Thursday, May 28, 2009

What My Children Are Reading

The Well-Read Child has started a new weekly meme: What Our Children Are Reading. I figured I'd hop on the bandwagon.

Sophie (almost 10 years old) is reading Landry News, by Andrew Clement. I have to sit down and read Clement's books myself. I read the summaries and I like Clement's themes of children's creativity and empowerment.

At school she is reading Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan with her reading group.

Eric (almost 7 years old) is reading the Peanuts collection at night with his dad. He also is reading through the Magic Tree House series. Eric's reading habits are interesting. He'll often see the book somewhere (floor, kitchen table, couch), open it and start reading it wherever he is until he finishes it. He has been making a list of the Magic Tree House books he has read. He has a paper where he's written all the ones he has read on one side and all the ones he hasn't on the other. I think he erases a title and writes it on the right side when he finishes a book.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer Plans and Goals

Today begins my first day of summer vacation. Ironically, I am going to the office today to give a student a makeup exam, but really I will just be cleaning out my office and getting my papers in order. I coordinate the administration of the writing assessment, and at the end of every term I get to throw away the essays that are a year old. I also was able to donate several old textbooks to a Liberian student who plans to ship them to his home country. (We have parasitical textbook buyers who prowl our halls asking if we have any books to sell back, but I always feel that's wrong to do since I am usually given those books by textbook publishers.) So I should be able to clean out a year's worth of academic detritus from my office today.

I am also teaching in July. However, it is our developmental writing course, which runs for 8 2.5-hour classes on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. A quick look at my roster shows 18 students, none of whom I know (many former students tend to seek me out, but not this term). I do see quite a number of international students, which means I need to brush up on my ESL teaching strategies.

Today also brings the first day of my husband's workplace's summer hours. He works 8 to 4 in the summer, which means he is home between 4:30 and 5 most days, either because he bikes or dawdles. :) (It's really a 15 minute drive door to door.) But summer vacation also means that I take on the primary childcare duties, getting the kids to school or camp and, usually, picking them up. I also do the doctor's appointments and dentist appointments and anything else that comes up.

This is the part I hate, especially regarding my son. Recently, I turned over all allergy management to my husband for a few reasons. First, he tends to administer nebulizer treatments for asthma during their bedtime routine. Second, he also has allergies/respiratory issues, so it's something he understands better than I do. If I have the sniffles for more than a day, I'm a wreck. K and E deal with sniffles constantly in their lives. But also, my husband was asking me questions all the time, questions I couldn't answer, and he kept questioning the treatment options. Finally I said YOU GO, THEN. So even though he has to take time off work, he does it, and we're all happier.

My big project for the summer is to increase my measures of social cohesion (I've been reading this. I've lived here in CorruptSmallTown for 6 years. I know a bunch of people, but I don't really have a strong sense of community yet. I'm going to increase my volunteering this summer, not only to give back to the community, but to try to build some ties with people who care about the same things I do. I'll be volunteering in CorruptEasternCity as well. Maybe this will be the year I make a few new friends. I like my current friends, but I seem to need more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


It's hard to explain how I feel about laptops in the classroom. Timothy Burke has a post on the issue, and I replied in the comment thread a little, but my feelings on the issue are more complex than can be explained in comments.

I allowed laptops in the classroom at first. Then I discovered that Michael, who had a laptop, was sitting in the back row watching movies while I was teaching about literature. So I banned them for several years.

In the meantime, I started using the computer in the classroom more and more. During group work, I opened up a browser and welcomed students to come to the computer to look things up. As I moved from group to group, they'd ask questions, and I started turning on the projector and answering them, or showing clips (some of my students had never heard of John Wayne before! How am I supposed to discuss ideas about masculinity in the 1940s in relation to Death of a Salesman if they don't know who the 40s male icons are?). I show YouTube clips and bring up websites. I make all my appointments using Google Calendar. I let people use the Dictionary app on my iPod Touch (or on their own Touches). I used a Ning in my lit class to collect images, video clips, and even a map of Pershing Square from when I taught Chester Himes' "Lunching at the Ritzmore." I wanted them to see where the drifter, student, and black man were walking around, followed by the crowd and the police officer.

