Monday, February 28, 2011

Motivation and "Drive" revisited

Last summer, while on a road trip, I listened to the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink. It was about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and I was really struck by all that he had to say and how it related so wholeheartedly to schools. Well, in my life of unemployment in France, I have been looking for free ways to entertain myself when I am not playing the role of French housewife and was introduced to the website I am now completely obsessed with TED talks, which are talks, given at a conference focusing on creativity and technology for smart, rich people…from what I can deduce.

The subject matter is incredibly varied and pretty much every researcher or writer that I enjoy reading, can be found at a TED conference. Everyone from Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire) to Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, What the Dog Saw, Outliers) to Edward O. Wilson (biologist and ethicist) to Isabel Allende (amazing fiction writer) to Dave Eggers (writer and screenplay author) to James Watson (as in Watson and Crick- the discoverers of the double helix structure!) can be found giving talks that are extremely interesting. They also have talks given by politicians and policy makers, scientific researchers, comedians, etc. Literally, just about every person who I have looked up (except Bill Bryson but maybe they are saving him for the future) has had a TED talk and the last few weeks since I learned about TED, I cannot get enough. It is also searchable by subject matter and person and so I waste a lot of time here. But, I am not going to consider it wasted time, because I am learning so much.

I am probably way behind the times and everyone else has known about this forever. So, sorry if you already do. Introducing people to TED is not really the point of this, I just thought that I needed to give the background knowledge to set the context for the video and the ensuing discussion. Now, to get to the point…

I found a TED talk by Daniel Pink pretty much summarizing his book into about 20 minutes. So, if you don’t have time to read it, you MUST watch the video. I think that business people and educators alike will really be struck by what he has to say.

Click on the link below to watch the video:

Just to give some further information about the book and the concept, here is a repost of a few paragraphs that I wrote last summer regarding the book.

"Pink talks about how our traditional societal views of motivation are outdated. Prior to the industrial revolution, motivation was purely linked to survival and people’s actions were all in the name of satisfying basic needs. As our society became industrialized, and basic needs were being met, motivation became more related to extrinsic rewards/punishments like a salary, a boss micromanaging your every move, or fear of job loss. Eventually, extrinsic rewards/punishments became things like bonuses, commissions, and sales incentives, and I would think, in an educational setting, we saw the advent of letter grades and office referrals.

He equated these different types of motivation to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (which we’ve all discussed frequently in pre-service teacher programs and don’t even get me started on grad school!). In the beginning, the survival motivation was like the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy. However, as we’ve developed as a society, we’ve moved up that pyramid, and we are now in the “self-actualizing” top portion. Because of this, Pink argues, the extrinsic reward/punishment motivation is no longer applicable in businesses and schools. The research has found that extrinsic motivators might work marginally in the very short-term, but over time, are ineffective. This sure is interesting when you consider schools are basically set up on an entire system of punishments and rewards- and mostly punishments when you really think about it.

The tasks that we are now asked to do in many jobs are not algorithmic tasks that simply require a pattern of repeated behaviors. For most of Western society’s large corporations, these tasks are the ones that have been outsourced. The modern workforce requires creativity and innovation and the research that Pink cites claims that our outdated extrinsic motivators actually stifle and dampen a person’s creative abilities and that we need to have a societal business/educational shift into intrinsic motivators. It is interesting to me that businesses require all of this creative thinking/tasks (Pink calls these "heuristic" tasks) and that in schools, we are still asking kids to do a lot of rote learning and trivial tasks. This idea is what really got me thinking about how this relates to classrooms and schools."

I read this book before spending the semester in an educational system that is largely driven my external factors, i.e. performance on a set of exams. And, I read it before spending the semester in a school that continued to just tell me to “give a detention” every time I had an issue with a kid. Like, literally any issue that I can think of, I was told to give a detention and if they didn’t show up, the detentions got increasingly longer and longer (sharpening the stick in the carrot/stick analogy). Well, it doesn’t take a book about motivation to see that these didn’t work but now that I have some time to reflect, I can see that the system as it stood was going against everything research shows about motivation. (Ironic since the head of the school had read the book himself and we discussed how much it really meant for the world of education…maybe his hands were tied in terms of systematic changes!)

