Tuesday, January 20, 2009

a new approach?

Following my review of Gran Torino last week (and also posted with some edits on Facebook) some people agreed and some didn't, but it's all good. Still a great movie in my opinion. I hope you all liked it if you saw it, even if it didn't live up to my hype!

This semester out at Fresno State again for Turning Points Academy, I'm going to try something new. Due to lots of schedule changes and various other events this past week and a half, I've only taught two days! But starting again tomorrow, here's what I'm doing:

A normal instructional week looks like this for me:
Days 1-4:
10-15 minutes: Warm up, review homework
30 minutes: instructional time
10 minute: wrap up/practice

Day 5
Quiz (usually part homework-quiz where kids have to copy their work from the weeks' homework, as well as original problems to solve.)

But what I'm proposing is this:
Days, 1, 3:
Two lessons worth of material presented in one fell swoop. Homework the first night is simply to copy all of the homework down so that they can work on it in class the next day. Highly encouraged to try especially some of the later problems to know WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK in class the next day.

Days 2,4: Questions from copying the homework down are asked, and students given rest of the period to ask questions of each other, ask me questions, etc. Homework is to finish whatever didn't get done in class.

Day 5: Individual quiz after some review of the previous day's homework.

Because the days will cover more territory and hopefully be able to be all deep stuff, I should be able to cover the same amount of material. Last week it seemed to work exceptionally well.

For example, tomorrow and the day after I would be going over both polynomial division and synthetic division. Pretty similar topics, each better suited to cetain situations than others. By doing it this way, students can see the relationship between both topics and also the differences. Highlighting similarities and differences - and thus giving students the chance to choose for themselves - has been shown to be one of the most effective methods of teaching for retention;. Morover, giving more time in class for discussion and practice should be a great way to increase homework completion and thus comprehension. Also, the "every other day" approach is more like a college class, since we are on a college campus and everything...

- Cheating. While it should be easier to catch cheaters as their homework will be done in class, that's also where the chance for cheating happens... Hopefully the threat of a quiz will keep them accountable and their grades will suffer if they don't do the work. If they aren't working on anything in class (ie, they didn't do the first night's homework) it will be obvious.

- Crammed material: the trick will be to think of how not to cram too much lecture into the opening days. The goal overall is BETTER UNDERSTANDING, after all...

I'll try it for a month; giving myself time to adapt and the students to adjust as well. Then if I have to go back to how I was doing it I will have time to do so.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Torino is a car, but also a movie that came out (today?) with Clint Eastwood. Costarring Bee Vang and Ahney Her, it packed quite a wallop for me.

"The movie is basically about an old dude who gets fed up with the gangs in his neighborhood - and a strange group of people he calls the "Ha-mong" - (hmong is pronounced mong). Through getting to know them including facing a tragedy with them, he finds himself and rights a wrong - dying in the end as a type of savior."

That's what a review of the movie will tell you. And they just don't get it.

Fresno is home to a lot of Hmong people - my school included. You can wikipedia "Hmong" if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about - if you don't live in Fresno, you probably don't. Let's put it this way - I have an actual student named Bee Vang right now...

What struck me most about this movie were a few things:

- the portrayal of gangs: So much of the press is about how much they suck. And pulling no punches - they do. I've seen gangs chew kids up and spit them out - perhaps in a body bag. At one point the hmong gang protects the protagonist hmong boy Thao from a mexican gang ('appropriately' in a low rider... with the asian gang in a souped up small car aka 'rice rocket'). They then expect him to join the gang... which makes a lotta sense. Thao is smart and pretty weak - definitly takes direction from his womanly overseers - at one point he overhears his grandma telling his sister "he'll never be a man of the house."

Acceptance, protection, leadership. Hmm, not like that's anything teenage boys need or anything... oh and Thao's father is dead before we meet him.

The different slant on gangs was appreciated - as was how later they show the ugly side - a drive by where people get hurt... one girl in a deeply personal way.

Gangs are not a mexican, black, asian or white problem - they're a Fatherless problem.

the mentoring relationship: You aren't gonna see this movie trotted out as "how to change the world" ala "Stand and Deliver" any time soon. There are a lot of things Clint Eastwood's character subjects poor Thao too that are just kinda strange and he insists on calling him Toad until almost the very end - as well as a few other choice racial slurs. But it's all in love so it's understood. He does indeed teach him how to be a man.

the culture: It's totally ok if you don't know what Hmong are. But if I hear one more time that "hmong are good at math/school/science" I'm gonna punch someone. Some of them are - but because they work hard at it! Because the Hmong in the movie are actual hmong (many of them from fresno actually), I loved seeing a culture I know pretty well on the big screen.

I guess that's it. Today I spent most of my day with Meagan, and with a bunch of my students from school on a snow trip. We went last year and it was a hit. Today was no different. Good times, a new experience for several of them (as in, they live less than an hour away from the mountains but had never seen snow before.). It feels good to introduce students to something they wouldn't have seen unless the triathlon team existed...

So I guess because I see so many of my students in this movie, it was actually pretty emotional for me to see. How thin the line between not only them and gangs, but ... me and them? I mean - Clint Eastwoods character interacted/interceded even on these people's behalf, and it ended up causing a lot of harm. Sure at the end it was "made right" but I can't help but think of some of the students in whose lives I've gotten very involved. About how perhaps sometimes I do more unintentional harm than good. Interacting with cultures far different than my own has been one of the best things about being a teacher.

Last weekend after a run the group of us were invited back to the kid's house we used as 'base' for an awesome meal of Carne Asada, rice and beans, and mexican salad.

I've been invited to a Hmong barbecue before by a student. I was the only white guy and it was an awesome experience for me - although I learned I can't eat papaya salad too fast... it's very hot! (and made my forehead sweat much to my embarrassment)

That's not to say I don't think I've helped some of them or think I'm not making a difference. Quite the contrary - I was very inspired by this movie. A GREAT way to start the weekend before going back to school.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Volunteers make the multisport community go 'round!

I had a volunteer meeting tonight for Tri-this! and it went fairly well. Because we're just starting and I've done a LOT of behind the scenes work (like make contacts for different events, insurance information, etc.) there was a lot of me talking and them listening, but it was cool. The deeper I get into this, the more I see the essential work volunteers do to shoulder the actual workload of the dozens of events that take place in just the Fresno area alone, and it's hard to find people that are interested in multisport and want to volunteer too!

We are hoping to volunteer at some events this year in order to get our name out there (not being the Fresno PAL team anymore, etc.) and give back to the Tri community which has given back to us so much over the past two years.

Volunteering is what makes events happen and I'm looking forward to introducing my students to what I have found to be the greatest gift I can give as a regular human being - giving someone my help for free.

We also are still one board member short of being able to officially file for non-profit status. Gotta get that going...

hello 2009! - catching up

It's been almost a month since my last blog post. craziness. this year i'll be retooling the blog as i've long been talking about to make it more focused on teaching and coaching triathlons. especially as we start a new company and all that jazz... http://www.tri-this.org

The first week of our glorious three week break was spent with family and traveling. I love my family and I love meagan, but i gotta say i really just needed a day alone after it all was over. highlights included seeing my twin bro Daryll and his lovely wife Trish when meagan and i were down in L.A. and Meagan and I's One year anniversary on the 26th. Almost everything went according to plan which was awesome; including the sunset!

Then last week (week 2) was spent setting up meetings for this week and doing more relaxing. Oh, and lots of running. But nothing with kids or with math. However I did happen to see quite a few students around town which was strange. Also got to hang out with meagan and friends quite a bit which was fantastic.

This week started back to school activities. Saturday saw a run with a handful of kids then biking with Meagan and mike fast in the RAIN afterwards. Cold, wet. Sunday running then some awesome carne asada and home-made tortillas with a student athlete, which no many times it happens is always something special. I mean here are these parents of a kid whose life the triathlon team has really transformed. They hardly speak english and I barely speak spanish, but we respect each other and they genuinely care about me. It is at once a humbling and gratifying experience.

This week did some research on different things for the triathlon team. Specifically insurance, background checks for volunteers, sponsorships, a planned kids tri camp, and more! It is fun but almost never-ending! A meeting for tentative board of directors people tonight went great, although I need one more person before I can turn in the paperwork to properly incorporate. I'm excited though.

Tomorrow will begin some school prep stuff(talking with some students today I realized how much I sucked at teaching this semester. quote: "yeah, first period said you were always kinda just waking up and didn't really have a plan yet..." True i was just waking up, untrue I did actually have a plan, but yeah was usually hindered by the fact that i just woke up :-( ) and more triathlon team stuff mixed with relaxing.

i need to finish the 'series' on the journey of the triathlon team. maybe tomorrow.