Middle school teaching: Five shows a day, 180 days a year.

Juice Bar?

Filed under: Jamba Juice,Stories of Seventh Grade — mrC @ 8:31 pm April 13, 2015

Frozen-Juice-BarsJust another hole in the Swiss cheese that is my seventh graders’ knowledge of the world…

Right before spring break, our school does its annual big fund-raiser. We do a 3-mile run. But we totally circumvent the whole pledge-a-certain-amount-per-mile-or-per-lap thing. We just ask for cash straight up. No gathering pledges and telling everyone that yes, you think you can do the three big laps around the whole property, and then collecting on them after. Oh no. We just tell ‘em to collect cash and checks and then we make all the kids do the three miles anyway. Not sure why we don’t just ask for money. They get a “reward” with each lap: water bottle with school logo, string backpack with school logo, Jamba Juice. (Jamba Juice was born here!) Then we feed them hot dogs and oranges, they throw water balloons and chase each other around, play in the sumo suits, and scream a lot. We send them to break good and worn out.

We herd them back to their Homie Bases at the end for a head count, and in past years we would hand out orange juice bars to go. This year’s flyer was reused from last year, and nobody in management noticed the promise of juice bars down near the bottom. My Homies and I were going over the set up before the gig, and we got to that point. I said,

“So then we herd you all back here again to make sure none of you wandered off during the festivities–”

Laughter all around. Several hands go up, and the inevitable question is asked.

“Has that happened? Did someone leave?”

Of course I have to make allusions to “that one year” and vague references to “this one kid.”

“But now we make sure. You all come back here after, we count heads, we give you a juice bar, and you’re on vacation.”

They all look at me with that tilted head thing that dogs do.

“Juice bar?”

Ok. At first this doesn’t even register. They’re not really asking what a juice bar is, are they? No.

I tilt my head back at them.

“A frozen bar of juice.”


“Like orange juice.”


“Frozen orange juice. On a. Stick.”


Desperately, “A Popsicle?”


Then the various theories…

“I thought it was like this metal bar where they like fill it with juice, and then you maybe squirt it.”

“I thought it was like a candy bar, but like juice.” (Not a bad idea, actually.)

“I thought you were making it up.”

“I thought you said barf.”

Polish ______?

Filed under: Maus,Seventh Grade Behavior — mrC @ 7:28 pm April 1, 2015

We’re reading Maus right now, and per usual for the past few years, they are really digging it.

“Are we gonna read Vladek today?!” Don’t you just love hearing that kind of question?

*Aside: I had a sub a week or two ago, and part of the plan was to continue reading aloud. We do it like a play, with people playing Vladek (me), Artie (the best reader in the room, male or female), and so on right on down to “generic male” for the parts that only have a couple of lines. I heard from the kids that the sub “did a way better Vladek voice than you! He even made is voice all funny and did the accent!” Hrmm.

*Aside #2: It’s scary how many beg to be “Nazi soldier.” They all want to be loud and aggressive. One girl, who has been sort of a pain in my heinie lately, begged to do it. I caved in the hope that it would make her pay attention a bit more. Suddenly all the Nazis were from Alabama, and I had to spend 5 minutes calming the crowd after she drawled the first line.

At the beginning, before we started reading, I put the word “anthropomorphic” on the board and asked if anyone knew what it meant.

There were a couple of Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger jokes. I got a chuckle out of that. Exactly what I would’ve done.

But nobody could come up with anything. Kids today can’t even guess with any gusto.

So I tried another tack. “What other word have you seen that uses the anthr0- part?”

Now a good percentage of them are eager to give me “anthropology.”

“Ok. Beauty. What is anthropology?”

Now this is in my first period/Homies class. The gaps in the general knowledge of this particular bunch are yawning and often very surprising, as you will soon see. Swiss cheese ain’t nearly holey enough for a metaphor for this crew.

I see one hand waving pretty confidently. The owner is a very well-traveled girl. Since there is a lot of sharing in Homie Base, I know she has been to Switzerland, Portugal, Spain and Brazil. And those are just the ones I can remember. So I figure hope that she might have a bit of savvy here. I bite.

