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Tumble. Polish. Shine. Repeat. Any questions?

ThumblerTumbler-1Many patterns in teaching and learning emerge over time. The pattern of knowing what you don’t know is one of those long-term, polishing-a-rock patterns.  Every time you, my students, take a test, write a paper, talk about a book you’ve read, or create reasons why you didn’t, you give me answers. You answer questions such as, “does she understand how to generalize?” “Does he know what this word means?” “How can I help them understand an abstract concept such as making an inference?” And the time-honored, “?” written on a test or quiz. Even knowing when you don’t know something is helpful to me, so I can help you.

I just finished reviewing your latest reading assessment. Here’s what I know now: Most of you know more than you think you do, but you’re still struggling on how to express it. Also, many of you  need help working on big ideas, such as “what does it mean to generalize information?” or “is this a reasonable conclusion?” I guess many adults are not asked to perform such higher level thinking as we demand of eighth grade kids.  You are little diamonds in the rough, my gems, and let’s bring out your best! It’ll take some time, but teaching is truly a patient, faithful process…I need to believe that if you don’t get it now, someday you will. Otherwise both of us will be ground down for not much but some fool’s gold. Your knowledge and education is your mental gold, and you want the most ka-ching!! as possible. It’s worth it to put forth your best effort, and have faith in yourself, too, and patience.

These are your gems of wisodom for today.

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The daily dose of iron(y).

John Stewart
John Stewart

I guess it’s my week of posting about some of my favorite people:

From The Writer’s Almanac, November 28: It’s the birthday of the comedian who has interviewed Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter, John McCain, Tom Cruise, and Tom Hanks, and on whose show Senator John Edwards announced that he was running for president of the United States. Jon Stewart, (books by this author) the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, was born in New York City on this day in 1962. He was raised in New Jersey.

Stewart took over as the host of The Daily Show in January 1999. For the previous 15 years — since he’d graduated from college with a psychology degree — he had worked as a bartender, busboy, shelf-stocker, construction worker, soccer coach, puppeteer for children with disabilities, and he’d been employed by the State of New Jersey and the City University of New York.

All this time Stewart was trying to make it on the New York comedy scene. He lined up a gig at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village but was jeered off stage halfway through his act. Then he got a nightly 1:45 a.m. slot at the Comedy Cellar; his audience at first consisted mostly of the place’s bartenders and staff. He became a friend and frequent guest on David Letterman’s Late Night and was a candidate to replace him on NBC when Letterman left for CBS. Conan O’Brien got Letterman’s spot in 1993, but Stewart got his own MTV show, which had the second-highest ratings on the network but was cancelled after two seasons. In 1999, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show picked up Jon Stewart.

In 2007 a Pew Research poll indicated that Jon Stewart ranked as the 4th Most Admired Journalist — tying with Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, Dan Rather, and Anderson Cooper. When Senator John Edwards announced his candidacy for president on The Daily Show, Stewart replied: “We’re a fake show, so I want you to know this may not count.”

Each morning on the day of the show, Stewart and the Daily Show team of writers gather for a morning meeting. They sift through material gathered via TiVo, Web sites, newspapers, and magazines looking for — as one show producer said — stories that “make us angry in a whole new way.” In an article titled, “Is Jon Stewart the Most Trusted Man in America?” New York Times writer Michiko Kakutani reported on The Daily Show ritual: At lunchtime, Stewart is scrutinizing the jokes that will appear at the top of the night’s show; by 3 p.m., a script has been written; at 4:15, there’s rehearsal, followed immediately by rewrites; and then show is taped in front of a live audience in the studio at 6 p.m.

Stewart, who proposed to his wife through a crossword puzzle with the help of puzzlemaster Will Shortz, is also the author of a few books, including America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction (2004), which held the No. 1 New York Times Bestseller spot for 18 weeks in a row. He hosted the Academy Awards in 2006 and 2008. 

A taste for irony has kept more hearts from breaking than a sense of humor, for it takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself. – Jessamyn West

The Daily Show with John Stewart and its cast of news anchors, from Steven Colbert, Steve Carrel, (who are both famous, talented and successful with their own projects), Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, and more–have been a near nightly tradition at our house for years. Whether or not you agree with the show’s political bias, it’s hard not to recognize intelligent comedy when you hear it. It takes intelligence and hard work to be funny, really funny, and not to take ourselves so seriously. Laughter gives us strength; and although sometimes what we’re laughing about hurts, writers have the power of saying boldly, loudly, “The emperor isn’t wearning any clothes!” 

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Apple pie universal truths.

I *heart* Bill Nye the Science Guy.

It’s true. I have a little secret science crush on Bill Nye the Science Guy. (Yes, my husband knows. He has a small crush on Sandra Bullock, and we’re okay with that, too. His chances of actually meeting Sandra Bullock are an astronomical, exponential number.)

