Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Carnival Time!

Welcome to the 173rd edition of the Carnival of Education!


We're in for a treat folks, because we've all been invited to the traditional end of the year luncheon held at The School. Well, actually, it's held at a restaurant because our wonderful student council managed to raise enough money to feed us well in a non-institutional setting. Gotta love it. In any case, we have a big crowd here today (could it be the free food), so let's listen in...Oh, and the dessert table is awesome!

The Science Goddess treats us all to a discussion on science and literacy. She's right, it is a Catch-22...

S. Lee raises some interesting points about how we learn language and comments that Learning by Ear is Easy.....well, not quite. She follows that up with a related discussion on Building a Genius Baby.....One Language at a Time.

avoiceinthewilderness voices her dismay over advertising within a Big Deal Government Mandated Test in Treading on Sacred Ground posted at The Chancellor's New Clothes. She questions the trend towards Product placement and advertising in education. I question that as well.

IB a Math Teacher can't get it all done in an hour, and face it, who can? He wonders aloud about Teaching Hours - International Comparison posted at 3σ → Left.

Jose takes a stand with You Just Might Find You Get What You Need posted at The Jose Vilson, which is a letter to a student who may not understand why he's not going on a trip. Gotta earn it, kiddo.

Ms. Cornelius shakes her head in amazement as she explains, Now THAT'S Good Teachin'! posted at A Shrewdness of Apes, saying, "a phantom student at a high school gets passing grades and tardies-- even though he's living in another state!"

Bob O'Hara is making us all think as he carries out two conversations at once. First, we have University as Factory: Taylorism and Fordism Redux. Following that we have The Global War on Taylorism. The big question? Are universities a factory and education the product, or should a school have a more personal connection to the students?

Dana is looking for help with It's a Good Thing Caesar's Dead Already posted at Epic Adventures Are Often Uncomfortable. She needs your ideas on teaching a unit on Julius Caesar. Help her out as she's afraid she's going to murder this unit. (And it's not even March.)

Sarah Weisz presents ACT Prep - Too much, too late, posted at Teaching Excellence Network.

Robert is sharing his A Memo to Wendy Kopp posted at The Core Knowledge Blog, saying, "A plan for how to improve the impact of TFA. Wendy Kopp responded to this post herself on 5/26/08 at the Core Knowledge blog.

Jessica must realize a lot of us are going back to school for advanced degrees since she's talking about Time Management for Students - 11 Tips You Can Start Using Today posted at Sensible Self-Improvement.

Overwhelmed Mom is chatting about a disturbing fact regarding Gifted Minorities posted at A Bundle of Contradictions. Let's hope she doesn't get too overwhelmed this summer.

Sagar, who's busy checking to make sure the veggies on the buffet are locally grown, presents 50+ Ways to Greenify Your Classroom and Campus posted at College@Home.

Jason is still a bit rattled after his first Lockdown!!!! posted at Shabam School. There's some chocolate cake on the dessert table which will make you feel a lot better!

Katrina is spending her summer helping answer the question, What is the Biggest Ocean in the World? posted at What is the Biggest.... Thank goodness we have someone to ask when one of our sugarplums asks us questions like this!

Rose reminds us that while we're home with our own children this summer, that they're watching us. See what can happen at Learning at Home posted at Learning at Home.

Scott is opening some eyes with The Ghetto School posted at The English Teacher. Don't you love the different types of schools we all teach in? I think he needs chocolate cake as well.

Jo Scott-Coe is busy passing around an excellent cartoon and discussing Teacher Watch: Susan Ohanian's When Childhood Collides with NCLB posted at HorseSense and Nonsense. Considering some of the research Mrs. Eagle and I have been doing on children and nature, this is resonating rather well.

Matthew is discussing race, test scores, problems and solutions in I'll Have What Florida is Having posted at Jay P. Greene's Blog. I hope it's on the menu.

Melissa B. muses on dress codes with Booty Call posted at the scholastic scribe, saying, "It's that time of year again! With the hot weather come questionable fashion choices by our students." Not to mention middler schoolers trying to fit into clothing they wore last August that doesn't fit anymore.

Larry is chatting with Mr. Social Studies about The Best Websites For Teaching & Learning About World History | Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... posted at Larry Ferlazzo's Websites Of The Day For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL.

Matthew shares with us about Ted Williams, experts, and parallels in teaching. By the way, how 'bout them Cubs?

Vjack is talking with some of our eighth grade science teachers about how Creationism Lingers in U.S. High School Biology Classrooms posted at Atheist Revolution.

Garnet found a great way to prepare his students for a unit on Lord of the Flies posted at @edu, saying, "a desert island sounds pretty good right now, doesn't it"

Denise is preaching to the choir, or more specifically, a bunch of history teachers when she fills them in on Free Lecture: Eisenhower and Operation Overlord posted at Frugal Homeschooling. I have to agree with her when she says, "Textbooks are no way to learn history. We listen to TTC tapes on family trips or while running errands, and I have enjoyed learning about everything I missed by sleeping through history class in school."

Denise helps answer the question about why some of us have so much trouble at math with Diagnosis: Math Workbook Syndrome posted at Let's play math!, saying, "Many of us suffer from Math Workbook Syndrome, the ability to crank through textbook calculations without any understanding of real mathematics..."

Scott is looking for some dialog when he asks So what if schools don’t prepare kids for the 21st century? posted at Dangerously Irrelevant. Make sure you give him your input!

