Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Pressminarayanan Household

To you and yours from me and mine:

(Sorry, this was last year's Christmas card that I forgot to put up). Note that the Christmas sweaters are imported from Michigan. You just can't find that level of sequined detail out West.


And this year's card: Sarah and I at the Foster City Tree Lighting Ceremony. This was a big one, folks--the first year that they lit a real tree instead of tree-shaped lights out on the lagoon. Personally I liked the lagoon trees better because they were so representative of the FC, but I guess that budget cuts and/or the illusion of "going green" are reasonable excuses to go with the live tree. BTW, it wasn't actually that cold nor is it actual snow (it's California after all), but don't we look so much more festive in cold-weather gear?


Here's to another lovely Christmas with my California families, both blood and surrogate. Just as exciting, here's to the end of another Christmas season and the return of parking lot sanity. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is She STILL Talking about Asilomar?

Yes, I am. Partly because the conference is always amazing and inspiring and partly because I just now finally got a chance to upload these pictures. This is what the Asilomar conference grounds look like. So even if the conference had been professionally useless, at least it legitimately counted as a weekend away.

By the way, these are actual shots of the conference grounds and Asilomar State Beach, which borders the conference grounds. Unfortunately there was so much rain this year that I didn't get my usual session-long walk on the beach. I opted for napping to the sound of crashing waves instead.




Friday, December 17, 2010

Asilomar Reflections: Jo Boaler

I should preface this by saying that I have a pretty major bias in favor of Jo Boaler's work. This is not for reasons of blind faith, but because of how I have been "raised" as a math teacher. The teaching methods I've learned and successfully used have been the study of her research, not to mention that most of my math teaching heroes were either her research subjects or worked/studied with her at Stanford.

But regardless of all my biases, Dr. Boaler always has interesting things to say. Her doctoral thesis was a study of two schools in England, one using traditional mathematical teaching methods and one using "reform" methods. The differences between the two schools were startling. The students at Phoenix Park (the reform school) had much better conceptual understanding as well as a more positive and productive attitude towards math than the students at Amber Hill (the traditional school). There's more in her thesis if you want details. The same study was repeated at similar schools in the United States. The results were published in the Phi Beta Kappan under the title "When Leaning No Longer Matters," if you're interested. And you should be interested.

A couple years ago Boaler was giving a talk about her England study and a man in the audience asked if she knew what had happened to those students. It turned out that he happened to be a rich oil tycoon who was willing to fund her to go back and find out. So she did, and presented the results at Asilomar. Again, the results were fascinating. Part of her general thesis is that math classes literally traumatize and leave life-long scars on students. All math teachers know this anecdotally from the reactions we get upon telling people our profession. "Oh, I hated my high school math classes." "Wow, you're brave! That was my worst subject." "I actually like math" (as if that should come as a surprise).

So how would adults feel about math if they came from a reform background? The Phoenix Park students (now in their mid- to late-20's) definitely had a more positive attitude toward math, both as a general interest and in how they used it in their jobs. Dr. Boaler asked both groups what they do when they come across a math problem they can't solve. Most Amber Hill (traditional) students said something to the effect of, "I would ask someone who's good at math." One Phoenix Park student responded, "Why wouldn't I be able to solve it? If I didn't get it I would just keep working until I did." As a math teacher, that warms my heart. Even my "smartest" kids struggle with persistence more than pretty much everything else. I definitely believe (and lots of research has shown) that persistence and belief that you are capable of succeeding in a math problem are key factors in how well people do on tests.

For those who don't care about the wishy-washy how do people feel about math, Dr. Boaler had some pretty stark numbers. Both groups of students she interviewed were coming from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. For the Amber Hill students, their range as adults got wider, meaning that some did move up to higher levels, but just as many fell. The range of the Phoenix Park students stayed the same width, but moved up, meaning that very few, if any, students ended up at a lower socioeconomic class than their parents. That in itself is impressive and also has serious implications for raising low-income communities out of poverty.

In the age of high-stakes testing (I know this is how so many sentences in education writing start off...), there is so much pressure to teach to the test, to jam facts into kids' heads so they'll remember them for 2 hours in April. It's so tempting to teach them stupid tricks and drill them to memorize formulas without any reasoning behind it. It's definitely easier to write a worksheet of 100 drill-and-kill problems than it is to come up with one good groupworthy one. But Dr. Boaler's talk was definitely the reminder I needed that teaching conceptually, getting kids to talk about math, and helping them value different ways of seeing are such worthwhile goals. It's hard when my standardized test results don't seem to demonstrate how smart I think my students really are, but if they can go into their adult lives believing that they are capable of math and having the habits of mind to think mathematically, I'm a little less worried about their CST scores.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Acorn Squash

Sometimes Sarah and I buy produce that we don't get around to using before it goes bad. And sometimes we buy produce and completely forget about it. This used to be an acorn squash. Then it imploded into itself. It wasn't gross, just kind of weird. (The butternut squash is there for scale)


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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Asilomar Reflections: Lucy West

Don't make fun of me for being nerdy, but the California Math Council (North) annual conference is one of my favorite events of the year. Who can pass up a weekend at Asilomar State Beach talking about interesting math and teaching topics with some of the biggest names (and nicest people) in math education? I can't believe I missed it last year.

This year, as is true for the other times I've gone, I learned a LOT. The Friday night keynote speaker, Lucy West, was particularly impressive. She talked about academic discourse and its necessity in a math classroom. This is already one of my core beliefs about teaching math, but I liked her talk because she confirmed/affirmed some of the things I already do and also raised a couple of new points that I hadn't thought of.

Things I'm already doing:

