Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Report card time. One of the least favorite times of the year for many teachers, many students, and many parents. The time when students find out if they are "good enough." Did they make the grade? I have been thinking about grades a lot this past year.
My district has a traditional grading system with A-D and F. Although, in practice, Ds and Fs are rarely seen. A gentlemanly C with modifications and accommodations is more the norm. I guess the party line is something like, "Students don't fail. We fail them as teachers."
On one hand, I feel that the grades for some students are a distraction. All many seem to care about is "What did I get?" Many parents want their child to get As regardless of learning and effort, or lack thereof, as is sometimes the case. And for the students who are struggling, getting Ds or Cs can't be beneficial. The grades seem to represent some artificial quotient of knowledge that bears no relevance to students' learning.
On the other hand, I know that grades are motivating to some students. Some of my students want desperately to get As and will push themselves to achieve that goal. They will work hard and go the extra mile. Their As are an accurate reflection of their effort and work.
I have mulled around alternatives (not that I am in any position to change anything at this point.) Pass/Fail seems to encourage a regression to a mean. After all, if a Pass is for 51 % and for 100%, many students will quickly realize that there is no need to work hard. Although I agree that there will always be those who are intrinsically motivated to do their best. A narrative record of a student's achievement would be beneficial, but I know most teachers would balk at the time it would take, and many parents want to know how their child is doing in relation to others.
I have come up with the idea of a continuum of knowledge and skills, Teachers could report where on the continuum a child is. The districts could set general grade level expectations for the continuums. Then it could become more like developmental milestones. A child may reach it early, as expected, or later. No real big deal. Also, there would always be something more to strive for.
What do you think?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Postage stamps...caught between this century and last. I used to go through rolls of stamps in a year. Between greeting cards, bills, and letters, stamps were something everyone had on hand. They even sold, and maybe still do, cute little stamp cases. Somewhere in the last five years ago or so, everything has changed. Except for Christmas cards and an occasional birthday card, most greetings are sent via email, Twitter, or Facebook. Bills, most are automatically debited. And letters, I believe those are reserved for antique stores and road shows. Letter writing , a forgotten art, seems like a blog post to come.Isn't that an oxymoron?

Now, I have more stamps on hand than I feel like I will use in a lifetime. And to add insult to injury, they are for a variety of values. I have 37 cents, 39 cents, 44 cents, 5 cents, 3 cents, and forever stamps. I don't even know what it costs to actually mail a letter these days. I believe it is 44 cents. It seems inefficient (especially with my local hours) to go to the post office every time I need a stamp. But, it also seems a waste to have so many different stamps on hand. Sometimes I just put two 37 cents on an envelope. I know postage isn't that much, but I just want to get rid of these stamps. I promise, if I ever do get rid of all these stamps, I will only buy forever stamps from then on.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Clearing

What a day it was today. I feel like I could recite a virtual litany of annoyances and detours today. It started about 2AM when one of our PWDs had a sudden fit of head shaking. Nothing we did seemed to stop it. After finally falling back to sleep for about three hours I awoke to the sound of heavy rains and winds. oh well, off to a day of PD. A day of integrating literacy with technology seemed like a good idea, and for many people probably was. However, my session was plagued with problems, no laptops, no flash or shockwave installed on presentation computer...
Unable to access Plurk, Twitter, or FB, I felt so disconnected from my PLN. I wanted to share what was going on and ask for help. Yet, since I was at work, I couldn't connect. Why do we insist that our students collaborate and work together because, "That's what they will need to be successful in the world of the future." and then block teachers from doing the same thing?! Why should it be a problem if I am using P, T, or FB appropriately for academic collaboration which enhances my students' learning? I think of a magazine...If I brought in a magazine that could appropriately be used as a quick reference or a way to engage a student, I think that would be okay. However, if I brought in a magazine and sat all day reading it, my administrator would have a legitimate issue. So then, is the issue Social Networking &, PLNs? Or is it really one of appropriateness, professional judgment, and management? Think about it!

My picture today was the sky about 5:00 as I arrived home. The sun was out to the west and the clouds were rolling away. Ah, tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Still Winter

Took the dogs out for a walk today and it was warm, yet damp. Tomorrow we are supposed to get 1 - 3 inches of rain and they are calling for flood watches all over. So many people are happy with the warm winter temperatures, but I miss the frigid weather of January. The kind of day where you walk outside and it is so cold that it clears out your breathing passages like a menthol vapor. I love living where I do when we get four seasons. Each season is good for its own reasons. In winter I like it to be cold, really cold, and to have lots of snow. Note: Lots of snow to me is two to three feet!! Maybe the next storm will be snow.


