Wednesday, November 25, 2015

DIY: Hutch Makeover

My husband and I like to redo furniture. We aren't experts, but we've stripped and painted many  pieces in our thirteen years together. We brought a tallboy and a bookcase back from the brink of mediocrity with a coat of red paint and new hardware. We redid a college desk for my daughter, painted it lime green, and stamped butterflies and flowers on the drawers. We painted our dresser, our dining room table and chair legs, stained an antique sewing desk, and lacquered a small telephone bench that my mom found for us on the side of a road. (I sewed a seat cushion for it too.)
On the left: sewing desk, bought at a thrift store for $15. My husband sanded it down and stained it for me as a b-day present a few years back.
Top right: telephone bench found on the side of the road. It was a holy mess and we had to redo the whole thing.
Bottom right: tall boy, hand-me-down from grandma. It was plain, plain, plain when we inherited it. Now it's a great addition to my son's room It has a matching bookcase.

We like to paint picture frames too. 

But the biggest face lift we've done is definitely the last one. My mom gave us this hutch a year ago when she moved and I've been itching to make it my own.

Here are the results:
We used two coats of tinted primer paint. The hardware and glass is from the original piece. 

I lined the back with this beautiful book print material that I found at JoAnn's. It's attached with a spray adhesive.
Doesn't my grandmother's vintage typewriter look GREAT on the newly stained top? We used a light stain, and the whole piece is coated with a spray polyurethane. I have plans to finish the wood top with a wax sealant.
If you don't have those little pads that keep the doors from slamming, googly eyes are a perfect alternative.
You can see the table and chairs we painted on the right too. 

Our next project is the bar stools. I wanna make the tops look like the keys of a typewriter.

'Til next time.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Grant-writing for Teachers

I'm writing a grant proposal to a lovely and reputable education foundation, and as I've scoured its requirements, I came across this note:
"Grants for personal requests will not be granted."
Naturally, I wouldn't think to do such a thing, but at the same time I can see how requesting a new laptop would be perceived as "personal". So I set off to prove how a new laptop would be a major benefit to my students.

I needed to show how my current laptop--a hand-me-down from another teacher--has benefited my students for the past four years. I know what you're thinking. "Four years in the technological world isn't that old," but who knows how many years the previous owner used it. Also, the laptop has been in for repairs a number of times already, twice when the cord stopped charging and twice for crashing. Recently, the cord died again, and it only functions in its docking station (also a hand-me-down), and the cooling unit--an actual FAN--whistles at an octave that irritates humans and dogs. I have to drown it out with headphones when I'm grading from home. One of the saddest truths about my unit is that the machine is too outdated to download the latest versions of Adobe and Microsoft Word, two programs I frequently use, and I couldn't download them if I wanted to, because it has decided to no longer pick up my wifi connection in the house.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have access to a chromebook, but one flaw with conducting work on the chromebook is that the screen is tiny and hard on my eyes. As I get older, I struggle with reading the essays on my screen. I can zoom in on it, but that obscures parts of the screen I may need to see.

You might be thinking, "Okay, it's a dinosaur, but tell me again how it's not a personal need."

Trust me, every English teacher on the continent just snorted.

Here's a break-down of the hours per month that I use my dilapidated laptop or itty-bitty chromebook:

  • Lesson plans = 10 hrs. In a given month, I use my laptop to prepare lesson plans and update my Canvas agendas on average one hour per day that I teach. Since I only teach half-time, that's about 10 hours. (This does not count the time at school I use to prep, make copies, and collaborate with other teachers.)
Here's one student taking visual notes on reading strategies for the whole class. 
  • Conducting student writing competitions = 3 hrs. In a recent haiku competition, I used social media to enlist the help of 10 writers, 2 teachers, and 6 former students to help rank the top five haiku in each class. That entailed sending out requests and haiku, inventorying and averaging scores, and recording feedback. This is just one example of the at-home work I do for my students. Another example: In December, I'll do a cross-content project with the art classes at SHHS. They will create art inspired by my students' poetry, and then we have a joint art show at the Salem City Library. I'll have to format poems with a universal font, create advertisements, promote the Visual Verse Art and Poetry Show online, and email parents invitations. 

  • Organizing student rewards and celebrations = 5 hrs. After finding out who won the haiku contest, I used my chromebook to create a slideshow for each class. It included feedback from professionals, the winners and their haiku, and visually stimulating animations. Formatting takes time, but with an updated version of PowerPoint and a laptop with a wifi connection, I think next year's will be even better. When I ran out of teacher funds, I bought the winners candy bars with my own money and used my chromebook to email my principal to see if he would support the contest with more prizes. He kindly provided the winners with t-shirts and key cards. 
Here are a few examples of the slides I made. 

I think the kids like the feedback more than anything else. 

  • Grading electronic essays = 12 hrs. And that's low-balling it. The fact is, when I assign an essay, it takes me about 3-12 minutes to grade each one.  I teach 104 students. Imagine if I taught full-time! Some of my fellow English teachers assign two essays a term. I wonder how they find the time for grading! On my little chromebook grading is problematic. When I blow up the screen to see, it hides the adjacent commenting portion on both Canvas and Google Drive. This adds to my grading time as I have to navigate back and forth from the essay to the comments, and it's harder to do without a mouse. Grading on my laptop requires the internet, but like I said, it stopped picking up my home wifi. 