  • First of all, her thesis was that if kids talk about math, they learn more and better. As I said, this is one of my core beliefs and I structure pretty much everything in my classroom around this. How can I get them to talk? How can I get them to listen? More importantly, what can I give them that's actually worth talking about and listening to? Ms. West emphasized the role of both teaching and listening, both of which I try to scaffold on a daily basis. I think my kids are getting better at it (although their listening could use more work than their talking). They're taking a group test even as I write this and I'm generally happy with the quality of their conversations, especially given that they're 9th graders who have only been working on this for 3 months. 
  • There were certain "teacher moves" that Ms. West pointed out in videos and I was really happy that I already do most of them. I'm a huge fan of "Talk with your partner/team, now share out with the class what you talked about" and the "Who can rephrase what _____ just said? ... Great, now what's another way of rephrasing it?" I'm also into the accountability move of "You're not sure? Who else wants to explain it, and you'll rephrase what they said."
New ideas (sort of): 
  • We all know that teaching is a painfully isolating profession. Even at my school which supposedly is highly collaborative, I am the only teacher teaching my subject, so I have nobody to plan or debrief with. I have maybe seen 2 minutes all year of another teacher teaching. Maybe. Ms. West compared teaching to surgery: if you watch Grey's Anatomy, all the doctors (interns, experts, everyone) are always excited to be in on each other's surgeries. When there's a new procedure, they all want to help out with it or at least be in the viewing gallery. I learn SO much when I watch other teachers or when other teachers watch me. I would love to see another teacher try out some hot new activity or teaching move, even if it fails. I know that if I hadn't been in a teacher ed program where we looked at what it means to have math discussions (or if I never had a teacher ed program in the first place), I would still be lecturing everyday because that's the only kind of math teaching I ever saw. I didn't know there were other options out there--and I imagine that many teachers don't. Who knows what else I'm missing by not talking to or seeing other teachers. All those teacher moves that I learned are things that I saw other people doing. And it's so crucial that observations happen frequently. I always meet math teachers at conferences who are still lecturing all the time and who can't even conceptualize how to incorporate discussion because they're only hearing about it for 45 minutes at a conference. They go home and try to use the ideas, but it fails because not only did they get such a small glimpse, they have no one to support their trials (and inevitable failures). To see what it actually looks and feels like--and how to do it well--you need to see something over and over and in different contexts. 
  • This brings up another of West's points. A lot of the terrible ideas in math education came from a really good place, but ended up being adapted into something awful. Her example was "the walkthrough," a practice that had positive origins. Teachers and administrators decided together what kinds of things might be observed for in a snapshot observation, and they followed observations with conversation. This is quite the opposite of walkthroughs I have experienced where administrators would come in for >5 minutes with a checklist: Are there objectives on the board? Are kids using the textbook? Are there state standards on the board? Then they would leave. These things (and many of the other things they look for) are related to components of good teaching, but on their own do not create or indicate good teaching. The evolution of the walkthrough is like a bad game of telephone. I see this happening all the time with groupwork and complex instruction (structures and philosophies that are very near and dear to my heart). Someone watches a video or sees a good math problem at a conference so they take it back to their school. And it flops. But there's so much that goes into good groupwork that takes so much time, so many deliberate decisions, so much more than just trying to imitate 10 minutes of video. I know that I never would have learned all that I have if it weren't for two specific supports. First, at my previous school my teaching schedule was designed so that I could observe a veteran teacher teaching algebra during my prep period. I got a day behind in the curriculum so I could see Estelle teach a lesson on Monday and then I would teach it on Tuesday. We would have already talked through the misconceptions, the pitfalls, the strategies, etc. so that I had an idea of what I was getting into. It's so different seeing a lesson in action than it is reading about it in a lesson plan. The second support is having other expert teachers coaching me in the moment while I'm teaching. At my old school department members came in for particularly challenging activities (challenging for the teacher, not necessarily the students) or if I needed help with a certain group of students. Sometimes other teachers would just bring their grading over and sit in my room to work. This happened for both veteran and new teachers. Currently I have an amazing coach who sometimes comes into my class (not as much as I'd like) and whispers little moves or ideas as I'm teaching. AND we plan curriculum and debrief together. In the first few weeks this year when she was in my room almost every day, I learned so much more than I did in all of last year. I can't come up with good ideas and teacher moves out of thin air. Learning about teaching has to come from seeing other teachers teach. 
  • Sticking to the medicine analogy, doctors have a common language with which to discuss their practice while teachers... not so much. When I talk to other teachers, even from my own school or department, we have different ideas of what a "warm up" is or what it means for kids to work in groups. It's fine for different teachers to be doing different things, but it's a huge challenge to have a conversation when you're talking about two different things but using the same words. 
  • This next idea was new to me, but made perfect sense. Ms. West said that when she goes into a new school, the quickest way to predict what classroom discourse will look like is to listen to how the teachers talk to one another. If teachers never talk together about math (or academic content), it's unlikely that students will. If teachers are competitive and protective of information, students will be too. This totally makes sense to me based on the two schools where I worked. Ms. West asked, "Think about the meetings you have to go to--do you look forward to them?" At my previous school, definitely yes. Our Thursday algebra meetings were the highlight of my week, partly because I really liked the other people I work with, but mostly because I learned a lot from them. We spent a lot of time doing math problems, looking at curriculum, and sharing ideas. Our kids did the same in class. The conversations at that school--especially in upper grades where kids had been working this way for years--were mind-blowing. The math was deep and the their communication was gentle and caring. At my current school, discussions look different. Most meetings are highly structured with limited space to discuss ideas. There's a time and place for everything and no time outside of that. We get a lot done in a relatively small amounts of time. The same is absolutely true of our classes. We have 2 months less of class time than other schools, but get higher test scores. Most teachers use highly-scaffolded lesson plans, worksheet formatting, etc. Everything happens in a very measured way, but we're always moving. I'm not saying that one approach is better than the other, (although I do have a personal preference for the former), but it is interesting how the students mirror the adults. 
  • Ms. West stressed the necessity of adults doing math together, which our department does not. It's unfortunately first because hey, math is fun. More importantly, it's unbelievably powerful to consider the experiences our students have in class. I'm always amazed at the behaviors I revert back to whenever I have to do math in a group. For example, I went to a session at the conference that was just doing interesting geometry problems (remember, I'm a geometry teacher). The two people I was working with are friends I met at Stanford who I continue to be very close with both personally and professionally. In general I am comfortable around them and confident in my abilities, but when got stumped by a system of equations (which was an algebra II level of difficulty) I instantly turned to hide my paper and pretend I knew what I was doing. I absolutely know that my friends would never look down on me for asking a question or for having trouble with that problem, but the math anxiety came out so quickly. If that's what's happening for me, a "mathematically successful" adult doing problems for fun with my friends, what must be going on for some poor little freshman who's never felt good about math and is working with kids s/he barely knows? It's so rarely that we as adult math teachers come across problems we don't know how to handle, but our students do every day. If there's ever any questions that students' emotions impact their learning, the answer lies in working on math problems with other teachers. 
During Ms West's talk I sat with many of my former colleagues, most of whom are no longer still at our school. We shot each other a lot of meaningful glances as Ms. West more or less named key features of how we worked together and what we worked toward. I am constantly reminded of how lucky I've am to have been a part of this group, even if it was only for a year. The things I learned and the connections I made continue to inspire and inform my teaching. My current department is great, but I don't always feel like we're in the same place, have the same values, or are working toward the same goals. How do I get back to a place where I believe so deeply in what my department is trying to do? 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Gift Ideas

Just in case you're having trouble figuring out what to get for that special someone (i.e. me):

http://theorymine.co.uk

Monday, November 29, 2010

The American Dream

Conversation with three white students: 


N: Ms. L., do you think I could be president? 
Me: Sure. I'd vote for you [Not true; he is too spacey to be president]
N: See, Ms. L. thinks I could be president
C: You could run for president, but you wouldn't get elected
A: You can't be president--you're not black. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

StuckK

A couple weeks ago (5 weeks to be exact) I was reading this post from the Freakonomics blog. I'm fascinated by the idea of what motivates people, for myself, for my students, and just for my interactions with other people. The post discusses "commitment contracts," which I make in my mind all the time: cooking dinner more often, going to bed at a reasonable hour, eating healthier, not checking work email after a certain time and all those other things that I know will make my life better. But of course, I'm not great at following through on any of it. It's easier to pick up takeout, stay up a little later, have a bowl of ice cream, and double-check that no school emergency has come up since I last looked. When it comes to things that impact only me, I need more motivation.


