Webbed Feet

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Required Summer Blog #2

Summer school seems to be an overwhelming success for the one student in our classroom. She excels at just about everything that is given to her, and sometimes it makes us as teachers wonder how in the world she ended up in summer school. In particular, there is one lesson that I taught that seemed to be most successful. We were discussing the body systems and Ms. Mathis had just finished a great lesson on the excretory system. Our student, MM, did an excellent job and we had drawn an outline of her body on a long piece of butcher paper and were drawing all of the organ systems on it. My lesson was to focus on the circulatory system. We identified the organs and other things involved in the circulatory system and were in the process of tracing the flow of blood throughout the body. MM was having a difficult time understanding how oxygen-rich blood left the heart and oxygen-poor blood came back into the heart. I then related to her an analogy. I told her to imagine that the heart is the North Pole and Santa is the blood. When Santa leaves the North Pole, he carries lots of toys. He then travels through the whole world and distributes the toys and returns to the North Pole with no toys. Blood leaves the heart with lots of oxygen and then distributes it to the rest of the body and returns to the heart with no oxygen. MM suddenly came alive and took charge of the lesson, explaining everything else to me without any prompting. It seemed as if a huge barrier was lifted once she understood the way the heart pumped the blood and she took off. I can assume that this took place because the analogy made the function of the heart clear and gave her the confidence that was necessary to take hold of the rest of the lesson by the proverbial horns and flourish. Another possibility for her success is the fact that she is the only student in the class and it forces her to pay attention to what is going on in class. I really think that was the reason she failed...she lost interest and quit paying attention.

The lesson that was least successful was a lesson dealing with DNA. She was out of it and I was out of it and it ended in pretty much a train wreck. Being a Spanish teacher by trade, science was sort of out of my element and I hadn’t studied DNA since my freshman year of high school. The lesson tanked because I had no idea what I was saying and she was sick and wanting to go home and go to sleep. Sometimes things just happen.

I feel that my instructional procedures are pretty good. I feel like I can relate to my students very well and choose procedures that engage them and bring the material to life in a refreshing way.

Differential instruction is pretty much a non-factor when there is only one student. I don’t have to appeal to the different learning styles with only one student in the class. However, I do mix things up with her. We’ve done some hands-on activities as well as just taking notes from the overhead. If she seems confused I make up a story to tie it all together. It just seems to flow.

My lessons would improve and the students’ achievement would increase if I had a better knowledge and understanding of the material. In a Spanish class, I like to think that I’m always two or three steps ahead of the students, but in a science class, it could be a dead heat at times. Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Required Summer Blog #1

Going into this year's summer school in Holly Springs, I had grandiose ideas of teaching brilliant (at least not failing) students concepts outside of the required elements that they normally saw within the typical classroom curriculum. Teaching enrichment would give me the latitude and freedom to teach things that I found fun and interesting as well as challenging to the students. In developing the ideas for the summer curriculum, I came up with two major objectives that I wanted the students to be able to complete. The first was that I wanted the students to be able to go completely through the writing process and create a research projet from scratch. This would include doing all of the research, especially determining the validity of sources from the Internet. After doing the research they would organize their ideas into an outline and then write a rough draft based on the outline they developed from their research. Finally, they would revise the rough draft into a final copy.

The second main objective that I wanted the students to complete was reading a novel from start to finish and identify the themes, symbols, and other literary devices that they could find. I chose for the students to read Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" for several reasons. First of all, it was short. Around one hundred twenty pages long, the novel is of sufficient length to cover enough of the literary techniques that I want students to learn while still being manageable enough to finish in a short time frame.

After those two objectives the lessons were pretty open. I did not want to plan too many activities before getting to know the students better to understand what THEY were interested in. The benefit of teaching enrichment is that there are no specified objectives that MUST be completed; we were working with a pretty good amount of freedom. I had some lessons that played to my strengths, such as basic Spanish lessons that ranged from simple vocabulary to introductory cultural lessons. I also was planning on incorporating simple journalistic skills such as writing style for newspapers and how to conduct interviews. These skills would be challenging to the students, primarily because they had probably never studied them before, but would still be interesting despite the challenge.

