Thursday, July 31, 2008

To MHC... and beyond!

I had an excuse to drive down to visit Mount Holyoke today, and it was a good one! One of my students has decided to apply early (this fall!) and her family scheduled their vacation to make a visit so that her mom could see the campus. I met them there and took them on a little ramble around campus, answering questions and talking about the dorms and classroom buildings and the like. It was fun and then it got even funner... we went to lunch at Tailgate, where I ran into one of my classmates from MHC. Like what are the chances? Ok, I guess there's a reasonably higher chance of running into someone on campus than, say, the streets of Stockholm, Sweden, but it was still pretty cool.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Politicians and Simple Answers

The NYT has an interesting story today about Barack Obama's time as a teacher at the University of Chicago's Law School. Apparently, he was a really good teacher, and reminds me of the examples of good teachers that we were given in grad school, at least in our social studies methods class. (The short version of that ideal is that students shouldn't necessarily be able to tell what your political views are -- that class is about their learning rather than indoctrinating them to think like you.) According to the people that were interviewed for the article, it sounds like Obama was a good teacher, forcing his students to think in unconventional ways and debate ideas.

The end of the article:
"But as a professor, students say, Mr. Obama was in the business of complication, showing that even the best-reasoned rules have unintended consequences, that competing legal interests cannot always be resolved, that a rule that promotes justice in one case can be unfair in the next.

So even some former students who are thrilled at Mr. Obama’s success wince when they hear him speaking like the politician he has so fully become.

'When you hear him talking about issues, it’s at a level so much simpler than the one he’s capable of,' Mr. Rodriguez said. 'He was a lot more fun to listen to back then.'"

Although I know that the last quote is meant to be somewhat disparaging, it actually gives me hope. I would like to think that the President can think at a higher level than he gives out in his speeches. I like to think that a President Obama would recruit people to work in the administration who would offer competing points of view. I want a President who knows that the world and decisions about it are incredibly complicated.

(Ok, I admit it, it's a "West Wing"-fueled fantasy, but can't a girl have one or two feelings of hope about politics? I've spent an awfully long time feeling cynical.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Old Haunts

After junior and senior years of college, I taught at a branch of the Breakthrough Collaborative. (Their website could use a retool, don't judge the quality of their program on the website design.) BT is a program that serves promising but under-resourced middle school students, putting them on the path to college. The program has been named one of Princeton Review's Top Ten Internships for college students (along with the White House and MTV, of all things). It's the experience that led me to teaching.

Today, I went to visitors' day at the program that I taught at. When you are a teacher there, the program revolves so tightly around the kids and their needs and you get to know the kids really well, both the ones you teach directly in your classes and the ones you don't. It's this relationship between students and teachers that makes the program really intense and positive for the students.

When I visited today, I was tackle hugged by a person who was a student in the program when I was a teacher. She's a teacher now, as are at least two others of the students who I taught during those summers. Re-meeting those students and seeing them teach is amazing. They are such amazing young people. Awesome. On a more personal note, the enthusiasm of those students to see me is reassuring, that I did a good job when I worked there, that there's a good reason for me to be a teacher, that I'm capable of doing a good job at my current employer.

Science Nerding

From the NYT, an article on how scientists don't really understand the nature of glass -- even though it's solid, it looks like a liquid on the molecular level. It's pretty interesting if you can get your nerd on and remember some of that chemistry and physics from high school, but here's my favorite part:

"Dr. Wolynes and his collaborators came up with a mathematical model to describe this hypothetical, impossible glass, calling it an 'ideal glass.' Based on this ideal glass, they said the properties of real glasses could be deduced, although exact calculations were too hard to perform."

Emphasis mine.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Standing on my back porch in dark NH, watching the stars come out, when all of a sudden, a shooting star streaked past. Wow.

