytag left. Yay!!

27 November 2007

Go Google!

More good news from Google. Leading the way, as always, this time pertaining to alternative energy. This is what we need to really push change, titans of industry leading the way and, hopefully, pulling us along.

Home

"Go home!" That phrase can be heard multiple times every afternoon as the hall monitors work to exit all the students from the building. It's crazy, they may spend all day saying how much they hate the place, but when that final bell rings, we can't get some of them to leave!
I was working out and watching basketball practice in between my sets and I was sort of watching a student of mine who is not on the team but hung out at the practice the whole time. Helping put away balls, talking, walking around the gym, just sitting. It got me thinking. What if this idea of "home" that is so important to me, was not a place you looked forward to going? What if you preferred to not be there? What if anywhere was better than going home? What if there was no one there? What if you had to do everything to make it a home? What if the people who were there acted like they wish you weren't? It is a depressing chain of thoughts. Especially when I consider this particular student, who I see lots of potential in, but, as anyone could see, is in need of guidance, care, stability and discipline. And that's where I ended up. Maybe that is why she stays around the school so much. Maybe (hopefully) it is where she gets those needs met the most.

25 November 2007

Callahan Gets Dismissed

I don't think it will come as a surprise to many, but Nebraska fired their head coach, Bill Callahan over the weekend. ESPN showed some ugly statistics comparing Callahan's four years to the thirty years before them. His defense gave up 40+ points 10 times in four years, which had been done like 11 times in the thirty years before that. He had Nebraska's only two losing seasons since 1962. He lost three home games for the first time. "Callahan's four-year record was 27-22, with three of those wins coming against opponents in the division formerly known as I-AA. He was 15-18 against the Big 12, 0-7 against top 10 opponents and 3-10 against the Top 25. He was 0-17 in games in which the Huskers trailed at halftime." (cnnsi.com) Not the kind of numbers that will keep you at the helm of a program like Nebraska. Even though I am devoutly anti-Husker, it is more fun to dislike them when they are good, so I hope they get a quality coach this time around. I thought Tom Osborne's press conference was really good. You can check it out on YouTube in two parts (part 1, part 2).
A somewhat related interesting article about the rise of small college football in Nebraska and possible causes.

Witness

As I was driving back from a great Thanskgiving back home, a strange and disturbing thing occurred. I was on the interstate and was on the downward slope of a long, low hill, so I could see in front of me a ways. A couple of cars in front of me, I saw two good-sized deer shoot across the two lanes, just making it across. They were then in the grassy area in between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the interstate. One of the deer chose to keep sprinting and he slipped his way in between some traffic and made it to the far ditch safely. The other deer hesitated and apparently didn't like his odds continuing forward, so he turned around and start back towards me and my side of the interstate. I started braking but then he changed his mind again and did another 180 and took off to catch up with his partner. He was unable to elude the cars, though, and collided with the side of one. I didn't see whether he was able to hop up and scramble away or if the injuries sustained were more severe. I did say a quick prayer for the animal and the driver, though.

Road to South Africa

The qualifying groups for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa were picked yesterday. Ireland was drawn into a group with Italy, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Cyprus. The winners of the all the groups advance to the actual finals in South Africa, while the runner-ups have to play each other, with the winners advancing and the losers staying home. The group doesn't look too bad with Italy being the only heavyweight and they aren't playing that well lately, but after considering some of Ireland's recent results, any opposition could cause problems. Seeing Cyprus in particular will make many people feel a little trepidation after past difficulties taking care of business against that nation. Hopefully, once the FAI select the new manager of the team, it will start them in the right direction! Even though it is over two years away, it's exciting to start the qualifying!

Staying at the YMCA

I like a lot of things about the YMCA and I thought this article about a man who's lived at the YMCA for over 50 years was pretty cool. It's nice when someone finds exactly where they feel at home.

Extra Special HS Football

Gapers Block mentioned this special report by the Chicago Tribune on Mooseheart football. It is a school outside of Aurora for children in need. The story runs the usual line of players battling adversity and striving to achieve their potential & beyond and wanting to leave their mark. But the added dynamic of what those kids have already had to overcome is compelling. Be sure to watch the video clip too. It is a nice interview with the quarterback. There is something very magical about high school football.

20 November 2007

Chapter Review Art!


This picture is from awhile ago, but I just ran across it again and wanted to share it. This is from one of my advanced classes. I divided up the sections of the chapter and put the students into small groups. They had to use their portion of the chalkboard to provide a summary of their respective pages. While most of the groups put up an outline or bullet points, this picture shows what one of the groups with an artist gift came up with. I love the merging of creative thinking while still providing strong examples of the economic ideas. This was to show the role of households in the circular flow of our economy. My favorite is the "I <3 utility" shirt. The goal of the household is to maximize their utility. :) So I had to snap a picture of this before I erased the board for the day.