Also, all those weeks that I was required to have kids memorize pointless information (the minutiae of the iron blast furnace, the molecular structure of cast iron vs. wrought iron, the exact chemical reactions in the thermal decomposition of limestone, someone else’s bullet points as to why stem cell research was right/wrong, the list could continue for just about the rest of time…) there were only extrinsic motivators out there- the giant exams at the end. And, for the population of kids with whom I was working, they lacked intrinsic motivation by the time they were at the end of secondary school and a “sweeter carrot” or a “sharper stick” just wasn’t making a difference at all.

The system was so rigid and so overly structured that it didn’t allow for teachers to actually help students create intrinsic motivation. When I tried to do something outside of the ordinary for my juvenile delinquent section of kids, I was told instead that I should just have them copy notes straight out of the book or worse yet...give them a word search. Really? Really. I think that we forget sometimes that kids are humans. And, something an adult wouldn’t be motivated to do, a kid is likely not going to be motivated either. I know that there are some tasks that people “have” to do and part of being an adult is knowing how to have the perseverance to get through them. However, when your entire educational experience becomes one long stream of “just get through it,” which it was for many of my students, that is when the problems occur.

I am not making a blanket statement that there isn’t intrinsic motivation (for learning in school, behaving appropriately, etc.) present in many students at the school where I was. All I am saying is for those who lacked it, there really wasn’t a way that the system allowed for any manipulation in order to create it. At my new school I will have the opportunity to and at CBMS, I was able to employ many strategies to create intrinsic motivation in students. (Not to mention, this is one of the main tenets of Love and Logic, which I pretty much have established through this blog that I could be their #1 salesperson!)

I was struck again by his three big ideas of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose and how true this is not only in business settings but also in schools. I actually have a business example and this person will know who they are, but I am not naming a name here.

A friend of mine worked in an office setting where her job description should have allowed her to have autonomy, mastery, and purpose but she was often given either relatively menial tasks or just not enough to do in general. Then, she was micromanaged in those tasks to the point where she wondered why she even bothered to do them and why the person micro-managing her didn’t do them. She is a really motivated and driven person in general, but this lack of autonomy, mastery, and purpose created in her a general malaise toward her workplace, her company, and she viewed her workday as just an annoying and very boring way to pass the time.

She expressed feelings of purposelessness in her professional life and tried on several occasions to make her bosses aware of her underutilization. To put it bluntly, she had no motivation to succeed in her company and not even much motivation to do a good job- although her upbringing and internal sense of what is right and ethical still made sure that she gave her best effort to the tasks she was given.

They FINALLY heard her. Some restructuring happened and now she is extremely busy and utilized at work and they have basically restored to her position autonomy, mastery, and purpose…and guess what…she is extremely motivated and has a renewed sense of her professional life.

Why can’t we do this for kids? What is stopping us? They "complain to their bosses" through misbehavior, lack of effort, and extreme malaise (not just general as was the case for my friend!). Life is short. Why do we make kids sit through at least 12 years and sometimes 16 years of non-engaging memorization? What purpose does this later serve society? I realize that I am fixated with this idea. But, the inane crap we ask kids to do that we would never want to do ourselves infuriates me. Oh, and then we punish them when they don’t want to do something we’d never do- further decreasing any chance that they might have some intrinsic motivation. We’ve got to make some changes and soon! Modern society and all of our futures will not wait. (For solutions, see the book “Focus” by Mike Schmoker).

This man found a way to genuinely motivate kids and I found it amazing and worth watching. Watch how these kids are learning…not memorizing because they are told to…because they are so genuinely interested in learning- when given autonomy, mastery, and purpose!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Il faut vie dans la campagne...

I haven't had very positive blogs this week, so I am attempting to turn my frown upside-down!

Professionally related updates:
  • I'm going to visit Düsseldorf at the end of March!! I will spend a day at the school and two days checking out the city! Can't wait to see it- especially since I have already committed to two years there. By the way, my friend Rachel Larimore from CSU (GO NRRT!) has other friends moving to the Düsse this summer from the US! In her words they are "good liberals who like good music." Who doesn't love liberals who listen to bluegrass (Glenn Beck?)?? Yay for new friends!! And, how totally random!!
  • I get to go on a BUSINESS TRIP!! My school in Germany is sending me to Atlanta for a week in June for International Baccalaureate training. How fun private school life is going to be (not selling out public education, I swear...don't worry, in my heart I am still a public educator who believes that public education is the key to a participatory democracy!) because they have MONEY!! What? So fun. All schools could have money if people realized what a priority educational funding is and stopped whining about paying taxes so we can have good schools. How's that for 'good liberal?'