She sits back smugly in her seat and says with authority, “A store!

sigh. And we’re not finished with her either.

Later in the period, we are about 5-6 pages in, and Vladek talks about his prospective father-in-law. He’s impressed with how rich he is. He says that Mr. Zybelberg has the “biggest hosiery factory in Poland.”

I stop and ask if anyone knows what hosiery is.

My little world traveler is all over this one. She KNOWS this one.

When you looked at the title of this post, what flashed in your mind? What did your brain put into the blank without your bidding? Admit it. You can’t really think of anything else now, can you? That flash is an example of how the seventh grade brain works all the time.




YMCA? Why Is It Fun to Stay?

Filed under: Seventh Grade Behavior,Village People — mrC @ 7:51 pm March 23, 2015

The Village PeopleA good majority of my kids just finished up the dance unit in their pe classes. Homie Base has been especially entertaining during that time as we:

  • Witness reenactments of instructions from the teacher. “Chase the butterfly! Catch the butterfly.” “He says, ‘Doy si doy’ instead of do si do!” My room used to be the typing room back in the day, so it has a raised platform where the teacher’s desk used to be. When stuff like this breaks out I always say, “I have a stage over there. Bust a move.” It usually takes a bit of coaxing from the studio audience, but for the past week, we’ve had a show almost every day. My fave line from the crowd: “The catch-the-butterfly move seems so mean. If you clap your hands like that you would kill the butterfly. Maybe he should say, ‘Kill the butterfly!'”
  • Hear of fake handholding. “OMG. We were supposed to doy si doy, and my partner just pretended to take my hand. Mr. P even said not to do that!”
  • Are told how “weird” everything was. Square dancing, disco line dancing, “freestyle.” All weird. They might have a point actually.

But one day during this unit, a bunch of Homies were singing Y-M-C-A. You know how it is.  It’s always just the “…It’s fun to stay @ the Y M C A…” part because that’s all they know. (A few at least get the “Young man,” but it’s a precious few, and they mumble after that.) Anyway… later in the year, when we read “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes, it would have been an extra credit question, but this year they beat me to it and asked it themselves.

“What does YMCA stand for?”

Ok. So. In the 20+ years I have taught “Theme for English B” and offered that question for extra credit, a decent percentage of kids have known the answer. Let’s say 20%. But the remaining 80% have had little or no reaction as I explained the answer.

Oh, the youth of today.

“Young Men’s Christian Association.”

Ok. So. Let me prepare you for the reaction. Your humble reporter was caught COMPLETELY off-guard. Let’s just pretend that there WASN’T A SINGLE ONE who had any clue. Let us further speculate that ALL of them might be a TAD surprised. Visualize for me because I obviously didn’t.

It was as one voice. A roar, a cry for knowledge, that blew back my hair.

“NOOOOO WAAAAAY! (I confirm the information.) WHAT? (One more time.) NOOOOO WAAAAAY!!!!”

“Really? None of you has heard that?” So like I usually do, I explain some background about “staying at the Y.”  They are still having trouble wrapping their heads around it.

Then one has to ask.

“Why would they say it’s fun to stay there?”

“Have you looked at a picture of The Village People?”


“Ask your mom.”

Is Your Child Ready for 7th, Oops I Mean First, Grade? (1979 Edition)

Filed under: Seventh Grade Behavior — mrC @ 8:28 pm March 19, 2015

Over at Slate there was a post about another blog post somewhere else where the author was reading an old series of books called, Your ___ Year Old. The subtitle for Six was, Loving and Defiant.

Hmmm. That ain’t no different from Your 12-13 year old, is it?  That would probably cover 11-18 too.  And 10-25. Do I hear 6-53?

This volume though, had a checklist to help you see if your six year old had the chops for first grade.
In 1979.

