Sunday, September 30, 2007

ebook - egad!

I had heard of ebooks before I entered the digital age, so none of it piqued my interest much. Then reading Coffee and Critique Friday night ignited tiny explosions in my head. (Thanks, Tricia!) I wanted so much to read ebooks on my iPhone, but after a few hours of investigation, I made it as far as reading a few chapters of How Starbucks Saved My Life (by Michael Gates Gill) on Adobe Digital Editions on my MacBook. (I read the first 2 chapters and the last chapter - I've known for a while that Starbucks is regarded as a good employer, but now I don't think I have the skills to work at the expresso bar.)

What else I learned:

1. I registered with and purchased the ebook from, and I signed up with Readdle so I could access certain types of document files on Safari/web browser on the iPhone, but the ebook file type was not compatible with Readdle. Bummer. I tried to convert the ebook to pdf, txt, and doc, respectively, then load to Readdle, but to no avail.

2. Booksoniphone is easy to use - but their book collection is super limited, in my humble opinion. I tried to read Thoreau's Walden, but only 4 or 5 lines fit on the screen at a time.

3. iphonenova promises to provide unlimited access to wide variety of books, music, movies, TV shows, and games for a one-time fee of $49.95. I'm just not ready to commit.

4. There are TONS of blogs out there discussing this topic. I think I prefer an application that's NOT browser-dependent. I found at least one "unauthorized" application, but I'm too chicken to try it.

5. Reading an ebook on Adobe Digital Editions was interesting. Instant gratification (buy it online, read it right away) is nice, and manipulating the chapters and pages was cool. Saving paper is groovy. Cons - can't hold book up in front of students for a "book talk" (but I can tell them about ebooks - wonder how many know?) or pass book along to a friend (can I electronically pass ebook along to someone else?).

Does anyone have suggestions for my ebook to iphone quest?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Parent Information Night"

aka Open House, is just a whirlwind! I enjoy the social aspect - little chats here and there with parents, especially the ones I already know, mixed together with the group presentations - information overload all around, for parents and teachers alike. I like processing all this information - what the parents are like, which parents are social with each other, tidbits of parent concerns about their children...

SLOG! I gave the students slogs to their parents to read and write comments! I think that went over very well. Thanks to my teaching partner for the idea. I was hesitant at first when she suggested it, worried about the state of their journal writing. But the parents seemed to enjoy reading and commenting.

Other highlights - catching up with a dad who was my law professor, um, 14 years ago; catching up with a mom whose older child I taught 4 years ago, whose younger child is an angel in comparison and we all know it, who remarried 2 years ago and I was glad to tell her in all honesty she looked wonderful.

No low's - oh wait, during the in-between time (after school but before open house, I didn't go home because the commute is too long, so I shopped), I went to the mall near the school (where I almost never go) and felt ROYALLY insulted by Gap store employees who barely looked at me but greeted 4 other customers with cheery "can I help ?" I fumed all the way out the mall, thinking about the email I would send the company, how dare they after all the money I've spent in their stores *seethe, seethe*

One more high - I learned to DVR "Grey's Anatomy" because I arrived home halfway into the season premiere. All's good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Onomatopoeia - best literary device of the English language, in my opinion. (I like it better than irony, whose definition I believed I had mastered, as in "saying the opposite of what you mean" or "the opposite of what is expected", until I saw movie "Becoming Jane", which provides the lovelier explanation of "the bringing together of contradictions in pursuit of a deeper truth, all to the accompaniment of a smile". Which definition should I teach to 7th graders? Both? This all points to the fact that I am well suited to the level that I teach, thanks much.)

My nose is an open faucet. That's NOT figurative, but literal. I am contemplating calling in sick Monday, but only faintly so. The second Monday of the school year seems a bit ... early? for a sick day, especially when I didn't leave school Friday with visible symptoms. Monday is library day, book talks by librarian, hurray. Tuesday would be better as a sick day; I would have exhibited sufficient sickliness to elicit compassionate comments from colleagues (Go Home!). Tuesday would be our 2nd day at the library, starting Favorite Poem assignment - so not the best sick day, but not too bad, either.

I already tried going to sleep an hour ago. That yielded powerful sinus congestion and ear pain. I don't feel sleepy or even tired. I THOUGHT I swallowed the antihistamine/decongestant pill - maybe I imagined it and didn't really do it?!

Drippy nose not accompanied by tiredness or other ill feelings wouldn't be so bad ... except, bloody nose lurks behind every blow. That's just too icky.

If this post has been too much information for you, you're in luck, because bloody nose says I'm done.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back to school short stories

1. I have had THE most quiet homeroom on the (middle school) planet. (I say "had" because today they finally figured out when they're allowed to talk, not by trial-and-error, but by asking me.) Maybe they're not even FROM this planet. Most notably, there's only 18 of them. For the past 4 years, I had packed homerooms, inclusion, average size 27.

2. My first memorable parent phone call of the year - about 15 students (out of 96) didn't hand in summer reading assignment. So fine, I'm savvy enough by now to know it pays to make those calls. I reach one father on the phone, who informs me that his son "does not do well with negative reinforcement. He just shuts down. He's much better with positive reinforcement."

