Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Zombie Snow Day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What the Zombie Teacher's students do on a snow day.

What Zombie Teacher eats for breakfast on Snow Day. Blueberry pancakes! 

(with no brains)

The mess people think Zombie Teacher will be shoveling on Snow Day.


Zombie Cat identifies the season of the Snow Day.

What Zombie Teacher will ACTUALLY be doing on Snow Day.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Epic Battle: Zombie Teacher vs. the Dreaded PENCIL

Another trimester has come and almost gone. We are nearly two thirds of the way through the year! Very few seconds were ill spent, which sure does make the time fly. Being a teacher also puts the education of my own children into its proper perspective. 

Take the conundrum of pencils. 

We currently have 6 pencils in our drawers at home. They are either semi-dull, dull to the point of unusable, or have never been sharpened. Do we own any pencil sharpeners? No. I mentioned this to a fellow teacher at school, and he said that he also had no sharpener. Why spend the money when a knife works just fine?

We also have staples, but no stapler; a pile of dried out pens and highlighters still sitting in the cup, and several dull scissors. I think we have a couple paper clips in the back of the utility drawer. We also have 4 flat head screw drivers, but I couldn't tell you where our only Phillips screw driver is to save my own life. (see knife comment above!)

In the spirit of modern times, I have started to wonder if the old ways of well-stocked desks are a thing of the past. How often do we use good old-fashioned hand tools like pencils in our every day lives anymore? What is their purpose when we have computers? And erasable pens? And touch screens that allow us to write with "pens" ON the computer? Is it worth the battle to expect students to bring pencils to class every day, when there is so little need for them in their future lives and careers? 

Because I have tried everything. Warnings. Parent emails. Sending notes home. Trips to clean lockers. Trading for a shoe. Writing their name on the board. Just giving pencils out for free every day until I'm out. And the pencils still will not come. 

On any given day, there are at least 3 students in every class who forget a pencil. They have pens (some erasable, some not). They have markers. And sharpies. And gel pens. And highlighters. But a pencil? PSHAAAAW!  And if there is a pencil, chances are it's the fancy refillable kind with it's very own size of lead that no one else has. Aaaand it's empty.

I can't say myself that I find pencils to be a particularly efficient or motivating tool. They must be sharpened, which requires either prior planning or verbal permission to get out of one's seat, thus drawing attention to the sharpener and often disrupting instruction time. Even electric pencil sharpeners tend to jam easily. I think I went through 4 during my first year of teaching, at my own expense of course. 

Then, there are always a few students who forget that colored pencils jam and dull the sharpener, rendering it useless for the next customer. And worst of all, the ultimate embarrassment, is after all of this drama, having to enter the neighboring classroom to use THEIR sharpener! Thus, many students choose to sit at their desk and simply not do any work at all, because they forgot (or intentionally didn't bring) a pencil. 

Which I cannot and will not accept.

The reasons for needing pencils in education are dwindling as well. State and school tests are often online. Students can fix errors on tests just as well with an erasable pen, as a pencil. Teachers have original and fancy correcting tools of their own, totally unique in color and format to their students, and very few grade with the old-fashioned nasty red ball-points anymore. Not to mention that a vast amount of student work is now done on the computer. Assignments can even be sent via email to the teacher, sans printing!

So we come to a cross roads, as educators who were educated in the twentieth century, when the pencil was hallowed as "the" tool. Our students, born and educated in the twenty-first century, avoid pencils like a zombie plague. Who will win this epic battle? Zombie teacher? The pencil? The sword? The pen? 

Only time will tell. But while we wait for the outcome, I may just have to buy me one of these fancy Ork pencil holders. (please note that there are, count 'em, NO PENCILS in the cup at all)


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Interdisciplinary Unit - Walk Two Moons

Happy Tuesday to everyone! It feels like Monday, after having Presidents' Day off. We almost forgot to bring the garbage and recycling cans down. Which is really really not pretty in a house with 3 boys, 2 cats and a dog for Mommy to clean up after. Having Mondays off really messes with the rhythm at school too, for kids and teachers alike. Is it band or choir? My homework is due on Wednesday? You mean that's TOMORROW??? 

