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The Epitome of a Slow Salsa

11 PM, the night before my final 120 class.

In reality: In Memorial Library study lab, grading papers, grading Emoji essays, gearing up for tomorrow’s discussion sections.

In my mind: …one two three…five six seven…just want to dance…(also, doesn’t help any that my iPhone just started playing “Vivir Lo Nuestro.”)

The epitome of a sad salsa.

So sad, but I just wanna dance…

6

Tales From School: 4, 3, 2, 1, Pharaohs Want Their Buildings Done

After an exhausting weekend of two 3-hour drives, 2 workshops, 1 roundtable, and a ton of fun new memories at Eau Claire, it was time to get back to Madison and back to school. With my college students, I managed to stay awake enough to discuss Mother Courage with them, but stayed up half the night brainstorming ideas for how to introduce my next unit to my elementary school students tomorrow. Since Passover is coming up next week, and we have two weeks off, I got them started on thinking about this month’s country, Egypt.

I started off today with a riddle:

“My first letter is in a TREE but is not a FRUIT, my second letter is in the GARDEN but is not a FLOWER, my third letter is in the SKY but is not in the CLOUDS, my fourth letter is on the PLAINS but not in the LAND, and my fifth letter is in the DESERT but not in the SAND.”

In order to solve it, my students needed to figure out that they had to cross off letters that appeared in both words. The first one was pretty easy, since E was the only option, but the second letter could be either G, A, D, or N; the third could be K or Y; the fourth could be P, I, or S; and the fifth could be D, E, R, or T. After a few missed attempts (Eakie, anyone?) and running back and forth from the map, they figured out that it was Egypt. Which led me to introducing the riddle of the Sphinx, which segued into learning basic facts about modern-day Egypt (the lecture portion of the class).

After our mid-class break, we went to the multi-purpose room where I showed them pictures of some of Egypt’s great wonders: the temple at Karnak with its great pillars; the temple at Abu Simbel with the giant pharaoh statues; the Pyramids of Giza; and of course, the Sphinx. This led to a game similar to Simon Says, but I called it Pharaoh’s Builders.

The premise: One student is “pharaoh,” and all the others are builders. Pharaoh does not like it when the builders are lazy, so they must walk around in the hot hot sun until he decides which structure he wants them to build. If he says “pyramid” the builders must get in a group of four and join hands at the top; any student who does not get in that group is eliminated. If he says “sphinx”, the builders must get in a group of three; one as the pharaoh, one as the body of a cat, and one as the magic wings. Again, whoever doesn’t get into a group in time is out. If the pharaoh wants a “temple” two builders stand together side by side (with even numbers, no one gets eliminated; however, we later amended the rule to say that the couple who pairs up the slowest is eliminated). And finally, if he wants a “pillar” that means that the builders must stop where they are and put their hands to the sides; the slowest one, or the one who does the wrong position, is out. The winner becomes the next pharaoh.

We did this for several rounds and it was extremely fun. For the most part. The hiccups that occurred:

  • Tracey kept forgetting what a pillar was, despite making the final two almost every round, crossing her arms instead of putting them to the side.
  • One time, with four players left, the pharaoh called “sphinx.” Bella kneeled, Nora went down on all fours behind her, and Perry made the wings, but as he knelt down, Nelly slipped between him and Nora, making her own wings. Of course, arguing ensued, with the pharaoh (and me) saying that Perry was out because he hesitated when making the wings, Bella and Nora saying that Nelly cheated by cutting in front of Perry. In the end, though, it was resolved when the pharaoh said “what the pharaoh says, goes,” which actually solved the problem, and Perry (who is a pretty easygoing kid) went to the sidelines with no argument.
  • The game was pretty much determined by whoever made the pillar pose the fastest when the pharaoh called out “pillar,” so basically it was a game of walking and waiting. In one round, however, when Nora and Stephanie were in the final two with Nelly as pharaoh, Perry yelled “pillar!” from the sidelines, which confused the heck out of everyone else. It was a great discipline opportunity however; once that round had finished and Nora had won, I told the class that Perry, being a disobedient builder and not respecting the rules of the game, would be required to sit the next round out, and that we would play two more rounds.
  • Of course, there was a ton of arguing “I got here first!” “You moved!” but for the most part, the “what the pharaoh says goes” rule worked to resolve it, and if not that, then “what the teacher says goes.”

