Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ten Fun Facts About Teaching

Everything green and growing Mekong Delta, Vietnam
Korean Word: 연필(pencil)
Spanish Word: lápiz (pencil)

I was sitting in the third grade classroom I volunteer in/will student teach in and I began thinking about some elements of classroom culture that not only seem to consistent in this classroom but seem universal, whether because I've observed them elsewhere or because I remember them from my own school days.

Five Things You Can Expect from Third Graders

1. When the teacher says, "You have ten seconds to put away your *insert item(s) here* and sit down at your desk!" and begins a countdown from ten, she will have to add at least three minutes to her countdown via creative fractions such as "three and two thirds, three and three eights, three and one sixteenth" in order to ensure that everyone makes it back to their seats by zero
2. If once you start down the "what-ifs" path, forever will it dominate your emergency evacuation drill Q&A (which was only meant to take ten minutes but has gone on so long that there's no time for math anymore because the drill has officially started)
3. No matter how many sharpened pencils the students each have in their chair pockets or in the pencil holder on their table, every time the teacher introduces a new subject, half the class will need the pencil sharpener
4. Despite the fact that you both know she went five minutes ago, Allie will insist she has to go to the bathroom "real bad!" and will do a special dance to prove it. Expect to see her and the dance again five minutes after she gets back.
5. No matter how strict the teacher has had to be during the last two weeks and no matter how many minutes of recess have been lost as a result, every single student will beg her not to leave them to get married (even if she promises she will be back by Tuesday)

Today I was reminded of why I want to be a teacher. I owe a huge thank you to my cooperating teacher and my wonderful students!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goings-on by the Charles

Jaws! Diving in Busan, South Korea
Spanish Word: Esperanza (wish)

Korean Word: 뉴질랜드 (New Zealand - notice how well these two words go together!)

I've really got to work on posting consistently. Sometimes I think, "But I have nothing interesting to say!" Who cares! Write something anyway and hopefully it will be interesting and/or a nice post to reflect back on some time down the road.

Since I'm hesitant to harp on about my life unless something truly remarkable is happening, I would instead like to share some links to events in the near future that relate to me and about which I am extremely excited. I admit, this post will probably feel like an on-going non sequitur but bear with me!

  • Team Starkid's SPACE (Starkid Precarious Auditory Concert Experience) Tour - These are the fantastic people who brought the world "A Harry Potter Musical" and "A Harry Potter Sequel," among other fabulous things! And miraculously, they're coming to Boston and I have tickets! This theater group is fantastically talented and their other plays are worth checking out, especially "Me and My Dick," which shocked me with how awesome and surprisingly insightful it was. 
    • NOTE: Darren Criss wrote the music and lyrics for all four plays - interested yet?
  • Occupy Boston! (or the 99% Rally) - This is actually in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street, which began the first weekend of October and has spread from New York to Chicago, LA, and Boston. It's an inspiring protest against removal of government regulations that monitor and restrict the operations of corporations (and, at the same time, an objection to the terrifying power those businesses already have over our government). One of the highlights of this event was an informal concert by the fantastic band Harry and the Potters. They sang some of their fantastic Harry Potter-themed music and tied it all into their take on Occupy Boston, which sums it up perfectly, as far as I'm concerned: "Please ignore the Fox News spin. These protests are not about liberal or conservative values. They’re about the very basic idea that government should serve the people (and not the corporations). It’s about the hope that we can continue to be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” 
  •  Two upcoming book publications!
    • The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare (Dec. 6) - For one thing, I really enjoyed the first book, "The Clockwork Angel." I do enjoy her other series, The Mortal Instruments, but if I have to hear one more angsty teenage sigh .... The Infernal Devices, to which "The Clockwork Prince" belongs, has less of the angsty romance and more of the fantastic and depthful character development. For another thing, the main character's name is Tessa. I had a brief discussion about this name with Sarah Rees Brennan last May and I'm shamelessly glad to say that she also uses the name "Tess" in her novel, Demon's Surrender and that it seems to be a name more authors are picking. I don't know, it's nice to see your name in a novel sometimes!
    • Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier (Spring 2012) - Let's just say I will read anything SRB writes and I admire the talents of JL enough to try anything of hers! This is their "friendship" novel, a reaction to the over-dramatic teen fantasy romances flooding the current market. It may also be a slight mockery of the vampire novel, not sure yet!
  • NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) - This November, I will (in theory) participant in my third NaNoWriMo experience. I may also be bringing parts of it into the elementary classroom in which I student teach. I'm not really sure yet. Basically, NaNo a contest with yourself to see if you can write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Authors like John Green and Tamora Pierce have been past participants and it's truly an awesome way to meet other writers and jump-start your writing. I've "won" NaNo (meaning achieving a 50,000 word-count novel) the last two years. My school/life plate is so full this fall and yet, I seem to do best at NaNo under pressure ....
  • OnStage Dance Company, Season Two - I'm so honored to be a part of this company. This season's pieces are even more spectacularly awesome and I'm thrilled that I'm in two of them! One is a jazz piece to the song "Fever" by Pegge Lee (my favorite jazz standard of all time!) and the other is a tango/contemporary piece to the song "Libertango" by Bond. We perform December 3 which is coming up fast!
This is it for now but I'm having a fantastic time being way the heck too busy and spending a lot of time with a lot of really amazing people.