The day off also messes with the nightly TV watching schedules, making a decent bed time nearly impossible. Take last night for instance... my husband and I started Moneyball at 9:30, thinking no problem! Oh wait, it's a two-hour movie!! But it was worth it. And oh, the data connections with RBI and ERA and errors, etc... I have even spotted students reading the book at school! Have any of the Language Arts teachers written an Accelerated Reader test for that yet??? 

Continuing on the theme of books and TV and other connections, I have to give a shout out to my wonderful Language Arts team member (she knows who she is) who encouraged me to read Walk Two Moons recently. The hope was that we could teach some interdisciplinary themes related to mathematics and nature, and the interconnectedness of people and events in our lives. 

In Language Arts, the students are learning about "string theory", as they read the book and watch the new Fox show "Touch". The son of the main character is autistic, and is only able to communicate through numbers. The Fibonacci Sequence is referred to verbally and through phone designs and other visual cues in the pilot episode. 

In Science, our team teacher is showing the students how the Fibonacci Sequence shows up in nature, in common patterns like an unfolding frond or a snail shell. Some of these interdisciplinary connects were planned; others just randomly cropped up and shocked us teachers into silence. 

In math, I decided to look into the major "red strings" in Sal's life, and how her connections grow as she journeys both physically and metaphorically through the events of the book. Starting with her birth, and working forward through her immediate family life, and issues, then through the main events of the story and beyond. It looked an awful lot like a mind map web activity when I was done (or students could do this themselves). 

I won't give out any spoilers that might ruin the book for those of you who haven't read it; suffice it to say, I was shocked to find that the number of connections in the book grows in an almost LINEAR pattern!!! WHAT!?!?!

Which got me thinking, is this just a total fluke coincidence? Or would students come up with the same data? So I wrote a math lesson, which I hope some day to expand into a series of math/language arts interdisciplinary topics (whenever I get around to writing it). Keep an eye on my Teachers Pay Teachers site for it, maybe this summer? In the mean time, you can get a non-copyable picture version if you just can't wait to try it yourself. I will report back with results next week from my own classes. Huzza Huzza.

P.S./Related Side Note: My husband and I had a kid-free night on Saturday at the cabin in Hinckley. We decided to try out a new restaurant on the Wisconsin side of the border, in Danbury. We normally hit up the Wild Waters Sports Bar which has great food and a north-woodsy welcoming atmosphere. On a whim, we switched things up and drove to the LumberJack Saloon & Eatery on Webb Lake instead. As we ventured further and further into the middle of nowhere, surrounded on both sides by thick pine and dense underbrush, we started to wonder if we were lost! 

After nearly half an hour of intermittent and relatively unhelpful Garmin App driving directions, we finally located the restaurant parking lot, shuffled our penguin walks across the iced gravel, and entered through two sets of doors into the little neighborhood restaurant. No sooner had we opened the door, when a curly haired, blonde woman stood up and shouted, "CHRIS!?!?!" at my husband! (Which is his name). 

Turned out to be a coworker from a job that Chris hadn't worked at in close to 7 years. They just happened to be at their cabin as well, and had also just happened to decide to go out that night. Call it random, or coincidence, or string theory, or whatever, it was BIZARRE. Like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Did you know he has his own game now!? I'm telling you, it's ALL RELATED!!!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Zombie Teacher rants on Teacher Pay Misconceptions

Welcome to the jungle of yet another year of political mine fields. No matter which side of the isle you happen to be on, everyone has an opinion on education funding and what we should (or should not) be paying teachers. My own state of Minnesota is debating whether or not the time is right for a hard pay freeze.

It's pretty obvious who falls on which side of the debate - Republicans for the most part want to bring the deficit down by cutting taxes, which therefore means less money for schools, so teachers in their opinion should shoulder some of the burden of reduced wages. While Democrats, on the flip side, want to increase taxes on the wealthy to help shoulder some of the tax burden that would pay for needed services and education costs.

