Friday, April 07, 2006

Que Dia!

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Whew, what a day...

It starts with a shark dissection in 2nd period Marine Science. An upper level class of motivated kids who do not hesitate to dive into the inner workings of the dogfish. We discuss the procedure and they take over. I love these classroom moments when the lesson itself is so fascinating that I can stop being the actor on the stage and instead, take on the role of the director while the kids perform.

After the shark remains are cleaned up and the kids exit, a 20 minute lunch (Smuckers natural peanutbutter sandwich and Breyers yogurt), and then in comes a flood of 7th graders. They are full of life and government commodity lunch. Today, they are fired up because it's the day we launch the bottle rockets we built yesterday. As I see it, there's two ways to learn Newton's third law of motion. You can read about it, or you can read about it AND build a working rocket. We chose the latter.

They are squirmy eager to get outside. After a brief safety talk, we file out and across to the football field. There we set up a simple launcher and they fill their 2 liter soda bottle rockets half full of water. They have designed and attached their own fins to their soda rockets and are eager to achieve escape velocity.

The actual launcher is a simple device consisting of a rubber stopper with an air hose running through it. This goes into the bottle, which is placed upside down on the launcher. The other end of the hose has a tire valve and it is attached to a standard bicycle pump.

About 7 pumps pressurizes the bottle enough for a flight of 75-100 feet. We always seem to have a strong crosswind so that's about as good as it gets. Still, the kids, who have been dubious up until this moment are amazed.

Amazement. Wonder. Astonishment. That is how you hook kids on the wonder of the world around them. That's not always an easy task though. Today's kids have grown up in a world of simulated "whiz-bang" and are a tougher audience than we were.

We, the 7th grade and I, will do this 3 times today as each group passes through my doors. The day is stunningly perfect with a cool breeze, blue sky, and warm sunshine. Over and over, the rockets fly, the kids laugh, they tease, they learn.

Breaking up the flow of 7th graders will be my physical science class. Mostly freshmen, they are a troubled group. In educationaleese, they would be described as students with low reading comprehension skills, poor social skills, and about half are officially labeled as learning disabled in some way.

They are a frustrating group. Some of them read at elementary school level, a few are a little stronger, and one or two are at grade level or above. Physical science is tough enough if you read well, but for most of these guys, it's a painful struggle.

The real pain comes from listening to their conversations. Broken homes, flip-flopping from one parent to another, self-destructive weekends...sigh. They have other concerns and getting them excited about school is often tough. I have great patience with poor reading skills, but little for lackluster motivation or "I don't care" attitudes, even when I know their troubled backgrounds. It's hard to get them fired up about anything school related, but you can't give up on them, even when they drive you crazy.

Today, we're building a 3-D model of the seafloor. Their job is to transfer the seafloor diagram they see on paper to a large tray of damp sand. Each feature will be labeled with little signposts they create from toothpicks and index cards. I give them the instructions, remind them to divide the labor, and step back.

I watch with cautious optimism as they start. I've seen this group yawn and "ho hum" activities that other classes would thrive on. I float from group to group, redirecting, critiquing, commending. They do a bang up job and later, everyone passes the seafloor labeling quiz. Whew.

A short while later, the day is done. The yellow schoolbuses stop and gorge themselves on kids before pulling away. Spring break has officially begun.

Now, I'm sitting on my porch, writing this with a yellow legal pad and a Mirado Classic Cedar pencil. It feels good in my hand...we type too much these days. The dogs are at my feet, hoping for one of my Triscuits or better yet, a bite of my Cabots Seriously Sharp cheddar cheese.

A delicious breeze is flowing through the porch, the hens are clucking, and the woods are full of birdsong. The ruby throat buzzed by and hovered at the feeder a few moments ago and there's a pot of homemade vegetable beef soup on the stove. The kids are lounging around like a pride of lions, their heads full of springbreak freedom. Life is good.

As for me, there's a ton of stuff I need to do around here over spring break, but right now, I need to walk down to my little pond and feed my catfish.

And so it goes in Pure Florida.


Mrs. S said...

I think this is one of the best posts I've ever read about anything. I love your style and I love that you update every day (or nearly) and you are one of the few that I've linked to from my pathetic excuse for a website. Today's my first comment, because that's how much I loved this entry.

Thanks for making my day.

roger said...

you are a schoolyard hero. love the bottle rockets. say hi to the catfish for us. do you aver fry up some leftover shark?

Zanne said...

I can't even imagine a more perfect day. You are a lucky man, and the kids are equally lucky to have a teacher that hasn't lost that spark.

Bravo Cracker! One of the best posts I've ever read here.

doubleknot said...

Read every word of your post. We need many more teachers like you.

On the banna plant - they are persistant little buggers.

Deb said...

That school doesn't pay you nearly what you're worth. I'm sure those kids will look back on their school years and say "remember Mr. Cracker's class? He was cool!"

Great post, it's one of the best things I've read lately. Enjoy your spring break.

Rexroth's Daughter said...

There should be a teacher like you in every kid's life. As Deb said we always remember the coolest, and best teachers. I hope you enjoy your springbreak, and your chores.

Floridacracker said...

Mrs. S,
Thank you so much for commenting. Your kind words were a great start to my day!

I'm afraid these sharks are a little too embalmed for cooking.

Being able to actually sit down once or twice during a work day would be a little more like a "perfect" day. The day does fly by though.

Thanks. Bananas are pretty tough after all. I like tough plants.

You hope they remember you that way and take something good out of your classroom. I've taught long enough now that I get some reassuring feedback from grownups who were once my little knuckleheads in class. It's a good feeling...won't buy groceries for my kids, but it is another form of payback. I would hate to think that I spent my life just chasing the dollar. How sad.

I hope we all have them, those teachers in our memories that cared about us, were creative, and pushed us. Even one like that can sometimes change a kids life direction.

threecollie said...

I stand in awe of both your work as a teacher and your writing skills. I too read every word of both this post and the one on dolphins and found them both very satifying and inspiring.
Your students are truly fortunate and they really will remember you forever. I certainly have never forgotten my high school biology teacher, who both taught me enough that I never cracked a book in the first two years in college, and gave me a lifelong love of learning the latin names of things just for fun....which has stood my kids in good stead as they begin their college careers. His influence is being felt long after his passing.

Floridacracker said...

It's my Literature teacher that does it for me. She made me read For Whom The Bell Tolls and started me on a love of Hemmingway.
When we read "The Black Veil", she wore one all day and never said a single word...the entire day!
She had the spark and she passed it on to us.

Thank you for the kind words.

thingfish23 said...

Now that's writin'.

John Cowart said...

This is so impressive; both the way you live it and the way you write about it.

Floridacracker said...

It was the pencil.

Like any job, it has it's ups and downs. Never boring tho. Thanks for the kind words.

Hal at Ranch Ramblins said...

I agree whole-heartedly with Mrs. S

When I was your students age, Kennedy had just challenged us to go to the moon by the end of the decade. I remember a science project making rockets out of soup cans, powered by CO2 cartridges. We actually put live mice in the rockets, as the experiment was to create shock-absorbing re-entry systems. To my knowledge, all of the mice survived our class.

Floridacracker said...

Could you imagine doing that today? You should see the pages and pages of regulations for science fair experiments involving any vertebrate.

Leslie said...

You obviously have a gift for teaching. Your kids actively DO instead of passively listen.

I feel your frustration with the challenged kids. It is so hard for an enthusiastic person to want to share their passion, only to have it met with indifference.

As for the rest, well, you paint pictures with your words.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks. It's a mix of doing and listening. I wish there was more doing, we just do the best we can.