Saturday, 29 December 2012

Christmas 2012

I had a different Christmas this year. Usually my tradition is to have Christmas Eve supper with my kids where we have Tourtière or Pâté à la viande, a French Canadian finely diced beef or pork pie in a flaky crust, along with dill pickles or gherkins and a bottle of red wine. I’d previously purchased a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 128 Shiraz, a pricy but good Australian wine, for the evening. The aficionados’ say “it’s a full bodied, nicely aromatic, fruity wine. On the nose, it is dominated by wild strawberries, raspberry and oak, whereas the palate shows some coconut and some more strawberry. Tannins are refined (decant for 15 to 30 min) and the finish is long with some heat.” We would also roast Italian chestnuts on the fireplace and drink a mug of warm rum eggnog with nutmeg. Unfortunately, I decided instead this year to drive up to Fergus in order to take my 93 year old mother who is in a nursing home with dementia after having a stroke last May to a Christmas Eve service at the local Episcopal church and wouldn’t get back to my children’s place until late because of the three hours of driving down dark country back roads. The town of Fergus in the county of Wellington, Ontario bills itself as Scotland without the airfare and the resident board at the nursing home reads like the gathering of the clans. My mother’s grandmother was a Ferguson and we have two pipers – an uncle and a cousin – in the extended family so she really fits.

Picked up my mother at the nursing home just after six pm on Christmas Eve, put her in her favorite winter coat and pushed her in a wheelchair with a shawl covering her knees down the sidewalks taking the long way to the church so that she could look at the impressive Christmas light displays on the old limestone Victorian homes in this original part of Fergus on the way. The church, St. James the Apostle, is a traditional Episcopal type that sits on the side of the Grand River gorge that cuts through the middle of Fergus and was built in 1895. Fortunately its handicap accessible so I had no problem getting my mother into the church sanctuary via a small elevator with a bit of help from the parish sides persons and wheeled her up to the side of the front pew where the handicap section is located. Not my usual choice which is a pew closer to the back and being a stranger in the parish was even more noticed. Sang the traditional Christmas carols, Little Town of Bethlehem etc., during the service and listened to the children’s talk in front of the modest size crèche scene across from where we were sitting.  When I was in the Anglican church  at Aurora, we had a life size outdoor crèche with full size statues for Christmas which were kept in the darkly lit basement of the rectory and the first time that I went down to the cellar I saw these figures lurking in the shadows and almost had a heart attack from my surprise as did the furnace repair man on his first trip. I went up to the altar rail for the communion and noticed that the kneeler was a local handmade creation with a native North American pattern in blue. This reminded me of a previous experience at my current parish in Scarborough, Ontario. Strange flashbacks you have at the rail. The morning was Earth Sunday at my local church that‘s on top of  the 300 foot high Scarborough Bluffs that overlook Lake Ontario just east of Toronto. We sang “All things bright and beautiful.”  The sermon was about our stewardship of God’s dominion. The rector spoke about St. Paul’s quote “all of creation groaning for our redemption.” (Romans 8:22)  At synod in 2009, the Archbishop proclaimed April 18th in that year as Earth Sunday, two weeks after the celebration of the Resurrection, still in the season of Easter. On the heels of proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation we also seek ways to proclaim, as part of an even greater narrative of redemption, the salvation of God’s world.   When I went up to receive communion, I noticed that the label on the altar’s kneeler said “made in China” and “100% foam rubber”.  Canonically speaking, the proper filler for a kneeler is the hair from a virgin, white mare. Now I realize that the probability of any sort of virgin mare running around China is low but couldn’t they have some labelling system like certified organic. I prefer to contemplate the eternal and reducing my carbon footprint knelling on the product of His bounty rather than chemically modified petroleum by-products.

Anyway, that was my Christmas Eve and I think that my mother enjoyed herself. It’s been a mild winter so far with no snow but the first snow of the season came on the night so I woke to a white Christmas. The first real snow storm was on Boxing Day with a foot of snow to shovel.

Christmas Day, after I had stayed overnight at my kid’s place we had our stockings to open when we had our traditional breakfast – fresh orange juice, cappuccino (I bought them one of those Tassimo coffee makers last Christmas), and homemade cinnamon buns and cranberry scones with lashings of Devon cream. We also had brie cheese with fig compote. I discovered in my stocking nougats, sandalwood vanilla soap bar, chocolate sardines (from France where they have interesting imaginations), ice wine glazed smoked salmon from British Columbia, and a jar of gooseberry jam. My kids have more Christmas decorations than will fit on one tree so they bought a second smaller tree and put it upstairs while the main one with the gifts is in the basement. Living in the small country hamlet of Bond Head (population 500) during their youth, we would go in the woods with one of the local farmers, his team of horses and wagon, find a thirty foot high evergreen tree, cut it down with a chainsaw, remove the top ten feet and drag it back to the house over the snow using the horses. Later in the morning after my 23 year old son woke up from his slumber in the baseman man cave which he inhabits and plays Warcraft on his state of the art computer rig with a 42 inch monitor while ingesting junk food and red bull for his online gaming bouts, we opened our presents while having my first daughter (my oldest daughter by 11 minutes and perpetual student i.e. appears to be ten years of post secondary education so far) and her Appalachian boyfriend  in Vancouver virtually present using Skype on one of my younger daughters’ portable computers. Vancouver is four hours earlier than Toronto so eleven o’clock out time was seven o’clock their time. I got a movie card, 1 terabyte back up hard drive for my computer, a Fossil brand wristwatch with very large hands (I have presbyopia = “old people’s eyes”), socks and a Phillips electric shaver to replace my broken one. We also have a tradition of “tree gifts” where we open small presents stuck in the tree at the end of the day so there’s still something to anticipate. Traditional dinner with turkey, stuffing, carrots glazed with brown sugar, sprouts, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce with, of course, red wine. Cranberry plum pudding with a vanilla – lemon sauce for desert and a small glass of Niagara region ice wine. We used to have a Cross and Blackwell’s plum pudding (the best) from England but now buy a cranberry pudding at the Bala cranberry festival in Northern Ontario along with fresh berries for the dinner from the Bala cranberry marsh on the local Indian reserve. Left for home on Boxing Day morning before the snow storm was due to hit.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Reframing the Conversation

