Friday, February 29, 2008

Leaping through the Year

Leap day is really a fun day because it is so rare. I read about a couple whose birthdays are both today. I read about a dad and his daughter who share the Feb. 29 birthday. How weird is that? Unless you opted for induction or C-section you couldn't plan something like that. And weddings--I read about weddings planned deliberately for today. I'm too ceremonial. I don't think I'd like having only one day in four to celebrate a special event. What if you were mad at each other that one day? You'd have to wait four more years to celebrate again!

This afternoon I passed by the calendar in our school office. It is a wipe-off calendar of the whole year stretched across the main hall in the back offices where only staff people wander. It has everything written on for the year--August through June. I realized today that we are starting March on Monday and after that there are only two months and four days and then I GET A SUMMER OFF!! I haven't had a summer off in three years and I'm really, really anticipating this one. It will be so nice to just stay home. But of course, I'm busy planning places to go and things to do. But having a break from work is just going to be fabulous. It is one of the main perks of teaching. And for anyone who says "Oh you lazy teachers," may I just say that if it weren't for summers off, many more felonies would be committed by teachers. It is a safety valve to give us those 9-11 weeks off every year.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Birthday Girl

So today is my birthday. Happy Birthday to me. Yesterday it was George Washington's birthday, and I always have a special lesson for it despite having no state content standards demanding it. I use G.W. for my literature and we do some writing skill to fulfill our requirements. Anyway...I passed out fruit rolls to my students as a treat from George and me and, as usual, there was the question of how old I am. Naturally I make them do the math. I wrote the equation of 2008 minus 1953 on the board and it got really quiet for a minute. Then someone called out "You're 1055 years old!" And he couldn't be budged off this answer for several minutes. I hesitate to even tell the poor fourth grade math teacher this story because one of her mantras is "Does your answer make sense??" But, hey, maybe that answer made sense to this student. In another class one of them thought that we were figuring the age of George Washington with that equation. I mean, 1953 is REALLY LONG AGO when you are nine years old. No, I did not know Mr. Washington despite the fact that I used to live in Maryland and have visited his home in Virginia several times. Perhaps I was this confused as a fourth grader, too. Perhaps not, but these are the things that make teaching never dull. Sometimes we crave boredom.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Welcome to ELMO's World

I got a new ELMO in my classroom today. (click on "digital presenters and scroll down) Actually it is called a TT 02 or something like that, and it is a FABULOUS teacher's helper. I've been borrowing one of my co-worker's machine whenever I could, but she uses it often too. So, the spending committee got the word on our wish lists and bought a couple more of them for us new people who really wanted one, too. This little t.v. camera sends an image of whatever you lay on the plate under it through an LCD projector to the screen at the front of the room. It is ideal for teaching writing, because I write on the same paper they're writing on instead of an overhead transparency, and they can follow directions exactly. They can see me write, then erase or scribble through, and do revisions and think aloud. It's real writing happening before their eyes.

If I want to read a story book (and I often do to illustrate a concept) I just place the book under the camera and project the pictures up on the screen and then everyone can see what I see. If it is a book in which the format of the words is the important part, then, voila, the words are right up there for all to see. Our math teacher uses it to show the little blocks or whatever manipulative she is using. It's a gadget, but it is a very useful gadget that I'll use everyday.

Yet another reason to LOVE MY NEW SCHOOL. (Um, after six months, does it still qualify as "new"?)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Adjusting My View

You know, I had this idea that we'd do some earth mother things this weekend with my son's family--plant the garden, go to the river and look at birds, maybe go over to this place where you can walk through the desert and see lizards and rabbits. BUT...I forgot that it wasn't my weekend. It was her weekend. It was her birthday, and they were down here to celebrate it. She loves cities, having grown up in one of the world's hippest metro areas. She loves the hustle and bustle, the crowds, the shopping, the lights and buildings and action. She is a Vegas-ophile, while I am just a visitor.

So, just in time Saturday I realized I was about to mess it all up and changed my viewpoint from what I wanted to do over to what she wanted to do. And we went and did it and we had a great time! It's just amazing to me that I'm such a slow learner. There are many fun things to do here, and she and I left the grown men at home and went and did them. And since she is an aficionada of the scene here, she expertly guided me around and showed me the nifty stuff that other people come from all over the world to enjoy. And it was pretty fun! I found myself walking down the sidewalk in front of Planet Hollywood, holding hands with my grandson who can't hear music without dancing to it--so I danced with him. We cha-chaed our way down Las Vegas Boulevard, twirling each other round, laughing and making a spectacle of ourselves (which takes some doing there!) We had a fine time and I look forward to my next tour of Fabulous Vegas!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Abraham Lincoln Day

Each year, I celebrate the two president's birthdays that were a feature of my childhood: A. Lincoln and G. Washington. I know they combined it into one federal holiday by splitting the difference between their actual days which are ten days apart. But one of my goals in fourth grade (and it isn't in any state standards anywhere) is that my students will be able to distinguish between those two. It is alarming how many adults don't do that well. But, each of them were very significant leaders in America and I think they are deserving of their individual recognition. When I lived in Maryland, we also regularly went across the river to Mt. Vernon to visit Washington's home on a field trip. In February they have Colonial Days there to entice schools to visit because it isn't a big tourist time of year. They have re-enactors all over the estate to show the kids how everything was done two hundred-plus years ago. It's very cool.

