Thursday, August 23, 2007

A bit of an Overload...

Well. Tonight I sat down, thought I'd try to widen my blog-reading-horizons a bit. Since I teach such a large number of mother-tongue Chinese students who are at varying stages of language acquisition, I thought it'd be smart to look around for other blogs on that subject. And while I was looking around on the web, why not try to find some sample wikis? Everyone's talking about them, and my admin is very supportive of any new initiatives.


Gonna take me a while to sift through the buckets and buckets of information I just found...and all from just one simple starting point.


And in the meantime: more working day before the students arrive in full force classroom has nothing on the walls
...all my books and papers that are still strewn about into my idiosyncratic piles
...i suppose i gots lots more planning to do
...i do intend on having a life as well.

So with that - gonna get my add-addled brain off to the pool where it can shut off for 40 minutes.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Creation Story

Day One. How do you begin the year?

(you can find this post on the Firstday Wiki as well, under history.)

Once there was a teacher who moved to Hong Kong. This is the story of the lessons he taught in the first week of class. In creating these lessons, he stood on the shoulders of a giant of a history teacher. (That's how a lot of stories about great teaching begin, by the way.)

His job was to teach English and History and Religion to a room full of 16 year olds. 80 minutes of every day, they were together.

And this is how it started.

"Our first unit is about Native American Culture. History, Literature, Religion, we'll study all of it. Ready to get started? Good. Here's a story. It’s called the Walam Olum. You need to share your interpretation with the class. Get into pairs or groups of three. You’ve got fifteen minutes."

"Mr. P...there are no words on this handout."

"Oh, right, I left them out. I thought that would force you to be creative. Get started!"

"Mr. P, what about a syllabus?"

"You'll get that later. C'mon, let's go!"

And on the first day, there is Instant Engagement.

After the students have shared their interpretations, and the teacher has shared the "real" story behind the pictures, it gets Personal. As they leave the classroom, they are given a blank non-lined notecard. The teacher looks each of them in the eyes, shakes their hands one by one, and thanks them for coming. "I've got one favor to ask of you. It's important. Please bring this notecard in tomorrow with four pictures that tell your own personal creation story. Oh - and don't put your name on the card."

When the sun rises on the second lesson, the notecards are traded around the room. "On the back of your classmate’s notecard, please write down your interpretation of the story. Then get into groups of four and share your interpretations; the author of the story also gets to share!"

As the class adjourns on Day Two, the students have a good idea of who their peers are, they've been constantly engaged, and they're still not quite sure what this young teacher's deal is.

And if any of them forgot to bring in their homework on day two, they've learned that this guy doesn't assign pointless homework assignments. “If I ask you to bring something in, it's because we NEED it for the lesson. Yes that's right, go sit in that isolated desk until you finish the homework you were supposed to have done.”

Translator’s note: this homework policy is Easier Said Than Done. Many sources indicate that this teacher often is unable to stick to his preferred policy.

On the third day, the teacher finally relents and passes out a piece of paper that says “Syllabus” on the top. The front side looks familiar, with bullet points and a few percentage signs. But the back side is just like everything else that’s happened so far in this class, definitely not what the students are expecting:

Expectations for Each Student Can Be Summarized by the Following Hopi Sayings:

“Don’t Go Around Hurting Each Other”

“Try to Understand Things”

Then the teacher asks another one of those annoyingly open-ended questions: “Try to Understand Things. What skills did we use while we were Trying to Understand the Walam Olum?”

In the following discussion session, the teacher will make sure to touch on the following key points:

Interpretation of text


Primary Source Analysis

A quote from the teacher is relevant here:

“I've used a variation on this activity twice, once each year I taught that course. Since then, I've discovered that the Walam Olum is believed to have been fabricated in the 19th century. And that just makes it better! Just save the truth of the story for later in the unit - how does that shocking revelation not dovetail beautifully with the sad story of 19th century Native American history?!”


Folks - anyone have any questions? comments? kudos? ...candy?

Hope you enjoyed the reading, because I loved the writing.

Good Luck Teachers!