Another objective was to introduce the students to Sudoku puzzles. This came as a suggestion from a student that took the enrichment class last year. He suggested this because he said it challenged him to think critically about a subject while being fun at the same time. He said that he barely recognized the fact that he was learning while he was completing the puzzles but the critical thinking skills came in handy during his ACT test and throughout his senior year.

I feel that these goals will help the students progress and teach them skills that can carry over into many different subjects in their academic career. For most of these students enrichment would be the only place where they are truly challenged and they need to be pushed. I feel that the lessons I developed would challenge them in ways that they may never had been challenged before.

As far as inductive learning strategies, I was able to incorporate the "concept formation model" into one of the Spanish lesson plans. The objective of the lesson was for the students to name the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. In this lesson I would ask the students to name as many countries of the world as they could. After listing the countries on the board, I would then ask the students to group the countries in the way they best saw fit. The goal would be to get them to divide the countries by the language the residents of the country spoke and after they grouped them in their way I would ask them to explain the rationale for their groups. If the countries were not grouped in the way I was looking for I would ask them if they could think of another way to group and guide them towards my answer.

Sadly, none of these ideas will be taught this summer...nobody signed up for my class and now I'm teaching science...

Monday, May 14, 2007


This one is my favorite of all the pinatas that my students made. Obviously, its a parrot. GREAT JOB DT!!!
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Cinco de Mayo

I assigned pinatas as a culture project due at the end of the month...I had some that were fantastic, and others that were ok, and a disappointing number of "ghetto pinatas" that were thrown together at the last minute, which was mildly aggravating since the students were given over a month to work on them, but whatever. As part of my two-day "Cinco de Mayo" lesson we went outside and busted some pinatas, which, suprisingly enough went over pretty well. The kids were into it enough that even though we were outside, they behaved better outisde the classroom than in it. Yes, even my 5th period class could handle going outside. The main problem that I ran into was "pinata raiding." The kids knew that some of the pinatas had candy inside them and at some point during the day (I have no idea when) some of the pinatas were ransacked and destroyed leaving an empty shell and some candy wrappers on the ground. I was angry about it, but nothing compared to the students whose pinatas were destroyed.

The second day of the lesson was, in my opinion, more interesting...yeah, not so much for the kids. They didn't have too much interest in General Ignacio Zaragosa or Napolean III, but oh well. If YouTube weren't banned at my school, this would have been a much better lesson for them...maybe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ode to Cheaters, Crackers, and Strippers..in that order.

Most of my "bonding" moments that I have with my students happen in the cafeteria. It's not surprising. We're just sitting there in a semi-relaxed atmosphere, not worrying about verbs, vocabulary, or culture and quite naturally the conversation drifts to topics far away from lessons learned in the classroom. On this day I was particularly bothered, after just catching KA cheating on her make-up test. She was sitting in the hallway, right across from my door, which I purposely left open so I could keep an eye on her while she took her test. By pure coincidence I happened to look over at her just in time to see her pull out a cheat-sheet from her pocket. I stepped outside, asked for the paper, and politely informed her that she would be receiving a "0" for her test. She responded like most any student would do, she tried to fight it, but to no avail. I invited her back into the classroom to participate in the lesson, to which she replied, "Shut up, you stupid cracker!" As I reached for an office referral form, TH came and told us it was my classes turn to head to the cafeteria for lunch. KA ate hers in the Assistant Principal's office.

While my class was waiting in line, I was sitting at the table reflecting on this when I was slapped back into reality.

"I think I want to be a stripper, Mr. M," said LH, one of my brightest seniors who is already enrolled at DSU for the summer term and has really opened up with me since Christmas.

"Why would you do that," I quizzically asked her.

"Because they make a TON of money, and I need to pay for college."

I said, "You do realize that you would have do dance naked and have dirty old men groping all over you," trying my hardest to dissuade her.