  Like many people yesterday I’ve been following the unfolding story of the mass murder of 26 people including 20 children in a Connecticut public school by the use of restricted fire arms in the hands of someone who shouldn’t have access to such weapons. The mass media is doing its usual function of reframing the issue from one of gun control to mental health using a variation of the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument favored by the National Rifle Association. The current variant is the psycho Apsie who due to a physical impairment in his brain is out searching for targets of opportunity because he lacks empathy to other human beings. Last night on the CNN Piers Morgan show, a Dr. Amador – the always available CNN media official psychologist - used this false correlation to exonerate the huge American homicide rate by invoking the psychotic autistic who sees others as objects, an outlier that excuses “normal” folks from owning an arsenal of weapons.
  In the video, Joe Scarborough who is the official MSNBC mass murder expert invokes the crazy asperger theory during a discussion of the mass shooting by James Eagan Holmes at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012 in which he killed 12 and wounded 58 people. No discussion about the legal purchase of two Glock 22 pistols, a Remington Model 87 shotgun or a Smith & Weston MP15 semi automatic rifles. Surely the store owners would wonder if a strange looking person showed up and bought three thousand rounds of pistol ammunition or three thousand rounds of rifle rounds but, hey, this is America where the 2nd amendment protects your right to prepare for Armageddon or Obama’s socialist government take over.

To be honest, this meme of the sick outsider is international and the Daily Mail in England reported the same theme about mass killing in Norway of 77 folks on July 11, 2011.  From the article:
“Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik has a rare, high-functioning form of Asperger's that has left him incapable of empathy or real friendship, one of Norway's most prominent psychiatrists has told a court in Oslo.
Professor Ulrik Fredrik Malt of Olso University told the court: 'It is plausible that there is Asperger's, Tourette's, and a narcissistic personality disorder.'
As evidence, he cited the lack of emotion Breivik showed when discussing those he killed, his impressive memory for details, his obsession with numbers, his hypergraphia [obsessive writing], and his monotonous tone of voice"

   So from the article if you know anyone who has an impressive memory for details, obsesses over numbers and is a compulsive blogger then watch out because they might be coming for you! Let’s have a real conversation about gun control instead of this faux analysis on mental health of certain people.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Plantation Nation: Education

  This is the next installment in my series of the transition of America to a Plantation Nation in which I discuss the transformation of the US education system from a public school environment where future citizens are instructed to a situation that divides children into three categories – the children of the elite who receive a proper education, job training for the masses and the school to prison pipeline for the underclass. I’m not going to discuss the elite education since it’s not unlike the current system nor am I going to discuss the future raw material for the prison-industrial complex because it will be the same as the middle class job training with the addition of more surveillance cameras and personal ID cards with embedded radio frequency identification chips that constantly monitor the location of all children at all times. In Mississippi today even disrespecting a teacher can get you jail time in a Juvenal detention center if you’re a member of the underclass. This post is about the near future (2014) implementation of the Common Core Curriculum Standards (CCCS) and the real world implementation with implied consequences to the life of children. Note that I said children and not Human Capital that is the current CCCS educational term. The highest virtue in Plantation Nation for the non elite is compliance with established policies and procedures. Texas Republican party currently has a written rule in its party platform against critical thinking.
  I decided to write this blockbuster post because I’ve been dropping hints on Clarissa’s blog but I don’t get the feeling that even this astute and committed blogger understands the big picture. Some of my quotes:
From the Washington Post:

“As states across the country implement broad changes in curriculum from kindergarten through high school, English teachers worry that they will have to replace the dog-eared novels they love with historical documents and nonfiction texts…The CCCS in English, which have been adopted in 46 states and the District, call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly “informational text” instead of fictional literature…Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction.”
From the Daily Telegraph

"Books such as J D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird will be replaced by “informational texts” approved by the CCCS…Suggested non-fiction texts include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Invasive Plant Inventory by California’s Invasive Plant Council.”
And from the Pandawhale blog:
“When I asked Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers – which, along with the National Governors Association, created the CCCS – he told me that CEOs and university professors championed the shift to non-fiction.”

  The philosophical stance of CCCS is only elements that can be measured are real or, at least, have value. These tie in with the use of Value Added Modeling for the evaluation of teachers. By standardizing curricula nationwide along with common testing sets, teachers in different states can be compared and the supposed poorly evaluated ones exfoliated from the tree of learning.  We could of course attack the a priori assumptions as Robert Pirsig did in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into values” or we could note the many ambiguities in standardized tests.

There are ten apples on the table. Take two away. How many apples do you have?

Most children would say that the answer is eight but the question didn’t ask how many apples were left on the table so the correct answer is actually two.

One also has to consider the cultural context and the intellectual framework of the responders. Afro Americans and Hispanics tend to do worse on tests involving white middle class constructs. Also one has to consider the functional paradigm in the course of which the test is a part.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

  Any number of contending discourses may be discovered within the act of the chicken crossing the road, and each interpretation is equally valid as the authorial intent can never be discerned, because structuralism is DEAD, DAMMIT, DEAD!(Derrida) The possibility of “crossing” was encoded into the objects “chicken” and “road”, and circumstances came into being which caused the actualization of this potential occurrence.(Wittgenstein) So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken’s dominion maintained. (Machiavelli) Not my original thoughts but apropos. The bottom line is that the recommended foundational texts read like a list of white privilege favorites and those who have other cultural backgrounds are at a disadvantage. This is a national version of Arizona’s HB2281.


