Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Out of the Mouths of Babes - At Least They Are Learning Something

Teachers go through most days wondering if anyone is actually listening to anything they say.
So when something does actually sink in, it's such a good feeling.  
Each year, I teach the kids several math games that they can play individually or in pairs.  These games are essentially just skills practice (addition/subtraction/place value/number sense), but skills practice that is far more fun than problems on a worksheet.  When I'm working with students who need extra help or pulling small groups, students who finish their independent math assignments can fill any leftover time by playing a math game.  To get these game centers working well, the first month or so are spent building the procedures and basic game play rules.  I spend a lot of time wandering around, monitoring behavior, and answering questions when they arise with the hopes that after that time the kids will be independent and I can begin working with students who need a bit (or a lot) more time to grasp a concept after it is taught.  Not having "stuff" for the early finishers to do is a death sentence to behavior management, so these games are a life saver for me.  During that set up month, I hear the the same cheer after winning a game, "Miss Delight!  I won Maria (or fill in the losing student's name)!"   We have MANY discussions that go a little like this, "You can say you won the game or you beat Maria at the game.  If you win Maria, you get to take her home as a prize."  And they roll around on the floor giggling at that thought.  A day or so later, I will hear the same cheer and this time ask, "You're taking Maria home as prize?"  "Nooooooo," they laugh.  And the confusion between winning a game and a person continues for quite some time.  
Then, just today, two of my fast finishers (we'll call them Danny and Lucas) finished up a dice game.  Danny called out, "I won you!" to Lucas.  I was working with a small group so decided to ignore it for the time being when I saw the boy sitting next to them lean over and say, "You didn't win Lucas, you aren't taking him home as a prize.  You won the game, not Lucas."  A smile spread across my face and I made an imaginary "Yes!" fist pump.  It's the little things that get you through the days - especially when there are still two days until Thanksgiving break.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

So Much Fun

So, I'm going on week 5 of this never-ending illness that seems to be going around.  Just last Thursday night I responded to a friend's text stating that yes, I was feeling on the mend and ready to partake in activities that weekend after a long bout of bronchitis...and then woke up Friday morning with a head cold! My classroom is like a petrie dish right now - germs are just being passed around.  Since it is harder to call in sick and prepare for a sub than it is just to go to work sick, the last few weeks I've been absolutely worthless when I get home from school.  Week 1, Rigby dealt with it.  She's usually pretty understanding when I'm under the weather.  By week two, she was having none of it!  I wasn't getting up early to walk her because I felt so rotten when I woke in the morning, and by the time I got home from work the only thing I had energy for was crawling into bed.  Rigby wasn't a fan.  Feeling neglectful, I took her to pet store and we found some toys - toys that were so expensive I went home and bought them on Amazon.  Just two days later, they were delivered, and I had one happy puppy!
One of the toys is a tennis ball wrapped in rubber stripes.  It is very bouncy and gets her jumping around while chasing after it.  I also finally got a "Chuck It".  I've seen this toy around a lot, but I worried that my yard was just not big enough for its long throwing arm.  At the pet store, I noticed there are actually different sized arms which was great news.  The medium one is far better for the size of the yard, and it let's me be a bit lazy by not having to bend down and pick up the ball every time.  The last toy is by far the best one though.  It's also made by the "Chuck It" people, but it's called a Kick Fetch Ball.  The ball is about the size of a soccer ball, but it has deep, wide ridges that allow her to grab it with her teeth and bring it back to me.  She LOVES it.
 We've had an old soccer ball in the backyard for the last several years.  She popped it so was able to get a hold of it, but it's not all that easy to kick a flat soccer ball.  I was usually more tired after playing than she was.  This ball makes her work.  Not only does it go farther when I kick it, she also has to figure out how to carry it back.  She spins it with her feet, bumps it with her nose, all the while turning it over and over looking for a good place to grasp.  It looks like she's actually playing soccer.
 She wears out quicker than I do now.
For the last few mornings, we've gone on some short walks - stopping just before coughing up a lung.  Even so, she greets me at the door when I get home from work with this ball in her mouth.  She runs around me with it for about 5 minutes, growling, before she drops it at my feet and is ready to play.  She's such a moose, bounding around the backyard - looks a little like this...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Review

