Sunday, June 30, 2013

Schooooooool's Out! For! Summer!

Whew!  Year 10 teaching is in the books, and it was a record year.  First of all, I don't remember it being this hot for so relentlessly long while in school.  Our school carnival was Monday and I was thinking the bouncy castle would fuse onto the scorching pavement.  We could have cooked the burgers on the cement.  Yuck!  I couldn't help but think of the heat advisory that Bloombergito issued while I sat in my rotisserie classroom. 

Secondly, I don't remember a year that dragged on as long as this one did.  Even having been absent 30 days for my surgery plus a week off due to Sandy, this academic year just would not end. 

And, finally, I have to comment on the students.  This bunch was far and away the least motivated than any other bunch,  Sure, there were many clunkers in years past, and of course there were stand out students this year.  But, as a group, they could not be less interested in school.  I'm tired of trying heroically to teach those who cannot be bothered to improve themselves.  It's really akin to ramming one's head into the wall, and then having an administration Mack truck hit and pin you to said wall.  It's painful.

But, now's my favorite part of teaching: vacation!  We're whooping it up over here.  Now's the season where I get to do all the things I put off during the school year.  Of course, two months is never enough time to do everything on the summer to-do list, especially with a healthy dose of amusement parks, barbeques, beaches and pools and swimparks, and all the other summertime fun.  Miniatures are on the back burner for a bit.  Especially since I have discovered AND Candy Crush Saga.  It's time to chill....

Thursday, June 13, 2013

School Miniature Project and Christmas in July Update: Celtic Knot Rug

Knot bad for my first try.
One day, I will make a full scale version of this
I completed another item for the Christmas in July swap: a Celtic knot twine rug.  I've long wanted to recreate a twine rug in full International Guild of Knot Tyers.  I love knowing that such a thing as a knot tyer guild exists.  The pattern is deceptively difficult to follow.  I used pins to hold the overlaps, and I used a yarn needle to make the job easier.  Still, there are places where I went under when I was supposed to go over and vice versa.  On my second attempt, I'm going to fix these mistakes by correcting them on the second iteration of the pattern, and then undoing the entire first pass, and redoing the pattern correctly.  It went quicker the second time, although the do-overs will stall my progress.  If you're going to try this, may I suggest a pillow underneath the pinned cardboard?  Otherwise, it will look as if you were attacked by a maniac cat.
scale, along the lines of the Roost beauty that was a) expensive and b) no longer available.  I actually started spiraling twine to make a Roost knockoff, but I abandoned it due to technical difficulties. To complete the mini rug, I followed a pattern from the

Balconies are mostly attached
Street lamp
The miniature version of the French Quarter is coming along nicely.  We attached the strawberry basket balconies, and we made a lantern out of cardboard, a planter, transparencies and a dowel.  Students are drawing scenes and ironwork on the bulletin board.  The students are now out of control, and it will be impossible to reel them back in once the project is over.  Luckily, there is only a week and two days left after the competition.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Christmas in July Swap

If I measured, it may not have
had that bald patch on the left.
I was paired with Rosa of Contrastes-RosaMaria for the Christmas in July swap.  One of my items is in process, but one is already completed.  It's a pipe cleaner Christmas tree!  And, it cost nothing, since the pipe cleaners were left in the teacher's cafeteria last year.  I have no idea how long any of those donations stay in the cafeteria before I get there, but I do know that after I get there, they're gone.  I've scored games, workbooks to handout to parents who claim they don't know what to do to help their children (here, have a workbook!), construction paper, bulletin board border, and on and on.  I used a blend of two tutorials from Pucci Collective and Martha Stewart's website, and of course I tweaked it somewhat.  First, I didn't measure.  I eyeballed it, cause that's how I roll, y'all.  Plus, I pushed the branches upwards, because real trees don't grow straight out.  And here's what I created.  Ta day!  (that's a combination of "ta da" and "today", and it's what Tootie Pie used to say).