Monday, August 13, 2007

off the cuff

listening to: my usual GapKids in-store muzack.

what i'm thankful for: the times when my administrators remember that i am a learner as well as teacher, and get me up and moving / involved in what could otherwise be a two-hour butt-numbing session. and that amazingly comfortable pair of boxers i will never part with, for the sessions that do attempt to meld my butt to a plastic chair.

what i'm going to do RIGHT NOW: sleep.

Friday, August 10, 2007

4 Slide Sales Pitch

Okay, so here is the design brief again, from dan meyer:


  • Design your slides. Use Keynote, PowerPoint, Photoshop, a discarded tray liner from Whitecastle, whatever. Just keep the size below 1920×1080, a constraint which will affect none but the most diehard designers.
  • E-mail your name and blog address (if applicable), to dan [at] mrmeyer [dot] com. Attach your slides.
  • Post any reflections on the process in the comments below.
And here is my submission to the contest:

What a fun thing to do! Very challenging task, only given four slides and one week and really no design training or experience. It was fun to try to think of what to choose for each of the slides.

The idea of maps popped into my head, ending with some kind of twist on "Here Be Monsters". And rather than try to encapsulate all of what I do and love and is on my facebook profile, I just aimed to produce a flashier illustrated version of my resume.

I couldn't find a decent map image of Morocco, so that made my choice for slide 2 easy. And I haven't agonized over the copy the way I would have liked to...nor did I really spend a lot of time choosing the fonts. But I did spend one evening manipulating Google Earth so each of the images was just right.

But hey - maybe I can give myself a break if I don't think this is perfect. After all, I am in week one of pre-term meetings. That whole thing called a "job".

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Demons of a Young Teacher

Today is the eve of goin back to school, sort of. Tomorrow is the first day of a week of pre-term meetings, followed by two weeks of teaching a jump-start program for some of our weaker students. The real D-Day, when the invasion of students will begin in full force, isn't for three more weeks from today.

Nonetheless, I'm feeling the jitters, the adrenalin, but it's not the students I'm worried about. It's the Teaching Demons.

"History often repeats itself", they say. With that in mind, I reckon I'll bump into some of the following 'Acolytes of Hell' over the course of the year.

The Demon of Overwork:
Planning out units, daily lessons, marking homework, leading a service club and attending committee meetings haunts both dreams and weekends.

The Perfectionist Demon:
Won't let you half-ass any of the above tasks, and when you DO half-ass something, an inevitable occurrence until God extends the day to 25 hours, your confidence as a competent professional slides down the drain.

The Procrastination Demon:
Traps and snares with the temptation to explore the interwebs a bit longer, "just to look for a better way to teach that unit on the Crusades...". What a forked tongue this demon has, you think, as you find yourself clicking on yet another standup comic on youtube at 11.30pm, your lesson plans nowhere close to finished.

The Rubbish Diet Demon:
This demon works its way into your soul as you drink more and more coffee to cope with consecutive nights of less than five hours of sleep. Then it craftily replaces the FDA-approved Food Pyramid with the following food groups: caffeine, nicotine, sugar and "whatever takes the least amount of time from preparation to clean-up".

The Demon of No Life Outside of School:
This hellspawn's name says it all. And then you end up saying, "I'd love to go out tonight but..."

Do note how the Teaching Demons work in concert with one another. I believe that the 'Agents of the Evil Headmaster' are the true cause of what teaching professionals term "burnout" but is perhaps more better recognized by its various symptoms such as exhaustion, depression, nervous tics, pulling all-nighters, temporary insanity, and seizures at the sight of a pile of marking.

Folks, the one thing that keeps me irrationally optimistic about the upcoming school year are the Guardian Angels of Teaching. If you've any experience working with kids and you've read this far, please comment with the names & blessings of any of these benevolent beings.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Design Contest - Yay!

In response to this post by dan meyer, who continually comes up with stimulating thoughts.

I skimmed his post, went about my morning, and came back home still chewing on how to fit who I am into four slides. That's the mark of a good post!

Mind you, not sure how much of the credit dan deserves - after all, the university of chicago came up with the four-slide idea. But once I saw the word "contest", my y-chromosomes delivered a command my brain can't ignore: "win!"

I've got my doodle topic for the upcoming week of pre-term meetings set. Hope that anyone who reads this post will think about entering as well! What a fun challenge.

Thanks, dan!