1. Will your child be six years, six months or older when he begins first grade and starts receiving reading instruction?
2. Does your child have two to five permanent or second teeth?
3. Can you child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policeman, where he lives?
4. Can he draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?
5. Can he stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?
6. Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?
7. Can he tell left hand from right?
8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?
9. Can he be away from you all day without being upset?
10. Can he repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once, as in, “The boy ran all the way home from the store”?
11. Can he count eight to ten pennies correctly?
12. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

You were supposed to answer yes to least ten. Ummm. I have more than a couple seventh graders who might teetering on the edge if these were the criteria for entrance to SEVENTH GRADE.

1. Check.

2. Check. But the easy stuff is over.

3. “…in such a way that his speech is understood…”  Kinda by Costco. Does that count? Close enough. Check.

4. Whoa baby. When I watch one sentence meander across the page like the mighty Amazon, I don’t know if I can say yes to some of you. No Dice.

5. Mostly. There is usually a lot of wiggling involved, but we’ll call it good. Check.

6. This one they nailed. Check. FYI: Did you know scooters are making a comeback?

7. Ummm. Free pass on this one because yours truly still has trouble in this department.

8. This one is the reason this article is making the rounds on the net. It’s pretty much a universal OMG! Even though crime is down significantly from those days, people still can’t cope.

In 1979, I was skateboarding down the big hill we lived on with my six year old brother on my shoulders while another brother shot the action on Dad’s 8mm camera, hoping we would crash so he could use the slo-mo button on the camera. Neither littlest bro nor I had helmets (in ’79? hahaha), and since it was summer in Sacramento, we were both also shirtless and barefoot.

A majority of our students ride the bus or get rides from parents. But I know most of them are allowed to ramble at least that far. Check.

9. Check. Check. And Check.

10. hahahahahahahaha. OH. NONONONONONONONONO. You know how many times we junior high teachers would have to repeat something like that to get them all to remember it verbatim? Hahahahahaha! That’s a real knee slapper. No on this one.

11. Count? Not add, right? Count? Check.

12. Try? I suppose if we emphasize that word of the question, we might let you slide by. Check.

Phew, that was close. But yay! You made it.

SPAM Attack!

Filed under: Spam — mrC @ 8:06 pm March 5, 2015

I was attacked by Spambots. On January 28, I get this from my pathetic excuse for a web host:

Hello, Your account is utilizing excessive resources on the shared server named DENEB . This is a shared environment and we cannot allow one user to utilize a high percent of the resources on a server as it affects all users adversely. Because of this, we were forced to create the current ticket for you.

Three days later I get this:

Investigating further, I noticed that your website is getting a lot of hits from some Bots and IP addresses, which you might want to take a look at. Below is a copy of your web stats for your inspection.

They also tell me to try blocking the addresses on the list they sent. So I just copy and paste and block them all from anything to do with mrcoward.com.

The next day at school, I try to head to my website archives to get ready for the day. Loooong delay. And then… not found. What the…? I immediately contact our district IST department and inquire why they might be suddenly blocking my website again. Yes, it has happened in the past.

I finally get ahold of one of the network guys, and he tells me that he can see my site just fine from his office. What the…? He says he will investigate.

Later in the day, he gets back to me and tells me that my school all shares one IP address when we connect to the net, and that my service provider is blocking that address. He gives me the address and tells me that I should contact them and get them to stop. Then I realize that the address he gave me was one of the ones on the list that hit my site a lot. I was blocking my own site. D’oh! I felt a little guilty about chewing out the customer service rep. A little.

So I fix that, but my bot issue doesn’t go away. February 10:

Upon further investigation, we noticed that your domain mrcoward.com was a target of the wp-login attacks. Please see the details from the logs pasted below.

I was getting hit by a robotic comment army. This here blog was getting thousands of spam comments per day. Few of them were public, but it was taking server time and energy to move them all to the spam dump and deal with all their attempts to log in to my admin panel. So:

Because of that, we have enabled an extra layer of security. Using this Captcha you will avoid any other issues or attack on the admin panel. This sort of attacks are used by hackers to gain access of the administrator panel and from there to upload/execute exploited scripts. Please understand the changes that we made on the account. We will continue to monitor your account for the next few days to see how this will affect the usage of your account. You will be contacted again once we have more information.