“In my opinion this effort to refuse our students access to the customs of a key segment of our community comes down to the attempted alienation and disenfranchisement of an entire cross section of our population, in the hopes of quieting and disengaging it from our public process and discourse, rendering it powerless and as no threat to the agenda of some in our state legislature wishes to advance. We cannot and must not, as responsible civic leaders and citizens give them the satisfaction of thinking that this is acceptable and will be tolerated.”

   Mayor Jennifer Eckstrom south Tuscon on Feb.-4-11

   This is a Hispanic version of “Arisierung” or Aryanization which was a 1933 campaign to drive Jews out of the German Reich’s cultural life.  Jewish intellectuals, actors, journalists and musicians lost their posts in important cultural institutions, and Jewish enrolment in universities was severely restricted. “Only in Arizona would a program, that graduates 97.5% of its high school students and sends more than 70% to college, would be facing the threat of elimination. This at a time when dropout rates for Mexican Americans can reach as high as 60%.”

What I would like to do is give an example of one day in the life of a student in a CCCS compliant school and demonstrate the real world consequences of this project on children (not Human Capital). This is a verbatim copy of an attachment from a public document entitled, “Application for Charter: Argosy Collegiate Charter School” which was “respectfully submitted for consideration to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education” on November 14, 2012. Clarissa who said on her post, “USSR and the War on Individualism” the following:

“Aaron is absolutely right in his understanding of how important the elimination of individualism was for the massive social experiment conducted by the Soviet leaders. A series of intense and productive practices was put in place in order to allow people to get rid of those pesky individual identities and dissolve themselves in the great collective. The goal was simple: the people who relinquish the cumbersome individual responsibility and rely on an external authority (in this case, the Communist Party) for all of their decisions experience an instant sense of relief. Responsibility and individuality are hard, while doing what you are told to do without thinking too much is pleasant and easy. There are few things as painful as having to think for yourself. And the temptation to hand oneself over to a supposedly benevolent and all-powerful authority is very powerful.”

might find the following interesting (with apologies to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).


A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich   Carolina Medeiros

7:10 am – Carolina, an Argosy Collegiate fifth grader is ready to board the school bus on the corner of South Main Street and Mt. Hope Avenue.  Just like every morning, Carolina’s mother, Mrs. Medeiros, an Argosy Collegiate Volunteer, supervises her daughter and the other four students who board the bus at this stop.  Each student greets Mrs. Medeiros and each other with “Good morning, Carolina. Good morning, Mrs. Medeiros.” Carolina and Mrs. Medeiros respond in kind, and Mrs. Medeiros asks each student if they are ready to learn today. Students respond with an enthusiastic, “Yes, I’m ready to learn today. I can’t wait to learn something new!” “Excellent,” responds Mrs. Medeiros. The scholars know to line up in front of Mrs. Medeiros, facing her so she can keep her eyes on them and on the arrival of the bus. Scholars are expected to be reading their DEAR books as they quietly await the bus. Once the school bus arrives, Carolina and her peers board the bus one at a time and in silence, other than a greeting for Ms. Oliveira, the bus driver, who responds with, “Good morning, Carolina. Are you Determined to learn today?” Carolina responds, “Yes, Ms. Oliveira, I am Determined to learn today!” Carolina sits in her assigned seats and scholars get right back to their DEAR books. Ms. Oliveira, using her rearview mirror to check that Carolina and the others are quietly seated before turning off the bus’ flashing red lights, and slowly accelerates, and enters traffic. Carolina sits in her assigned seat next to Dante, and they exchange warm smiles. The bus ride to school is quiet, except for morning greetings as other stops are made on the way to school. A quiet bus ride ensures the safety of all aboard the bus, eliminates the possibility of bullying or misbehavior, allows the bus driver to concentrate on driving, and adds valued reading minutes to the day even before students arrive at school. Both Mrs. Medeiros and Ms. Oliveira received training at Argosy Collegiate during Student Orientation, where hour of practice at boarding and de-boarding the bus, and reviewing procedures until students carried out arrival and dismissal procedures correctly.


 7:27 am - Carolina arrives to Argosy Collegiate on time, and waits for the bus to come to a complete stop before gathering her belongings. She and the other students on the bus look for Mr. Silvia, one of her math teachers, who boards the South Main St./Mt. Hope Avenue bus every day as part of his morning duties. Mr. Silvia makes eye contact with Carolina and Dante, and signals them non-verbally to stand and walk off the bus. Mr. Silvia continues this procedure, row by row, and  the students maintain their silence except for a quick “Thank you, Ms. Oliveira” from Carolina and each of the scholars until all 28 scholars have vacated the bus. Mr. Silva’s job is to vacate the bus of scholars and ensuring the bus is empty in less than two minutes. Carolina is greeted by Ms. Greene, the 5th grade History teacher as she steps onto the sidewalk and ensures all scholars quickly and quietly approach the threshold of the school. Carolina joins the two parallel lines of students who await the doors opening at 7:30 am. There are two additional Argosy Staff members supervising the lines ensuring proper line behavior and safety.