As part of Abraham Lincoln week we read about his life, answer questionaires and write paragraphs, etc. And I always read my favorite "Abraham Lincoln book"--Pink & Say by Patricia Palacco. And every year I can't get through it without crying. For 13 years I've read this book and sometimes I really break down and can't even speak. I can't even tell people the plot of the book without choking up. This year with my new format--four classes every day, I had to read it four times in one day. And I did get all choked up the first time through, and then, an amazing thing happened. I read it three more times and did not cry. I really had to exercise self-control. But I did it. I guess the practice over and over made the difference. But, it truly affects the kids who are listening. Some of them cry. Every time I read it someone will exclaim, "What?! She died!?" They weren't really paying all of their attention especially, but then that part gets them and they are memsmerized for the rest of the book. EVERY kid I've ever read it to is affected by this book. If you haven't read it, then get a copy and you'll see why. And don't forget to say "Pinkus Ayley" aloud when you finish.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I've Got Worms!

Normally, this isn't the sort of thing that a person would trumpet to the world, but the worms to which I refer are earthworms living happily in my garden box! That means that I have fabulous dirt out there, full of nutrients and minerals. I spent an hour on Saturday digging up the grass that has crept in around the edges and I found several little buddies wriggling their way through the soil.

This weekend I'm celebrating President's Day with our son and his family who are coming to see us (and the sun) and I'll have my grandson help me plant the peas. This is spinach, pea and beet time. I'll be able to put new flowers in my patio pots and generally start the garden over again. Yippee! Worms!!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Tra la, tra la

That is me singing as I scamper through my yard this afternoon in capris, sandals and t-shirt, digging up my garden box, preparing for my spring garden. It's 70 degrees, we ate lunch on the patio. Kitty Cat is sprawled out on the warm cement. Doves are cooing. YEAH!!! This is the Nevada I love.

The Test

The actual test is: Will we all survive the next three weeks? You see, our principal received an e-mail on Tuesday morning that pointed out there had been an "error" in the testing calendar. By state law, the BIG OLD TEST is to be taken by the students after 120 days of instruction. But, the people who printed off the testing calendar for the building administrators (given to them last May, and used to schedule EVERYTHING for this school year) were off by a month. Instead of April 25th being the date we needed to return the completed tests, it is really March 25. And the e-mail ended, "We hope this doesn't cause any undue inconvenience."

What a laugh line!! It resulted in complete hyteria in my building, and many other schools I'm sure. We're all one gigantic dysfunctional family here in Southern Nevada and for 10 months we've all been planning our curriculum and pacing around this calendar that--suddenly--just shrunk by an entire month. And...Spring Break is one of the weeks of that month. There's really nothing to be done, either, because my principal would have done it. She called everyone right up through the state superintendent's office. We will be testing the first two weeks of March. There is no appeal.

So every special event has been cancelled. We're sneaking in a little Valentine's Day for 30 minutes at the end of the day, but I expect to be reprimanded for it. We have an unusual situation in that our school is under extreme scrutiny. The school is operating in an experimental capacity as an "empowerment" school and so we get to choose how and what to teach (according to the state standards, of course). But we are not under the strict guidelines of the rest of the county for which reading series, math text, etc. There are about 6 schools like this, and data is being gathered for a study to see if this is a viable and superior model. Therefore, the school gets looked at more strigently than others. They performed well last year, but that just makes the bar higher this year. It's easy to move from the bottom to the middle. It is a lot harder to go from "pretty good" to "really good".

So, we're all dumping our plans for the next three weeks and implementing the new, hysterical, "focused" plan for test run-up. Many platitudes have been mouthed about how "it's just another test, we take many tests, we don't need to put undo pressure on the students--they can do it" but the actions belie those sentiments.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Weather Whine

How many of you just assumed that Las Vegas was balmy all year round? I mean--except when it's super-hot in the summer? Lots of people do! I knew that it can get cold in the winter before I moved here because I've driven through it in the winter, and it is 2300 feet in elevation after all, so it will get chilly in December and January.

BUT...this is getting extremely tiresome. It has been really darn cold for two entire months now. Yesterday, Cool Guy pointed out that the weather on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay (where he has been for two weeks) was warmer, the low & the high, than we had here in the desert. Blah. I don't like to shiver. I don't like to wear coats. I don't even like sweaters. It hasn't been above 50 degrees in weeks and weeks and the wind has been blowing and it is unpleasant and yucky. The lows are just above 30 every morning.

I know, I know---"waaaa"--you're saying there in your actual cold weather climate. But you expect prolonged cold temperatures and freezing and wind chill and all that. We people who live in the land of palm trees and swimming pools will tolerate it for about a month and then, by golly, it had better start getting back toward 70 and 80 again soon. Or else....or else....well...nothing. At least I'm not shoveling my measly 50 degrees off the driveway so I can go to work. Okay, I'll keep my whining to myself. Sorry.