30 April 2010

rocket woman

I'm an astronaut...almost! Today, I had the most amazing opportunity of going on a zero gravity flight. It was absolutely incredible! Totally unlike anything I have ever experienced before or will ever experience again, probably. Because it was so completely different from anything else I've ever felt, it's pretty hard to describe, but I guess the closest thing would be like floating on top of jets of water, or being yanked up by many cords, entirely supported by something else, except without feeling any pressure from any direction. It was sort of like jumping really high on a trampoline or from a diving board, with the periods of weightlessness lasting about 35 seconds instead of 1-2 seconds.

So how did this all come about? The Northrop Grumman Foundation sponsors a program called Weightless Flights of Discovery, to put middle school science and math teachers on these zero gravity flights with the Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G). The goal of the Weightless Flights of Discovery program is to give science and math teachers an unforgettable experience that they can take back to their classrooms and show their students to inspire the next generation to go into careers in science and technology. There are about six flights every year, and one of them happened to be in my region. When I got the e-mail from my principal telling me about the flight, I couldn't complete the application fast enough!

To create a zero gravity environment, a modified Boeing 727 goes through a normal take-off, flies to a designated airspace (ours was over the Gulf of Mexico), and then begins to fly parabolas in the air, diving down at a 45-degree angle for about 10,000 feet and then climbing up the same way. As the plane climbs, you feel almost twice as heavy as you actually are, and as it dives...you become weightless!

My students were so pumped about my going on this flight! I even got a few phone calls yesterday morning from students reminding me to take pictures and videos of the flight. In the weeks leading up to the flight, we talked a lot about different experiments that my team and I could do on board, and about different careers that my students can go into related to science and technology. A bunch of them now want to be astronauts or to design space exploration vehicles. At a training before the flight, I received some great classroom resources that were really helpful for learning about science and technology careers.

At the Mission Briefing before the flight:

When I arrived at the flight venue, I felt a little like a celebrity with all the media that was around filming and photographing what was happening and doing interviews with some of the teachers who were going on the flight.

My experiment team in front of G-Force One:

They were an awesome group to work with! By the way, the flight suits are pretty fetching, don't you think?

Waiting for zero gravity to begin in the padded "floating lounge":

One of our in-flight experiments:

The slinky would stretch out and compress relative to how much gravity we were experiencing as the plane flew its parabolas in the air. It was really cool to watch! Another one of our experiments was comparing how quickly the liquid layers in a density column would separate at different gravities. We also built a robot that threw a paper airplane, which then floated around during the whole zero gravity period. By we, I mean the two members of my team who actually know how to do that kind of thing.

We're flying!

I meant to take more pictures during the zero gravity periods, but I was so disoriented with all the wild floating around that it was all I could do to keep from crashing into other people! I did manage to do a bunch of flips and to "walk" across the ceiling, though.

Waiting excitedly on the floor for the last zero gravity period:

Even though the zero gravity periods seemed to last quite a while, the flight seemed to go by in an instant. After the flight, we returned to the flight venue for a re-gravitation ceremony. Overall, it was a totally mind-blowing experience! Even now, I still feel the sensation of going up and down through the different gravities when I'm still. I'm so excited to share the experience with my students and to show them how cool science is!

To see some videos of the flight experience (and to learn how to get on a future flight!) check out the links below:

http://www.northropgrumman.com/goweightless/ (about halfway down there's a short video about the program)

29 April 2010

high stakes

My kiddos did it! All day Tuesday and all day Wednesday they read, underlined, problem-solved, highlighted, reasoned, and multiplied their way to awesome results (I hope!) on their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) in reading and math. What did I do all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday? Basically, I put on my most schoolmarm-ish look and patrolled the room to make sure no students were talking to each other or looking at other students' tests. Oh, and let me not forget all the kleenex- and sharpened-pencil schlepping I did. I certainly earned my money this week!

For a task full of such drudgery, the topic of testing can sure fire up a room. Because I teach in Texas, the state that some people consider to be the stomping grounds for high-stakes testing legislation such as No Child Left Behind, I feel caught smack against that heat source at times.