Despite the aforementioned issues, I think that this game is incredibly useful and does not get annoying like other games (like The Game We Shall Never, Ever Mention Again). I could play Pharaoh’s builders all day. The best part is that the kids will definitely remember all those things now.

That was quite the long blog post. In other news, today is 4/4 and I paid my VISA bill today using check #444. So that’s something?

0

Tales From School: Drawn, Quartered, Nickeled, and Dimed

Another day, another tale from elementary school. As usual, all names changed.

In today’s Jewish Studies lesson, we talked about kehillah, or the concept of community. With the unusual amount of stress of the past week, I hadn’t been able to think of anything worthwhile to do today, but about an hour before class I was sitting on my couch, looking at the items on my coffee table when I came across my dish of spare change.

Then the idea came to me.

Fast forward an hour or two to school. We spent the first hour talking about what a community is, what it means to be a part of a community, and why community is important. At the start of the second hour of class, I asked them to name different members of the community. Early choices were money collector (for the poor), charity organizer, and event coordinator; all good ideas, but not exactly what I was going for. So then, I suggested, a town mayor, and along came suggestions of doctor, lawyer, dentist, fireman, and policeman. Then, Allison chimed in with “hairdresser,” which she wants to be when she grows up. I wrote it on the board, but in a separate column from the other jobs, explaining that hairdressing is a service and a luxury. Not all towns need or can afford to have a hairdresser, but a hairdresser can be a community member. Other people then chimed in with toy store owner, bookstore owner, restaurant owner, and musician. Back in the first column, we included construction worker, plumber, engineer, teacher, food seller and a few others. My co-worker Clara suggested truck driver, to transport goods in and out. I made a few final suggestions, with postal worker (in case our community has no Internet), garbage collector (somebody’s gotta take the trash out), and rabbi (because, Jewish.)

Then, I went over to my backpack and took out the dish of spare change that had been sitting on my coffee table earlier (I fished out all the pennies and foreign coins before class). I told the class that each of them (and Clara, my co-worker, who decided to play with us) would receive a coin. If they received a quarter, that would mean that they had a big job in the community, were important, were responsible for a lot of human lives. Students who got nickels would choose medium-size jobs, not too big or too small, but people who might be of value to the community. The dime would be the most difficult one: someone who is in the community but does not or cannot contribute as much as the other two.

The students closed their eyes and put their hands out, and I distributed the coins at random. Out of the group of 16, 4 ended up with quarters, 7 with nickels, and 5 with dimes. I told all the students with quarters to stand, and tell everyone what their role in the community would be. Shoshana wanted to be the community’s doctor; Mia, the nurse; William, the banker; and my co-worker Clara, as the teacher (creative choice there, partner.) Then, they sat down and the 7 nickel students stood up and chose roles. Jesse wanted to be a pilot, Tricia wanted to own a restaurant, of course, Allison wanted to be a hairdresser, and so on. Then, the 5 students with dimes stood up. Molly wanted to be a girl detective like Nancy Drew, which I thought was a good example; part of the purpose was to recognize that children can be part of the community too. Petunia wanted to be a rookie police officer, someone who was still in school. Pauline had trouble thinking of one, so I whispered in her ear “grandma,” and she announced to the rest of the class that she was going to be a grandma. The other kids laughed until I told them that just like kids, older people can be part of the community too, and made up a hypothetical situation; maybe Mia worked at the nursing home taking care of Grandma Pauline, but when Pauline was younger and still working, she was the nurse who delivered Mia! The class started understanding after that. Finally, David had trouble thinking of something, and someone suggested a student for the teacher to teach, which worked well.

