Monday, January 13, 2014

Siri Takes a Midterm

Siri was doing pretty well on the midterm review.
Yeah the Iphone Siri.
True- we’re still not supposed to allow students to use their cell phones in class. Hey- the city discipline code says they’re not even allowed to have them in school. 
I read in a blog this weekend, that a teacher, I like to follow, had decided she was going to confiscate them when she saw them.  I am not sure about her reality, but I live in one where the sentence “Let me have your cell phone,” works about as well as, “Scotty beam me up.”
So most of the time I just beg students to put them away before the roving assistant principal comes around and then student and me are both in trouble.  But the assistant principal’s 97 year old mother  died, and Friday morning was the funeral- so she and the other administrators were otherwise occupied.
I had not planned to give a mid-term to the self- contained class. Of course -that is in direct contradiction to everything I’ve heard in this week’s professional development about rigor and parallel curriculum - but so what?   I figured I had to give a test at some point, but I hadn’t actually gotten around writing one when I opened my email on Monday and saw a note from the assistant principal of the special education department,  that we needed to bring our midterms to her office to be filed.   I planned to ignore it, but by Wednesday I decided I would cobble one together.  Then as long as I was writing a midterm, I would write a midterm review sheet. 
Friday morning I gave out the review. Most of the students, I am happy to report, went through our attempt at an interactive notebook and  perused their foldables for the answers.  But not Darian.  Darian joined the class late and doesn’t come to school that often.  It interferes with his selling marijuana business.  Darian often tells me he makes more in week than I do in a month.  I have no way  knowing but he does have a much better phone than me.  Siri was most cooperative, and generally faster than even the most complete of the interactive notebooks.
“Siri, what is a complementary angle pair?”  Siri responded immediately that it was a pair of angles that added to 90 degrees, and threw in a picture for good measure?
“Siri, how do you find the slope of a line when given two coordinate points?”  Siri returned  the slope formula with instructions on how to implement it within seconds?”
Darian did encounter difficulties when he asked for the definition  of a linear pair?  He couldn’t get Siri to understand his pronunciation of linear.  Siri kept coming back with some information about ears.
Okay- so I understand that what a good teacher would have done – would have been to tell him to put his cell phone away and use the resources in the room, but I was caught up in the efficacy of his plan.

“Why don’t you ask, what’s the meaning of life?”  I suggested. 
Darian did.  Siri told us that was a good question, maybe the ultimate question, but didn’t get more detailed than that.
Back to the worksheet.
By the end of the period, Darian had completed the sheet. Pretty accurately I might add. 
The other self-contained geometry teacher stopped by my room later in the day.  She had administered the exam and was depressed by the outcome.
“I don’t know what the point is?” she asked.  I go over the same thing over and over and over and over again, and they still don’t remember it.”
I know how she feels.  I feel the same way. I’m frustrated too, why do we teach geometry to people who can’t tell time on an analog clock?  If you can’t manipulate a ruler and a compass do you really need to know the triangle sum theorem?
We are told that with the right amount of rigor, high expectations and multiple entry points we should be great geometry teachers.
But can that really be true?
I don’t know---maybe I should just go ask Siri.

(or maybe we should just be replaced by Siri, she never got frustrated even, when Darien  could not pronounce linear!)

We’ll see how Darian does on the exam tomorrow.  The assistant principal is back from the mourning period. He’ll have to put the cell phone away.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Living and Watching Movies in the Industrialized World

Our two week winter break was interrupted on Thursday for a return to school.  Fortunately, Mother Nature had a blizzard in store for us Thursday night into Friday, so our new mayor and school chancellor got to open their term by declaring schools closed.  I returned to the warm corner of the sofa in the den and continued my trip around the world through the magic of  movie streaming.  This week alone I have been to South Africa, Tibet, Israel, Brazil and others.

But at least for a little while on Thursday I was back in my corner of world, trying to wake up enough and get the few students who braved the Artic-cold to wake enough to engage in that teaching learning-thing we are supposed to do

By mid afternoon, with the snow already beginning to fall, Marilyn was the only student in the Resource Room.  She’s not my student, she’s assigned to the other Resource Room teacher.  Marilyn was a mom at fourteen and lives with her mother and the babydaddy.   Marilyn and the baby were born in the United States, the mother and babydaddy were not.  I think about which country should spend the next two hours on my wide screen TV, Marilyn thinks about what country she and her family can live safely in.