"No, I want to do the whole behind-the-glass-window thing, they won't even be able to touch me."

Realizing that I was going to have to try a bit harder to change her mind, I tried lying to her. "They don't make as much money as you think they do."

She called my bluff. "Mr. M., I got a friend that is a stripper and she told me how much she makes. I could pay for my school stripping on the weekends."

Touche, I thought. "You're willing to drive all the way from Cleveland to Jackson or Memphis on the weekends just for a weekend job as a stripper? That doesn't seem too practical."

She responded unfazed. "Well, I won't really want to strip anywhere near where I go to school."

We talked about it for a little bit longer, and I think I changed her mind...or at least got her to think again. It was just surprising to me that one of the smartest girls in the school was even thinking about becoming a stripper. Nothing against strippers, but LH just doesn't seem to fit the bill. I just thought you needed to be a little more desperate to strip, and she SEEMS like she has things in order. Who knows.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

March Blog #2...at the buzzer.

Nothing like waiting until the last minute to finish the blogs…I still have 18 minutes until its technically late…

So, I know by now next year’s class is either set, or close to it, and blogs are an excellent way for the new guys to sort of get a feel for what they’re in store for next fall. With apologies to David Letterman, here are the Top 10 reasons to be a part of the Mississippi Teacher Corps.

10.) It’s a free masters. Honestly, this is a sweet deal. You get a Master’s done in two years for free while working a full-time job and getting paid real money. The coursework is not overly demanding and you save big bucks by getting your school work paid for.

9.) If you don’t teach here, who will? It’s called a teacher shortage, folks. Everybody’s feeling the pinch, but nowhere worse than in the Delta. People HAVE to be in the classrooms, and if its not you, who knows who it might be.

8.) If you want to feel like you are making a difference, now is the time to do it. For the most part, we are all fairly recent college graduates, and for the most part, we are still idealistic enough to believe that we can make a difference. I just don’t know if we’re capable of holding on to that idealism after too long in the “real world.”

7.) You need to see what’s going on first-hand. People talk about the problems that are plaguing our nation’s schools and sometimes you just need to see it to believe it. Luckily for me, my school’s not perfect, but I haven’t seen anything that sends shivers up my spine, but after listening to some of my classmates…it happens.

6.) To steal from CBS’s catchphrase regarding the Master’s golf tournament, “The Delta, a tradition unlike any other.” The Delta is so unique, with its own culture and history and way of life that is amazing in so many different ways. I mean, on my way to school, I pass some of the most historical places in the world if you are a fan of the Blues, but at the same time, I drive through some of the most pitiful places in the country to live. The juxtaposition of historical value and poverty is mind-blowing.

5.) If you are white, it’s interesting and eye opening to be in the minority. Since I lived in Argentina for two years prior to joining the Teacher Corps, this was nothing new to me, but it’s still an interesting and insightful experience to try and fit in where it seems like you may not belong.

4.) The kids need you. Honestly. This may be related to number 9, but it’s different. The kids need to see someone that has high expectations for them and someone that can fill them with hope. To see someone come from the outside and be helpful, friendly, and outgoing is refreshing…after they realize that you WANT to be there and are not looking at them as charity cases.

3.) Mississippi needs you. Some of us have done service world-wide, be it Peace Corps or in my case, a religious mission, but as much help as the rest of the world needs, we need it right here in Mississippi as well. Our contributions may be small and the results may not be immediately visible, but helping out the kids and trying our best to make sure they become independent thinkers, capable of learning on their own, and thinking critically is imperative to the effort to keep this state from falling further behind. An educated work force is one of the best ways to assure that businesses invest in this state. It’s a vicious circle, and right now Mississippi’s out of the loop and we’re trying to break in.

2.) You’ll learn more about yourself than you think. Heck, I’ve been me my whole life…I would think that I knew myself pretty well, but when you are responsible for the education of 135 kids, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to do it right. I won’t say it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done because I know its not, but the pressures and the responsibilities are different than anything most of us have ever done. You’ll learn a lot when you’re under the gun…hopefully not literally…but hey, it’s a possibility!

