Friday, January 28, 2011

What Learning Looks Like in My Classroom

I do very little talking-in-front-of-class. It's a habit I have retained from my first year of teaching, when I couldn't manage to get a class to be quiet for me. Nowadays, obviously that's not an issue anymore, but I still prefer to give kids worksheets that are scaffolded enough to be accessible to every kid without following a long lecture. The only times when I do "lecture" are when I emphasize different approaches to a problem, go over definitions, or model thinking-out-loud. But, those are rare -- like, 10 or 15 minutes per class -- or on a really bad day, maybe 25 minutes. Truly "mini" lessons.

Instead of lecturing, I put kids in groups to work on problems that are just one-step harder than what they're able to do individually (and I let them choose their own groups daily -- they are well-behaved more than 90% of the time, and the other times I have to be very on top of them and to speak sternly and look them in the eye and -- if the group is really incorrigible -- move kids into corners, you know, the "yuge"). And they argue over the problems, trying to figure them out on their own. And I go around and facilitate. Some days/years the kids rely on my questioning more than others. Other days I poke my head into groups just to make sure everyone did understand everything, and no "weak link" is being left behind conceptually and copying answers. In groups, I also re-explain concepts in a way that links to the bigger picture. Kids all know that they work in groups basically daily, and that my 5-to-10-minute instructions in the beginning of class (after the Do Now) are just setting them up for successfully attacking the assignment du jour. And so when I say, "Heads up!" just about everyone is actually listening.

Doing so has very real rewards, at least from a process perspective. Some days I look around the room and I am very pleased to see kids arguing over math. Like, LOUDLY and VEHEMENTLY! And LAUGHING at their own silly mistakes! (They're actually so into the math, sometimes, that I have to tell them to keep their voices down.) Other days I see kids explaining math to other kids in the hallway while working on a late homework assignment. Or helping them study in the library for a make-up quiz. Or some days kids come and see me before they are going home, because they are feeling sick but still want to take the quiz on the day it's supposed to be, so that they can get it back at the same time as everyone else. There is a real sense of community, like "We are learning math together," and a responsibility for their own understanding. Most of the time, they prefer to explain/ask each other for help before they will turn to me as sort of the "final verdict."

Those things make me happy, because my kids are being (in lack of a better word) proactive participants in the learning community. I don't do anything extraordinary to instill it, but I certainly expect it from all of them, and amazingly, they rise to the occasion. :)

PS. I do read out loud all the numeric answers and go over the big ideas again at the end of every class, to make sure that kids have absolutely no doubts remaining and they can self-monitor their understanding/accuracy. That takes about 5 minutes, but if I have done a good job circulating during the period and poking my head into every group, there is really not much content I still have to go over.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Algebraic Prism

Here is a worksheet I gave to my H. Geometry kiddies today. It was something I had made for my H. Algebra 2 kids last year, but now slightly modified to remove the function notation, specific questions about the degrees of functions, etc. The L-shaped prism looks that way entirely on purpose: Can your kids still properly identify the base shape and the height when it's an "irregular" shape, lying on its side?

I introduced to them the "box method" of multiplying polynomials, and they loved it. (You algebra teachers know what I'm talking about. Way better than drawing distributive arcs any day!)

(#4 of Pg. 2 is a little ambiguously phrased, because I want kids to remember on their own that the easiest way to find volume, once you have the base area, is to multiply by the height. They then later show that there is a different way to come up with the volume, and that it gives you the same formula in the end. See #6 on Pg. 3.)

They absolutely loved it (...It's always funny what gets kids going...), and we got into some pretty good geometric discussions about how surfaces on opposite parts of the prism correspond in area (ie. Area of DKMF = Area of CJIB + Area of AHNG), and how a little geometric intuition can save us a lot of work when calculating algebraic surface area!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Measurement Unit: Episodes 7, 8 (Liquid Density; Other Measurement Methods)

We're done! With the measurement unit!! All there is left to do is the test. (Or, for my regular kiddies: review, quiz, and then a test after we have remediated the quiz material.)