Besides the fact that I am tortured daily by the dramatic mealtime issues in this family, which have now even reached heights such as:

-won't eat bread from a certain bakery
-won't eat melted cheese IN something only ON things
-something eaten for the entire time I've been here suddenly becomes something disgusting

But, I just can't talk about it any more and I am trying to internalize that it is NOT MY PROBLEM. I sit in silence. As my cousin Lauren said, (she's a teacher too!) "I think that I'm the teacher of all kids in the world and they should all follow my classroom rules!" So true. I bet other teachers out there can relate to this sentiment. I always love kids at school and abhor them when I have to be around teenagers in public settings because they are not following "The One Rule," and I cannot remind them that they are "living below the line" when they are being obnoxious little shits. :)

I am heading out of here on March 18th- which will be bittersweet because I have had a lot of fun here despite the drama. It has been a great experience to renew the French skills that I had let go of since college. Obviously, to truly be "fluent" I would need WAY more time. For example, I don't know many idiomatic expressions nor do I know slang and still am thrown by certain verb tenses. But, I can generally communicate with people to survive life (okay, not Love and Logic type communication, but normal, daily life!) And, now that I'll only be a few hours from France when I move to Düsseldorf, I can hopefully keep it up a bit. Maybe I'll have some Francophones at my new school too! However, I will be trying to learn German and as quickly as possible so I can do normal things like go to the grocery store, ORDER A BEER, etc. (Another aside...I'm full of new school has an all-school happy hour every Friday!!)

I haven't posted any pictures recently of my housewife projects which have continued. I've done less photogenic projects lately like peeling lots of wallpaper and picking up pony poo. Also, I read a lot here so there's not much to share about that on a blog...yet...because I did discover a whole area of research I was unaware of..."Third Culture Kids!" So, stay tuned for updates on my latest nerd endeavor. (Third Culture Kids are those who have grown up outside of their parents' home culture, in another foreign culture(s) and their nomadic lives create a 'third' culture with others who share their characteristics...more on this later when I finish reading my first book!). It was suggested reading for my new international school!

So, here are some pics of the latest projects and happenings...haven't been a tourist much lately. But, in the few weeks I've got left, I'll be tourist-ing it up! I've still yet to visit Mt. St. Michel but it has been so very rainy every day. Oh Colorado sunshine, I can't wait to see you!! Düsseldorf is apparently nicknamed "Drizzledorf" so I'm going to have to soak up as much blue sky as I can when I am home for the summer. You don't realize how much GREY sucks until you live in GREY every day! **

**As an aside, last semester, I had to teach about the rotation of the earth, etc. I was telling the kids to really picture how the light is different in different seasons and how when I picture memories from different seasons, the light is different in my memories. Specifically, I always picture CSU homecoming parades in Fort Collins in the fall with all of the yellow leaves on Laurel Street and how I love the light on bright, crisp Saturday mornings in October...wait...I'm getting veklempt...One of the kids raised her hand and said, "Uh, Miss Swanson, it is cloudy here almost all the time. We have no idea what you're talking about!" **

Now, some pictures...

I made a goat cheese tart. It was awesome!
(Didn't even try to make Picky McEatsnothing even taste it!)

The cows next door!
You should hear them mooing in French. Hilarious.

Madonna, the pony, meets Peggy, the lonely donkey. They were both excited!
Peggy brays all day long. Hello herd animal being left alone.
She is caused major distress, it is sad...AND LOUD!!!

For Steven's birthday I made a three-layer chocolate tart.
It had three types of ganache: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.
It was totally fat free. Not.

The tart before cutting. Ignore the slightly burned crust, it was my first attempt!
Someone forgot to buy candles so we had to use this.
We sang to him in English and French. Delightful!

Crèpes? NO! Les Galettes.
Galettes are similar but are made with whole wheat flour.
They are a specialty of the Bretagne region and you eat them with savory things.
This is the ONLY food that Whiny McThrowsafit eats without grumbling.