At a certain point, students in one class got so comfortable with me that they understood that I hated the texting but didn't mind additional info being raised, so Derek started using his smartphone for research during class discussions. He was pretty fast, and the other students didn't mind because it meant he was talking just a little bit less while researching. :)

We want our students not to be merely receptacles of information we give them in class, of course. We want them to be engaged. When I am exposed to new information, my brain explodes in really productive ways, and the energy transfer results in the generation of new knowledge. But sometimes that process is antithetical to the process of the classroom, which must be governed by a kind of consensus. One student can't run off on a tangent that, while educating him or her, may not benefit the rest of the class.

I find those opposed to bans on laptops in the classroom to be pedagogically teacher-centered, which may seem paradoxical, but hear (read?) me out. Deep in my heart, I don't care if students are texting or reading Facebook or doodling or daydreaming or even sleeping. When I'm in the groove of a discussion, and I have enough feedback from some students, I don't care what the others are doing. It's easier sometimes not to have to monitor the classroom for distracted students. I don't notice a lot of the distracted behaviors, in fact, unless I'm looking for them.

I only started to care about the texting etc. when students told me they didn't like it when other students did it. They told me that they thought other students who texted (or read Facebook or passed notes or slept) were disrespectful. And I realized that I am not the only person in the classroom. :) I know that sounds strange, but I hadn't thought about the impact of distracted students on other students. They resent those who are not paying attention. They are distracted by them. They breathe a sigh of relief when I call them out for talking to each other in class, because usually, at least one member of the pair didn't want to be rude and tell the instigator to be quiet. They want me to create a classroom environment that values learning, and they want not to be tempted by easy access to distractions.

I don't want to be their mother, so what I've started to do is explain the origin of my classroom "rules" I present each one as a problem. I validate the need of some people to behave in certain ways (getting up to use the bathroom; answering an important text) and the concerns of students who get distracted and bothered by other students' behaviors. In a way, I have to model for them (my students are usually first-year students) effective ways to express disapproval of distracting behaviors and control the classroom environment without having negative conflicts. Having been in a high school environment where the teacher is the enemy, they have to learn how to become partners with the college professor.

I'm almost done with the academic year and am thinking about next year. I have a community service project on social media that my fall class will be working on. However, I will ban latops at first. Then when we start the social media project, I'll raise the issue with the students and explain my reasons for banning laptops. I expect them to start connecting the dots and understanding that there is more to laptops/smartphones than just Facebook and texting. And that lesson may be more important than anything else I do in the class. We'll see.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tweeter and the Monkey Man

Saturday morning we packed up the car with enough clothes for one night, and we headed to the Lakes region of New Hampshire. Our plan was to visit the dog we are planning to adopt (he's undergoing some medical treatment - he's a rescue dog - and we won't be able to pick him up till the first week in June. But I figured we could make a little overnight trip out of it.

The Lakes region in NH in the spring is characterized by emptiness and blackflies. All the tourism brochures tout the beauties of the fall, the winter sports of the winter, and the fun of summer on the lake. Nothing about spring. I read somewhere it's called "Maple and Mud" season. Mm-hm.

After we visited the dog, we checked into our hotel, right on Lake Winnepesaukee, and immediately headed for the indoor pool, leading my daughter to pronounce this the "best hotel ever." Afterwards, we went to Friendly's, which I had promised my children. And on the way back, we stopped at Funspot, a famous local indoor arcade. I could play skee ball all day, but the kids were restless and wanted to bowl and play mini-golf. Sophie also played Pac-Man, which of course reminded us of this:

The next morning, we breakfasted and then scrapped our plans to go to the Squam Lake Nature Center because it was cold and windy. Instead, we went to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord. How anyone stays awake during those planetarium show, I have no idea. I got in a nice half-hour nap.

We returned home to find our yard robin celebrating mother's day with the hatching of 3 of her eggs:

The fourth one hatched overnight, but I was in a rush to get to my last 7 am class until September and couldn't pause to get a new photo.