School Mini Project in High Gear

I did the cutting of the windows and doors,
everything else was completed by students.
Obviously, the shutters did not go
through quality control, since they are of
extremely different sizes.
Still-to-be-completed walkways,
fountain and streetlamps, underneath
the 7 x 3 = 21 fact family (yes, I
 teach sixth grade) and an attempt
at a fleur de lys.
It's truly amazing what a difference enjoying teaching makes to one's demeanor.  I don't mind going to work, and I even like some of the students more.  We are building miniature models of the French Quarter.  The students are doing all the work, with the exception of the using of the carpet knife to cut out the windows and doors.  The balconies and the fountain required hot glue, and, yes, I had students do that.  That takes nerves of steel, let me tell you, considering that, when they were told to only wear black or orange shirts to school, a student wanted to know, "and no pants?".   Teachers are brave fools, for sure.

The students drew these from
 artwork printed off the
computer.  They're charming (the
art, not the students - ha ha!)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Truly Waste Educational Time and Money

I attended a PD (professional development) yesterday.  I knew ahead of time that it would a) focus on literacy and b) be of no practical use whatsoever.  I knew this because every other PD I've sat through was the same; they have some sort of formula to make it as condescending and useless as possible.  Rather than present any helpful information, all presenters ask the participants what they think the topic means or how they do things in their classrooms.  For instance, in a training where we were supposed to be learning how to structure group work, the presenter asked us "how do we add fractions?".  Then, we're supposed to put our ideas on chart paper.  Then we share our work, and everyone oohs and ahs about all the different ways we came up with to add fractions.  And that's the end of the PD.
Ah, the money spent on the graphics, actors, programming that
puts a very fancy veneer on common sense and basic teaching

So, first of all, that doesn't teach us how to structure group work. And second of all, educators know how to add fractions.  How are 11-year-olds supposed to know how to add fractions?  If they came up with a way, as we did in the so-called training, they would incorrectly add the numerators and add the denominators.  This is what they do even after being taught how to add fractions.  So, even if we did this exact lesson in our classroom, that would not be useful or practical for the target audience.  It's aggravating.

Some frustrated former film student made this and
finally got to use ''unique framing", a la 1996.
And, so I went to the PD, on a beautiful spring afternoon, entitled "Creating a Common Core Task".  Sounds good on paper, since we're changing the curriculum to common core.  The presenter, naturally, asked us what we thought a Common Core task entails.  (If we knew that, would we even be there?)  Next, put it on chart paper.  Share. Then, she went over a lesson plan; objective, prior knowledge, standards, materials, time frame, mini-lesson.  General, generic stuff that everyone learns in their ED101 class.  Then, we did the lesson: read an article and underline one fact and one opinion (another literacy lesson, what a surprise!).  Then, we were to turn to our group and discuss our facts and opinions.  For over 30 minutes.  I already know what a fact and opinion are!  I've known this since fourth grade.  I want to know how to structure a common core task!  This was the actual "professional" development; she didn't even close the lesson, it just fizzled and we left, pissed off.  The presenter and her company were paid a boatload of money, and the school paid teachers overtime for this utterly useless training.  No value came of it to any teacher.  Zippity doo, diddly squat. 
Gosh, is it C?
The money spent on these trainings is obscene.  The NYC DOE created "modules" at great expense that cover the importance of basic teaching skills.  For instance, Designing Coherent Instruction.  Because teachers are so often designing incoherent instruction, I'm guessing.  And the module involves an obviously non-teacher actor reenacting the equivalent of a drivers' license exam: Sally approaches a pedestrian crossing against the light.  Should she A) Veer wildly into oncoming traffic B) Accelerate and aim at the pedestrian C) Check if it is safe to gradually decelerate and do so or D) Drive erratically and swerve judiciously?  I mean, c'mon, enlarge the image above and see if there aren't glaringly obvious clues as to the correct response.
Graphic artists are getting paid.  What budget crisis?