I also made chocolate éclairs for Steven's actual birthday-day.
They were pretty darn complicated and time-consuming considering it took everyone about 30 seconds to consume them. I don't think I could be a pastry chef, I'd get mad that people ate my creations too quickly after all of my time and effort.

Before filling them....

The chocolate filling. Yum.
They have an induction stove. I love it!

The dough.
Had to make the dough on the stove and then pipe it out with a pastry bag.
See what I mean by complicated??

Spring is coming! And, it was sunny one day last week!
This is the driveway up to the house!
I was proud of my photo skills because I digitally removed the car in the driveway.
I am now removing all wrinkles in pictures of myself (and others too if you pose with me!) now that I am getting proficient with this new technology. 29 forever, baby!

This is the outside of the cottage.
I have been spending many a day in here removing wallpaper.
This will be their prime vacation rental property when they get it all finished.
We go furniture shopping for it like 3 times a week. Make a decision already!!

So, that's my life right now. Exciting, huh? Please note sarcasm. No, really, I am having fun! I do miss a few being able to fully communicate with people in my native language (which doesn't even really happen in England, if I am going to be honest!) but it has been a great experience nonetheless! And, I know I will always have a French Manoir that I can visit in the future! Can't wait to see it all renovated!! And, OF COURSE I miss ice in drinks. But, this is just a fact of life once you cross the Atlantic. I just don't get it.

Also, my good friend Megan just started a blog and I think it is going to be fantastic! There is a link to it on the side of my blog, but here is the link so you can just click to enjoy!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Repeat performance...

In case anyone is wondering, we just got to have an awesome repeat performance of yesterday's mealtime antics this evening. And, it was literally exactly the same except this time after the dad stormed out, the little guy got to have chocolate dessert provided by his wimp-out mom! I just want to scream, "HE'S PLAYING YOU!!!!" (Oh, and during all of these exchanges, the 9-year-old talks only in a baby voice.)

Good times.

My head might explode.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I could seriously make a Love and Logic video with what I just witnessed...

I just watched a 9-year-old exert complete and utter control over his parents...AND WIN!!! And, this was one of many similar instances. So, as a Love and Logic person, I just have to share this story.

For those not familiar with Love and Logic ( I will quote their website.

"Love and Logic is a philosophy of raising and teaching children which allows adults to be happier, empowered, and more skilled in the interactions with children. Love allows children to grow through their mistakes. Logic allows children to live with the consequences of their choices. Love and Logic is a way of working with children that puts parents and teachers back in control, teaches children to be responsible, and prepares young people to live in the real world, with its many choices and consequences."

It is a theory where parents create choices (or teachers) in which they would be equally happy with either option while the kid feels like they have some control. So, a non-example would be, "Do you want to eat peas or a piece of cake?" Duh. What option is the kid going to choose? A better option would be "Do you want peas or carrots?" or "Do you want your peas on the side or on top of the other food?" Two choices that are equally likable to the parent. The example that Love and Logic always gives is this, "Would you rather carry your jacket or wear your jacket?" The command, "PUT ON YOUR JACKET!" often just results in a power struggle.

In a classroom this can look like this, "Do you want to write with pen or pencil?" "Do you want me to choose your partners or do you want to choose?" "Would you rather do this on lined or unlined paper?" Simple, easy things like this where whichever option the kids choose, the teacher is happy with the outcome.

Love and Logic allows parents and teachers to avoid power struggles. And, it is about logical consequences. "Don't like what's being served? Bummer. I guess you'll be hungry this afternoon." You're never going to let the kid actually go hungry long term, but a logical consequence of not liking what's on the menu is that you're stomach might growl a bit. Sad day. Maybe I am cold and unfeeling and if I had kids I would think differently, but it is hard to sit and watch a 9 year old have complete control over the family. The rest of the family often only eats what he likes most of the time too just so they can avoid scenes like today.

Now, I know I'm not a parent and I know that when you are a parent, you think that people without kids don't know anything about parenting. While this is likely true, however, teachers without kids, have an advantage, in my opinion. And, as a Love and Logic devotee, I can recognize when someone needs Love and Logic...and badly!

That brings me back to my story...

Every day the youngest child in the family comes home for lunch. This is fairly typical in France, and, his school doesn't have a cafeteria at the moment because it is under construction. As I've said before, he is an extremely picky eater, but today really took the cake.

