31 January 2008

Hambone

I went to a concert tonight at my school. It was a showcase celebration to culminate a two day Artist-in-Residence that's been going on. The artist was Professor Iris Stevenson who is an amazing musician, teacher, and composer. She is the director of vocal music at Crenshaw H.S. in L.A. and 'Sister Act II' was based on her story. I had heard snippets of singing as I walked past the auditorium that last two days and was very excited to check out the full show tonight. I am SO glad I didn't miss it. It was great, probably the best event I've gone to this year. It started off with our dance team, then our boys step team and then some brazilian songs where one of my homeroom kids sang a solo and did great. The final act before intermission was our top-notch show choir. I've seen them before but would never pass up a chance to see them again. They are very talented and well coach. Plus I have over half of them in class so that makes it even more fun. After intermission Professor Stevenson took over. She started out with her Crenshaw Elite Choir doing selections from Porgy & Bess and they were really spectacular. But the true gem of the night was the last hour when the combined choir of our high school and a neighboring school took the stage. I think they said it was ~500 kids. They started out with the Star Spangled Banner and it blew me away. The power of 500 voices is goosebump-raising and you could tell by the smiles on the kids faces that they loved hearing it too. Their show was very fun and upbeat. The crowd loved to clap along and Stevenson got everybody up and got us doing the hambone along with the kids for one number. It was a blast. There were soloists that just knocked people's socks off...some really talented teens! I've still got the music running through my head. It was really an great performance and something that the kids really loved and will remember. She did a great job of reinforcing a positive message to the kids too. And kids are always so happy to see teachers at their events. They like to be seen doing something they enjoy. One of my favorite parts of the night (besides working on my hambone) was watching this one particular student of mine on stage. She has lots of hard times and stress outside of school and always has a hard persona and attitude in school. She's got lots of potential, though. And to see her on stage with the smile that comes from undeniable joy and fun was really heartwarming. No scowls or surly looks, just beaming, smiling, laughing, eyes bright and not worried about anything but having a good time. Some kids really need just that. Even though I'm not a parent, it made me really happy.

29 January 2008

Temperate Change

It was 50 degrees yesterday. Wonderfully mild, even in the evening as I was walking to the basketball game. Today, many schools let out early due to wind and low temps. We did not and it is currently 3 degrees with 30 mph winds for a wind chill of 21 below zero. That's a seventy degree swing! We had a few kids who dressed expecting more of Monday's weather and so were without a coat today. :(

28 January 2008

Freshman Basketball

A few observations from my time at the freshman basketball games tonight. I was working the scoreboard to earn a little extra money and towards the end of the "B" game I was looking at the crowd and noticed that the suburban team that we were playing had ~55 people in the stands. We had 7. Three of those were students. So there were four adults/parents there. Now, I don't think freshman games anywhere pull in massive crowds but to be outdone in attendance by the visiting team like that makes you think about the support given to our players. I know it made me think about all the games, activities, meets, plays, etc for all the endless activities my brothers and I were involved in and my mom made it a point to be there at all of them. There was never a question; I knew, at any game, in any gym or on any football field, if I looked into the stands (or just listened long enough) I would see her. It was a good feeling...and it probably kept me on better behavior.
The other observation I had, an unfortunately it is another downer, is that the coach of our B team got a technical foul. I've only worked a couple games and he has gotten a technical at both of them! And not good ones either. They were poor sportsmanship-type fouls. Not the type of behavior I'd want to see being modeled for my freshman student-athletes.

26 January 2008

South Carolina & Caroline

South Carolina showed up in record numbers today to give their verdict on who should be the next Democratic nominee for President. And, overwhelmingly, they cast their votes for Barack Obama. A massive win (55% to 27%) over Hillary Clinton caps a week of barbs and bashing from both candidates. And it provides the perfect boost as the candidates head to the February 5 showdowns in twenty states. Here's a good part of his victory speech last night, "...the politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon, a politics that tells us that we have to think, act and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us, the assumption that young people are apathetic, the assumption that Republicans won't cross over, the assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor and that the poor don't vote, the assumption that African-Americans can't support the white candidate, whites can't support the African-American candidate, blacks and Latinos cannot come together. We are here tonight to say that that is not the America we believe in."

Caroline Kennedy has written an endorsement of Obama that will run in tomorrow's NY Times. Its title alone gives me goosebumps, "A President Like My Father."

"Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960....

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."