Carol discusses cleaning out her closet and finding all her unfinished posts and lost lists at Spelling Bees, Yearbook Fumes & Livin’ Large posted at Bellringers, saying, "The yearbook fumes got to me!" I think she needs another glass of sweet tea, folks.

Heather is sharing her A Guest Post by Heather Johnson posted at Ddraig Goch Blog - The Musings of a Welsh Dragon!. Talk about some great resources for those of us trying to collaborate over a distance.

Tracey isn't monkeying around when she asks Are dress codes "gay"? posted at Middle School Monkeys. Apparently there's some confusion out there in the jungle.

Michael is sharing his 10 Ways to Ensure Success in Law School posted at A Law Student and Young Lawyer Blog - Law Vibe. Amazingly enough this same list could apply to my seventh graders and seventh grade in general!

Heather Wolpert-Gawron reminds us that we can find true gems when she discusses Don't Knock the Less Experienced Teacher posted at tweenteacher.com. She's right - energy and experience don't always come in the same package.

Adso explains how one teacher took "Survivor" a bit too far at VERY Bad Socialization posted at Lorem Ipsum, saying, "Adso rants about the horrible treatment given to Alex Barton, whose kindergarten teacher had the other kids vote him out of the class."

Joanne agrees with Adso when it comes to Voted out of kindergarten posted at Joanne Jacobs.

Bill discusses his, and Your Summer Reading List. . . posted at The Tempered Radical, saying, "In this bit, the Tempered Radical recommends a broad collection of titles to add to your summer reading list and seeks advice on what to add to his!" Now he's asking for advice, so be sure to give him some!

Marjorie points out that sometimes, the government mandated scope and sequence many of us follow doesn't work for some children in Home Schooling a Child With Asperger's Syndrome posted at Life Without School.

oldandrew reminds us that things aren't so different across the pond with Seven Habits of Highly Defective Headteachers posted at Scenes From The Battleground. He's busy skewering the administration in his Britsh Blog about teaching in tough schools. (I think he needs chocolate cake as well.)

NYC Educator, snappy dresser that he is, reminds us about how to Dress the Part posted at NYC Educator, saying, "I think I'll wear my Star Wars tie tomorrow."

Woodlassnyc echoes NYC Educator's comments about professionalism in dress in the teacher workforce with Setting boundaries, or do we posted at Under Assault: Teaching in NYC.

Alvaro is busy discussing some new research on Mindfulness Meditation for Teens with ADHD posted at SharpBrains, saying, "It's quite a fascinating recent study"

Robin reminds us that we have an election coming up with Clinton, Obama, and McCain on Education posted at Her Education Blog. No matter which way you lean, it's worth reading.

Greg shares with us what happens when a NY School Falsely Reports Parent As Child Abuser For Missing A Meeting posted at Rhymes With Right. Okay, we all know it's a pain when a parent misses a meeting, but this is a little extreme...

Nancy shares BIG, BAD TEACHER, Part Deux: WIN ME OVER posted at Teacher in a Strange Land, pondering, "Does Education Sector really want to "win over" teachers? One can hope..."

Corey wonders about charter schools, disruptive students, and just what to do with them, at Charter Schools and "Exit Doors" posted at Thoughts on Education Policy.

Larry, wearing his fedora and looking a bit dusty, asks How Is A Good Teacher NOT Like Indiana Jones? posted at In Practice. He's asking for more input so be sure to give him some.

Angela shares her fantastic ideas on what to tell your middler schooler (or even your high schooler) how to study with Show Your Child How to Study for Tests & Exams - posts - Homework. Dinner. Life. posted at Angela Norton Tyler.

Darren greets us with Good Morning, Comrade! posted at Right on the Left Coast: Views From a Conservative Teacher, saying, "Currently, California teachers can be fired for being members of the Communist Party. A law working its way through the legislature will change that."

Ryan proves that he is a brave, brave man for teaching the facts of life to a bunch of fourth grade boys with “A wet dream is kind of like a fart.”—Sex Ed Teacher Gets Shaft posted at I Thought a Think. What scares me is he's apparently the only male staff member at his K-6 school...I hope they realize how lucky they are!

Mamacity enriches our conversation with another one of her right-on rants, with Mamacita (The Real One) Rants About Wiggly Kids and Recess and Stuff posted at Scheiss Weekly. Just as it says..

Jane is raving about Not Your Typical Mentos Geyser Video posted at Steve Spangler's Blog, saying, "These little kids are fantastic!" If you are looking for some great end of the year projects to keep your kids busy, you may find some inspiration here!

Mister Teacher is gleefully wondering if Maybe I'm on to something here posted at Learn Me Good, saying, "A success story about a very difficult child!" Way to go there Mister Teacher! And way to go there Lump!

John showers some well-earned praise on a new teacher, while at the same time highlighting how we need to have high expectations for all students with his ode To a Successful First Year Teacher posted at Circle Time "Lead From The Start". He elaborates, "In a blogosphere filled with the echoes of negativity I have decided to offer a series with the tag: teacher appreciation. Each post will share a positive voice about teachers and teaching."

Hanna asks What the hell happened to my dollar? posted at College Finance 101. Some things never change. I was asking the same question about college textbooks nearly 30 years ago...

Dave exposes the 2007 Base API Release posted at Friends of Dave. Score manipulation anyone?

Dave Saba discusses Alternative certification and mentoring | American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence posted at DoE- Dave on Ed, saying, "Alternative certification needs mentoring." Yup. Gotta agree with him on that one.