Stickk.com, a website set up by researchers from the Yale School of Management, turned out to be exactly what I needed. The way it works is that you set up a commitment contract with yourself about anything. I chose going to the gym at least four times a week and decided I'd start out with a 5-week commitment. They send you an email every week asking whether you met your commitment and keep track of how you're doing. For me, just putting it in writing is not enough, so StickK adds another dimension. I gave them my credit card number and if I didn't make it to the gym four times in a given week, StickK.com would charge me $25 (you set your own price point; I started on the lower end in case this experiment completely failed).

Just to raise the stakes a little bit more, StickK gives you the option of where your money goes. It can be to another person of your choice, but I felt like most of my friends would feel uncomfortable enough with the arrangement that they'd either decline to participate or would spend the money on us doing something fun together. Another option is to give your money to charity, but I'd feel okay if I skipped out on the gym and the United Way got $25. So StickK has a third option: the anti-charity. I set up my contract so that if I didn't meet my commitment, not only would I lose $25, it would go to the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. You can probably guess by the name that this organization defines marriage under very specific, very exclusionary terms. Not exactly a cause I want to support. (There are anti-charities for all sorts of beliefs; I love that the list of options includes a bunch of different British football clubs.)

I'm amazed at how well this commitment contract worked for me, and I'm proud to say that for the past five weeks I've gone to the gym at least four times a week. The money and the anti-charity have unquestionably been the major motivating factor. There were multiple days when I dragged myself off the couch or forced myself to stop on the way home from school because I was so horrified at the thought of donating to an anti-gay marriage organization. This is a very busy, very difficult time of year and I know there are a number of days when I would have skipped out if this threat weren't looming over my head.

Now this post just sounds like an advertisement for stickK.com and maybe it is. Seriously, I can't wait to try out some other commitments to see what I can do when I force myself into it.

PS - A fun thing to do is check out the homepage where they show a list of commitments that other people are making. There are a lot of the usual like save money, lose weight, eat healthy, etc., but there are also some amazing ones: "make $1 million by a certain age," "be more awesome," and "be nice to my girlfriend." I am so fascinated by other people.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Banned

I very much understand that there are many different ways to teach math well. I see other teachers sometimes and think, "WOW... but I could never do that." It's often a matter of personal style and most importantly, assessing and meeting the needs of your specific kids. Somewhere in all of that, however, are best practices that we (should) learn in ed school or from each other. In the same vein, there are many different ways to teach math poorly. Somewhere in all of that are what you might call anti-best practices, certain ways of teaching that do more to harm student learning than to support it. Besides all the "teacher moves" that don't work, there are some content-specific anti-best practices I've seen over the years that make me want to pull my hair out every time a kid mentions one.

The following is a list of phrases, algorithms, and "tricks" that I wish would be banned from every math class.

Cross Multiplication
Cheers to the genius who decided that it would really help kids to draw a big X through an equals sign and multiply the numbers on the ends. Yes, cross multiplication "works" in the case of a straight proportion with one unknown, but that's a very specific case. Kids like cross multiplication because it's easy to remember (although the dividing at the end gets confusing), but what they don't remember is when you should actually use it. Try this experiment if you have a middle schooler or high schooler handy: if they remember cross multiplication, then give them three problems, one where two fractions are set equal to each other, one where the fractions are added, and one where they are being multiplied. You'll be amazed at how many kids draw an X on all three problems. This is so common that my lesson on cross multiplication (and why you're not allowed to use it in my class unless you can explain to me why it works) is based on someone raising their hand and making this mistake. And it always happens. Kids don't understand why it works, so they don't know how or when to use it.

One of the biggest things I want my students to learn from my class is that math and math steps should always make sense. I teach them "fraction busters" which is essentially a long version of cross multiplication. Fraction busters involves multiplying by all the denominators in an equation in order to "bust" the fractions and get something more reasonable to work with. I push my kids to say that we're multiplying because fractions are division and we want to undo the division by doing it's opposite. If there's a reason behind their math steps (besides "It's what my old math teacher taught me") then there's a very good chance that they're doing something right, and an even better chance that they'll understand how to fix it if it's wrong.

Fun story: last year another math teacher and I literally sprinted across the school trying to find the algebra teacher to make sure he didn't teach cross multiplication. I like to think it was like a movie when Maura found him, that she busted through the door (no pun intended) and dove in slow-motion to knock the whiteboard marker out of his hand before he could draw an X through the equals sign.

"Cross Cancel"
Honestly, I don't even know what this means, but it always comes out of some kid's mouth when we're talking about fractions. I think it has something to do with multiplying and simplifying fractions? In any case, if I don't know what it means and kids can't explain it to me, it's obviously not helping them learn. It's just another "rule" that has no sense-making behind it, so kids mess it up.

FOIL
Oh, binomials, the way you torture Algebra I students is amazing. FOIL (first, outer, inner, last) is definitely the way I learned how to multiply binomials and definitely the way I continued to do it until a couple of years ago. Again, this is another "rule" that kids don't understand the reasons behind. It's a little harder to mis-apply  than something like cross multiplication, but it's detrimental because it's extremely limiting. I was a good math student, and I definitely did not understand for a very long time how to multiply a binomial with a trinomial (let alone larger polynomials) because it didn't fit the FOIL pattern. Another significant issue is that because FOIL has no logic behind it, there's no logic to un-FOILing AKA factoring, which is consistently one of the most difficult topics in Algebra I.

The solution? The best way I've ever seen this taught--and what I continue to use--is an area model. Here are some examples:

They make a lot more sense to kids, and work well for any kind of multiplication of polynomials because you can make the generic rectangles any size. They also make factoring unbelievably easier. Learning about generic rectangles was life-changing for my own mathematical understanding and for the way I teach algebra.

