OMG! Twenty Five Years! Plus Ca Change…

Posted on August 20, 2017
Filed Under First Day | Leave a Comment

Tomorrow begins my 25th year at Laguna Middle School. It was Laguna Junior High when I started. That ain’t the only thing that’s changed around here.

We used to have the oldest staff in the district. Now it’s all young uns and noobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld used to say. In fact, yours truly excepted, we are a much less crabby staff than when I started. So much enthusiasm and noobness! It brings a tear to the eye of this jaded old veteran. Seven new staff this year, and everybody is just so excited!

I fought upper management for years just to get teacher web pages and access to a (relatively) unfiltered internet. Now we take it for granted that the kids all have Chromebooks, teachers all have a web presence of some kind and everybody and his mom has a new educational app they want to foist on you. Our head of curriculum and instruction wouldn’t have a clue what to do without the internet.

Clickers are now old school.

If I hear the word data one more time I will lose it.

As recently as eight years ago, we had five sections of band, five sections of choir, and five sections of drama. We now have two sections of band, one section of choir, and fewer than 20 kids per quarter taking drama on the elective wheel.

I am on my sixth principal here. A good year this year, and he would move to #1 in the rankings. He has finally learned that food at meetings is essential. Plus, he is just so “up” all the time. I am impressed. It really is “all good.”

On a sad note, one of our fave veterans, Mrs. G, died a week after school got out. She had been teaching at our district for 51 years and at our school for 45.

sigh.

But as the French saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” ANd nowhere is that more true than junior high… excuse me, middle school.

Despite the name change, we are still 7th/8th  grade only, and always will be. NO sixth graders here in the foreseeable future.

Despite the age change, the vibe around here is still very Disneyland. Everybody just looooves it here.

The kids are the same. Rambunctious, hilarious, frustrating puppies who just want an alpha to show them the way.

This first day is shaping up to be a bit different though. We will have over 100 more kids than we did last year. The eclipse will be occurring right while we are taking 7th graders on a tour of the school…

“Don’t look up at the sun, use the glasses or the…”

“Woah! That’s cool… and it don’t hurt at all to look up!”

sigh.

Also the main road into the school will have several lanes closed for construction tomorrow.

Just another first day.

PS: I started noobing around on Instagram this summer. Check out what I did on my summer vacation: @mrcinslo.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wall of Shame Revisted

Posted on March 15, 2017
Filed Under Spelling | 1 Comment

Just over a year ago, I posted about a new feature of my classroom: The Spelling Wall of Shame. Presided over by my wicker mermaid and a tiki head, and featuring the giant OMG eraser, it has become sort of a tourist attraction. My kids bring their friends in before school and challenge them to translate. They all say, “No way!”

“I’ll bet if I looked through your notebook/binder right now, I could probably find a few candidates.”

My crims always start chanting, “Do it, do it, do it!” Or volunteering their own for perusal. They think it’s an honer (sic). Wait, isn’t that a harmonica?

Every year during the summer, the custodians always wipe and clean the white boards in all the classrooms. When I got back this last fall though, the Wall was still up. The night guy confessed that they all loved it so much, they couldn’t bear to get rid of it.

As you can see, since last we visited, I’ve had to add another whole column. And the second column has somehow surpassed the first in its beauty and “inventiveness.”

Aren’t they supposed to have given up “invented spelling” by now?

All right then. Let’s see how you do. I am going to go watch Survivor and Modern Family, and you try to translate the second column. I am especially interested to see how you do on numbers 6, 7, 8, and 12. I will be back soon with the answers. Whoever can get them all wins a *free oven mitt!

 

 

 

 

*Not really.

(2014) Jonas = Harry Potter?

Posted on March 9, 2017
Filed Under Rerun, The Giver | 1 Comment

The following rerun was supposed to be posted last night while I was watching the season premiere of Survivor.

As you can probably tell from the title, we are reading The Giver right now. And they are digging it. You know how it goes with this one:

“This is weird.”

Yes. It is. I told you it would be.

“What do they do all day?”

Work. Go to school. Eat. Etc. Talk about feelings. Haha.

“But there’s no shoooooopping!”

But even the ones who have read it…

(Aside: I HATE THAT. When some stoopid elementary teacher thinks that their kids “can handle that book now” or “I have a great unit on that” and blithely hijacks your book. Sorry…but one year I even had a kid who had read Outsiders in 6th grade and the teacher had used all my shtuff for the unit. “I already did all that!” AAAAARGH!)

…are still asking all kinds of questions during the daily Q/A that I have before the quiz on the night’s reading. Most of the questions are the same as the ones I get every year. See if you can guess the questions from the answers I gave:

“I don’t know exactly. I guess it’s probably something like they use for cattle and horses. Sort of like a turkey baster.” (This year we had to surf to Amazon to show a significant percentage of the class what a turkey baster is.)

“You probably should have ‘that talk’ with your dad.”

“You learned about that in the genetics unit in science. They probably just turned off that set of genes.”

“That one is answered in the book.”

“Ummm. Probably bulldozers and dynamite.”

“Chapter 19.”