This evening I had the chance to get together with a group of friends and neighbors for the annual "Gift Swap." We discussed how long the swap has been going on and figure that it has been at least 15 years. Many of us are the original owners, living here for 18-19 years. Usually the event is held the Friday after New Year's, but this year it was delayed - which seemed to work out better,, especially for me. It was great fun to sit, talk, and share with women I don't have occasion to see often.
As is often true with women, a major topic of conversation was our children - where they are, what are they doing, how are they. I heard about children starting preschool to children graduating college, first jobs, semesters abroad, and girl scout cookie sales. The ages of our children range from 3 to 25 or so. So far, I think we have been blessed. Our children are relatively healthy and well. And yes, there have been detours and challenges for many. I wish all my friends a healthy, happy 2010!

Let Sleeping Dogs...

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I couldn't help but notice our two Portuguese Water Dogs dead to the world.
They were stretched out across the bottom of the bed. Addie was almost hanging off the bed and Ahna was resting on Addie. This scene reminded me of the old saying, "Let sleeping dogs lie." While I understand the meaning of the phrase, I am never sure whether to use lie or lay. It is one of those grammatical points that I need to look up over and over again. Do you have one of those tricky points?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New and Old

I hadn't taken a photo yet today when suddenly I heard the tell-tale loud buzzing whirr of a stink bug. I don't remember these bugs from when I was little. Truthfully, I have only been aware of them in the last few years. Why is that so? Did they not come so far north, but now they do with global warming. Or are they like the kudzu, an illegal alien immigrant that has taken over native species? Or, did I just somehow miss them lo these many years?

Whatever the reason, stink bugs are here. They have been in my house for a few years now. Once it begins to get cold they invade. At night the fly around. They aren't really that bad. They don't see, to sting or bite. And, I have never smelled anything to explain their name. Also, my dog Ahna loves to eat them. When she hears their buzz she freezes and then "gulp", they're gone.

So, stinkbugs are the new of my post. Can you figure out the old?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Graduate

When I write "The Graduate" I can't help but think back to that 1960's movie starring Dustin Hoffman. "Plastics, The future is in plastics" his character was told. My older son just graduated and we are so proud of all his work. Yet I wonder what his future holds. Can someone give him a one-word answer?

Being a new college graduate is both exciting and anxiety-producing, for the young graduate and for his parents as well. On one-hand you have finished a major life goal, attend and graduate college. On the other hand, where do you set your sights next? The last 16 or so years of his life (not including preschool and Mommy & Me classes!) were linearly shaped with a single goal - graduate. Sure, there have been many side goals; become certified in SCUBA, make the NCAA baseball playoffs, etc. The main focus however has been finish school and then.... Well, now it is "and then".

I know that when I graduated many years ago I had no idea what my "and then" was going to be. I tried many things from stock broker to nurse to cake decorator. I enjoyed all in one way or another. But sometimes I envy those people who seem to have known what they wanted in life from the age of three. How could they possibly know what they wanted to do with their life? I never really "got it." And then, yes, and then, I think of all the wonderful experiences and learning I have had trying things. Not knowing my "and then" has opened many roads and choices in my life.

So, my dear son and all you other graduates out there. Your future is open. The possibilities are endless. Let it take you where it will. Learn from each and every experience and become better in the process. And in the oft quoted words of Rudyard Kipling, and then, "you'll be a man, my son."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Love of Learning

Today I had the privilege of doing science training at a great little school district here in PA. The administrators and teachers were so enthusiastic and eager. I could tell they really wanted to learn how to be better at what they do. Technically, I had off today and I heard from more than one person,"Why did you work?" Well, I had to think about that one. Why DID I choose to work on my day off?
I guess there are a few reasons and to be honest, most of them are selfish ones. Sure, I could say that I was training other teachers to be better teachers and thus positively impacting more students. And, that is true. But I also do training because it energizes me and reminds me what I love about learning and teaching. The camaraderie and fellowship of educators is the best. No where else can you get a group of adults to sit on the ground and blow at little toy cars through a straw...and have fun. These teachers put themselves in their students' shoes and explored science concepts. And, why do we do that? I think we do it because we love learning and we want to share that joy with our students. I hope you learn something today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January Rain

Heavy rains in January. Why isn't this snow? Is it because of global warming? Because the last two weeks had lower than normal temperatures every day. And why do we find rain so dreary, dismal, and depressing? It makes me wonder. Humans are something like 90+% water. Our planet is referred to as the watery planet. We love to go to the beach, the lake, the pool. Yet, our general attitude toward rain is quite negative. Perhaps, as water becomes scarcer in the coming decades, we will hear phrases like, "It's a beautiful rainy day." and "You are my raindrop." Makes me think.