We can all argue until we're blue in the face about whether or not taxing the rich to increase services, or cutting taxes to stimulate growth, is better for the nation, but there are some realities in education that simply cannot be overlooked anymore. I am offering a teacher's perspective of what it feels like financially to BE a teacher, instead of what people are hearing from politicians and their often erroneous statements.

After you've looked at the data for yourself, we'll see how many people feel that teacher pay has really "risen", while the rest of the market is in a recession. And for those nay-Sayers out there who still think that Minnesota pay is ahead of the curve, check out the NATIONAL pay averages here. Even on a national average, which is better than more than half of the states out there, "The salaries of public school teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation since 1990–91."

MN Teacher pay rates is cited directly from MN House of Representatives Research site:

The inflation data listed in the middle column of the table is taken from:

Average insurance cost data is from an 8-page Whitehouse report published in 2009 and more recent publications. I used a 40% contribution rate which is actually lower than what I contribute, but still much higher than the contributions of non-teaching professions that run closer to a 25% employee/75% employer distribution.

As a math teacher, I'm pretty good at Excel formulas. I took the published average salaries, reduced them by the factor of inflation that applied for the given year, and then subtracted the 40% of typical health care contributions that employees are expected to pay. Even before these calculations, you can look at the bottom row of totals in yellow, gray and red. Notice that while teacher salaries may appear to have increased by 17% from 2003 to the present, inflation has grown by 22% and health care increases have ballooned to 68%.

So while it may appear that teachers have "continued making more money each year", what it really equates to is a whopping net increase of $2972 over 8 years, or $370 per year. Take into account how much additional training the "average" teacher has obtained during those 8 years; either returning to college for a masters, seeking outside training from the school day, or just plain spending money on their classrooms (which we all do) and that increase is wiped out in the blink of an eye. Also keep in mind that this doesn't include the additional dental insurance, union dues, and mandatory TRA contributions that we pay. Lucky us! Those are tax-deductible. 

And don't even get me started on "not working summers". I don't know a single teacher who doesn't either teach summer school, attend committee meetings (sometimes paid), check emails, stop in to clean out the classroom, in addition to the hundreds of unpaid hours we spend correcting papers and updating our websites. What other profession has such a high out-of-the-work-day expectation of its employees?

This graph is a visual representation of the actual and adjusted columns from the table above. Isn't it shocking how different they look? Even back in the 1990's when the economy was booming, education was still putzing along with average increases of $500-$1000 per year, which is the same as it is today. Except for sky-rocketing medical costs. So the majority of teachers and other state employees continue to make less and less money each year, even IF we are lucky enough to get a union-negotiated raise.

So MN legislature... bring on the "hard freeze"... like a pay reduction is something new to teachers!?!? It's just an extension of the school distribution "deferments" that will never be repaid. And the state funding cuts to schools, with the expectation that local government levies will pick up the slack. You're not fooling anyone, politicians, with your "saving teacher jobs" line. Whose fault is it that the state is out of money!? It's YOUR FAULT!!! Because you spend all our tax-dollars on your high-horses pushing party-driven agendas that the other side will NEVER AGREE TO, instead of looking at realistic compromises using rational logic and remembering the original intent of taxation and common good that our country was founded upon. This video says it all.

In conclusion: I am a trained professional with 5 years experience, two bachelors degrees and a masters degree. I don't buy new clothes. My boys wear hand-me-downs whenever possible. When the batteries in their toys die, they rarely get replaced. We don't take expensive vacations (or hardly any vacations). I drive a 2000 two-door Alero coupe. I pay family rates for medical and dental insurance. AND my family is HEALTHY. I have a small, but annoying monthly college payment that will require another 14 years to pay off, at the rate I'm going. And another not-so-small amount of revolving credit card debt. I've written a book that makes a pittance. I sell teacher materials on and off-line. I do freelance book reviewing and sell an occasional item on eBay. I have occasional garage sales and also attend them. I shop at Walmart because I can't afford Target's prices. We have very generous parents and in-laws.

