. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Does GATE Education Really Work?

I've been doing a lot of thinking about GATE education, also known as Gifted and Talented education, and public education in general. 

When I was teaching in the public schools many years ago, I had a different viewpoint about student groupings than I do now. Back then (in the later 1990's) I believed that all classrooms should be a heterogeneous mixture of students. That all students, regardless of learning levels or abilities, should be grouped into one class. It makes it challenging to a teacher since s/he has to provide appropriate education to all levels of students, from the lower-leveled student to the gifted student.  All students learn at a different pace anyway, and so I felt that I was up to that challenge. If you ask me, and probably if you asked my former principals, I think I did a pretty good job meeting everyone's needs. But I did teach mostly science, and feel that science lends itself naturally to heterogeneous groupings. Now, however, I'm wondering if heterogeneous grouping really works anymore. Especially in math education. Even if a teacher "teaches to the middle", s/he runs the risk of leaving behind the lower kids and boring the gifted kids. How can all kids be challenged to do their best at any assignment when a teacher has such a huge range of abilities to deal with?

Now I'm not in the classroom as a teacher anymore, but am as an instructional assistant. Maybe I'm a frustrated instructional assistant because I'm constantly thinking of ways the classroom teacher could modify their lessons to meet students of different abilities. I see many examples of teachers working with students who have lower abilities in, say, math.  But then they leave the gifted students totally bored because they've finished with the assignment and have nothing left to work on.  "Read, Write, Draw, or Do Homework" should not be a direction given to the gifted students who finish their work early. Consequently, if the teacher moves on with a lesson or a concept when the top half of the students are ready, s/he will leave behind the bottom end students. It's quite frustrating.

What I do see are the teachers pacing the lessons based on the bottom half of the class curve. I see too much frustration on the part of the gifted students having nothing to do--no enrichment or application being done once they've mastered the concept. These kids are being short-changed in the public education system.  Many schools, like in the district I work for, provide a "pull out" program for the GATE kids (but this isn't for any of the academic subjects). For 45 minutes a day, they leave the regular classroom to go to a teacher who provides them with special projects that are supposed to excite them about learning and motivate them to reach their goals.  I think that all of the GATE kids like this special class--after all, it meets needs.  But what happens when the GATE kids leave the classroom?  The rest of the kids are left to do "study skills" or "Read, Write, Draw, or Do Homework". Imagine what happens to the self esteem of the kids who remain in the regular classroom. What are they feeling?  Maybe, "I'm too stupid to go to GATE." Or, "Why does he get to go to GATE when he is the biggest jerk in the class?" And of course, "Why do I have to do this boring stuff when they get to do something fun?"

So, here's what I think. Do away with the pull-out program. Provide the "cool" learning projects to all of the kids during that 45-minutes.  ALL kids can benefit from that kind of project-based learning. Have different rubriks set up for different kids. Maybe a GATE kid should write a 5-page report while a non-GATE kid should provide a 3-page report. I don't know. And what about a subject like math where kids learn at such a variety of different paces and in so many different ways? Is there anything wrong with making separate, homogeneous groups where teachers can keep students all together and engaged easier? Or teach using a different method such as with using manipulatives versus using visual keys? Yes, then there's the stigma of the "bottom" group, so who knows the solution. 

All I can say is that something does need to be changed in our public education system. Kids are miserable on all ends of the learning spectrum. And I believe that teachers are even more stressed out nowadays than when I was teaching 12 years ago. So even though I am a frustrated instructional assistant because I can't teach "my way," I don't know if I ever do want to go back to being in charge of a classroom again. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Weekly Address from President Obama

President Obama has posted his first weekly address on whitehouse.gov and has some optimistic ideas about recovery for and reinvestment in our country. The complete text of the address can be viewed here: 1/24/09 Weekly Address, below the video screen.


A Funny Funny

A dear friend from my Ladies Night Out group sent the following out in an email and made me laugh so hard. I'm sure you'll appreciate the humor as well.

Life Lesson: Always check your child's homework before it gets to school!

When asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up, 2nd grader Sarah Smith turned in the drawing shown below.  Sarah's teacher was surprised, because Mrs. Smith had always seemed like a conservative woman.  She sent a note asking for clarification as to the picture's meaning.


Dear Mrs. Jones,

I wish to clarify that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer.  I work at Home Depot and I told Sarah how hectic it was last week before the blizzard hit.  I told her we sold out every single shovel we had.  Then I found one more in the back room, and several people were fighting over who would get it.  Sarah's picture does NOT show me dancing around a pole.  It's supposed to depict me selling the last snow shovel we had at Home Depot.  From now on I will remember to check her homework more thoroughly before she turns it in.


Mrs. Smith 


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
President Obama's Inaugural Speech

Winter Weekend

This Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend was spent up in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. We drove with a group to Pagosa Springs and stayed with another family in a condo there. Pagosa Springs is a cute little town along the San Juan River and is famous for its mineral hot springs. The whole region underwent major volcanic activity about 25 million years ago, but there are some residual "hot spots". When we drove into town, the wind was blowing in our direction, so there was the unmistakable sulfur smell in the air. The hot springs cost about $20 a person and we did not want to spend that kind of money to sit in the hot, smelly water out in the cold winter air. But the jacuzzi tub in the condo was odorless, bubbly, and free!

The rocks in Pagosa Springs are mainly sedimentary rocks from gravels, sandstones, and shales, and as you drive along US 160 (following the San Juan River) toward the Wolf Creek Pass and the ski resort, more and more basalts are seen. The higher we drove, more tuffs and welded tuffs were seen on the tops of the peaks where the snow wasn't covering them.