"Muppets Take Manhattan"

I was watching this movie before I came to NH on vacation and took the time to type out a few quotes from the movie which were completely funny. Here they are for you:

"Ocean Breeze Soap: For People Who Don't Want to Stink" --Gil

"Look, buddy, I don't take off my clothes for anyone, even if it is 'artistic.'" --Janice, to Gonzo

"Hey, they finally made it to Broadway, and I got tickets!"
"Are they good seats?"
"They sure are! They're on the next train out of town!"
--Statler & Waldorf

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I love how when you're living along dinner takes like 5 minutes -- heat leftovers, eat, done.

What a drag. The solitary life can be nice sometimes, but I don't dig it when it's raining and gloomy outside.

Not How I'd Say It, But...

Watching TV. Car dealership commercial.

How they describe where they're located: Rt. 114 in [town], across from the Women's Prison.

Editorial on Taxes and the Economy

An unsigned editorial from the NYT, which makes a glorious and often overlooked economic point about the recession we're in. (The good stuff is at the end.)

Yes, the economy is in the toilet. Why? The economy is shrinking, rather than expanding. The value of the dollar is dropping against other world currencies, since the economy is shrinking and the value of the dollar has to do with the value of the overall economy and the faith that government and corporations have in our longer term ability to climb out of the deep hole of our national debt. But it's important to remember that that value determination is two-fold. Some politicians (the Current Occupant and the Republican Nominee) have suggested that what we need to do to get the economy out of the toilet is to lower taxes -- thereby causing people who don't need to pay some money in taxes to use that money to invest and thereby stimulate the economy. However, there's a catch. The government keeps spending money regardless of whether it's coming in or not, so lowering taxes long term might keep the economy from sinking further, but will not convince corporations and other governments that we are going to ever have a healthy national debt.

That's something that's often ignored, but not, at least today, by the editorial board of The New York Times. Economics 101 right? But still worth saying.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


From the NYT, an article on textbooks, digitized textbooks, and the illegal electronic sharing thereof. Commentary on the costs of books, the used textbook market, and the new digital textbook frontiers.

I think that maybe if textbook publishers quit sending so many free copies to instructors, schools, departments UNREQUESTED then they might see their costs go down and therefore have less need to pass it on.

That and the practice of updating the damn things every year, especially when it's something that doesn't change all that much...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cool Science & Knitting

From the NYT, scientists have found the trigger for the Northern Lights. Wicked awesome. Also, it's good to be back with my family, a group of Red Sox people who really keep up with the team. Love it.

The rain here! Mom and I spent yesterday gallavanting around going to knitting stores, looking at yarn. I was a good girl and didn't buy much, just two skeins of linen for a bag I want to make. I've got the following projects on the list:
- blue/grey striped wool scarf for the school auction next year
- green-yellow variegated wool mittens (first pair ever, probably with a cable design)
- blue linen sling bag with very interesting Mobius strip strap design

After that, I'd like to make a felted cat bed for Fish and then a sweater, perhaps a cardigan, out of some really nice yarn -- maybe linen, maybe a cotton-silk blend (silk is SO shiny!). But I need to get the supplies for those next projects. And I need to buy some new needles for the linen bag. Sometime after Christmas probably.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

NH Part 2

While I'm in NH, I'm hanging out with my family and getting together with a few friends here and there. I have spent a lot of time with my grandparents, who I basically see once a year now -- they're 90 and I know they won't be here forever, so it's nice to spend some time with them. They're still pretty funny and interesting, though their bodies are failing a bit.

I had lunch today with a friend from graduate school and it was very interesting and fun. It's really curious to get together with someone who you used to work with to talk about the people that you both used to work with and that you don't quite remember anymore. There's something else deep to say, I'm sure, but it's just not happening right now.

It's been raining a bunch in NH, so my plans for the beach have been stymied. Mom has stuck around since my car's in the shop (and what a saga that's been) and we've been going to knitting stores. Lots of fun, though I'm just browsing -- trying not to purchase items to complete specific projects until previous projects have been completed!