Hey, looks like we've cleaned off that buffet table and the sweet tea is all gone. I guess that concludes this edition of the Carnival of Education! Remember to submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of education using the carnival submission form. And don't forget to check out last week's carnival at Teacher in a Strange Land.

And big thanks to all of you who contributed - you all rock!

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Storm Surge!

Every teacher knows that one of the hardest times to live through (and maintain some semblance of sanity) is that period of time in between The Very Big Deal Government Mandated Tests and the Very Last Day of School. The kids have shut down. They are done, done, done! It doesn't matter that there are still a few weeks to go, a final chance to bring up that grade point average, and grades being taken. They. Just. Don't. Care.

So here's the dilemma. How to keep these hormonal seventh graders busy and occupied and actually learning something?

Mrs. Eagle and I have pondered this on and off all year. We had four weeks to keep them busy, and we wanted something that wouldn't drive us completely over the bend. We did have one final (non-tested) standard to teach - severe weather, so we knew we'd do something with that. And thank our lucky stars we found something in one of the NSTA publications we get (that membership is worth its weight in gold), modified it to fit our situation and came up with the Natural Disaster Construction Assignment.

This was a group project, and that in itself created a lot of entertainment. We have our kids work in groups all year but this was the one time they got to chose their groups. The natural tendency of seventh graders is to want to work with their friends - even if their friends are a bunch of brain-dead slackers who won't lift a finger to help. When they realized that part of this assignment involved grading each other, some of them reevaluated who they wanted to work with. Others decided half way through that they wanted to fire their teammates and change teams because the teammates weren't doing their share. I heard more complaining and whining about people not doing their jobs than I'd heard the entire year prior. It was, in short, a real learning experience in working with (and getting along with) others.

The goal of this project, besides learning to work with others and to meet deadlines, was to research the most common natural disasters in the U.S., and to build a prototype city that could withstand these. We showed a few videos on hurricanes and tornadoes that had a lot of information on building construction, safe houses, and warning systems. The students also had to write an evacuation plan for their city as well, which was a real struggle for some of them. Thank goodness much of this research could be done quite easily on line as our library was in the process of shutting down for the year.

But the most fun was actually building the city.

They had to supply all the materials, and were to turn in a design plan which had to be approved before they could begin construction. In short, if they hit the assignment deadlines, they would have plenty of time to build. If they didn't, they spent the rest of their time playing catch up. They didn't particularly like the deadlines - this is a group, after all, that isn't real big on turning in assignments on time, and still freaks out when they don't get credit for late work (apparently they do in elementary school). However, as I explained to them, in the Real World, when you hae a job, you need to meet deadlines.

Some of them have decided that the Real World, in their words, "sucks".

Yeah, well, welcome to it.

The models themselves ranged all over the map - we had domed buildings, buildings that were shaped like pyramids so the wind would blow up and over them, models with storm walls, cities with extensive basement shelters, and more. It was awesome hearing the kids discuss (and argue) the various merits of the ideas they were tossing out. Kids talking science...gotta love it.

In any case, we had set aside time to test our models on Tuesday and Wednesday of this past week. We were going use some box fans to blow wind at the models, then a watering can with water, and last, but not least, a bucket of water to simulate storm surge. Mr. Enforcer got wind of our project and arranged for maintenance to bring us one of Those Really Big Fans that they use when carpets flood to help dry them off - the kind of fan that can knock a kid off his feet, given the opportunity. We were also going to throw pennies at the model to simulate flying debris, but someone else was using the goggles from the science lab, so we bagged that idea.

Mrs. Eagle's classroom has a back door that opens to a grassy area, with a drainage ditch behind it. It slopes, so it was the perfect spot to use to test our models. She also has sinks with water in her room (I don't) so we had a ready source of water. We got an extension cord, hooked up the Really Big Fan, had the watering can filled, a couple of buckets filled, and were ready to go.

The kids could hardly stand it.

We put the first model on the ground in front of the fan. The kids were lined up along each side, all eyes on the model. We started the fan on low speed.

The model didn't move.

We moved to high speed.

The buildings on the model began to bend a bit in the wind. A toy car went flying.

We began pouring water out of the watering can which blew against the model like a driving rain.

Some of the buildings began to sway a bit more and the streets begin to flood.

After the watering can was emptied came the bucket of water.

"Storm Surge!" they all yelled, and we threw the bucket of water onto the model.

A few buildings toppled. More cars went flying. Trees bent and buckled under the weight of the wind and water.

The kids SCREAMED.

But...amazingly...a few buildings were still standing!

The kids screamed some more, and then we did the next model. And the next. And the next. And we all had a fantastic time.

Nothing like a bit of water, sun, and destruction to make a seventh grader's day!

The best part was, later in the post-destruction class discussion, they actually discussed what worked and what wouldn't. Despite having to deal with teammates that were slugs, having to meet deadlines, having to write an evacuation plan, and all the real work that went into this project, they actually learned something.

And they all said it was the most fun they'd had in a long time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Carnival Time!!!

It's May. You're tired. You've had it. You need a trip to the Carnival of Education!!! Take a well-deserved break from final grades, retention meetings, those pesky parents asking for extra credit, and hop on over to Stranger in a Strange land for this week's Carnival!

A Lesson Learned?

For all those who wanted an update...Pompous Ass Boy did NOT try to crash the Academic Awards Party.

