Archive for the ‘school’ Category

Grading/Being Busy

10 October 2010

The thing I hate most about teaching is grading.  I know some people are trying out Standards Based Grading (SBG) but I have not make that leap yet.  I anticipate it will take some substantial reading/summer work in order to get myself ready to try that.  In the meantime, I check homework for completion, grade lab reports with a rubric, and score various other assignments according to various criteria depending on what it is.

The thing is, grading takes a lot of time.  Right now I have a stack of lab reports, a stack of mini-quizzes, and a pack of 10 AP lab reports on my grading pile.  I also need to plan next week’s lessons and beyond, with an eye toward the quarterly assessment coming up at the end of the month.  I need to type up last weeks lesson plans, which I somehow never did last weekend (I got a lot of lab reports graded though!) and write plans for a substitute to follow for both this coming Friday (I’m walking in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure in Philadelphia, which starts Friday) and a week from Monday, in case I don’t make it in the morning after walking 60 miles in 3 days.  I count myself lucky that I am not writing college recommendations, since my conceptual-level students rarely decide a recommendation from me would help them get into college (physics not being their best subject).

I need to make sure I keep some other things on my agenda this week also:

  • getting in touch with the maintenance person who will be on duty a week from Saturday, when my school is hosting Physics Olympics, to touch base and make sure we’ll have unlocked doors and bleachers in the gym
  • having a meeting with my teammate for the 3-day walk about packing and tenting
  • keeping my Physics Olympics team focused on getting all the events practiced and devices built, since we are now less than two weeks away from the meet and I will lose Friday’s (and possibly Monday’s) practice – unless I can persuade another teacher to step in on Friday after school
  • Attending a graduate class on literacy Tuesday night (I believe I have an assignment to complete for that) and a department meeting Wednesday
  • Taking account for this week’s fire drill in my lesson plans

There are probably things I am not thinking of right now, but will get reminded of right before they happen…typical.

So how do I find time for grading?  I usually don’t, and wind up scandalously behind, with students not getting feedback in time for it to make a difference.  I am working on this much harder this year, and I am dong better.  The average number of days between students handing in a lab report and getting it back is shrinking.  I rode hard on my kids who missed the unit 2 test, and was able to get all of the tests taken and graded within a week.  Overall, it is going well.  But of course it is at the expense of other things in my life.  I have fallen behind in training for the 3-Day, and I probably won’t walk today at all though by the official training schedule I should go 8 miles (I did get in my 10 miles yesterday).  I’d say I’ll do it tomorrow, but by the time I get home I’ll be tired, there will be only an hour of daylight left (walking 8 miles will take me more than 2 hours), and someone has to cook dinner.

My friends used to wonder why I didn’t come out for an evening – just take a nap after work, they would say.  If I lay down upon getting home, I am OUT.  It just doesn’t work.  I told a friend I might make it to her party last night…but I wound up in bed by 9 PM.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  Sorry, Joanna!  I know this is why my friends don’t invite me out much.  I’m just unlikely to make it there!

So….back to grading.  With a lesson-planning break sometime mid-afternoon.


1 October 2010

Here I am, on Friday night, awake at 9 PM.  I am waiting to watch Teach: Tony Danza, a reality show starring Tony Danza, which starts at 10 PM on A&E.  In it, Tony Danza (former boxer, sitcom actor, and sometime talk show host) teaches 10th-grade English at Northeast Philadelphia High School (Home of the Vikings), a huge comprehensive high school in the Northeast section of Philadelphia (go figure).

After teaching part time for a semester at an Orthodox Jewish school and full time for a semester at a high school in Southeast Philadelphia (simultaneously), I was once a new (and still very inexperienced) teacher at a huge comprehensive high school in Philadelphia’s Northeast section.  I walked into a classroom as a white chick from someplace else with an ideal of making the world a better place.  I got back suspicion, attitude, and eventually respect.  And I now teach at a large comprehensive high school named after a compass point and with sports teams called the Vikings (though two counties West of Northeast Philadelphia High School.)

I want to watch it happen to Tony Danza.  Because I was him, only younger and female.  Because I feel like I know those kids, despite being separated by fifteen years and thirty miles.  Because even though he’s at a different school than I was (there are nearly 30 high schools in Philadelphia) and I was never an actor and never won an Emmy, I remember the feeling of responsibility, of terror, and eventually of triumph.