Marilyn needs to pass the History Regents.  Despite all those worries and responsibilities at home, Marilyn works hard, and does fairly well, but the language dependent Regents are a challenge.  The other Resource Room teacher, a whiz, at maintaining files of study material whips out packets of, well, study material, especially for the history exam.
“Industrial revolution, what word that you know do you see inside of it?”  she asks Marilyn.  And then adds, the word is “industry, so when you see Industrial Revolution, think -machines.”
And I, never one to mind my own business, must add that it so much more than just machines. I ask Marilyn to imagine what it must have been like three hundred years ago on our own farms (or the landlord’s farm-more likely for both our ancestors),trying to raise the food, weave the cloth and protect our families without the help of supermarkets, department stores and central heating.  I talk about, how people left the farms to work in cities, how large factories caused certain countries to think they owned others just to gather the raw material needed to stoke the machines, how large textile factories required large plantations and large plantations required lots of workers and the idea of declassifying humans as humans so they could work on the plantation for free. The Industrial Revolution changed everything I add.  Marilyn listens intently and nods.  I cannot tell if she finds me interesting or useful, or if she is just being respectful.

On the car ride home, I thought about how I had not even mentioned the story of the moths in England, that we talk about in the Living Environment Course.  The moths the color of soot were able to survive by not getting noticed by predators in the sooty environment of 19th century England, and therefore were able to go forth and breed more sooty colored moths- a story often used to illustrate natural selection.

In the early morning Resource Room, the two students who showed and I read a article from the New York Times by Nicholas Kristoff.   It is one of my standard operational procedures  to share true stories about how hard it is for people elsewhere in the world to obtain an education.  I figure that should make one less inclined to squander one’s free available one. (data does not definitively support this conclusion)  The Kristoff story was about a young woman who preferred being beaten with an electrical cord by a family who sent her for few hours a day of schooling in the capital while keeping her in indentured servitude for the rest of the day, to living with her own mother and many siblings far from an available education.

We ended up talking about birth control and how hard woman have it, how difficult it is to survive in a destitute country far from the factories and machines of the industrialized world.

And then the blizzard struck.

We all retreated to our central heated homes, in cities, far from the subsistence existence of our ancestors.  For better or worse we live on the Industrial side of the Industrial Revolution. We live in a world of machines.

Here is a list of movies I watched on the machine that produces it 10 feet away from my sofa if I figure out the right sequence of bottoms to press.  Unless otherwise noted they are available on Netflix Streaming.

Master Harold and the Boys     South Africa (based on Athol Fugard’s play, Apartheid and family drama plays out in a Capetown Teashop- dated but good)
Tsotsi                                             South Africa (More recent Athold Fugard story about the struggles of the very poor and very rich in post Apartheid South Africa)
Himalaya (Michael Pallin’s 2004 Travel Series) (Stunning travel show with Monty Python humor mixed in)
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea          Israel and the Gaza Strip (teenage angst between Israeli and Palestinian youth)
Sounds of Sand                          Africa (not specified) (When the travel is for survival vs.  stunning scenery, although the scenery is starkly beautiful viewed from a home with running water)
Free Zone                                    Israel and Jordan (A young Natalie Portman illustrates her Mideastern roots-angst)
Lillyhammer                               Norway (The Sopranos move to the North)
Matchmaker                               Israel (Bittersweet story of Holocaust survivors looking for love and the meaning of life)
La Sirga                                       Colombia (Surviving on the outskirts of war and the 21st Century in Colombia)
Shun Li and the Poet                 Italy (recent young Chinese Immigrant and not so recent Slav immigrant search for friendship on the Italian waterfront)
Unfinished Sky                          Australia (Afghani refugee and crusty outback farmer find their lives intertwined)
The Middle of the World         Brazil (available through Freegal- poor family of seven bicycle from northern Brazil to Rio De Janeiro in an attempt to find work)

The First Grader                       Kenya (Old man enrolls in the finally free school system to learn to read)