Then, we sat back and looked at our community, comprised of the occupations written on the board. The class was proud of themselves, noting that they had a lot of different jobs and that it would be fun to be a part of this community. We had some time left, so I wanted to do a second round. This time around, 8 got quarters, 5 got nickels, and 3 got dimes. Shoshana got a quarter again, and even though I told her she could still be a doctor, she decided to go with mayor. Jesse chose doctor, and so on. Of the nickel group, both Molly and Mandy chose detectives, and then of the dimes, Petunia and Jillian chose girl detectives. So, this time around, we ended up with a few good choices, but 1/4 of the town was a detective. I brought up the fact that we had no one in the food industry, so Molly offered to be a detective and a food trader, and some others as well. And we had completely forgotten about the charity collector and event organizer from before. Some of the kids suggested that in addition to being a lawyer or an artist or a musician they could also organize charity work, which was a good idea.

My co-teacher was super impressed with this activity, and I didn’t think it was half-bad myself. Something to think about. What do you think?

1

Tales from School: To Market, To Market

My voice is almost gone and I’m falling asleep left, right, and center, but I think I managed to put together and execute a pretty good (if not interesting/unique) lesson plan for today.

To preface: this month in Social Studies, we traveled from Greece to Nigeria, our first country in Africa. It’s proving to be a difficult country to teach, since I know way less about it than the others we’ve done so far (Russia in September, Argentina in November, China in December, and Greece in January), but I’m turning into my own expert, I guess. Good thing we are having a guest from Nigeria come in on Thursday, thanks to one of my co-teachers.

Last week, I introduced Nigeria with a folktale, then taught some facts, and after that, broke the class up into three tribes, reflecting the three main tribes of Nigeria: the Hausa, which consists of (names changed) – Sara, Ben, Kanisha, Henry, and Suzanne; the Igbo, which is Kenny, Pilar, Jimmy, Shannon, and Hannah; and the Yoruba, which is Alexis, Abbie, Parker, Frannie, and Elizabeth. Their task was to create a costume from their given ethnic group, and at the end of class, the Hausa were in the lead, followed by Igbo and Yoruba.

So, today, after reviewing some facts, and talking about the differences between the farmer’s market here and the one in a YouTube video about Nigeria, I introduced the next challenge: the Nigerian Marketplace. In this activity, two people from each tribe would set up a market stall while two of their other tribe members would set out and barter items with the other tribes at their market stalls, while the 5th person would write down and keep track of the ingredients and the recipes. The recipes each team needed to complete were Igbo okra soupHausa jollof rice, and Yoruba efo riro (a vegetable stew). Each recipe required different quantities of ten items, represented by differently shaped/colored pieces of foam, representing onions, tomatoes, curry, ginger, spinach, yam, okra, fish, rice, and ato rodo (red pepper). Each tribe’s market stall received a different amount of goods, and the buyers went around asking for different items that they needed, offering deals. The first tribe to return to the Social Studies classroom from the marketplace with all of the items needed to make all 3 dishes would win the challenge.

It turned to chaos pretty quickly. Since the activity was supposed to emulate a Nigerian marketplace – it wasn’t too out of place. After the items were distributed to each tribe’s sellers, the buyers would get items from their team that they had too many of (for example, if they had too many onions), and barter for what they needed. Each group took a different approach. The Hausa tribe, which is mostly older kids, were very into the “character” aspect of the game and set their stall up neatly. Their sellers, Sara and Suzanne, stationed themselves behind the table and the buyers mostly stuck by them, only going out when absolutely necessary, adopting more of a “trading post” strategy. The Yoruba tribe, who completely imploded the previous week, were helped out by my boss, and they did a little better as a team but still struggled. This group had trouble understanding the challenge, and pretty much just did everything together, especially when Parker (a seller along with Elizabeth) lost interest and wandered away. As usual for that team, Abbie (the recipe writer) took control while Frannie (who was supposed to be a buyer along with Alexis) just sort of did whatever she wanted, annoying her team by picking up random items from their table and putting them on other tables, and taking random items and putting them on her tribe’s table, which made everyone angry. The Igbo tribe, which is most of the younger kids, started out with no real strategy; they did not have a lot of supervision, so their market stall was usually unmanned and just full of disorganized “stock” that the team kept trading. Pilar and Shannon were the two designated buyers and for the most part did what they were supposed to do, but Jimmy and Kenny, who were supposed to sell, got bored because the other two teams were pretty much just staying around their own tables while Pilar, Shannon, and Hannah bartered, so they started bartering their items too.