But there is one question I always answer with a question: “How does the Giver transfer the memories to Jonas by touching his back?”

My answer is always: “How does Harry Potter fly around on a broom?”

And there is always a chorus of response to that: “MAGIC!”

Ok.

So we talked about “suspension of disbelief” and how we just have to accept that’s how things work in this world. One class was still having trouble with it though. They kept wondering why everyone couldn’t be trained to do what Jonas is doing. Now I have never read any Harry Potter nor seen the movies. (Except for about 10 minutes of one. It had some annoying little pale thing with a really grating voice.) My boy went through that phase a few years ago (Team LOTR now), so that’s my only real exposure. I do know what a muggle is though. Sudden inspiration.

“Well Jonas and the Giver are sort of like Harry and Dumbledork. (Break for outrage and laughter.) And the rest of the community is all muggles.” (Is that word supposed to be capitalized?)

“Ooooh! I get it! (pause) But what about Gabriel? Is he a wizard? He has the pale eyes!”

“I guess we’ll find out.”

“You May Lie” (as Always)

Posted on March 6, 2017
Filed Under The Giver | Leave a Comment

We’re reading The Giver right now. Most years this is the first book I make them read mostly at home. After reading The Outsiders and The Midwife’s Apprentice and Maus almost entirely out loud in class and demoing to them how to do this, I usually cut them loose on The Giver and go old school: two chapters a day @ home, response in the notebook to process, quiz the next day to see if they actually did the reading, discussion to get them to understand it and bring along the kids who didn’t read. This is where we see if they can step up and do what they’ve been taught.

Yeah. Good luck with that. It took us the first 25 weeks to get all of them to be able to get the point of view (1st, 2nd, 3rd person) of all our books correct. Really, 25 weeks. I ask it on almost every weekly test: “(Whatever we are in the middle of reading that week) is written in…  a) 1st person  b) 2nd person  c) 3rd person  d) 4th person.

It took the first eight weeks before there was finally nobody picking 4th person.

Sigh.

Anyway. We’re about eight or ten chapters in, and I am realizing that we are going to have to read a lot more in class this time. A lot.

Every year though,  I still try to make sure I read out loud specific parts which I know will make them squirm (“The Stirrings!”), or flip out (Dad releasing the smaller twin: “Bye bye, little guy!“), or say stupid stuff, so I can call them on it.

Today we read the part where Jonas gets his one page of instructions. This is one of those say stupid stuff parts.

One of the rules is that he is allowed to be rude and ask personal questions of anybody. They all go, “Yay rude!”

Aside: One of the features of this class is the “Off-Topic Question time. Those few instances when I have time left at the end of a period, or when a class or two is ahead on a book we’re reading in class, and I don’t want them to get too out of sync, we do OTQ’s. I let them AMA (ask me anything). I don’t always answer, but usually I do. But they are sooooooo uncreative with their questions, it physically pains me: What’s your favorite color? Really? What animal would you be? Gawd. Are you kidding me?

“How is that any different than you guys are now? He’s just legit now. Unlike you, it’s part of his job. He gets Off-Topic Questions whenever he wants!”

“Yay!”

And they all LOVE the last rule, “You may lie.”

“Hmmm. Remind me never to trust you guys ever again. Again, how is this different from usual for you guys?”

They all laugh, but it is also kinda sad that my most enthusiastic volunteering for parts when we read Maus is when I say we need somebody to play one of the Nazis.

And then every Nazi seems to end up having a Southern Alabama or British accent.

Whose Perfect Day?

Posted on February 27, 2017
Filed Under cartoons, Seventh Grade Behavior, testing | Leave a Comment

The old-timers around here know that I have a test every Friday. There are several reasons for this:

  1. I like to teach to the test. If your test is good, it’s a good thing to teach to it. I usually work backwards from Friday’s test when I am planning for the week. This is part of the reason I can give them all the homework for the week on Monday; I already know what I’m going to ask on Friday.
  2. It lets me know what I need to rerun, and when we can move on. I look at the item analysis in my clicker software, and I know exactly which things the majority of them didn’t get. And there’s always a Husker Du (Norwegian for “Do you Remember?” and a ’70s punk band) section on the test, made up of reruns of the questions most of them missed the week before.
  3. It lets me read KBARR responses and talk to them individually about their reading every week. And most importantly, that means I don’t take home stacks of notebooks to read on my time. While they test, I read and hound/encourage/interrogate/chat them up about their reading and thinking.
  4. It’s part of the routine. Both the kids and I need a routine. Monday we copy homework and go over the previous Friday’s test, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we work on vocab and whatever else, Thursday is the Vocab Relay, Friday is test day, and etc.

My regulars also might recall that I have several options available for those who finish the test before the period is over (from 2008):

“If you’re finished early, you have four choices: read or do homework, Trackwords – this week it says 195 words are possible, doodle on the back of your sheet – this week’s theme is ‘the aliens have landed,’ or put your head down on your desk and go nigh nigh.”

