Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Prize for Baby Bunsen Burners' First Contest

Here's the promised prize for finding me the requested video.

*EDIT: Video Removed*

So I like this contest idea. I think I will be having more of them. Keep checking back. I think future prizes will involve some kind of science toy, since most people like toys, and everyone loves science. Or something along those lines.

Tuesdays Are Marginally Better Than Mondays

Congrats! to fellow Champion of the Blogosphere, Angela, for winning Baby Bunsen Burners' first contest by finding a video of the Supernanny episode I specified in the previous post. Links to the video are posted in the comments section. From what I've watched of the episode, the children have gotten better, if only slightly. I get little pangs of anxiety watching that video, because that's exactly what my days are like.

Today we covered cells. Relying on my limited knowledge of microbio from Bio Honors (again, Liem FTW), I explained the difference between animal cells and plant cells, as well as salient features of each. The main experiment was looking at various cells under the microscope, and having the kids sketching what they see.

Here are some of the samples we looked at: onion skin (dyed with green food coloring. Bah, who needs expensive iodine?), some pollen, a feather, the petal from this small yellow flower, a leaf, Plumeria flower petal, and my cheek cells.

Overall the lesson went rather well. The images turned out great, and the kids were fascinated by the samples. I remember doing a similar exercise in 7th grade (Mrs. Nishimoto. She had a chinchilla that didn't like boys), and some of those images are firmly implanted in my memory. Hopefully some of these slides will stick with the kids as they progress through their respective educations.

In other news, here's today's shirt-pocket:

The inventory stands at: two mechanical pencils, a ball point pen, a pack of microscope slides, a pack of microscope slide covers, a Plumeria flower, a kukui nut, a list of people who don't get recess that day, a note saying one of my students went to the healthroom for a sore stomache, and my ID.

So here's the thing about that shirt. I bought that shirt sometime in the latter end of elementary school. Elementary school?! Surely you must be kidding, Mr. Sakimoto. Ah, but here's the thing about me. I have apparently always been a huge and adorable, but mainly huge, child. After a weekend of cleaning, at the intersection of Memory Lane and Reminiscing Road I came across picture albums from my misguided youth. Such gems as these:

Yes, that is me, the kid who's two heads taller and twice as wide as everybody else. I'm pretty sure we were all the same age. So after reviewing this evidence, I don't find it particularly surprising that a shirt from elementary school still fits.

Tomorrow, we will attempt to look at fingerprints and examine salient features. My single hope is that we don't make a mess. But that's pretty ambitious. So I hope for a day free of pee and poo accidents.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Baby Bunsen Burners Contest

I hereby announce my First Contest to my loyal readership (all three of you). I recently found out that two of my darling students (the brother-brother terrors of N--- and A--) are somewhat famous. Their family was featured on an episode of The Supernanny a few years ago, a show where some British woman comes and tells parents how to deal with their rotten devil-spawn children. I really want to see this episode. I believe it's Season 3 Episode 7 (The Smith Family). I really want to know how bad this family is and if they've improved any over the last few years.

The contest is: the first person to find a video of the episode and make it available to me (a working link to a streaming video is fine), will win the prize.

"What's the prize?" one might ask. Well, aside from my undying gratitude and a whole slew of congratulatory statements directed in your general direction, I'm prepared to offer something more tangible. I haven't decided what it is, but it will be awesome. It could be something as cold and impersonal as cash-money, or something as heart-warming and adorable (read: free) as a personalized video of all my kids saying hello to you. Details can be discussed upon delivery of the video.

I suppose there's no time limit to this contest, but the sooner the better. And please, no Rick-rolling*, we're all too old for that type of thing. If you do, Ten Points from Hufflepuff! I don't care which House you're in, Hufflepuff had it coming, with their kind heartedness and general glee.

So, with that, let the games begin. I'm serious people. Scour the internet! Find me that video! Bring me Peter Pan! Sorry, wandered off topic a bit there.

*or as my good friend, Max, calls it: Rick-a-rolling.

Monday, Monday, So Good To Me..

Ah, Mondays. I suppose after reading thousands of Garfield comics in my younger days, I've been conditioned to loathe mondays (love lasagna and kick Odie off the table). But there's something about Mondays that creeps under my skin and crawls around like nobody's business (like those darn scarab beetles). But such is the life of this working stiff. Another week, another $300 (that sounds pretty sad, but hey, it's a summer job. Much better than minimum wage).

Today we covered Bones. Though this was an experiment I had covered previously with Angela She's Demos class a few months back, I've learned not to expect much from little kids. But surely rolling paper tubes is a simple enough task for them. Right?

Ah, to be so young and so naive. The experiment is to show why bones are hollow. Paper is rolled into loose hollow tubes as well as tight "solid" tubes to model the two potential bone designs. Then, stuff's piled on top to see which bone design is stronger. Now the hardest part of the experiment is the rolling of the tubes. I had a busy morning, and didn't have enough time to prep paper strips for them to just roll. So I stupidly figured I would have them tear their own strips. I gave each of them a sheet of copier paper and told them to rip it into four long strips. I even showed them how to do it and walked them step by step, showing them every crease and every rip. Even then, I had the perennial hopeless cases come up to me (read: N----) and whine that it was too hard. Some of these kids need to put down their DS's and learn how to do simple, everyday tasks.

Overall the experiment went well, I suppose. Today's lesson could be summarized in to a short Mr. Sakimoto Mantra: "HOLLOW BONES ARE STRONGER", which is always a good thing. I had a little issue with a group of boys in the C group, who upon making their solid bone rolls, began to pretend smoking with them. I was furious, for obvious reasons. At least they were smoking them like cigarettes, rather than joints, which is somewhat redeeming, I suppose.

I had the best lunch today, thanks to a little bit of creativity and having to dash to get ready for work. Last night we ate Korean from Gina's and I had leftovers. I didn't have time to get rice and all that jazz ready, so I made a sandwich.

Which turned out to be one of the best sandwiches I've eaten in a while. Here's the rundown: hamburger bun, with koo che jung paste (or however you spell it), my leftover BBQ chicken, romaine lettuce, and assorted ban chan (well, my brother's ban chan. Hey, he's always eating my food, I'm just easing his guilt) including daikon, beansprouts, seaweed, cabbage, and taegu. It's like bi bim bop in sandwich form. So good, I had to take a picture.

Perhaps not the worst Monday I've had. I was honestly not surprised to find that the two outcast trouble makers in the A group (M----- and A--) have become the closest of friends through their mutual exclusion. I cannot say the same for the two outcasts of D group (N---- and E----) who have developed such a disastrous antagonistic relationship, that I now need to physically separate them. I hope I never have to tell another story about their problems, but something tells me by the end of this job, half the tags on these posts are going to be about them.

And as usual:

Here's today's shirt-pocket. The inventory stands at three dry erase pens (because I forget to cap them and they dry out), a mechanical pencil with no graphite but a big eraser, a mechanical pencil with graphite but no eraser, my cellphone (because I'm constantly checking the time in hopes that it's time for recess), strips of paper (because it's physically impossible for anyone younger than 2nd grade to cut or rip paper nicely. I'd like to spend a class with some of these kids just developing fine motor skills. I think I could devote a whole class to folding paper evenly in half), and my name tag, as always. The kids told me they liked my shirt. You can't see it well, but there's a big dragon in some clouds along the torso. I bought it when I was 10 and it seemed like the coolest thing in the world at the time. And I was a huge child. I came to this realization after cleaning and going through family albums on Sunday. Pictures are forthcoming.

Only four more days until the weekend. Scratch that, 3 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 45 seconds. 3 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 39 seconds. 3 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What Does N---- Do Everyday?

Open House

I had half an hour from the time I finished work to the time I had to be back at school for open house. After running home, showering and eating (food should not go down that quickly), I dashed back to school, if only a little late.

There were two ways I could have done this open house. I mean, the display is only going to be up for half an hour, during which the parents must rotate through 6 presentations, meaning the parents are only going to see my stuff for 5 minutes or so. I could have just made a poster and put up some pictures. But I decided I had a little bit of pride left after that week, and I decided to wow these parents. I recreated every experiment we did in class. Forensics, Adaptation games, density columns, chromatography, etc. Here's what the semi finished display looked like:

There's another table to the left that I didn't get to photograph. I also had a video I spoke about earlier of the rocket launches.

Open house overall went well. I had many parents come up to me and tell me how much their kids loved my class. One mother commented that the stuff I was teaching them was pretty advanced, to which I replied "yup".

The Sleepover

After open house, the program decided to have a sleepover for the older kids (I think it was 3rd grade and above). I honestly was not enthused about having to watch these kids for another 10 hours, but I was obliged to stay and chaperon.

