31 December 2012

Arts & Crafts: White Elephant Gift Wrapping 2012

I have some friends who throw an annual Christmas/White Elephant party. This year, I had the opportunity to wrap two gifts so I decided that having two boxes (meaning twelve sides) to work with presented a great chance for me to reinterpret "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming...
 I'm a fan of taiko drumming so this one seemed pretty obvious to me.

Eleven pipers piping...
I'm also a fan of baking so clearly, I'm talking about a different kind of "piper" here. I doubt they're actually called that but let's think of cake decorating and go with it anyway.

Ten lords-a-leaping...
This is definitely not an original interpretation of "lords-a-leaping" but it's too good to pass up. There's really only one "Lord of the Dance" though, right?

Nine ladies dancing...
Can you tell what dance they're doing?

Eight maids-a-milking...
Okay, so I took great liberties with this one. There are no maids pictured at all. I was going to make them but then I thought it'd be more interesting to look up different animals that people actually milk and make them the stars of the show. The animals depicted from left to right are: a caribou, a sheep, a horse, a camel, a cow, a water buffalo, a yak, and a goat. I probably should have taken the time to do it but the animals are not done to scale.

Seven swans-a-swimming...
I like their little swim caps.

Six geese-a-laying...
Another interpretation I'm quite fond of. Come on, construction hats on geese?! And if you're still confused, please note the brick wall in the photograph.

Five golden rings...
There's only so much you can do with this one.

Four calling birds...
I went with "calling" instead of "colly" birds here because it was easier to work with. Behold, there are four different Twitter logos. Although I get that the mountain bird is streamlined and aesthetically pleasing, a part of me really misses "Larry the Bird."

Three French hens...
I actually modeled these hens after faverolles. They're quite pretty.

Two turtle doves...
I really, really wanted to make creatures that looked like a mash-up of a turtle and a dove. I enjoyed Avatar: The Last Airbender (the cartoon series) and loved their creatures, like the platypus-bear. I wasn't at all surprised to find that other people had also created these kinds of "turtle doves." Here's the reference for my little guys: http://www.helloagaingirls.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/2-turtle-doves.jpg.

And a partridge in a pear tree.
Oh man, making the Partridge Family bus was awesome! In my hunt for photographs of the original Partridge Family bus, I learned that the bus itself used to be located near the University of Southern California, in a restaurant's parking lot, and that it has since been totally demolished. There are, apparently, a lot of different replicas or reinterpretations of the bus around though. Personally, I'm a fan of Piet Mondrian so while I've never actually seen an episode of The Partridge Family, I'm tickled by their bus.

I'll also add here that while I've always known that pears come in a variety of colors, actually looking at them in this light gave me a whole new appreciation for them. They could make quite pretty Christmas ornaments.

Hooray for art projects! Seriously, I really love such endeavors. 0=)

28 November 2012

Arts & Crafts: Stained Glass Finding Nemo Cookies

Okay, so this is an old project that I worked on/made for a friend but I've been holding onto the pictures all this time with the intention of one day posting them. My friend has a fondness for the Pixar film Finding Nemo so I decided to make her stained glass cookies of Nemo and Squirt. Here is the finished product:

Nemo and Squirt are made from piped cookie dough and crushed Life Savers (Jolly Ranchers or other translucent, hard candy of that sort would work just as well but if I remember correctly, I chose the Life Savers because they were easier for me to crush). The sea floor was made from melted chocolate and the ocean water was created with melted marshmallows (dyed blue with food coloring).

Here are pictures of Nemo and Squirt before they were baked:

You can see that I laid them out on aluminum foil from the get-go (remember the nonstick spray beforehand) and baked them that way. After they were baked, I carefully peeled them off the foil and placed them on the backdrop before the marshmallow had fully hardened so that they were anchored.

Of course, along with the cookies for show, I also baked her some proper stained glass cookies for eating!

I remember the first time I was introduced to the idea of making "stained glass" in the oven. I was in third grade and my teacher brought an amazing-looking gingerbread house, complete with stained glass windows, to school. I was definitely inspired!

26 November 2012

Commentary: Back to Work!

As I return to work after a week off for Thanksgiving Break (and due to teacher furloughs), I think of how much my students will have forgotten during their time away from school. I'm especially thinking about one of my students who, like many other kids, has endless potential, but zero, absolutely zero, educational support in his home life.

His parents are both immigrants and only his father speaks English. Even with those limitations though, the literature I've read time and again concludes that as long as his parents are actively encouraging his educational pursuits, he'll be able to make academic gains. I really wish that his parents would be more supportive but from what I gather, his dad works most of the time and his mom has flat out told us that she doesn't want to deal with any education-related issues concerning him.

There really isn't much that we can do except give him the best support that we can while he's in the after school program for four hours daily. Supporting him has meant doing all sorts of things, and most recently, it meant completing all of his vacation homework on the day that he received it, which was Friday, November 16th.

This particular students has a rather demanding teacher and she assigned her students both math and English homework for the break. Her students were supposed to complete three pages of math a day (for nine days) and write a journal entry a day (for six days).

The nature of his homework meant that when we sat down to do it, we completed 45 pages of math in about two hours. After a 45 minute break, we spent about another hour completing his journal entries (complete with drawings). I said it earlier, this kid has real potential, but as it is, he's definitely behind in his grade level. In order to get the work done, I had him supremely focused and kept a very upbeat, positive attitude.