Beary hard at work revising narrative essays.
(The screen is too small even for this teddy bear!) 

This was an assignment the students did to prepare for narrative essays. It's a way to organize a free write into something more concise. This one was particularly powerful. 

I used technology to put it into this format. 

  • Grading book reports = 4-6 hrs. Since I gave my students the option of submitting electronically or a hard copy, grading online took half the time as the essay assignment. 
Here are some of those hard copy book reports. They all had to be graded too, but aren't they GREAT! 

Seriously, my students are the best. 

When they graduate, these kids need to hit the ground running! 

If I don't count all the minutes here and there that I promote my students' work on twitter, instagram, and facebook, I use the laptop or chromebook for a minimum of 34 hours a month on work related things. I hope the foundation invests in me and, by extension, my students. 

I hope it's clear that I love what I do and I want to keep doing it with quality tech that doesn't whistle or break-down every other time I log on. I'd like to be able to streamline grading with a laptop with a larger screen. I hope they consider me for the grant. 


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Thoughts

While watching the supermoon lunar eclipse, my daughter said, "This is the coolest night in my life." Later when I coaxed my kids outside a second time to see its progress, she stood on the sidewalk for a moment and said, "Okay, I see it. Can I go in now?"

Oh, how quickly we bore.

I'm guilty too. My nightstand is stacked with phenomenal books--The Things They Carried, The Clothes on Their Backs, I am Malala--but can't seem to peel my eyes from reruns of Futurama.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

This is a poem...

My students did an exercise called, "This is a poem..." (Thank you, Sheila Bender). It is supposed to help students focus on imagery and pacing before trying their hands at a narrative.

Here's is the result of my example. This happened on my flight from Vienna to Frankfurt.

  1. This is a poem about the weariness of travel.
    This is a poem about waiting to board and there’s not enough seats, so I lean against a column.
    This is a poem about seeing a guy in sweat pants and his phone tugging down his waistband.
    This is a poem about seeing a teen boy steal a seat from an old woman.
    This is a poem about boarding.
    This is a poem about the heat, the lack of air-conditioning in Europe, and perfume masking someone's BO.
    This is a poem about being tired from hanging out with writer friends for one last night before we had to leave.
    This is a poem about finding my seat and discovering it’s occupied by someone else; a man on his phone.
    This is a poem about showing my ticket to a flight attendant who, in German, asks the man to move.
    This is a poem about realizing it’s the baggy pants man moving to the middle seat.
    This is a poem about his red cheeks and eyes.
    This is a poem about displacing a man in tears.
    This is a poem about feeling guilty for taking the window seat, for barely keeping my eyes open, and guilty for dozing in the man’s time of need.
    This is a poem about offering granola bars, distractions, dialogue.
    This is a poem about the box of kleenexes at his knees.
    This is a poem about watching the city fall away, the buildings and pools, the Danube and the Prater.
    This is a poem about a little girl offering her graham crackers to the sobbing man.
    This is a poem about how he disappeared to the water closet for a while, and how when he returned the flight attendant gave him a beer.
    This is a poem about his wails silencing the tail end of the plane.
    This is a poem about how he pressed a palm against the headrest from the seat in front of him and lowered his head to weep.  
    This is a poem about being desperate to help alleviate his suffering.
    This is a poem about holding his hand until we landed.
    This is a poem about how he said, "My six-year-old son died."
    This is a poem about a sick child.
    This is a poem about my own little boy, safe at home. 
    This is a poem about asking his son's name: Tomán.
    This is a poem about preparing for descent.
    This is a poem about love.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The frog and the poet

They’ve broken up, 
That couple that was taking the world by storm, 
Lancing it with a credit card and selfie-stick. 
His father had warned him, 
“It’s easy to fall in love with a poet.” 
And it was,
Like the frog in a simmering pot.
But they worked, until Madrid.
How many girls can kiss him? 
A set amount. 

the poet is enrolled in school in Dublin.
She’s lost weight, 
Bought a pink bra,
wears sweaters off the shoulder. 
He’s moving to London. 
They’ll be hours apart.
He'll take a train and a ferry, 
Wait outside of her class with a coffee.
Her red lips will smile and her heart will break.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Post-silent Treatment

(The following is fiction.)

We've just dropped him at the office. He took with him a lunch and the choke-hold on our voices.

"Don't you think the mountains look like a green blanket thrown over some junk," I say.

My daughter squints through her sunglasses. They are pink with little mustaches. "I can see it," she says. "It does!"

"They're not junk!" my son protests. He's five and to him words have singular meanings.

"Stuffed animals then."

My daughter gasps. "I can see the folds. It's exactly like a blanket."

"They're not junk!"

"You're right. Bad comparison."

We talk about metaphors on the drive home.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Jogging in Headphones

I don't hear my feet pound the sidewalk.
I see them--
Blue blurs, floppy laces.
I can't hear myself breathing.
          But I must be.

On the loop by creek,
The slugs' trails are silver dashes,
Like strands of ghost-pearls strewn over the concrete.
Some slimed across the walk only to loop back into the crab grass.
I am strangely relieved that most completed the journey.

I race past a few (four, five, six)
That were splattered by giants,
          and giant bicycles.
They were asteroids up against the Earth.

If I spot one struggling to the other side,
I pick it up and drop it safely across.
Have I saved it
Or denied it something?

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