Tegan & Sara: Video!

I found these video "chapters" that were designed to go along with Tegan & Sara's new cd "The Con." I've mentioned T&S before, they are twin sisters from Canada who put out some supergood music. I spent over an hour last night watching all the chapters. Once I started, I got hooked and couldn't stop. It's a fun look into how the recording and creation process goes for a band. And it is also just fun and entertaining. I recommend it for anyone into twins, Canadians, sisters, Chris Walla (he's a member of Death Cab for Cutie and helped produce "The Con"), Portland, or just good music in general.

Obama Visits Study Hall

I thought this was an interesting article telling about Obama's visit to a New Hampshire high school's study hall and talking to students. As always, I admire his honesty, candidness and ability to transform a personal experience into a valuable lesson. I love the way he can feel out a room and connect with it. I recently read an interview with George Clooney in Rolling Stone (I'm bringing it home for Thanksgiving so you all can read it :) and that is the the quality that he said he appreciates the most about Obama, his ability to read a room.

Sidenote: Less than 50 days til the Iowa caucus. It's fun to see Iowa in the headlines more and more often. And it's a dead heat among the top three Democrats, with Obama holding a narrow lead!

Onion on Darfur

Just the headline alone was enough to crack me up on this recent story in the Onion. "How Can We Raise Awareness in Darfur About How Much We Are Doing For Them?" The video piece that it goes with is funny, but the unexpected twist of the headline is great.

15 November 2007

The Onion takes aim at ND

The Onion had these two humorous articles regarding Notre Dame's struggles on the gridiron this season. "U.S. Military Wasting All Its Victories on Notre Dame" and "Notre Dame Football Team Having Worst Season Since Corinthians" Funny stuff.

14 November 2007

Crock-Pot Happiness

Today was crazy blustery, with a wind chill around freezing. In addition, I haven't been able to cook anywhere near as much as I used to and I really need my time in the kitchen as a stress reliever. So it was SO wonderful to come home from work this evening, coming in out of the cold and to be greeted when I opened the door by a wave of warmth (the heaters are working GOOD now!) and the delicious smell of a cooking meal. I had gotten up a little earlier this morning and chopped up some carrots, potatoes, onions, a green pepper and a couple bay leaves and put them into my brand new crock pot with a nice roast. homebase had been relentless in her sales pitch when we were at Target this weekend and it may turn out to be the best $19.99 I've spent in a while. The food was hot, savory and delicious. caboose even went back for seconds! I'll be looking around for some different ideas on what to cook up in the new addition to my kitchen!

13 November 2007

Budget Choices

This article from the Washington Post was disheartening to read. I don't pretend to be a Federal budget expert, but from the information in the article, it doesn't make me very happy. A veto for education, health care and other domestic spending, claiming 'too much pork' had been added on, yet signing to more (non-Middle East) military spending. I can't believe there isn't any pork in that military budget. This was the source of a lot of discussion on NPR this afternoon; how the cost of the war is becoming more and more of a major concern of the public. The war is estimated to cost the average family of four around $20,000.
Also, there is a new website available to those interested to researching what type of pork is being added to those bills and who is responsible for doing it. I'd love to poke around on that for a while. So of that earmarking just makes me sick.
Side story: In the rarely newsworthy world of bridge, the U.S. women's team has caused a publicity stir with an impromptu political display.

11 November 2007

Upgrade for the Firefly

This week the cycling shoes that I had ordered online arrived. [adidas girano's in black] And it worked out so I was able to take the Firefly down to Bike World to get the new pedals put on it to go with the shoes. I picked out the Shimano 105 spd-sl pedals. I was able to use the very thoughtful gift certificate from my birthday and the guys at Bike World also rewrapped the tape on my handlebars so it looks better than new. It was pretty brisk (like numb fingers and watering eyes) for a morning ride, even though it was probably not even a mile over there. I'm optimistically hoping for a couple of mild afternoons so I can take it out with the new components and test 'em out before the snow flies.

Test Kitchen!