I know. You are as shocked as we were.

Perhaps it was the glares that he got from all of us that day. Or the pointed comments we made to our fifth period classes that those students with invitations were to meet in the library and everyone else needed to go on to their sixth period class. Or maybe something, finally, sunk into that thick skull of his.

Of course he may have realized that someone as loud and as obnoxious (and prone to wearing bright yellow) as he is would have a hard time blending into a small group of only 17 students.

We all had a marvelous time without him.

As for his mother...amazingly enough, she's one of our more supportive parents. She realizes that he can be quite the monster and has made sure that we all have her cell phone number and are welcome to call her at any time to straighten him out. She's also one of the few parents who took the time to frequently thank us for our weekly emails. She may have created this self-absorbed pest, but at least she realizes that he's a self-absorbed pest.

If only others were that perceptive.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just What Part of "No" Do You Not Understand?

We have had a student this year whose arrogance knows no bounds. He's big, loud, and announces to everyone who will listen that he's going to be President one day. Even his mother got after him during a parent teacher conference (when I mentioned that her little darling doesn't like to turn in homework or study for tests), and asked him "how are you going to be President if you can't pass seventh grade?" The fact that none of the teachers can stand him, and that all the kids hate him, hasn't quite registered with him. The fact that he is, at thirteen, a pompous ass could have some bearing on this.

Pompous Ass thinks he's perfect (I'm sure mom has fed into this delusion). The fact that he's loud, refuses to raise his hand and wait to be called upon, will argue with anyone (including adults), and can't shut up is just the tip of the iceberg. This kid is a permanent resident of Isolation Island in most of his classes. Every time he opens his mouth the kids roll their eyes at the ceiling and make faces.

The one thing he is good at, if you need a character that is somewhat of a pompous ass, is drama. He played a professor in the winter play with such a broad fake British accent that it kept the kids in stitches the entire day. He thought he was worthy of an Oscar. The kids thought he was trying to be funny and he couldn't understand why they didn't take him seriously.

He wanted to run for Student Council and handed off the recommendation form to all of his teachers. He has 35 discipline points and I asked him if he'd read the directions at the bottom that stated that he could have no more than 15. He told me that those were "just simple misunderstandings." Right. I looked and they were for rude and disruptive behavior. None of us recommended him. (My comment was along the line of "Run Away! You will regret the day you ever let this kid run for student council!" and I was told I was too nice.)

He wanted to run for President of Junior Civitan but was told, again, that he had too many discipline points, and besides, they'd had to evict him from the club in both sixth and seventh grades because of his behavior.

Oh yeah, he didn't tell kids he was running for President of Junior Civitan...he told he was going to be President of Junior Civitan. He forgot about this little thing called an election where he would have to convince his peers to vote for him.

So anyhow...last week he started asking those of us on the Team about when our academic awards party was going to be. Each team puts together a party for the team's best kids, and each team decides on what their parameters are going to be. A lot of the sixth grade teachers invite all the A students or all the A & B students. Seventh grade tends to recognize the A students. Our team has always been a bit more selective and has invited the top echelon of A students, along with a most improved student, and our two "Stars of the Year" which are kids who are good students, but also just good all around nice kids. This year I noticed I had six kids at 98% or above for their yearly average, so that was where my cut off point was. Many of the other teachers on the team had a similar cut off point.

Pompous Ass Boy first approached Mrs. Math and asked when the party was going to be. She told him he didn't need to worry about it as he hadn't made the cut off point and it was invitation only. He then proceeded to ask Mr. Social Studies, Mrs. English and Miss Reading the same thing. On Friday it was my turn. Like Mrs. Math I told him that it was invitation only and that as far as I knew, he didn't get an invitation.

Today I was the lucky teacher who got to hand out the invitations to the seventeen kids we're inviting. I made sure that the kids knew that it was a real honor to be invited, and that it was for our very best students. One of the kids who was sitting near Pompous Ass Boy got one and Pompous Ass Boy just about had his eyes bug out of his head.

But that wasn't the end of it.

He comes up to me a few minutes later and asks me about the party.

"What about it?" I ask. "It's invitation only and I didn't have an invitation for you."

"Are you sure there isn't some mistake?" he asks. "I mean, what's the criteria for the award party?"

"Well, for me, it was a yearly average of 98% or above, and you certainly didn't have that in science."

"Really?" he says. (Like he didn't know...hum, maybe those B's and C's did count for something, eh?)

"Yes, really," I answer.

"So I can't come?" he asks again.

"No, you can't. You did not get an invitation. Only students who got an invitation can come. Maybe next year if you listen more and work harder you may make the cut and get invited to your 8th grade team party."

I thought we were done. We weren't.

He blinked and then said...."So I really can't come?"

Okay, by this time I was about ready to reach over and shake him until his teeth rattled. This kid just does not get that he's the only one in the world (with the exception of his mother, perhaps) who thinks he's just perfect. He just does not get it.

"You are not, as usual, listening," I said. "You are not invited, therefore, you cannot come. You did not earn an invitation."

He finally turned around and walked to his seat and continued to work on his project with his teammates. However, I have the feeling we haven't heard the last of this.

Any bets on if he tries to sneak in to the party on Wednesday???

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Aloha to Mrs. Math

After 30 years of 7th grade, Mrs. Math is retiring.

