Monday, February 25, 2013

Story in 500 words?

It was a stuffy, impossible day, and the boys had been spoiling for a fight all morning. Juno half-closed her eyes against the clamour of shifting light and hoped that they would find someone else to take it out on. They were in the observation room for the flight simulator module, and deprived of the ability to rock on their chairs or throw staple weighted paper bullets at each other she knew that sooner or later their eyes would fall on her corner of the class.

She tilted her head inconspicuously to observe the progress of Roman's glowingly foul temper. He had been her chief tormentor for the past few days, ever since she'd joined the cadet group. It wasn't unexpected; as the first female to join their competitively driven group she had known exactly what she was taking on. But now things were coming to a head, and the stifling weather was doing nothing to help her.

I suppose you're going to 'show us how to do it', then,” Roman jeered loudly. He was on the other side of the room, but the group parted so that there was a narrow channel down which his words could reach their target.

Juno sighed inwardly, and twisted in her stool so that she was facing him. “Am I?” she asked mildly. “I thought you were top of the leaderboard for flight sim.”

You're the hotshot,” he hissed. “Teacher's slut. Flown in from Metro specially to show us what's what.” His last two sentences had brought him across the observation room, and now he loomed uncomfortably above her, smelling unmistakably of adrenalin and irritation.

She shrugged, and turned away. “If you say so.”

What, letting it go, hotshot? Not going to stand up for yourself?”

The rest of class had formed a semicircle around them, waiting in breathless anticipation. No-one knew what would happen. The ordinary script of punch-throwing and machismo seemed... unlikely.

But they were disappointed. Commander Conrad came into the room on a breath of peppermint and choleric.

Scrapping, are we? Get your sorry backsides into the simulators. Group One's up, and if your scores aren't better than last week then so help me you'll be scrubbing decks for a month!”

Juno settled her shoulders and sat back to watch the scores mounting. She paid particular attention to the red marker which indicated Roman's leading position. A small smile twitched the corners of her mouth. He was good. He was very good. All the cadets had to complete the same course in the same amount of time, receiving scores for each type of target they hit on the way through. Of course, some targets were almost impossible to miss. But others were hidden, or cunningly disguised as lethal obstacles. Roman's score ticked steadily upwards in all the categories, quickly outstripping the others in his group.

When the first group came back into the observation room, he was obviously pleased with himself, and shouldered roughly past her as she waited to file into the simulator room. With Commander Conrad glaring at them he didn't dare do more than flash his challenge at her. Beat that, hotshot! It was very nearly a perfect score.

Juno's marker was grey. It seemed an age to the waiting cadets before she was strapped in and the sim run started. Every eye in the observation room was fixed on the little grey triangle.

She finished the run with perfect zeros in every category.

Perfect zeros.


Bravo, grade nines! That's my best effort at keeping a short story under 500 words - and it's 579 words. Yikes... so much for setting achievable assignments?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pictures from a Sleepy Week

...someone still thinks he's enough of a baby to sleep in dad's marking box..
(it's a bit more crowded than he remembers!)

...Valentine's Day, and a somewhat revamped kitchen...
(plus our special weekend otees!)

...magic on Rondebosch Common...
(remember last time I posted about the Common? quite a contrast!)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Homework Menus

I've been trialling a new way of running homework for my three English classes. I can't remember where I first saw the idea (online somewhere, duh!), so if you are or know of the original source then please send me the link and I will be excited to revisit the genius and credit him or her here...

As with many ideas found online, I liked it, and immediately started to think of ways to integrate it into my particular context. Since I have also been following Ken's thoughts on homework, the idea of a homework menu gave me a concrete "hook" for thinking about how to give kids (and their parents) more control over their own homework situation.

What I particularly liked about the Homework Menu idea:

  • Allows the student to choose (to some extent) which items he or she would like to do, and which stink.
  • Teaches time management (as the tasks need to be spread logically according to the individual's needs)
  • Allows for differing extra-mural and personal schedules
  • I only have to check/mark homework once a week!
What I didn't like about it:
  • In Maths I can't imagine not giving immediate review work on each day's concept and expecting it to be done before I cover the next concept
  • Requires a lot of forward planning
  • I can't necessarily control every itty-bitty bit of homework - what if I really need this done, now?
Based on all of these concerns, I decided not to bring the Homework Menu into my two Maths classes. Too much change at once and I know that I won't maintain it. Plus I still haven't solved the problem of how to adapt it properly to a Maths environment. Maybe it just isn't appropriate there and I need a different model? Watch this space - I'm still working on it!

But I took the plunge with my three English classes, and so far (nearly three weeks in) I am cautiously optimistic.

These are the bare bones of how I'm running the system:
  • I give out the Homework Menu (A5/6 sheet of paper) on a Monday (or Tuesday if I don't see them). It immediately gets stuck into their homework diaries, and I spend five or so minutes talking through the different options and taking questions.
  • The kids have to complete the main course plus three others (starters, appetisers, soup, desert etc...)
  • There is always at least one that they can leave out.
  • The following week Monday, I have an exercise prepared for them to work on quietly and individually in class while I call them up one at a time. I spend two or three minutes with each child admiring what they've done, discussing what they had trouble with and talking about strategies to make sure that they are more successful in completing the work next week if they didn't do it.
  • Currently, they all simply sign next to the task when it is complete, and bring some form of evidence to their "personal homework trainer" session with me. If a child is repeatedly struggling to get the work done, then I will call parents, explain the system to them, and get them to assist the child with his or her time-management and accountability. Then for that child, a parent signature will be required as well.
  • Once I've checked everyone's work, we mark any exercises that needed direct marking. I take essays home to read through (not mark), and sometimes read exceptional ones out loud to the class a few days later. And sticker them of course. A gold star makes everything better. 
  • I keep a record of completion. If a child has a perfect record over a number of weeks, regardless of quality, I reward them with a sticker in their books. Again, a gold star makes everything better.
What I like so far:
  • Homework admin focused on a single day rather than a little bit every day.
  • Personal attention to each child at least once a week
  • Choice for child, but control for me (I choose what the compulsory main course is!)
  • I get a sense of the types of task a child enjoys/consistently leaves out.
  • Lots of recognition for the child, but also lots of support. 
What I'm finding difficult:
  • Choosing valuable but more or less equally weighted tasks relevant to the current work we're covering.
  • Pacing lessons so that all the tasks are possible by the end of the week.
  • Seeing the long weekly admin session as an investment, not a waste.
  • Not giving "extra" homework during the week when I "just want them to finish this one little thing..."
So as always there are lots of positives, lots of things to work on. Overall, I like it. So far so good. We shall have to see how it progresses further...