Eventually, the Igbo team compiled all the things they had and put the dishes together, so they had two dishes completed rather quickly and just needed a few items from the other groups (the Hausa were arguing about strategy and Yoruba were still trying to figure out what to do) and managed to sneak through and get all their items through their “divide and conquer” strategy and within 30 minutes, they accompanied me back to “base” (the other room) to check on their dishes. There was some minor drama when Suzanne’s chair tipped over and she fell out and hit her head (she was fine, it was probably either clumsiness or for attention), when most of the boys just wandered away from the classroom because it was too noisy, and when the Igbo team realized that they had too many tomatoes, and traded some away, but then needed them back when they realized that a tomato had been put in the wrong dish, but initially, they had all their ingredients and came back first, winning the challenge.

We were running very close to over-time, so I had the Igbo tribe clean up their items while I went to the other room. Basically, Abbie from Yoruba kind of gave up and started just giving all the items to Hausa because she was frustrated with her team, and even though neither group got all their dishes, I had them clean up anyway. That was when I learned that it can be risky to play this type of game with a mixed-age group; Alexis from Yoruba (age 6) came in crying because her team lost the challenge, and it took Abbie (age 10), Parker, and Elizabeth from Yoruba team, to cheer her up, telling her it was just a game. Abbie and Kanisha said that they understood that the point of the game wasn’t really to get all the items (actually, it was, kind of…to get the correct items) but it was about teamwork and working together (also true). In the final moments of class, I awarded 30 points to Igbo for winning and split 15 each between Hausa and Yoruba; gave Yoruba 10 points for “best leadership” (Abbie); gave Hausa and Igbo 10 points for “best teamwork”; gave Igbo 10 points for “best shoppers” (Pilar and Shannon); and a 5-point “sportsmanship award” to Yoruba for Abbie, Parker, and Elizabeth’s comforting of Alexis after losing the game. Who knows if the younger kids on Igbo would have cried had they lost, but they were quite happy to be the winners, and overlook the lead from Hausa while Yoruba still trailed behind. At the day’s end, Igbo was in first with 119 points, followed by Hausa (97) and Yoruba (84). Overall, I think this activity might have been too intense for the younger ones, despite them gaining the knowledge of haggling/bartering and Nigerian market products.

Man was that exhausting. My voice is now almost totally gone, but hopefully this will serve as a good memory for the kids and they will have learned from the experience.

What do you think about this lesson? Write it below!

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First Day of Elementary School!

Deer  Dear blog,

Today was my first day of school. I learned a lot! The teacher was great, and not bad to look at either. I love school!

Love, Jacob.

Okay, so it wasn’t my first day at a student, but it was my first day as a bona-fide, on-the-payroll elementary school teacher.

Go adult me, real job hell yeah.

So, here’s how it went:

I got to school about an hour before my lesson started at 1 PM. All the kids were there, 10 girls and 5 boys. And before you say anything, for privacy/protection purposes, I am changing all their names. Plus, it’s fun to make up names. Anyway.

I came in and introduced myself, and against my better judgement, I asked a group of children to go around the circle and tell me their names (even though I already knew most of them) and one fun thing they did this summer. It actually went smoothly and no one lost focus until the circle was just about complete. I then led them in the Heartbeat Hello game, after which I started my lesson, which was about storytelling.

