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Standardize This

Today begins the season, yes season, of standardized testing for my kids. My kids have to take between 12 and 15 different standardized tests in little more than the next month. Six or nine session of the Dakota STEP. SAT 10. DAC’s and finally DRA.

I have realized several things from all of these tests. (1) Money, Money, Money. (2) We test our kids all the time.

(1) Money, Money, Money. Standardized testing has now become quite a lucrative business. Companies want to get in the process of creating these tests, because it means then that they can make tons of money selling these products to school districts. Once they sell the tests then they can start selling the practice books and study materials to parents so that they are just doubling up on profits.

(2) As I have said, we test our kids all the time. It is past the point of benchmarking and finding out useful information it is almost kind of absurd. Is there a way that we can standardize the standardization of tests. There are just too many of them. Also, if we made it online and nationwide, we could do it briefly every month, get viable information throughout the entire year and perhaps guide our instruction. If it were nationwide, then we could actually compare apples to apples to see how students are doing across the entire country and where we should be providing more support.

One of the interesting things about standardized tests is the way that they are processed. They have to be flat and unfolded. You know the deal. Well today we started on of our tests and one of my students after working for about 5 minutes announced to the entire class that he has finished. I went to his desk and asked him if he had checked his answers, or if he had just bubbled in randomly. To this he responded by repeatedly saying ‘shut up.’ At this point it was important for me to remove myself from the situation, so that I didn’t distract that other students who are actually attempting to do their work.

When I left his desk he responded by crumbling up his paper, attempting to throw it in the trash. He also pitched his test booklet, calculator and ruler. I suppose you could call that a 4 in 1 deal. Nice huh? Luckily this makes the entire testing sheet useless. There goes the test we completed early in the morning.

I notified my lead teacher of the situation. Besides all of the paper work and things that I have to fill out, they might also invalidate that section for everyone in my class, because of one unreasonable student. Really?! Why does one person have to cause trouble for the entire group?

As for the future of standardized tests, I must save that to another day when I am gathered, collected and thought about things.

D.

I have a new mission.

The Founding Mother (who I shall call WK) of the organization that I work for has yet to visit our region. I know that she is busy and has dozens of regions to deal with all across the United States, nonetheless, I think the South Dakota corps could use a boost in support. Not that we need additional oversight, but being as rural and as small as we are it’s hard to feel anything but somewhat neglected. I think her visit would bring lots of excitement and energy within our small group of teachers. Like our students, we just want to be supported. It’s nice to feel special, it’s nice to feel like you aren’t Home Alone’s Kevin McAllister who is constantly left at home whenever your family goes on vacation.

Therefore I am announcing my new mission.

Mission Entirely Possible: Bring WK to Mission. I have a plan of action that has been ‘purposefully planned’ and now simply needs to be ‘effectively executed’ to insure maximum effectiveness. My thought is that our corps create a calendar in which every corps member are given a specific day to email the Founding Mother. The email would include a personal story about teaching a specific student and an ending line with something like “we hope you visit us in the coming year.” We do this every day until Mission Entirely Possible: Bring WK to Mission is accomplished. If after 1 month we see no progress then we up the ante by ‘continuously increasing effectiveness’ and sending an email with a picture each day. If that doesn’t work then we bump it up to two emails a day. If that doesn’t work I don’t know where to turn. Besides Star Wars.

Help us Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.

D.

For many months my roommate Zach and I have argued over how to make the commonly named ‘Egg in a Basket‘. We call it Holy Toast which I just learned is something entirely different. In V for Vendetta it was called ‘Eggy in a basket’ and has numerous other names.

Whatever you would like to call it, Zach and I had a dispute over the size of hole that you should make for the egg. He always favored a smaller hole, and I a bigger hole. We could not find compromise on the size of the hole. The cup he liked using, in my opinion, had too much of the egg coming out on the toast. The cup I liked using, in his opinion, cut out too much of the toast. It went this way for months with no resolve…until today. We discovered a cup that meets both of our needs. A tea cup in fact. Cool story right?

On to the pineapple. Back in college, one of my friends Tara grew a pineapple (appropriately named Spike) out of the stalk of pineapple she cut up from the store. While at Kate’s house I told her of this wonderful idea as they had just cut up a pineapple. She was skeptical, and after several weeks told me that putting the pineapple in water had done nothing more than create a ‘cess pool’ of sorts. Overly dramatic. But nonetheless troubling as I knew it was possible to do this. Of course, I went and bought a pineapple at the store. Today I carved it up and began the process of growing it. It’s really quite simple. It took about 10 minutes and I have it all set up.

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Hopefully in about 3 weeks I will have some little roots that are ready for planting and will start growing a pineapple of my own. This made me think about how awesome it would be to start my own greenhouse of sorts. At home my dad always has multiple plant projects. When I was home over easter break he had dozens of cups filled with avocado seeds waiting for them to germinate. Pineapple. Avocado. Basil and much much more will soon be in the works.