In order to tire the kids out as quickly as possible, we had them play "Minute to Win It" games. Some of my favorite ones included Beer Pong (okay, sans the beer), one where you had to stack three golf balls on top of each other, and a game where you had to blow a deck of cards off a cup except for the joker. This last one was called.....Don't Blow the Joker (hee hee).

And tire these kids out it did. A lot of these games were really physical (like one where you had to scoot around on your butt through an obstacle course), which equated to a bunch of small sweaty kids running up and hugging me throughout the night. But by the time 10:30 rolled around, most were ready to sleep.

However, not before a quick snack. They gave them hot dogs and watermelon (really good watermelon). One of the kids, N---, decided it would be best to put ketchup on his watermelon. The program administrators yelled at him, telling him if he threw up from the weird combination, he would have to clean it up himself. I thought to my self: watermelon's a natural laxative. After eating nearly half a watermelon by himself, I think we have other problems to worry about.

N---- decided to sleepover as well. There was one point in the night when he was running around muttering something. The first time I listened in closely, I heard "suck it, suck it, suck it..." while the second time I heard "f**k it, f**k it, f**k it...". After pulling him aside and giving him a stern talking-to, it turns out he was saying "funky, funky, funky".

All the kids went down rather quickly, at which time us grown ups retired to the office to hang out. We played Taboo for 3-4 hours, stopping only because we exhausted all the cards. My team won. By a lot. The best thing about playing with friends and co-workers is that you can rely on inside jokes.
I gave the clue: M----- does this to me a lot. Without missing a beat, someone gave me the word: Annoy.
Someone also gave: N---- does this everyday. The answer: cry.
Sadly, the most fun I've had all summer. But, they're a great group of people, and I'm not surprised.

Mrs. K, who was taking her shift while we were playing Taboo, told us that while she was watching the kids, she heard singing. She at first thought it was us (we were apparently laughing really loudly), but when she stepped outside, she couldn't hear it. She started walking around the sleeping kids, and finally found the source. N---- was sleep-singing. An insipid little tune, as she put it.

At around 2 am we rotated shifts, and I sat down on the stage, intending stay up for the rest of the night watching the kids. I plugged my ipod in and grooved out to some Percy Sledge. I think I dozed out around 3:30, because I woke up around 5:30, on the 60th song of my playlist. Further evidence that I physically cannot pull an All-nighter.

After the sleepover, I came home, with full intention of just staying up and making the most of my Saturday. But after only getting around 6 hours of sleep over the last 2 days, it was inevitable that I would crash in front of the TV watching Everybody Loves Raymond. A waste of a weekend, but much needed.

And now I find myself on Sunday morning, trying to figure out if I should try to have fun on this last day of my weekend, or just bite the bullet and start writing my lesson plans. Though the former sounds more appealing, the latter desperately needs to be done. I'm going to try to teach the kids about DNA, a subject I didn't learn about until freshman year of high school, I'd have to reckon. Yes, it's overly ambitious. But I have a plan. A plan that will require me to pull out my Legos and build things. And since it takes so much effort to drag them out from the back of my closet, I might as well leave them in my room. And since they're in my room, I might as well play with them, since it would be such a waste to leave them derelict in a corner. Lego party anyone?

Sincerely Yours, Exhasperated...

This was a hard week. I suppose the children are reaching their breaking point, that crumbling edge of the precipice before they take that final leap into summer lunacy. But who can blame them (me. The answer is me).

My mom has said I look exasperated when I come home. For the last few days, I think I've become tired. On a subconscious level, I think my mind has made the conclusion that if the children don't want to be there, why am I trying so hard. Hours and hours of lesson plans and material preparations, and we can't even get through the whole lesson because I have to discipline. On Thursday I exercised my right to hold students for the first time. Why you might ask.

Thursday and Friday I conducted the second part of my adaptation and evolution games, covering camouflage and the importance of coloring in nature. To do this, I had the kids pretend they were birds hunting for colored yarn worms in colored grass. There were white, yellow, blue and red worms in white or yellow grass:

Now, I know children can hear things. They hear me tell them they can go to recess, and they hear me tell them "we're playing a game today". But their attentions flicker so intermittently, I've learned to repeat the same instructions for a few minutes. Even then, they have selecting tuning. Phrases like "don't throw all my grass on the floor" don't make it all the way through. As such, I held four boys back on Thursday. Their mothers were not happy. At them. Mission Accomplished.

Now, I did this experiment in 9th grade (Bio Honors with Liem FTW), at which time I understood a little bit about scientific methods. I knew I was supposed to pick unconsciously, like a hungry bird would. And I told these kids this: "Pretend you're a mommy or daddy bird, and you have to bring home food for you baby birdies. You need to pick quickly!" But some still spent 5 minutes hunting through the bag searching for their favorite color worm. Or even better, some would pick their worms such that all colors were chosen equally. But I had planned for this contingency. If a person liked a certain color, I told these kids that it was like a bird who liked the taste of a certain type of worm. And if you wanted to survive, you would make sure you didn't look like the bird's favorite food. I didn't really know what to do with the ones who chose evenly, but many of these are my perennial lost causes.

Truth be told, the excitement over this simulation (a word many of the kids don't know) was mixed. Some loved it, others told me straight up it was boring (as hell). It is an easy exercise, but well worth it. Truth be told, I wanted an easy end of the week since we had open house and a sleep over Friday night. And I suppose I got it. Here's Thursday's shirt pocket:

The inventory: Two pencils, a sheet of folder paper I found on the ground (I was teaching character writing to one of my kids, Lauren, who speaks a little Cantonese at home. Cantonese sounds made up.) That's it. Yes, my shirt is odd. It was from my Aunty. She bought it from Goodwill for my Christmas. To be fair, she also gave me $20.

Thursday night, I tried to pull an all-nighter to prepare for my open house. Now, I've tried many many times in my life to pull an all-nighter. As any procrastinating and overworked college student will tell you, the need for one comes up several times throughout the year, more or less without fail. And as hard as I try, I always fall asleep for a few hours, sometime around 5 in the morning. Luckily, I had managed to finish my poster board before I dozed off:

Pictures and other visuals were added later.
Friday rolled around and I had to quickly scramble to finish my video that morning. I learned a little late in the game that my camera saves video as mp4, a format windows' movie maker does not like. So after searching around for the least sketchiest file converter, I finished my movie. Won't post it here. It's rather long (5 min. Yes, that's long) and boring (I think). But the parents loved it.

As a continuation of "I'm tired and don't want to put in much effort right now", we looked at stuff under the microscope with my D group. I had them run around the school and collect samples. We also did cheek swabs to get skin cells and looked at hair of various things. The kids minds (plus my junior leader, Mr. D--, who's going to High School) were collectively blown. I still think looking at plant matter under microscopes is the coolest thing in the world since you can see the cell walls and modulation of the cells. Cheek cells are less interesting. I'm pretty sure half the ones I found were just food particles.

Finally, here's a few videos of the kids doing the first adaptation game with the different beaks. I put more skewers in the restricted environment, hoping to produce the results I'm trying to illustrate (yes, I'm skewing the data. I'm a bad scientist, but a good teacher).

*EDIT: Videos Removed*

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Yes Or No: Games No One Should Ever Play

I seem to have all the problem children in my group D. It's not necessarily that they're in need of discipline, but they seem to be the odd ducks. Let me tell you about N----.

N---- is a cute little boy whose family is from Bangladesh. To his credit, since English is not his first language, I give him credit for being as proficient as he is. He just talks to much. And about things I don't really care about. He insists on sitting next to me at lunch so he can tell me all about his favorite things. Like Pokemon (who knew they'd still be this popular a decade after they came out?). He insists on walking me through the entire game, giving me a play by play of each battle he had. But this I don't mind terribly. I mean, I imagine I was probably as obsessed by Pokemon at that age. But N---- insists on playing "games". By "games", I think he means asking me questions. One of his favorite games is: Yes or No. He asks:

N----: Mr. Sakimoto, would you like to play a game?
Me: Sure N----.
N----: Okay, here's the game. It's called Yes or No. I'm going to ask you a question and you're going to tell me Yes or No.
Me: Okay, go for it.
N----: Okay, here's the game, Yes or No, you're going to tell me Yes or No after I ask my question.
Me: Okay, go for it.
N----: We're playing Yes or No. Here's the question: Which do you like better? Apples or oranges?
Me: ....Yes?
N----: Wait...Okay, we're going to play another game. This one's called Question or Not A Question.
Me: Why not.
Nihal: You're going to tell me if what I ask you is a question or not a question.
Me: Let's do it.
N----: Okay, here it is: Which do you like better? Apples or oranges?
Me: It's a question.
N----: No, Mr. Sakimoto, which do you like better, apples or oranges?
Me: I got it, you asked a question.
N----: Oh, wait....let's play a game. This one's called Yes or No. I'm going to ask......