7:30 am - The Executive Director, Ms. Pavao, opens the school doors, and warmly and individually greets every student by name.  When it’s Carolina’s turn to enter the building, Ms. Pavao welcomes her eagerly. “Good Morning, Carolina! Why are you here today?” “I am here to learn,” Carolina replies.  “What will it take?” asks Ms. Pavao.  “Determination, Responsibility, Excellence, Ambition, and Maturity,” replies Carolina.  “Absolutely,” says Ms. Pavao. “Let’s check your uniform quickly, belt, socks, and shirt tucked. Great. Carolina, I heard you got an A- on Friday’s Math Procedures Show What You Know Quiz.  Great work! Looks like you are on your way to Mastering translating fractions to decimals. I look forward to sharing the news with your mother later today at the Argosy Collegiate Volunteer Meeting.” “Thank you, Ms. Pavao,” replies Carolina as she beams with pride.   In full uniform, Carolina is welcomed into the school building.  On her way to drop off her homework, Carolina is greeted again by Mr. Sullivan, one of the fifth-grade ELA teachers, in the school’s main hallway, passing walls rich with motivational thoughts and a bulletin board highlighting staff members’ pictures, collegiate logos, and a map with pinpointed colleges that Argosy Collegiate staff members have attended.  HW file boxes are lined up on tables inside the multi-purpose room and are organized by grade and homeroom, and are filled with colorized hanging files. Carolina hands her HW folder to Ms. Greene, one of six staff members who check every HW sheet for heading and completion. Reading logs are checked for parent/guardian signatures, and any document failing to meet standards is quickly marked on an alphabetized spread sheet by a HW supervisor. Ms. Greene checks Carolina’s papers and since every paper is completed to satisfaction, Ms. Greene makes no mark on the spreadsheet, and hands the papers back to Carolina. Carolina inserts her HW, which is printed on colored paper that corresponds with its hanging file - math procedures homework is always printed on light purple paper and is quickly dropped in the purple file, writing HW is always blue and goes into the blue file, etc. HW is due at 7:45 am, and any student dropping off homework later than that will automatically be assigned detention after school the same day, as well as any student who does not submit HW that is 100% complete. HW spreadsheets are handed to the Office Manager by 8:00 am, and she compiles and enters the data into the computer. Parent/guardians of any scholar assigned to detention will receive an automated phone call notifying them of the detention by 9:00 am. That HW report is automatically sent to the Executive Director, Director of Achievement, Director of Finance and Operations, Student Supports Coordinator, and the teaching staff. Carolina walks to her left to silently join the line of students walking around the perimeter of the room toward the breakfast pick-up table.  With breakfast in hand, Carolina continues to walk along the perimeter, just as she had been taught in student Summer Orientation,  until she reaches her advisory’s table, clearly identified with a laminated sign that reads “Boston University 5” next to a colorful picture of Rhett, the Boston Terrier, Boston University’s mascot. At the end of each table, plastic cartons hold each student’s Brain Breakfast folder, all organized alphabetically for easy retrieval.  Carolina sets her food down and then walks to the end of the table to pick up her folder. Carolina eats her breakfast, as she works on a puzzle to identify synonyms and antonyms on a Latin/English vocabulary review worksheet. Mr. Amaral, her homeroom/advisory/Math Procedures teacher, warmly greets Carolina with handshake and smile and little interruption. Carolina has been improving her vocabulary and enjoys the breakfast work.  After 10 minutes, Ms. Pavao, the ED, walks to the center of the room to lead a clapped chant, letting everyone know that it is time for a cheer and some Shout Outs.  “Good morning, Class of 2026!”  “We are Argosy Collegiate Scholars. We have the knowledge to go to college.  We share our knowledge with others because explaining what we know and justifying our thinking prepares us to transform ourselves, our communities, and the 21st century.”  Carolina and the rest of the students and staff repeat the chant in unison.  With a non-verbal cue from the school leader, homeroom/advisory and enrichment teachers begin to raise their hands to give scholar “Shout Outs” from the previous day. “Ms. Greene, do you have an Argosy Collegiate Shout Out?” “Yes, Ms. Pavao I do,” says Ms. Greene enthusiastically. “Dominic has been demonstrating great Responsibility in Social Studies class and I have an example from yesterday. Dominic was unsure about a specific question on last night’s HW and after calling a few scholar friends for help, he still wasn’t 100% clear, so he emailed me for clarification. I sent him back a quick email to explain the question a little further, and I just looked at his HW and it looks great! Dominic showed great Responsibility by reaching out to fellow scholars first, and then to me for support. He took great Responsibility for his HW which will make today’s lesson even better for him and the rest of Northeastern 5 Paws!” Scholars chant a short burst of encouragement about Responsibility, and scholars immediately return to silence. With a non-verbal cue, a hand gesture, Ms. Pavao directs the students and staff that it is time for silent cleanup. This is the cue for students who have cafeteria clean up jobs this week to wheel large waste cans to the end of each table.   Students silently carry their food trays in two single file lines to the end of the table, where there is a separate waste container for solids and liquids.  Students wait for additional directions and then gather their belongings to transition to advisory in silent, orderly lines, led by their homeroom/advisory leader.