She has spent her entire career here at The School, all of it in 7th grade, which is nearly unheard of. As The Principal says, not many people can stand middle schoolers for an entire career, but Mrs. Math did it. Fortunately, she's young enough, and in great health (she runs and does aerobics and can keep up and surpass most of her students on a walking track) that she and her husband can both enjoy their retirement. She grew up in Hawaii, and goes there every summer to visit her brother, so she'll get to spend more time there now. And play more tennis and golf, garden, and learn to knit.

However, I'm going to miss her something awful.

She was one of the first people I met at The School and as our team leader, she's been fabulous. She's funny, has a dry sense of humor, and the past five years of working with her have been a joy. We've been through a lot together.

Her leaving means we have some big changes on The Team. First off, as the teacher on The Team with the most seniority, I am, by default, the new team leader for next year. The good thing is that this means that Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Bunny and I are the 7th grade team leaders. The three of us have always been good friends, and now that we're pretty much running the 7th grade, we'll be able to put some of our crazy ideas into place.

The bad thing is that I will only have one returning teacher on The Team next year. Miss Reading, who was new to us this year, will be back. Mrs. Language is moving up to the 8th grade to teach her true love, reading. To replace her, we're getting a teacher who student taught with Mrs. Eagle last year, and who has subbed this past year to get more classroom management. She's a fantastic substitute and I think she'll be great, although it will be her first year as a teacher with her own classroom. To replace Mrs. Math, we are getting a transfer from another middle school in the District, Mr. Math, who will also be one of our basketball coaches. Since his arrival means that we double the number of male teachers in the 7th grade to a whopping two, I knew it meant that I'd lose Mr. Social Studies to another team. Face it, there was no way they'd let me have both of the male teachers. So, Mr. Math moves to Mrs. Bunny's team, and her social studies teacher moves to Mrs. Eagle's team and I get Mrs. Eagles, teacher, Mrs. Social Studies, who taught 5th grade for 10 years before coming to us last year.

So....lots of changes. The good news is I don't have to change classrooms. After having four rooms in three years, I still enjoy not having to move.

And I'm teaching a new subject next year. The Principal had put out the word that she would like to offer our kids more related arts classes and it would be great if one teacher per team volunteered to teach one of these courses. She hinted that she'd like to move the health curriculum out of the physical education department (where they try to cram it in along with physical education and still try to get the kids the requirement amount of physical activity per week), and wouldn't it be great if the science teachers took it over? Well, actually, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Robin and I agreed and volunteered. So, Mrs. Eagle and I will do 8th grade health (nutrition and fitness) and Mrs. Robin will do 6th grade health (hygiene, social relationships, etc).

Mrs. Eagle and I are looking forward to this for a few reasons. One, it's a change. After five years of nothing but science, it will be nice to have something different to spice things up. Secondly, we both really believe in the importance of nutrition and fitness, especially after looking out at all these pudgy unhealthy kids all the time. And third, it's going to be fun to teach a course that isn't tested so we can have a lot more fun with it - no pacing guide, no one breathing over our shoulders, none of that.

I think next year will be a lot of fun, and a lot of challenges. And I know I'm going to miss Mrs. Math.

I just hope she thinks of us once in a while when she's curling her toes into the sand and reading a trashy novel!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Failing to Launch

During the camping trip, and even before, a lot of us that teach 7th grade this year noticed that our kids this year seemed, well, a bit young. Maybe even a tad immature. Instead of our usual crop of girls who were 13 going on 33, we had girls that actually acted like a 7th grade girl should act - interested in boys (barely), wearing Hannah Montana t-shirts, and carrying pink binders with Carebear stickers all over them. Our boys, besides being the smallest group I've seen in some time (I am, amazingly enough, still taller than a lot of them and that never happens by May) cry a lot. We have got the most amazing group of criers. It's downright strange. They're nice kids but they seem so, well, young.

And then we started putting together the camping trip and Mrs. Bunny and I think we've figure out why.

Last year, when we took our kids on the same trip, we had not a single phone call from a single parent. Not one. They all sent in the fee for the trip, signed and notarized the permission slip, and dropped their kid off that morning with sleeping bag and luggage in hand. It almost seemed as if they were glad to be rid of them for a weekend. In fact, we had a number of parents thank us for the "weekend off".

This year our phones were ringing off the hook.

We had not one, but two parents call up to ask where they could park their camper and pitch their tents as they figured this would be a fun vacation for the whole family and they were planning on tagging along. (Mrs. Bunny put the kabosh on that by explaining it was a private facility and no, there wasn't a place for them to camp, and yes, they'd probably be considered trespassing.)

I had one parent that called me, and Mrs. Math, to inform us that she had taken the morning off work, even though she really needed the money, so she could be there at the school to wave goodbye to her son and take pictures.

When our bus left on Friday we had at least half a dozen parents standing in the rain in the parking lot waving goodbye, many with cameras. Considering that last year not one parent showed up for the grand departure, this struck us as a bit odd.

Then when we got to the camp and the director told us that he had one of our parents drive all the way out there earlier in the week to "inspect" the camp and make sure it was adequate, we about hit the floor. He informed us that he's never, in all his years there, had a parent do that. The fact that this parent showed up on Saturday to eat lunch with her daughter was really no surprise by this time.

Of course, this parent is a bit, shall we say, over involved. She drives her daughter to school and walks her into the building. She comes back and eats lunch with her daughter. She returns to pick her up, and walks her to her locker to fill her backpack. She's there so often some of our newer staff members thought she worked there. He reasoning, according to Mrs. Eagle who has her daughter on her team, for doing all this is that she doesn't want her daughter exposed to the language and types of discussions the "other" students engage in. Why she doesn't just homeschool her or send her to private school is beyond me, if she's that paranoid.