"A negative and a negative is a positive"or "A negative and a positive is a negative."
What's the key word in these phrases? Oh, there isn't one because it's completely ambiguous. What does "and" mean? To make these "rules" correct, "and" should mean "multiplied or divided by" but of course kids don't remember that. You'd be amazed at how many kids think -5 + 10 is either -15 or -5. Multiplication of positive and negative numbers gets a little more complicated with regard to the sense-making aspect--can YOU explain why two -5 x -5 = +25? But the sense-making around adding positive and negative numbers is not difficult, so if we can at least start there hopefully there will be less confusion with multiplication/division.

a^2+b^2=c^2
No, I don't want to get rid of the Pythagorean Theorem. But who thought it was a good idea to name the sides of the triangle a, b, and c? How do those help, especially when it doesn't matter which of the legs is a and which is b? I got a semi-angry email from another math teacher this year asking why we'd teach it that way. The answer: I don't. I teach it by first looking at the geometric representation, so I want the kids to be able to verbalize something like, "The areas of the two smaller squares add to equal the area of the bigger square." Algebraically, I teach it as "Leg^2+Leg^2=Hypotenuse^2".

"Cancel out"
Another terribly ambiguous phrase. Kids love crossing things out (who doesn't? It feels so satisfying), so they love saying that things cancel. But "canceling" is another word that means nothing, at least when it comes to sense-making and giving reasons. We teach that adding and subtracting from both sides of an equation is "making zeros." Simplifying a fraction is "making ones." Squaring and square roots "undo each other." Because that's exactly what's happening. Math isn't magic, so numbers and symbols shouldn't just vanish with no explanation. If kids can make sense of these very fundamental identities, they're set up to understand all kinds of algebraic manipulation and solving, as well as new operations and their inverses. And kids still get to cross stuff out.

There are two main ideas behind this post:
1. For kids to effectively learn math, it has to make sense. Seemingly arbitrary rules do not help them make sense of anything and only serve to deepen their belief that math is some confusing, magical subject that's only accessible to a select few.
2. Unlearning a misconception is exponentially more difficult than learning something right in the first place. And what's tricky is that misconceptions are often applied in a way that gets a correct answer. So kids who I meet in 9th grade who have been cross multiplying for 2-3 years get frustrated because they've been able to solve all these proportions correctly, not realizing that the other ways they've been applying it are where the real problem is.

I'm not completely innocent regarding all the anti-best practice above. I did teach things that way or would have taught them if I'd never seen an alternative. It makes me wonder what else I'm doing wrong that's driving upper-level teachers crazy...

Monday, November 01, 2010

Spirit Week 2010

Pictures, as promised. First, crazy hair day. It's hard to see well in these pictures, but my quasi-mohawk/stegosaurus impersonation was quite the hit. The flowers were a last-minute addition in the morning that I'm glad to have made. There were only two problems: first, by the end of the day I had a terrible headache, which I eventually realized was from having my hair pulled so tightly for 9 hours. Second, I had to meet with a parent in the afternoon, which I was prepared for by choosing a hairstyle that could be undone (unlike my colleague Lisa, as you can see below). But in all the rush of after-school meetings, there was no time to turn myself into someone who you'd trust with your child so the whole meeting was kind of awkward. I hope that the kid explained to his mom that his teachers don't usually look like that.















Now on to the really good ones: Halloween. I am extremely proud to be part of a math department that came up with such phenomenal costumes. As I have chronicled, math costumes are not easy to come up with. There was some serious costume competition from the English department where all the women dressed as different Lady Gagas and the one man was "Alejandro," but I think our department wins on (1) creativity, (2) bad humor, (3) incorporation of academic content. Let's be honest: our department is by far the most fun and it's no coincidence that we often have the highest happy hour turnout and usually dominate faculty team-building competitions. Halloween is just reflective of our awesomeness.

I'll let you guess the bad math jokes. Zoom in to see if the math I'm wearing gives you a hint. 


To narrow it down, here are a few of the things that my students (incorrectly) guessed:
- The Monopoly guy
- A mathematician
- Calculus
- Pythagoras (clearly I did not convey very well that he was from ancient Greece)
- "Jersey Shore" (relevant, but still misses the mark)

Below is the rest math department. Don't bother guessing on Kieran, the tall guy in the middle (he doesn't get into the math department bonding with the rest of us) or Mark, the one on the far left (he didn't seem to understand until Friday morning that the rest of us were in math-related costumes). The rest are brilliant.

 
Here are your mathematical hints:
- Julian (2nd from the left): inverse of e^x
- Maura (sunglasses in the middle): the reason why correlation does not necessarily imply causation
- Trevor (standing next to me): (r, theta)

See below for answers:












From left to right:
- Mark (doesn't count as a legitimate math costume): "math-magician"
- Julian: Natural log
- Maura: Lurking variable (there is a better picture somewhere where she is lurking in the corner while the rest of us take a group picture)
- Kieran (5,000 points if you got this one right): Mr. Johnson, our school's physics teacher
- Trevor: Polar coordinates
- Me: Tangent (a Tan Gent)

I love Halloween. Except that the scariest thing alway seems to be how little math people know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cross Dress Day

This week is Spirit Week at school, one of my favorite events of the year. I love ridiculous costumes for any reason, so Spirit Week gives me five days worth of entertainment. Plus, how can you pass up wearing pajamas to work? (BTW, if anyone finds good/awful footy pajamas, I'm in the market). Pictures coming at some point--I have to say I'm proud of what I came up with for Crazy Hair Day.

When the Social Committee announced themes for each day, Wednesday was listed at "Cross Dress Day." That did not sit well with me at all. The whole reason why Spirit Week is fun is that you get to wear things that oppose convention--Pajama Day is fun because generally we don't wear pajamas outside our homes; my quasi-mohawk made kids laugh today because it's so far from my usual  hairstyle. My worry with Cross Dress Day is the implied message that (1) gender should dictate the way we dress and (2) dressing contrary to gender expectations is not only frowned-upon on a normal day, but is actually something that we should consider funny or silly. I have no idea if we have any transgender students at our school, but I imagine that if you're already restricted from expressing your identity through your appearance (which could be anyone, not just transgendered students), you don't need a school-sponsored reminder that the way you want to look/feel is a joke.

I brought this up with some other faculty members, who seemed to agree that Cross Dress Day sends the wrong message. We agreed that we'd never have a "Dress Like Another Race Day," an analogy that in my mind is pretty applicable. Word was passed down to the Social Committee faculty sponsor that Cross Dress Day needed to be replaced. And it was. Tomorrow is Sports Day (go Giants!). Problem solved.

However, I'm worried that the reasons for the change was poorly communicated to the students. Many students seemed to think that it was because the teachers were opposed to the act of cross-dressing in itself, which is the exact opposite of why we (or at least I) thought it should be canceled. I tried to explain to my advisory that saying that we need a special day when it's okay to dress like the opposite gender means that on normal days it wouldn't be okay to do this. It should be okay for a boy to wear a skirt on any day the year. I'm not sure how much they understood, but they seemed to calm down when I told them that I'm not against cross-dressing.

