Saturday, August 27, 2011

Waiting for the hurricane

I felt the title was appropriate since our NC community usually gets the tails of hurricanes, and, right now, we are getting an increase in humidity, clouds, and wind.  It also fits the beginning of the school year.  It's the first Saturday after the return of the students, and I am so glad to have the weekend off because I need the chance to rest and review for next week.

After 17 years in the profession and 10 years at my current school, I have very few problems with student behavior.  (I just wish sometimes that politicians and people-concerned-with-education knew how few of the first ten responsibilities of a public school teacher have to do with actually helping students learn.  They deal mostly with managing student behavior at all times and in all situations on the school property.)  Since part of my responsibility, training, and interest lie in using technology to help teachers teach and students learn, I am always adding technology to my lessons.  Currently, I am in year two of trying out Moodle with the intent of switching to it or some other LMS (Learning Management System) next year.  This year all but my AP CS classes will have internet assignments through the school's Moodle test system.  In addition, my math students will also be using the Khan Academy as part of their learning and practice process.

So I spent part of the week helping my math students start using our Moodle system and getting set up with the Khan Academy.  Yesterday, to get as many students ready to go further on these systems, we were in the general computer lab.  I felt like we were the shakedown crew because my classes were the first ones to use said lab this school year.  We kept on running into software problems, but at least the computer technology coordinator and I learned some important lessons for next year.  My poor students in all my classes get to be guinea pigs for almost all new general educational technology for the school.  I think they feel it's a badge of honor to be the first to try things.  They certainly end up with several stories to pass on to their friends.  Last year, my Intro CS class used Moodle all year, so each quarter they each had an extra project grade to compensate for being first in using Moodle at the school.  I believed that part of their learning was the input they gave us in using said system and in tolerating problems well I had with the system until I learned it better.  This year there will be no extra grades for using these systems.  They will, however, lose grades if they don't use the systems and do their work on time.  Obviously, I am not concerned with my students liking me personally; I just want them to learn.

While keeping up with lessons and help for the 4 subjects I teach this year, I am also trying to finish helping other teachers get their homework websites up to date on syllabi.  This school is the only one in which I've been required to have a syllabus for each subject area.  Syllabi are mostly used in college, not high school, but we are a college-prep school, so it makes sense.  It also makes it easier for the parents to know what their children should be learning and what the teacher's requirements and expectations are.

There is one new habit I want to have this year.  I want to carry my planning book with me always and everywhere so that I keep up with all my lessons and all my other duties plus having the school's calendar items in one place.  I mean to carry it with me because I teach using my classroom upstairs and 2 different computer labs downstairs, not to mention faculty meetings and parent-teacher conferences.  I have always had a poor short-term memory, so note-taking is one of my talents.  The problem lies with the fact that I don't always put my notes where I can use them; hence, the need for carrying my planning book with me and keeping my notes in it.  Wish me luck.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Last day of summer "vacation"

Tomorrow starts a week of pre-school teacher workdays, so today I am trying to finish as much of the kitchen ceiling as possible.  The hardest pieces of cutting and fitting are done, i.e. the pieces that go around the ceiling lights.  It looks pretty good even though we have some caulking to dissolve from a mistake I made.  I have 4 more tiles ready to go up when my son is ready to help me.  Then over half of the ceiling is finished.  I'd like to get 4 more tiles up before the day is through, but that's iffy.

I have learned one thing that I would change if I were to do this again.  I would not select tiles that require 2 people to glue up.  The tiles would be either 1 foot by 1 foot or 2 feet by 2 feet, not 2 feet by 4 feet.  Since my husband's not been well, I need my son's help, and he, like my husband, does not share my daily circadian cycle.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thanks, Dad.

This is a story of something I learned from my father that still has value.

When I was in college, my husband John and I owned a Hoover apartment washing machine and dryer set.  The washer had 2 main parts:  the washing section with the side rotator for agitating the clothes, and the smaller bucket that rinsed and spun out the water from the clothes.  The user did have to stand by the washer while it worked, but it was better than taking the clothes to a laundry since we had no car for 2 years.

At some point, the turn-switch for the washing side no longer moved.  We had to time the wash cycle which was a hassle.  I determined that since it was a mechanical tool, there had to be a logical fix to it.  Hence, I took the washer apart by removing its back and looked at everything there was to see.  I could not see anything that looked broken, so I called my father and explained my dilemma.  He said that it sounded like the timer needed oil and told me how to do that.  In the meantime, John who had been at work returned home to see the washer in pieces.  They were big pieces, but they were still pieces to his eye.  He was shocked and asked me what happened.  I told him that I was determined to fix the problem and put it back together.  He went to take a nap with serious doubts about my ability to put together that which I tore apart.  Following my dad's instructions, I oiled the timer, tested it to discover that it now worked, and returned the washer to its complete state, i.e. I undid what I had done.  John awoke to no more problem and was very pleased and relieved.

It has been more than 30 years since that experience and 14 years since my father's death.  We now have a portable dishwasher that the turn-switch suddenly quit working on the drying cycle.  John woke me up at night to lament that it was broken, and in the back of my mind was the thought that the timer might need oiled.  He said that he turned it off and would try it out with a new load just in case it was a glitch in the system.  Okay.  Back to sleep.  When he tried it out 2 days later (we rarely have a full load in 1 day), it turned on but did not move.  With the memory of my father's help so many years ago, I pulled out the turn-switch knob and oiled the timer.  It has worked well since then.  Thanks, Dad.