1.) Why the heck not? Honestly. What else can you be doing? If it weren’t for the Mississippi Teacher Corps, I would probably be working ungodly hours for ridiculously pitiful pay producing TV newscasts with an entry-level job. If I don’t like teaching, an entry-level job is still going to be there waiting for me. All I did was take two years doing something very respectable and made more money at it than I would have using my degree. Sometimes I feel bad because, if I do say so myself, I thought I could be pretty dang good in the field of broadcast journalism. But my professor for my capstone class in TV news reporting told me, “we need more good teachers than we need good TV reporters. Go be good in a place where we need you most.”

High School Sports...ahhh, the "Glory Days"

In many ways, athletics at my school seem to be a joke. I don’t coach, and honestly, I don’t think that I could because of the atmosphere surrounding athletics. Throughout this school year, our teams have proven to be mediocre at best. The students are all extremely athletic, but it seems that they let the athleticism get to their heads and there is no real improvement in the teams. Fundamentals in all the sports are sorely lacking and they are trying to get by on pure athleticism.

In the fall, the football team advanced to the first round of the playoffs before bowing out, but after watching the team’s performance, I think they qualified for the playoffs just because the other teams in the division were worse, not because we were much better. I saw several games this season, and all of them were riddled with turnovers poor decision making. I don’t know how many times I saw our punt returners try and return a punt that landed inside our own 10 yard line or how many ways our QB’s and RB’s managed to mishandle snaps and handoffs. I just thought that by the end of the year, many of these mental mistakes would be taken care of, and teams that are considered to be the best in their respective divisions just don’t make mistakes like that.

Also in the fall, the girls’ softball team’s season came to a screeching halt before the season even started when there was nobody hired to coach the team.

Winter, of course, brings with it the basketball season, which at this school was not a real source of pride. The boys’ team was a train wreck from the get-go, and at some point I think that just about every boy in the school was on the team. Kids came and went, some quit, some were dismissed, more came, and more quit or were dismissed, and finally the athletic director came up with a rule that if you quit a team, you could not participate in another school sport until the sport you quit finished its season. Thank goodness they did that or else I’m not sure we would have fielded a team for the post-season tournament since so many kids quit when track season started. After talking to several of the boys on the team, most were dissatisfied with the coach and how he yelled and made them run. On the court, the boys got murdalized in just about every game they played. The same mental mistakes that plagued the football team carried over into basketball season. Again, they were relying too much on their athleticism and not enough on fundamentals and organization.

The girls, however, had a fairly respectable season and seem to avoid many of the problems that they boys had…however, I must confess that I only saw two or three girls games this year.

In my mind, spring means one thing…baseball. I was so excited to go out and watch some baseball after school…was I ever let down. I went to one game and decided that was all the baseball I needed to see. I watched as our pitcher threw a no-hitter through four innings and the other pitcher had a two-hitter going. Now, you would think that this was some sort of a pitcher’s duel and a low-scoring affair. On the contrary, the score was 12-6. Most innings went like this: walk, walk, hit batter, wild pitch, walk, error on an infielder, strike out, walk, walk, error, walk, wild pitch, passed ball, strike out, thrown out stealing. After four innings it was time to leave before my head exploded.

We just started track season, and we seem to be doing really well so far…it’s too early to pass judgment just yet.

So, at my school, this is how athletics works. The coaches do a good job of keeping the kids in line, and they do a good job of helping other teachers with their athletes. The coaches that I have worked with have been extremely cooperative and supportive and there have been no shenanigans from them. Nobody complains, so I guess this year is just another year for our teams.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Classroom Management for Dummies

All you need for classroom management is right here.