The more difficult thing is that after talking with some other faculty members today, I'm not sure they understood my view. When I explained that supporting Cross Dress Day also supports the idea that men and women should dress a certain way, one teacher responded that most people do believe in those gender expectations. Luckily he caught himself in his faulty logic, but I was ready to list off all the other things that "most people believe" that we probably shouldn't be supporting. This teacher also told me that I should be okay with Cross Dress Day because his gay students were excited about it. I didn't know where to start on this one--would it be better to talk about the difference between gender and sexuality? To explain how people can contribute to their own oppression? To remind him that the opinions of a few people within an identity group do not represent the group as a whole? Sometimes talking to educated, well-meaning adults is much more frustrating than talking to teenagers.

On the other hand, I have to wonder whether I'm overreacting. I think back to the openly transgender student I had when I was student teaching--would he have felt uncomfortable with Cross Dress Day or would he have welcomed it as an opportunity to finally dress like he so desperately wanted to? Even in the latter case, does is that enough to negate the message that cross-dressing should be considered abnormal? Is it better for that kid to have one day where he can wear what he wants under the pretense of it being a joke, or for him never to even have the opportunity to be that joke? Will the presence of kids in gender-bending clothing once a year eventually have the effect of making it acceptable on other days?

On a semi-related note, I recently read this article in Vibe about the dress code at Morehouse. It's an interesting question of what is "appropriate attire" for a scholarly environment and what happens to gender norms in a single-gender setting. I wonder what the men in this article would have to say about Cross Dress Day.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

We Lived this Picture

http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/travel/24galapagos.html?pagewanted=2

The NY Times probably had a slightly better camera, but really it doesn't look that different from all of my pictures.

Also: when I opened up this article, the ad on the side was for New Zealand tourism. Has targeted marketing gotten that good (i.e. is Google selling the contents of my email/brain?), or is the universe just trying to remind me of all the things I'm not doing at the moment? It's usually this time of year when I start daydreaming and looking up plane tickets. In case you were wondering, winter break tickets to Auckland are currently out of my price range. I haven't searched prices to Ecuador. Yet.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Yolo of the Month: September #2



Inspired by our boating adventure this summer and aided by the wonders of Groupon, Maura and set out a few weekends back on our very first sailing lesson. We were rewarded with stunningly beautiful day with sun so warm and wind so mild that we didn't need the fleece jackets and long-sleeve layers we'd so diligently prepared.

Seeing the Bay from a boat is by far my favorite way. I love the San Francisco skyline and all the bridges set against sparkling blue water.


 

There was, theoretically, a little bit of a sailing lesson in all of this. Here's Maura tacking and generally aiding the movement of our boat. I think that this was the tack that our captain called the best tack he'd ever seen. I'm sure he meant that. In general, I can't say I learned much actual sailing. In a rookie teacher mistake, our captain threw out a lot of words without explaining what they meant or how they related to sailing, which naturally made it difficult to understand what he was talking about. It's hard to watch out for the jib when you don't know what you're looking for.

We also both took turns at the wheel. I'm pleased to say that neither of us crashed into anything. Not that there's anything to crash into in the middle of a large body of water, but I'll take whatever victories I can get. There was one guy in our group who got yelled at when he was at the wheel because he was steering nowhere near close to where we were supposed to be going, so at least Maura and I did better than that.

The most exciting part of our day, at least according to our captain, was getting to watch this sailboat race. I fully admit that I don't know that much about sailing or racing, but I was not super-excited about this. However, the boats did look really cool.

Here's the play-by play:

First, we saw a large mass of boats. They weren't moving very fast. Our captain said that this probably means it's a race.

A speedboat takes the lead.
The boats start to turn. Our captain says that this is the most exciting part. Nothing really happens.

The boats have turned and now that they're going in the other direction they're all tilt-y. I really want one of the boats to tip over. Our captain says that this rarely happens. He is correct.

Maura and I go back to hanging out and enjoying the weather. This is a hobby I could get used to pretty quickly.

Yolo of the Month: September #1

Somehow in my life of doing nothing but teaching, I've found time for a few out-of-the-ordinary adventures. First up: eating. Every couple of months, a group called SF Food Wars hosts a cooking compeition based around some theme. Attendees get to sample the entries and vote for their favorites. September's theme: salsa. So we spent a lovely Sunday afternoon outside the Ferry Building dipping chips into 23 different types of deliciousness.

The first plate (clockwise from the blue corn chips): "Peas and Hominy Salsa," "Peach-o de gallo," "Salsa La Cabana" (very tomato-y), "Ow-wesome Habanero Salsa."


Candice and Morgan take their first bite. The verdict: keep moving so we can taste everything. Twice.

Some of the teams, including "Macho Madness" (with the mustaches), who were probably the cutest team; "Salsa en Fuego," made completely with veggies purchased from the Ferry Building Farmer's Market the day before; "Team Bodacious Beetliciousness" (whose salsa wasn't my favorite, but it was pretty and I liked their idea); and "Eat This Mexican," the winners of the people's choice award. They got my vote.



Sarah liked the Eat This salsa so much that she asked for a t-shirt. She recognized greatness before they were announced as the winners. The guys were also kind enough to package up a tupperware of their delicious creation for us to take home.

I never knew that it would be possible to completely stuff myself on chips and salsa. Here we are surrounded by our graveyard of empty plates and salsa cups. Morgan's face reflects our conflict of wanting to eat more, but not really being able to stomach it (pun intended).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Extra Credit

Today is the first Geometry test of the year. The first bonus question: "What is Ms. L.'s last name? Spelling counts!"

Out of 110 students...
-How many will even attempt the question?
-How many will get it right?

Place your bets now!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Speed Demon

More thoughts on how teachers spend their time:

I started grading projects at 11:30am this morning and finally finished the grading portion at 5pm (plus about another hour of entering grades, sorting papers, creating and emailing lists of kids who need to revise, and all that other business mess). I'd say that I took about a total of 45 minutes in that time for little breaks--checking email, texting, refilling my coffee, using the bathroom due to coffee refills. So that comes out to 330 minus 45 minutes of grading for 105 projects. Amazingly that divides into an average of 2.71 minutes per project. If I add the other 60 minutes of business, that means I spent an average of 3.28 minutes per student today.

In some ways I am proud of this; I expected it would probably take me about 5 minutes per project, which comes out to 8.75 hours. On the other hand, I did not finish early enough to take advantage of today's 90-degree weather so the day was already a wash in terms of my emotional health. On the other hand (yes, I have 3 hands), my kids spent about a week working on these projects (at least 5 hours of time per kid, I reckon). And in return I spent between 2.71 and 3.28 minutes thinking about each of them. There some sort of proportional reasoning lesson in there.

I don't know what to make of this data. What I do know is that I have about 2 more hours worth of work tonight before I'm ready for tomorrow.

Dinner Guest

Every fall, teachers at our school hold individual meetings with our mentees and their parents to talk about strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and talk about the important things that will happen in the upcoming year. This year I offered to meet with families at their homes instead of at school. Most families still wanted to come to school, but a few took me up on the home visit offer.