I’m curious about what they will show outside of the classroom.  Mornings sitting in the bathroom feeling sick?  Crying at night?  Mountains of papers to grade, piles of IEP’s to read and obey,  administrators quick to criticize?

Will they show disobedient kids mouthing off or threatening Danza?  Will anyone scream in Danza’s face that he’s an f***ing nut?  Will all the kids even show up to class?  Will they make fun of him behind his back and mimic him in mocking tones?  Or will the cameras change the behavior of the kids (and administrators)?

I have to stay awake!


Wow.  Right off the bat, first day, Danza gets scolded by an administrator for not signing in on time.  When I taught in Philadelphia some administrators were notorious for watching the clock and checking the sign-in sheets.

I liked that he had a “Do Now” on the board when the kids came into class.  It didn’t look like anyone did the “Do Now,” however.

Good job with “the bell doesn’t dismiss you, I dismiss you.”

I love that a kid predicts that Danza will wind up “flipping out.”

I hope that he didn’t bump out some other teacher as assistant football coach.  That seems unfair.

I’m recognizing the self-doubt.  “I don’t know if I can do this.”  “You think you know so much and then you find out you don’t know nothin’.”

I was sorry for the teacher stuck in there observing Danza.  According to state law there must be a certificated teacher in a classroom, which is why student teachers can’t be alone in a classroom and why sometimes I’ve been assigned “coverage” in my school’s testing room for kids with IEPs…while there is a full-time aide, she doesn’t have a teaching certificate.

“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

I could really feel it when Danza commented on the pressure: from parents, kids, administrators, and himself.

They still use chalk at Northeast High School as of last year.

Civil Engineering

9 May 2010

Last weekend I helped out at the 33rd Annual International Bridge Building Competition. It was held at a local high school, and our local Physics Teachers’ Association had helped to sponsor it. Students came from all over the country, having qualified in a regional competition earlier in the year.

While the Illinois Institute of Technology sponsors the competition, they try to hold the final event at a different location every other year, in between holding it in Chicago. This year our local Physics Olympics League had bid to host, and we won!

The goal of the competition was to build the most efficient bridge, materials-wise. Everyone had to use official competition basswood (which was specially dyed with a fluorescing dye detectable with UV light) and had to keep their bridge below 30 grams in mass. The bridges had to span a gap of 30 cm, and there were restrictions on height and the level of the “road” and there were requirements for the places where the load mass could be placed. Then each bridge was individually loaded from below with sand poured into a bucket until the bridge gave way. The bridge that supported the greatest mass of sand per gram of bridge mass would win.

The bridges were assigned a random order for testing, and as each student set up their bridge and started pouring sand the audience hushed.  The longer the time before breaking, the more sand and the more mass.  And the quieter the crowd.  Each crack of breaking bridge released a sigh and applause.  Then the mass of the sand was entered into a computer and the efficiency displayed on the screen above the stage.  The spreadsheet with the data was set up to display the rank of each bridge from most efficient to least, and the student with the number one bridge had to watch all the bridges after hers, hoping that none of them would be more efficient and displace her top score.

This is the winning design for this year:

The girl who made this bridge went home with an iPad and an offer of $15,000 per year for four years in scholarship money if she is accepted at the Illinois Institute of Technology!

Toast, butter, eat

21 December 2009

According to my contract, I am not supposed to accept gifts from students.  However, sometimes it is really hard to say no.

On Friday, one of my students handed me a loaf in a snowflake-printed cellophane bag at the end of class.  She said “Toast it, butter it, eat it.”  How could I refuse?  The loaf turned out to be some very yummy cheese bread that is indeed excellent when toasted and buttered.

I have also, in previous years, accepted cookies and homemade apple butter.  Once after I wrote a college recommendation, the mother of a student gave me a large assortment of Godiva chocolates.  I shared those with the science department, which seemed appropriate.  The nice note she had written was about how well she felt her son was prepared for whatever science-y major he was planning to pursue, so it made sense that all the science teachers deserved credit.

A few students have given me gift cards.  Those have only come from students whom I have had a special intellectual relationship with.  Students who I expect to remember for the rest of my life as being remarkable, and whom I feel lucky to have taught.