Mrs. Bunny and I were mulling all this over this week and she mentioned that perhaps the reason why we have such an immature group is that their parents aren't letting them grow up. They're smothering them.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for involved parents because without parental involvement, children just don't do as well in school. However, part of growing up and a big part of seventh grade is developing a little bit of self responsibility. A little independence. Making mistakes and learning from them. And none of this is going to happen unless parents let it happen.

And for some reason I have visions of a lot of these kids living at home in their 40's...

Final Reflections on the 7th Grade Camping Trip

I'm glad we do this.

I'm glad I work with a principal who believes in the importance of doing something like this with our kids. We have so many kids in our rooms with stories that would curl your toes. It's nice to be able to offer some of them a weekend away from whatever troubles them. (And every year I get at least one kid who comments about how they've never seen or eaten so much food in their life - that breaks my heart.) I know this has lasting impact. I had eighth graders changing classes as we herded our kids out to the bus that rainy Friday and they all remarked on how much fun it was last year and wished they could go again. They looked so downcast.

One thing we learned - every group of kids is different. Last year's kids were great, we thought, but this year they were fantastic. They never whined about cleaning up after meals and wiping down the tables and vacuuming. They never whined about getting their dorms cleaned up and they did a fantastic job with very little input from us. They showed up on time, did what we asked of them, and helped each other out. They were great. So great that the staff commented to us how well behaved, respectful and nice they were. We've often commented on what a great group we got this year, and this just proved it.

(On an aside, we've seen and heard about the current crop of sixth graders coming our way. Let's just say, the future looks very, very grim.)

Granted, giving up a weekend to spend with kids that we spend all week with, may not sound like a good deal to some, but it was worth it to us. All it took was the look on a kids face when he or she paddled that canoe for the very first time. Or made it up the wall with the help of his or her teammates for the challenge course. Or the squeal of delight when he or she caught that salamander.

It's sad, but I don't think some of my kids have much of a childhood. It was nice to give them at least one weekend of one.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How to Take 60 70th Graders Camping and Live to Tell About it Part IV

Sunday, our last day, was another picture perfect day.

After a hearty breakfast - which was, judging from the conversations we overheard - a true highlight of the trip, we gave the kids a choice. They could stay back by the camp and play kickball on the kickball field, or go with the rest of us on a two and a half mile hike.

Now, truth be told, I figured most of these kids would stay behind and do kickball. Two and a half miles sounds real far to a typical 7th grader, and we're talking about the videogame generation. After spending all year looking out at classrooms of pudgy kids with well-developed thumbs, I'm convinced that walking, let alone hiking, is completely foreign to most of them. Hell, dirt is foreign to most of them. So, to say I was surprised when over half of them showed up with water bottles and tennis shoes and sunglasses and hats and tick spray and sunblock...was an understatement.

Mrs. Eagle and I looked at each other. "I didn't think we'd get this many," she said. I agreed.

One of the rangers had given us each a hiking map and outlined a nice hike for us. He did warn us that, due to the weather, they hadn't had time to check and clear the trail and we may encounter things like mud, fallen trees, and the like. We decided to go for it.

After a vigorous session of bug spraying, checking of water bottles, and a quick count of kids, we headed off. We figured it would take us a little over an hour to get the whole bunch around the trail.

We were wrong.

It barely took an hour. These kids, for the most part, didn't hike the trail. They practically ran the trail. We had to actually force them to stop once in a while to hydrate and to get the various groups of them all collected together as they had all stretched out into one long line.

We did encounter a few rough spots. A big tree was down right where two trails forked off of the main trail and it took a little looking to find the white painted spot on the tree that was marking our trail. We also found some slippery and muddy spots, as well as a few really steep and slick hills. However, for the most part it wasn't any hardy than walking through a city park except it was a lot more wooded.

What was refreshing to see were the kids that chose to go on the hike. We had the majority of the girls, including several who I doubt had ever played in dirt before. We also had a lot of the rather pudgy bookish boys who weren't exactly the first kids you'd pick to be on your team for an active game of basketball. (They would be great, however, on a chess team.) They kids did great on what, according to many of them, was their very first hike - ever.

After lunch, a clean up of the cabins, packing, and the arrival of the buses, we loaded everyone up and headed home. As predicted, the ride home was a lot quieter than the ride out. The kids, and most of the adults, were beat. Many of us were coming down with colds. Several had some pretty raw sunburns.

But we had an awesome time.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

How to Take 60 7th Graders Camping and Live to Tell About It - Part III

After the storms the night before, Saturday dawned clear and sunny.

The adults heaved exhausted sighs of relief. When the camp staff showed up that morning we heard that some tornadoes did touch down in our town, which caused some concern, until we found out later that they hit in the south part of the county, meaning that all of our families and homes were okay. In the meantimes the kids did whip out their cell phones and wandered around until they got a signal so they could call home and let their folks know they were okay. That in itself was kind of amusing...they'd walk around looking at their phone, screech to a stop, yell, "I've got bars!" and dial before they lost their signal.