24 January 2008

Random Thoughts

Some random thoughts that aren't worth a full post but I felt like sharing...
  • Ho-Ho's - they suck. I was ravenous after school today so I zipped over to my favorite gas station for a Diet Dr. Pepper from the fountain and I picked up a package of Ho-Ho's. I haven't had them in a long time. Ugh, I can see why. They are crap. The 'chocolate' is like wax and the inside is nearly as bad. Won't be picking them up again.
  • Heath Ledger - what a sad story to read, especially about a 28 year old with a child.
  • In my IPERS newsletter that I got in the mail today, I was optimistically happy to read the fun fact that they had paid out benefits to over 100 retirees that were 100 years old or older. Maybe that shows that teachers are strong folk!
  • GOOAAAAL!!! - I scored my first soccer goal probably 5 years (not including those scored on my YMCA kids) last night. The staff team chalked up another win against another team of youngsters. I also added an assist and a handball. :) As caboose was quick to remind me when I told him about it, I need to remember to do a crazy goal celebration next time. I'm really enjoying this indoor soccer league and also loving the chance to run around a little and start to get back in shape. Looking forward to start a new volleyball league next week too!
  • The recycling club I started at school is exploding in popularity. I had three kids express interest in it when I first started talking about it. Today I had a dozen or so kids show up. People are hearing about it and saying, "How can I get involved?" I need to figure out ways to utilize all this interest! And one member mentioned making t-shirts, which I had already been thinking about. I love making shirts, so we are going to collaborate and come up with something cool.
  • The African Nations Cup is now going on. It is Africa's soccer tournament of nations. I hope Abba is following along, although Cameroon started off with a loss. :(
  • I ordered the adidas armwarmers I've had my eye on since Christmas this week. They hopefully will arrive in time to wear them if I decide to ride the BRR! ride next weekend.
  • That's it for now....Life's good. Share a smile today.

23 January 2008

Scrabulous

I was looking for current event articles to have my students analyze last week and my attention was caught. An article was talking about Scrabulous, an online game that is very similar Scrabble , but can be played for free and is very popular on Facebook. Hasbro & Mattel, who own the domestic and foreign distribution rights to the game, as well as EA Games, which owns the rights to the electronic version, are all upset with the massive popularity of this game that is so similar to their product. Cease & desist letters have been sent and instead of harassing the resurgence of the game, it looks like they are going to try to put an end to the free gaming. I have looked for online Scrabble in the past and have been unsuccessful in finding a free site, so I was stoked to check this knock-off out. I've played a couple games, one against homebase and it is a good time! The timer was the toughest change to get used to. Check out the site, sign up and let's play!

22 January 2008

Oscar Nominations

Not sure if there will be an awards telecast or whether any stars would cross the picket line if there is, but, despite that the list of nominees was released today. And, like I say every year, I need to get to watching some of these. I talked caboose into going to "There Will Be Blood" with me last weekend and that was very good. Others that appear on the list that I've seen include "Bourne Ultimatum", "Ratatouille", "Once", and "Pirates 3". "Juno", "American Gangster", "Sweeney Todd" and "Atonement" are the ones that are highest on my list to check out. Who's up for a movie this weekend?!

19 January 2008

How to judge a book, if not by the cover

After a little after-work happy hour on Friday, a teacher-friend and I went down and checked out East Village Books. It turned out to be a nice little shop with a friendly staff. It even has a little music section and an area for author readings. It's definitely bigger than Beaverdale Books, but I think the East Village selection doesn't have anything on Beaverdale's. We were discussing favorite books, reasons we liked them, fiction vs. nonfiction, etc. She then stated that we needed to start a book club. It didn't take me long to completely agree and say I was in. I've always wanted to be in a book club and have been looking for a fun, good one for years. So, the first step, we decided was to compose a list of our top 10 books and trade them, to learn a bit more. Then, I guess we decide on who to invite and what books to start off with! I'm excited! The top 10 list had proven to be rather difficult. How do you weigh a book that you read and LOVED when you were in high school with something you read last year? So here's what I have come up with so far. This is the list I am starting with and will have to whittle down a bit. If anyone can think of books that I might be forgetting, please comment!
Smashed by Koren Zailckas
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
How Soccer Explains the World
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Postville by Stephen G. Bloom
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt
Trinity by Leon Uris
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Maus by Art Spiegelman
The Earthsea trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin
A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L'Engle
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
Agnes Brown trilogy (The Mammy/The Chisellers/Granny) by Brendan O'Carroll
The Barrytown trilogy (The Commitments/The Snapper/The Van) by Roddy Doyle

