Monday, March 30, 2009

Lucky 13

A quick story about my zombie who shouted "Apple!" for the answer to a math question.

I noticed that she couldn't subtract, at all. She could go through all the motions of subtracting like crossing out numbers to borrow and writing new ones above, but she never got the correct answers. But she close. Strangely close.

I took her out of class, just the two of us, and went down to the Fishbowl. I started with small problems and again she was really close to the correct answer. I watched her while she subtracted. She was moving her fingers and counting to herself. I asked her to count out loud so I could hear her.

She said, "17, 16, 15, 14, 12, 11..."

"Whoa! Try that again."

She started over and missed 13 again. I had her try starting at other numbers, counting backwards, and she skipped 13 every time.

She was completely confused why I was so happy about this. I think I probably scaredher. I told her that whenever she was bored she should look at her number line and count backward from twenty putting her finger on every number. I told her to ask her family at home to listen to her count backward. She was still confused, but said she would.

Two days later she was subtracting perfectly. Yay me! Yay Apple Girl!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Fishbowl

I have my own space in the school where I take my groups to work. It's such a special place I just wanted to share it with you.

My space is close at hand. We are heading down the stairs. It sort of looks like we are leaving the building, doesn't it? Maybe it's all the exit signs making you feel that way.

Getting closer now...

Wait! What's this? Is this a workspace hidden at the bottom of a flight of stairs and practically outside?It is! My, my isn't this cozy!

It's warmer than it looks because hanging right over the table is this. I have some students who don't sit under the heater because it scares them. It only scares me when it's not on.

I call my space The Fishbowl because as classes file past to go to recess or come back from recess they all gawk at me and my group. Sometimes they actually have their mouths hanging open. We're a regular circus sideshow for them. While the doors are open we get to freeze and all the books and papers blow everywhere. So it's fun for us too.

As you can probably image, having recess right outside my space can be just a bit of a distraction for my zombies. Sometimes a ball or Frisbee will strike the door and startles us. Just today we had some kid who thought it would be a great idea to spend his recess smashing his face into the window at us. I busted him big time to his teacher. I do believe he's lost recess for the rest of the school year. Poor zombie!

But I can't complain too much about my space. I do after all have my own cart for my stuff. I have to share a shelf with a bag of de-icer but it's comforting to know that I have a shovel close at hand if things get really out of control. Do you see my box of Teddy Grahams? They are still doing their magic of making zombies come to life!

In the end though, I'm lucky to have this space. There is an aide here who knows the schedules of all the teachers and uses their rooms when they are at lunch or the library or something like that. She's like the hermit crab of tutors. Given a choice, I'd rather hang out in my Fishbowl.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Copy Queen

My new sweet gig includes two chunks of time that were described as "Just help out where you might be needed". This translates to run copies. Lots of copies. Copies of everything. Back-to-back, collate, staple and deliver. 25 of this. 48 of these. 20 of these but only the last 10 need this extra page. It's an endless parade of post-its stuck to loose pages and book covers.

Contrary to how that sounds, running copies is no big deal to me. I get to look busy while actually doing nothing. Everyone in the building comes wandering though and I get to have short, but lovely conversations with them. There's a nice view out the window. No, running copies doesn't suck at all.

Unless the machines are acting wonky. Then it gets ugly. Monday was ugly.

A teacher needed 30 copies of set run off before the end of the day. I headed off to the room where the two main copiers keep court. The first one was blinking "Mishandled Paper". The one next to it was blinking the same thing. Time was short, so I shot off to the other machine on the other side of the building. "Mishandled Paper" blinked and blinked. Ugh!

Several years ago I asked an aide at to teach me how to unjam the machines since every school has the exact same model. "Jams are easy to fix," she explained as showed me the various doors and trays. "They just take patience. But if you ever have a little man with a sad face show up on this screen then the situation is really serious and we have to call in the service tech."

I rolled up my sleeves and started following the on screen instructions for fixing the jam. There was paper stuck in every crevasse and roller in there. Waded up, accordion folded and ripped in two. It was a disaster. But I prevailed and successfully ran the sets.

Since I already had inky fingertips, I decided to be the school hero and unjam the other two machines. Neither of them were in quite as bad shape. I should have just stayed and fixed one of them to begin with. Anyway, a few minutes later both were happily churning out work.

This morning I found an extremely agitated teacher in the copy room. "I can get ten or twelve pages to run and then it jams again. This is taking forever!" He pulled out a sheet of paper folded like origami from depths of the parts and slammed the doors of machine shut. As I was walking out I heard him yell, "What the hell is this little frowny guy?"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Zombie Paradise

This little zombie-sitter has fallen ass-backward into the best gig I've ever had. Five weeks of being a tutor to small groups of zombies to prepare them for the state test.

Now I am not a big fan of standardized testing. Anyone who has had to witness the transformation of good teachers into test prep robots would agree that high risk tests are detrimental to learning. Once I had a teacher (whom I never had much respect for) tell me that their class wouldn't be doing any writing during the year because there wouldn't be a writing component on the test. "Why should I waste my time?", this monster in a teacher suit asked me. I wanted to scream and scream and scream. The quality of education plummets while kids are prepared for the test. Textbooks gather dust while the practice booklets are whipped out one after the other. Test, test, test is all these poor zombies hear about for months on end. It's so sad to see them ground down into just pencil wielding statistics instead of the little individual zombies that they are.