This goes on for quite a while.

I have another genius student. M-----. M----- -I-----, to be exact, a name all the counselors know well. He really is a putz. I've assigned him a special chair in my class. Today we were playing around with microscopes to look at four white powders as a continuation of our forensics unit. We looked at sugar, salt, flour, and baking powder (since that's what I had on hand. I have a nice little stock cabinet in the back of my class now. It's rather exciting.) For the younger groups, I set up the microscope and told them to just look in it, and describe it to me. M----- went up to the microscope and put his eye to the eyepiece. He came back to me and said:
M-----: Teacher! Teacher! Science Teacher!(this repeated for about a minute before I realized I couldn't just ignore him).
Me: What, M-----?
M-----: Teacher! Teacher! I cannot see the stuff. Whenever I blink, the picture goes away!
Me:....yes, M-----, that's what blinking is.
M-----: Teacher, Teacher! But when I close my eye, the picture goes away and I cannot see the stuff.
Me: Yes M-----, when you close your eyes, you can't see anymore. That's what blinking is.

I dutifully spent the next 5 minutes explaining to M----- how blinking works. No joke. You can't make stuff like this up.

But despite the fact that I had to yell a lot today at the C and D groups, and felt like crying for the first time in several years, there were some good points. I'm beginning to adore this B2 group I wrote about yesterday. Some of them are a bit of a handful, but as a group, they work rather well together. And two or three of them are surprisingly smart, and I was a little taken aback. Today we started the biology section of this program by playing adaptation games. I created three environments with beads as food and water as,...well, water. One of the beaded environments was open, the other was partially obstructed by some skewers. I had a bunch of chopsticks, forks, spoons and the like to simulate different appendages and beaks and such, and had them forage for food/beads. Here's a video of the open environment:

*EDIT: Video Removed*

I also made a restricted environment with skewers, hoping to demonstrate that long skinny appendages (simulated by the chopsticks or tweezers) would fare better. But I've realized that many children haven't developed the fine motor skills necessary to do this, so it didn't quite work out as planned.
*EDIT: Video Removed*

Finally, I had cups of water. I love this one little kid Jace, because before we even started, he knew he had a bum deal with the tweezers. But he was such a good sport about it, I gave him a prize at the end. It was so funny my mom stopped her work and came over to watch:
*EDIT: Video Removed*

So today was better. Not by leaps and bounds, but small measured steps. I wish I had time to have fun and hang out with friends, but for now, I'm a working stiff. The most exciting part of the day? Depositing my paycheck.* $300 for a week of hard labor. Damn taxes took away $70 of my money. But such is life. Here's today's shirt-pocket:
The inventory: For the adaptation games: 6 straws, 7 pairs of chopsticks, four forks, two spoons, a metal tweezer. Two pencils, a sharpie, and my camera bag. Plus my spiffy name tag. One of the few pictures of myself that doesn't make fat baby cherubs reel in horror. And yes, my shirt is very busy.

*I have a big problem with banks in Hawaii. For whatever reason, Hawaii has no national banks. No Bank of America, no Well's Fargo. Nothing. Instead we have Bank of Hawaii, First Hawaiian Bank, Territorial Savings, and Central Pacific Bank, my bank. I have savings account from when I was 8 or so, and over the years my frugality (or simply contentment over the things I already had) has saved up quite a bit. But it's mostly useless to me during the year because CPB has no online banking, meaning I cannot touch it once I'm in the mainland for school. Nor can I deposit my paychecks in my mainland Bank of America checking account because there are no BoA bank on the island. There, that's my short tirade of the day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Not All Change Is Progressive

One of the most legendary teachers at Punahou, and one I had the privilege of taking a class from was Mr. Jerry Devlin. A legend even amongst legends, who taught Plato's: The Republic, still to this day one of the best classes I've ever taken. If I had to describe what he looked like, I would say he was the 60 year old love child of Sean Connery (circa The Rock) and Mr. Magoo. Aside from being one of the most versatile teachers around (he had taught biology, anthropology, political theory, and philosophy during his time at Punahou), he had a favorite saying, "Not All Change Is Progressive". This was usually in reference to our grades, which was troubling. But he was right. Boy he was right.

I thought yesterday was the worst day of this job so far. But as scientist, I should be wary of using superlatives, like "oh, see this atom, that's the smallest we could ever divide matter", or "see this 100 kiloton fission bomb, that's probably the biggest bomb people will ever make." Today was worse.

The day began wonderfully with me almost slicing off my finger in the paper cutter. But that's what fingernails are for. Nature's little finger armor. But that was nothing compared to the little episode that was waiting for me.

I've told you all about E----, right? The genius boy with behavior problems that necessitates him having a personal aide? Yeah, that kid. Now, the teachers have been warned about his behavior (which includes holding year-long grudges and taking revenge against teachers he doesn't like...more on this later). So far, he has been fine, if not a little eager and in need of attention. But today he threw his first tantrum, broke some of my Petri dishes. He had to be taken outside. People were called and kids were distracted. Try getting kids to do anything as a screaming classmate is dragged right outside the door. It sounded violent, from my perspective, as in it sounded like E---- was hitting his aide. Poor guy. And I think he was new to the job, because when E---- started having is episode, the aide asked me what to do. Me? Me, who has no training as a teacher and is still a student himself? I need to be paid more.

Then I met with the older kids, who are usually fine. They're usually sharp and well behaved. They listen, do their work, and even joke around with me a bit. But I think their hormones decided to kick in today. Issues were had. One of the kids was going around and flicking off all the other kids, whom he claimed had made him flick them off. I gave him the lecture about "would you jump off a building if someone told you?" He started crying, and ran into the bathroom. The other girls who were flicked off started crying because they didn't think he was punished enough, or something. Other things happened, to numerous to name here.

But I have learned one thing. Kids bounce back and recover really quickly. They could be sworn enemies in the morning, but by lunch they're the best friends in the world again. If they come to me crying during recess, they're fine, laughing and running around (no running in class) by the next class session. I've pretty much learned to ignore their complaints, since experience has told me they usually work themselves out in the end.

There was a lot of yelling and disciplining today. The C group was absolutely wretched. Kids who never gave me problems refused to listen, and the usual problem kids became even worse. I tried to do a second forensics unit with them, giving them 4 white powders to look at: flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. I drew a simple 4x3 grid on the board and told them to copy it into their journals. Half an hour later, only about half of them had sat down and stopped talking long enough to copy the chart down. Stern talking ensued and I started handing out the powders. No matter how many times I tell them "don't eat this. Do not put this in your mouth. Are you going to eat this? No. You, tell me, are you going to eat this? The answer I'm looking for is 'no'. You are not going to eat this. It will kill you", without fail one kid has to eat some. I told them to make observations about the powder. Apparently, for little kids, looking and observing involves touching and throwing. I tried as best I could to keep them under control. I tried as best as I could to keep order. But I reached a point where I could not take it anymore. I took away all the materials, told them to sit at one of the desks, put their forehead against the table, and be quiet for 10 minutes. They could only muster around 2 minutes, but that was enough for me to write something on the board. They're supposed to keep a journal so parents can know what their kids are learning in this program. This is what I told them to write in their journals:
For you visually impaired folks, the board says "I could not finish the experiment in Science today because the class was too noisy. Tomorrow, I will ____." Where the fill-in-the-blank is what they will do tomorrow to be less disruptive. The day was shot for this class, and I feel horrible about making the few good students go through this (since that was always me). But I was losing my mind and didn't see any other viable alternative.

But hope springs anew, as I'm told. The B groups were absolutely delightful. They were quite, well behaved. They were bright, answering my questions about chromatography. They even remembered about polarity's effect on travel distances on the chromatography strip. An absolute joy. They lined up on their own when I set up the microscope to look at the various powders (flour's really interesting to look at, if you ever get the chance). They even policed each other, to make sure it wasn't too noisy, that people weren't making a mess, and that people were staying on task and finishing their journals. They were so good I felt obliged to give them all erasers as prizes. They were so good, I even had a chance to take pictures:

*edit* The cute little girl smiling at the camera *edit* is M-------, a hilarious little Vietnamese kid. When I have the kids sit on the floor, a lot of them have the bad habit of sitting really really close. Like, inappropriately close. She always pipes up and tells them, "Scoot back people! Give the man some room!" She's quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Up until this class, I was honestly on the verge of breaking down. I started understanding on a very profound level why people do things like drink, or smoke. But this class made things better, if only a little bit. Tomorrow will be an ordeal, I'm telling myself now. I've come to accept that this job will never get easy, and will drain my last ounce of patience. I've accepted that the main point of this job is to realize the hell teachers everywhere go through for an entire school year.