I was thinking it would be sweet to have like 40 or 50 pineapple growing so that once a month or once every couple of weeks you could have a fresh, homegrown pineapple to eat and then regrow as you just take off the top stem. Of course the investment in soil, potting materials, lights and so on will probably be far more expensive, but it will be pretty cool.

D.

Matrix Reading

Today I had 8 hours of Choice Theory training. It went pretty well, but also let me to have many random thoughts throughout the day. When I am confined in a room and asked to sit and think about one topic it is not enough for me. I start thinking about tons of random things. Sadly I often forget these things as I forget to write them down. You are lucky, because I remembered one of my random ideas during the day.

Usually these ideas are lost in the deep recesses of my mind where they will stay until I can conjure them to the forefront of my mind for a second change. It is based off the Matrix, so if you haven’t seen any of the movies I suggest you stop reading this, immediately rent the trilogy, watch all three and then return to this blog….

Okay good. Now that we all have the necessary background we can move on. In the first Matrix we are exposed to the process by which they learn new skills, martial arts and training programs. Downloading. Since they are hardwired, literally, into the computer system they can automatically upload any information into their brains through that freaky huge needle/plug in the back of their head. We see Neo learn how to fly helicopters, become a martial arts master. Although we weren’t exposed to it, due to his extremely philosophical nature I would guess that they gave him knowledge of the great philosophers over the ages, they also probably exposed him to some Jane Austen as he is able to sweep Trinity off of her feet. We can also probably throw in the Bible with all of the God/religion references.

This got me thinking. What is reading? Like in the philosophical and most fundamental sense. I realize that upon reading this last sentence many of you will stop reading. You were at first excited, and then you were like, ugh, a philosophy question. Devastating. But honestly, think about it. If you could download every book every written so that you could remember every character, every plot, every setting and every word of the book would it mean that you have read them all. You have all of the ‘technical’ information needed to take part in discussions with other people. My question is have you really ‘read’ them.

I feel like the value of reading doesn’t come through the knowledge of who, what, when, where, and why in the book. The value comes in the hours, days and months that you slog through that book. It is that time that you are thinking about, assessing, comprehending and attempting to make sense of the book in the context of your life. This is what makes Crime and Punishment such an awesome read. It’s not knowing the characters or what happens or anything. It’s the fact that you have trudged through hundreds of pages of Raskolnikov sitting on the couch doing nothing. The value is the trudge and toil that you undertake to make it through. It’s the dirty pajamas, the waking up with book in hand, the old bookmark, the lying in wait for weeks at a time. That is the value of reading.

D.

Stumble!

Any of you that know me know that I am prolific at finding ways to procrastinate and do anything other than what needs to be done at the moment. This isn’t to say that I don’t accomplish what needs doing, but rather that I do what needs doing in the wee hours of the morning.

Want to watch a movie at midnight? Why not? How about we then plan a trip to the library from 2am-5am? Teaching has kind of hindered this part of my personality. I drive 35 minutes to work every morning, so in the interest of not crashing and not causing harm to myself or others I generally try and make sure that I am getting a decent amount of sleep. Also, teaching is a very demanding job. You have to be on while you are in the classroom. There is no room for messing around, if you aren’t on your game the kids see it and will utterly dominate and break you down until you are unable to prevent them from doing what they please.

After last year in college, I had kind of controlled or at least stymied my procrastinations until today. Last night I was introduced to StumbleUpon. Not only is the name phenomenal, because it describes how most of my life functions. I.E. I stumble upon good things and then go from there…mainly due to my procrastination. Basically it is an add-on for Firefox where you list numerous different preferences about things that you like or things that you think are interesting.

Then when you are on the internet with nothing to do you just “Stumble!” It entails clicking on a little button that then takes you to a website that is related to your interest. So if all you list is Tea and Greek Mythology it will only take you to sites that are related to those two topics. Basically, it is like internet browser ADHD. A lot of times people want to find cool stuff, but they just don’t know what to look for at that specific moment. This prevents that from happening. The program remembers your interests so that you can constantly be reminded of the things that you are interested in.

It’s utterly phenomenal. Just today I have discovered some awesome archive of movie fonts, a Greek/Latin site, some Buddhism sites, a wonderful tea site, a Shakespeare search engine thing and even a photoshop tutorial. It’s absolutely unbelievable. I am interested in all of these topics but probably never would have found these by just wondering around google for days. Also, these are the kinds of things that I would have to invest a lot of time and energy into findings, whereas with Stumble! it takes away that investment in energy, because it just seems like I am providing myself with something to do while I wait. Through that I discover the awesome things that I didn’t have time to peruse before.

There is only one foreseeable problem at the moment. Well make that two. First is that it may draw me further and further into a gloomy pit of procrastinative despair and two that I will just start filling up my bookmarks with sites that I have never looked at for more than 5 minutes. Both of these prospects are scary. Perhaps I should combine this with my lentil idea and instead of limiting my usage of Stumble! I can just tell myself that my goal is to Stumble! and fully read 5 websites for the day. That way, I’m using it for a very positive and productive way. It’s not necessarily bad that I use it. It’s bad if I use it all night and don’t use it well.

