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Quiz Show!

November 7, 2014
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Quiz Show!

We 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

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Blog It Baby! (Proud to be a “Thief”)

November 3, 2014
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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

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Old Guy Alert

October 23, 2014
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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

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Penguin Watching

October 20, 2014
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Penguin Watching

 I had another observer the other day. Cal Poly, the local state college (and my alma mater), sends us quite a few. In order to get into the credential program these days, you have to have an ungodly number of hours of observation under your belt. I guess they want to make sure that you really know what you’re getting yourself into. The ones who want to be English teachers always come in thinking they want to teach high school… and leave thinking junior high kids are the cutest things ever, and omg I think I want to teach middle school now. hahaha That’s all well and good if you are an Alpha dawg and can put the pups in their place. But most of these noobs just want to hug them. hahaha Anyway, the latest young ‘un was there bright and early the other morning. Our VP brought her out to me while I was patrolling the yard. Our school has two outdoor quads, and in the mornings the seventh graders congregate in one and the eighth graders in the other. (They have separate lunches because our cafeteria won’t hold ‘em all.) There is some intermingling and some kids hang

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ITS!

October 8, 2014
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Most middle schoolers have a love/hate relationship with questions. They love to ask questions. Especially self-centered, off-topic questions. (in the middle of a lesson on irony) “What’s my grade?” Or out-of-the-blue questions about stuff you talked about a month ago. (talking about Injun Joe in Tom Sawyer) “Why did Ponyboy run away too? He didn’t actually do anything.” They still sometimes have trouble actually formulating their questions. “This is confusing.” But when the tables are turned, they are more conflicted. They hate questions from their parents or teachers about the inner-workings of their decision-making. “Why on Earth did you (not) do that?” “mumble mumble…I was just…” They hate questions they don’t know the answer to right away. “This is confusing.” But they love to answer questions they think they have the right answer to. The problem is that in their quest to be correct they sometimes REformulate your question so their answer will fit. This week’s spelling list is 13 pairs of homophones, including who’s/whose, their/there/they’re and its/it’s. (OK, their/there/they’re isn’t technically a pair, but you know what I mean. Hey, that rhymes!) One of the warm up questions was looking for one of those for the answer to this: * 2. its,

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I’m a STEAMroller , Baby!

September 29, 2014
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I’m a STEAMroller , Baby!

This is just the first volley… There are surely more to follow. Our school has been informed that we WILL have some sort of STEAM program by next year. I don’t think they understand how crotchety our staff is. I have been foisting tech on them for most of the 20 years I have been here, and in their eyes, this might as well be a STEAMroller. Management sent several of us to beautiful San Diego for a STEM conference last week. Two days in sunny San Diego. You’ll notice that the conference we went to didn’t even bother to include the A for Arts. Our district sent three admins, a teacher mentor/trainer, two science teachers, one social studies teacher, and me, the token LA teacher. I did manage to find a few sessions that looked promising amid the sea of LEGOs and NGSS and Common Corporate, and learn to code and suchlike. More on that later. But the most entertaining of the sessions was the one out my hotel window the afternoon before the conference got rolling. I was directly across the street from the Hard Rock Hotel/Bar/Restaurant. Sunday is their all day pool party on the roof. The line on the

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The Wheel Has Already Been Invented (Rerun. Because I’ve Earned It.)

August 20, 2014
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Back in the day, before I started teaching, I worked for many years at the Ernie Ball Company. I made guitar strings on piecework, I made volume pedals, I worked in the woodshop and helped make electric guitars and basses. When I was in the woodshop, Ernie (his real name was Roland, and his grandson, who was in my 7th grade class now runs the company) would come through and watch us work. His favorite expression was, “The wheel has already been invented.” He hated wasted motion or time. “Can’t that cart have wheels so it can moved over there when it needs to be?” Or, “Why do you keep walking over there over and over instead of…?” (He also hated lateness and what he called “Monday sickers.” Pity the fool that was late on a Monday.) So. This here blog started back in August of 2008. So there’s a pretty good chance that I already covered “beginning of the year shtuff.” So I checked. Yup. Sho’ nuff. Here’s one from fall of 2010: OK. This time for real. Daily, baby. Well maybe… It seems like I wait longer and longer each year to get ready for school. We started

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Another Legacy (What Am I Going to Do – Part II)

August 14, 2014
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Ok so… Now (in the story, not literally) it’s a couple of weeks into the summer this year, and we are interviewing for a new full-time English teacher to replace a vet who bolted to Colorado in February and got married to her long-lost childhood sweetheart. Now (as a sentence starter, not as a statement of time) full-time English positions are as rare here as they were in the district I spoke of in the previous post. Rarer. I think the last one was almost 15 years ago.  This is a big deal and we need someone who kicks booty. We are probably going to have to live with them for a long time. We had five interviews that day. We liked Number One a lot. The rest had a tough act to follow. By the time we got to Number Five, all the doodles and talk balloons on my interview sheets indicated that Number One was going to be the one. Colleen and I were on the same page on this. Number Five was fresh. This would be his first full-time gig if he were to get it. We hadn’t seen fresh in awhile. Number Five liked junior high. My inner

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What Am I Going to Do Now?! (Part I)