Although I have mixed feelings about how high-stakes testing can play out, and even though administering tests can get pretty tedious, I appreciate the chance to watch how my students buckle down on these big days. Every year, as I pace through the rows of desks, I am so impressed by my students' intense focus on these days, and have extra time to reflect on their incredible effort throughout the year.

More importantly, I think that high-stakes testing provides a necessary source of accountability for, and within, schools. For far too long, students like mine were shut out of life's opportunities because no one was held accountable for their learning. Because they are the pobrecitos del ranchito [poor little kids from the ranch], excuses were made for their falling farther and farther behind.

I say, give them the chance to prove how smart they are. They agree. We all know they'll rock it out.

Image via.

27 April 2010

4 minutes of glee

Glee is one of my favorite shows right now. Sure, maybe it's not a completely realistic look at today's American high school, but I think most of us could use some more beautiful harmonies and perfectly choreographed dance numbers during the school day. I'd be fine without all the crazy drama they seem to have going on, though. Last week's episode showcased the "Power of Madonna," and it was probably my favorite episode yet. Obviously, there were tons of great song and dance numbers--I mean, come on, it's Madonna--and beyond that, there were some killer bad hair jokes flying between rivals Will Shuster and Sue Sylvester. For a snapshot of the episode, click on the link below. Enjoy!

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26 April 2010


Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills time (that's TAKS time to those in the know) is finally here! Tomorrow my kiddos will take their state math exam, followed by the reading exam on Wednesday. The little guys have been working so hard, and the math and reading teachers on my team are awesome, so I'm not worried, but rather am filled with a restless anticipation. One of my friends from college is an accountant, and we like to joke that we both have tax season at around the same time...just a different kind of TAKS! This year is the first one I haven't taught a TAKS-tested subject, so I feel less stressed, and at the same time, a little less in the know, than I have in years past. But I know everyone will rock it out.

Just the same...keep your fingers crossed for us over the next few days!

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25 April 2010

somebody call 9-1-1!

Each Monday afternoon I go to a grade level leaders meeting after school. A few weeks ago when I got back to my classroom after my meeting, I checked my school phone and discovered that I had 48 missed calls. 48 missed calls?! Mind you, I had been away from my phone for only a little over an hour. I looked over the homework assignment to see if there was something particularly challenging or confusing about it, thinking that might be why I had so many missed calls, but couldn't find anything. I decided to check the missed calls list, and found that 47 of the 48 missed calls were from the same number! I called the mystery number, only to have it ring and ring with no response. At that point, I became worried, thinking maybe one of my students had something horrible happen.

About an hour later, the phone rang again.

"Fiiiiii-nally!" my student, Ivan, said in his high, Steve Urkel-ish voice.
"Ivan? Is that you? What's wrong?" I asked, in a panic.
"Miss, what sentences am I supposed to write?"

At my school, when students don't meet behavioral expectations, they are assigned sentences to write related to their particular infraction. If they do not bring the sentences the next day, they receive behavioral detention. I'm not sure how effective the system is, as I know of many students who seem to think writing sentences is fun, and even write sentences in anticipation of being assigned them later on. Nevertheless, that is our system.

"I-VAN! you called me 47 times to ask me what sentences you have to write?!"
"Well, it was an emeeeergency, and I didn't want detention!" he whined.

At least he's thorough.

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21 April 2010

dear misses r

Every week, my students and I go on a virtual college tour to get an idea of what life is like at different universities around the country. We started off visiting Cornell University, because that's where I went and I knew how to access the online tour. When we "arrived" on campus, I realized that there is a cool live-view video camera that can zoom in on a particular spot on the main plaza, where students can go and wave to their parents or anyone else. This camera view is called the "Hi, Mom!" view. Since my mom works at Cornell, I thought it would be neat for the kids to see her waving to them during the tour. My mom and I worked out a waving schedule for a few days after the first tour. When she showed up at the time we had decided on, she was carrying a huge sign that read, "Hello students! Work hard, and YOU could be right here!"

How awesome!

Everyone was pretty excited about this, but one student, Eugene, went nuts. He was so excited about the tour, the video camera spot, and especially, the sign. "Aw, that's so nice...Your mom is SO COOL!" he kept exclaiming. During the next class period, when I went to check on how his homeroom was behaving with the substitute next door, he said he was finished with his work, and asked if he could write a letter to someone. Of course I said yes.