 7:45 am – Mr. Amaral escorts Carolina along with the rest of BU 5 silently to their homeroom/advisory. Carolina proceeds to her pre-assigned desk. Mr. Amaral gives a non-verbal cue for Carolina’s group to move to the back cubbies to get organized, and signals with his other hand that they have one minute to complete their cubby tasks. Carolina silently stands up and brings her backpack to her cubby, unzips it, and removes all of her binders. She puts her white writing binder and blue science binder in her cubby and places her empty and zipped backpack on top of the cubby, along with the other scholars’ empty backpacks. She brings her green math binder, red reading binder, and black social studies binder to her desk. She places the reading and social studies binders in the rubber band that wraps around the two right-hand legs of her desk. This rubber band keeps her binders tightly secured and out of the way, and Carolina finished her cubby tasks in less than 60 seconds.  Carolina sharpens two pencils from her pencil case, and places them along with a black pen and an eraser at the top of her desk. She begins reading her DEAR book, as the other students work for their minute time blocks to get their cubby work done. DEAR books have been carefully selected for each student with the assistance of Ms. Jones, one of our ELA teachers, who matches each student with an appropriately challenging book for his or her reading level and interests.  Carolina is currently reading The Phantom Tollbooth, a classic fantasy novel by Norton Juster.  At 255 pages, it is the longest book that Carolina has ever read but she became excited about it when Ms. Jones told her that The Phantom Tollbooth was also one of her favorite books when she was in fifth grade. Carolina is already more than halfway through. Time passes too quickly, and just as Carolina reads that Milo and his friends reach the Valley of Sound, Mr. Amaral calls, “1-2-3 Eyes on me!” The class responds in unison, “1-2-3 Eyes on you!” and then proceeds to close their DEAR books and place them on the left corner of their desks. Mr. Silvia enters the room right on cue with his math cart that is loaded with all the copies he needs for his three Math Procedures classes, and Mr.  Amaral exits the room wishing the Boston University scholars a very collegiate day.
8:00 am - Math Procedures always begins with a Q2 (Quick Questions-Do Now ) and Mad Minute math facts, where students calculate as many math facts as they can on a handout containing 100 questions.  Today’s Mad Math Minute focuses on practice of all operations with integers. “You have one minute. Pencils up. 3-2-1-Go,” says Mr. Silvia. After one minute Mr. Silvia reads the answers in two minutes as scholars mark Xs or Cs next to their answers. He directs them to make a ratio of number correct over 100. Josiah, who sits next to Carolina, is the BU 5 Mad Minute Champion but Carolina is close behind.  Carolina answers 87 of 100 correctly today - a personal best. Mr. Silvia teaches a lesson on expressing fractions as ratios.  Scholars begin to understand the relationship between converting fractions to decimals, decimals to fractions, and fractions to ratios. Math Problem Solving and Math Procedures are Carolina’s favorite classes so she is excited about two blocks of math everyday plus financial literacy twice per week. She will have almost three hours of math in one day; she used to struggle in math, and now she is so proud to be improving and proud of how hard she works to succeed. Mr. Amaral uses the last few minutes of class to review the main objective for the lesson, give feedback to the class using DREAM Points, remind scholars to copy HW, and provide direction for transition. Mr. Amaral says, “Scholars, yesterday you transitioned to Reading in 38 seconds. Your challenge now is to transition in 35 seconds. I am waiting for 100% eye contact.  Good. Go.” Scholars quickly and silently switch out binders from their rubber bands around their desk legs. Carolina and her peers absolutely enjoy being timed for tasks and being challenged to beat their best times.


9:00 am - Fiction Reading begins with an overview of today’s lesson. Carolina reads along as Mr. Sullivan, the Reading teacher, states, “Argosy Collegiate Scholars will be able to understand the Latin Derivative pugnare for Word Wars, and to use active reading skills such as underlining important information (descriptions, actions, events) to understand context and plot in Freedom Walkers.”  The class begins timed Q2 and vocabulary prompts.  Today, in Latin Word Wars, Carolina is taught the Latin derivative of the week pugnare, and seven English words rooted with this derivative. Carolina take notes using a vocabulary template that Mr. Sullivan created for derivative studies. Mr. Sullivan gives a mini-lesson on pugnacious, pugnacity, repugnant, repugn, impugn, pugilism, and pugilist. He reviews parts of speech, prefixes, and suffixes (-cious, -city, re-, im-, -ism, -ilist) and defines prefix/suffix meanings. Mr. Sullivan asks scholars to match definitions to words after analysis of their elements. Mr. Sullivan tells the class, “Scholars, you have 5 minutes to define the remaining 5 terms. Pencils up. 3-2-1- Go.”  Carolina gets right work and struggles a bit with the first one, but with determination, she pushes through. She looks up to the timer which is displayed on the front dry erase board using the projector, and she sees that she has 3 ½ minutes left. She gets right back to work knowing she has to focus to make up time. Mr. Sullivan is walking around, checking on scholars’ definitions and uses an ink stamper to quickly mark those that are correct. By doing this he quickly and silently gives feedback to scholars and assesses their understanding. As the timer beeps, Carolina puts her pencil down and feels confident about her choices. Mr. Sullivan asks the students to raise their papers in the air and to “Flow them forward.” Carolina turns around in her chair and collects the papers from the scholars behind her. Mr. Sullivan is counting out loud, “5 seconds, 10 seconds, 13 seconds, very good. Now flow to the right.” All the stacks now in the front seats are passed to the right, where George sits. George is the designated anchor paper collector, and he alone is allowed to get up out of his chair without asking, and once he has the papers, he puts them in a bin labeled “Latin Word Wars.” Students are reminded that college bound scholars will greatly benefit from the study of Greek and Latin Roots, suffixes and prefixes. This process took 32 seconds. Carolina and the rest of the scholars know that every moment matters, so they work to constantly improve their efficiency. Next, the teacher provides a mini-lesson formatted as ten minutes of direct instruction on active reading skills, after which students engage in guided reading with a grade-level, shared text for 15 minutes.  ELL students have accommodated readers, which provide annotations and vocabulary help on each page so they can more comfortably follow along during guided reading.  Guided reading is followed by independent reading for fifteen minutes, an Exit Tickets, and DREAM Points.
10:00 am - Ms. Greene begins Social Studies class with an enthusiastic greeting. Carolina is becoming a history buff this year because Ms. Greene has interesting conversations about what has happened in history in a dynamic way, and even though some historic events are sad and tragic, lots of times Ms. Greene figures out ways to have some fun when appropriate. The scholars begin their Q2 which is a journal entry about the Boston Massacre. The Q2 will give Ms. Greene a quick snapshot of who completed last night’s HW, and what key information was processed. The homework included two accounts from the event; one written from a British soldier’s perspective and another from an American colonist. Ms. Greene reminds the scholars, that in 6th grade, when they visit Boston, along with their Boston University and Harvard University campus visits, they will also visit a couple of key historical sites including the site of the Boston Massacre, the Old State House. After the lesson, Carolina places her HW in the folder and completes her exit ticket.