When Bridge of Spies previewed a few months ago, I was on the fence over seeing it.  Stories about spies are usually exciting and engaging, but Tom Hanks in that role didn't really appeal to me.  I like Hanks in funny roles.  He always plays endearing characters, some of my favorites being You've Got Mail, A League of Their Own, Charlie Wilson's War, or Saving Mr. Banks.  For some reason though, because of the characters in those films I have a hard time seeing him in more dramatic roles, especially a spy, and I was downright disappointed in his casting/performance of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon character.
With that being said, there isn't too much out at the theaters right now, so I did go see Bridge of Spies this past weekend.  
And I LOVED it!  It was an outstanding film.  Based on the true story of lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) who defended a captured Soviet KGB spy at his trials in the US in 1960.  After pleading the spy's case, Donavan got him a life sentence instead of the electric chair on the grounds that he might be useful in negotiations if a US spy was ever captured by the Soviets.  
During this same time, a US pilot flying a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union was shot down and captured.  This began a negotiations with the Soviets (and the East Germans) just like Donovan had predicted.  He was taken to East Germany by the CIA, tasked to handle the negotiations.  
This was not a story that I was familiar with, and I didn't know of James B. Donovan at all.  But I do think Tom Hanks did a wonderful job portraying this character.  He had the seriousness of a lawyer and someone in his position, but was quite endearing with a good sense of humor about the craziness of the affair.  
My opinion of Hanks in a dramatic role was proved incorrect in this film.  It's hard to believe he was once a Bosom Buddy.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Bad Week For Freeway Signs

Normally, freeway signs don't even cross our minds in day-to-day life, even if we're on the freeway.  This past week, however they were in the news not just once, but two times - once for a silly reason and once for a tragic one.
Firstly, freeway signs are being updated here along the 5 Freeway.  The Interstate 5 Freeway runs the entire West Coast, including a large portion of Los Angeles.  Early last week, the Los Feliz  Boulevard exit sign was changed out for a new, more reflective one.  Unfortunately, the new sign somehow got past officials, engineers, and CalTrans workers and was installed with incorrect spelling.  For about 30 minutes, travelers exited Los Fezil Blvd. instead of Los Feliz.
It's a story that makes me chuckle because that neighborhood is quite affluent and "hipster".  There are regular arguments over how to properly say the name correctly, and the answer can depend on how pretentious the arguer is.  I'd imagine one of the residents would pay good money buy that botched sign and hang it in their home.
Sadly, later in the week, a freeway sign and the 5 Freeway were in the news again.  This time for a terrible accident that ended in a death.  A 20 year old driver in a Ford Focus, who was driving at high rates of speeds without a seatbelt on the RIGHT SHOULDER, veered into the left lane hitting a pick up truck.  His car rolled multiple times and he was ejected from his car.  If that weren't awful enough, he was ejected upwards of 20 feet ONTO the ledge of a Colorado St. freeway sign.  The pictures of the sheet covered body on a freeway sign are pretty surreal.   Thankfully, his reckless driving didn't hurt or kill anyone else - that's not usually the case around here.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rise of the Jack O' Lantern

I spent last night at Descanso Gardens for a Halloween event called the Rise of the Jack O' Lantern.  The event has been running for about 4 years in various locations in both California and New York, but it is the first time I've been.  Descanso is located north-west of Pasadena and is lovely with various gardens during most of the year.  During the month or so before Halloween, they outfit the rose garden with thousands and thousands of beautifully hand carved and hand painted pumpkins.
 When you first walk through the loop, one of their carvers demonstrates "how they do it" by carving self portraits.
 While some were carved and painted just onto one pumpkin, other pumpkins created entire scenes - each one including just a small detail of the entire display.
There were a lot of faces from pop culture and current talking heads.
 The dinosaurs were amazing.  A bit farther back off the path, so not quite a clear in the iPhone pictures.  You get the gist...
 The Inside Out characters
And those who have passed.
The last few of the displays were my favorite.  This dragon was incredible.  It was enormous!  Having to stand a big farther back to get it in its entirety loses some of the detail, but each pumpkin was so intricate, even down to the Chinese lanterns hanging from above.
The loop of displays probably took about an hour or so to walk around.  In the literature, it addressed the issue of pumpkin rot and how they handle it.  Each week (for about its 6 week run) the pumpkins are replaced with new, recarved ones.  While making sense, that also kind of blows my mind.
I was very impressed and look forward to returning again next year for an entirely different show.
Happy Halloween!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Phonics in oxymoron