On some level, I think the kids are especially bad because they realize it's summer. The initial excitement of the novelty of this program has worn off, and they've come to realize what a bum deal it is that they have to be in school during the summer. That they have to learn and use their brains. I don't know. Too tired to care. Too physically exhausted to contemplate (didn't sit down all day. No time). But the show must go on, as I'm told.

Here's my shirt-pocket from today:
The final inventory stands at: Two ball point pens, a Sharpie, two Dry-erase pens, a Ziploc bag of flour, a plastic spoon, three Starlight mints, $0.63 in spare change, 9 chopsticks with string and tape (I was going to do recrystallization of Borax [sodium borate hydrate], but the E---- episode sort of derailed the whole class, and we had to cut it short).

I've begun to learn on a very real level one thing that I've always known in passing. They say all the money in the world doesn't mean a thing if you never spend a penny of it. Sure, the pay for this job is nowhere near minimum wage, and I'm making a decent amount. But I have absolutely no time to enjoy any of it. Weekdays are shot due to cranking out lesson plans, testing out the experiments, and trying not to pass out from the dehydration and heat exhaustion. Weekends are a motley mix of cleaning and more lesson planning. I had always intended to get paid for my summer jobs, figuring I need to begin supporting myself as much as I can. But I'm learning that the money is not worth it if you're killing yourself in the process. I think I need to find one of these unpaid internships in an exotic far off land next summer. Something where the minimum age of the people I have to interact with are in the double digits, and I don't have to worry about pee-pee accidents and snack times.

I would hope that tomorrow, things will go differently, but I've learned my lesson. Thank you Mr. Devlin, for teaching me a valuable lesson. There is no such thing as rock bottom. You should see some of the drills they have these days. They can bust through granite like no body's business. Instead, I hope for the strength to see this job through to the end, strangling the smallest number of kids along the way. I figure as long as I keep it in the single digits, no one will mind.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sometimes Pocket Protectors Are The Way To Go

I prefer to live an unencumbered life. I never understood why women chose to carry purses and bags, when pockets are so much easier. I mean, they're attached to your body by virtue of the existence of hips, and with the right cargo pants, you could carry the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion on your person at all times (not that I speak from experience or anything...). However, I do have some sense of fashion, if you wish to call it that. I've never willingly wore a waist-pouch/fanny pack because they are ridiculous and make you a target for bullies and lowlifes (again, not speaking from experience). And I would suppose pocket protectors would fall in the same line, those articles clothes that instantly pigeon-holes you in a certain social class... overalls...
...or hooker shoes.
But I cannot help but deny my true dorkdom. Running around class all day, tending to hopeless children who don't know how to fold paper in half, or use a straw to transfer a liquid, the shirt-pocket has become my best friend. Pencils, markers, dry erase pens, rulers, scissors, straws, chopsticks, bags of apples have all found their way in to my shirt pocket (this was just one day). By the end of the day, my shirt pocket is so laden down with the tools of my trade that my shirt starts to sag in a rather unflattering manner. Here's what my shirt looked like half-way through the day today:

The tally is three dry erase pens, a black ball point pen, a mechanical pencil, a mini-ruler, two black Sharpie pens, my name tag, a clarinet reed and mouthpiece (I had a bet with one of the girls that I could play clarinet. She owes me $10. I intend to collect), and finally a small foam plane. Why the small foam plane you ask? Well, one of my darling students, A--, came to school today, like any other day. However, today of all days, his mother forgot to come and give him his medication. Medication that he desperately needs to calm down. Medicine I really wish he had today. So while he was throwing his plane around my classroom while I was trying to get everyone settled, I crept up behind him and snatched it out of the air, refusing to return it to him unless he settled down and kept quiet the rest of the class. In all seriousness, I'm told he has a behavioral condition where he doesn't understand consequences and cannot process things like that, so I wasn't surprised he was running around 5 minutes later.

But yes, I love my shirt-pocket. It has served me so well, and perhaps I'll get it a nice pocket protector as a treat. All I need is a slide-rule and I'm a nerd from the 70's. Home sweet home.
I do seriously want a slide rule. I think I know how they work, in theory. Either that or an astrolabe, but I think slide rules are easier to procure and operate.

Today was hell. The only saving grace was that I got paid for my first full week (I thought it was just a part time gig, but when you add up the actual hours, it's a little more that 3/4 time). And even though the Gov'ment took a huge chunk of my hard earned money for silly things like Medicare and Social Security, it's nice to be rewarded. But, boy, did I have to work for that money today. I don't know what it was today. Perhaps it was a particularly exciting weekend with Father's Day and all. Perhaps there was too much sugar in their canned peaches. I don't know, but they were horrible. Absolutely horrible. I did a lot of yelling and pointing. A lot of time-outs in the corner and "this is your special chair. You will sit in this chair for the rest of class. I don't want to hear you talk. At all." At which point I would drag the chair to the farthest corner. At one point, the youngest group took their customary bathroom/water break during my class (I've learned to schedule in this disruption), leaving only 4 students in the room with me. They decided it would be a good idea to hide under the desks and yell surprise when the other kids came back. I told them several times "no". I even physically "removed" them from under the desks. But they would not be denied their surprise. I'll leave the ensuing screaming, shouting, running and punching to your imagination (no, I did not punch any of the kids. Not to say I didn't think about it).

Today we did chromatography with paper towels and various pens and markers. I had the older groups in the morning, which was inspiring, if not a little messy. They understood the whole deal with polarity and travel distances along the chromatography strip. Even the younger 1st/2nd graders understood it to a certain extent. But, damn, was this messy. I thought, okay, markers are pretty clean. Ha, I have so much to learn. Because the instruction "just dip the tip", an illustration on the board, and an up close, one-on-one demo by yours truly is simply not clear enough to convey the message "don't dunk the whole thing in the alcohol", the ink went everywhere. I have things to clean up this week. Pretty much every single desk. Goody.

Things to look forward to at the end of the week:
We'll be starting biology, with adaptation and evolution games at the end of the week. Haven't done this since Bio Honors with Liem in 9th grade, but I think I remember everything.

Friday we have an open house, for which I must prepare a video of sorts, and some other presentation of sorts. Followed immediately by a sleepover for the older kids. Luckily most of my kids aren't sleeping over (thank god. I guess they came to the same realization that sleeping in a cafeteria is not fun. I know what they drop on the floor. And I know no one mops the floor either). I'm told I'm not supposed to sleep since I'm chaperoning. We'll see how that goes. As long as I can find an internet connection, I think I can manage. Either that or I can spend my time tormenting the kids. I have a black hooded cape and scary masks. I'm sure I can think of something to do. Don't worry, it's nearly impossible for little kids to have heart attacks. They have been known to wet themselves though.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Your Tears Are The Source Of My Powers

So today marked our first field trip, a little jaunt down to Ice Palace for some ice skating (in Hawaii of all places, during summer, I know). After 2 years in the frigid wastelands of south-eastern Connecticut, I held little fear of the Palace of Ice. I had no need of such silly things as jackets, or sleeves. I troubled not with long pants. T-shirt and shorts. It is Hawaii after all. Some of the kids disagreed with how much clothes you needed. Some came decked out in full snow gear.

I think the last time I went skating, I was probably around these kids' ages, making it at least 8-10 years since I've stepped on the ice. I think this extended exile from skating allowed whatever skills I had fostered to grow and take shape, much like a fine bottle of rotting juice that people insist on paying an arm and a leg for. I wasn't bad. I could move around pretty quickly. I am amazed, however, at how good some of these kids are. I mean, there's only one place on the island that you can ice skate, and it's not exactly cheap. But, I have been finding that kids are pretty sharp and can pick up on things very quickly if they choose to. But only if they choose to.

Seeing really little kids skate is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. The skating rink is split into two sections, a learner section and a general section. In the learner section, there's ropes and flags, and these metal walker things beginners use to stand up on the ice. Our little kids clung on to these for dear life. White knuckle grips that refused to let go. That is until I skated by. At school, a lot of the little kids like to wave to me and say hi whenever they see me. Things did not change at Ice Palace. However, at Ice Palace, when they relinquished the one waving hand, they would instantly lose their balance and topple over on the ice. As a good scientist, I had to see if I could replicate the results. After 3 or 4 passes (give or take a factor of ten) I felt comfortable assigning causality to their spills. They really do love me.