When I was in STEP, we were supposed to do a home visit for our adolescent development case study student, but I never did because I was too nervous. This year was the first time I've been to a kid's house--consider me a home visit convert now. I have been having SO much fun when I go over to kids' homes. The first home I went to was the least eventful, but the girl's dad--who I'd never met and who probably wouldn't have come to a meeting at school--sat in the background and listened. The next one was awesome because M. showed me his room that he'd tricked out with all his cool electronics and computer programming skills. I think at first he was weirded out to have a teacher in his room (who wouldn't be?) but then just ended up proud to show off his stuff.

Last week I had dinner with two families. The first one was really fun because N. has five younger siblings, four of whom had dinner with us. It was amazing to see a "cool" 15-year old boy talking baby-talk to his 2-year old sister so she'd eat her dinner. The best, though, was Wednesday night's dinner at E.'s house. E. is generally very quiet and shy in her classes, even though she is probably one of the most brilliant students we have. At home she was a completely different person, taking charge of her brother and his friends and ordering them around the kitchen. She loves to bake, so she bake me an apple pie--and put me to work chopping apples, rolling dough, etc. After dinner while we were waiting for the pie to cool, she showed me how to play the piano, another one of her hobbies. I feel like I learned so much more about these kids and their families that I ever expected.

On one hand, I really want to push for all of my meetings next year to happen at home. On the other hand, I am worn out beyond belief. Most of the days this week I got home around 8:30 or 9pm after working straight from 7:30am. That's just too long of a day to have on a regular basis, even when it's for something so positive. I have been thinking a lot about what it would look like for a school to provide sufficient support and resources to all kids while also offering teachers sustainable working conditions. My school for sure doesn't fit that and I can't think of any school that does. This shouldn't be the trade-off we have to deal with. But more thoughts on this later.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fabulous

This is how one of my advisees approached me in the hall on Thursday:

E: "Ms. L., I'm just so fabulous I don't even know what to do with myself!"
Me: "Um... I don't really know how to respond to that."
E: "I guess you're just so blinded by my fabulousness."
And then she walked away.

At least they don't have self-esteem issues like normal teenagers?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mike Birbiglia

Over the weekend I picked up some CDs from the library and have been listening to them on the way to and from work. I just finished Mike Birbiglia's stand-up comedy show "My Secret Public Journal." You may already be familiar with Birbigs from his semi-regular/every-once-in-awhile appearances on This American Life, where I would dare to say that he is equally as funny as David Sedaris. I know that's a bold statement, but I stand by it.

I have been listening to this CD by myself, looking like an idiot because I'm cracking up in my car when clearly I am not in conversation with anyone but myself. While I'm perfectly happy looking like an idiot (thank god or I would have a rough life), there are all these really good lines from Birbiglia's stand-up routine that I keep wanting to use but can't because I don't know anyone who's listened to it also. The real point of this post is that you should run out and listen to this CD or at least YouTube some clips so that when I want to say, "I know... I'm in the future also" or "Like fun you will!" someone else will know what I'm talking about and I will look slightly less like an idiot.

Monday, September 13, 2010

When is Enough Enough?

L. is one of my dear, sweet, wonderful mentees. He is very smart and doesn't have much trouble understanding the content in class. He's very curious about how things works and loves anything mechanical. However, L. has a long history (his 9th grade year felt like an eternity) of not producing ANYTHING. At the end of the semester last year, he was literally still doing assignments from the first day. He went weeks, maybe months, without turning in a single English homework. In the first 4 days of classes this year, he was already missing 10+ assignments. Today in Spanish class, the entire class cheered because he had his homework packet out; even though it was blank, just not losing it was a major accomplishment.

As his mentor, I have taken an unofficial oath that I will love and support him and do whatever it takes to get him to eventually get him into college. When I say whatever it takes, I mean pretty much everything. Our school already has a lot of support structures set up--office hours, after school homework jail for kids missing assignments, month long extra classes at the end of each semester when kids can make up work, etc. Last year as L.'s teachers, we had MANY parent meetings, made him stay after school on Fridays, and even pulled him out of his elective class so he could spend time making up academic work. I remember him running away from me and trying to hide under a table because I was trying to walk him to office hours. At any other school, there's not even a remote chance he would've made it to 10th grade.

This year is not going much better, but I finally found something that sort of works: during his study hall period, which coincides with my prep time, I have been pulling him out of study hall, taking him to an empty room and sitting next to him to keep him focused. He doesn't really need much help; like I said, he's very smart. Rather, he needs someone to be there to remind him every 5 minutes that he needs to get back to work. He also needs someone who will put up with his constant whining about how boring everything is, how much he hates it, and how much he doesn't want to stay after school that day. I spend this time telling him trying not to roll my eyes and then organizing his backpack so he'll quit losing papers.

Like I said, this only sort of works. He's gotten a lot of work done with me, but he hasn't actually turned most of it into his teachers. He keeps telling me he forgot, which I completely believe. I am trying to teach him responsibility, so I have walked him over to his teachers on multiple occasions. Here is an exchange from last week:

Me: "Let's go, you need to show Ms. R. that you finished this."
L.[imagine a very whiny voice]: "I don't want to."
Me: "Come with me. Let's go find Ms. R., I think she's in her office."
L.: "Awww, I'm too lazy."
Me: "Too bad, let's go."
---We walk over to Ms. R.'s office. She is sitting inside and we can see her through the window.----
Me: "L., tap on the window so she knows you're here."
[L. leans against the wall, hiding from the window. I tap on the window for him.]
Me: "Ms. R., L. has something he'd like to show you."
Ms. R: "What is it, L."
[Saying nothing, L. hands her a crumpled paper]
Me: "What do you want to ask her?"
L.: "Here's my assignment."
Me: "What do you need her to do for you? What do you need to ask her?"
[L. looks away from us. There is a long pause while I gesture at him to talk to his teacher]
Ms. R.: "Would you like me to sign this off for you?"
L.: "Yes."
[L. gets the signature to show it's complete, and then mopes away]

I am at a loss about what to do with this kid. What else should I do? What else can do? I'm already giving up a full prep period every day, and it's only having a marginal effect. I can only spend so much time walking him from class to class finding teachers and coaching him (unsuccessfully) on how to interact with them. If I keep organizing his binders, it's hard to say whether he will ever follow suit, but he definitely won't follow suit if I don't do it. I am in constant communication with all of his teachers--mostly because about half of them come to me everyday to tell me what he DIDN'T do in class. I've talked to his parents, in person and on the phone, already at least three times this year. I do love and support L., both because it is my job and because he's generally a sweet, funny kid, but he's driving me out of my mind.