Lesson 7 in the unit was on liquid density. This one was my favorite, because the kids had to first discuss as a class how to measure the mass of a liquid. After they came up with the general idea, I had them take notes on the definition and procedure for finding "net weight," and we related it to the labels we see on packaged food containers. Kids were excited that they now knew what "net weight" on the corner of their cereal boxes meant!

I then had kids split up into groups of 2 or 3. They were instructed to work on a rather tricky practice sheet of conversions and volume problems, and I pulled out a few groups at a time to rotate around to do parts of the liquid density lab. They needed to measure the density of oil, water, and maple syrup using graduated cylinders and triple-beam balances. (To make this manageable, I gave each group a "clean" cylinder that they would use to find the weight of the container, and whenever they needed to pour the liquid into the container, they would use a "dirty" container that the groups before had used for the same liquid. This way, we didn't have to keep cleaning the graduated cylinders in between every group.) In the end, once ALL of the groups had finished gathering data, we discussed as a class what would happen if we were to pour all 3 liquids into the same graduated cylinder. Then, we tested it! I showed them that even if you flipped the container and straightened it back up, the liquids would still separate themselves. (--To a degree, anyway. The syrup and the water begin to mix gradually, since syrup is water-based and it gets diluted over time.)

It was super fun!! :) Now after this, the kids really have a good grasp of how to measure mass, net weight (net mass), volume, and what all of it means. Lovely!

For my honors kids (who are truly done-done with the whole unit, including the review... the other kids are still a couple of days behind), we followed it up with this: a reading on how to measure an elephant, and another on how to measure the oceans. We discussed the articles after they had read them individually, to make sure that they understood everything in the readings. (I try to insert some relevant reading into every unit to contribute to their literacy.*)

And they got a chance to try their hands at putting together the most complicated concepts in the unit -- making predictions about a 3-D container. (The second page of this was my favorite. It's tricky, unless you really have a good geometric understanding of how the whole container fits together!) Surprisingly, the kiddies didn't really need any help with most of this stuff...

After class, a kid came up to me and said, "These (last problems) are not hard. But, you really need to know your stuff!" It made me feel a little extra proud of them for recognizing their own growth.

I am now looking forward to trigonometry goodness. :)

*What do you do in your classroom to support literacy? I do a lot of making-kids-write-about-stuff, but not enough reading!!!


PS. On the other-things front, I have accepted a job offer from an international school in Berlin! Geoff and I are SUPER excited. It's official news, and all of my bosses know and are happy for me. :) :)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Measurement Unit: Episodes 5, 6 (Density!)

Following the introduction to volume formulas, my kiddies spent a day or so doing various conversions in class. The wildest is when they found out that it would take 200,000 liter-bottles of water to fill up our classroom! (And that 1 cubic meter = 1,000 liters = 1,000,000 cubic centimeters!! They were amazed by how huge that number sounded, even though they were absolutely convinced that 100 x 100 x 100 = 1 million little cubes inside the "huge" cubic meter.)

After that, I did with my kids today my second favorite lesson out of the entire measurement unit -- density lab! It's actually a two-labs-rolled-into-one sort of thing. I had to set up 6 lab stations. At 3 of the stations, there are irregular containers (two spray bottles of different sizes, and one curvy baby bottle) whose volumes need to be measured using transfer-of-water idea. (I provide them with some extra empty beakers and some bottles of water.) At 3 other stations, there are triple-beam balances, beakers, water, and some object (rock or cube) whose density needs to be measured. They had to practice using the various instruments to gather the mass, volume (either using rulers or displacement method) and to predict which objects would float/sink in water, and then to test their predictions. (They were so excited when their cube floated! It's pretty funny.)