So, I went to the Ole Miss vs. Louisiana State basketball game the other night, and things got a little out of hand. I got a little too rowdy, yelled a little too much, (Man, do I hate LSU...
freakin' corndogs!!) and had to walk a little too far in the cold weather to get back to my car afterwards...these conditions combined led to the awkward circumstance of not being able to speak on Thursday morning. So I get to school and tried to do the normal thing; I tried to speak in my normal "man-teacher" voice...not happening. So, on to Plan B, which incorporated speaking the best I could despite the fact that my voice was barely more than a gravelly whisper.

Apparently, I need to scream my lungs out at basketball games more often...either that or use my "quiet voice" a little more often because even in the post-Valentine's Day chocolate and sugar induced frenzy that the kids were in today, their behavior was drastically modified by my sudden loss of volume. I don’t know if it was just the change, or if they actually wanted to pay attention today (Yeah…right!) but today was just one of those days that make you think that you are actually making a difference, more than just one child at a time. Other than the three office referrals that I had to write today, it just seemed like everything was clicking.

One of the phrases I hear my kids say all the time is, “Chill out, Cuz!” Maybe I need to take that advice, and just chill out. I get so keyed up because I have this desire to instill in my kids the love of learning, not just Spanish, but all their classes that sometimes I do it with reckless abandon. I sometimes forget where a lot of these kids are coming from and I hold it against them when they don’t show the desire to learn.

When I say that I need to "chill out," I don't mean that I need to relax my standards or expectations, but I need to not freak out on some of these kids. I had a phenomenal professor in college who constantly said that if we, as students, were not understanding or meeting his ultra-high expectations, that it was his fault for not properly motivating us to do well. I don't know if I agree with that 100% of the time in 100% of the circumstances, but I do believe that there is some truth to it...inasmuch as the child is capable of having the desire to succeed.

While you ponder the issues behind motivation, go ahead...have a corndog!

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Fight Club

"If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second of your life. Don't you have better things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and creedence to all who claim it!? Do you read everything you're supposed to read? Do you think everything you're supposed to think? Buy what you're told you should want? Get out of your appartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you're alive. If you don't claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned........Tyler."

I guess last week, the students at my school took this advice to heart. Through Wednesday, over 10 students had been suspended as a result of fights. Sadly enough, nearly all of them were girls, fighting for simple, petty reasons.

That b**** was messin' around wit' my man!

That b**** was haggin' on me in 2nd period.

That b**** was lookin' at me funny in da' hall!

Don't nobody tell me to shut up, especially that b****.

I only had to break up one of them, the others happened to be at the other end of the building, but I'm sure grateful for the help from the Chemistry teacher. Everybody else was willing to let them go to the end. Apparently they want to live in a "Fight Club" world, but are not willing to play by the rules of Fight Club.

"The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club, someone yells 'stop', goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule, only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule, one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule, no shirt, no shoes. Seventh rule, fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule, if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight."

I really can't understand the need that some of these children have to fight. I can even sit down with them and explain things to them, explain that they don't have to fight. It's not even a reactionary thing that they are doing. They are consciously choosing to commit this type of behavior, knowing that there are consequences and even knowing what those consequences are.

I told one student this and she replied to me, "Mr. Madson, I know they gonna suspend me for fightin', but I don't care. Don't nobody gonna' talk to me like dat."

My only guess is that it has some sort of primeval instinct tied into power or pride or something of the sort. But heck, for all I know, they are just following the advice and example of Brad Pitt's character from the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden. "How much can you possibly know about yourself if you've never been in a fight? I don't want to die without any scars."

They are definetly doing alot of "self-actualization" recently. So much, in fact, that the principal made an announcement on Thursday that any fighters would face immediate 10-day suspensions and their cases would be turned over to Juvenile Court. I was reluctant to believe that this would actually happen, but I ran into one of the girls that was suspended for fighting, who just happens to be one of my favorite students, and she confirmed to me that she had already been to court, but the other girl involved in the fight failed to appear, resulting in a delay of the hearing. I was happy to hear that things are being done to curtail the violence. Since the mandate came down from on high that fighters will face the maximum sentence allowed, the number of fights has declined sharply...not surprising for only being in effect for one week, but hopefully we can keep the fights down for the rest of the year.