Maybe Boston isn't so bad after all ...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Musings on a Technological Dilemma

Future King Seoul, South Korea

Spanish Word: Por favor (although this one needs little explanation, the literal translation is "for favor/kindness")

Korean Word: 감사해요 (polite-ish way of saying "thank you")

I chose gracious words today because I had a fascinating discussion with a local bus driver here in Boston. She was almost fifteen minutes late arriving at the bus terminal today and when I asked if it was because those darned Red Sox were mucking up the Fens and all surrounding regions with their Sunday game, she said it was actually because she'd had to deal with person after person getting on the bus, on their cell phones, and trying to load money onto their bus cards at the same time.

What struck me, as we talked, was that ten or so years ago, when I was fifteen, cell phones weren't a cultural fixture. Sure, they were up-and-coming in contemporary life, as was the Internet and the MP3. However, in my family we still only had the emergency cell, which I was made to carry when I drove (because my loving parents were not, as such, worried about my driving skillz but rather, about my navigational skillz - they feared that, if once I drove ten miles from home, I would become terribly lost and have to call them for directions). By that time (2000), the computer was also a fixture in our house, complete with dial-up Internet, though all my sister and I ever did was the occasional AOL chat and reading fan fiction (yes, that is how thrilling we were as teens).

I think, now, about all the technology I see around me and I feel like I'm talking the talk of a crotchety old woman. I can't go thirty seconds in Boston without seeing someone on their phone, someone texting, someone surfing the web, someone plugged into their iPod (I admit to being guilty of that final one). Most of my bus-ride or subway-ride home, I'm surrounded by people chatting loudly with friends and family or (and this is true) actually sitting on someone because they were so busy texting or emailing that they didn't see that the seat they were aiming their ample bottom at was taken. The bus driver today mentioned, too, how she's had to raise her voice at patrons who get on the bus, don't use their cards correctly, and then can't hear the her tell them how to use their cards because their iPods are on so loud.

God, I do feel like an old woman. But, you know, maybe the old women are onto something here.

Because what's ten times worse than an adult behaving this way is a child, or a group of children, behaving exactly the same way.

When I was in South Korea back in '08 and '09, I was shocked at how many of my little elementary students had cell phones and how much of my time I spent reminding them that if they used them in my classroom, their phones would mysteriously vanish into The Boss's office (where I'd then have to wait for my boss to get off her phone long enough to hand the students' phones back at the end of class ^_^). Because children in Yeosu, the city where I lived, spend so much of their early years running around the city on their own, I wrote the whole experience off to cultural trends. I was, therefore, shocked to find that when I returned to the states, I was seeing children as young as five or six already plugged in to phones; playing "educational games," I was told. Busy parents also seem to find that playing "educational TV" on their phones helps amuse their child at a fancy restaurant when that child (or toddler, as the case may be) is fussy or impatient or (most likely) bored.

Children don't learn technology behaviors by themselves. They're copying what is modeled by their parents.

This is such a complex issue. Obviously, we can never return to the good ole days of yore, when people could and did function quite effectively without cell phones and other portable electronic devices. I, too, am guilty of carrying a cell phone and iPod and frequently using them. Though I'm the last person in the known universe to have a phone that only sends texts and makes calls, I'm sure my next free upgrade will include Internet.

I can also recognize the value of technology in education. I spent last fall studying with a fantastic tech specialist who spent the semester showing us incredible and powerfully educational activities that used everything from computers to GPS mapping devices to (and I'm not kidding) iPods and iPhones. I admit, the class excited me about Smart Boards and ed tech grants - there's a lot out there in the way of money for classroom technology and I plan to apply for grants the minute I'm a fully functional teacher.