He understood all of the work that we did (it was all review) but he did need quite a bit of prompting. All I could think while we were doing the work was how much more beneficial it would have been for him to do a little bit of the work every day instead of cramming it into one killer study session. I'd feel a whole lot better about the situation if I knew that his parents at least had him review his work during the break (and had him read daily!) but I'm quite confident that his backpack stayed zipped up and disregarded in some corner during his time off.

It's a challenge to figure out and execute the best game plan from here to set this kid, and others like him, on the road to educational success. He's quite young so we've still got a couple more years with him but I worry about all of my students and how they'll fare once they reach middle school. The big, long term goal is to get these kids prepared for higher education but the shorter term goal is to give them the knowledge and strategies that will make their transition into middle school go smoothly.

It's a daunting task.

23 November 2012

Commentary: Me, Old Age, and One Direction

As pretty much anybody who knows me already knows, I work with kids day in and day out. With all of the time I spend with my students, however, I'd say that they still don't know all that much about me personally. 

I've never aimed to be aloof with the kids but I think that the dynamics of my workplace just make it harder for them to get to know me on a "random factoids" level. Even though I've got coworkers, I'm the go-to adult for homework help and conflict resolution. I also make it a point to keep an eye on the program overall so I'll gently nudge, reprimand, call attention to (I think you get the idea) individual students as necessary. All in all, I'm pretty busy and don't have a lot of time for chit chat.

So my kids consider it a treat when the program's mellow enough for them to sit around and hang out with me (it's flattering in its own way). On one of these days, we got into the, "When you were little, did you..." line of conversation.

It started off with things like, "Angela, when you were little, did you know everything?"

"No way! And I still don't know everything." (Seriously, kids can be great for your ego.) "I'm still learning new things every day, and actually, when I was little, I had a really hard time learning my times tables. I bet you guys didn't know that, right? I finally learned them because my mom made me practice them every day, just like I make you guys do now."

"When you were little, did you go to pre-k?"

"Nope, I didn't go to pre-k because there wasn't one close to my house when I was growing up."

The revelation about the lack of pre-k attendance in my personal history was a real shocker. My kids are so used to the idea that everybody goes to pre-k that they had a really hard time accepting that I hadn't. I explained to them that it was while I was young that pre-k became a much more normal thing for toddlers to attend.

"When you were little, did you think homework was fun?"

This question is a classic one. I feel like the kids ask it because they feel it's taboo. It's like they're daring you to say that homework is anything but fun because they know that you're an adult and you're supposed to be setting a good example for them.

"Sometimes. A lot of times I thought it was hard but I always did my homework anyway because I knew that it was good for me to practice the things I had learned in class."

And then came the question which made me quite old in their eyes. Lol, I know that 25 is nowhere near ancient, and actually, a good number of my students have siblings, cousins, or aunts/uncles that are my age but still, the following question definitely dated me.

A second grader asked me, "When you were little, did you like One Direction?"

Before I could answer, a fifth grader replied, "Silly, when Angela was little, they were babies."

"Probably. When I was little, people liked boy bands like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Have you guys heard of either of them?"

Blank stares all around.

"Well, you guys know who Justin Timberlake is, right? He's from 'N Sync, and the Backstreet Boys are part of the group NKOTBSB now."

A chorus of "Ohhs" went up and remarks like, "Yeah, I know who that is," or, "Yeah, I've heard of that group," went around. Man, it's kind of crazy to think that JT is far enough removed from 'N Sync now that he's a known name in his own right. 

Anyway, that conversation got me thinking, how old are the members of One Direction? As it turns out, my fifth grader was totally right. When I was little, those boys were babies.

One Direction members and their ages:
  • Niall Horan, 19
  • Zayn Malik, 19
  • Liam Payne, 19
  • Harry Styles, 18
  • Louis Tomlinson, 20

Do I feel like an old fart? Pfft, no, not really. I usually feel old when the thought, "When I was a kid, I didn't do that," is running through my head but I actually like observing how some things have certainly changed since I was little and how other things really haven't. 

Plus at the end of the day, it's about staying young at heart even as you're physically aging, right?

11 January 2012

Arts & Crafts: White Elephant Gift Wrapping 2011

Happy New Year! The holidays have come and gone. I love having time off because then I can spend some quality time on creative activities. I've been involved in a white elephant gift exchange for the last few years; my friends usually have a white elephant party during the month of December.

I like to think of creative ways to wrap my gift for the exchange because I'm of the opinion that unwrapping a gift is part of the fun of receiving one. This year I purchased a titanium spork and three flavors of astronaut ice cream  from ThinkGeek for my gift. Here is the fruit of my wrapping labor:
It's a Christmas tree surrounded by three--rather chubby--animals. The titanium spork is in the tree and one flavor of astronaut ice cream is in each of the creatures. You've got Mr. Reindeer:
 Mr. Polar Bear:
 And Sir Penguin (Why "Sir" instead of "Mr."? Because I said so!):
Googly eyes are always tons of fun to use! I was happy with the outcome. I think Mr. Polar Bear was my favorite probably because he looks so minimalistic. All of them are rather minimal but I think it's the lack of a belly on Mr. Polar Bear that does it for me. 0=)