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You Should Hear It

Tuesday, 27 Apr 2021, 19:26 GMT-0600

They came in before sixth period. Robert was holding a box with a cupcake. Daniela had something in a glass. Stephen, who came in last, was tagging along.

Daniela held up the glass. “Do you have a spoon, Mr. Hasan?” 

“I do!” I reached into the cabinet and pulled out a plastic spoon. 

Robert stepped forward, and for a moment it appeared as if I was going to have to decline a cupcake.

“Mr. Hasan, what does après un rêve mean?” 

“After a dream.” 

“You are right!” he said.

“Were you testing me?” 

“You should hear the song,” he said as he and Daniela turned to leave. Stephen followed close behind. 

“It’s opera,” Robert shouted from the hallway. “You really should hear it.” And he broke into song.

FOILed

Sunday, 25 Apr 2021, 21:29 GMT-0600

They were working together in a group on the other side of the room.

“Do you know how to FOIL?” I heard one of the students ask another.

“No,” she said.

Well, that’s not true. She knew how to FOIL once upon a time, since she passed Algebra 1. Nevertheless, that was two years ago, right?

“So,” he began to explain. “FOIL is…” 

At this point I got distracted by a question from someone else, and the group’s conversation faded away. Then I heard her speak up.

“Oh my god, I did it!” she said. “I did FOIL. Mister, I know FOIL!”

Of course, this was only the first part of solving the problem, since this is Algebra 2 not Algebra 1. I heard the other student continue to teach her… 

“Ok, now after FOIL, what you do is…”

Sweet, sweet music.

I Turned It In

Sunday, 25 Apr 2021, 08:10 GMT-0600

“Mister,” the email said. “I turned in my assignment yesterday, but your gradebook still says zero.” 

To be honest, I rely on students doing this. With assignments for remote students coming into Google Classroom and assignments for in-person kids coming in on paper, I sometimes mess up.

So I went to the gradebook. Sure enough her grade was a zero. And since she’s a remote student, I also checked Google Classroom. Sure enough she had turned it in. My mess up, right?

Well here’s the thing… Her email arrived in just after lunch on Monday. So she was pointing out that she had turned in the assignment on Sunday and that I hadn’t updated her grade before the end of the school day.

And here’s a further thing… Google Classroom showed that she had turned in the assignment at 11:00pm Sunday night. So she was pointing out that between just before midnight on Sunday and the middle of the next school day that I hadn’t updated her grade. 

I took my hands off the keyboard and breathed in and out. Fair enough. Everything she told me was correct.

“You are right,” I replied. “You did turn it in. And I see that you still have a zero.” 

Hands off the keyboard again.

“I do grade assignments over the weekend,” I added. “But not usually late at night on Sunday. Don’t worry. I’ll update your grade this afternoon.” 

Friday Free Time

Saturday, 24 Apr 2021, 17:29 GMT-0600

It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while our algebra classes end with nothing else for the students to do. 

“It’s Friday,” I said to them yesterday. “Let’s end with five minutes of free time.”

And with that, the students (every single one of them) took out their phones and the classroom settled into absolute unbroken silence. For five minutes, there was not a peep.

Much Better

Saturday, 24 Apr 2021, 16:05 GMT-0600

Like so many others, being remote didn’t work for him. He had been an online student for many weeks, but this cycle he had returned to school with others who had recognized (or whose parents had decided) that being at home was a disaster.

Now that he was back, things were going better. He would ask questions quietly when he was working on problems, just as he used to do. And he would check his work against the answers posted on the board to see if he was doing it right.

On this particular day, the students had the whole period to review for an upcoming quiz. There were eight problems — not many, but half of them required (horrors!) factoring. He walked to the board several times, looking at the answers and then returning to his seat.

“How’d you do?” I asked each time. He would turn towards me and nod with a slight smile on his face. He got the right answer every time.

Yes, things were going much better.

Asking For Advice

Saturday, 17 Apr 2021, 11:17 GMT-0600

Two girls giggle at their desk in the middle of the room. I look up. They are staring at me.

“Mr. Hasan,” one of them says as the other laughs. “Look at this.” She holds up her phone with a picture of a hand holding a spoon to a boy who’s about to put it in his mouth. 

“I gave him a spoonful of crushed tortilla chips,” she says.

“And he ate them!” the other one says.

They then proceeded to explain who this boy is and how one of them is trying to figure out how to ask him to prom. (Although he’s their age, he’s not a student at our school.) 

Ok fine. Except that they are asking me for advice. Not a good plan. For various reasons, prom is a blot on my memory. Whatever. I think to myself how I’ve wished someone had given me advice to just make sure your date has fun. Why was that not obvious? So I give them my answer.

“Here’s what I think,” I say. “Just tell him, Hey! I know something fun we could do…” 

The two of them immediately erupt into uncontrolled laughter.

Super Surreal

Saturday, 17 Apr 2021, 09:37 GMT-0600

Four students walked into the classroom. I recognized three of them.

“Mr. Hasan, meet Andrew.”

Andrew stepped from behind the others. He smiled and waved.