Then there was the student whose family gave all their daughters’ teachers a huge bag of pistachios every Christmas.  That was two schools prior to the one I teach in now.  I don’t remember how many pounds of pistachios was in that bag, but I recall it taking up about 2 gallons of volume.  Seriously, this was a HUGE amount of pistachios for a single woman!  That same family also had a tradition of gifting their daughters’ teachers with Waterford crystal at the end of the school year.  I was expecting a candy dish.  I was shocked to be given a cake plate!

The best gift I have ever received from a student, however, was a note written to me by a 9th grader I taught at my previous school.  She was prone to shouting and was rude and I did not enjoy teaching her.  I tried calling home and her mom immediately started yelling at me, explaining how her daughter came home from school every day screaming about how much she hated me.  I tried the old “you have to be able to get along with all kinds of people” but that mother was having none of that.  She insisted to me that she did just fine without getting along with anybody.  Whew.  I was really glad to get off the phone with that woman.  And at the end of the year, her horrible daughter wrote me a wonderful note thanking me for treating her the same as I treated everyone in the class even though she behaved so badly towards me, and that she really appreciated that.

So parents, if you want to thank your children’s teachers or remember them this holiday, know that some of the most treasured items are the heartfelt notes from the students themselves.  I have every holiday card given me by a student.  I have kept the wallet-sized senior photos inscribed to me on the back, and the end-of-the-year thank you notes.  All the way back to my student teaching assignment, with the silly poem written by the loudest girl in the class and signed by everyone.

But if you insist on baking, I do like cheese bread!  And I like cookies, too!


8 December 2009

I did an experiment this morning.  I usually have my first-year students drop a piece of plastic called a “picket fence” through a photogate to measure the acceleration of gravity.  The “picket fence” is a piece of clear acrylic plastic with some evenly-spaced black stripes on it.  The photogate is a black plastic bracket in a rectangular C-shape with an infrared LED on one part of the “C” and an infrared detector on the opposite side of the “C” so that the detector always “sees” the LED unless there is some object blocking the path.  There is a similar device in your TV remote control and TV set.  The LED is in the remote control and the detector is in your TV.  If something opaque is between the remote control and the TV, the TV won’t respond to the commands from the remote.

Anyway, for a number of years I have had difficulty with this experiment.  For some kids, it would not work, and for some kids it would.  I tried restarting the software that reads the photogate, switching picket fences, switching computers, switching photogates.   It seemed like the problems were random.  Yesterday, I tried out the experiment to make sure it would work.  No problem.  I tried to demonstrate the procedure this morning to my first class of the day.  It failed.  ACK!

I sent the kids on a break (we had two periods of class in a row, so this was usual) and switched out photogates again.  It worked!  Our oldest photogates are the ones that work!  I quickly found all the oldest photogates (just enough for the number of groups I have) and my students did the lab successfully.  Meanwhile, I did my own experiment.

I discovered that the newer photogates can’t “see” through my picket fences, in the clear spots.  Not when  I put the picket fence (clear area) next to the LED, not when I put it next to the sensor, and not when I held the photogate in the middle and slowly rotated it to see if there was a better angle for transmission.  Admittedly, I made these picket fences myself, and they are not perfect.  But why this problem?  Is it the type of plastic?  Is the plastic too thick?  Do the LEDs in the newer photogates emit a different wavelength of infrared light than the older ones?  Or is the beam less intense?  My next investigation will involve my digital camera (digital cameras can detect infrared – try looking in the LCD display while pointing the camera at your remote control and hit some of the remote control buttons.  If the remote control is functional, you should see the flashes of the infrared LED).

So a weird thing is, I have a small TV in my office, and sometimes it turns itself on when I turn on the overhead light, which is a fluorescent fixture.  Why does my TV respond to the light turning on?  It only happens sometimes – maybe once a month.  I turn on the light in the office most days, so it is only 1/20 to 1/30 of the times I turn on the light.


I win!

13 November 2009

I was declared teacher of the week this morning on the morning announcements!  I think it will also be announced at tonight’s football game.  There is a box in the main office at school, and you can put in nominations for teacher of the week or student of the week.  You fill out a form with your name, the name of your nominee, and why you nominate them.