Now with both my admin panel and your comments (Hi Mrs. M!) , you are forced to enter one of those Captcha things. Cool enough. I probably should have done that awhile ago. Unfortunately, my problem is still not solved. February 22:

The usage of your account is, unfortunately, still exceeding our server’s limit.  Investigating further, I noticed that your websites are still getting a lot of hits from some Bots and IP addresses.

So I start blocking again. This time I make sure that I don’t block my school. But I also notice that my web host’s own url is on the list! They were monitoring me so much that they were helping drive up usage! On February 26 though:

Here at Lunarpages, we are always looking out to protect your account. Here are the latest updates of your resource usage. Your account CPU usage is normal and there is no issue related to high resources usage. We will continue monitoring your hosting account for resource usage till next 48 hours. Please let us know if there is any issue. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask us, we will be happy to answer them. Please update us if you feel any issues. Please feel free to contact us for further help. We are committed to making your hosting experiences pleasant and fulfilling.

I loved the protecting and fulfilling parts. I felt so protected and fulfilled. hrmm.

Finally on February 28:

Here at Lunarpages, we are always looking out to protect you and your account. I have performed another audit of your account today and seen that your account’s resource usage has been under the limits from past few days. The issue have been resolved and we consider this case closed.

Anyway. You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’m back. See you soon.







Victory Lap

Filed under: OMG,TV — Tags: — mrC @ 8:32 pm January 22, 2015

Yeah, yeah, I know. Long time no see and all that…

Our first period classes are 10 minutes longer than the other periods. That extra 10 minutes is quaintly called “Home Base.”

(I know I’ve probably mentioned that here before, but with almost 450 posts up to now, I don’t have the energy to check when the last time was. You can probably cope with a “previously on…”)

Home Base is just too dorky, so we call it “Homies.” It’s when they read the bulletin (mostly basketball players reading sports cliches about how awesome every…single…player…is) and suchlike, and whatever time is left is supposed to be like circle time I guess.

A few of my homies each year usually come in early and hang out in the room beforehand. Mostly because I have the warmest room in the school in cold weather. Always 68 degrees. Always.

Last year there were several homies who would come in early and hang out. Very early on, I noticed that Andrea didn’t exactly hang out like the rest of us. She did laps. She would walk around and around the perimeter of the room while she talked to us. Her cowgirl boots would click and clack as she continuously walked around and around and around. And it’s not like she was one of those ACTUAL ADHD squirmers or wigglers; once class started she was (mostly) quiet and diligent.

After a week or two of this, I finally asked her.

“What’s up with the laps?”

“What are you talking about?”

She didn’t even realize until then. She seemed genuinely shocked. Then:

“I think I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

“No way? Really?”

In the course of her travels last year, she told me that she and her mom had auditioned for Shark Tank.

“Have you heard of that show?”

Ummm. Duh. I have only watched it from the beginning. Another Mark Burnett (Survivor) production.

Really?! OMG.

A few months pass. Several hundred laps.

“We shot an episode.” Lap. “They can’t tell us if we made this season or next.” Lap. “I can’t tell you anything else.”

So now it’s this year and she’s in 8th grade. Her current Homie teacher doesn’t open the classroom before school and so she occasionally gives me a visit and does a few laps to relax.

“I miss this,” she says

Her episode aired right before Christmas break this year.

You really need to watch the clip because she totally nails it, and Mark Cuban actually uses her pitch to work the contestants that came after.

“Did you try going door to door?”

Also, you’ll get to see her product, the Q-Flex. But the bottom line is that Cuban bought in. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

The first school day after it aired, I found Andrea in the quad before school. (I get to use her real name because she’s  a celebrity now.) I congratulated her and suchlike and even temporarily suspended my no-hugging rule. I made sure to spread it around and our principal worked it during the announcements. She sold a ton of product to faculty for last-minute gifts and was talking about warehouses and packaging and shipping like a mogul.