I told them about three ways to tell a story: having it read to you, reading it yourself, and performing it. I asked the kids to comment on which type of storytelling they liked. Melanie said that she liked being read to, because she didn’t have to do anything but listen. Crystal said that she enjoyed reading, because when she reads to herself, no one interrupts her, and she can go as fast or as slow as she wants, and she can imagine as she reads. Paul said that he liked acting it out, because he could cast his friends in the roles and put on costumes. Caroline agreed, saying that she could make up her own characters and her own story better by acting it out.

So, I read them this story that I wrote, based on Evgeny Schwartz’s The Dragon:

A long, long time ago, there was a little town in the land of Russia. It was a quiet little town but it had a big problem. A dragon ruled over the town for four hundred years. The dragon had three heads, four paws, and five claws on each paw. He was big and tall with scaly skin, and he breathed fire. Every year, the dragon took someone from the town, and they were never seen again. Everyone was scared of the dragon, even the town mayor.

One night, a man called Lancelot visited the town, to learn more about this dragon. He stopped at a small hut, the house of a man and his daughter. The daughter’s name was Elsa. Lancelot asked Elsa to tell him more about the dragon. Elsa did not want to, for fear that it would bring her the bad luck of being kidnapped by the dragon. But Elsa’s father told Lancelot about the dragon, and how he scared everyone by burning down houses and filling the air with smoke from his breath. He also said how much the dragon ate – many chickens and cows each month, and all the vegetables and fruits they grew in the summer and fall. Lancelot decided that it was time for a change, so for Elsa and her father, he made up his mind to kill the dragon.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Elsa answered it, and an old man walked in. Elsa introduced him to Lancelot. The old man then asked Lancelot why he came to town. When Lancelot told him that he came to kill the dragon, the old man laughed and said that he, himself, was the dragon.

Lancelot was confused – how could this old man be a dragon?

The old man said that he liked to come and visit the people, but to fit into their homes, he had to change himself into a person. Lancelot then challenged him to a fight. If Lancelot won, the dragon would give the people their town back and let the mayor run the town again, and if the Dragon won, he would kidnap Elsa to be his servant. He accepted before going home for the night.

The next day, Lancelot and the dragon met in a field. The town mayor wished Lancelot the best of luck before going to join the rest of the townspeople far away from the fight. The townspeople watched as one by one, Lancelot chopped off each of the dragon’s three heads. The struggle was over. Elsa was safe, and the mayor could run the town again. Lancelot said goodbye to his new friends and went home. Everyone was happy.

However…

One year later, Lancelot returned to the town to visit Elsa and her father. To his surprise, nothing had changed. The people were still poor, and Elsa and her father still lived in the tiny hut. When Lancelot saw Elsa, he asked what happened. She pointed toward the castle where the dragon lived, only now it was the castle where the town mayor lived. She explained that even though the town mayor did not kidnap people, he took the peoples’ animals, vegetables, and fruits, and sold them to make money for the town. Instead of helping the town, he kept the money and made the dragon’s castle even bigger, and moved in himself. Finally, Elsa told him the worst news of all; the mayor decided that he wanted to marry Elsa, and the wedding was tomorrow! Elsa was not happy, and Lancelot needed a plan.

The next day, before the wedding, Lancelot arrived in the town square. Once the townspeople saw Lancelot, they cheered, remembering how he killed the dragon. They urged him to kill the town mayor, who had made their lives harder and was now marrying their friend Elsa. Soon, the mayor arrived, followed by Elsa, to start the wedding. Lancelot went up to the mayor, and asked him what he had done for the town since the dragon’s death. The mayor looked guilty, and said that he had done some bad things. Lancelot was angry. The mayor then asked Lancelot how he could start to help the town. Lancelot then turned to Elsa, and asked her if she wanted to marry the mayor. Elsa looked at both of them, and said that no, she did not want to marry the mayor. The mayor agreed not to marry her, and the wedding was over. Elsa was happy that she had her freedom again, and the mayor was happy that Elsa was happy.

However, the townspeople were still angry at the mayor for all he had put them through. They wanted him dead, just like the dragon. Lancelot turned to them and said that killing the mayor would not help anything; someone else could then become the new mayor and be even worse for the town. Instead, Lancelot told the town that everyone has a little bit of the dragon inside them, and to have happy lives, they needed to stop that dragon and do what was right, just like the mayor did by not marrying Elsa. The town said thank you to Lancelot, and worked on making their lives better, little by little.