Ice Palace has one of the trickiest concession stands I've ever seen. The food tastes like crap, but that isn't a problem, since everyone always buy the hot chocolate. No matter what else your stomach may crave, you will undoubtedly buy a hot chocolate. You will also, without fail, burn your tongue after that first sip, searing your taste buds into submission for the greasy cardboard they serve as pizza.

The Tale of T-----: Your Salty Tears Taste Oh So Sweet

So it wouldn't be work if all I had to do was babysit. No, that would be much, much too easy on my mental facilities. Rather, the universe enjoys throwing stress and drama my way just to see me stagger. We were there for 2.5 hours, give or take, giving the kids plenty of time to skate and eat to their heart's content. And when you are trying to shuttle, chaperone, and corral 90 something kids, time management is key (particularly if you're trying to avoid rush hour traffic. Almost beat it, but alas, that would be too easy). Thus, 20 minutes before we need to leave and be on the road, is not the time to ask me if you can stand in the long concession line and buy something. It's also not the time to poke, prod, and scream at me. This makes me frustrated and uncooperative. That's why T----- got what was coming to her.

This girl has been giving me problems since day one. Mouthing off to me, purposefully disregarding my directions, and encouraging her classmates to do the same. At Ice Palace, none of this changed. 20 minutes before we're supposed to leave, I wanted everyone to just sit and wait for the buses, as per my orders from the supervisor in charge. They specifically told me, don't let them buy anything as we're leaving, it will slow everything down. So I followed my orders. I told T----- "no, you can't buy anything, we're going to leave, there's no time." For 30 minutes, I repeated "you had 2 and a half hours to buy things, right before we leave is not the time to do so. Sit down." Screaming and shouting ensued over how unfair I was. I started to get frustrated. Any stress relief from gliding across the ice, whipped away in a matter of minutes. Finally, the buses came, and I ushered them aboard.

Right as we're pulling out of the driveway, about 30 min since the time they were told to get ready, grab their stuff, and make sure they weren't leaving anything behind, T----- tells me "I forgot my gloves." We're pulling on to the road. I told her "Too bad. We're leaving right now. I can't make 89 other kids wait because you were playing around and bothering me while you were supposed to be getting ready. Sorry, but you're just going to have to forget about it, or go on your own to find it. They're just things. Deal with it." I could see she was unhappy, but there was simply nothing I could do about her personal irresponsibility. These are lessons everyone must learn at some point. As I turned around to face the front of the bus, I became aware of distressed sobbing in the background. Which quickly grew into tantrum-esque bawling, complete with moaning and that choking sound you make when you cry. It was like I had killed her entire family and made her watch. But I wasn't distressed by her weeping. After all the crap she had given me for the last three weeks, and especially today, I was glad she was finally bearing the consequences of her actions. For the half hour bus ride, I listened to her cry. Not once did I look at her, as I knew she was crying just to get a rise out of me. I could tell that half way through the bus ride she was no longer actually crying, but pretending, just for me.

I could tell some of the other kids were buying into T-----'s crap. They kept telling me she was crying, and I explained to them why there was nothing I could do. But I also told them, "She'll stop crying. They're just things. Were the gloves made of solid gold? No, they can be replaced. Does she need them to live? No, it's Hawaii, you only ever need gloves at Ice Palace. Good, they'll be waiting there for her when she goes next time."

When we got back to school, I had to still teach one more class: the D group. My group. T-----'s group. When we got back to class, she was fine. As if nothing had happened. She went right on back to being her annoying, bitchy self. I had them play a forensic science game where I gave them 4 white powders (salt, sugar, flour, and baking soda) and they had to develop tests to distinguish the 4 from each other. In the end I gave them a mystery powder (one of the 4) and they had to determine which it was. As per her usual self, T----- refused to join the group when they were working, opting instead to chase other people around the classroom, and break my things. Status quo, antebellum. As if the ordeal had hardly happened. But this little vein popping out of my neck begs to differ on the veracity of T-----'s crying game.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Simulating an Interest in Science by Moldy Young Minds: A Day of Word Play

Kudos to my mom for the above word play.

Today was perhaps the first day I enjoyed this job. Relatively stress-free other than the three hours I thought today was Tuesday and panicked because I was one day short on lesson plans. The silly putty worked, thanks to three new bottles of glue @3.99 ea. thanks to your friendly neighborhood Long's Drugstore (though a little less friendly and not so neighborly since they've been bought out by CVS). I also got lunch at the world's slowest Subway. You'd think that since it was at a mall, it'd be pretty with it, but the concept of time was simply lost on these guys. At one point, one of the sandwich dudes went to the back to get a drink for himself.

I've been noticing I'm much less careful with what I say around these kids lately. Luckily, I think most of it flies over their heads. I was taking out a bag of garbage today after lunch, which subsequently sprung a leak once I lifted it over my head to dump in the garbage bin. I started going off about all the nasty crap that was spilling over me, oblivious to the two 4th graders who were helping me tote bags outside. They didn't say anything about it, so guess no harm no foul.

My second slip was a little different. We were making the silly putty/gak/flubber today, and started to explain how it was a colloid, and it sort of acted like a sponge. So, the more your manipulate the flubber, the more water gets squeezed out, and the drier and less flubber-like it becomes. Since I'm trying to convey technical information to a roomful of screaming kids, my explanations usually get shortened to a few sentences I can repeat over and over again like Communist propaganda. So, the colloid explanation got shortened to: "The more you play with it, the harder it becomes". Even this was a bit too long (ha!) for some of them, so that got shortened to: "Rub it to make it harder." None of the kids caught this (and why would they), but the dirty looks from my mom in the back, and the high school junior counselors cracking up in the back told me my joke didn't go unnoticed.

I'm starting to like the older kids more. The young ones are cute and adorable, and full of wonder, but the older kids have personality. I particularly like the E group, which is comprised of incoming 5th graders. A bunch of them are taking a supplemental band class or something, and one of the girls, M----, had her clarinet with her. I told her I also play clarinet (in addition to a crapload of other woodwinds. Except oboe. Never will I play oboe.) She didn't believe me, and spent all of recess testing me about music and parts of the clarinet. Of course I knew what stuff was: reed, ligature, barrel, bell, etc. (I would hope so after 8 years of band). I decided to push back, and started quizzing her on stuff. As recess ended, we decided to have a clarinet duel sometime in the coming week. To which another of the students, J-----, brought up that she plays violin. I think I'm going to try to put together a ragtag orchestra with these kids. We are, after all, doing a unit on sound and harmonics, so there is some validity to it. I also just really want to play music again.

An interesting thing I noted was the abundance of siblings in this program. I counted no less than 8 today. Aside from these very bright twins (they're impressively quick to pick up on things), very few of the other siblings look related. There's the S---- boys, one of which is medicated, while the other should be medicated. There's also these sisters whose last name sounds something like camera, the older of which has convinced her younger sister to smell me whenever she sees me (to which I asked her, "how would you like if people started smelling you?", to which she replied "that'd be cool!"). I also learned these sisters are responsible for starting a Bloody Mary scare in the school, which made all of the kids afraid of going in the bathroom.

Very excited, as tomorrow I have all my lessons planned out already. And since Friday we're going to Ice Palace (where I'm told I'll have to deal with overbearing parents. Helicopter parents, my mom calls them. They just sort of hover around), that means I'm all set for the week. The only issues is planning next week, where we'll revisit physics and talk about circuits, optics and harmonics. And at the end of the week, is open house, where I have to justify to 200 parents why its worth paying $1200 for me to baby sit the kids in the afternoon.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Science Is Messy

This week is a whole lot of Chemistry, with some astronomy thrown in at the end if I run out of demos.

Monday, we did invisible ink with lemon juice, and I tried it again with vinegar today, since I was told it should also work. I'm amazed at how delinquent and rotten some of these kids are. I gave them each a half sheet of paper to write or draw whatever they wished with the invisible ink. I had three or four choose to write "doo doo", another drew an what he told me was a decapitated body, and my favorite student of all, G----, told me he was going to write "die" all over his paper, and proceeded to line his paper with "DI". He might be a psychotic little demon spawn, but I don't think it would be very hard to catch him.

I was showing some of the younger kids the bottle of vinegar I had. It occurred to me that some of these kids might not know what some of these things are, so I try to show them as much as possible and expose them to as much as possible (not in that way). I passed around the bottle of vinegar and wafted (I'm such a good chemist) it in front of them to smell. Most of them shrieked and told me it smelled bad, but all the Filippino kids told me it smelled really good. That's my bit of racial humor for the day. I'm done. Except I do notice the Asian kids are a lot better at science. There, now I'm done.