 11:00 am - Financial Literacy begins and is taught by Mr. Amaral who displays the agenda, objective, and HW on the white board. Mr. Amaral asks Carolina to read the objective aloud for the class, “Argosy Collegiate Scholars Will Be Able To explain how limited personal resources affect the choices people make.” The lesson begins with 10 minutes of direct instruction.  Students use guided notes to fill in their note sheets with essential information.  Next Mr. Amaral queues up a video produced by Khan Academy, Buying versus Renting a Home, which allows students to apply course concepts to a new context, entering the real estate market as a buyer or renter.  Students turn to the next page in their course packet, which contains a list of key vocabulary words that they will be introduced to during the video and six questions that they answer during the video and will discuss as a group at the conclusion.  Mr. Amaral begins the video debrief with a question prompt: “What is one difference between owning a home and renting one?”  Carolina thinks she knows the answer so she raises her pointer finger to signal that she would like to answer the question. “Everyone is tracking Carolina.” Her classmates shift in their seats to face her. “One difference between purchasing home and renting is that if you buy a home, then you may need a mortgage.”  Mr. Amaral asks another question, “A mortgage? That’s a new word. Carolina, what’s a mortgage?”  Carolina thinks for a second and looks down at her notes.  “A mortgage is a loan from a bank used to purchase a home.” Mr. Amaral, pleased with her response, says, “Nice definition, Carolina!” “Can anyone else think of another difference between owning a home and renting one?”  Mr. Amaral uses this class discussion to tease out other distinctions such as the need to save for a down payment, responsibilities for maintenance and repairs, tax benefits of homeownership, and homeownership as a real estate investment. Mr. Amaral concludes class with an Exit Slip, which asks: “Is homeownership always preferred to renting? Why or why not? Give three examples to support your answer.”  Students have five minutes to complete their exit slip.  Their homework for the evening explores five scenarios with different income assumptions, costs to purchase a home and mortgage lending rates. Students will be expected to use calculations they have practiced in class to determine whether the individual should buy or rent, given limited personal resources in each scenario. Students put their course packet, including HW, in their binders, and prepare for lunch.


12:00 pm - Carolina and her classmates exchange morning materials for afternoon materials from their cubbies by group and line up for lunch transition. Ms. Pavao and all staff members fill into the hallways to escort and monitor lunch transition. Ms. Pavao says, “You walk like professional, fifth grade scholars. Professionals walk with a sense of urgency just like you are doing. Time is important, and once you lose it, you can’t get it back.” Lunch transition like all other transitions are silent for scholars, and staff and teachers communicate with warm and supportive non-verbal hand signals (which are reviewed during Student Orientation) or whispers when necessary. Ms. Pavao is clearly in charge of orchestrating traffic flow and movement of classes to wait, get lunch, or move back to tables to eat. Until all scholars have their lunches at their pre-assigned seats by homeroom, scholars are silent for the first five minutes so they can focus on eating their meals. Most scholars are reading their DEAR books, or studying during this silent time. After 5 minutes, Ms. Pavao says, “Good afternoon, Argosy Collegiate Scholars. Because of the Excellence you have demonstrated in your behavior with our lunch period, you have earned Level 2 Talk (Scholars know this means they can socialize using restaurant voices). Also, scholars who are scheduled to take Accelerated Reader Exams now or who have tutoring time scheduled, you may proceed quietly to those areas.”


 12:30 pm - Mr. Silvia, the fifth grade Math Problem Solving math teacher, enters the room, signaling the beginning of Math Problem Solving. Carolina is one of three classroom monitors who volunteers to hand out the class packets so that students may begin to complete the Q2 on their individual whiteboards.  Today’s Q2 is a series of word problems about area and perimeter, with a couple of bonus problems on volume. A timer is displayed on the overhead projector, holding students accountable to completing the assignment quickly and accurately. After three and a half minutes, the timer beeps, signaling the end of the Q2.  Mr. Silvia invites a few students up to the main whiteboard to show their work and then explain their answers to the class.  When the one scholar, Xavier, begins to explain, all of the other scholars SLANT (sit up straight, listen, ask and answer questions, nod, and track the speaker).  When one of the scholars realizes that his work led to an incorrect answer, he calls on a classmate for help.  No one in the class laughs or teases him; instead, several erase their own whiteboards and make the same correction.  Carolina offers a suggestion for Xavier, and as he gets back to work on the problem, all of the remaining students reach out their arms and wiggle their fingers in his direction (this is silent applause and encouragement). Xavier and the others work successfully to correct answers and the other scholars check their work. “Put your math wizard hat on, we’re getting ready for Mental Math.” Once the papers are all collected, Mr. Silvia grabs his clipboard and begins to cold call students. “100 minus 51, Sam?”  “49.” “210 divided by 3, Lydia?”  “70.”   “Square root of 81, Sarah?”  “9.”  “How many tens in 7800, Carolina?”  “78?” Carolina says, only half-confident in her answer.  “Is that correct?” Mr. Silvia asks Carolina.  A few seconds pass without response and her classmates reach with outstretched arms to give her spirit fingers and studies. Mr. Sullivan gives a mini-lesson on pugnacious, pugnacity, repugnant, repugn, impugn, pugilism, and pugilist. He reviews parts of speech, prefixes, and suffixes (-cious, -city, re-, im-, -ism, -ilist) and defines prefix/suffix meanings. Mr. Sullivan asks scholars to match definitions to words after analysis of their elements. Mr. Sullivan tells the class, “Scholars, you have 5 minutes to define the remaining 5 terms. Pencils up. 3-2-1- Go.” Carolina gets right work and struggles a bit with the first one, but with determination, she pushes through. She looks up to the timer which is displayed on the front dry erase board using the projector, and she sees that she has 3 ½ minutes left. She gets right back to work knowing she has to focus to make up time. Mr. Sullivan is walking around, checking on scholars’ definitions and uses an ink stamper to quickly mark those that are correct. By doing this he quickly and silently gives feedback to scholars and assesses their understanding. As the timer beeps, Carolina puts her pencil down and feels confident about her choices. Mr. Sullivan asks the students to raise their papers in the air and to “Flow them forward.” Carolina turns around in her chair and collects the papers from the scholars behind her. Mr. Sullivan is counting out loud, “5 seconds, 10 seconds, 13 seconds, very good. Now flow to the right.” All the stacks now in the front seats are passed to the right, where George sits. George is the designated anchor paper collector, and he alone is allowed to get up out of his chair without asking, and once he has the papers, he puts them in a bin labeled “Latin Word Wars.” Students are reminded that college bound scholars will greatly benefit from the study of Greek and Latin Roots, suffixes and prefixes. This process took 32 seconds. Carolina and the rest of the scholars know that every moment matters, so they work to constantly improve their efficiency. Next, the teacher provides a mini-lesson formatted as ten minutes of direct instruction on active reading skills, after which students engage in guided reading with a grade-level, shared text for 15 minutes.  ELL students have accommodated readers, which provide annotations and vocabulary help on each page so they can more comfortably follow along during guided reading.  Guided reading is followed by independent reading for fifteen minutes, an Exit Tickets[9], and DREAM Points.