17 January 2008

Disappointing Book Choice

I've seen a certain book popping up on several students' desks over the past month or so. And I'm not thrilled. As a prelude, let me make clear that I LOVE reading and love seeing students reading anything. And if it is something being read for enjoyment even better! So I always like to see what books are in their stack of things on their desks and comment of them whenever the chance arises. The book I've seen, and heard kids talking about, is Tucker Max's "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell." I read about half of this book sometime last summer while hanging out at Barnes and Noble one day. It is pretty much a compilation of stories of the exploits of a self-described asshole, focusing mainly on how much he can drink, how many girls he can take home and how many people he can make fun of. I'm not saying I didn't find some of his writing funny at times, but there's no way I'd ever support this guy by purchasing his book or even linking to his website. Of all the things these high school seniors could be reading, this would be near the bottom of my list. A couple of them have seen me glancing at their book or have asked if I've read it and I've had to admit I have and then give my thoughts on it. I tell them they should follow that book with "Smashed" by Koren Zailckas. It might help offset some of the negative effects and give them a more realistic picture of the effects of binge drinking and alcohol abuse.

Umbrella...ella....ella

I was driving home from school a few weeks ago and as I was passing a local elementary school, there were kids all over since the school day had just ended. I noticed one group of three girls, around 8 years old or so. One of them had an umbrella (it was sorta rainy/snowy). The umbrella had 'popped', so it was completely inverted. And she was walking along with it like that, holding it above the three of them. That alone made me smile. What she did next cracked me up. She lowers the umbrella so it is directly out in front of her (like a joust) and takes off running at full speed. I thought she was just having fun, and then I saw the umbrella pop itself back into the normal shape and she then slowed down. She had it down and her friends (and I) loved it.

16 January 2008

No Day But Today...

Rent is going to end its 12 year run on Broadway. I am a massive fan of the play, the story behind it, the music, the characters, even the movie (to a lesser extent). It is all SO good. It's the seventh longest running play in Broadway history.
"Actual Reality, Act Up, Fight AIDS!"

New Semester

Halfway through this first week of the new semester. I haven't been blogging much lately; I think I've been preoccupied with creating finals, grading them, replying to parent phone calls and emailing and trying to make sure no one fails that has a chance of passing, and then getting all my grades finalizing and submitted. And now we're starting the new semester and I've got 100+ new kids to teach. The good part of that is that this is now my second time going through the material so it is a little easier to teach it, make connections, etc. And hopefully I will be able to focus a little more on styles and strategies and how I deliver the lessons and not so much on just making sure I get the content right. The not so good part is starting over with all these new students and classes and having to figure out each class's feel & atmosphere, as well as learning names & faces, building relationships, etc. I miss some of those good kids from last semester!!! I'm sure it is just a matter of time until I get to find out who the fun/good ones are this time. One day at a time, right?

13 January 2008

Txt Chess

Last night, just as I was finishing up the Indian meal I'd prepared (which was VERY good, I have to immodestly say. Madhur Jaffrey's got the best recipes!) I got a text from stoppable. He was inquiring to see if anyone was interested in a long-distance game of chess. Since I haven't found a great place online to play chess against people for free, we went with his idea to txt the moves to each other. He had created a chess board in an Excel spreadsheet and tracked the game that way, while I used the chess table that caboose had built. After a short conference call to make sure we were on the same page, we went at it. It worked very well for our first time, only a couple snags. It got to the time for stoppable to clock off and go home and our game had arrived at a situation that we feel may be a draw. We're going to have to look into it and see if there's any way for finish it out. Regardless, it was a fun way to spend the evening!

Art Appreciation

I've came across two different contemporary artists recently that I really enjoyed and wanted to share.
First, there is a couple in San Fransisco that go by the name of kozyndan (he's Dan, she's Kozy) that have done some work for CD covers (Weezer's EP, John Mayer's As/Is series, and several for the Postal Service). I love the animation-look of their work. Their 'bunnyfish' theme is pretty cool too. So check out their stuff.
Secondly, I've always been a fan of graffiti artists. Not crappy "Joe Rules" or tags, but actually artistic murals, with cool lettering, etc. There were some really cool pieces that I saw when I was in Amsterdam. On Sunday morning today they did a short segment on a British artist called Banksy who has done some cool things. Not only visually appealing, but also politically and socially aware. A couple of my Indoor favorites are "Media" and "Flowerchucker", and my picks from the Outdoor works are the police sniper & prankster kid and 'there is always hope' which is now the wallpaper on my laptop. Be sure to check out both the Indoor and Outdoor works, they have very different styles. He has an adaptation of stoppable's favorite, "Nighthawks". Check it out!