Today I attempted to make gak, or slime, or silly putty, or whatever you want to call it. Glue and Borax, pretty simple. The Borax acts as a cross-linking agent for the glue polymers, which I think is downright nifty. Anywho, I tried to explain why the gak forms as it does, with the cross-linking explanation. I had the kids line up and form polymer chains by linking arms. It's been a while since I've been around little kids, but it didn't occur to me that linking arms with someone of the other sex would be that much of an issue. It was. After 10 minutes of yelling and crying and sorting and bargaining, we formed our polymer chains. I asked them if it was easy or hard to move around in these polymer chains. Most said it was easy, I got a few who said it was "easy-hard" or "hard-easy". I generally ignore these kids. Then to demonstrate cross-linking, I took a roll of tape and taped the polymer-kids together. It's a very vivid and useful teaching model, to actually cross-link the kids together, but as much as it was for them to learn why the gak forms the way it does, it was also for me. By this point in the day, I was tired, stressed, a little pissed at certain kids, and it just felt very good to tape those kids together, to make sure they couldn't run around and knock my things over (the floor is now green thanks to some not so soluble food coloring). A brief moment of catharsis goes a long way.

Now, earlier that morning I had tried the gak recipe to make sure it worked and the proportions were right. It turned out fantastically, and I thought I was set for a pretty easy day. Very, very wrong. The first class I tried it with used a different glue (though it still said Elmer's All-Purpose Glue), and none of them worked. Having a class of 18 disappointed and bored kids is not a good feeling. I frantically spent the recess trying to figure out what the hell went wrong and why nothing was working. I settled on that it must have been the glue was a different type than labeled, or it was too old and the polymer had degraded too far. Either way, after a frantic scramble around the school scooping up any Elmer's glue I could find, the rest of the gak making went fine.

I've also learned children are sneaky. They're supposed to write in their journals after every class session (though 50% of them never have their journal with them). They always want to know how many sentences they have to write. I usually ask them how old they are, and tell them to write 5 regardless of the answer. Most don't really know what a sentence is other than that it ends with a period. So usually a kid will bring up their journal for me to check, I'll tell them that this is only one long sentence. They'll go back, pretend to write more, and bring it back to me. The entry will be the same single long sentence, but dotted occasionally by an additional 4 periods. I'm not teaching English, but I feel the need to spend time with these kids and tell them what a sentence is. Subject. Predicate. As simple as that. Blah blah blah, is not a sentence. Writing "I had fun" is nice and all, but you can't write that 5 times and count that as 5 sentences.

Today was perhaps the sternest I've ever been with the kids. I hate disciplining because it's not in my kind hearted nature to yell and scold, but some of these kids need it really bad. I've begun to pull the "if you don't be quiet, we can't do the experiment" card when they're too noisy. I've also just sat and waited until they decide independently to be quiet. But today, I had to kick it up. I haven't yelled yet, but I can feel myself getting there with some of these kids. I recently reread Machiavelli's The Prince. Contrary to popular belief, Machiavelli said that it is always preferable to seek a populace's adoration and respect, and that such a bond formed from love would produce the most loyal and obedient subjects. But, if and when such a method fails, then fear is the way to go. It's either complete love and adoration, or complete fear. No middle road. I've been trying the first method with these kids, and it works for the most part. Everybody loves Mr. Science. But it's never a bad thing to have Mr. Hyde waiting in the wings to pop out as necessary. I think I'll keep him on retainer for the rest of this program.

And there were some rewards, small though they might be. This program put out it's first newsletter for the parents, and there was a blurb about me (I was the only afternoon teacher they wrote a blurb about!):
A popular class in the afternoon is our Kool Science class taught by Mr. Kelsey Sakimoto. "Mr. Kelsey" or "Mr. Science", as he is known, is a Punahou graduate and currently attending Yale University pursuing a major in chemical engineering. Mr. Sakimoto has varied interests, like playing the accordion, erhu, and many types of woodwind instruments. Mr. Sakimoto relates that his first experience with The Summer Concept is "a lot of work but definitely worth it!"

Now I know I blow a lot of smoke out my ass, but I honestly meant that last sentiment. Though a pain, I can find the small rewards in this job, and cling to those moments. And, hey, it's always nice to be recognized.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sometimes I Forget Who I'm Talking To

On Friday, I decided to give my students a little creative problem solving exercise. The lesson previous, I had gone over polarity and density of compounds, using a density column of corn syrup, water, and oil, as a means of segueing into Chemistry (thank you to Angela She for the lesson plans). I thought this would lay a great foundation for a problem solving exercise that's quite relevant: Solve the BP Oil Crisis.

I am by no means pioneering in this endeavor, as it is a well known secret that kids can be the best problem solvers, since their creativity isn't hindered by social rationalizations and self-consciousness. Considering a truly viable solution has yet to be found (well, it depends on who you ask. I have my own opinion), I thought it wouldn't hurt to let 89 elementary school students have a stab at it.

I presented each group with two problems: how to seal the broken pipe, and how to handle the oil slick. I gave them all the stats: how far down the hole is (around 5,000 ft) and how far out (26 miles) as well as other pertinent data, and told them to go for it.

I ran into a bit of a problem when describing the current state of the fractured well. I tried to pull out all the technical jargon and explain it to them simply. I said: "Okay, there's a big hole in the middle of the ocean and it's spewing all this crabcakes out into the ocean..." Except I didn't say crabcakes. It's weird, now, for me to think of crap as a bad word, since I use it so often. But the glare from my mother who was working in the back told me that teachers should not use that word around 3rd graders. Surprisingly, none of the kids seemed to notice, nor did they make a big fuss that I swore. So either they didn't notice, or they've become desensitized to the word. I think I'm going to test this out by swearing more. A list of your favorite expletives and ideas on how to work them into a science lesson would be much appreciated from the readership.

So back to the lesson. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the ideas. Most decided to just shove a bunch of crap into the hole to plug it up. Some came up with the solution BP is currently employing: sticking a narrow tube into the hole to siphon off some of the leaking petroleum.

The second problem, how to deal with the oil slick, drew more creative solutions. My favorite called for a fleet of thousands of robotic fish to swim around and eat up the oil. I asked the student how she was expecting to pay for thousands of high-tech robots, to which she replied "my dad will pay for it". Another called for a giant corral type thing to scoop up all the oil. Some of the students actually used what they had learned previously about density and polarity, and suggested collecting the oil and seawater in a tanker, and decanting the oil from the water.

My biggest surprise of the day came from E----, a special ed. student that has his own para-professional aide to monitor his behavioral issues. This student, I had been warned, was known to assault teachers, in addition to the usual host of behavioral problems. However, he was perhaps the smartest student of the day. He came up with maybe 9 different solutions, each well thought out and at the very least plausible, solutions I think BP would have liked to hear. I've been told that many behavioral problems arise from a lack of stimulation, that the child becomes bored and begins to act out. Perhaps that's what caused E----'s uncharacteristically well-behaved performance on Friday. I'm going to keep an eye on this. Very intriguing.

I've been trying to drive home everyday from work, since I have yet to get my license (I'm going to renew my permit for the 3rd time later this month). I'm not the best driver, yet, but I'm....competent. Usually. My dad always yells at me, telling me going at the speed limit is too slow. As a result, I've developed a bit of a lead foot, and a waning patience. As we were driving home from the school, we approached a 4 lane intersection. In the corner of my eye I could see someone crossing the street. I figured I best just speed through the intersection, since the pedestrian was taking forever to cross the street. I guessed I missed timed it a bit because I almost ran them over. I could see them not 3 feet away from me as I sped past them. And as their figures passed my window, I saw who I had almost run down. An old woman. And her granddaughter. In a wheelchair. With a cast. You can't make this stuff up. A few seconds later, I would have hit the world's best sympathy case. Lesson learned, patience is a virtue. Or if you do hit something, drive away before they can read your plates. Haha, I'm just joking. There'd be no witnesses left.

Next week marks a whole lot of Chemistry. Not only a lot of my favorite science, but another 4 day week, since Friday we're taking the kiddies to Ice Palace, Hawaii's only skating rink. I haven't ice skated in nearly 8 years, and even then I wasn't very good. I mostly clung to the walls and slowly drifted from the natural rotation of the earth. However, this time I'm supposed to be chaperoning 89 elementary school kids, who are all faster and more athletic than I am. And they know it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

They Call Me "Mr. Science": Bottle Rocketry Adventures

Ah, what fine Hawaiian afternoon...