Two students told me they nominated me.  I was commended on my spirit and creativity…in other words, my spirit week costumes.  It was nice to be honored.  No prize, though, just the announcement.  That’s OK, I treated myself to a “blood orange margarita” at dinner at Bertucci’s tonight.  Not a real margarita, but tasty and definitely alcoholic.  A reward for all the hard work grading I did this week.  I put in a lot of hours, and ignored other things…and this weekend I will need to put in the hours on other things.  Starting with the several days’ worth of dishes that haven’t gotten washed.

Ah well.  I win!  And I get to wash dishes!

Awesome Day

18 September 2009

Today I hopped out of bed, put on my comfy pants and one of my favorite shirts and my yellow sunshine necklace from NovaDesigns, and immediately solved a problem that has been bugging me for several years.

My comfy pants (Gramicci cotton pants with a built-in belt) are one of those items of clothing that I wear to school (we can “dress down” on Fridays if we contribute toward a fund benefiting needy students in the district) that have no belt loops.  A lot of these clothing items are skirts, but a couple are pants.  And the thing is, I like to hang my keys from my front right belt loop using a mini-carabiner.  If I have no belt loops, I hang them from a lanyard around my neck instead, and that is less desirable for two reasons: one, the keys swing in resonance with my step frequency so if I am walking anywhere I have to hold the keys anyway or else they swing wildly after a short time; and two, they weigh me down and make my neck hurt.

So this morning at about 5:30 AM  I realized that if I take a loop of twill tape and pin it to the inside of the pants in front and on the right side, I can pull it out of my pants to hold my keys, and tuck it into my pants on weekends or other times when I don’t carry my school keys!  You would think such a simple solution would have been obvious long ago.  Ah well, my next sewing project will be sewing the twill tape loops into pants and skirts!

But that was only the beginning!

I had students come to my class before homeroom to do work and get help!  Usually my conceptual-level kids just don’t care that much about their grade and don’t mind that much if they don’t understand something.  But this year there is something different in the atmosphere.  Another teacher I spoke to yesterday said she noticed it too.  There is a collective seriousness towards studying this year among the kids.  The other teacher speculated that word had gotten around that colleges are much harder to get into than they used to be, so you have to have better grades to get into less-competitive schools nowadays.  I don’t know that high school students generally think that far ahead.  And it is hard for me to believe that the president’s speech to kids really made THAT much of an impact.  Whatever it is, I am glad of it.  I love my classes so far.  My largest class has 20 students (!!!) and so far they mostly seem to be paying attention and trying to do the work and understand things.

Speaking of which, I had the BEST class first period today.  Well, all my other classes went well too.  But after first period, I was just flying.  We’re doing basic, beginning physics stuff–relating the slope on a position-vs-time graph to the velocity of an object, talking about having a frame of reference and a defined “start” or “zero” position, and the difference between graphs for things moving away from zero and things moving towards zero.  But I felt like everything went right, I was asking the right questions to bring the kids to realize what it would mean if two object’s graphs had the same slope, or how to tell by eyeballing the graph which of two objects is moving faster.  I asked questions, and then I asked the kids who answered how they knew they had the answer, and they explained it to me!

My other conceptual-level classes went well too, though I was a little giddy by 6th period and those kids clearly wondered what I’d been taking…nothing other than usual, I swear!  (actually, I forgot to take my usual vitamins, antihistamine, and anxiety meds this morning.  Oops!)  And then it came to my AP class.

Ah, my AP class.  Nice kids.  And one of them got into a giggle fit when I was jokingly suggesting reasons my random drawing of lab groups came out the way it did.  We were doing a projectile launch lab today.  It quickly became clear that goggles were a necessity!

This evening, I got to watch one of the funniest movies ever on TV, without commercials.  The Birdcage, with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.  In case you haven’t seen it, it hilarious, and it is based on La Cage aux Folles, a French film that I am pretty sure my parents took me to see when I was a kid.  I remember that I liked La Cage aux Folles, but I don’t remember anything else about it.