Although the weather was wonderful we still were seeing the after-effects of the storms which caused yet another change in plan. Last year the kids had the best time doing the stream study where they got to wade in the stream with nets, catching all sorts of critters, look at fish, splash each other and generally have a ball. I was with the first group that got into the vans and drove to the stream only to discover a truism - three inches of rain can make a stream really dangerous.

Our guide, Erin, had on her hip waders and attempted to get a few feet into the stream while we stood on the bank and looked on. Not good. Even a foot from shore the current was too strong for her to get much footing. Last thing we needed was a kid getting knocked down and swept away, so there wasn't going to be a stream study this year.

What to do? Go to a pond of course.

So off we went to a pond, where the kids had a great time catching salamanders, tadpoles, water scorpions and all sorts of goodies. They were happy with that which is good. Sometimes I think this generation doesn't know how to have fun unless it's digital, so it was refreshing to see them get worked up over a salamander.

After the pond study the group I was in got to do what was clearly the most anticipated activity of the entire weekend - the canoing. I had heard the kids talking about it as soon as we gave them the tentative schedule and they could hardly wait. We didn't do this last year (out of fear, to be honest), but Mrs. Bunny and I figured we had a pretty good crop of kids, and that they could handle it. It was clearly the highlight of the trip for most of these kids. In fact, the big concern with the storms wasn't so much that we might have a tornado, but that we'd cancel the canoe activity.

The canoe instructors were actually two of our own. Mrs. Eagle has years of scouting experience behind her as she and Mr. Eagle did Boy Scouts with their three sons and it wasn't unusual for their family to go up to Montana for hiking and canoe trips. The other instructor was Mr. Math Dude, a very cool eighth grade math teacher who we convinced to come along with us. He also had canoe and scouting experience.

For the record, we have only one male teacher in the entire 7th grade, whereas there are six in the 8th grade. We needed males badly to help chaperon the kids and convinced three of the 8th grade teachers to come with us. We figured it would give them a good look at their future. Of course, that could backfire, but all in all, these guys were troopers.

The kids were just bouncing with excitement as very few of them had ever been in a canoe. We got them (and us) all decked in out life vests, gave them their paddles, spent some time instructing them in steering, and safety and off we went. The idea was to stay close to the shoreline, if possible, as the wind could still move them pretty far out into the lake. In addition, there was a little inlet with a beaver dam we wanted to show the kids.

One thing I learned is that when canoing with kids, you want to be behind them so you can see where they are. They tend to have steering issues and if you aren't careful it ends up like bumper cars on a lake. They aren't the most coordinated bunch and they tend to zig zag a lot, but if you're behind them at least you can avoid most of the danger. And you get to laugh at them as you get to see what a bunch of silly goobers they are.

Our group did pretty well - we only had one canoe tip over and the girls thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever done although they did end up soaking wet. The kids had an absolute blast. They were ready for lunch and a break by the time we took them out, went around the lake a bit, and got them back in. (Mrs. Eagle estimates that she and Mr. Math Dude probably spent six solid hours of paddling that day - they were pretty worn out and wind burned by the end of it.)

Another group, later that day, had a bit more of an amusing story to tell. It seems like two of our girls were doing pretty good until they got going a bit too fast and rammed into shore. It swamped the canoe, and over they went. Mrs. Eagle and Mr. Math Dude got over to assist them, got them back into their canoe, and it tipped again. Okay, this wasn't working. So, Mrs. Eagle took one of them, and Mr. Math Dude took another, and they were going to get them back to shore to dry them off. Only the girl that Mr. Math Dude took managed, somehow, to swamp that canoe and dump the both of them. The fact that she's a star basketball player and softball player made it even more amusing as one would have thought she would be coordinated enough to manage a canoe. Mr. Math Dude was livid (and his cell phone was pretty wet - when asked why he took it out on the lake with him, he responded, "well, I didn't plan on getting wet!"). Poor Tippy Girl is now living in fear that she'll get him for Math next year and he'll fail her simply because she managed to dump him in the lake.

As an aside, the cell phone is now working, Mr. Math Dude is getting teased for his swim, and Tippy Girl is still hoping she gets someone else for math. The fact that Mr. Social Studies had a picture of a swamped canoe on his PowerPoint on Monday morning was a source of much amusement. Tippy Girl is taking is all in stride because, as I told her, "we wouldn't tease you if we didn't love you so much.".

Later that evening we had our traditional bonfire and s'more event which was another huge highlight for these kids. It still just amazes me how many children never have had a s'more before and how few of them have been around a campfire. They loved them. We eventually ran out of chocolate and graham crackers but ended up roasting a lot more marshmallows until we ran out of those as well. The kids ran, played tag, jumped up and down and generally acted silly and goofy. I had a bunch of them that had heard about most ghost stories from the year before so I spent some time telling ghost stories for them.

That evening, despite the sugar fix the s'mores provided, they were pretty worn out. The teachers were as well. A number of us were feeling colds coming on (myself included) and were dragging our tail feathers. It was all I could do to finish telling ghost stories as my throat was giving me fits. We all crashed, after a very long, very fun, and very eventful day.

And Tippy Girl most likely had dreams of a very mad Math teacher.

How to Take 60 7th Graders Camping and Live to Tell About it, Part II

When you plan a field trip the one thing you hope for, and the one thing you have no control over, is good weather. Honestly, there's little worse than a bunch of wet and whiny kids (not to mention wet and whiny teachers). As luck would have it, we had three days of outdoor activities planned and the weather was definitely not cooperating.