Friday, January 15, 2010

TV Options

Out of the basement clean-up trash pile I spied this innocuous looking object and wondered if my sons even knew what it was. Surprisingly enough DS#1 knew exactly what it was. I plan on taking it into school one day and seeing if the kids know what it was.

I remember growing up we had two antennae on the TV. One was the "rabbit ears" for regular stations - 3, 6, & 10 in my area. The other was a round wire that screwed in and brought in the UHF stations, 17, 29, & 48. Growing up, the sum total of available stations were abc, cbs, nbc, pbs and the "extra UHF stations - I don't remember their call letters. In addition, all of those stations went off the air around 1:00ish with a playing of the national anthem and a waving flag.
Today I believe we have over 500 channels - I am not sure because it would take too long to "surf" them all. And, TV never closes. With some of the shows on TV, perhaps it should!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January Days

I thought for sure that I would fall behindwith my photos and blogging this week. I have been fighting a cold, or something, for days. Nyquil, Dayquil, Emergen-C...Hmmmm, all the things I bought for DS#1 last week. Wonder where I caught this? Anyway, been dragging all week and just getting done what has to be done. I was waiting for a friend this afternoon in the hallway and saw this cute bulletin board. Fourth graders made snowmen glyphs with a first grade "buddy." Then they wrote compare and contrast paragraphs about themselves and their buddies. The snowmen seemed to epitomize the friendship and joy these children share.
My fourth graders have first grade buddies and just love them. They are so cute and feel so grown up when we get together. I love to hear them talk about their buddies and how "cute" they are. It makes me wish we (and they) had more opportunities for intergenerational experiences. We learn so much from our elders and our youngers! Who did you learn from today?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Last night I was scheduled to go to the gym and on my way there the sky was so colorful and alive I just had to photograph it. Looking to the west, the sun was setting and reflecting pinks, purples, and a golden amber off of the clouds. The clouds seemed to open a passageway for the light. Made me think of those apocolyptical films.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Tail of the Wobbly Stair

After 18 years living in a five year old house, there are bound to be some minor repair projects. One such problem was the banister at the top of the stairs. It wobbled like a twelve year old girl wearing her first pair of heels. "Nothing can be done" said my husband. "Nothing can be done" said our neighbor, the contractor. Last summer, I refused to believe these two normally quite knowledgeable men. So I unscrewed and hammered at it until I too gave up in despair and bemoaned that nothing indeed could be done.
Lo and behold two college men, aka DS#1 and DS#2 are home and tending to some household chores when I mention something about the railing and the fact that "nothing could be done." I had no sooner waved this obvious red flag in front of my testosterone driven tool men sons, when hammers, screwdrivers, putty knives and all sorts of metal implements appeared.
I was on the lower side of this picture, in my office, reading email, and talking with my sister. Suddenly from the hall came this creaking sound. The kind the passengers on a seagoing vessel probably heard just before the mast cracked in the midst of the hurricane's wind. As is the wont of young men, they acted without thought of damage nor repair.
Several times I expressed my concern and that "I was really worried about this." They assured me that it would be fine. (I am experiencing a sense of deja vu from the last five or six years with these two.) And indeed, they did manage to return all pieces of the original banister to their rightful place. No, they weren't able to tighten it rock-solid, but it is so much tighter and steadier than it was. So, these two young men have done what those older and more experienced had said "couldn't be done." Well done guys!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Couch to 5K in ...?