What I suppose I want to see are the following things, modeled by parents, families, and educators, as positive technology behavior that children can learn and adopt:

1) Moderation
2) Etiquette

Moderation in all things - cell phones/MP3s/computers/Internet/etc. are incredibly powerful tools. We're in a transformative era of technology, where information is available in infinite forms and accessible to millions of people. But there's a difference between technology as a tool and technology as a crutch. A grand example: GPS. Awesome tool! Plug in an address, drive somewhere. Brilliant! However, don't leave your map behind and don't stop reading road signs. Being able to navigate by observing your surroundings is also a powerful tool. Sometimes finding your way without a computer glued to the dashboard will help you hone a skill that will allow you to function should that computer miscalculate/misdirect/run out of juice before you get there.

Technology Etiquette - Just as societies form etiquette codes for basic social interaction, so too should those form around technology (though, like those social expectations, you'll always have people who are mind-bogglingly clueless about them). While I don't think it's a heinous crime to talk on your cell phone in a public place, I do think it's reasonable to keep your voice down, to remove yourself from a flow of traffic/people, and not endanger others through phone usage (namely, by driving and texting). Example: you would never ignore the checkout lady at the grocery store when she says, "Hello, how are you?" when you're not on your phone. You would (hopefully) greet her back, ask how she is, or at least make eye contact. That behavior shouldn't change just because you can suddenly talk to everyone you know at any time and in any place. Likewise, when you're at the library or a bookstore, you wouldn't talk to your friend loudly about all kinds of personal topics if you didn't have a phone glued to your face. No more should you now that your phone gets great reception by the reference desk.

I don't have all the answers. I expect there are people who have differing views on technology use and the function it currently serves. For those who don't think technology is something we should be discussing at all, however, I would immediately and urgently refer you to M.T. Anderson's Feed and then carry on the discussion with you after you've read it. Whether or not technology is a "problem," it is something we need to carry on a continual, evolving dialogue about.

Technology is here to stay. It's time we figured out how to cope with that as respectful, thoughtful adults.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gymnastics!!!!! ... I just like it is all ....

Frodo Baggins Sado Island, South Korea
Korean Word: 토요일 (Saturday - appropriate, right?)
Spanish Word: ¡Qué chiquitita! (How adorable/cute/precious!)

What I should be doing right now is completing a unit plan for literacy, a math interview analysis for math, and a chapter of Nikki's novel to send her as a surpreeze tonight. Instead, I am posting my gymnastics videos!

To begin at the beginning: I began going back to the gym when I discovered that there were gyms for gymnasts in Boston and that one of them was actually a place for gymnasts of all ages! There are several misconceptions about gymnastics that I and my videos would just like to clear up before I continue:
  • Myth: Gymnasts must be 90 lbs and 5' 0"
    • Reality: Gymnasts come in all shapes and sizes. The key is not size but strength. I'm a hefty 170 lbs and 5' 9" so I must be able to support my own weight/bear my own weight. As long as I can do that (and you will see below that I can), there's no earthly reason I can't call myself a gymnast.
  • Myth: Once you are older than fifteen or sixteen, you can't do gymnastics
    • Reality: I attend a gym where the oldest gymnast is forty-two and still doing every event. He does tucks and layouts with twists, he does giants on the single high bar, and he's probably the strongest dude in the gym. The thirty-four year-old female gymnast is the best of the female gymnasts and is likewise flipping, twisting, and swinging her way through competitions.
To continue ... today my friend Julie and I met up at the gym for the first time and spent two hours hanging out and blissing out on gymnastics. We're both going to be sore and exhausted tomorrow, I have no doubt, but it was so much fun! The added bonus for me was that someone was finally at the gym with me whom I felt comfortable asking to film me doing a couple of my favorite things. These feel like benchmarks: Tess at the beginning of her adult training. I'd love to post new videos a year from now and see how much I've progressed.

The first video is of my back handspring, which is the move that brought me to and kept me going with gymnastics from the time I was a wee lassy. The second video is of a short tumbling pass called a round-off back tuck.



Friday, June 3, 2011

Thunder and Lightning!