Bill Nye the Science Guy
Bill Nye the Science Guy

From The Writer’s Almanac, November 27, 2009: It’s the birthday of Bill Nye the Science Guy, (books by this author) born William Sanford Nye in Washington, D.C. (1955). He majored in mechanical engineering at Cornell, where one of his professors was Carl Sagan, and was working as an actor at a Seattle sketch comedy show when the host mispronounced the word “gigawatt”; he’d incorrectly said “jigowatt.” William Sanford Nye politely corrected the host of the television comedy show, and the host said, “Who are you?” and Nye said, off the top of his head, “Bill Nye the Science Guy?”

Between 1993 and 1997, he wrote, produced, and hosted 100 episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy, his educational program on PBS geared toward grade-schoolers. The 26-minute program, each featuring a distinct topic, was shown in classrooms across the country, and it still is broadcast on some public television stations. He’s written a number of children’s books, including Bill Nye the Science Guy’s Big Blast of Science (1993).


If one of his professors was Carl Sagan, well, maybe that explains some things, because I also think Carl Sagan, a physicist, said some incredible things, too:

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

So, as I ask some big questions, like my place in the universe, why am I here, am I only limited to my tiny mortal coil, restrictive and finite, I will also know I am in good company with others more intelligent than I–Professor Sagan, Bill Nye, and of course, my husband, whom I *heart* the most.

Check out Bill Nye the Science Guy’s website:

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Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I enjoy these teachers’ blog about writing. One of them recently went to a conference, and I must admit, there is something about being surrounded by other teachers who share the same passions about this profession. Here’s what she had to say:

Swirling Thoughts from NCTE

Posted on Friday November 20, 2009 by Ruth

Today was a good day, but what day at NCTE isn’t?  Since we just finished our last session and have dinner plans in a few minutes, you’re getting a list of swirling thoughts.  Expect more blog posts about NCTE  in the future.

  • Choice matters.  Today I’ve been inspired to stand up and defend student choice in reading and writing.
  • Poetry parties are fun.  Stacey and I attended one this morning in honor of Lee Bennett Hopkins.  There was sparkling cider, cookies, and party favors.  A toast started the session and then a series of amazing poets paid tribute with words and poems.  I walked away with the reminder that it is OKAY to be passionate about something.  Lee’s passion was bringing poetry to children.  I was left with the question tumbling in my mind:  What am I passionate about? I’ll need to think more deeply about this, but off the cuff, I’d say:   I’m passionate about using everyday, ordinary stories from our lives to understand ourselves and the world more deeply.
  • At the end of my career, I want to look back and be able to say I stood up for things that mattered in the grand scheme of life; I spoke out against injustice; I did what I knew was best for students, even when it contradicted what “they” told me to do.
  • Stories matter.  My story. Your story. Their story. Reading stories.  Drawing stories.  Writing stories.  They all matter.
  • When all is stripped away, I find I want students knowing they matter in the world.  I want them to know their voice matters.  In order for this to happen, they must read widely, talk honestly, and write the tough stuff.  Only an individual knows the things which are important enough to read, talk about, and write.  My job is to foster the desire and provide the time for students to do this important work of living a literate life.
  • I will remember that a single person can make the world a better place.
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It doesn’t add up.

I have a problem.  This doesn’t add up. I feel negative about this. This is less than, not equal to, what I want to see. I was helping my son with some pre-algebra homework, and decided to go to the website his teacher says is a good source for help. I’ve been there before, but the links to the “free” help are hard to find. While searching, I found this page:

No Tears Math


Now – here’s the problem. Actually, I have a few:

  1. Look at the “bias.” They advertise if you want to be “happy” and “stop crying” you should use this website.
  2. The pretty girl creates bias as well — the viewer,  girl or boy, sees this girl, who signs her name coyly,  “me,” and she looks happy and friendly, and who doesn’t want friends? And look–she’s holding a sign that says:

As many of you know, in persuasive writing, there is a ‘call to action.’ Well, the call to action is clear on this page, (got to hand it to them on that one!), and it is this: if your parents love you, if they really love you and want you to be happy, and not cry over math anymore, they will fork over their hard-earned cash that, gee, I don’t know, they might need for food or rent, and buy you on-line math help. The more they pay, the more help you will receive, so if they really, really  love you, they will pay more.

Oh, dear.

Well, grab your hankies, dear boys and girls, dry those tears, because I am going to give you FREE help with math: Y+O+U.

Yes. You.

You know more than you think you do–you may just not be aware of all the resources you have. One thing you should know is that the math teachers at our school are awesome, caring people who will do just about anything to help you. For free. There’s homework help after school. There are resources aplenty, and you can use your laptops to search for great, free math help, like: (in Spanish, too!)

I ended up calling some of my math teacher buddies to help out – I was close to figuring it out, but the little extra insight really helped me help my son. Being a Language Arts teacher, I used my own reading strategies to help me dissect and analyze word problems, and that helps a lot, too. I love when a solution really comes together.