“Andrew!” I said.

“He’s just here today for the test,” one of the other boys explained. (That day the sophomores were all taking their English II standardized test.)

Andrew looked around the room as if he had never seen it, which in fact he had not. You see, he is a remote student so his view of the room is only what he sees in Zoom.

The boys picked up the handouts from the table by the door. (We have a red/blue color scheme to distinguish honors and regular classes. There are two credenzas by the door: a crimson one for the regular students and a cobalt blue one for honors. The first three boys taught him the difference between the two.) Then they walked to the back.

Andrew chose a seat recently vacated by a student who has transitioned back to being remote. They quietly talked and looked at the handouts. Then I heard chuckling and shuffling of papers.

I looked up.

Andrew was holding the handouts with one hand extended into the air and looking at them in mock contemplation as he rubbed his chin with his other hand. As a remote student, to him the notes and homework are always digital PDF files. So this was something new.

“Now this is super surreal to see these in physical form!” 

Midnight Math Mode

Thursday, 15 Apr 2021, 20:25 GMT-0600

“Mr. Hasan?”

“Yesss?” 

“Mr. Hasan, I need to do math at midnight.”

“I see.” 

“Midnight. That’s when I’m in math mode.” 

“Math mode? At midnight!?” another student said. “At midnight I’m like…” He tilted his head, rolled his eyes back, and hung his tongue out of his mouth.

No kidding.

I Feel Love #1

Sunday, 11 Apr 2021, 10:09 GMT-0600

It was a warm spring day. The sky was very blue. The temperatures were very warm.

I was riding along the Violet Crown Trail, going around a turn when I came upon a hiking mother and child. They heard my wheels, looked back, and stood aside. I winked at the boy and rode past. 

Donna Summer was playing in my ears: It’s soooo good.

I was standing on the pedals pumping as hard as I could. Then I turned off to the right onto a narrow, rocky trail that headed into a woods. I’m innnnn love.

Past Junipers. Under Oaks. And then out into a meadow.

Dried brown Frost Plant stems from last year stood five feet tall here and there amid a sea of spring green grasses and stunningly luminous Prairie Verbena. The trail wound around, undulating in tight turns through the vast green and lavender expanse. 

And as she drew out her I feel love, the trail turned quickly left and then right and left and right. Again and again, turning and turning, winding through the meadow. And as the electronic triplets beat and the droning song played I was at the top of a berm, over the top, down the other side, and into a dark tunnel as modulating electronic music took over. [1:43 in the video.] Goose pimples ran down my arms. She had stopped singing the instant the daylight disappeared behind me.

I was plunged into pitch black darkness. For all I knew there was a coyote standing in front of me. I could see nothing, squeezed the brakes, and pedaled cautiously toward the light at the end of the tunnel until my eyes grew accustomed to the dark. Then I stood again and sped toward the light, a lyric-less phase-shifting crescendo building in my ears.

Just as I broke out into day, she started singing again. Fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ freefallin’ freefallinnnn’ free.

OMG, I’m thinking, goose pimples returning, sweat pouring from my forehead. 

… 

Altogether, it was a good bike ride.

Collaborators

Sunday, 11 Apr 2021, 06:31 GMT-0600

1.

“Is there anything you want to tell me, Simon?” I asked in an email message. “I would like to talk to you about your quiz, but before I do that I’d like to give you a chance to tell me anything you think I ought to know.” 

You see Simon, who is normally an in-person student, was remote that day. Strange, I thought at first without paying it too much attention. But then perhaps not unexplainable, I began to suspect later, when I saw that Simon’s quiz was virtually identical to another student’s answers. 

They are close friends, and although Simon has been in-person, Simon’s friend has been struggling as a remote student. Accustomed to making good grades and tremendously frustrated by the challenges of being remote and some other perhaps more serious challenges at home, Simon’s friend was distraught.

And they seem to have collaborated on the quiz. Not only were their answers identical, but so were their mistakes. And they both coincidentally omitted the same problem from their turned-in work.

Simon fessed up in his reply. Moments later, Simon’s friend sent a separate message accepting all blame, asking that Simon not be penalized.

2.

They were truly busted. You see, I had not told them anything other than asking Simon if he had something he wanted to tell me. 

I sent the a message to the two of them — the first time we were all “talking together”…

First of all, I just want both of you to know that I am very proud to be a teacher of two students so dedicated to supporting each other. In so many ways, you both are awesome.

Secondly, typically in this case both students get a zero. This isn’t a typical case. I’ll give you what you scored on the quizzes you submitted. The scores aren’t particularly great, so there’s probably room for … improvement.

Here’s what I ask…

And so I proposed that they collaborate on a new version of the test that I would send them. This one would have the answers (as do their homework assignments). I told them that I expected them to solve all the problems, show all their work, do the work neatly, and furthermore explain their work to me. And finally, I asked them to put a box around their answers and put a checkmark next to the box if their answers agreed with mine.

“This won’t be for a grade,” I told them. “And I don’t want it to jeopardize your six-week grades in your other classes. But I want you to learn this material. Maybe this will help.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, they took me up on the offer.