homebase is an avid reader of the Ice Cream Ireland blog, and I check it on occasion. The author, Kieran Murphy, runs what looks like a very nice ice cream shop in Dingle, Ireland and the blog is packed with recipes, stories, anecdotes and lots of great photos. So when he asked for volunteers to 'test-kitchen' some of his recipes that he is considering including in his upcoming book, homebase was one of the first people to comment and enlist her support. And she quickly informed me that we would be doing some cooking when she visited this weekend. We made a trip to the grocery store after I got off work on Friday and after a little dinner, got to work in the kitchen.
First up, we made the Extreme Cocoa. We used Ghiradelli cocoa and it is a simple recipe but the end product was well received by the tasters. It was rich, velvety and intensely chocolate, but still very drinkable. The recipe made a nice amount; the six servings stated were probably right on, perfect to warm up a few friends or family after any outdoor winter activities. We were glad that we made the whipping cream, as we thought it really balanced things out nicely, plus it just looks so nice especially with the chocolate shavings we added.
Next, we worked on the Gourmet Chocolate Crust. Nestle's 60% dark chocolate is what we ended up using for this one. That, paired with butter was all that was called for, so again, the simplicity factor was very high which is nice when you want to try several recipes in a night. We had picked up some Breyer's Natural Vanilla ice cream earlier so we got out our small bowls and began applying the crust to the ice cream. Now, the old adage that too many cooks spoil the soup is just a wives' tale, isn't it?!? After the first sample was served, neither of us were perfectly content with it so we kept working at it, except with one of us scooping the ice cream and the other spooning the topping, neither of us thought the other person was doing their job exactly right so we had considerable 'sharing of advice' going on and someone may have considered rubbing someone's nose in the ice cream at one point. :) In the end we were laughing our heads off and we had a half dozen dishes of ice cream & topping on the counter, out of which I got maybe one decent picture. My opinion on this one (not sure if this feeling was shared by homebase) is that, to really be a 'crust' it would need to be just slightly thinner so it could pour easier and cover more of the ice cream before chilling into its shell. The flavor was great and it had no problem setting up just like it should, I just wanted it to spread a bit more before setting.
Lastly, we attempted the Strawberry & Sage ice cream. I would chalk this one up as a flop. The strawberries & sage are supposed to be cooked into a coulis, which I never felt got thick enough. It was very watery and when we folded it into the ice cream base, the watery coulis was too heavy so it just get separating. I did get a chance to sample it and it had good flavor and I think if it is sort of recombined when served it is still a nice dessert. The sage, even though there were only two leaves, definitely was tastable and I liked the combination of it with the strawberries. One last suggestion was noted by homebase, that it would be helpful to include an easy conversion for the metric measurements for those of us on the other side of the pond. More pictures can be found in my flickr.
Regardless, it was a very fun night spent in the kitchen, with some jazz on the stereo and caboose showing up towards the end to provide a third and unbiased opinion. I know for sure that these three will not be the end of our attempts at mimicking some of Ice Cream Ireland's wonderful treats.
[co-authored with homebase]

10 November 2007

Hawkeye Weekend Getaway

Just now getting around to documenting my trip last weekend. I was able to jet out of town "right" after work on Thursday since I had asked for Friday off. (I'm finding that, unlike at my cube farm job, it is impossible leave school when you plan to. There is always a student asking for make-up work, or copies to get made or attendance to log, etc.) I made the relatively quick drive to Iowa City where I met up with three good friends from college, two of which were former roommates. We were reuniting to see the Iowa Hawkeyes basketball team take on our alma mater in an exhibition game. It was kinda funny to think of our Division III school taking on the black & gold, even if it may be a rebuilding year with a new coach. The action of the hardwood was less than enthralling, but the seats were great (eighth row) and free and the company was top notch. It was great to have a night to catch up with everyone and relax, especially knowing that I didn't have to work the next day! The next morning did bring a super good start to my day. I was up before the sun, which is always a fun thing when you have a long drive planned. I swung by New Pioneer Co-op and picked up some favorite breakfast items, a chocolate-chip scone, a Naked juice, a Fage yogurt, and some tamarind almonds. It was a very nice drive to Chicago after that. Snacking off and on from my treats, watching the sun come up, listening to my podcasts (Soccernet, Off the Ball, This American Life) and thinking about my students who were stuck with a sub!
When I arrived in Chicago and had made my way to my old neighborhood, I parked & then headed back downtown with Amy to check out an exhibit called Sympathy for the Devil: Art & Rock & Roll since 1967, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibit was pretty out there and it reminded me why I usually prefer to go to the Art Institute. I didn't really know many of the bands that were involved. There were a lot from the emerging punk scenes and it was pretty out there. (There is one cool thing that I wish I would've seen before hand. They have put together a playlist for you to download to your iPod to listen to as you go through the exhibit from some of the bands that are covered.) Amy and I were undaunted, though, and stuck through all three floors of the exhibit and I'm glad we did because the fourth floor housed the highlights of the museum's permanent collection. There was a Warhol, a Basquiat, a Chuck Close, and then, to top off the mind-expanding visit, there was a room with two performance artists on the floor in a slow-motion make out session. It was pretty steamy stuff, but done in a smooth, fluid, ballet-like motion. I was almost embarrassed to be watching, but it was so crazy I couldn't stop! After all that culture, the materialism of Michigan Avenue's shops was calling our names so we grabbed a bite at Jake Melnick's and then hit up a few stores. For our evening outing, we were joined by Adriana & Dave and we hit up one of my most favorite Chicago eateries, Flat Top Grill. After a very fun meal, we went home with full bellies to relax, read magazines and just take it easy. The next morning we got our gameday supplies and apparel ready for the Iowa vs Northwestern game. We rode up to Evanston with some friends, one of whom happened to have grown up in Sidney, which is just a hilarious case of 'it's a small world'. Once we got there, parked and set up camp, I was able to appreciate our scenic viewpoint. You can check out my picture of it in flickr, but it probably doesn't do it justice. It was by far the best tailgating spot I've ever had. We were probably forty yards from the beach and the lake. And it was really pleasant weather so it made for very enjoyable tailgating, including some intense games of Bags. Cap it off with a come from behind Hawkeye victory and the day was one to be remembered. I made the drive home in time to stop by a going-away party back in Des Moines for a friend who is heading off for his second tour in Iraq, so it all worked out great. I packed in as much as I could and it was a stellar weekend.