 1:30 pm - Ms. Sanchez rolls her science cart into BU 5 and exchanges warm smiles and eye contact with Mr. Silvia. Mr. Silvia quickly assigns DREAM Points to the class for financial literacy, and says, “Ms. Sanchez, I am very much looking forward to seeing BU’s science HW tomorrow so that I can see how well they do on the geometry applications to renewable energy.”  Ms. Sanchez has partnered with Renewable Energy Systems Opportunity for Unified Research Collaboration and Education Program to create a multidisciplinary unit on energy including renewable versus non-renewable energy, and climate and environmental impact of those sources. Carolina is excited about this science unit because she knows that the tallest structure now in Fall River is a recently installed wind turbine at Phillips Lighting North America. Carolina has seen the wind turbine up close with her classmates on last week’s field trip to Phillips Lighting on the north side of the city. Science class is rich with vocabulary and math because Ms. Sanchez knows the scholars benefit from using math and literacy skills as much as possible in all subjects. Today’s science HW has students figuring out the dimensions and volume of a shipping crate that would be used to transport one of the turbine’s blades. For today’s lesson, Ms. Sanchez utilizes the “I Do, We Do, You Do” format for the lesson, and Carolina thinks about how great it was to actually see the wind turbine spinning away not far from school. Carolina wrote in her science journal about her experience seeing the turbine close up, and can’t believe how big the actual blades were and how tall the turbine was. She also logged into her journal the dimensions of the turbine from the data she received on the field trip. Carolina knows she will do well on the HW because she took great notes in class using Cornell Note Taking skills which she learned in writing class. Carolina prepares for writing class as Ms. Sanchez gives DREAM Points and prepares her cart for departure.


 2:30 pm - The writing teacher enters and puts today’s grammar practice on the overhead and review with the class. Carolina begins with her Q2 using standard editing marks to correct common errors in capitalization, punctuation, and frequently misspelled words from last week’s spelling list. “Good morning, authors!” “Good morning, Mrs. Christensen!”  Mrs. Christensen begins the class not by correcting the Q2 but by announcing the five scholars who earned 100% on Friday’s Show What You Know grammar quiz.  She invites each of the five to correct one of the Q2 sentences while their classmates follow along on their papers. The fifth grade writing unit test is coming up, and the students are in the middle of their narrative writing unit.  Today they will spend the bulk of the class period responding to a prompt asking them to tell the story of a time someone surprised them.  While they move independently through the steps of the writing process, Mrs. Christensen works the room, giving pointers, reminding students to read their drafts aloud to revise and edit, and conferencing when a student seems temporarily stuck.  Three ELL students in the class met with Mrs. Christensen that morning for extra help, and get extra attention during the writing period.  They also are meeting with Mrs. Christensen this afternoon during FOCUS for more support. Seven minutes before the end of class, Mrs. Christensen asks students to share their narratives with their partners and reminds them to finish revising and bring a second draft with them tomorrow.  The students take a minute to clean up the room and to gather materials by sections for FOCUS.


3:30 pm - Formal classes have ended and the scholars move to dismissal, enrichment, or detention. Since Carolina has completed all of her HW with 70% accuracy or higher, she does not need to go to detention.  She will, however, attend FOCUS for 15 minutes to work with Mr. Silvia on long division and then she will use 15 for HW. She especially appreciates this time for tutoring and HW since Carolina babysits her two nieces until their bedtime on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.  Carolina has a lot of responsibility outside of school in supporting her family, but it energizes Carolina to stay focused on school and college bound goals. Although her life is full of challenge, she finds herself lucky to have learned an early lesson about choices, and she does not make excuses for the hard work and time it takes to be successful at school. Carolina does not have to take care of her nieces on Mondays, so she can attend enrichment now that her tutoring is done. She estimates an hour more of homework, and plans on completing that later at home. With these plans in mind, Carolina heads off to 30 minutes of enrichment. Carolina had many enrichment programs to choose from including chess club, book club, photography, cooking class, drums, choir, basketball, softball, and yoga. She chooses photography, as she has an affinity for art in many forms. Cameras and all equipment/supplies have been provided for students through fundraising initiatives and a partnership with The Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River in an effort to support arts enrichment for our scholars.  Jeremy, the lone student in BU 5 who did not complete his HW today, and a few others who did not complete their HW with sufficient accuracy gather their belongings and head to FOCUS/HW Center where they are required to complete their work. A number of students move to the detention room, where they write a reflection document about the rule they broke, how they earned detention, what they lost because of the choice they made, and what choices they will make in the future to avoid the same mistake. Once that document is completed to the satisfaction of the detention supervisor, the scholars in detention are allowed to study and complete their reading assignments.