We had Turkey Cordon Bleu today for lunch which is a turkey breast stuffed with ham and cheese, battered, and baked in the oven. As soon as he walked in the door and made a dissatisfied face at what we were having, I knew it was going to be a rough lunch. He wouldn't eat it, which is not very surprising. So then the yelling begins. I just sit there while both of the parents first try to convince him that he likes it, then cut it up for him, then straight out yell and threaten while he just sits there pushing the food around his plate. Some version of this happens pretty much every single day at least once...sometimes with dinner too!

After several agonizing minutes of this, he just sits in front of his plate. The mom gets mad and storms out. The dad gets mad and storms out, and I was clearing the dishes while he just sat there. Well, here's why he does it: if he holds out long enough, they ALWAYS give in. As soon as the dad had stormed outside, the mom let him have his giant daily bowl of plain yogurt with about a whole cup (and this is not an exaggeration at all) of sugar on it. OF COURSE he isn't going to eat the healthy option when he knows that if he just throws a fit and holds out until everyone is angry, they are totally going to just let him have what he wants. As an outsider, I can totally see this happening every single day. I think today he even had a little secret smile as soon as the give-in occurred because he knew he'd won.

I know that really, I don't own this problem (as my mom would say!) but it is hard to sit through this several times a day since the yelling and screaming is really unpleasant for everyone involved. This is a really sweet, loving family until mealtimes come around. And, the youngest kid is a sweet, loving boy until he takes control and sidelines every meal with his pickiness. Love and Logic would just say to buy them a book or CD but they don't speak English and that's not an option. Plus, I think the mom might just always give in as she has a hard time putting on her big girl pants when it comes to things like this. She is convinced he is going to starve to death at school during the afternoon. Ironically, if he had just held out until after school, the kids are allowed free reign on a giant basket full of sugary snacks and they literally stuff their faces around 5 pm every day with about 5-6 cookies, several pieces each of toast with nutella, and lots of chocolate. Is it any wonder that mealtimes are a major issue on a daily basis?

I know I am being super judgmental since I am not a parent, but the teacher in me wants to TEACH but I just can't...and voilà...a blog entry. I ordered her the cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld that hides vegetables in foods kids like so hopefully that will help. I've been told by others with picky eaters that it is really helpful!

So, I will just sit here and say nothing because I am not sure I can explain Love and Logic in another language, and it is not my problem. But, I think I am enough of a fixer, and I've been living with this family for about 6 weeks now that I want to help them since they all seem so miserable about this. Oh, Love and Logic, you need to start making materials in every language- there are people around the world who need you!!

So, that's that. Just going to keep all these experiences in my back pocket should I ever have a super picky eater, or a kid in a classroom who adamantly refuses to do anything. (I should say in case I have a kid like that...again...because I've had many!)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sometimes it is great to be a packrat...

Happy Valentine's Day!

Normally, I protest this holiday, but these cards were just too cute to pass up! My mom saved any extra cards when we were kids and so now we have some excellent 80s-90s cards!

I'm going to make some heart-shaped cookies for the boys to decorate when they get home today. Maybe we can write on them in English to practice our words!
Lots of good plays on words with Valentine cards!

Very fitting since I'm in France!

This one is the best. Has to be from about circa 1985-ish.
My brother was a California raisin for Halloween around that same year! Awesome.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Found out that I have until mid-April on my warranty and that I can't live without my computer for two weeks while in France. So, I'll wait to get it fixed back in England. I'm's true.

I have just read the first half of the book Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning by Mike Schmoker and I think that I am ready to be back in a classroom!! Schmoker argues that we have gotten utterly ridiculous in terms of the volume and breadth of our state and national standards and that we need to cut them to 40-50% of their current levels and focus on the truly essential ones. More on this later…but most importantly, he thinks that in every class, regardless of content, we need to focus on the following four standards or habits of mind: (Page 38). Not only do we need to focus on them, but they should be central to every instructional decision in the classroom and to how we view the standards.

1. Reading to infer/interpret/draw conclusions

2. Supporting arguments with evidence

3. Resolving conflicting views encountered in source documents

4. Solving complex problems with no obvious answer

He argues that all of these require students to have a deep level of content understanding in order to complete them, and so even if we are cutting the amount of content standards, we are doing students a great service. They will have opportunities to think deeply and really understand content instead of just having a few facts committed to memory that they then forget quickly.