07 November 2007

The Eagle is Grounded

It seems odd to me that the Air Force has decided to ground the entire fleet of F-15 Eagles after one in-flight structural failure. I think it makes sense to have them all checked over, but I would've thought they would already be doing that on a regular schedule. But I think closing the book on the career of this historic jet fighter seems like jumping the gun. Aren't we still flying A-10's, F-4's and F-5's, all of which were produced in the 70's or earlier?
Sidenote: It doesn't say that the $30million price tag of the F-15 was adjusted for inflation when they compare it to the $132 million cost of the new F-22. If you take inflation into account, the cost of F-15 in current dollars would be ~$103 million. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a super slick inflation calculator, among other useful tidbits.

Baby Steps

As I was passing out a test today, I was reminding the class of my new way of handling those students that choose to start talking after they've finished their test. I give them one warning, then I just start deducting points from the test they just turned in. As I got the end of my statement, the student I was handing the tests to at that point said, "Man, you're learning to be a teacher....and it sucks!" I smiled.

Euro Mascots

I have a fondness for nicknames and mascots, as can be seen by a quick search of my past blogs. And I have a fondness for all things soccer/football related. Combining the two, though, is not a good idea in everyone's eyes. I thought this article from Soccernet was entertaining. I will say that I am a big fan of live animal mascots and not so much for dressed up people. But I do enjoy some of them (in particular, the ibis of Miami and Iowa's Herkey)!

05 November 2007

School Days Update

  • Students are funny sometimes. I was walking out of the building last week and one of my freshmen homeroom students was hanging out on the stoop. She said to me, "Mr. _, why you got on that little backpack?" (for the record, my backpack is of normal dimensions) I wasn't sure why she was asking so I just said, "To carry my books in." There was a short pause and then, "Oh", like it all made sense then. I bid her "have a good night" and that was that.
  • After the aforementioned success of the student who moved himself away from the distraction of his friends, two of those friends stopped by after school to pick up study guides, which is another step the trailblazing friend had done. On the one hand I like seeing that they recognize that these things have helped their friend do well, and they want to do well to. On the other hand, I wonder if they see the extra time and hard work that first friend did to turn around his scores. While the new seat and study guide helped, it was mainly due to focus and determination. We'll see what happens.
  • In observing and talking to students, I've seen some powerful examples of what a roller coaster of emotions high school and adolescent life can be. I've got a couple students who usually are out-going, happy, joking and while not top-level students, they always have something to offer. But every so often one or the other will come in and just space off, staring straight ahead, no smiles, and not talking to friends. When I ask them what's up or if everything's ok, they just shake their head. It's easier to fall into thinking that your class is the only thing on these kid's minds, but today's students have a lot of other things going on.
  • Last week I was writing on the white board when my cell phone rang. I usually switch it to vibrate during the day but had forgotten that day. The administration and teachers have been relentlessly and not always successfully fighting cell phone usage by students, so for mine to go off during class caused quite a stir. The second ring hadn't even started yet and students were sounding off and letting me have it. It definitely livened up the classroom a bit!
  • Discussion about labor, wages, wage discrimination, and inequality in pay between sexes and races led to some spirited and fun classes today. After looking at a chart showing the average salary for white males, white females, black males, black females, Hispanic males, Hispanic females, I asked the students to share why the inequality displayed was still possible after the Equal Pay Act, Civil Rights Act, and EEOC. After some good sharing about that, I then asked them, "What can YOU do to help change this chart?" When several students rightly brought up education, I asked the students if they knew the song "I Can" by Nas. (video/lyrics) Most of them had and as I helped them see the connection between the lyrics and what we were talking about, they laughed about their teacher talking about Nas in economics class. I call it making the material real and relevant.
  • The same material led to the most fun and inclusive in-class debate and discussion later in the day. Some comments about affirmative action got some students that aren't usually big talkers in class to share some of their thoughts. It was great to be able to let the students drive the discussion for once. And it's great for them to have to put their beliefs into a logical or persuasive statement, as well as, have to listen to their peers and then structure their response accordingly. Good life skills. I actually had several students ask if we could do a project or a formal debate on the topic!