3. Last week we worked on reading and writing territories, and they loved "marathon writing" - give them topic and time them for 2 minutes of nonstop journaling. Note to self - broad topics (such as "favorite food") elicit longer responses than direct questions (such as "what was your favorite part of the summer and why").

4. This week we read LOVE THAT DOG. It's my 3rd time teaching it, and I finally feel like I did it well. I tied it to our unit theme (read and write what you love), poetry elements (sound and appearance, plus figurative language). It was fun.

5. Now I'm ready for 3 days in the library next week - 1 day of book talks by librarian, 2 days of "Favorite Poem" project, to be followed by classroom test on poetry elements. This is part 2 of introduction to poetry. Then we do poetry booklet. I'll cite in another post the name of lesson book I use for the booklet. It has ready-made lessons, and students write really interesting poems.

6. Most dreaded parent phone call for no good reason - In response to my calls and messages home last Friday, a mom left message for me Friday late afternoon, which I discovered late Monday afternoon, right before I went to faculty meeting. I planned to leave building right after meeting, so I did, knowing I put off the return call to mom till Tuesday morning. I worried about the call Monday night, wondering if the mom will question the summer reading assignment, as a few students have claimed they received some erroneous directions last June. Tuesday morning, I called mom, and she was perfectly nice, just wanted to tell me the assignment had been done and was left at home, but she knew it was her daughter's fault, etc.

7. I have a good team, I think. I don't think many of them are strong in reading and writing, but right now I care more about their attitude and manners - do they greet me (back) when they enter my classroom or, gasp, when they are walking down the hall? Mostly, they do! That makes me super happy, and I can handle the rest.

8. I attended my daughter's 1st grade open house tonight. Seriously, I wish I was a first grader in her class - that's how much I love her teacher. Anyway, the teacher talked for about 30 minutes, and what I liked the best was this: every child can learn, and everyone will learn at their own good pace, in their own good time. I'm so sick of the NCLB driven reading/math mania, and I hope those words mean her teacher understands that there's more to first grade than reading and math. Now I have to figure out how to say that to the parents of my 7th graders, even though my state education department demands high levels of performance on high stakes assessments. The honest to goodness truth is, in my classroom, every kid can learn from whatever point they start, that's my stinkin' teaching philosophy.

9. Small world story -
you won't believe this - one student's father was my former law school professor who taught the clinic class in which my husband D and I met and were paired as partners on a project, that led to "study dates" and the rest is history. Also, for the first time, I have FIVE students who are siblings of former students.

10. Meeting tally - after 12 days of school, I've attended 1 team (teacher/guidance) meeting, 1 parent (inclusion) conference, 1 occupational therapy consultation, 1 faculty meeting, 1 "book group" meeting (for our summer reading) led by building principal, 6 meetings with my grade level/subject team (fortunately we really like each other). Hurray!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

"Our truest responsibility to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find the truth."

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."
~Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007), American writer, author of A Wrinkle In Time.

I was a serious fan of Ms. L'Engle, from A Wrinkle in Time and sequels and offshoots (one of which landed me in trouble with my mom who saw the book cover art of a girl and boy swimming with dolphin - I mean, Seriously! - and she assumed wrongly racy content) to A Severed Wasp, the first adult L'Engle novel I read that knocked my socks off (because the protagonist criss-crossed many times over the lines between love and loyalty and betrayal, in my young mind).

I remember the strong sense of good vs. evil I learned from A Wrinkle in Time stories. Meg, the twins, what was the boy's name, Calvin? I had better re-read it soon because I'm teaching it (we bought a team set, hurray!) this year. The main characters were so Smart, it seemed to me, and I loved their transformation of Smart to Wise through their adventures.

I felt a special connection with Ms. L'Engle because she associated with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in my old stomping grounds of Morningside Heights on the upper west side of Manhattan.

Newspaper article about her death and life quoted her opinion of Harry Potter as "a nice story but it has nothing underneath it" - did she really say that?! If so, I hope she had only read The Sorcerer's Stone, perhaps. Maybe now she can catch up...

I'm going to miss her. Good time to revisit those young adult classics.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Current reads...

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards - My new teaching partner/inclusion teacher DR passed this on to me, and I started reading during am homeroom/DEAR time. That's only about 5 minutes each day, nowhere near enough, so I brought it home and read some more yesterday. I'm on page 94, learning about Caroline's new life with Phoebe in Pittsburgh. The language is beautiful, and the character depictions truly draw me into their minds and hearts.

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman - I listened to part of Weisman's interview on Science Friday/NPR, and I couldn't wait to read the book. I read a
few chapters yesterday, and I enjoy the "what if" - science fiction, so to speak - aspect of the book - What happens to all our human Stuff after we're gone? I'm on page 32. So far, the most interesting parts are what would happen to the typical suburban house and what would happen in New York City "without us". (Check out the "Feature Multimedia" on the book web page - an animated "slideshow" tour of Manhattan over 15,000 years "without us" and an animated 500 years of "Your House Without You".)