What I'm getting at here is the same thing I've been getting at all along.  We have an educational crisis.  These slick videos and expensive PDs are not the solution.  Paying specialists and test makers and voice-over actors and PD presenters are not doing a blessed thing except lining the pockets of big business.  Spend the money on giving us lessons and textbooks.  If teachers are being evaluated to keep their jobs, shouldn't a federal curriculum just provide teachers with the lessons already?  Invest in one Common Core textbook that all teachers will use, give us the lesson plans, and then we'll all be rated as Highly Developed, unless we deviate from the lesson plan.  It's so simple.  Do they really want us to succeed?  Or do they just want to spend more money.  I think we all know the answer.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

School Project Starts in Earnest

I'll never look at a broken umbrella the same again.  Since the populace in the neighborhood in which I teach is not in the habit of using trashcans nor of sweeping up, there are a lot of little goodies everywhere.  One day, I thought I had stumbled across some sort of charger, so I picked it up.  Another day, there was a nice little umbrella made with a satiny pink fabric, and thought it would make a wonderful accent pillow, so I grabbed that, as well.  During my umbrella deconstruction I realized that the thing I thought was a charger was actually the mechanism for opening and closing an umbrella.

Umbrella moving part + Christmas bulb = ?
Bubble tea straws +
My New Orleans scene in school is in need of streetlamps, so those little circular black things will serve as the base, with a bubble tea straw post and a
Pencil eraser holder cutters
with the polymer clay shapes
they created
Christmas bulb top.  I did some sawing and drilling today and hope to create balconies out of those pieces.  And from the tops of pencils I've created mini stamps to cut out leaves and fleurs-de-lis to decorate the balconies, which are strawberry baskets cut in half decorated with phone wire.  Everything is in pieces and ready to be assembled.  I am actually having fun "teaching" now!

Strawberry basket balconies
with phone wire curlicues.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Before Trilogy

Awkwardly sharing a beautiful song in a
listening booth
Seventeen years ago, my sister told me that I would probably like a little indie film called Before Sunrise, and did she ever have me pegged.  This movie touched me in a way no other movie had before or since.  It struck a chord.  It is the story of two twenty somethings who meet on a train in Austria and decide to pass the night roaming the streets of Vienna, before Jesse, who lacks the money for a hotel, leaves the following day for America.  Basically, the two just talk throughout the film, with magical Viennese backdrops.  The two share their ideas about life and love, and I still held out hope that I would someday return to Europe and meet someone like Jesse with whom I could discuss my hopes and fears on memorable adventures.  In the end of the movie, they decide to meet again in six months on the train platform, and the places they visited are shown in the early morning light, without the pair and their young, idealistic love.

The romantics knew that this was the how
the couple ended up.
Around six years later, I went to see another movie, called Waking Life, that had the same pair, Jesse and French Celine, in bed, discussing what the moment just after death may seem like as the brain slowly shuts itself down, and the common, shared memory of all humans.  Deep stuff shared in total intimacy, presented in a dreamy, surrealistic cartoon, which was perfect, since we couldn't know what happened to the couple after Before Sunrise, unless we made it up in our heads, right?

Set in Paris, the saga continues
Seeing if he dissolves into molecules. Lovely,
lovely, lovely.
Wrong.  A few years after that chance encounter with the pair that so moved me, I spotted a poster in a indie movie house for Before Sunset, with Jesse and Celine backlit from the setting sun.  Dread filled me immediately; surely the magic of the first movie would be ruined with a follow-up.  But, after my trusty rottentomatoes gave the film a very fresh rating, I went to see it and, against all odds, it was a fitting and lovely, and just as ambiguously ended, update from the first movie. The two are older, and less idealistic, but we're still not certain if they end up together.  I, too, had given up my youthful hopes and dreams, and life had settled into unexpected patterns that I was somewhat disappointed with.  But, ah, I could watch that ending again and again.  And, once again, I knew in my heart what would become of them.  Could there be hope for me, too?

Finally, they are a couple.  Does this spell
trouble?  I'm dying to know.
And now, Before Midnight is currently playing in Manhattan.  I cannot wait for this movie to come out in Queens in two weeks.  I feel like one of the Star Wars or Twilight fans who will go to the midnight screening and line up during a downpour to see the latest installment of my favorite film franchises.  And just as I don't understand the fascination with blockbusters and special effects, I expect very few people to understand my attraction to a movie without a plot per-se, that follows lovers and the course of their lives.    It's hard to create tie-in Taco Bell merchandise on that premise.  But, as the previous two films did at the time of their releases, this movie  looks to sum up my current situation pretty well, only stated more eloquently in much more beautiful surroundings.  What's not to love?

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