31 October 2007

IBM Recycles!

IBM shows others exactly the type of environmentally-responsible ingenuity by large corporations that needs to happen on a global scope. We've got to get our global population thinking about consumption and waste in a new light. Half a million dollars in savings last year and another $1.5M expected as they roll out the reusing process to their other locations. Not only are they finding a new use for what used to be scrap waste but by selling it to another green industry, solar power, they are helping out in multiple ways!

Packing Heat on Campus

Iowa's three state schools will soon have their qualified campus police officers armed with guns. The Board of Regents voted to make the change this week, partially as fallout from the VT tragedy. I was against this idea, but when I learned that it the weapons would only be carried by full police officers that are qualified, not just by any campus security chump. I suppose with all the various security concerns that happen on large campuses, it probably is a justified move.

Happy Halloween

Where does a belly button go to school?

[at the naval academy]

That was the best joke I heard in my classroom today. The best costume I saw, and sadly there weren't too many to choose from, was this one ELL student who never says anything in class. He came in late to class, and he is never late, and he is wearing this big rainbow-colored rocker-style wig, two fake lip rings, a studded collar around his neck and a floor-length trench coat. It actually took me a second to realize who he was when he walked in. I applauded his enthusiasm for dressing up. It was great to see him express himself a little.

29 October 2007

Squish, Squash...

Maybe it is due to the fact that I've been eating school lunch again, but I seem to have a renewed interest and appreciation for applesauce. I bought a jar of it a few weeks ago while grocery shopping and then forgot about it until tonight. A late snack was calling my name and some cold applesauce seemed just right. I ate the entire 23 oz jar. I probably didn't need the last helping of it, especially since gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, but it was so yummy, especially with some cinnamon sprinkled on top!

"Pasionable"

Actually should've been spelled 'passionable'. And even though it is not a word, it was (unknowingly) created and used by a group of students today to describe a feeling of strong importance and significance, similar to passionate. I applauded their creativity and, other than adding another 's', I left it as it was on the board.

28 October 2007

Country Roads Take Me Home

Some gray & misty weather on Friday afternoon helped me make my decision to change my plans. I opted to skip attending our football team's final game, and instead, I made an early escape to head back home. As I was throwing (a lot) of laundry into my bag and gathering a few other odds and ends for the trips, caboose decided he didn't have anything much going on so he started running around to get his stuff ready to go too! Nothing completes a fun road trip like a last minute unexpected travel partner. We had a good time on the drive home, enjoying some hilarious people watching at the McDonald's in Stuart. We alternated music selections, each person putting together three songs from their own iPod that had a common theme and the other person had to figure out what it was. We had a lot of fun with it...songs from dead artists, songs from albums with an animal in the name, songs from movies, songs from gay artists, songs from artists with acronym'ed names, songs from Jewish artists, songs that are covers, songs with a state in the title, songs featuring a guest vocalist, etc. And, to our surprise, homebase had a majority of the painting that we were planning on helping with completed when we got there. The 'haystack' shade looked very bright and sunny. A great sprucing-up of the kitchen.
Saturday I was able to watch College Gameday. I love those guys! So entertaining. One of my favorite activities is cooking with family on a Saturday with a football game on in the other room. (A Hawkeye victory!) Stoppable came down with the kids and we had a very fun afternoon. We all went on a long walk out past the old house. Maybe I was still feeling the effects of sleeping in the same twin bunk beds that I grew up sleeping in but hadn't laid in for years, but the walk was a flashback of what it was like growing up...playing catch, throwing rocks at telephone poles & road signs, catching grasshoppers, walking in the fields. It was fun to see the next generation of kids get as much enjoyment from those things as we did. We saw a great blue heron and a snake (which was masterfully caught and exhibited by stoppable, check the picture in flickr). It was a sunny, perfect day for relaxing with a walk in the country and getting in touch with nature. Everyone was wore out by the time we got back. The whole weekend helped to once again remind me how calming, simple and good a weekend at home can be.

25 October 2007

Heart-dropping Headline

Just reading the headline to this story on the Sun-Times was enough to make me wince and give a heartfelt shake of my head. "14-year old killed defending friend" You hear that and your heart hurts before you even read the details. It can truly be a harsh, cold world at times. I heard "In the Ghetto" by Elvis (it's set in Chicago's southside) in my head after reading this story.