Monday, July 21, 2008


An article from the NYT about the renovation of the Music Hall in one of my favorite cities in the world, Portsmouth, NH. Yay!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

NH, part 1

I arrived in NH on Wednesday, leaving MD at 6 am and managing to make the drive in a mere 10.5 hours. I think that's my fastest time yet. According to the map sites, if you drive up 95 and through NYC, it should take about 9, but I don't go on 95 and I don't go through NYC. No thank you.

We spent yesterday having our annual family reunion, with people who we don't get to see very often, but who are lots of fun. It was nice to have a family gathering sans funeral/memorial service.

Working hard on my schoolwork for next year, which I'm hoping to make a major dent in this week... Here's something from the NYT for today, on methods and formulas for school diversification. The new integration ideas concentrate on multiple measures of diversity, i.e. more than just race -- and are considering socio-economic status, which is probably a good thing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vaguely Problematic

Watching TV. Advertisement for Smirnoff Cocktails -- made in mojito flavor. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but Smirnoff makes vodka and mojitos are made with rum. Anyone else see the contradiction there?

Anywho, I am headed north to the ancestral homelands for approximately a month. I'll be hanging out with the family, visiting with friends and family who live in New England, heading to the beach, and taking another class. Plus, you know, working on stuff for school. Lots of planning and reading and stuff. I've made an appointment for my car to be seen by the local expert and for my hair to be cut by the local genius. ('Cause seriously, if I only pull my hair back every day, what's the point of having it long?)

Science, Education, & College

From the NYT, an article on increasing the number of women in science and science departments' relationship to Title IX.

I'm a little bit irritated that the author referenced the idea of women taking up science when there were strong, positive role models and then didn't check on stats/information from the women's colleges. Title IX was only instituted in the early 70's and it's just going to take a while for that effect to fully trickle into college departments -- for there to be women with PhD's to hire in equal numbers who can then encourage college women to go for degrees in science too. 30 years is not long enough to fix the "pipeline problem." Check the stats on women's colleges -- they turn out science degrees (and they go on to earn PhD's) in much higher proportions than at the co-ed schools and I'd bet that it's because of the role models and the can-do-anything atmosphere that prevails at such schools. The bias is subtle at co-ed schools, but I'd bet it's there, same as it ever was.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

More on Education

So, I spent the past week at teacher training to teach AP United States history next year. Yes, I will be teaching to the test. Hopefully, the kids will buy in and generate some good scores over the course of the year and then on the exam. I've got about 5 inches of paper that is comprised of lesson plans, activities, essays, multiple choice questions, and the like. I know how the thing is scored and that the multiple choice section drives the test. I have the tools to teach the thing. Now all I have to do is go back and reconsider the syllabus that I submitted to the AP people, since it's probably a tad bit... wrong.

In other news, here's an article from Slate on the hiring of public school teachers. It's interesting, from the standpoint that it links studies done about the effectiveness of teachers in raising test scores and tries to then figure out where the common factors are in having effective teachers. (Turns out, it's nearly a mystery.) And it's also pretty anti-union, but again, that's understandable, since people tend to see the teachers' union as the reason bad teachers are able to stay in their jobs.

Monday, July 7, 2008

American History

So, I'm teaching American history next year, both AP and regular. It will be my first time with both of these courses. And I realized as I was sitting in my AP teacher training class today in Baltimore that I've missed American history. There's so much that I really get frosted about in my country's history, but then there's also a lot that I really like. I wish that women (and African-Americans) had gained the right to vote earlier, but better late than never, eh? Civil rights, more generally, same thing. There's this capacity to take stock and at least attempt to do the right thing, albeit slowly, too slowly, and never quite enough, but change does come in the United States, social and diplomatic and political change does come.

Hence my hopefulness, despite my incredibly jaded view of American history, that change will come in November.