I have been trying to get going again with some kind of physical activity. I was great about going to the gym three times a week until I hurt my hip on the elliptical. Then I had to rest. Well, rest quickly turned into doing nothing which has to end. So, I toyed with the idea of Spin class...not really my thing. Zumba looked interesting, but definitely not ready for that. CoolCatTeacher, aka Vicki Davis, had tweeted about her success with the Couch to 5K app. It has been a while since I was running regularly. And it was never something I was particularly good at. To be honest, I am not good at many athletic pursuits.
Anyway, last week while updating my iPod with podcasts, including a cool Spanish one, I found the couch to 5K one. So, tonight I went to the gym and figured I would give it a shot. I felt like I would die and my shins were screaming, but I did finish the 30 minutes and then ride the bike for 15 more.
I feel like it is a start. I am hoping that by blogging about it I might feel more compelled to keep it up. Here's hoping!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I noticed today that a number of my fellow 365ers shot photos of clouds. KShelton had a lovely shot of fishing boats, a beautiful blue sky, and wispy clouds. On another coast, MColeman shot a similar early morning fishing pier scene with blue skies and clouds that look like a cotton ball pulled apart.

Why do we take pictures of clouds? My father was fascinated by them and when flying would easily take a roll of cloud shots on each plane ride. And this was back in the day when it was film that required developing - actually they were slides. Slides that we five children would then have to "ooh" and "ahh" over. As we grew the "oohs" and "ahhs" slowly turned to "D-A-A-A-D, not another cloud!" And here I am, so many years later, taking a picture of a cloud. Perhaps clouds are the inescapable tug of nature. Our lives are here and then they are gone. All are different yet all are flimsy. Easily blown away by a storm. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 9 and 10 Images

I love my dogs dearly.
Addie and Ahna, 7 and 4 years old respectively, are the apple of my husband's eye and a joy to our life. The give unconditional love and exhibit a zeal for fun. They don't shed so there is very daily cleanup around the house. What DOES need to be cleaned often, hourly, or even minutely if there is such a word, is the back window. Our kitchen window overlooks our deck and garden and yard. There are many things which Addie and Ahna need to be on the lookout for. Squirrels may enter unexpectedly. Groundhogs have been known to actually come up on the deck and nosh on our romaine. Imagine! We have even had the occasional deer or fox running through. Needless to say, these dangers require a constant vigilance which naturally leads to many nose prints. Just consider it a cost of being safe.
Anyone own stock in Windex?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Yeah, Science!!

I love science and have always liked learning about science. I don't however remember loving science in school all the time. My district instituted a new science program last year (The Science Companion from the University of Chicago) and I hear my students say things like, "Yeah! Science!" all the time. The awesome part of this particular program is the amount of hands on science the students get to do.

Today, my students learned about mixtures - creating them and separating them. They had popcorn kernels, popped popcorn, and steel nuggets. They had to discover how to sort or separate their mixtures. The students in this picture were using a magnet to separate the steel nuggets. Other students blew off the popped popcorn. Our room was noisy, the good kind of noisy, with kids excitedly discussing and sharing ideas. We had popcorn, water, and steel nuggets all over. The kids had a blast, and they learned some very important science - both content and process. When it was all over, a few dustpans and rinses of containers and we were ready for math.

As Captain Sullenberger said the other night (when quoting a Soviet scientist), "The purpose of science is to provide humankind a more complete and accurate understanding of reality." In other words, Science rocks! It is fun and AND important! Be like a kid and say "Yeah! Science!!"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Day Missed Already

I have to admit I am wracked with guilt. I guess it harkens back to my "good girl" days in Catholic school. After all, I accepted the challenge to blog and post every day this year. I do have a reason, or an excuse as I'm sure one of my teachers would have put it. And it is a really good reason. I had the unbelievable luck of attending the premiere screening of "Brace for ImpactThe Chesley B. Sullenberger Story.

My DH and I met up with some good DEN friends and we caught the late afternoon train to New York City. A trip to NYC, on a school night, was I crazy??! Sure, but what I saw and heard reminded me that we have to "go for it" when we have the chance. Almost one year ago, 155 people nearly lost their opportunity to have that chance. Thanks to the strength and skill of a dedicated pilot along with professional aviation personnel and brave rescuers, those 155 still can "Go for it" today.

Meeting Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger and his wife Lorri was inspirational. They are both warm, genuine people who graciously answered question after question and stood for hundreds of photographs. The big smile never let Sully's face and he made me feel as if he had all the time in the world for me. It was a pleasure to meet them both.