And finally, the subject header of the post. Very often, we bring an iPod on car trips and end up listening to the kids' music. This time, I decided that it was mother's day and I should be able to listen to my music. My kids don't really get exposed to my favorite songs the way I was to my parents' music. I remember growing up listening to Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, doo-wop, and 45s like "Hooked on a Feeling." So I made the kids listen to Stevie Nicks, "Gold" by John Stewart, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and Tweeter and the Monkey Man.

Now, what does Dylan have against Springsteen? Online sites claim it's a playful homage, but I can't help feeling a note of mockery. Maybe Dylan was resenting the fact that his son was obviously modeling himself after Springsteen:

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Watching videos

I'm fascinated by what my children find interesting.

Every night, my daughter and I settle in my bed for our bedtime routine with the laptop. We read all the websites in the LOLCats franchise, then we check out the videos on, which bills itself as featuring the best videos on the Internet. And you know what? It does have many great videos on a variety of topics. I get a little tired of the manic Japanese game show clips, though a few can be funny, and he's overdoing it with the Britain's Got talent clips, but we see a lot of interesting stuff about animals, people, and machines. Very often, watching the clips leads my daughter and me to have conversations about life and human nature. She loves videos about card tricks, magic tricks, and hidden cameras where people are put in difficult interpersonal situations (i.e., watching a clerk act in a racist manner towards another customer), and we can see how they respond.

Here are a few we've watched recently:

Pranking people with water. Some of the pranks were funny, but Sophie was quick to identify when they started to go a little too far, like in the last prank when the man was being honored, and then he was pranked. She said, "He felt proud, but then he fell in the water and felt the opposite of proud."

Film about oxygen's relationships with other molecules. Sophie loved this so much we went looking for more examples. Unfortunately, it was a senior project aka one-time-thing.

Ping pong ball tricks. Sophie claims to have been bored, but Eric (whom we showed it to the next night) loved it. I was impressed.

Mythbusters on the Giant Lego Ball. Another one we showed to Eric. We all love Legos in our family, so it was very interesting to the kids, especially when ... well, when they busted the myth. Watch it. :)

Parasitic wasp controls caterpillar. The day after I saw this, I read an article about how a disease we get from cats can make humans more neurotic, and it made me wonder about the issue this clip raises: can parasitic beings control the minds/actions of the organisms they inhabit and what are the implications of this?

Bystanders help baby squirrel climb wall. I like to show examples of people being kind, especially to animals.

Pregnant woman song. I was never like this, I swear!

Monday, May 04, 2009


Classes have been canceled at my university today due to 3 suspected swine flu cases. I'm on campus now, and the silence is kind of eerie. I seem to be the only person in my department to come to campus! It may be that I got here early; I hear the door opening now and then, but no one has walked by.

I tried to get a committee I'm on to reschedule our Friday meeting for today, but only one person answered my e-mail. I don't get it--we all expected to come in today. Why not use the day productively to get this report finished and out of our hair?

Oh well. I can get a lot crossed off my To Do List.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

April is the cruelest month

I last posted on March 30. Huh.

Work was a bit overwhelming in April. We always have tons of meetings and end-of-year activities in April. The month concluded with a presentation on my community service-learning experience given before the college president, provost, and a few VPs. No stress there.

Now my university is closed for the weekend because of we have a case of swine flu. The PTB will review the situation on Sunday night to see if we will reopen.

I understand logically that as a new mutation of a virus, the swine flu must be carefully monitored and dealt with. But emotionally, I can't bring myself to care very much. My family is healthy; we live in a fairly healthy state. My son has asthma and would probably be negatively affected, but there are any number of respiratory viruses that can affect him, and winter/flu season is always a risky time for us.

The crazy selfish part of me secretly hopes the university will close for the next 3 weeks, and when we're all allowed back, it'll be commencement time and then summer vacation. :) Yeah, I think I'm ready for summer in a big way.

On Tuesday morning, my daughter discovered a nest of robin's eggs in the rhodedendron next to our side door. A search of Google says they will hatch in about 2 weeks, so long as squirrels or blue jays don't attack them. I see it as my responsibility for the next 2 weeks to keep the squirrels distracted. They have figured out how to get around my baffle and open up the bird feeder and help themselves. I'll let them do this for the next two weeks, until the eggs hatch.