Impressive, eh? A post completely without specifics and linking change in American history to current politics!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tenure for Public School Educators

So, here's an interesting article from The Washington Post which details negotiations between the DC teachers union and the school district. It's ultimately about a proposal which would offer teachers more money to give up their tenure. Teacher tenure for public school teachers is one of those really divisive issues for some in education. I get why some people
are bothered by it, the idea that teachers could be good for three years and then get really lazy once they get tenure, knowing that it's much harder to fire a teacher after they have tenure. Tenure is appealing for school districts because it's not transferable and they know that once teachers get it, they are unlikely to switch districts willy-nilly and there's something to be said for retention of staff. Tenure is appealing for teachers because there's a sense that it allows teachers to be more free with their students & subjects -- especially if you teach a potentially controversial subject like, say, social studies.

From the POV of the school district, I get why they would be willing to do this, pay teachers more with the understanding that their heads are always on the chopping block. On the other hand, the idea of tying teacher pay to student testing is scary to me. So much goes into whether a kid does well on a standardized test outside of the effort that an individual teacher puts into her or his classroom. Kid's sick that morning or just discovered that her parents are getting a divorce and there goes those test scores, no matter how well-educated the kid is. This is especially tricky in a city district like DC, where a higher percentage of the population of children is dealing with the issues that keep kids from learning, like being poor or hungry or homeless or having an otherwise less-than-ideal home life.

On the other hand, we've tried it the other way and it hasn't worked so hot, so let's give it a whirl and see what happens.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

4th of July

It seems like lots of people I know have plans for the 4th of July. It's never been a holiday that was a big deal in my family, so I didn't even think about it this year. I suppose I would have if I worked during the summer, but being a teacher, I kind of forgot that it was even coming up. Just another Friday.

On the other hand, I will say this: last year on July 4, I was in China. Here's a photo I think I took that day in Shanghai:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Too Funny

So, I like the author Jennifer Weiner. She writes a blog. She's really funny. Exhibit A of funny is her latest post. The part I like best is where she describes her telephone call with a guy named Curtis from a company called "Disaster":

"Just then, the phone rang. 'Hello,' said a friendly voice. 'This is Curtis from Disaster.' (You have to imagine this in the broadest Massachusetts accent possible, where 'disaster' sounds like 'disastah.') 'I hear you’re having a crappy day.'

Then he started laughing. Then I started laughing. 'Sorry,' he said. 'I couldn’t resist.'"

I like how she describes the Mass accent. :)

Change in Politics

I like Garrison Keillor a lot sometimes. From his column today in Salon:

"I'm 65 and have a good life and can't claim that the Current Occupant has done me much harm at all. It's when I think about 10-year-old girls I start to get hot under the collar. This clueless man has dug a deep hole for them and doesn't seem vaguely aware of it. He has spent us deep in a hole, gotten us into a disastrous war, blithely ignored the long-term best interests of the country, and when you think of the 4,000 kids who now lie in cemeteries, and for what? -- you start to grind your teeth. For the sake of the girl with the beautiful swing, I hope we get a better president than the disgusting incompetent we've wasted eight years of our national life on. Think twice about who you put your arm around, Sen. McCain."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Re: the List of American History People

Just happened to be doing some schoolwork for next year, rereading some stuff and came across this nugget, related to my past entry regarding "the list" of 10 Americans. From Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen:

"For twenty-five years now, Michael Frisch has been conducting an experiment in social archetypes at the State University of New York in Buffalo. He asks his first-year college students for 'the first ten names that you think of' in American history before the Civil War. When Frisch found that his students listed the same political and military figures year after year, replicating the privileged positions afforded them in high school textbooks, he added the proviso, 'excluding presidents, generals, statesmen, etc.' Frisch still gets a stable list, but one less predictable on the basis of history textbooks. Most years, Betsy Ross has led the list. (Paul Revere usually comes in second.)"