Where do I draw the line? When is it sink or swim time? I'm always been uncomfortable with the idea that some kids "need" to fail because what does that even mean? He has already experienced so much failure in the past year with every test he's gotten back, every time he's chastised for not having his homework, every Tuesday and Thursday when he has to go to homework jail, every time skips out of office hours when he knows he shouldn't. Would the massive failure of repeating a grade be the thing to teach him the responsibility he so severely lacks? At this point I have no idea. But I do know that unless someone comes up with some brilliant plan, it's going to be a very, very long year.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One Thing Teachers Should Know about You:

"I'm really loud. Positive!!! (Lk doctor Phil)"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Intro Letters

The first assignment I always give my students it to write me a letter about themselves. This is my favorite assignment of the year because they're so hopeful and honest. As usual, some of the things they wrote are ridiculous, some funny, and some heartbreaking. Here's a sampling.

Who are you as a person? As a student? What are your interests? Dislikes?
·         I really hate spiders. I believe they are pointless creatures in life. Their purpose is probably just another source of food for birds or bats or something. I don’t know why they hide in our houses. They have no reason to hang out up on the ceiling staring at you like they’re going to kill you the second you fall asleep. It scares me. [This section is more than she wrote about anything else]
·         I also dislike coffee for 2 reasons. My first reason is that it stunts your growth and I don’t want to have a deep voice and a small body. My second reason is that it has a foul smell.  
·         My interests are boys and learning more about geometry. [Mine too! We’re going to be BFFs]
·         My interest for this school are the IL, camping trip, new people, intercourse, and sports. [Sic, obviously. We call it intersession, but might want to reconsider the name. Might get some kids more interested]
·         I don’t like bugs or knives, for some reason I’m very afraid of them.
·         My current career plan involves being a synthetic microbiologist. [It never ends well when a kid in my class is already smarter than I am.]
·         My name is Y. E. and you should know me already. We met.
·         I love different types of food, Mexican, Chinese and probably a lot more, and I am open to try anything even if it ends with my face in a garbage can! [I will have to talk to this kid before he gets to college about whether to stick to this philosophy]
·         Well honestly as a student I don’t feel so confident. Some times I tend to fool around a lot when I don’t understand the material so people can’t be able to notice. [This is the exact observation I would have made of this kid so far, but I’m surprised he recognizes it so well about himself]
·         I am good at many things… including memorizing irrational numbers.
·         I really don’t like people who act like jerks or also beans because I just don’t like beans.
·         I would describe myself as a uncertain person as a student… My dislikes are when people think their so smart. [This made me want to cry because I’d already pegged this kid as someone who’s been seriously academically wounded]
·         If I was a bear and I was ordered to cut down a tree by an elder it would take me some time to cut down the tree. [?????]
·         I’m very interested in things that look interesting, if it looks fun and like something I would enjoy, IM INTERESTED!

What do you want to know or learn about the world? About yourself?
·         I want to understand the universe and humanity’s place in it. I probably never will, but I’m going to try anyway. This includes neuroscience and astrophysics and quantum physics and string theory and all of the math along the way. [Guess which student this is]
·         What I want to learn about would have to be the past when bows and swords were common items like 17th or 18th century. [Woah]
·         I am really good at figuring out problems related to school or socially, but at times I can’t figure out myself. That and girls! I can never figure them out, I don’t think any guy can in that matter. But I’ll just leave that to the experts. [I am dying to know who this kid thinks “the experts” are]
·         I want to know why I am a bit shy. [So cute]
·         I want to know why I feel dirty like all the time, even after I take a shower. [I don’t even know how to respond to this]
·         I want to learn more about alchemy. I am always studying it in my free time. I also want to know more about feudal Japan. Those are the things I love the most. [Woah]
·         I want to know why do I have to have a big foot. Why not a small or normal foot.

Your goals this year for Geometry
·         My main goal is not just to know everything, but to understand it in a lot of detail so later on in life I will use this knowledge to accomplish a lot. [How do I break it to this kid that knowing geometry is not actually going to help her accomplish anything later in life?]
·         I don’t like to achieve I like to overachieve. [Intense]
·         I would like to learn how geometry will help me when I’m 28. [Has he already figured out why geometry will help him when he’s 27?]

What have you liked in math or felt successful at? What have you not felt successful at?
·         One of the only reasons I do math is because you need to know it when you handle money and I really like having and spending money.
·         My worst experience with math was when I was too worried about my grade and leapt at the opportunity to memorize pi for extra credit… I memorized about 300 digits and lost my sanity in the process. I hated pi for it and when it was time to recite it I was surprised I got past the decimal at all, but I got 180 digits. I now know about 40 and pi and I are friends again. [Guess which kid wrote this]

What you think your biggest challenges will be this year
·         One thing I despise is homework. If homework was a country I would drop a nuclear bomb on it. [Note to self: do not antagonize this kid]
·         I think the biggest challenge for me this year will be trying to pronounce your last name correctly and remembering how to say it every time after I say it correctly.

What you need a teacher to do
·         A teacher would need to respect me as a person and not just look at me as another kid they have to deal with.
·         What I do not like is when a teacher judges me because I only did one mistake and then they think I’m bad because of that mistake.
·         Don’t worry, I can already tell from day 1 that this class is going to be fun! [Little does she know]

Anything else you think I should know
·         Well that’s who I am, now who are you? Ponder that!
·         Oh! But on Tuesdays (which conveniently was today) I have a very important theocratic meeting to attend to every week and leave a certain amount of time for homework, so I’m freaking out cause I just got back and started writing this last paragraph.
·         There are many things you need to know about me and that’s that it’s really tempting for me to write in text form while writing because that’s all I did during the summer text and write in text form.
·         A couple things you should know about me is that I often burst into song, I am obsessive over the color pink and I’m in love with Justin Beiber.

I was already in love with this freshman class before reading their letters--they are by far the most enthusiastic group I've ever taught. Knowing that they love alchemy and swords and have been hurt by teachers (and pi) in the past makes me love them even more.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back Again for the First Time

First week of school, check. Only 5,000 more to go.

Monday was my fourth first day of school as a teacher (or at least quasi-teacher because I am counting student teaching in that number). The difference this year was that for the first time I was actually returning to the same school instead of starting somewhere new.  Obviously this was better just because of all the challenges of starting a new job. I'm so happy that I don't have to get new keys, deal with not knowing where to find paper, and guess which random first initial/last name combination they picked for my computer accounts (seriously, I can think of at least 5 different ones I've had. Nobody else has these problems).

But what was more exciting was that I actually know kids this year. It was so cute having former students come give me hugs and tell me about their summers. This week lots of them have come to me with help on their math homework because they're too afraid of their new teacher (he's a former Marine--I'm kind of scared of him too). It's a wonder how the haze of time can cloud their memories. "I miss your class!" they tell me, because now they're only able to remember the approximately two fun days we had. They seem to have forgotten about the chaos and significant lack of learning. Except when some of them were helping me give a tour to the new freshmen and Y. followed up every statement I made about rules with, "But you never made us do that." Thanks.