On January 13, 2009 a tragedy was averted by many people "just" doing their jobs. These people changed the lives of the 155 passengers of flight 1549 in exponential ways. Your job and my job may not affect that many lives in a single day. Or maybe it will. It is impossible to predict the ripples that come from "just" doing our job.

Today, I take two things with me. Two precepts if you will. 1.) When you have a chance to "go for it" - do it. and 2.) When you do a job, whatever it is, do your best.

PS Let me add a third. Sometimes there really is a good reason!

Monday, January 4, 2010

"tis the Season

Today started out as a whiny day. I didn't want to get up so early, I didn't want to go to work, I didn't want... After all, it was a Monday, a very, very cold Monday, and I hadn't been able to sleep the previous night. I was all set for it to be a no good, very bad, horrible, rotten day (with apologies to Judith Viorst.)

Instead, it wasn't really that bad. I got up on time. Yes, it was cold, but it IS January in the Northeast. The kids were good and we got a lot accomplished. I suddenly wasn't feeling so bad at all. I came home convinced that I should go right to bed - after all, I was exhausted! Somehow, actually to prevent murder (another story for another day), I discovered enough energy to go to the gym and walk the track for an hour while listening to podcasts. I learned about Tetrawatts and how much electricity it takes to power the internet - they have no real idea.

Finally, I came home, ready now to relax and perchance, to sleep. Except, DS#1 was feeling awful. You know the drill, headache, sore throat, stabbing pain when he coughs. Although he is 24, mommy-mode kicked in and I was back out to the local pharmacy for various and sundry elixirs.

Now, 16 hours after my first morning whine, I realize it was a good day. And you know what? Tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Day 3 of 365

Today is the last day of Christmas, or winter vacation. All over the blogosphere people are whining and bemoaning the end of vacation. I definitely feel the pain of early mornings and long days. Yet, we all love what we do. We love our students and teaching them brings us great joy and fulfillment.
You may be wondering what any of this has to do with my picture of the day - chocolate cake. Just like teaching, I love to bake and cook and make delicious food for my family. Yet, I often get caught up in the whining and bemoaning of not enough time, too much to do, etc. While not an official resolution, I would like to do more of what I love, and ignore the unpleasant sides of things.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Day 2 - January 2, 2010

It was a very cold and windy day here in Pennsylvania and I should have been working on any number of "To do" projects. Let's see, I need to finish my sons' high school photo albums, clean up my math problem solving binder, prepare for spring presentations. But wait, is that a chicken I see. More accurately it was cobwebs. Big, dusty strands of stuff hanging from the hall chandelier espied as I walked down the stairs. I certainly couldn't get work done knowing that such toxic material was hanging in the very air we all breathe. Thankfully tall DS#1 was able to get the 2-story ladder into the hall and dust away all vestiges of reasons for further procrastination. Now, onto my work! Wait, is that a spot I see on the curtain...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome 2010

I wonder is this the first year of a new decade. Everyone, well, most people anyway, tell me that the new decade starts with 1 so, this (2010) is actually the last year of the decade. That may be true technically, but I feel since we are starting double digits, it seems to be a new decade to me. So much has happened in the last 10 years, and yet so much remains the same.
As a way of tracking, or cataloging my day-to-day I have decided to attempt the 365 photo challenge. Will I actually take and upload a photo a day? I don't know. But I do think it will be interesting to look back and see again what I saw.

Technically, this was the last photo of 2009, cream puffs made for friends. After a dinner and movie, dear friends came back to our house for dessert.
In response to a few requests, recipe follows. It really is very easy.
1 cup of flour
1 tsp white sugar
1 cup butter (unsalted is best)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TB white sugar
1tsp amaretto, rum, etc. flavoring - optional

Place butter and water in a heavy saucepan on medium heat and bring to a boil. Add flour and sugar mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. Lower heat and stir until mixture pulls away from sides and forms into a ball. Remove from heat and beat with electric mixer 1-2 minutes. Gradually add beaten eggs and mix well.
Spoon 24 mounds of dough onto baking sheet and place in 400 degree oven.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake 35 minutes more. Turn oven off and let cool with oven door ajar.
Filling: chill bow, beaters, and whipping cream, vanilla, and sugar. Whip until soft peaks form. Do not overmix. Add optional flavoring.
To assemble: Split pastry shells in half. Fill with whipped cream. replace top half. Dust with powdered sugar. You may also drizzle with melted chocolate or flavored syrups.
Enjoy - makes 24 cream puffs.