Happy reading!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Institution rant #1

Your first and last views of the Festive Lights in my room, right before I removed these "fire hazards".

I'm almost at a loss for words. I have been so proud of the comfortable, inviting atmosphere created by lighting in my room. I never use the fluorescent lights overhead, only a floor lamp (NOT halogen), desk lamps, and string lights, until this afternoon.

What is there to say to the powers that be? That institutionalized settings work fine unless you want every child to succeed in school? That teachers who use their own resources to personalize the classroom are morons?

No matter what, I'm grateful that, when I re-wrapped up the lights and felt like (but didn't) flinging them in the trash can, I knew exactly where to take this rant (here). Thank YOU all for understanding.

Simpsonized family

Meet husband D. and daughter G.

Today's lesson was "reading territories". One of my reading territories is BLOGS! So I shared Tricia's post (thanks, Tricia!) and my simpsonized pics. It was a big hit.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Simpsonize me!

That's me, at school and up-close-and-personal.
Go get simpsonized.

Many thanks to Tricia's post at Coffee and Critique!


and kicking! I caught up on sleep last night - 8 and a half hours.

First day was good. Mostly I was in sleep-deprived, adrenaline-driven daze, trying to "get to know" 96 new students. (That's a low number. Usually we're at 120.) And it was very, very hot in the classroom.

7th grade - I always think they're so cute in September. Still "kids", some baby faces, some much shorter than me. Cuteness lasts till January, maybe. Then I rely on their burgeoning intellect and personality to carry us through 16 more months (we loop). It was still very, very hot in the classroom.

Second day was much better, coherent. They did work, and I talked little. I think I can name two-thirds of them, in their seats, mainly because of alliteration/name game that's carrying into tomorrow's lesson. (Student chooses a word to describe self that has same beginning sound as first name, makes small poster of alliterative phrase; class does Gallery Walk around to look at posters; student 1 introduces self using alliterative phrase, student 2 greets 1 by 1's alliterative phrase then states own alliterative phrase, student 3 greets 1 and 2 with their alliterative phrases, etc.)

SLOG! They've been slogging both days! OK, just the journaling part, not yet the reading/commenting part. We'll start that tomorrow.

G's first 2 days of 1st grade were great! She's loved everything, and we even hear interesting tidbits from her about classes, classmates, lunchroom, bus ride. Miracle!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First day of school, 4am

I tried, I truly did, to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. I shut the computer down at 11:20pm and climbed into bed. I didn't fall asleep right away, my mind was full of get-ready-stuff, but I practiced deep breathing and fell asleep. Till 2:38am. I've been awake since.

First, I thought about G's after-school bus drop-off. Although I completed paperwork last week at transportation office for bus to drop-off next door (literally, 10 paces between our 2 driveways) along with neighbor's kid so neighbor can babysit, I realize I have not properly arranged back-up system. Thus, note to self to talk to husband before 6:30am when I have to leave for work, leave note about bus drop-off for my in-laws (whose house we live in, and with whom we live), check in-laws' calendar on kitchen table to see if father-in-law might be home during bus drop-off time (because if he's not home, I need double-back-up system to help mother-in-law who has Alzheimer's to not be confused or fret about why she (MIL) is not babysitting G), call either husband or FIL sometime during the morning to confirm the above. I also realize that tonight is G's first gymnastics class, for which I registered but most embarrassingly dropped the check for registration fee in wrong mail slot (in the right building) and then asked the clerk who is only in the office 9am to noon weekdays to find the check, so another note to self to call and remind that clerk between 9 and noon to double-check the check.

Since my brain is multitasking so well at this point, I proceed to think about my own students and school, and the first thing that I need to do when I arrive, which is make seating chart and labels for desks and corresponding popsicle sticks if I can find them or just cut-up index cards otherwise. It then occurs to me that I clearly need to get up earlier than planned, not only because my work commute is now 45 minutes on a good traffic day compared to 25 minutes before we moved, but because of above-mentioned seating chart tasks, among the other to-do items I wrote in my planner before going to bed last night.

Well, my brain multitasks to the obvious point that there's not much chance of me squeezing in a few more respectable night-before-school-starts sleep hours in addition to the 3 hours I already clocked in. Especially when I'm clearly wide awake and remember the zombie-like, sleep-deprived state of mind of previous first-days-of-school when I woke up too early or slept too late or both.

So, Happy First Day of School to Me and Other Teachers, Hurrah!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Last day of summer

Subtitle: Roller coaster rides to end summer

Morning - leisure shower, breakfast, iced coffee

Mid-day - plan and prepare "summer's last hurrah" excursion to amusement park with neighbors, check school email and answer colleague's question "what/when/where tomorrow?"

Afternoon and evening - at said amusement park, ride and watch kiddie rides that amuse, nauseate, thrill, and splash; then attend "Wild West" saloon show and "shoot out" in which husband is chosen from audience to be "Buckaroo Bob" poser

Night - showers to wash away amusement park grime, help daughter practice choosing school outfits (success) and put in new earrings (failure), make minimum credit card payments on-line until work paychecks restart, find suitable bag and pack enough papers to get through first day back at school, blog out the end of summer vacation