Coming back to the same school as a teacher is just like it is for the students. Freshman year they're all wide-eyed and terrified because they don't know anyone and don't know what's going on. As sophomores they're all excited to see their friends again and finally know enough to at least be able to pretend they know what's going on. I, too, am no longer so wide-eyed and am very much pretending that I know things. My 10th grade mentees have definitely made this transition as well. Last year it was like pulling teeth to get them to talk to each other. This year one of them reminisced, "Remember when we were quiet?" I could barely hear his comment over all the yelling. I've been told that 10th grade is the pivotal year when high school kids finally turn in to real people, but I've also been told this about 9th grade. And I expect that when my mentor group still can't shut up next year someone will tell me this is true for 11th graders.

It's good to be back. At least the 9th graders are quiet for now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yolo of the Month: August

There's a mindset that I'm able to get in--particularly when traveling--of wanting to and then actually following through on doing whatever suits my fancy. I think it comes in part from knowing you have a limited amount of time and wanting to pack in as much as possible, but there's also that emotional state of just feeling very free. Maura calls this "yolo"-- "You Only Live Once." I think I discovered it for the first time when I was in New Zealand. There were so many places and experiences I ended up in because I'd just decided "Why not?" And those turned out to be some of the best, or at least some of the most memorable.

It's been a long time since I've felt like that in a place I actually live. When I came back from NZ I vowed that I'd embark on more "staycations" and do all the touristy things you always say you're going to do, but then never get around to because you're too busy doing all the things you have to do. I've gotten a little better, but last weekend truly lived up to the yolo spirit.

Almost the best part was that it started like any weekend, with Friday Night Ritual of couch time and a very lazy Saturday morning. It's like I was already back in the school year (also because I was at school until like 5pm on Friday. UGH). On Saturday, my friend Dave suggested we go to the De Young to see the Birth of Impressionism exhibit. How very cultured. I was slightly concerned about getting tickets--other people I knew who have gone bought their tickets way in advance. But this is where we stumbled upon stroke of luck #1 for the day. (Actually, this was stroke of luck #2. #1 was finding a parking spot on a Saturday in Golden Gate Park, and #1.5 was that said parking spot was right outside the lawn bowling club. Who knew?) When we got to the De Young, two women came up to us asking if we were going to the Impressionist exhibit. They had planned to see it, they explained, but couldn't find parking so decided to come another time. Did we want their tickets? Obviously, yes. This was even more exciting because it turned out that the exhibit was completely sold out. Score.

The exhibit was fantastic. Very well put together. I had to secretly thank Ms. Giles and the PHS Humanities team that I actually recognized a lot of the paintings and the history behind the birth of Impressionism. "Ah yes," I said to myself (and to no one else because I didn't want to sound pretentious), "I remember the internal struggle of Edouard Manet as he wanted so desperately to be accepted by the Academie des Beaux-Arts..." Another important sighting at the De Young was a man wearing everyone's favorite wolf shirt, unfortunately (fortunately?) in what I think was a non-ironic way.

From the De Young, we consulted Dave's former-gourmet-chef friend's list of top eats in SF and found the Arizmendi Bakery, a cousin of Berkeley's Cheeseboard. The pizza was in my opinion equivalent, and now I know I don't have to drive to the East Bay for such deliciousness.

It was late afternoon, but we were on a roll so we decided to hit up the fortune cookie factory in Chinatown, an adventure we'd been talking about for awhile. And it's an adventure indeed--a small little shop tucked away in a seedy looking back alley. We walked past the alley twice before we actually found it. Inside was a cramped little operation, definitely more factory than shop. There's a genius machine that squirts out batter into little round molds then rotates them through an oven until a woman picks the warm cookies up one at a time, sticks in a fortune and folds them in half. Very impressive.

My fortune was eerily accurate: "Take time in the upcoming week for much needed relaxation." This could not be more true as I was about to embark on my first week back at school after an extremely refreshing summer. HOW DID YOU KNOW, FORTUNE COOKIE?!?!

As Dave and I were driving back to drop him off at home, he told me to make an extra turn. "There's one more place I want to go." He'd heard about Pirate Cat Radio Cafe on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations," and wanted to try their Maple Bacon Latte. Yes, it's made with bacon fat and obviously it's delicious.

The Pirate Cat Radio Cafe is exactly what the name implies--a pirate radio station. Such a weird little operation. The cafe only had enough seats for the two of us because there was a band, the Hypnotist Collectors, about to play for a radio broadcast. And they were really good. We stayed and listened to their whole set. Was this all part of the Yolo Gods' master plan? Dave's fortune cookie says yes.

As we were leaving, we thanked the band, who promptly offered us one of their CDs and invited us to the show they were playing that night. Why not? So much for going home on a Saturday to write lesson plans. The concert was in some boutique hotel that I never would have pegged as a hipster enclave. I'm sure this is not its regular clientele, but I loved the juxtaposition of upscale lounge and consciously-unshowered wannabe counterculturists.

In the morning, there was more yolo-ing to be done. I'd heard about the walking tours of San Francisco and now after three years of living here I finally got around to doing one.
The Mission murals I'd hoped for wasn't happening this weekend, so the Castro seemed like a good second option. Current and future visitors: I cannot recommend these tours enough. The tours are run by volunteer guides sponsored by the SF Library and the SF Parks Trust. And they're free. At least on my tour, our guide was extremely interesting, knowledgeable, and excited about this job. I especially appreciated the combination of history and architecture. Now I look at every building in San Francisco trying to identify which type of Victorian it is. I also now have some background on streets and sights I've seen over and over. I love knowing that the Walgreens on the corner played an important role in the AIDS crisis, or that the hardware store used to be a theater. So many little things you walk by and don't notice--you can't help but wonder what else you're missing.


A few more stops in SF before finally getting back to reality. All were just places one might stumble upon, including some Mission murals (sans tour guide) and thrift shops (scavenging for future Halloween costumes and/or my transition into the hipster aesthetic). Most exciting was the Levi's Workshop, a space on Valencia that Levi's rented out for the summer as basically an open art studio. It's all focused on printmaking and they have a couple of different old printing presses and a big screenprinting area. During the week, it's used by artists-in-residence and other more-creative-than-me kinds of people, but on Sundays they open it up for the public to use. Unfortunately it was all booked up for the day, but they did have an opening for the following Sunday. See future blog posts for the fruits of my typesetting ambitions. It was pretty amazing--just a place for people from the community to learn about these art forms and actually try out the heavy machinery.

One of the most amazing weekends I've had in a long time, and that includes my recent weekend in Quito. How is it that I don't do this more often? It's not like any of the agenda items were difficult to find or were special occasions. I guess it just takes the right mindset, and it doesn't hurt to have an activity partner who encourages your adventurous side.

I should have bought a bag of fortune cookies at the factory to see where they would take me next.