So, lentil #1. For the month of April my goal is to StumbleUpon and read at least 5 websites a day. There will be no bonus points given for extra websites that are read. 5. No more, no less. If you can think of any way to better incentivize these options please let me know so that I don’t give up my lentil vows.

D.

A Lentil Idea

The title seeks to not only contain the word lent, but also the word little. So you can either read: A Lent Idea…or A Little Idea. I also enjoy the literal interpretation of A Lentil Idea. Sadly, I’m not quite prepared or knowledgeable enough to write a treatise on the small legume…give me a couple years.

Back to lent and little ideas. I have never given anything up for lent except for this year. I decided to do it, because I was using Facebook way too much. Often for unnecessary purposes. I would be playing 30 Scrabulous games at a time and would constantly check updated photos and comments. It got to the point that I was preventing myself from being productive as a human being.

Through this process, I have decided that I not only need facebook to stay in touch with friends, but I have also gained the knowledge of what parts of facebook I want to use and what parts I want to throw by the wayside. Not having it has made me reflect on it’s use in my life and reconsider what I need it for. I was thinking though, that this shouldn’t just be something that happens once a year or for only one object.

We should constantly thinking about how we can better ourselves as individuals. Thus, I am starting the Lentil Idea. Each month I will give something up, in hopes of gaining insight into what I actually need and don’t need in life. Next month I either won’t be looking at the blog stats for this very blog or I will not be consuming alcohol. I have yet to determine, but I feel that either way I will be successful in making my life more productive.

I was also thinking about the idea of doing positive lent ideas. Instead of giving up a bad habit, what about taking on a good habit. Run every day for a month and see if you like doing it, and if it is something that you should do for longer. New Year’s Resolution’s always burn out. If you just aim for a month you can see the short term and then change your daily habits and behaviors in such a way that you are dramatically changing your life.

This will hopefully teach me to moderate my actions so that they can be more healthy and productive. Facebook is not inherently evil, but unbridled use and obsessions with keeping track of it can be quite detrimental to other parts of your life. Keep the good and pitch the bad.

Many of you are probably saying. Wow. Great idea Darius. It’s called grow up and change your life for the better. You’re an adult now, you don’t need Lentil Ideas to convince yourself to make your life better.

First of all, I would agree, I am not an adult. I will forever be a kid. A Toy-R-Us kid at that. We are all kids. Second, these lentil ideas are absolutely necessary because they provided the motivation and reason to do something that people usually lose in about 2 days. So here’s to systematically changing and bettering your life throw a Little bit of Lent every month.

D.

Sometimes

Besides being a vague word to describe how often something happens it is also the title of a wondrous Britney Spears song. Although some may argue that it is a rather awful song it will forever be burned into my memory.  Not only because it has amazing lyrics:

Sometimes I run
Sometimes I hide
Sometimes I’m scared of you
But all I really want is to hold you tight
Treat you right
Be with you day and night
Baby all I need is time

But also, because of the dramatic effect that it has. If you listen to the music video at around 2 minutes and 45 seconds you think that the song is going to drop out but then it takes you to an even further emotional high. Throw in choreographed dances, hearts made of back-up dancers, beaches and a pre-drama Britney. Absolutely delightful. One of my friends from college, Tim, actually introduced me to this song. It has also come to my attention that there are two videos on youtube of him performing the song.

Both of these were of course were taken without his knowledge. I love the fact that in both instances he was in my room alone and it was the same part of the song. I’ll give a play by play for each video so that you can better know the circumstances.

Sometimes (1) This one starts of at 1 second with me saying “Run it” Tim always sang this song and Steve always had his video camera on. Needless to say it was pretty easy to orchestrate. Perhaps my favorite part is 6 seconds when he realizes that he is being videoed. He does a classic ‘Big’ with a finger point.

Sometimes (2) This rendition has multiple plots playing out. In seconds 3 and 4 you can hear me yell “Abby, smell what I did!” This was another game we liked playing. You make a smell and then tell people ‘Smell what I did.’ Abby is actually the one that told me about the game. 12 to 13 seconds in you can see Tim laugh. This happens because Steve came into the room. He is actually holding the camera at his waist so Tim still has no idea he is being recorded and continues his singing. Does anyone else think it is awkward that he is hanging out in my room by himself singing Sometimes? Just a thought. The absolute highlight is when Tim is 19 seconds in and about to hit the high note when he sees the camera. Again notice he has the finger in the air. It’s a common theme throughout much of me and my friends lives. I suggest you take it up.

Well here’s to listening to some Britney and not only remembering the halcyon times of college but also the days when Britney made the cover of people magazine for more than shaving her head and being taken out of the clinic.

D.