Could a day get any better?  Yes, it would have been better if the music played over the PA system this morning had been better.  Every morning the kids come up with music to play over the school system for about 10 minutes before homeroom officially begins.  Today’s music sounded like awful incomprehensible anime theme songs, and then they played Sandstorm.  Without that, it would have been a perfect day.  Instead, it was only awesome.


I love my job!

The last night

8 September 2009

Tonight is my last night without grading.  At least, until June, approximately.  I will be collecting lab reports from all four of my classes tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a big day.

In addition to all those kids handing in lab reports (I am hanging out online right now in case they have any questions to e-mail me), tomorrow is the first meeting of the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club that I will attend, having joined over the summer.  I hope to learn a lot!  And, tomorrow is the day Beatles Rock Band is released, along with the re-mastered re-release of the entire Beatles catalog.  My husband is giddy with anticipation.  I am playing Beatles on my iPod to get the songs into my head, in preparation.  Oh yeah, I also have a meeting after school tomorrow and it is the day we’ll get out CSA delivery this week, since Monday was a holiday.

So what have I been doing with my “free” evening?  Browsing the internet for fun links:


Summer’s end

4 September 2009

We started school before Labor Day this year, since Labor Day isn’t until September 7 and that is kindof “late.”  So I just finished off a great first week of school, and am now having a last fling of summer as we have a four-day weekend, in honor of Labor Day.  I am not sure why we need four days off, but I am happily taking it.

Anyway, I have three Physics 1 classes, at our lowest level (“conceptual”) and one AP Physics C class, which consists of students who have all had one year of physics already and who should be taking calculus this year.  My physics 1 classes all have a really nice number of students in them (in the 17 to 20 range), where they all fit into the classroom well, I can make a reasonable number of approximately 3-person groups, and where they are still pretty manageable when I use my loud teacher voice.  My AP Physics class is adorable, enthusiastic, and split evenly between boys and girls, a first in my career!  I have 12 kids in that class and they all passed the first quiz (yesterday) and I am working on teambuilding with them.  My idea is that if we do teambuilding then the kids will all support each other through the tough bits and nobody will drop out of the class.  Of course, I have already had four kids drop AP Physics, one who I never met and one who shouldn’t have been in there in the first place among them.  But maybe nobody else will drop out!

As I contemplated the fact that I had Friday off this week, and having gotten my lesson plans for next week 75% done already (though now in need of some revision, as the president’s speech has been moved to noon instead of 1 PM), the following thought crossed my mind:  I wonder what they are picking at Mood’s this week?

Mood’s is the u-pick farm we’ve been getting our berries from this summer.  It turns out they are picking a lot: giant peaches (think giant like California Navel orange, not like the Roald Dahl book), pears, apples, plums, raspberries, and blackberries.  So I decided that I needed to make another raspberry pie.

I came home at about noon with 6.4 lbs raspberries, 5 lbs damson plums, an apple cider donut in my belly (they make the best donuts at Mood’s…but I have learned now to buy just one, not a bag of six!), and some garlic.  I picked up the plums and the garlic at their market, and 5 lbs plums for $7 still seems like a deal, even though I did not pick them myself.  I am thinking raspberry pie, plum-raspberry jam, and frozen raspberries…for future deliciousness!

Are these not the most beautiful raspberries?  If I were the swooning type, I totally would swoon over these!



27 August 2009

My close, personal friends know that I have had some frustrations with my school district’s technology management in the past.  I will not enumerate my frustrations here.

In this first week of teacher workdays, which are scheduled before the start of the kids’ school year and called “inservice days,” my district has introduced us to several new software packages.  These replace other software packages that we will no longer be using for various reasons.

As a teacher who uses “technology” often both in class and outside of it, I can immediately see both advantages and disadvantages to the various new systems.  I can also see things that I have counted on being able to do for the past several years becoming impossible.

I am hoping to mend my past differences with the district technology management, and I am going to suggest that a teacher focus group or study committee or whatever the proper name would be, be established so that we can help the district determine how to help the classroom teachers most effectively use technology to accomplish their goals with students.  Right now, I don’t think that happens.

I really want a voice in this.

My beloved husband, who works in a university supporting professors in their technology use, considers that if he isn’t enabling his professors to accomplish what they want to, he is failing at his job.  I am hoping to be a voice that will help myself and my colleagues get the functionality we need within the means of the district.

Wish me luck!