Ack! This isn't where I wanted to go with this. I was talking about my cool new assignment. I will be working with small groups of zombies who have been identified as being "on the bubble." Any of these kids could pass the test, but they could just as easily fail. They are right on the edge of grasping the skills and learning needed to push them over the top. They also possess plenty of school is stupid attitude and general goofiness which could bring them up short. Bubble kids could pass IF they got enough sleep, had a good breakfast, their pencil isn't too shiny, a firetruck doesn't pass by the window, their underwear doesn't feel itchy, they didn't watch anything too funny on TV last night AND the kid beside him doesn't tap his pencil while he's thinking. If all the stars are aligned, then the bubbles just might squeak out a passing score.

My job is meet with the bubbles and attempt to cram a tiny bit more information in their wee little heads. I've been on the job for a week and resistance has been strong.

Fortunately for the three of you, I will have plenty of funny zombie stories instead of miserable ones because this job is in my favorite school. These are likable zombies.

Here's your first story. This group was actually kids who are not even at bubble status. I have them, I think, just so their regular teacher can get some things done while they are out of the room. They are low, low, low. We were doing math story problems. One went like this:

You have an object that weighs 30 ounces. You know that one pound equals sixteen ounces. What could your object be?
a) a banana
b) a third grader
c) a five pound bag of potatoes
d) a quart of milk

Right away I could see that this problem was WAY too difficult for these guys. The four of them just sat there staring at the paper, pencils unmoving. On the board I wrote:

one pound = 16 oz.
two pounds = ____

"How can we figure out how many ounces are in two pounds?" I asked. There faces now were pointed blankly at the board. One girl scowled at it. "Okay, I want you take your best guess at this. Get rid of the choices that couldn't be right. Narrow it down."

All four of them choose the five pound bag of potatoes as the correct answer.

The next few minutes involved me trying, in every way I could think of, to explain the concept of doubling. I drew pictures. I gave them things to hold. They just couldn't get their heads around it. It was the weight thing that was throwing them off. It was the number 16. It was that they just didn't care. I was just about to throw in the towel when one of the zombies face lit up. On her paper I saw that she had actually written 16 twice. She smiled at me. "I got it!" She was beaming.

"Cool! So how many ounces are in two pounds?"


Monday, March 09, 2009

Who Shouldn't be Watching the Watchman

Where to start?

Let's start nice. No comic book movie has ever been so faithful to its source. The scenes set in the movie were more often than not exact replications of frames from the graphic novel. I deeply appreciate the effort they through to stay true to the style and mood of the book. This movie was a labor of love in its details.

Okay, no more nice. This movie is rated R for every single reason a movie could be rated R. There's graphic violence and language. Blood, gore, bones, effing this and effing that. The movie is set in 1985 and features an 80's-esque just-this-side-of-soft-core-porn sex scene. Dr. Manhattan floats around the majority of the movie blue, glowing and very, very naked. Well hung naked at that.

All that said, I still liked the movie. I'm curious to talk to someone who hasn't read the book to see if they could follow the story. My kids are annoyed that we won't let them see it, but almost 14 is not old enough for this movie. We had to sit in the theater with plenty of parents with little kids. I thought they would be bolting for the door as soon as things starting gritty, but no one left. Those kids saw and heard it all. They are right up there with the parents of all these kids. What in the WORLD is going on here?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Marco's Favorite Toy


There's no great way to write the noise that we make with empty cardboard tubes around here. Doot-doo-Doo! will have to be close enough.

Over the years we've spent a fair amount of money on squeakies, balls and pull toys for Marco. But none of those compare with how much he loves to rip and destroy empty cardboard tubes. When we get to the end of the paper towels, we take the tube and trumpet Doot-doo-Doo! through it. Marco will come tearing in from where ever he's sleeping to find it. Tremendous scampering and barking continues until we finally give him the tube and he runs away with it to teach it a lesson.

An average paper towel roll lasts about a minute before it's in pieces. The center tube from foil or plastic wrap takes a few minutes longer. The inside of gift wrap is gone in moments. But a few days ago, Marco received the granddaddy of all cardboard tubes. My mom brought it over from Subway. This tube was so tough that it took Marco an entire day to destroy!

I don't know about you, but looking at him chewing on cardboard makes my teeth feel funny. And not in a HA HA way.

The mess he made with this tube was huge but it was worth it to see him so happy and busy.

In the end this was all that was left.

Final Score (in overtime):
Marco: 1
Tube: 0

Monday, March 02, 2009

Mall Lock-In 2009

My head is still a bit foggy from this weekend's Mall Lock-In. This was our fifth year to attend a Lock-In, which is a 12 hour long event. The first two years were at our own mall here in town. The last three have been out at the giant mall in Strongsville. The Strongsville mall is better for all kinds of reasons. It has a multiplex movie theater, indoor glow-in-the-dark mini golf and enough space for giant inflatable toys to bounce on and slide down. Plus there's a Panera Bread open all night. My tongue is still burnt from my extra hot soup that just wouldn't cool down.

This year's Lock-In had the biggest crowd yet. 2,000 girls and 700 adults.
A little frightening, isn't it?

Once you get to the mall you have to pick out a camp site to park all of your stuff. We had a cherry place picked out by the escalators in a little corner. We had just set up all our chairs and blankets when a security guard shooed us out. He had some lame excuse that we had set up in the lane they were reserving so non lock-in theater goers could get out of the mall. We lugged everything down to the entrance to the Indians Team shop and parked it there. Not long after that we noticed that another troop had set-up in the spot we got bumped from and they had pitched a tent, a real tent, in that spot!
The Girl is still not much for having her picture taken.You can't hear a thing on your phone at a Lock-In. It's just way too noisy everywhere you go. Texting is the only way to communicate. Here's one of my girls yelling "What? WHAT?"

And big girls know that when there's nothing left to do you go to sleep.