An Unwritten Assignment

(This is an art installation, not a real assignment)

Discourse on creativity, reality, and interpersonal responsibility, in a paper comparing and contrasting Eleanor Estes' The Hundred Dresses and Joseph Mitchell's Joe Gould's Secret.
Touch also on the following questions:
1. Is Joe Gould a charlatan?
2. Is Wanda a charlatan?
3. What can we do to help students through writer's block?

For extra credit, include the following quotation from Rav Freifeld: "Everyone wants to be a rosh yeshiva, but no one wants to take two shvache bachurim and learn with them." Suppose Joe Gould and Wanda were chevrusos. Discuss.

Online Learning Programs

If you search online for virtual ed programs, the results are overwhelming: there are a huge number of programs out there.
Here's a place to start.

All virtual ed programs have their frustrations, but these are the ones that people I know (or correspond with) have used and either still use or recommend to others as strong candidates for consideration.

Programs I heard about from school administrators:
Connections Academy
FLVS (Florida Virtual) - merged with Connections
Edgenuity (I proctored students using this one -- let me know if you want details)
ALEKS (a math program)
Someone told me she wants to try Bonim b'Yachad; at this writing I don't know of anyone who has used it.

The following three are the programs that come recommended by parents homeschooling their kids on sailboats:
Laurel Springs
Calvert Academy
Oak Meadow

There are a couple of other programs out there that people I know have tried and cautioned me against using. They aren't mentioned in this post.

Craft activities for short occasions

I've been running craft workshops recently.
All of these are easy crafts for youngish (7-year-old and up) children, can be completed within an hour (or dragged out into more elaborate projects as necessary), and don't require a lot of advance training for the facilitator.
I like these crafts because although they are good activities to do with kids when you have an odd 40 minutes to fill, they teach craft skills that are more sophisticated than the average glue-something-to-something-else craft project.

All of these are Google-able for instructions and examples.

1.) Yarn dolls
2.) Polymer clay -- millefiori techniques
3.) Paper quilling
4.) Make candles (roll or dip; I've never tried using molds)
5.) Build forts in the woods, or fairy houses. Or, bring a bunch of twigs into the house and hot-glue them together to make fairy furniture.
6.) Needle felting
7.) Sew tiny bags, turn them right side out, stuff them with rice, and then sew buttons on them: several basic sewing skills in an hour.
8.) Paper marbling/suminagashi
9.) Basket weaving
9b.) also pine needle basket weaving, but you have to have time to boil the pine needles before you use them
10.) Daisy chains
11.) Weaving potholders

12 & 13.) Macrame/kumihomo, and origami. I separate these from the rest of the list because they demand a little more precision, so some kids have trouble with them.
14.) Pysanky. I separate this from the rest of the list because, while it is a kid-friendly craft that is a great way to fill an hour, it involves fire and specialty equipment, and you have to prepare lots of eggs ahead of time.

I haven't tried making temari balls. It really looks like too complicated a craft to be on this list, but it is such a little-known one that I think it deserves mention.

15.) Lemon crabs. This one isn't a craft, just something fun to do while babysitting: twist each corner of a paper towel a little, put a lemon under the towel, and roll the "lemon crab" gently across the floor. The crab-like way it scuttles across the floor is peculiarly charming.

Finding Books for Boys: a Growing List

One of my challenges as an English teacher is finding books that meet the school standards for appropriate content and that appeal to adolescent boys.

I went to the public library and said, "My students want to read about war and sports; what can you recommend?" and not ONE book that the librarian recommended met our school standards -- including Endurance and Hatchet.
I did find a great adventure memoir called In the Land of White Death, by Valerian Albanov, about a failed 1912 expedition in the Arctic.

The collection in the school book closet includes
Tom Sawyer
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Around the World in 80 Days
Animal Farm
Profiles in Courage
Johnny Tremain
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
The Phantom Tollbooth

To these I would add The Twenty-One Balloons, The Golden Goblet, and My Side of the Mountain.

Lord of the Flies is an ugly, violent story about the triumph of evil; but there is no romance in it. (The afterword published in the edition I see everywhere is not up to school standards.)
The Invisible Man is another ugly, violent one with no romance or profanity in it.
I have one student who has been very happy with Moby Dick but I haven't been through it recently to check for content.
A lot of kids are enjoying Sherlock Holmes -- same caveat.

Short stories:
There are a lot of good short stories (and very short stories) by Kafka. I gave the class My Neighbor and we got interested in whether the narrator is paranoid or reasonable -- that was fun.
I also gave out a few chapters of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. Much of the book is not appropriate; but each chapter can stand alone. These are slightly dystopian prose poems about imaginary cities: very boy-friendly.
Nabokov's Pnin consists of several chapters, each of which can stand alone as a piece of literature; some of these are appropriate.
There are a few appropriate short stories by Hemingway -- e.g., The Old Man at the Bridge, The Good Lion, A Day's Wait; I have one or two more here but I have to find them.

Memos from the We Would Never Have Guessed Dept.


Rabbi Oppenheimer (the rav who kicked off Portland's transformation into a model of a thriving Torah community) wrote this week here:

I have heard Rabbi Yissochor Frand שליט"א say on several occasions that when he was growing up in Seattle, they considered the Jewish community in Portland, Oregon to be a virtual עיר הנדחת.  The community seemed so irredeemably lost to Torah-true Judaism that there was no hope that anything positive would come from it.  Surely that was meant hyperbolically; it has been proven quite wrong...