The first raindrops fell as the buses pulled out of the parking lot. The kids screamed with joy and the adults heaved great sighs and crossed our fingers. The weather reports for Friday were not looking promising, although the rest of the weekend looked good. We all figured if we could make it through Friday, we'd be okay.

As luck would have it, the storms would race through, we'd have a window of time with no rain, and then another series of storms would go through. It was soggy, it was gray, but the kids didn't seem to care. When we got to the camp we managed to have a break in the weather long enough to get the buses unloaded and the kids moved into the dorms.

The idea this weekend was to get the kids broken down into five groups and rotate through a series of activities - canoeing, orienteering, a stream study, and some challenge courses. Friday was also to include a night hike where we would take the kids out on a hike without flashlights. It sounds crazy, but the kids love it and by the end of the hike they realize how easy it is to navigate in the dark once your eyes get used to it.

Obviously we had to toss all our plans aside as the weather wasn't going to cooperate at all. First off, it was so windy there was no way we were going to get anyone out on the lake, and the series of storms heading our way looked to be fairly large. We did manage to get them outside for some basketball and tag before supper (which they devoured - the food here is good), and then the rangers put together an activity on bats which involved a lot of moving around on the part of the kids. Bless their hearts for coming up with a tag game where some kids played trees, others were moths, and still others were blindfolded and played bats. They had to find their moths by listening (a skill most 7th graders haven't mastered yet) to the trees and moths who had to yell out "tree!" and "moth" as the bat got close. It was hilarious and it was great fun. These kids may be jaded 13 year olds, but they enjoy a good game of tag when given the opportunity.

Afterwards Mrs. Bunny and I did some consultation with the camp director who showed us the computer so we could watch the National Weather Service for warnings as these storms had already caused some damage out West. (I also had a mother send along a weather radio, complete with alarm). We were given a key to the lower dorms which were unoccupied and told that if a tornado warning did get issued to hustle everyone down there and into the bathrooms. We were crossing our fingers that most of the really bad stuff would head south of us and we'd just get some good thunderstorms out of it, but you never know in this part of the country.

Mrs. Bunny looks at me and says, "Freaking figures we'd be out here and they'd have a stupid tornado."

I agreed. That's just our luck. I could only imagine what some of the parents were thinking, let alone The Principal who was probably worried sick as well.

Fortunately, while the adults were worrying about a possible tornado, the kids were just having the time of their lives. They had worked out shower schedules, were playing charades, and cards, and just having a great time. Luckily none of them seemed to be frightened over thunder and lightning (or at least not enough to show in front of all their peers), so we didn't get any fussing about that. Around midnight we finally got everyone settled, calmed down, and quiet and we all drifted asleep to the sound of thunder rumbling across the lake and the flash of lightning.

Now if only Saturday would be clear and sunny...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

How to Take 60 7th Graders Camping and Live to Tell About It - Part 1

This past weekend was The Great 7th Grade Camping Trip.

This one of the reasons why I haven't posted much. I'm trying to recover. And considering that I managed to catch a rotten spring cold along the way, that's another reason I haven't posted. I'm tired, I have a head full of snot, and my voice is gone. All I want to do is sleep.

Anyway. Enough of my whining.

The Great 7th Grade Camping Trip began last year, and was the brainchild of a few of us who thought it would be a great experience for some of our kids. We teach in a low-income building with a lot kids who have some pretty miserable stories. Many of them have never been away from home, never been in the woods, never sat around a campfire. Mrs. Eagle and I, in particular, have been reading a book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv, and we've come to believe that this generation of kids we're teaching needs to get off their butts and get outside a lot more.

Now this camp isn't exactly rustic. It has dorms, and showers, and flush toilets, and an activity building, and a darn good cafeteria-style eating commons. However, it does sit in the woods, on a lake, and there's hiking trails and birds and deer and it has spotty cell phone service. The spotty cell phone service is what freaked these kids out the most.

Last year it was only our team that went. However, with Mrs. Bunny getting moved over to another team to become team leader, and with Mrs. Eagle as team leader for the other 7th grade team, we decided to open it up to the entire 7th grade. The idea was that each team would select a group of kids and we'd go as a grade level. We ended up with a total of 61 kids which is nearly twice what we had last year.

Like last year we had the kids write an essay about why they wanted to go and why they, better yet, deserved to go. We actually had quite a few kids write about why they didn't want to go. Little League commitments, money issues at home, the inability to live without video games for an entire weekend, and just kids who freaked out at the idea of getting dirty were some of the reasons why some of our kids opted out. However, for the ones who wanted to go, the reasons were pretty, well, sad. Quite a few of our kids come from broken homes and wrote about how tough things were now that Dad and Mom had split up and how they'd like a weekend away from all that. A few wrote about how much they missed their deployed parent and would like to get away for a while. Some wanted to go because they'd never had a s'more. A few wanted to get away from babysitting their siblings for just one weekend.

We knew that money would be an issue and wanted to make it as inexpensive as possible. The seventh grade hosted a dance to raise money and managed to get the cost down to about $70 per kid. The student council paid "scholarships" for a couple, a few teachers sponsored a few other kids, the chess club paid for another, and the Jr. Civitan club sponsored another.

Permission slips were signed and notarized. Fees were paid. Bug spray purchased. Bags packed. Lunches ordered for Friday. The buses and the bus drivers were lined up. Everything was in order.

And then the weather reported severe thunderstorms with the possibility of damaging winds, and yes, tornadoes...

Stay tuned...