About fifteen minutes later, he came back to my classroom to give me the letter--only, instead of being addressed to me, it was for my mom!

It said:

Dear, Misses R

Thank you for making the sign for us. I really apprieciated it coming from someone that I care about. I know you are real busy but, remember that your daughter and me love you.

Eugene [Insert grand, flourishy signature here]

Emily Post would definitely approve!

02 April 2010

mariah carey and treasure trolls

I love decorating my classroom with kitschy knick-knacks around holidays. December is a prime time for these things to appear around the place. Earlier this year, I put a baby elf Treasure Troll on my overhead projector cart in honor of the season. This doll was wearing a mini diaper and a Santa hat on top of its flowing mane of mint-green hair. One of my students asked me if he could play with the monito [little toy]. I replied that he could, as long as he was still paying attention, and gave him the troll. I should mention here that this friend is one of my most amusing students. He looks just like a Kewpie doll and is constantly saying the wackiest things. Sometimes I can't even stand how cute he is.

After introducing the independent practice activity, I began circulating around the room to check on my students' progress. As I walked around, I heard low musical tones coming from somewhere in the room, but couldn't tell exactly where they were coming from. The girl who sits across the table from Kewpie Kid raised her hand with a question. When I went to help her, I realized that the quiet music I had noticed earlier was Kewpie Kid singing softly to the troll. I bent closer to him, trying not to let him know what I was doing, and saw that Kewpie Kid was wrapping the troll's hair around and around its stomach, singing Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body" to the little toy.

At this point, I felt the laughter bubbling up but tried to suppress it. After all, I didn't want to embarrass Kewpie Kid. But I couldn't help asking him if he was, in fact, singing "Touch My Body" to the troll. Kewpie Kid looked up, startled, and exclaimed, "No! Well, maybe...Ok...yes, miss," with a little half-grin on his face. I looked at another girl who sits at Kewpie Kid's table, and the three of us burst out laughing and laughing.

To think I almost threw away that troll last year!

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01 April 2010

our stories

I thought everyone had left for the long Easter weekend. I must say how much I love Easter. The timing of this holiday, more than any other, I think, is simply perfect. Growing up in upstate New York, I was always so excited to see little daffodils and crocuses poking up from the ground, and to smell the damp earth getting ready for full-fledged spring at this time of year.


As I walked to my portable, I was hit by a strong aroma of onions and peppers cooking and by the realization that I was not alone on campus. My colleague Melanie had stayed to hold Cooking Club with several students. Because my classroom is directly across from the cafeteria and is equipped with tables rather than desks, one of my homeroom students came to ask if the club members could eat their creations in my room. I always welcome free food, so I was thrilled to have them there.

After the students finished eating and departed on the late bus, Melanie and I lingered for a while, talking about all kinds of different things. Will all of our students graduate from college? Will they make it through high school without experiencing a teen pregnancy? Will we ever see an end to the poverty in this region where we live and work? Does the work we do really make a difference? At times, I grow disheartened thinking about how hidden the answers to these questions seem to be. At these times, I feel bogged down by the day-to-day realities and logistics that go into trying to find the answers.

And then a student passes her big test after months of not passing any tests. And another student will say that he doesn't like Mondays--because Mondays are shorter so we don't have as much time for experiments. At these times, I remember why I love teaching so much. During the harder times, I like to bring up these after school special-ish stories to remind myself of the joy that comes so often with this job. And I love to share these stories with others.

Lately, I've become more interested than ever in learning people's stories. The kind of stories that you discover on Talents Sunday at church when you learn that the man who has sat in the pew behind yours for two years played professional baseball for a while before returning home to run the family onion farm. Or the kind that you learn when you find out your neighbor is weaving a tapestry from yarn she spun out of the wool from sheep she raised and sheared and dyed with flowers and berries.

Although my students' stories are not completely written yet--actually, I hope they never will be--all my recent interest in stories has led me to wonder: who will tell their stories? Some of their stories are profound, and some of them are simply amusing, but I believe all of them are touching in some way. Here, I hope to capture my students' stories, and perhaps even become a part of some of them, as so many of them have become part of my story.