...The perfect day for Bottle Rocketry.
The children were busy at work, putting the last touches on their rockets.

Some were working harder than others, but hey, everyone has to learn to deal with group dynamics.

3 of the 5 groups launched their rockets today (due to stupid scheduling issues by the administration), and it went off fantastically. I for one was very pleased with the experiment, but I know for a fact the kids loved it. The biggest letdown of the day was when I told them we couldn't do the same thing again tomorrow (which is when we'll start Chemistry, tee hee!).

Some of these kids are the most precious things in the world. Everyday, we have them write in their journals what they learned today. One of the boys (I can't remember his name, he's new) showed me his journal which said, and I quote:
Today we flew rockets. Our rocket came in third. I was disappointed.

But, he told me personally he had a lot of fun, and it was the best day of his life. So, I guess things even out in the end.

I was only able to film one of the younger groups, so take a gander:
*EDIT: Video Removed*

It's becoming easy to spot the kids with potential. Joachim de Posada gave a remarkable TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design, talk about a social psych study conducted in Brazil, which tried to relate self discipline with future success, The Marshmallow Test. The study was simple, it placed a child in a room with a marshmallow. The child was told, if you don't eat the marshmallow when the guy leaves the room, you'll get two when he comes back. Of course, as soon as the guy left the room, a lot of the kids instantly snatched up and gobbled down the marshmallow. But others waited. The study followed these kids throughout their schooling, and found a clear correlation between academic success and the self-restraint to not eat the marshmallow. Those who ate the marshmallow developed criminal records early on, and such and such.
Watching these kids make their rockets poses a similar factor. When cutting the cardboard fins and taping the various pieces on, some kids just slap things together, just trying to finish their rocket. But others were very meticulous, making sure each string of the parachute was the same length, and making sure the fins were symmetric and taped on nicely. I think it's this patience and attention to detail that will develop into productive and beneficial study and work habits later in life. I'd be interested to see if there's any correlation.

Also, the children are still having issue with my name, as I suppose Sakimoto is a bit of a mouthful (in all honesty, I would stumble over my own name a times during Speech and Debate). Those who can't remember Sakimoto have either tried and guessed "Mr. Taketono", or my favorite, have begun calling me "Mr. Science".

Monday, June 07, 2010

On Group Dynamics

I'm exhausted. This post will be short, as after testing the launcher pad, going out to dinner, and going grocery shopping after my 6 hours of kid chasing, knowledge-imparting, I'm rather tired. But I got paid today (not enough) and it does feel good.

Today, I had the older kids work on their bottle rockets. I split them up into groups of around 5-6 students, of single and mixed genders, and have noticed a few things. The first group was rather gender divided, with two groups of girls and one group of guys. One of the girl groups was very focused, diving right into the planning of their bottle rocket and producing a rather nice and relatively detailed schematic. They worked cohesively on the actual construction, finishing most of the their rocket, which included a nose cone, tail fins, a parachute and a propeller.*

The group of boys behaved as most groups of boys would. They were loud, and threw paper everywhere, but were able to crank out a rocket design in short order, complete with most of the same elements as the above group (sans the paper airplanes). When confronted with an issue, the group hammered it out like most boys would, with some shouting and pushing. But it did the trick, and the group was able to finish most of their rocket.

And then there was the 2nd group of girls. Now this group is made up of the girls who take occasion to smell me (they're still doing it), or poking me. I would describe their group as generally hormonal, with attitudes and egos getting in the way of any real collaboration. After 20 minutes of hitting each other with the plastic soda bottle, they finally sat down to plan out their bottle rocket. After much prodding and leading by me, the produced a design which contained a parachute and a nose cone. And of course the most important element, a smiley face. Now the group was downright dysfunctional. They got absolutely no work done, and I'm thinking of separating them next time. I will say there was one girl, Sasha, who was trying to work hard and get things done, and I feel sorry for her. She honestly tried hard, but her group mates would have none of that. I would feel worse for her, but we are responsible for the people we associate with, and it's a lesson we must learn, perhaps the hard way. If we associate with slackers and layabouts, we can only expect to achieve a moderate level of success. I hate to take this attitude (as guilt by association was something I absolutely hated as a child), but I've come to realize it's a lesson worth learning.

The other rocket groups followed similar patterns, with your stellar cohesive groups, and your not so cohesive ones. There was this one boy who told me he had made bottle rockets before, which gave me high hopes. But when he went to his group, he spent 20 minutes deciding what Pokemon to draw on the side of the rocket. When I told him he had to draw what elements to add to the rocket (like fins and a nose cone), he told me confidently that all he needed was a parachute. Perhaps he's right (that's the point of science, no preconceived notions), but I'm betting his rocket won't go very far.

And now I am very tired, and will be trying to sleep, as after falling asleep for a few hours after I came home from work, I did not do much of the prep work needed for tomorrow. So I will be waking up early in the morning to finish. Goodnight, you Wonderful World of Science. Tomorrow we will blow some little minds. 3, 2, 1, Blast Off!

*One thing I've noticed about these kids is that they mean well and are very eager to learn and participate, but sometimes miss the point. On the first day we covered aerodynamics and learned "long and pointy things fly farther" through paper airplanes. I wanted them to apply this concept to their rockets, most logically by adding a nose cone to their design. Some of them missed the point. When building the balloon jets on Thursday and the bottle rockets today, I reminded them "what did we learn the first day?", stirring up Mr. Sakimoto's Mantra #1. Instead of making a nose cone, they folded a long and pointy paper airplane, and taped it to their balloon/bottle rocket. These kids are adorable, and I can tell they are trying their best, but sometimes they miss the boat completely. Oh well, we all can't be engineers. Some of us have to become lesser professionals, like doctors and lawyers.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

On Building A Bottle Rocket Launcher

So I had this crazy idea that I would make bottle rockets with my kids this coming week. I fondly recall doing this in 7th grade, and the excitement and enthusiasm this project brought to everyone involved. Then I started planning out the nitty gritty.

One thing I failed to consider fully was how to actually launch these rockets. In 7th grade, the launch pads had been around the school for several years, made by some ambitious teacher years ago. I had no such resources, and set about to making my own launch pad.

I've never been one to look at pre-made plans devised by others, preferring to rough it out, and find my own way to doing things. So I set about designing my own launch pad. After some thought, I came up with these rather detailed blueprints on the back of a piece of 3/4" plywood:
However, I had failed to take into account a rather crucial element: I had no way to pressurize the rocket. I had an electric pump suited to fill up car tires, but this would not work. What would the children do as I filled up their rockets with a flip of a red switch? I would rather have the kids themselves pump up their rockets, since that's part of the fun. No, I would need a manual pump for this project. A manual pump I did not have. After debating with myself on whether to shell out the $10.23 for a Bell Bike Pump, since that amounts to an strenuous hour of yelling, running, and shepherding children, I bought the pump.

Now, being the thrifty fellow I am, I have never bought construction materials. I have built many many a things, ranging from chairs to a full size working ballista (it shot tennis balls), but have never paid for lumber or nails, or tools, for that matter.

My grandpa was a general contractor, and as such, left behind a large number of tools and materials after he passed away. Although my dad's parents lived with us for the last 15 years, I have never really known them on a terribly personal level. For whatever reason, I only got to know my grandpa after he passed away a few years ago, and of all ways, through his tools. He salvaged everything, from light switch cover panels to roofing nails. There's something about the way he stored all the odds and ends, nuts and bolts in old Macadamia nut cans, or the abundance of the stiff white nylon twine that he used to tie everything together with, that seemed oddly familiar, and oddly familial. I know it sounds corny, but I do feel a connection to him when I build things. With every turn of the hand-powered drill, with every stroke of the vintage Japanese saw, I can imagine my grandpa doing the same thing 50 years ago, back when Hawaii wasn't even a state, building not only houses, but a life for his family. I do feel proud, in an odd way, that I'm carrying on one of the few legacies our family has, even if I'm using it to build a rocket. My grandma gives me strange looks when she sees my projects, but she gave those same looks to my grandpa when he was alive, so I suppose not much as changed between generations.

Back to the rocket launcher. After 4 hours of Junkyard Wars-esque building, I finally assembled my rocket launcher. After hours of looking for a nut that would fit this one bolt, and trying to cut custom metal brackets, I produced this monstrosity:Though not the prettiest thing in the world, it works:

Tomorrow I'll do an actual test shot, since 9:00 at night is not the time to go to the park to try out such things.