24 October 2007

Ireland National Coach Gets Dropped

Steve Staunton, the manager of Ireland's national soccer team, got canned today after an embarrassing run of games during qualification for Euro 2008, which Ireland failed to qualify for. Although Stan (as he is known) is Ireland's most capped player, turning out 102 times for the Ireland side, he had no managerial experience when he was given the job. An away 5-2 loss and home 1-1 tie with lowly Cyprus sealed his fate. Hopefully the FAI will put in their due diligence this time and bring in a world-class manager who can right the ship and get the green back to where they should be.

Gelato after a long day

Even though we had an early out today, the professional development, immediately followed by a staff meeting got a little long. Some good info, but sometimes after hearing about how we need to be working on creating these challenging, relevant lesson plans that connect post-graduation tasks to our curriculum material and then about all the documentation we should be doing in regards to behavior, I leave feeling a bit in despair because I feel there is a gap between where my teaching is and where it probably could be.
Anyways, I came down to the coffeeshop to get some work down and decided to splurge for a little handmade gelato. I got a two scoop dish, one of pumpkin and one of balsamic raspberry. The pumpkin was bland and blah, but the balsamic raspberry was marvelous. It had some serious bite and sweetness from the two flavors. Top notch! The flavor was so strong, I found myself taking smaller and smaller spoonfuls to stretch out the pleasure. And it gave me just the needed boost to tackle a stack of tests.

23 October 2007

California Fires

I haven't read much about the devastation from the raging fires in California but I did happen to hear on the news tonight that over 500,000 people have evacuated various areas, even more that during Hurricane Katrina. They stated that it represented the largest peacetime movement of people since the Civil War. Incredible! It must be bad, they've even pulled National Guard off of border patrol!

22 October 2007

U.S. Women's Soccer Coach Out

A 45-2-8 record over the last two and a half years and he's out the door. That's TWO losses in 55 games. Unfortunately, that second loss came on the World Cup semifinal and was surrounded by a fair amount of second-guessing on his move to start Briana Scurry instead of Hope Solo in goal. And, four goals later (all scored by Brazil), his future was sealed. So, the next person they get to accept that position has got to be thinking, "Am I out after my first loss, or my second one?"

21 October 2007

Quotes

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." - Theodore Roosevelt

"The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." - Benjamin Franklin

19 October 2007

31


What a great birthday! I started the day off thinking it would be a nice, low-key, no-big deal sort of day and it turned out being one of the best birthdays I've had in a while. I brought donuts in for my homeroom kids and it nearly caused a riot. After each student got their sugary treat, there were six left over so I tried to teach them a very simple game to see who would get a second donut. Giants, dwarfs, wizards is pretty much a full-body version of paper, rock, scissors. Even though it was crazy, loud and I had to repeat everything about 3 times, I'm marking it down as a success because I got every student on their feet, laughing, learning and taking part in a new game. Next time I mention this game, I'm sure it will go much smoother. Plus, I escaped without receiving the 'birthday beat down' I had been promised by a few of my freshmen homeroomers.
It was a fun day of classes and I repeatedly hearing, "You're 31?" I'm not sure if that means I look young or that 31 year-olds look incredibly old. When I got to the room for my last class of the day, I was surprised with a cake on the desk and the students singing for me (my second 'Happy Birthday' song of the day!). I was so surprised and touched! They also gave me one yellow Starburst. :) This is a class that has at times really tried my patience, but they are definitely a fun group of individuals and it was a very thoughtful and fun gesture by them. So, since it is a small class, we were able to cut the cake and everyone could enjoy a piece as we discussed demand-pull and cost-push inflation. I don't think the smile left my face the whole period. A very good day.
After school let out, I was getting some things around for Friday, printing off grade reports when I was paged to the office over the PA. I jogged down the stairs and around the corner and was astounded for the second time of the afternoon when I was met by both of my brothers! It was very kind and wonderful of them to drive/take time off to celebrate with me. Definitely a well-carried out 'sneak attack.' We spent the evening bowling, playing pool and enjoying a nice meal at Grand Piano Bistro. It was a great gift to be able to spend that much time, just the three of us. We were able to talk about all kinds of things and we all had a great time. They are the best! I received some amazing, insightful, and well-matched gifts, including a cookbook that I've had my eye on for months, a gift certificate that I hope to spend tomorrow to outfit the Firefly (my bike) with clipless pedals! Thank you all for a great day.

17 October 2007

Skate Park on the Blvd

Man! This proposed skate park sounds killer and it would've been right next to my old apartment. Dang! Not that I am a skater, but I just might've had to start! Plus how fun would that've been to be able to walk by there and watch all the kids doing tricks. Some fun photo opportunities too!