When I think about “preparing students for adulthood” in a democratic society where everyone has the opportunity to vote, these four habits of mind, are crucial. From a science perspective, many of the issues students are going to vote on in the future have a scientific background, so of course they need to have a conceptual understanding, but more importantly, they need to have the skills listed above. Life is about “solving problems with no obvious answer” most of the time and if we are not preparing students to do this in school, what are we doing?

Most of his arguments focus around having embedded, authentic literacy practices in every classroom almost every day. This means that students are truly engaged with a variety of texts and that teachers are providing opportunities for reading, discussions, and the four “new standards” listed above on a regular basis. He also stresses that teachers should be modeling and doing think-alouds about how to read text and how to annotate in order to infer/interpret/draw conclusions, etc. There is so much information constantly coming at people (I think I heard somewhere that the amount of information in the world doubles every 40-some days or something like that!) that unless they have the skills listed above, they won’t be able to survive and thrive in the modern world. So, bye-bye canned programs…hello real instruction!

**(On a quick aside- at my school in England, I was observed doing a think-aloud and lots of modeling and a gradual release lesson on how to read scientific text, and I was told that it was a waste of time! That was definitely not the school for me!)**

Schmoker talks about how focusing on these four habits of mind, while also focusing on only 50% of the standards, allows students to really learn and that teachers can slow down, include many checks for understanding, and ensure that all kids are truly understanding. How many times have I heard people say, or said/thought it myself, “Well, I taught it. If they didn’t get it, that’s not my fault because I taught it.” HA!

Ummm, yeah, it is my fault if I “taught” something and my students didn’t “get” it. I always was shocked in college courses when a teacher would grade on a curve so that a 45% was an A or something like that. Even then, before I was a teacher, I used to think that if students were doing that poorly in your class, maybe the teacher should do a little re-evaluation of their teaching practices.

I am sure that many teachers and standards-writers reading his book will be mad that the implications of it might be that people might have to give up their “pet unit.” Well, (and this is probably why I wouldn’t be a good administrator…not tactful enough) if you are doing a unit just because it is interesting to you, and not what is good for kids, then you shouldn’t be doing it. He talks about how to determine what standards should stay and which should go (page 47).

Endurance: Will the standard provide students with knowledge and skills beyond a single test date?

Leverage: Will the standard provide knowledge and skills that are of value in multiple disciplines?

Readiness for the Next Level: Will the standard provide the students with essential knowledge and skills that are necessary for their success in the next grade level?

He says that schools, departments, and teams need to sit down and go through the processes of cutting down the standards to a manageable, focused, and essential level. I’m glad I won’t have to be the manager of that, as I can see that being a tough process where many people will be upset. I’ve been to plenty of meetings where teachers just sit around a bitch about everything so I’m glad I don’t have to be the facilitator of the “cutting down the standards” meetings!

So, basically, reading this, just made me really excited. I hope this is the way the pendulum is going to swing. I think it should. It makes me even more excited to be out of a system that is just driven by exams to the exclusion of everything else.

I think Schmoker is dead-on. I also think that this is what PEBC has been saying for a long time. If you are reading this and not familiar with PEBC (the Public Education and Business Coalition- they are an amazing organization based around the ideas encapsulated in Schmoker’s book. (At least so far in the first half, so I hope I’m not jumping the gun by saying this!) Any school that has had the opportunity to be involved with PEBC will likely be ahead of the curve here in terms of what Schmoker is saying…it won’t be earth-shattering information to them!

If you aren’t an education person and you’re reading this blog…sorry…I am isolated from my professional colleagues in my current situation and have no other mode for discussing this great book. But, any teachers out there…read it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Last entry for a bit...Mac stores are slow!

Figured I should update because I am going to have to be Mac-less for 10 days while I take mine in to get repaired AGAIN. Stupid edge is cracked AGAIN but I want to get it fixed for free while I still have the plan. I'll have email/FB/skype, etc. just not blog updates!