Yup, four hours for something I could have bought online, or just decided it was too much work for a summer class I get paid way too little for. There are some moments when I have to stop and ask myself why I bother putting so much effort into these things.

My mom, being the superstitious type that she is, drew my attention to today's horoscopes for Aquarius:

You succeed because you work hard, and the tenacity and sense of purpose you bring to your work is rapidly becoming the stuff of local legend. A significant reward approaches.

Interesting, though such things are pure hokum. I'm taking the horoscope to mean some nice parent will bring me a box of cookies one day. Or a big wad of cash. One can only hope.

Truth be told, I'm really still a little kid at heart that likes to make cool things. This class is as much for my own amusement as it is for the kids. And plus, having my own bottle rocket launch pad will make this a very fun summer.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Future Lesson Plans

We're Going To Need Another Timmy!

Thanks, Chris, for the referral.

Everyday A New Adventure; I'm Beginning To Learn Their Names

I have to say that though most of my friends are off gallivanting across the globe, I'm perfectly happy to be home. This in part comes from being unable to imagine teaching this class anywhere else. I'm so exhausted at the end of the day (keeping in mind my job is only 3/4 time), that I couldn't imagine having to survive on my own in a foreign country on top of it all. But things are getting better, and easier, and for the first time, I'm beginning to enjoy this work.

Today was full of surprises. The first two classes I had in the morning were the older group (incoming 5th graders) followed by the youngest group (post-kindergarten). I'm beginning to pick out the students that I could do a lot with (whose names are incidentally the only ones I remember).

In the older group, there's a boy named J---. He's quite brilliant I have to say. I was sitting with him yesterday while he was waiting to be picked up, and he told me he wanted to be an engineer when he grew up (my heart honestly skipped a beat). We started talking about science, and about Mythbusters. He's really an awesome kid. And, English is not even his first language, to boot. Of all the kids, I think he has the most potential, and I can tell he's one of the few that's grasping the material. Not only do I feel he understands what's going on, but he's actively expanding on it, and asking more penetrating questions. A true scientist in the making, if I ever saw one.

In the youngest group is the most adorable little boy, J----. He's just come out of kindergarten, but he's easily the smartest kid up until the 4th graders. He's sharp, and quick. Today we were going over Bernoulli's Principle (from which came Mr. Sakimoto's Science Mantra "faster air is weaker"). I had given them a strip of paper across which they blew to demonstrate this principle. Next I made a penny flip over just by blowing across the top. I asked a few simple set up questions, like "is the air on top moving faster or slower". Before I even had to lead them to the right conclusion, J---- chimed in with the most eloquent (and correct) explanation why the penny jumped. He made the conclusion that if the air on top is moving faster, than the slower air on the bottom was stronger and pushed the penny up. Now, I was a little shocked (even my mom who was sitting in the room at the time was a little taken aback by his clarity). I was even more shocked when it took me the better part of 15 min to lead a group of 4th graders to the same conclusion, which ended in me basically telling them why the experiment worked.

I've come to realize that I can't teach all these kids. Some are just content to lie on the floor in the back, or stare at the blue smudge on the back of their hand. But there's a good number of attentive, intrigued, and engaged kids who sit right up at the front, hanging on my every word. This job is rewarding, as much of a pain as it is.

As I was driving home with my mom, she brought up something interesting. The way in which kids grow and learn these days is dramatically different than how I grew up, at little more than a decade ago. Parents are often to busy to engage their kids one on one (hence why many of them are in this Summer program), and often toss their kid the newest video game, or plop them down in front of the TV for a few hours. Rarely are these kids pushed by their parents to think and analyze. What little stimulation beyond The Disney Channel and Cartoon Network are these kids given on a daily basis? As evidence of how deprived some of them are, it was such a big thrill today when I gave them a straw to do experiments with. Now, on a Friday night, now that I have showered, eaten, played Rock Band, and have sat in a quiet room by myself for a few hours, I can say I'm happy to be doing this job. I looked in on the other classes in the program, and most of the time, the students were sitting at their desks, copying things off the board. Sure my class might be loud and hectic, but the kids are engaged, they're learning. But most importantly, they seem to be having fun.

I think I'm waxing a little sentimental right now, so let me bring up some highlights from today:
I have yet to be at the right place at the right time in the morning. I've either gotten there late or waited in the wrong place. Here's to next week and getting my shit together.

I think that around 4th and 5th grade is about the time when girls start to get a little boy crazy. There's a group of girls in the D group who pretty much climb on top of one of the junior counselors, I think his name is D-- or R----. This same group of girls have begun to poke me as much as they can, and bother me at every turn. Today, they started smelling me (yes, smelling me) and told me I smell like man-perfume, whatever that may be. This smelling carried on through lunch and through the entire day, interrupted only when they decided to go back to poking me. One of them, I think her name is S-----, insists on sitting right next to my leg, much too close for comfort, during class. I've imposed an invisible force field rule around me, but it doesn't seem to do anything. I wish they would stop smelling me.

Monday and Tuesday I'm going to attempt bottle rockets with them. Since I haven't done this since 7th grade, this weekend will involve me building a launching system, and test firing a few rockets. Next week should be interesting, as after the bottle rockets, we're moving on the Chemistry!!!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

It's only been two days...

It's only been two days, and yet I've learned a whole lot. I've gained a new found appreciation and respect for elementary school teachers, such as my mom, who do this not for 6 hours a day (as I do), but for an entire school day. Additionally, their job is to ensure that the kids learn the material, and actually retain information. I, on the other hand, am not required to assign homework or grades and am not responsible for ensuring students meet standardized testing metrics. Today, I came home exhausted (though marginally less than yesterday), collapsed, and fell asleep for 2 hours. Teachers of the world, I salute you.

Most of the kids in this program are a pain. I've chosen to categorize them in 3 overlapping groups:
1) The Overly Enthusiastic:
Some of the kids are too eager to do things, and decide it's okay to stand up, walk to the front of the class where I am, and start playing with my teaching materials. Since I brought a model airplane and balloons today to demonstrate propulsion methods, I suppose I was inviting trouble. These kids just won't shut up, and won't sit down. I appreciate their desire to learn and to engage in the material, but sometimes they just need to chill out. I had a roll of duct tape and wished I had used it more.

2) The Hopeless, Needy, and Disinterested:
This is a weird group, but all create the same problem. Perhaps 20% of a given class will not give a rat's ass what you're talking about, that is until you give them a balloon to play with. But for the most part, they sit to the side, talking to their friends, crying in the corner, or lying on the floor. They might not be the best students in the world, but at least they're somewhat quiet.

3) The I-Want-To-Strangle-Your-Scrawny-Neck Children:
Some kids are just rotten. I hate to say this, and would never tell a parent this, but some kids are just asses. Ranging from running around the classroom, interrupting my every other word, to talking back to me, I have no desire to teach these children. I'm still figuring out how to deal with these ones, but for now I've settled giving them stink eye during recess. They're more than happy to return the favor.

However, through all the headaches, dehydration, and fatigue, there have been some rewarding moments, even so early in the program. I'm happy to say my class is a hit, I've been told it's the most popular course in the program by the admins, in fact. The story goes like this.
-----The father of one of the students gets off work at 4, at which point it would naturally make sense for him to come pick his daughter up. Today, he came at 4, and pulled his daughter from my class to go home. One of the administrators told me that when this student's father came for her, she was really mad at him. She told him:
"Why did you have to come now?! I was in Science!"
"I thought you would want to come home."
"But we were just doing an experiment!"
The administrator asked: "So did you learn anything today?"
She replied: "No, we hadn't finished the experiment yet. Dad, can you come back later after we're done with Science?"

This makes me very happy. I think that since my class is the only one with hands-on demonstrations and kinesthetic learning, the kids are more engaged, and have more fun. Whenever I'm strolling around, I try to talk to the kids, and ask them how their day's going, what are they doing in other classes. When I ask them what they're learning in other classes, they reply "I don't know." But, when I ask them what they learned in my class, the spit out those short mantras: "Long and skinny flies farther" and from today "The balloon pushes the air out of its butt." Most seem genuinely excited to come to my class. They come up to me during recess and ask what we're doing today or tomorrow in class. This is very encouraging.

I thought my first post, the Mission Statement of this course, was a little silly at the time. I mean, it's hard to educate children, and for a novice teacher like myself, I can't expect to do much with them. But I'm finding that it's not absurd to get them excited about science. It's only been two days, but I think I'm definitely on the right track. The kids, though a pain, are actually learning things (albeit short and sweet, like some of them), and are excited to do so. I think I can get them to love science by the end of the class. You know why? Because Science is awesome.