16 October 2007

Got Your Back

About halfway through my day today, I was in the middle of delivering my lesson. The class is my smallest one and is a pretty fun mix of kids. So I'm walking around and talking, discussing when I hear a little bit of a ruckus in the hallway. Some either very loud talking or yelling was going on and the tone wasn't very friendly. Thinking that this might be my chance to be the first teacher on the scene and get to break an altercation up, I did a quick walk/trot to the door and stepped into the hall to survey the situation. It turned out to be just a few girls being ridiculously loud as they vented about something or someone who had wronged them. So I turned and stepped back into the room, and met into two guys in my class who we hustling towards the door. "Sit down, what are you guys doing?" Neither hesitated in their reply, "Getting your back!" "I'd be like..that's my teacher! Blam!" The good (and reassuring) thing is that I think they were only half-joking.

15 October 2007

Iowa Caucus-goer Poll

I saw this poll in the Des Moines Register today and a couple of the numbers from the demographic breakdown caught my eye. 74% are over 45 years old. 71% make more than $50,000. 95% are white. 80% are Protestant. Yikes, those is a pretty skewed representation. Just out of curiousity I did a quick check to see how far off from the entire population those numbers are. ~39% make more than $50,000 according to the 1999 census. And I was surprised to learn that 93% of the state is actually white!

Pick Your Candidate

You can follow this link to USA Today's Candidate Match Game, answer a few questions about main issues and weight how important each of those issues is to you and it will tell you who most closely aligns with your views. No surprise that Obama was my number one. He was followed by Joe Biden and Bill Richardson. So get over there and see who you should be supporting! Don't delay, the caucus it coming quick!

iPods in Education

I thought this NY Times articles on the use of iPods in education (a favorite topic of mine) was interesting. A nice addition was the district splurging to add the recording capabilities so the students can record themselves and listen to their pronunciation.

14 October 2007

Conferences

Knowing the level of parental involvement and the attitude of certain parts of our demographic, there was a very small bit of nervousness mixed in with the excitement as I prepared for parent-teacher conferences last week. It actually turned out to be a very good experience. I had over 70 conferences, which is just over half of my students. Not a bad turnout, I didn't think. And none of them went badly or were uncomfortable. Plus, sometimes meeting the parents/guardians of a student can help fill in some answers for you. Best of all, it wasn't just the parents of the top students that came in, there were quite a few parents that came in that I was very happy to get a chance to talk the first six weeks over with them and share what I'm seeing with what they are hearing at home. Every single person I talked to was supportive, cooperative and wanted to help improve those situations that needed improving. As a bonus, there were multiple, "Thanks for doing what you do" or "Thanks for your efforts" and even a couple "You're doing a good job" comments. Combine that with a fun post-conference teacher decompression outing and a day off, it was a pretty good week.
Oh, and one very positive story to relate: I had a student who was struggling a bit with the material in my advanced class and I wasn't sure they were going to be able to cut it, especially when combined with their behavior, which was more focused on having fun and messing around off-task than on really putting the nose to the grindstone. Then, last week, completely on their own, this student switched to a different seat, away from several off their friends that were major distractions to them. As I saw that student's test come up when I was correcting, I hoped that they made some improvement. I slid it through the scantron, and broke into a smile when I saw the best score in the class appear on the display.

09 October 2007

Nobel Prize winner in medicine

Incredible story of hardship, struggle and hitting rock bottom before having fate finally start to send some good things your way. From some serious lows to an incredible high. I'm not going to tell it all, so you have to check out the Washington Post article about this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine.

08 October 2007

Pat McGee Band & Friends

Good friends in town from Chicago over the weekend led to a highly enjoyable night out taking in some baseball (on TV) and checking out some new music. We started the evening off sampling different beers and watching the Cubbies play very poorly and eventually losing, completing their sweeping exit. Luckily we could chase those blues away with some very fun musical entertainment. A triumvirate of listening fun; The Kin (a couple of brothers from Australia), Josh Kelly, and finally the Pat McGee Band. It's not often that I sit through two openers without wishing one of them would stop playing. All three were good and each band was better than the last. Good times, good friends, and good music! Thanks for making the drive, ladies!

Success

To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.
I came across this quote online and thought it was great, so I poked around a bit to see who wrote it and it turns out to be a commonly misappropriated writing. Most places cite it as the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, but that doesn't seem to be true. Check out the link for further details (or, if you are too busy, just enjoy the quote and don't worry about who wrote it.)

Awkard times at security gate

I heard this on TV so I had to find the story online to share. I'm imagining there was one pretty embarrassed individual when the carry-on starts leaking herbacide as its being passed through the X-ray machines. Then, having to fess up to carrying it in plastic bags. Oops. Well, at least it will be a great story to share back at the coffee shop once he gets back to the farm.

05 October 2007

Outside the classroom...