Today I spent half the day in a French school with a science teacher. It was really fun and just reiterated to me how being a teenager is more biological than cultural (again with my vast knowledge of three cultures but I still think this anyway!)! I spent time in two biology classes while they were performing an experiment to look at the rate of oxygen production in their study of photosynthesis. That was my French word of the day- "taux" for rate. Also, I learned "slope" (pente) as in the slope of a line on a graph. It is great that math and science are really their own language because even though I missed some of the words, when she wrote the equation for a line on the board (y= mx +b) and then reminded them how to find the slope, I knew exactly what she was talking about even if I missed the French.

The kids all gasped with excitement when she told them that I was a science teacher visiting from the US. It was totally cute.

Please notice the shaggy haircuts and the hoodies. This could be any American high school!

I won't get into the whole edu-babble of talking to the teacher about how she plans, etc. But, for those who know me professionally, you know I asked all of those questions and struggled through in French to find out about objectives, planning, curriculum, and assessment. Why oh why am I such an edu-nerd??

A few little things from the morning:

- Just when I was looking around and remarking that nobody was sneakily using their phone, "pierced nose girl" looked around slyly, got out her phone and began texting covertly. This is just a reality in schools. Maybe we can figure out a way to embrace it. Like maybe, you could have silent work time and the kids could text you their questions or something! :)

-Many of the girls also have the "super side part" like our girls did at CBMS where they part their hair way in the back and then wrap their bangs around their forehead to the other side. If you've seen it, you'll know what I'm talking about.

-There was a nice, friendly relaxed atmosphere in the classroom which was really enjoyable after my crazily psychotic, 32-kids-in-the-class science class last semester. There were 17 kids in the room because they split them if half once a week for lab practicals which are called "TP- Travaux Pratiques." I will have about 14-16 kids per class in Düsseldorf and this will be kind of hard to get used to but amazing!

-As soon as the teacher wrote the equation for slope on the board, all of the kids groaned and said "This is science class, why are we doing math?" WOW! Some things are the same everywhere!

In other news...such as my French housewife life at the Manoir....

Last week and weekend, Steff and I got crazy with the projects. She has had all of these things she's wanted to try and now that I am here and she has somebody to do them with. And, we decided to brave it and make some American food for them to try. I should say "American" food because I made chili but I'm not sure if you can call it chili since I couldn't add garlic and only a tiny tiny tiny speck of spices because they think all food is too spicy that I make!

We also did a lot of Manoir chores, shoveled lots of pony poo, created a compost pile, and this week we'll be stripping wallpaper. Or, "wall-a-paper" as my dad says.

Léo got to ride around on Madonna in the corral! Her baby, Apache, was freaking out and running all over the place while this was happening but Léo was really excited!!!

French Super Bowl Party! I made red chili and white chili and beer bread. Everyone (except the picky picky picky picky Léo) ate it and liked it! For my bowl, I had to dump half the bottle of cumin so it could have actual flavor.

My giant, fattening American dessert.
Apple Cobbler from the Land o' Lakes website so you know it was bad!
But, delicious and even Picky McEatsnothing ate it!

We made Chestnut Jam. After all was said and done, I didn't really like it.

These are chestnuts after you peel them, twice. It was actually really annoying.

You have to remove the shells (which made my fingers bleed!)
Then, you have to boil them and remove the inner peel.
I don't think I'll ever be making chestnut jam again. Plus, it tastes weird.

And, we made homemade yogurt. Chocolate.
It was easy and Steff has a yogurt incubator!

So, this week I will go back to the school two more days! Should be fun!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Few more pictures...Dinard...the retreat of the English

Last Sunday, my delightful French family took me to another town nearby called Dinard. Dinard was a vacation spot for the filthy rich during the 1800s- especially the filthy rich from England. So, there are giant mansions all over that are all boarded up for winter, because apparently, they are just too big to heat in the winter, so nobody lives in them. To me, they all kind of looked like haunted houses, or like the house in the Lemony Snickett movie, but beautiful nonetheless.

Here are a few pictures. I bet it is especially nice in the summer when it is warm!


View of Saint Malo from Dinard. They are just across the water from each other.

Giant cliff-side houses in Dinard right on the beach.

I just like trees because I'm a nerd.

Lemony Snickett house?

Apparently, all of these little islands have restaurants but they are only open in the summer.

More beach.

Apparently, Alfred Hitchcock spent a lot of time in this town. I can maybe see some of his inspiration in this house. Beautiful, yet a little spooky!!