August 6, 2014
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(Let’s all just pretend that I have been here this whole time…again.) Twenty-one years ago almost exactly, I was a “young” buck, finished with my first full year of full-time high school teaching. I had worked for that district for two years–my first year I “taught” what they call Independent Study–and there was an unwritten law there that they didn’t ever offer permanent positions. To anyone. Ever. So even after two good years working in the district, I was still on unemployment for the summer because I was technically fired. Again. But then… That high school had just been awarded a federal grant of a million dollars (remember, this is 1993, so that’s big money) to rework their curriculum and schedule and staff from top to bottom. And part of that involved sending a core group of teachers to Lake Tahoe for a week of intense “thematic unit” (remember those days?) training. And they needed one more English teacher to complete the team. I told them I was a fired temp and that it didn’t really make sense for them to spend all that money training me if they were just going to fire me again. I knew it was a multi-year

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Ooooh, He’s Hawt!

February 13, 2014
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Ooooh, He’s Hawt!

I know I am probably behind the curve on this one, but since we just finished The Giver, it was big news for my classes and me. The long-awaited movie version will actually be a reality. August 15th is the date it is scheduled to hit a theater near you. Jeff Bridges, who was the one who bought the movie rights 20 years ago and has been trying to get it made ever since, will play The Giver. The good news is that Lois Lowry is on board, and has approved of the changes to the story: Jonas will be 16 instead of 12, and his crush on Fiona will be more of a lovey-dovey thing as required by modern movie making standards. The Chief Elder, who will be played by Meryl Streep, will have a bigger role in the story, probably to justify having Meryl Streep in the movie. (The kids said, “Who’s that?”) Another character  who looks like she’s going to have a larger role in the story is The Giver’s daughter, Rosemary. How do we know? She’s played by Taylor Swift. Half of them screamed in delight at the news, half of them groaned. I comforted those with

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Jonas = Harry Potter?

February 5, 2014
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You thought I was dun fer, as ol’ Huck might have said. But as the late, lamented Mrs. Krabapple used to say, HA!  To paraphrase Sir Mixalot… Baby, I’m back. 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

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Maybe Someone Will Listen to the Rocket Scientist (Nah.)

December 18, 2013
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One of my standard lines when the kids are being particularly thick-headed about something that we’ve already covered about fitty times is, “It ain’t rocket science people.” Turns out it is. At least for me. Check this headline: Teaching Isn’t Rocket Science. It’s Harder. And the best part is that it’s written by an actual rocket scientist. He quit working for NASA to join TFA and is now teaching math and robotics in Colorado Springs. I won’t summarize the piece too much, because I want you to read it, but the part of it that told me that he actually understands what it takes to be a teacher was this (emphasis mine): One of the biggest misconceptions about teaching is that it is a single job. Teaching is actually two jobs. The first job is the one that teachers are familiar with; people who have not taught can pretend it doesn’t exist. The tasks involved in this first job include lesson planning, grading, calling parents, writing emails, filling out paperwork, going to meetings, attending training, tutoring, and occasionally sponsoring a club or coaching a sport. The time allotted to teachers for this work is usually one hour per workday. But

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Were There Also Yessies?

December 10, 2013
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We have a new candidate for greatest misspelling ever. And the sweet irony of it is that it surfaced during a spelling test. Plus, I think I came up with a new catch phrase (for that class anyway). I have them reading non-fiction for their independent KBAR book. That’s sort of one of the “big” changes coming with the advent of the Common Corporate. There is supposed to be more of an emphasis on non-fiction and “useful” reading. Oh, did I give away a bias there? So sorry. We’ll get back to that another time. Anyway, a lad in my one class mostly filled with “challenging” lads such as himself… (Wait. Why are classes like this almost always at the end of the day?) …is reading a book about WWII. I am standing there reading his response for the week while they work on their Friday test, when I come across the word for Hitler’s fascist party. Now we get to the part I don’t understand. He’s reading a book about WWII and yet he can’t seem to spell the most basic four-letter word from that era. Picture in your mind what the phonetic spelling might look like, but still

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Random Featured Post

“How cute. Like hobos…” (Also: Hank Williams.)

Wednesday. Vocabulary Pretest. Talk of facades and irony. Both figure large in The Outsiders. More on that later. Today I have more insight from my friendly class. We’re reading chapter 4 (the death of Bob, Dally helping with the getaway, jumping the train out of town), and we get to where Dally is telling Pony and Johnny to “hop the 3:15 freight to Windrixville.” We pause and talk about how it’s only been less than 36 hours (book time) since the beginning. They find it hard to believe until we start to do the timeline. Figure that Pony gets out of the movie in the late afternoon, and gets jumped and saved. Pony and Johnny and Dally go to the Nightly Double the next night, and it’s now 3:15am that same night. Then I make sure they know that a freight is a train. And one girl says, “How cute. Like hobos…” Hobos maybe. Cute? Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used to Do? When the boys run to find Dally at Buck Merrill’s house, Pony offers a brief description of Buck that ends with, “…he was out of it. He dug Hank Williams. How gross can you get?” […]

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Mr. Coward has been teaching on the beautiful central coast of California since 1989. He sometimes tweets when he's in the right mood: @mrCinSLO.

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