October is usually my most hard working month at school.  It's the first (and maybe the only) month with NO holidays or vacations.  October is a good solid 4.5-5 weeks of uninterrupted instruction, which I personally love.  The first couple of months of the school year tend to be very procedure oriented and reteaching of everything the kids forgot over the summer.  In addition, we have Labor Day, multiple staff developments that take me out of the classroom, and pupil free or short days for conferences and meetings.  I find instruction is so very choppy in those first few weeks, that October finally gives me time to TEACH 2nd grade.   
It's also this time of year that I remember how frustrating the English language actually is.  While a handful of my students start the year not needing phonics or decoding instruction, most of them do and October is when we really get into decoding more difficult words.  Phonics rules are heavily studied and practiced.  And that's when the idea that most of the rules really only apply to such a small portion of our language.  So often, there are more words that DON'T follow the rules than there are that do.  Native English speakers learning to read struggle with them, but often their depth of vocabulary in English helps them sort through some of those times the rules aren't followed.  But my poor English language learners want to apply those rules (and why shouldn't they) to everything.  And since they are limited vocabulary-wise, comprehension is very difficult as well.  They have a very hard time compensating when the words break the rules.  Learning to read in English is HARD.  
So when I saw this the other day it made me chuckle but also want to shake my fist at our language as well.  
I know it's long and tiny, but it is linked to the site, where it is much larger.
2nd grade grammar focuses a lot on the irregular forms of words (plurals, verbs, etc).  I could write this same post for grammar.  Most of my instruction sounds a little like this...
Or basically, "Here are the rules that apply to this small group of words.  The rest, you just have to memorize because they don't follow any rule."  Gah!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


As mentioned in various past posts, I am a long time watcher of the show Law & Order.  While I saw each and every episode when it first aired on Prime Time, the show has also been in reruns for years and years and continues to air anywhere from once to ten times a day on multiple channels.  Often times I'll find it on TV while I'm putzing around the house doing chores over the weekend or making dinner when I get home from work.  It's one of those shows that kind brings comfort.  It's also a show that I can partially pay attention to and still know what is going on.  So my point being, it's on in this house multiple times a week.
Changing topics a bit, but it does all link together in a bit, I promise...Rigby is a chatty dog.  Several years ago I had people over and while we were sitting around talking Rigby yawned noisily.  It made us laugh, and we all howled and whined trying to get her to do it again.  Since then, Rigby howls and talks if someone talks or sings to her in a high pitched voice.  She doesn't usually do it unless she's asked to, but once she's asked she'll go on and on and on.  However, just last week I walked out to the garage while making dinner to fill up Rigby's food bowl.  When the door closed behind me, I was startled by a crying noise.  I got back to the kitchen as fast as I could, and Rigby was sitting at the door howling.  It was unusual, but I didn't think much about it other than how darn cute she is when she talks.
Since this past weekend, I've been laid up with some type of bronchial issue (meaning I'm coughing so hard that my head might actually explode), and funnily enough Law and Order was on about 100 times this weekend.  The show entertained me in between coughing and sleep.   On Sunday afternoon, I was curled up on the couch and since Rigby had had just about enough of the couch shaking due to all the coughing.  She found a comfortable spot on her dog bed across the room.  I found myself just dozing off when Rigby started her howling again.  Again, it scared me a bit because it was unprovoked.  At that exact same moment, the Law and Order theme song was playing.  Somehow I put two and two together, quickly rewound the song, and replayed.  Rigby howled again, and again.  And even three more times so I could record her.  
video video
I know I'm biased, but really, could she be any funnier?  And, it's even cuter that the Law and Order theme song makes my dog want to sing along.  And clearly, the theme song was playing when I went out to the garage that day.  I wonder if that's a sign that it's on in my house too much?