Portland is now a community that other communities look to to find out how to grow a Torah community.


The other item in this vein is that I recently caught up with a middle school classmate who was able to fill me in on what the rest of our class is doing.
Pretty much every one of us is doing something that could not have been predicted from who we were in middle school.
The boy who slouched in the back of the room with his hair in his eyes is a rising star in the fashion industry.
The girl who never went anywhere without two spare pairs of high-fashion shoes is in rural South America organizing a farming commune.
The list goes on and on like that. Almost none of us seem to have proceeded in a straight line from who we were in middle school.

I look now at the class of middle schoolers I taught this year and realize that everything I think I know about them could be wrong completely.

Book Review: Never Work Harder than Your Students

I spotted Never Work Harder than Your Students, by Robyn Jackson, on a friend's bookshelf, but didn't have time to read much of it; took it out of the library; didn't have time to read much of it; and finally ordered a copy, which I am now quickly skating through.

First impressions.

The form of the book is self-helpy. It starts with a quiz; it has its own website; it occasionally breaks out with a term like "Master Teacher" that you sense the author is just waiting to trademark.

The content of the book is great. Some of it is obvious but all of it is getting good ideas crackling.

So, so far, I recommend it.

(The title is misleading -- it's not a book about keeping teachers from working too hard; it's a grab bag of pedagogical insights.)


Someone recently quoted to me an insightful comment by a teenage girl. She had been asked to describe her transition from attending a cozy small-town high school to attending a much larger high school in a larger community.

She summarized,
"I lost my mentors, and in their place I gained role models."


It doesn't sound to me like a value judgment in favor of one or the other. Others may read it differently.

The Sewing Books to Take to a Desert Island

I've been wanting to list a couple of how-to-sew books which, between them, cover everything any home dressmaker could possibly want to know: sewing; drafting patterns and draping without patterns; troubleshooting machinery.

It's tricky to make such a list, though: there are a lot of great beginners' "how-to-sew" books out there but most are not comprehensive.

Cal Patch's Design-It-Yourself Clothes, for instance, has beautiful sunlit illustrations, but teaches only how to sew knits. If you want to know how to use anything other than stretchy fabric, this is not your book.

Chinelo Bally's Freehand Fashion is also a friendly introduction to sewing; but she assumes that you want darts in all your clothing. Darts are a modern invention; I want to know how to create a fitted garment without them; ergo, this book also has its limitations for me.

A surprising number of books omit sleeves entirely.

At the end of the day, there are three sewing books in my library. These are the ones that work for me.

1.) I received the Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing book as a present. This is the one that explains, in its section on sewing machines and sergers, how to check and correct machine tension; it explains the construction of several types of seams; it's a good all-around reference. There is an extensive section on home decor, as well as instructions for using commercial patterns effectively.

2.) I added to it Elizabeth Stewart Clark's Dressmaking Guide. Yes, this book is self-published and written for Civil War reenactors; yes, it walks you through the creation of a number of garments the average 21st century civilian has no interest in wearing. BUT -- I still recommend it as an exceptional how-to-sew book, because it encompasses basic hand-sewing technique, the number one best way ever to sew on a button (a level of detail most books do not include), and touches on how to drape. The sewing projects in this book, 19th century or no, teach you how to construct fitted garments without ever drafting a pattern, which is unique in sewing books for beginners. This is the book I consult most often.

3.) I did, however, want to learn how to draft garments with darts and other modern details, so I added Dorothy Moore's Pattern Making and Dressmaking to the collection. There is a comprehensive review of it here. This explains how to draft pretty much anything, including menswear.

The three together do a fine job of covering sewing by hand or machine, draping, and drafting.

I have other books on the shelf - Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques (which will teach you something like the twelve best ways ever to sew on a button instead of the one - did you know Yves Saint Laurent braids its button shanks?), and The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, which is good for oddments like perfectly ruffled sleeves - but the three that are coming with me to a desert island are the three listed above.

Ugly Ducklings in the Schoolyard

There are two common weeds which grew in our elementary school yard for which, as a child, I never had any use. They were not good for mashing between rocks, like grass; they were not good for making into brooms, like the more feathery grasses; they did not have attractive flowers; they were not edible; and no one ever told me their names or anything interesting about them.

I'm writing this post so you can teach your students so they won't be so benighted; because it turns out that these two uninteresting plants that were always in the way when we wanted to make dandelion chains are actually some of the more interesting weeds in this region.

Common Plantain (Plantago major)

You can see pictures of this plant and read a little about it here: White Man's Little Foot.
Apparently, chewed up (preferably by the afflicted party) and held for some time on the afflicted area, it is immensely useful for mosquito bites, bee stings, and closing wounds. Do not take my word for it - do not ever take my word for plant use; I don't want that liability - visit the link above to read more about this and other plantains.
I heard about it from AyoLane Halusky.

Pineapple Weed (Matricaria matricarioides)
Pineapple Weed <-- read about it here.
The flowers look a little like pineapples; if you pinch them they smell a little like pineapple; and the flowers, which are apparently edible (according to the site above - please visit it to read about look-alikes and allergy warnings), taste "like a plant," said my daughter, shrugging; but, I would say, like a plant inspired by pineapple.
It was embarrassing to learn that this plant that I disdained through my entire childhood smells like pineapple. Who knew?