4:30 pm - Transportation and parent pick-up is supervised by Ms. Pavao and one other staff member, who both have walkie-talkies to communicate quickly and effectively throughout the procedures. One office staff member is busy handling any end-of-the-day paperwork, conversations with parents if necessary, and managing the phone. Teachers and staff who do not have duties are preparing for tomorrow. Similar procedures are in place for bus drop-off in the afternoon, with students silently reading their DEAR books on the ride home.   Carolina waves good-bye to Ms. Pavao and Mr. Sullivan as she exits the building, making sure she has all of her materials to finish her homework after her nieces go to bed. She is tired, but knows she is working hard to keep her seat in college. The day’s work is intense but every day brings Carolina and the other scholars one day closer to college and a more successful future – full of opportunity and the promise of independence. 

[1] Research show that a rigorous “Do Now”, appropriately written and done without teacher support or direction, can bring incredible learning power to a classroom. Lemov, Doug. (2010) Teach Like a Champion. Josey-Bass. p. 152-154.
[2] Gower, R. & Saphier, J. (1997) The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills. Research For Better Teaching, Inc. p 70.
[3] There’s one suitable percentage of students following a direction given in the classroom- 100%. Lemov, Doug. (2010) Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. p. 167.
[4] Ayers, Donald M., Cherry, R.L., Vorthen, Donald M.  English Words from Latin and Greek Elements.  University of Arizona Press. 1986. pg. 196.
[5] Lemov, Doug. (2010) Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. “Work the Clock,” p. 232.
[6] Exit tickets are used as a formative assessment and as a tool to increase rigor in the classroom. Bambrick-Santoyo, Paul. (2010) Driven by Data. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. p. 84.
[7] Lemov, Doug. (2010) Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. p. 111.
[8] Lemov, Doug. (2010) Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. “Work the Clock,” p. 232.
[9] Exit tickets are used as a formative assessment and as a tool to increase rigor in the classroom. Bambrick-Santoyo, Paul. (2010) Driven by Data. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. p. 84.
[10] Lemov, Doug. (2010) Teach Like a Champion. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass. p. 111.
[11] Ibid. p. 71.



Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Romney’s Snake handlers

“they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." Mark 16:18

If Romney wins or should I say steals the 2012 election, then you should know about his posse of crazy fundamentalist snake handlers which he will bring into his administration.  In the area of education, a former Republican organizer who is touted to have the inside track into a high profile Department of Education position is Dr. Gary Cass, currently head of the Christian Anti-Defamation league after being an executive member of the San Diego Republican party. His book, “The Bible and The Blackboard: Biblical Solutions for Failing Schools” is required reading for conservative critics of the present educational system.

“Suicide, drug abuse, promiscuity, teenage pregnancies, and abortion are all linked to the morally bankrupt public education philosophy that prevails in our nation's schools. The Bible and the Blackboard provides a profound look at the public school system's fall from a time when, in some cases, the Bible was a textbook, to the present, where Christian worldviews are outlawed from the classroom.”

I sure that Clarissa and Z are unaware that they are working in “perverted factories of unfaithfulness” as his lecture in the video states but in the event of a Romney victory they’ll soon find out.  Better watch out for the Kool Aid too but at least the healthcare cost overruns will be solved. There have been so many flavors of rape expounded by Republican candidates this year that everyone is confused so fortunately Daily Kos has put out a handy chart of rape types which is free to be copied and placed on your fridge door.

And all you Satanic pro choice Obama lovers are going to burn in hell!


World’s Worst Hotel

  The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam has won the travel agents’ award again as the world’s worst hotel. A typical comment from the Tripadvisor website:

We stayed in this hostel in April 2012 on a Topdeck tour of Europe. I'd read other reviews of the hostel before we got there, so was a bit nervous. Unfortunately most of the reviews I'd read were completely true. The rooms were like prison cells, with rickety old beds and metal lockers that didn't close properly. Walking down the hallways was like walking through an abandoned old hospital. I could have forgiven the barren, echoing rooms if they'd been super clean, but they weren't. The shared bathroom was the kind that you wear thongs in just to wash your hands. Luckily the bed sheets were clean (or so they looked). The breakfast was minimal and gross. The only saving factor was that it was within walking distance to the main tourist attractions in Amsterdam, very close to a bike hire store and down the street from a cafe that makes potent brownies. I would recommend that, if you have a choice, go somewhere else!

        Room Tip: Choose a good another hostel!

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If you check their website, you’ll find the following legal notice posted.

Legal note: The Hans Brinker Budget Hotel does offer cheap accommodation in Amsterdam but cheap accommodation herein describes ‘inexpensive relative to others in the sector’ but not (under hotel regulations & guides the Netherlands brief #4569. 67887. 89) ‘good’ accommodation or indeed ‘pleasant,’ ‘hygienic’ accommodation or any derivation thereof. Those wishing to stay at the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel, Amsterdam, do so at their own risk and will not hold the hotel liable for food poisoning, mental breakdowns, terminal illness, lost limbs, radiation poisoning, certain diseases associated with the 18th century, plague, etcetera.

Why go? It does provide relatively cheap accommodation close to some well known tourist attractions in the city and the clientele mostly stoned on legal pot after a night of debauchery in Amsterdam’s red light zone usually don’t notice the lack of amenities. Also if I get a thousand hits on this post then the hotel will pay me ten Euros (really!)


The hotel was named after a character in a novel by American author Mary Mapes Dodge entitled, “The Silver Skates” who wants to win a prize of silver skates by winning the Dutch speed racing  competition but only owns a pair of wooden skates.