And we still *barely* make ends meet each month.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tragedy strikes in small-town Montrose a few blocks from home

My family's thoughts and prayers are with the family of Hayden Solien. We often take it for granted that small town life is safe and quiet and slow-paced, and the tragedy that occurred to end 7-year old Hayden's life on Friday has shaken our community to the core. While waiting on the sidewalk for his bus to pick him up for school, Hayden was hit by an out-of-control car that had just ran the only stoplight in town. Both the boy and the driver of the vehicle were killed. Below is a link to the full article of what happened.

As parents of two boys, my husband and I had a very hard time with this news. We deliberated about whether or not to discuss what had happened with our 2- and 4-year old children. Would they understand what had happened? Could they generalize about the danger of cars and street safety enough to apply it to their own sheltered lives? I didn't think it was appropriate. But after driving by the accident scene this morning, where a touching memorial of teddy bears and flowers and a cross had already begun to form, I changed my mind.

So we stopped by the store and picked out a soft little teddy, all the while I was trying not to get teary-eyed thinking of my own boys, and how precious they are to me. And the deep sympathy I feel for Hayden's family and teachers and friends as they try to cope with his loss. 

As we drove home, we talked about the little boy and how he did everything he was supposed to do, waiting safely on the sidewalk, and how the car was out of control and the driver wasn't able to stop. We talked about how you can never be too careful around streets and cars, even if you are on the sidewalk or in the grass. And sometimes accidents happen anyway, even if everyone is being as careful as they should be. 

The boys watched from Red's Cafe parking lot as I crossed the street and added our teddy to the memorial. We sent a prayer up to heaven for its newest little angel, that he find peace and happiness in his new home.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shout out to my Zombie audience!

One of the coolest parts about blogging is checking out who is reading. Sure, you can write a book or submit an article that is published in paper form, but you don't get timely or specific feedback into who your audience really is. So thanks to for housing my musings! And for being so easy to use! And for all the tools that make a semi-illiterate website builder like myself look like I actually know what I'm doing. 

For those of you who have never written a blog or played with its tools and settings before, this is what I see when I log into my "stats" tab:

 I am so thrilled and honored to have such a diverse crowd of readers. So I wanted to give a shout out to my fans in Europe, (especially the Hoobble crowd in the Netherlands!) and various other countries I've never been to, but always wanted to visit... like Germany and India and Australia. A big part of that readership has to be attributed to blog readers on Facebook and LinkedIn. What wonderful times we live in! 

The Pageview Browser pie chart is also pretty interesting to look at. I knew that we at my house have loved Firefox for years. But I had no idea that it had taken over so completely from Internet Explorer! Heck, even Google Chrome is giving Explorer a run for its money. 

And then there is the Operating System pie chart... Windows is crushing Mac on the operating systems of choice for Zombie readership. Sorry to my Mac fans, but I always have been, and probably always will be, a PC lover. How you Mac users can tolerate not being able to right-click!?!? I'll never understand it. I try to right-click the radio in my car sometimes, like I could pause live radio or something.

Although, maybe I am misinterpreting all this data? Does it have more to do with zombies than my content? Do the living dead have a PC preference because Macs are too hard to use when your bones are crumbling to dust? If I started blogging in broken Spanish, would I start picking up readers in the southern hemisphere of the globe? Or are they just not that interested in zombies? 

Fascinating questions. Food for thought for the weekend. Peace out.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Real-world Volume & Capacity connections from Zombie child

Happy weekend, dear readers. My math classes are currently studying surface area and volume of solids and we came across the conundrum of cylinder volume. How oddly counter-intuitive is it, that a short, seamingly smaller cylinder, can actually hold more capacity than a taller, skinnier cylinder? Hence the video above, in which I try a classic conservation of quantity experiment out on Zombie Teacher's 4-year old son Ethan. (who is not currently a zombie)

Piaget would tell you that the conservation of continuous quantity is a developmental skill. By the time we are six years old, most of us have some understanding that equal amounts of liquid or solid don't change quantity simply by putting them in taller or fatter containers. But it's quite amusing to try out the experiment on younger children! And occasionally on older kids and grown-ups, just to see how spatially advanced they are.