When adults look back at their high school days, they see carefree days with few responsibilities. Either they have forgotten all the other things that were going on or today's students are being stretched a lot thinner than those of past generations.
In just these first few weeks I've had a student who just became a father, a student with a sick one year old, a student who is pregnant, a student just out of correctional services, a student auditioning for prestigious acting school, students working two jobs, three students who've been in the hospital recently and two students with black eyes. We can not expect them to always be completely focused on the material and enthralled by supply & demand examples. I've found that if you ask students how their day's going, you'll get a pretty honest response and you'll also get a little glimpse into what they are dealing with and you might just improve your relationships and rapport a little.
By merely telling this one kid that I understood that students had a lot more going on in their lives than just my class & my homework, I earned some respect. He replied, "Man, that's why I like you. You understand." Which is not to say that I'm a pushover! I'm slowly trying to tackle and toughen up on some different management issues, now that I can think about other things as I'm getting into a little bit of a rhythm with my instruction.

And, one fun thing as far as 'inside the classroom' things go...an ELL student did very well on a tough test and said, as I was passing them back, "Was this (holding up his test) the best?" meaning, did he have the high score for the class. I told him, "Yep, and not only was it the best in the class, it was the best out of all my sections." The smile on his face and the happiness in his eyes helped to recharge my batteries a little and remind me what I'm doing here.

02 October 2007

Sears' Wish Book

I obviously wasn't alone in my love of Sears' Wish Book. When that thick tome showed up in the mail, it meant many hours of page turning, circling of rock-tumblers, air hockey tables, chemistry sets, football helmets, remote control cars, costumes and endless other items that I didn't need but still enjoyed looking at and expressing my admiration of. It's an interesting move by Sears to bring it back, especially in our ever more increasingly online world. Hopefully kids will still get some enjoyment from it.

And It's Only Tuesday

It's been an exciting start to the week at school.
  • Another first-year teacher turned in their resignation today. homebase made me laugh with her reply to my text that another resignation had been submitted. she said, "It wasn't yours was it?" When my students were talking about it, I jokingly asked them if they have a pool going on how long I'm going to last. :) It was good to hear them say, "You can't leave!" "Do you like it here?", etc.
  • During my prep period yesterday, as I was trying to get grades finalized and ready to post for the first grading period, there was the unwelcome sound of glass breaking not far outside my office. So I bolted out the door and around the corner to see students staring at a door with a nice fist-sized hole in the reinforced glass part. There was glass and blood on the floor and I assessed the situation and went outside to see the owner of that fist leaving the grounds. So I had to alert the proper people and explain what I saw and we pieced together the story. Crazy times.
  • I used the Scantron to grade my AP tests today. It is amazing! It took ten minutes to do what would've taken me at least an hour and a half and it gives me a print out of the most missed questions, the class average, and prints the correct answers by the students errors. Beautiful. I almost started laughing when I was zipping the forms through. We need more time-saving machines like this in our schools!
  • I brought my lunch for the first time in weeks today. Yummy turkey and smoked gouda sandwich paired with an apple and a banana. Definitely a welcome change from the school lunch salads.
  • An early out (for the kids) and getting observed tomorrow by my mentor, should be a fun day!

Kinkajou


Just wanted to provide a little info to those people who didn't believe me that there is an animal called the kinkajou. You may not have heard of him due to his strict noctural habits, or so says the Wiki article.

30 September 2007

A Day in the Park

What a fun weekend! After putting the finishing touches on a fun homecoming week at school with a parade and pep rally (a little short on pep), caboose and I loaded up the car and headed for home. When we arrived homebase had some hot & delicious french dip sandwiches waiting for us. Then we walked down to the field and, after a little persuasive talk from caboose, we went in and checked out the homecoming action. I am happy to say that what I saw was pleasantly surprising. They had drawn a decent crowd, there was a good amount of kids on the sidelines, we had new, nice looking uniforms and helmet decals (although I will continue to be very anti-'teams using black as part of their uniform color if that is not one of their actual colors') and the band sounded as good as I can remember, ever. So maybe the ol' alma mater is not fading away as quickly as I'd thought. It was good to see lots of the friendly, familiar faces and I've got so many great memories there, that I always enjoy checking it out.
The next day we all had a rendez-vous planned with stoppable and the kids in the Nebraska City park. Despite high winds, we successfully got our charcoal going and had a very nice grilled lunch. The playing & games & contest & eating & relaxing & talking & throwing the football continued off and on for several hours. Some people (caboose & emily) chose to catch a little nap in the car. It was just such pleasant weather and so relaxing we just kept hanging out! Around 5 we moved the party down the road to a wonderful little privately-owned coffee shop and enjoyed some caffeine drinks, along with trivia questions/charade-type acting/humming of tunes. When finally left there, our stomachs had started to grow a little hungry so we ended our play-day with pizza at Godfathers. What a great day, spent with a great family. Check out lots of pictures from it in flickr.