The End.

After the story was read, I passed out copies of the same story, and we went around the circle, each reading two lines. I was surprised at the fact that almost everyone could read all the words, although a few times, the next kid in the circle stopped paying attention, so we had to stop the flow of the story to catch him or her up. I checked the time, and we were barely halfway through the story and it was already 1:50 PM, so I finished up until “however…” and then acted it out, with me as the narrator.

I narrated as Caroline stood up to play Lancelot, and Max and Susie sat in their tiny hut (made by the arms of Melanie and Grace), and Paul and Jordan created a giant castle behind them for Susie to point at. Then, we switched out for the next scene, the morning. Natalie got up to play Lancelot, and the rest of the kids were excellent townspeople, cheering for her. Ariana, who’s very particular about what parts she plays, was happy when I called her up to be the mayor, and I had her bring up Kate to be her Elsa. Natalie repeated Lancelot’s angry words, and Ariana played a sheepish town mayor. The best part? When Natalie asked Kate, as Elsa, if she wanted to get married, and before she could even get the question out, Kate let out a firm and immediate “NO,” causing us all to laugh. Natalie then repeated Lancelot’s wise words to the angry townspeople, and they thanked her.

In our reflection, I got mostly silly answers, but it had been almost an hour. In the brief “what did you learn?” question, Crystal said that she learned that you can’t place blame on just one person for all your problems, and Susie – one of the youngest – said that she thought the point was that you can’t just say that something’s fixed and walk away, you have to make sure that it stays fixed.

After a brief bathroom break, it was time for the lecture portion, so I told them about Evgeny Schwartz, his life, and walked them through 1000 years of Russian history in just about 15 minutes. Surprisingly, most of them stayed with me, with the exceptions of three goofballs, but I just ignored them and maintained eye contact with the kids who were paying attention and asking questions. When I told them Evgeny Schwartz’s birth/death dates, both Grace and Max asked me how Schwartz died, and Melanie – who quickly determined that he died at age 62 – said that it was probably old age. Thank goodness 62 seems like an old age to a 10-year-old.

At 2:30, I introduced the concept of a satellite diagram, and drew one about Russia, after which they went back to their seats for written/drawn journal time, and my first lesson was done. When Marla (real name of their teacher), asked them for feedback on the lesson, what they said basically melted my heart. Susie had fun learning a new story, and she loves dragons, so that was a bonus. Melanie and Crystal were amazed that we learned social studies, history, and theatre all at the same time, and Paul called me the best teacher ever, which basically put him on my good list, forever. Marla said that it went exactly the way she imagined it would go, so…mission accomplished. I was so worried that I’d be too boring, or slip into college-teaching mode, but it seemed to come together, somehow.

I think I’ll go back on Thursday.

14

My Office and A September Challenge

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.

It’s also my first day as a TA, and with being a TA comes an office, so…I have an office! A real one! With four walls, three desks (one for me, one for my office-mate, and one for a computer), a sofa, bookshelves…and a whole lot of empty space. I need to change that. Being in the digital age, I don’t have a huge amount of photographs of people (at last count: three), so I have a bunch of random celebrity pictures up (Marlene Dietrich, the Supremes, some couple dancing the Lindy Hop), and Madame X, and that’s about it. I need some more fun on my wall, so if you’re reading this and want to send me a picture or a postcard or something for my wall, just comment here with your email address and I’ll send you my snail mail address.

And…an odd-numbered month challenge!

So this September, I challenge you to find nine blogs (for the ninth month), read a post, and make a comment. That’s it! Then tell the person to comment on eight more blogs (and nine, including commenting on your blog). So, I’ve picked a random selection of bloggers, listed here, so I’m going to go your blogs and leave a comment, hoping you’ll come back and comment on one of mine!

So, keep those comments coming, and wish me luck tomorrow!