Monday, April 30, 2007

Day 1. What I learned in school.

Take a jacket. The Chemistry room is freezing. The Physics room is more freezing.

There were live fish in bowls at the prom. The decorations were great, the music was OK. The air conditioning was turned off at 11:30 PM, making the last 30 minutes even warmer than the first 3 1/2 hours, which were plenty warm enough.

Some of the cold air from Chemistry should have been transferred over to the dance, most definitely.

There's a secret back door into the science wing, and I can use it.

I can also park in the teacher's parking lot - I have the special green tag to prove it!

The science teachers rotate supplying 12 packs of diet sodas in the workroom refrigerator. Those who drink, donate. Those who don't, don't.

A class of sophomores will spontaneously applaud for the one in their number who qualified for State in shot put.

I learned that women's shot put is a real event, and I met the young lady who qualified.

Any unknown adult in the classroom when students enter is automatically assumed to be a substitute teacher.

Where the mirrors, pins, cardboard, friction blocks and rulers are kept. For rubber bands, you have to go ask in the office.

Respect a child and the odds are good that he will respect you in return. I already knew that, but it was good to see it in action.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Take My Lunch or Buy?

Tomorrow, the adventure begins.

Teacher Class has been going on since the first part of February. We've learned a lot of theory; for the next two weeks we will be putting into practice what we have learned with "Field Experience". Not exactly "student teaching", but more intensive by far than simple "classroom observation". The 22 of us have been assigned to 6 different schools within a 40 mile radius of central Austin. We have been assigned to coorperating teachers (who get a princely $50 stipend for putting up with us for 2 weeks) and know which instructors will be making the trips out to "observe" us as we try our wings.

Yesterday, our teacher asked us to discuss what we had done to prepare ourselves for the experience, and what questions we still had.

It seems that new shoes were high on the list. Many of us have new shoes (which we have dutifully been wearing for the past 2 weeks so they aren't TOTALLY new shoes tomorrow). Freezers have been stocked against the reality of all-day school and several-evenings-a-week cohort sessions. We've reviewed class material and made some sketchy lessons plans, to be filled in when we have a better idea of the classes with which we'll be working. Daycare arrangements are complete for those with small children. We have looked up bell schedules and student handbooks and dress codes. Most of us took the precaution of driving the route to our assigned schools during rush hour to make sure on the timing. We have nametags, folders of paperwork and sufficient pens and pencils.

The overall plan is in order. It's the details that still are bothering most of us, and it seems the details haven't changed much since we were considerably younger.

Where will I park? I'm not a teacher, I'm not a student, and I can't really claim a "Visitor" slot for the whole two weeks!

What if my cooperating teacher misses a day? To whom will I report, and what shall I do?

And yes, what shall I do about lunch? Shall I take it or buy it? What if no one wants to sit with me?

"Rose" and I will be at the same school, in the same department. Rose is not more than a couple of years older than my daughter, slight and energetic, she kayaks for fun and dresses in t-shirts from various marathons. We're an unlikely pair, but I greatly look forward to working with her in the fall.

We've decided - we're both taking our lunches. It's good to have a friend.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Texas Kids DO Learn All They Need to Know in Kindergarten

A few years back, "Robert Fulghum" , a man of considerable wisdom, published a bit of brilliance entitled "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten". Having small children the first time I read it, I was enthralled, and I haven't changed my opinion. We'd all be better off if everyone on earth would share, play fair, clean up after themselves and remember the mortality of the mice, the goldfish and the seed in the Styrofoam cup.

It's become popular in the recent past to bash public education and especially to complain about the initiative "No Child Left Behind". Heaven knows I've offered my own choice comments on NCLB. I'm impressed, though, with one aspect of the Texas school design that links our children from class to class and grade to grade. It's called the "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" , TEKS for short. It's an elegant document that sets out precise guidelines for what should be taught at each grade level by subject, concept, proficiency. Needless to say, it's a key element in training new teachers in the state of Texas.

When Alex was in 3rd grade, we moved 100 miles north within the state, mid-year. On his last day at his old school, there was a "Lunar New Year" celebration, a dragon parade, and as a special honor since he was leaving, he got to wear the dragon head and lead his class in the dragon chain. Four years earlier, Elizabeth had also been a part of the Dragon, and by luck of the draw, had "won" the honor of bringing home the class dragon head, which took up floor space in her room for months. Despite the inconvenience of the paperboard Dragon head, I like these connections and the continuity, child to child and year to year.

I've only recently become aware of exactly how MUCH continuity there is. Required by "teacher training class" to take a very close look at the TEKS, I was amazed and enthralled to see how it all fits together. The photos attached to this entry are a visual representation of the key concepts of the subject of Evolution, followed from kindergarten basics right on through high school biology. Two of my classmates and I (overachievers, all) produced the display as part of a class assignment. Isaac scoffs a bit at the fact that for three years, it doesn't get any more involved than "Living organisms have basic needs", but those early elementary years are pretty busy with learning to read and add and subtract and share. The concepts are introduced, though, and progress through "adaptations" and "traits" and on into genetics with each year being a review, a reinforcement and an expansion.

While the subject matter broadens from grade to grade, the key concepts are introduced early and revisited from year to year. First grade expands on kindergarten, second grade explains a bit more, and third grade delves a little deeper, but with a reassuring review of what we already kindergarten.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Striped Surprise

In the mid-1900's, the knitting craft was revolutionized by British-born Elizabeth Zimmermann. As much a mathematician as a knitter, she developed some simply brilliant patterns and techniques, many of which are still very much in use or have been the springboard for other knitting designs.

I was aware of some of her work, and earlier this year, gifted myself with a copy of The Opinionated Knitter and found the astonishing instructions for the "Baby Surprise Jacket". The instructions, first published in a knitting pamphlet in 1968, go on in a conversational tone for 114 rows, adding stitches here, decreasing there, picking up some more here, working buttonholes on both sides of the front, except as you are working them, it's not at all clear that this IS the front.

Since I had several partial skeins of yarn that I wanted to use up, I jumped right in and worked in some stripes, not totally sure where those stripes would ultimately end up. Finally, the instructions called for binding off 202 stitches, and more accomplished knitters than I have called the resultant shape "an amoeba".

Here's what you get:

Then, the surprise. Some quick folding, sort of an origami-for-the-knitter, two short seams (across the shoulders), and you get this:

Elizabeth Zimmermann's original instructions called for a baby-weight yarn, small needles and produced a newborn/small infant sized jacket. I upped the ante to a worsted weight yarn (Rowan Cashsoft Aran) and size 8 needles and the resultant jacket is about a 2-year-old size.

I've already got my next color combination planned...

(Editing since some have asked - The sweater pictured is about 21 inches around at the chest, with buttons buttoned. It's about 12 inches top to bottom. Stitch gauge is 17 stitches = 4 inches)