La Chocolatta Punta Arenas, Chile
Korean Word: 천재 (genius)
Spanish: Hablaba (teeheehee - I mean, it's I talked or she/he/it talked in the past tense)

Just yesterday, Massachusetts was in the news, owing to the random tornadoes setting down west of Boston in Springfield. Scary stuff! At least three people were killed and Springfield was damaged pretty badly. Relative to the Mississippi flooding and tornadoes ripping through the southeast, MA's natural disasters are small, but they had a huge impact on the people of the state, who haven't experienced tornadoes this intense in years.

I know it seems strange that anything cool could come out of large and destructive storms but those of us lucky enough to be in safe places during the massive thunder and lightning storm that tore through Boston got a thrilling show! I caught some on camera and I thought I'd share the video. I couldn't upload the one with actual forks of lightning because either my computer is a hunk of tin (thanks, Han Solo!) or BlogSpot has it in for me. Anyway, please enjoy what I CAN post, which will give you an idea of what the storm was like and has hilarious audio of me and my room mates.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Annie's Writing Prompt

Architecture Yokohama, Japan
Korean Word: 학교 (school)
Spanish Word: Embarazada (pregnant - this is a great example of why it's important to know your false cognates before going abroad ^_^)

One of my best friends, Annie, is my pen pal. We both love writing properly, on paper, to other people and so we've added this practice to our desperate bid to single-handedly (double-handedly?) keep the US Postal Service alive! One of my favorite things is when we send writing prompts to each other, which we just did this last round. I liked the one I wrote for her, so I'm posting it here for myself and hopefully the enjoyment of others!

Prompt from Annie Two people, one body, three objects, one setting, at sunset, 10 minutes to write, GO!

Mattie felt as though her brain were expanding with unbearable force against her skull. She pressed her hands to her head, crouching in the corner of the elevator and screaming until her lungs burned.

Minutes, or maybe hours, passed. The pressure eased. Mattie sat, huddled and shaking, in the corner of the elevator. Its mirrors, covering its four walls and ceiling, showed a hundred Matties, pale with bloodshot eyes and white-knuckled hands.

Well, said a boy’s voice in Mattie’s head. That hurt.

Mattie shuddered. “How did you get in here?” she demanded aloud, pressing her fist to her temple.

Don’t be cross, the boy sing-songed. The spell was your idea, Matilda. I was dying, wasn’t I?

Mattie moaned when he pulled up the memory for both of them. Not dying. Shot dead. Men in black suits with guns. “I couldn’t let you die,” Mattie mumbled. “I still hate you, though,” she added hastily.

You do not, he said, amused. I’m in your head, remember? I know what you’re thinking.

“Shut up, James,” Mattie ordered.

We should probably get out of here, Jamie pointed out.

“How do I know I’m not just imagining you?” Mattie demanded, getting unsteadily to her feet.

Look in the mirror, Jamie suggested.

Mattie looked again into reflection wall of the elevator and gasped. She wasn’t seeing her own pale reflective, but Jamie’s. His long nose, bright black eyes, coppery skin …

She did the first thing that occurred to her and grabbed her chest. She saw two hands on a flat chest in the mirror. She felt two gentle swells under the cotton of her own tee shirt.

Jamie snickered inside her head. So did the reflection of him in the mirror.

“Shut up!” Mattie snapped. The reflection rippled and suddenly she was seeing herself again. “You may be in my head but you aren’t me.” She knelt, collecting the cell phone and knife she’d dropped when she’d fled into the elevator. She hit the “resume” button on the keypad and the elevator jolted into smooth descent again. She glanced at her watch. Seven o’clock. Sunset.

“I’m getting out of here,” she told the boy now living in her bead. “Shut up and let me think.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Sample of Schoolwork

Iris Tokyo, Japan

Korean Word: 선생님 (teacher)
Spanish: maestro/profe (teacher)

So Simmons College, where I'm attending grad school, has one of the best children's literature programs in the country. I know this partly because it's a provable fact (see heads of department, guests speakers, and famous graduates) and also because I have so much fun in the program!

This semester I took children's book publishing with former Horn Book and Houghton Mifflin editor Anita Silvey (check out her Children's Book Almanac). As a final project, each of us "reinvented" the publishing story of a famous children's book, by pretending that it had never been published before. I worked on "A Wrinkle in Time" and one piece of my project was making my own book trailer. Using all sorts of video and photo clips, I patch-worked a trailer I was pretty pleased with.

Quick disclaimer: other than wording and sequencing, I own none of the content in this video. It was borrowed for a school project and I'm extremely grateful I had it available to me!