For example, these two cylinders do NOT have the same volume. But can you guess which one holds more liquid? Think it's the taller one? You're WRONG! We are studying the math in class right now and it's as simple as stacking coins. Prism volume is equivalent to the area of its base, (big B) multiplied by its height. In the case of a cylinder, the area of the bottom "coin" or base, is equal to volume of a 1-coin cylinder (except in units cubed instead of squared). The "height" of the cylinder then becomes how many coins are stacked; thus, increasing the volume of the first "layer" by its height/layer factor.

Area of the shorter, "horizontally gifted" cylinder, then, is 7 x 7 x 7 pi = 343 pi 

Area of the taller, "vertically gifted" cylinder, then, is 18 x 4 x 4 x pi = 288 pi 

SHORTY WINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

I like to show Ethan's conservation video after having taught the formula, and then to challenge my students to go home and try the experiment with family members (hopefully younger ones). AS LONG AS they make an attempt to explain not only the purpose of the experiment, but the math behind it, to the subject of their experiment. This forces them to internalize the formula in an effort to explain it to someone else. Because we all know the best way to really learn material is to have to teach it yourself!!

Yes, those are match box cars playing with the solids.
Other cool tricks that kids can try, or you can demo before the class, include the pyramid/prism and cone/cylinder volume conundrum. Did you know that there is a proportional relationship between the volume of a cylinder, and the volume of a cone? and a sphere too? There is a similar relationship between square- or rectangular- based prisms and pyramids of equal base sizes. It just doesn't visually make sense.

I like to survey my class first, either with fingers or on paper, to write down how many times they think the pyramid solids will fit into their prism counterparts. I tell them they can give me "half a knuckle" if they think it needs a decimal answer (it doesn't). Then I show them either with rice, or on this absolutely fantastic interactive web page from CMP2. Make sure you have the sound on because it has fantastic sound effects! The little sink "fills" the solids, and the drain "empties" them out. 

First, fill the cone and pour it into the cylinder. It's not full. Do it again. It's still not full. Do it again. It's full! The cone fills the cylinder 3 times. Hence, the pi x radius squared x height formula is proportionally true for a cone; it's just 1/3 the answer.

Try filling the cone and dumping it into the sphere. The cone fills the sphere TWICE! 

And the creepiest, coolest one of all, is to fill the cone and sphere, and empty them both into the cylinder to fill it perfectly! The cone fills up all the gaps between the round parts of the sphere, like melting ice cream from the cone back into the tub.

The 1/3 relationship also works with a rectangular- or square-based pyramid and it's equal-based prism counter-part, LxWxH (x1/3 for the pyramid). And you do NOT need to spend any money at all to use the online app. You just need either a computer bay for students to try it themselves, or a Smart board to demo it in front of the class.

I am lucky enough to have both... so I show it on the Smart board and with the rice first, and then give the kids a chance to try it themselves. You'd think it was a preschool party, with how many 7th graders try to swarm the rice "sensory" table to play with my solids sets. And oh, how nasty the floor gets. I get down on my hands and knees after school to scrape up as much of the rice mess as I can, so the custodians don't report me for destruction of the carpet! And I feed them a lot of cookies at Christmas time :o)

Try it out. Play. Experiment. See!? Math is fun.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Kitty photos of Bruce for no particular reason

Thank you to the Animal Humane Society of Buffalo for not only posting pics of our precious new kitten on the AHS website and sucking me into adopt him, but also for making the adoption process so easy. We got food, a litter box, litter, some toys, and of course the kitten there. 

He was dropped off on a Wednesday, neutered on a Thursday, and ready for adoption by Saturday when we came to get him. Shots and everything are up to date! He stopped hiding after only a day or two and now prances around our feet and lays on our laps and chairs and pretty much just looks darn cute all the time. And he has the most ADORABLE little meow and purr purr purr.

Enjoy the pics. As you can tell, he likes hiding in our shirts ;) Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce!