Monthly Archives: February 2008

Moxious or Noxious

Kids are funny.  Not as often as inspirational teacher movies, books, and Readers’ Digest columns would have you believe, but often enough.

This week, not laugh-out-loud funny but just situationally silly:

One of our students gets caught cheating on a quiz.  He’s barely started the quiz, when his eyes wander over to the paper of the (high-achieving) girl next to him.  The teacher takes the quiz away.  He starts to protest, then owns up to his cheating.  A few minutes later, he’s engrossed in… something.  This isn’t a kid who can often be described as “engrossed.”  The teacher wanders over and peers over his shoulder, to see him writing earnestly in his agenda: a list of superheroes, labeled “cool” and “not cool” (sadly, few of the female superheroes made the cool category).  The teacher, the same one who brought me my Moxie, requests a list of our kids for Monday, labeled “moxie” or “no moxie.”  After some verbal acrobatics, we settle on “moxious” or “noxious.”  Punchy Friday afternoon teacher geeks.

Meanwhile, one of my kids has told me his vacation story.  I’ll spare you the details, but it involved a “hobo” (yes, he really used that word!), a snowball, a chase scene, a plea for help to the police, a misunderstanding which landed him in the precinct getting frisked for drugs, and another snowball bringing the whole thing full circle at the end.  I raised my eyebrows a couple times when he told the story, but it wasn’t until I repeated it to some other teachers that I realized it was, while technically possible, highly implausible especially if you know this particular kid.  Hobos, indeed.

And then we were lined up in the hallway, waiting for a few kids to get it together for dismissal, when one of the kids started telling me that I might have to get “gangsta” on the stragglers.  Thus ensued a conversation about which teachers are gangsta (I am, sometimes, and it’s a good thing; a friend was gangsta for a week, but forgot the next week, not a good thing, apparently they need their teachers to be gangsta or they won’t behave).  Another teacher heard me warn them, a few minutes later, that I might have to get gangsta.  The kids giggled; she said, “Yes, you heard her right!  She really said it!”  Oh, you don’t know the half of it, I replied.

The best parent-teacher conference moment ever: I suggest to the parents of a kid who is failing and being mildly disruptive that they can set up a weekly system involving his progress report score, taking away his Playstation when he does poorly, giving it back when he raises his marks.  As I describe this system, the kid’s eyes widen and he gives a strangled gasp.  I think, for him, it was like watching Nixon’s people plan Watergate, seeing the conspiracy of power in action.  Or something; there’s a better analogy out there somewhere.



Filed under teaching

So, um, brussels sprouts…

I did not like them as a kid.

I did not like them no matter what Mom did.

I did not like them before dessert.

I did not like them with yoghurt.

I did not like them in a bowl.

I did not like them sliced or whole.

I did not like them when grown-up,

Hidden in salad, all cut up.

But in the store the other day,

I saw them and they looked green and gay.

Culinary battle-lines drawn,

I bought them: ’twas my Rubicon.

I sauteed them in oil ’til they sizzled

then o’er top lemon juice I drizzled.

And yes, you guessed it: they’re really good!

Or maybe it’s just the garlic.


Filed under food, randomness

Five is a Handful

Sometimes, you need a little Moxie. One of my colleagues brought some back for each of us from a trip to Maine. A little research reveals that we’ve had Moxie since 1884 with nary a pause: it’s “the oldest continuously produced soft drink in the US.” Oddly, Moxie came up in my comments today, too, but this one’s a parenting blog. Go figure.


After reading a review in this week’s New Yorker, I’m totally psyched to pick up Peter Carey’s new novel, His Illegal Self. You may know Carey from the True History of the Kelly Gang or possibly Oscar & Lucinda). It’s a little weird to quote from a book I haven’t yet read, but I cannot resist a book with lines like this: “Plans have changed, she said, getting all busy with a cigarette.”


And speaking of reading, it’s all about the brain, senses, learning right now: This is Your Brain on Music, The Emperor of Scent, and this article about how the brain perceives number, and how we learn to do things with numbers (more New Yorker for ya):

Dehaene’s work centered on an apparently simple question: How do we know whether numbers are bigger or smaller than one another? If you are asked to choose which of a pair of Arabic numerals—4 and 7, say—stands for the bigger number, you respond “seven” in a split second, and one might think that any two digits could be compared in the same very brief period of time. Yet in Dehaene’s experiments, while subjects answered quickly and accurately when the digits were far apart, like 2 and 9, they slowed down when the digits were closer together, like 5 and 6. Performance also got worse as the digits grew larger: 2 and 3 were much easier to compare than 7 and 8. When Dehaene tested some of the best mathematics students at the École Normale, the students were amazed to find themselves slowing down and making errors when asked whether 8 or 9 was the larger number.

Plus, Oliver Sacks has a new one out about sound and the brain, and Donald Plaff is investigating how the golden rule may be (somewhat) hardwired into our brains (this would have been a neat lecture but who can make it from the Bronx to Battery Park by 6:00 pm? Not me). But there’s a larger post in all this, because “Scent” was one of those life-changing books.


I’m taking my enrichment cluster kids to a violin-maker’s studio in March. We’re also going to Sony WonderLab.


My LEGO kids unbuilt the mission models which took us so long to build. It wasn’t destructive, just the outcome of days and days of play, of stealing pieces for other projects. Which would be fine except we’re entering an exhibition/tournament in early April, and suddenly we need to build what we unbuilt. And the pieces are all mixed together with pieces from previous years. Live & learn?


Nevermind that last bit, the REAL #5 is this:


Filed under article, books, food, music, randomness, robotics

Laptop Bootcamp

My kids are using the school’s laptops for the first time, typing their Sc!ence Ex?o projects. I’m doing things a little differently, having them start typing very early in the process, which is great because it doesn’t feel so much like a last-minute crunch, and it gives everyone something to do regardless of whether or not they’ve completed their experiment or not.

I started them off with very strict, line-by-line typing instructions, which turned out to work brilliantly because they are all learning tons of little tricks to type more professionally. I taught them to use the centering button instead of dozens of spaces or tabs, how to use bullets and numbers, how to insert a page break, how to make a table, and any number of other better ways to use Word.  I sell it to them as more grown-up ways of typing, and they are absorbing it like the little sponges kids tend to be around computers.  It’s really helping them, most of whom started out by turning capslock on and then off again to do basic capitalization at the start of a sentence.  Good grief.  When I think about what my upper-middle-class (or just upper class) Turkish students could do with computers at the same age, I know the tech gap is real and significant.  But that school had several computer labs and a couple hours of computer instruction integrated into the school week, and all those kids had computers at home.  Makes a difference.  Doesn’t hurt to have adults at home who are expert computer users, too.

Talking about this with teachers in the hall afterschool, I said something about Table Autoformat and another teacher was like, What’s that?  And I’m learning a thing or two, as well: today, some kids needed to split columns within a table to make a data table appropriate to their project. I suspected it was possible – after all, merging cells is possible – but had never tried it before. Voila! There it is, in the Table menu.

It’s all going remarkably smoothly, though we have only one – ONE – outlet in my classroom. One computer’s screen cracked in half when it was being used by some kids with another teacher, so we got it back this morning totally unusable, but I managed to retrieve the students’ work by attaching it to the LCD projector. But like I said, it’s all going remarkably well. I’m a big fan of small groups of kids working with a laptop per group; it’s so much more manageable than every kid having his or her own computer, and given the limited resource reality in my school (i.e, no IT person, limited electricity, etc.), it makes the thought of teaching with laptops appealing rather than nightmare-ish.


Filed under computer, science, teaching

For a friend’s birthday…

Sarah's birthday cake
Pic is fuzzy ’cause it’s from my phone. Genoise ladyfingers layered with chocolate mousse, whipped cream on top, chocolate shavings on top of that. So many eggs it was really one big chocolate omelette! Crazy rich. I might try it with a berry mousse come spring.

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Filed under food, friends, photos

More from Paris

The mechanical fountains outside the Pompidou Centre. It was dusk. Supposedly each fountain represents a symphony by… I forget. A composer. Surely this is easily googled.

mechanical fountains 3

And here’s a detail looking up at the outside of the Pompidou. Richard Rogers, the guy who designed this building is redesigning the Javits here in NYC. Inside the Pompidou was a pretty great exhibit of this architecture firm’s work and principles.

Pompidou detail

There is also a wonderful collection of modern & contemporary art in the Pompidou, but I don’t have any pictures from that (yet).

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Filed under environment, New York, photos, travel

Cupcake Combinatorics

tiny cupcakes In New York Cake & Baking Supply, earlier today…

Me (after perusing the racks of flavorings): Do you have lavender flavoring?

C&B guy: Flavoring? No. We have color. I’ve never heard of lavender flavor before.

Me: Okay, yeah, I looked for it, just making sure. Do you have any idea where I could get lavender flavor?

C&B guy: I’ve never heard of that flavor before.

Me: Well, I’m experimenting with new buttercream flavors.

C&B guy: Well then you need lavender color!

Me: No, no, I don’t actually want it to be lavender color, just flavor. Never mind.

C&B guy: I’ve never heard of that flavor.

Me: Never mind, I’ll just have to make it with tea or something.


Turns out that there’s no such thing as just lavender tea at Whole Foods. I get three salespeople on the case, but no dice. What I really need are loose dried lavender flowers to make an infusion, but there’s snow everywhere, freezing rain falling, and I don’t know where to get loose herbs in the city. So I’ll have to save the lavender experiment for another day.


I’ve made four or five dozen miniature cupcakes, in three flavors: vanilla, lemon, and almond. I estimated wrong and ran out of miniature cupcake liners, so the vanilla ones are actually heart-shaped tea cakes (disappointing, but what are you going to do?). And while the cupcakes baked, I’ve been soaking apricots, cardamom, and ginger in hot water (separately) to make infusions for interesting new buttercreams. I’ve also got blackberries (no, I’m not sticking to in season this time around), coconut flavoring, oranges, and any number of other fun spices and flavor ideas, like cinnamon, maple, mocha, honey, lemongrass (can’t do this one today, sadly). So my question is… which unusual flavor combinations sound appealing to you? Which sound dreadful?

Cupcake Flavors: lemon, almond, vanilla, chocolate, orange

Buttercream Flavors: ginger, apricot, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, pomegranate, coconut, maple, cinnamon, mocha, honey, lemongrass, lavender, rose, cardamom, cherry, yoghurt, pepper, jalapeno, coffee (not mocha), hazelnut, lychee, tropical fruits like mango, papaya, guava, cherimoya, lime, peanut, caramel, orange, mint, lime, chocolate, vanilla, cumin… anything else?

Today I am making, for certain:

lemon-ginger, vanilla-ginger

lemon-coconut, vanilla-coconut

vanilla-orange, almond-orange(?)

lemon-blackberry, vanilla-blackberry, almond-blackberry

lemon-apricot, vanilla-apricot

lemon-cardamom, vanilla-cardamom, almond-cardamom

almond-maple, vanilla-maple, lemon-maple(?)

p.s. These are all for a party a friend of mine is having tomorrow.


Filed under food, friends, New York, photos, randomness