China Bans Bags

China has taken a big step in their cleanup attempts for the coming Olympics. Those tissue thin plastic sacks which retailers, grocers, and takeout places worldwide use have been banned. Retailers can still use their heavier bags, but the government has banned the thin ones because of their unsightliness, in addition to the environmental impact. The government is calling for a return to cloth bags and for retailers to charge customers that don't bring their own sack. Whole Foods does this a little bit and I'm all for it. Our society is all about incentives. A majority of people will not do anything to help the environment if it inconveniences them at all, so we have to make it financially reasonable for them to do the right thing. We love to point out how China's industrialization is causing major problems with global warming and they are unwilling to adopt environmental standards like we have. But here they are leading the way on an issue, (well, Ireland, Bangladesh, South Africa, Germany and France are already on board) How long before our we match their ban countrywide? (San Francisco has already banned grocers from using the sacks.)

10 January 2008

Affirmations!

After getting a workout in, I went to check out the swim meet tonight. It was Senior Night and I have a bunch of them in class. So just hanging out, reading material for class. After the presentation, a parent comes up and introduces himself and says that his son really enjoyed my class and liked how I taught. He thanked me for the job I did! What a nice feeling. It made my night. On top of that I learned that that student, along with another one of mine, is planning to study economics in college!
So I decided to pass on the goodwill and on my way out, I stopped to tell a parent of another student of mine and told them that I had really enjoyed having their son in class this semester and that he had brought a lot to the class. They were very happy to hear it.
So...pay it forward if you get the chance!

09 January 2008

"False Hope? There is no such thing."

Well, I definitely wasn't happy about the results from New Hampshire, but I think that that had a lot to do with Obama's great Iowa performance. I heard on NPR (and agree with) a comment that, "if you had said that Obama would finish 3% behind Clinton in New Hampshire a week ago, most people would've thought that was a strong finish, but after what happened in Iowa, expectations changed." I did think that HRC would be tough up in the Northeast and she pulled out a necessary solid performance. If you haven't seen her outburst of emotionality the day before the primary, check it out. Anyways, the nomination process moves on to a new state now (Michigan for the Republicans, Nevada and South Carolina for the Democrats) and it will continue to be a hard fought race. As I said after the Iowa caucus, there is a long ways left to go.
Two other side notes from New Hampshire that I wanted to share, though. First, this comment from HRC at the debates on 1/5, "we don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what we can deliver." Barack jumped all over it, saying, ""if anything crystallizes what this campaign is about, it was that right there."
And secondly, exit polls showed that 46% of primary-goers named Obama the most likely to defeat a Republican in November while only 36% felt that way about HRC. Yet HRC got 39% of the votes, topping Obama's 36%. So people were voting for her, even though they felt she was not the most electable candidate. stoppable had mentioned this very thing to me on the phone before the Iowa caucus, saying that Republicans vote for the person most likely to win while Democrats vote for who they prefer. Good call!

03 January 2008

Obama Victory

I'm sitting here, it's almost midnight and I can't even think about going to bed yet. I'm still on cloud nine and basking in the wonder of tonight's events. The caucus experience was thrilling and fun and rewarding. I think the early numbers show that overall turnout was nearly double what it had been in 2004. And it turned out strongly in the favor of my candidate. And he beat Hillary in women voters! To support and volunteer and hope for months and months and then have it all come to fruition, I was incredibly happy afterwards.
And then I went downtown for the victory party. Watching the thousands of people coming into the massive space at Hy-Vee Hall with smiles on their faces was so warming. Some came in and hadn't seen the results yet, so when they saw the historic number on the two huge big-screens, they cheered, they yelled, they jumped up and down. I saw people hugging, people crying, people dancing. The atmosphere down there was unlike any I've been around before. There was a feel that I was part of something historic and special, like I was watching one of those unforgettable occurrences that will be remember always. The people just kept pouring in and the cheers and chants wouldn't quit. The Isiserettes were there and pushed their way through the mosh pit in a congo line of dancing and drum beats. When Obama came out the place just about fell apart. People wouldn't stop cheering so he could speak!
I took a little video of his entrance and the opening lines of his speech. There's a lot of cheering, but it helps you get a feel for how elated everyone was.
An amazing thing happened in Iowa tonight and I was a part of it.

02 January 2008

Grizzly Adams

After not shaving for the entire winter break (since December 19) I didn't feel like bustin' out the razor this morning at 5:30 am. So I wore the scruff/beard to school today, not thinking it was a big deal. You would've thought I shaved my head or something, my students acted like it was completely crazy that I had a beard! Some were complimentary and said they liked it, others just said it was different and one honest individual said that it aged me twenty years.
My mentor teacher when I was doing my student teaching warned me not to make any drastic changes to my appearance while teaching without expecting major student upheaval and at-times brutal honesty about it. One of many nuggets of truth she passed on to me.
The question now is...do I shave it for tomorrow?