The next day she comes by and starts a circuit. I am behind my desk, returning a phone call, as she does the first lap. She smiles at me on the drive-by. By lap three, I want to talk to her, but the person on the other end of my call won’t stop. So as she passes for lap four, I shrug and point at the phone and make a face like, “I’ll talk to you later.”

She just smiles and whispers,

“Victory lap.”

Yeah, It’s Sort of a New Thing

Filed under: The Midwife's Apprentice — mrC @ 9:29 pm December 11, 2014

It’s called The Curse of Knowledge. When you have known something for so long that it’s automatic, it’s difficult to imagine somebody not knowing it automatically. This is one of the big things to remember and avoid when one is teaching junior high, and I think I do a pretty good job of it most of the time. But I do still have trouble remembering that kids of this age will misinterpret or misunderstand directions 40% of the time.

“Do we have to copy the warm up?”

“#*$#@*! Did you read the directions? What does ‘Copy’ mean?”

“I was just asking.”

I’m thinking it’s really more about inattention. But that might just be cranky ol’ me.

Anyway, today I had a first. Never could I shed the Curse of Knowledge enough to anticipate the question I got today from one of my li’l scholars.

We are reading The Midwife’s Apprentice right now.  The kids and I love this book. It has the word fart right in the first couple of pages. Plus, I have lost count of how many giggles I have had to shut down because there’s somebody named Dick. I also can’t believe we haven’t seen a movie made out of this one. Alyce is such a great female character and the secondary characters are great too.

This book also fits in nicely with our new Common Corporate standards that decree more non-fiction. There are plenty of great non-fiction sources to bring in to show what the middle ages were really like.

(Aside #1: One of my fave lines during this time is when we talk about the child mortality rate. More than 1/3 of kids didn’t live past age five. “That’s why they had so many kids back then: they needed lots of back-ups.” Even my principal laughed at that one.)

Anyway, we were at the part of the book where Alyce runs away from the village because she failed in delivering a baby. She ends up at an inn, where she starts working for food and a place to sleep. There’s a line that says something like, “Alyce lived mostly on bread, beans and Jenet’s bad beer.”

So, like I usually do, I stop and say,

“Ummm. If that were all you ate, you would have so much gas…”

And then I pause for the three or four seconds it takes for that to sink in, and for them to realize that I mean farting. Then there is general laughter.

This time, one girl’s hand goes up.

(Aside #2: Now before I reveal her question, I have to say that earlier in the period, this girl said something that probably requires a whole post by itself. I’ll rein myself in and keep it short this time though. I was munching on a cookie while they did the warm up, and “Lydia” asked why she couldn’t eat during class too.  I give her my standard response–after “Because you guys are pigs”:

“Only I get to eat in here.” She says,  “But I’m your cute little evil sidekick right?”)

Ok, now back to her question…

“Did people fart back then?”

There was slight pause. The tiniest bit of silence. And then…

Cacophony. (vocab/spelling/roots word: “jumbled or chaotic sound”)

I couldn’t resist.

“Well, I THINK they invented that not too long after this book takes place. I think they figured their lives weren’t stinky enough already–what with the no bathing and no toilet thing and all–so they came up with a new concept: farting.”




Quiz Show!

Filed under: Presenting the Book — mrC @ 10:04 pm November 7, 2014

thequizzer-01We finished The Outsiders on Wednesday and today was Outsiders Jeopardy day. I have a webpage with a grid of 12 categories, each with 7 questions, that I use as a fun finale/review/recap before we move on to the next book. The kids are in groups, and most years I just rotate clockwise through the groups, and they get to pick the category and answer the question. There’s no element of speed or reflexes or your fingers being faster than your brain.

The clicker software has a couple of games that are sorta kinda like that, but they have to be multiple choice questions and there’s still no speed aspect.

Today I busted out some old school technology that I haven’t used since the days I set up Jeopardy with index cards taped in a grid on the whiteboard. The last time I used this baby was 10 years ago easy.

We still have The Quizzer in our library storage!

I didn’t look at the copyright date, but judging from the technology, I would date the device around 1979. It takes eight (8) D-size batteries. I had six groups going, so there were six 30 foot long cables running from their boxes to the central unit pictured above, plus another cable for my Alex Trebek button. (More on that soon.)

“Pick up your feet when you walk!”

The kids’ boxes are about 4x6x 2 inches deep with a large red button on top, along with a flashlight bulb under an old-school round, red lamp cover that protrudes out of the top by like 1/2″. The main unit makes a hideous beeeeeeeeeeeeeep-ing sound when they buzz in and when I reset after each question.

But here’s the beauty part. Only the first button that gets pushed lights the red light and triggers the beeeeeeeep. All the others are locked out. AND best of all, nobody’s box works until I release MY button. Anybody who gets antsy and slaps it before I push my button gets locked out for three seconds before he can push again. The winning box starts flashing the light on top.

Oh my. It was mayhem.

Some samples of the action:

After the first few rounds, there were a few groups that hadn’t been quick enough to get any questions yet.

“Ours isn’t working!”

“Time out. All right, group two, test.”


“Works fine. You guys are just slow.”

Then there were the groups with a frantic button-pusher who just wanted to see that light lit up by being first.


“Ok, Group Three?”

“Yesss! Ummmmm. Jimmy?”

“There’s no Jimmy in the book.”

“Why’d you push the button?!”

There were complaints about the need for speed in this format.

“It’s not fair. If you can’t push the button fast enough you don’t even get a chance…”

(me) “Umm. How do you get to a score of negative 4 if you’re not getting a chance? And weren’t you guys at plus 2 a few minutes ago?”

HandsDownBoxA couple of the successful groups adopted interesting strategies as the game progressed. One group solved the problem of who should hit the button by stacking their hands, hovering above the button. It reminded me of that old game, Hands Down. That way if any of them wanted to push, they all did it at the same time. Each person’s push would be as fast as any other person’s. I thought that was pretty ingenious.

Another group soon realized that one of the members seemed to know the answers to almost all the questions, even the ones the group didn’t get a chance to answer for points. So they handed the box to the member with the itchy trigger finger and told her to “go for all of them.” Then they just gambled that “Zelda” would get it right, no matter what the question was. The gamble paid off handsomely.

I had the most fun playing with the Alex Trebek button. After every question, I have to push the button on my box to turn off the blinking light on the last winner’s box. And to repeat: Nobody’s box works again UNTIL I LET GO OF THE BUTTON. The idea is that I, like Alex, am supposed to let go of the button when I finish reading the question.

What fun.

“How does Ponyboy describe the difference…” Pause.

Click! Slap! Pound! Push! No beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

“Ours isn’t working!!”

“…between a pack and a…”  Pause.

Click click click! Slap slap pound click!

“What!? Ours really isn’t working!”



And the one group who didn’t click in early waltzes to victory.

“I swear, ours wasn’t working.”

“Time out. Group four, test.”




Blog It Baby! (Proud to be a “Thief”)

Filed under: blogging,Writing — mrC @ 10:17 pm November 3, 2014

OK, I stole this one. But as all of you know, in this profession, good thieves are almost as valuable as innovators. In fact, I would posit (you see how I just dropped that one in there, getting all debatey on you?) that the thieves are the ones who really spread the good ideas to the masses. They are the ones who mutate and translate the cutting (bleeding?) edge ideas into the vernacular/Vulgate that everybody and his mom can understand and use. (My boy is taking Latin, so I am feeling the need to bust out my Jesuit education now and then.)

At a teacher training two days before school started, I met David Preston. I was the only one at his spiel, I think mostly because nobody knew what he meant by an “open source” classroom, which was the main description of his presentation.

(Aside: This training had an interesting format. It was more like a conference with different presenters and time slots, and we could choose which sessions to attend. Kinda groovy actually. I have a half-finished post about the day. Maybe I will actually finish and post it some day.)

I won’t try to give his spiel, but I liked what I saw and heard. One of the things I especially liked was his requirement that every student keep a public blog. I am big on publishing. For me, creating “product” is the whole point. Back in the day, we had the district print shop publish magazines of our writing, and we would sell them for a dollar a copy. Classes would compete to sell out their run. We even sold ads to local businesses until some crab up in admin got worried about “legal issues.” Then I went digital, and we published “webzines” with links from my class web page. I did the same thing with Moodle for a while, but that was too “walled garden.”

David said he used Blogger as the platform for his kids. He talked about how, since Blogger is owned by Google, it’s easy to see your web stats: number of visitors and suchlike. So the kids start competing for page views. Also comments.

Now you have my attention.

It took me a little while to dial in how this idea might work in my classes, but I think I am getting pretty close:

BlogunaLancers.blogspot.com! (Haha. Get it?)

This girl is where I hope to take all of them. We’ve only been at this for about a week and a half. She already has 271 page views!

Love it.

I am using these blog thangs for everything writing now. More on this Wednesday.



Old Guy Alert

Filed under: Presenting the Book,The Outsiders — mrC @ 8:41 pm October 23, 2014

OK. All of a sudden this year, as we are reading The Outsiders, I am having to explain (or GoogleUp-on-the-big-screen*), all kinds of things I have never had to explain before. Up until this year, the references I had to stop and talk about were always pretty much the same ones. You know, the ones they put into all those lame novel units for this book. Things like…

madras shirt. After we look at pics, the kids are all, “Why would Ponyboy be jealous of those?” These kids can’t wear anything without a logo or a message on it.

Corvair. They like the look of that. Until we start talking about it being the most dangerous car ever built. Actually, they like that too.

heaters. The guesses on this one are great. Lighters. Actual heaters. Knives heated up on the stove. Tasers — me: “They didn’t have those back then” them: “They could have.” Gawd I hate when they say that.

fuzz. I actually looked this one up. Nobody really knows how this one got started, but Ponyboy probably would have used it because he heard it on Dragnet.

“know the score.” I love this one because I always connect to our vocab word savvy. After I explain it that way, they get it.

Will Rogers. This one is tough even for me. I always compare him to Bill Cosby.

There might have been a few here and there who didn’t figure out that icebox meant ‘fridge or that “lift” meant steal, but that was pretty much it for the explaining slang and colloquialisms. But this year, I have a whole new list of things that are met with blank expressions when I ask what they mean.

Paul Newman. He’s officially an icon for oldsters now.

booze. Really? This one surprised me. At least 3/4 didn’t know what Pony means when he says Two-Bit gets boozed up too much.

in stitches.” This year, not a single one of them knew what that meant. It was always a minority, but this is the first time the number went to zero. I guess nobody has called it a side stitch since I was a lad.

icebox. This one went to almost zero this year too. Sort of understandable I guess. But you’d think they would figure it out from context. They’d rather ask you or look it up on their phones.

wisecrack. Another one that bottomed out this year. It’s the crack part that throws them I think.

 Dairy Queen. Really? Are you kidding me? I was floored, as they say. But the closest one to us is 35 miles away. Around here, that may as well be across the country. Still, there are tv ads and whatnot.

peroxide. Three kids.

concession stand. In every class this year, it went down the same way. Reading aloud, I am a paragraph or two past the mention of the seats in front of the concession stand at the drive-in when several hands go up. I bark, “Snack bar!” at them and there is a collective “oh,” and I roll on. They also couldn’t cope at the prices mentioned: 25 cents for popcorn, 25 cents for a double feature (or more).  Then I tell them that the minimum wage in ’67 was one dollah an hour. In their infinite seventh grade wisdom, they say, “Cool, that’s four popcorns!

And almost none of them this year understood what Pony means when he says that Two-Bit’s switchblade was the “result of two hours of wandering aimlessly around a hardware store to divert suspicion.” I always pause there for effect, but this year there was silence. Then,

“I don’t get it.”



*GoogleUp-on-the-big-screen is when I search Google live in front of the whole class, displaying it with my lcd projector. I also use it as an opportunity to demo how they should be searching on Google. People who say kids today are tech-savvy have no idea what they are talking about.

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