We skied at Wolf Creek Ski Resort on Sunday and it was a perfect day for it.  The sun was out, it was in the 30's, and there were only a few high, wispy clouds. The views from the top of the Bonanza and Treasure lifts were incredible and the snow was nicely groomed and not too fast. We stuck to the easy runs for most of the day since we were with the kidlets, but I got to go on a more advanced run late in the day after they had decided they'd had enough skiing.

At the end of the day, we all sat around and relaxed, taking turns in the jacuzzi tub since it only fit two adults comfortably. We had stew that had been cooking in the crock pot all day for dinner and then watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix together with brownies for dessert. All in all, a great weekend.


Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year's Motto and Expressionism

"Chance favors only the prepared mind."

Louis Pasteur, French scientist and inventor of the process of pasteurization, can be credited with the above quote, but I'm going to adopt it for my motto for the New Year.

We've started the unit on Expressionism in Art class and since I know nothing of it, I'm going to prepare myself so that I can have an intelligent conversation with the Art teacher (or anyone else who comes up with the subject in the future). What our teacher reminded us today was that Impressionism is the painting of light, Cubism is the painting of what you know, and Surrealism is the painting of what you imagine (previous post here). Expressionism is art created in order to make a statement or to evoke emotions that developed during the early 1900's (during the time of World War 1). 

Mr. J gave many examples, such as the German Expressionist painting on the top right, "The Scream" by Edvard Munsch, which started the movement. The painting was done to reflect the horrors of war. Other types of Expressionism include Abstract, Fauvism, Dadaism, Minimalism, and Gestalt (shapes, geometric). 

Of all the kinds of Expressionism, I think that Abstract Expressionism is the most interpretive. Each different person can see a different image and feel something different as well. It is also the kind of Expressionism that a chimpanzee paints (previous post here). One famous Abstract Expressionist painter is Jackson Pollock, who painted this piece on the left called "No. 5."  To me, it looks like it was painted by dripping and drizzling paints over a canvas.  Guess what? It was! Is that talent or what?

Another form of Expressionism that I found interesting is the form of Minimalism. Maybe it is the simplicity of paintings that aren't all "cluttered up" with chaos. If you know me, you know I don't do too well with chaos, whether it be crowded places, loud parties, or Los Angeles traffic. Visual chaos is too much as well. The minimalist painter tends to paint the solid black squares on a canvass or a vertical stripe from the top of a canvas to the bottom and will call it art.  But there are good pieces out there like the one here on the above right, "Composition No. 10," by Piet Mondrian.

So now I go prepared and am confident that I can carry on a conversation about Expressionistic art.  For at least two minutes, anyway.

One other thing, I've gotten a reading assignment from the 6th grade teacher. Next week, she'll introduce the novel, "Tangerine" by Edward Bloor to her 6th grade Language Arts class. Since "chance favors only the prepared mind," I've got to read it this weekend so that I can work with the students in the weeks to come on their question and vocabulary packets. It looks pretty good. 


Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Superstitions

It's a good thing I'm not a superstitious person. I just read a list about superstitions associated with the New Year and I think I broke just about every one of their guidelines. I was wondering about such traditions surrounding the New Year, like why kissing at midnight is so important and whether or not it was okay to eat leftover turkey soup today for lunch (I had heard somewhere that to do so would be bad luck). So I did some Google searching and fell upon one of my favorite websites, the place to go to find out if something is true or a load of hogwash: Snopes.com.

According to the article on the website, "New Year's Superstitions," it is important to kiss those dearest to us at midnight to make sure that the affection and closeness you feel together lasts throughout the next twelve months. If you don't kiss your loved one at midnight, a year of coldness will be your fate. 

I didn't kiss my significant other at midnight.  Didn't give him a kiss for at least 12 hours afterwards.

Good ol' Snopes.com did have a mention about eating turkey on the first day of the year, believe it or not. The article says that you must not eat chicken or turkey on the first day of the year or else you'll end up scratching in the dirt for food like the birds in question.

I didn't have the leftover turkey noodle soup for lunch today, but my significant other did. The bummer thing is, I did have some turkey cubes in my salad.

And what about the annoying tradition of making a heck of a lot of noise on New Year's? This is so that you can scare away evil spirits because, after all, evil spirits hate loud noises.  

Well, I hate loud noises, too, and so did not make any kind of ruckus last night.

Other Superstitions:
  • Pay off debt: Nope, didn't do that. We're still in debt.
  • Nothing goes out of the house: Nope, didn't follow that one, either. Took out a lot of holiday ornaments and trash today.
  • Food: Nope, didn't eat the lucky food today. I don't like lentils or black-eyed peas and I definitely don't like sauerkraut.
  • Work: Do something successful related to my work? Nope, didn't do anything educational at all today.
  • Laundry: Don't do laundry on the first day of the New Year or else a member of the family will be 'washed away' in the upcoming months.  Oh, I sure hope this doesn't come true since I did two loads today.
  • Clothing: Wear something new on the first day of the year? No, didn't do that. I'm in my old blue t-shirt and jeans.
  • Breakage: Oops, we broke an ornament from the tree when taking it apart today. Now wreckage will be part of my year.
For many other hilarious and interesting superstitions, read the article yourself. I'm just a bit miffed that I didn't read the article yesterday so that I could have given myself a chance.

Hope you have a happier year than I'm obviously going to have!