Trackwords Grid

Trackwords Grid

Trackwords is an old PC game that gives you a grid of letters and asks you to form words by chaining adjoining letters together. So you could go from the R in the second row to the A below it and then T and E to form RATE. But you can’t go from that R to the U, because they aren’t touching. I give +1 for the first 15 words (3+ letters long, no foreign, no abbreviations), and another +1 for every 10 after that. Most of the early finishers choose this option. They LOVE this. I just generate a puzzle, snap a screenshot of the grid and paste it into the test. My old class dictionaries get a lot of use on Fridays.

“Is kibar a word?”

“The dictionaries are over there.”

I am an inveterate doodler. My faculty meeting agendas are completely covered on both sides with doodle after doodle. It’s a running gag at every meeting I attend; they all want to see what I’m doodling. Mostly it isn’t all that different from what I was doodling in seventh grade: big heads with bulging eyes, propeller beanies, beatniks with shades, maybe a spaceship or two, a guillotine if the meeting is especially lame. Anyway, I like to channel some of that in my students. I use the doodle theme to preview things we will be reading. Before “Monsters on Maple Street” we doodled on the theme of monsters. Before The Giver, we doodled on the future, the perfect society, and love (oh there were some good ones for that, among all the hearts). I offer up to +3 for impressive doodles

Not many nap.

So. This year I have a serious doodler. She was the one who “doesn’t make good decisions” in the post the got deleted from the hack we experienced a couple weeks ago. Her first question, as she walks in the door on Fridays is, “What’s the doodle theme?” She sometimes stays into lunch so she can finish her doodle on the back of the test. She already has an A+; she doesn’t need the measly 3 points I will award for the doodle. It’s all about the art. I wish I had been scanning them this whole year.

Last Friday the doodle theme was “A Perfect World.” (Sorry for my phone’s poor picture quality; it only cost me $10.)

Notes:

  1. The theme was “A Perfect World.” The question is, hers or mine?
  2. I especially like the umbrella drink. I think I need a cup holder for my rolley chair.
  3. “My Lord.” Heh, heh. I think I might make that a rule now.
  4. I also like how I have a vaguely displeased look on my face. As though I don’t think the kid with the stick is bowing low enough or something.

I do wonder, though, about the kid with the beard.

Didn’t He Used to Have a Head? (The New Guys, Part II)

Posted on February 22, 2017
Filed Under sticks, sword, tiki head | Leave a Comment

I have a giant palm tree in my back yard. It is at least 35 feet tall now. When last we reported on this tree, almost EIGHT YEARS AGO(!?), it gave me temporary stigmata on my left hand–I’m talking crucifixion baby. But the other side of the story is that I like to carve tiki-stylie  heads out of the big ol’ butts of the big ol’ branches that fall down from it.  Essay Collector’s head is an example. Maybe one of these days I will post pix of some of the dozens I have carved over the years. I am not a big picture-taker though, so I wouldn’t hold my breath. Also, quite a few have been made into homes by those big ol’ carpenter bees and  some noisy woodpeckers, and many of the heads now have extra holes everywhere or are turning to powder.

Part Two of backstory: The local Harley Davidson hut went bankrupt awhile back. But by hut I mean vast megalopolis. Really. This place was like 25,000 square feet. But when I toured it with my real estate friend, it was almost empty. Except for the Harley-themed Coke machine I was there to scavenge AND one of those headless half-mannequins that they used to display tight fitting tee-shirts and tank-tops. So I snaked that too. Back home, I stuffed the “neck” of one of my tiki heads into the hole in the top, et voila: another assistant. Then I dressed him in the Circle K uniform shirt that I mooched off a Circle K dude back in the day and attached a note.

But I didn’t attach the head very well. So eventually and inevitably, one of the riff-raff hit the table he was on with one of the massive backpacks they wear, and the head went flying.

The head now hangs next to the Keeper of the Spelling Wall of Shame, and the torso has been re-purposed.

Behold the Quiver! All my favorite “cylinders of discipline” in one handy location. Let’s take inventory. Beginning from left, we have The Stick. This one is the real deal. It even got its own post when first it was bestowed on me, salvaged from the garage of my then 90-something gramma.

Next up is one of several swords I inherited from the drama lady when she retired, and I took over the room for my one period of video production elective. It is nice and wide and good for slapping on the plastic garbage cans out in the quad. A real attention-getter, this one.

In the background, we can just catch a glimpse of the light saber, also previously blogged about. Next to it, we have the “Bling Stick,” another inheritance from the drama lady. It’s covered with silver spangles, and when I rotate it in front of my lcd projector, I get a beauty imitation of a disco ball in action. It’s made of wood, so it also has good whacking power.

Tucked in the back there, just barely visible, is another nod to the old school. It’s just a simple wooden yard stick. Another very noisy option. Added Bonus: I can measure shoulder strap width for dress code violations from a couple feet away.

We finish the armory tour with a few more back up swords, one of which has the busted tip that led to the deployment of the light saber. One of them is foam, good for “hurrying people along,” if you know what I mean.

Awhile back, I hosted a department meeting in my room, and one of the other English teachers looked at the Quiver and said,

“I heard about some sort of decapitation from the kids, but I didn’t really get what they were talking about… until now… and I still don’t get it.”

 

 

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