The lesson was kind of hairy to set up (since it had involved borrowing a lot of stuff from the Math & Science Center, and digging up my old supplies of irregular containers and objects), but super fun and easy to run! The labs pretty much ran themselves. I just had to go around and make sure kids were cleaning up after themselves in between rotations and were resetting their scales. In the end, we talked about why metal ships float and why the Titanic sunk. (I had to ask, "Do you guys know about the Titanic??" You know, these kids are babies!! One of them told me that Leonardo DiCaprio is old.) And we talked about whether the object's density would change if we tagged on more cubes. (I had made the cubes out of lego-like manipulatives.) My kids were so smart! Some of them realized that g/cm^3 isn't going to change even if you add more cm^3. I also talked them through what happens if you double the volume of a cube -- what would happen to its mass? (After that, the kids were convinced that the overall density, or ratio of mass and volume, would still remain the same. --You like how I threw in a little math word there?) :)

Anyway, it was really fun! :) I am sad that we're nearing the end of our unit. We only have one more measurement lesson left for the honors kids (regular kids are just a couple of days behind) -- net weight and density of liquids! I'll be sad when it ends, but I am already thinking ahead about shooting Pringles cannons for the next unit on triangles and trigonometry.

(Sadly, I can't seem to eat all of the Pringles fast enough. I'll have to email my kids this weekend and ask them to eat some Pringles over the weekend and to donate some cans, so that we can have spare cannons in case one blows up during class!)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Letting Kids Develop Their Own Graphical Vocabulary

...Ha! Lots of math posts today/this weekend. I guess you can tell that math is on my mind and that my boyfriend (who is usually the poor victim of my math blabbings) is busy with his own pet projects. :) :)

Anyway, I was planning a lesson to teach my precalculus kids some basic graph-analysis vocabulary -- things like concaving upwards/downwards, local minimum/maximum, inflection points. And I wondered: how much of this can the kids come up with on their own? When they are looking at a graph (or forced to look at it closely by describing it to their "blind-folded" friend), how many different features can they pick out without any assistance from me?

I guess we'll find out! This is modeled after a Geometry activity I had done in the past, where kids had to describe transformations in a coordinate plane in their own words before I taught them the proper ways of numerically specifying transformations. Except here, all my juniors will have to do is to get their friends to re-draw the graph without gesturing and without peeking at the original graph! --Easy?

I am interested in whether any group will develop ideas similar to concavity. At the minimum, they should figure out that they're going to need to specify slopes, "highest"/"lowest" points, some type of discussion of curvature, and (hopefully) roots! If they can already pick out all of these distinguishing features on their own, I have every reason to hope that the formal vocabulary will stick without too much trouble.

(Speaking of which, I don't teach middle-schoolers anymore, but it seems like this type of method of developing graphical vocabulary can be extended to middle school, when kids first learn to identify slope and y-intercept. If you give a kid a line and they have to get their friend to re-draw it based on verbal directions only, and they're not allowed to name (x, y) coordinates, what types of things would a kid pick out of the graph to describe??)

Measurement Unit: Episode 4 (Volume Formulas)

It's funny how a little bit of a change to a lesson can make a humongous difference.

Last year (and a couple of years prior), I reviewed volume formulas with my students by putting them into groups and rotating a bunch of prism- or cylinder-shaped containers around. (Largest container was a plastic bucket. Most were tupperware.) They had to measure the objects and to calculate the approximate volume, in cubic centimeters.

This year, I added a new piece. I wanted the kids to be able to visualize that their volume measurements are correct (or incorrect), without me giving them my answers. So, I collected a bunch of liter water bottles and filled them up in advance with water. At the end of the kids measuring/calculating all of the volumes, I said to them that we could certainly verify the volumes with cubic centimeter blocks, but it would require thousands of them per container, and it just doesn't scale. So, instead, we were going to use water. I held up a liter bottle and held up a plastic 10cm-by-10cm-by-10cm container and asked them to vote on which one they thought looked bigger. Once we got outside (Ooh! So warm and sunny!), a kid volunteered to do the demo where they poured the water carefully from the bottle into the cube. Gee whiz! They're exactly the same! To emphasize that this means that a bottle of 1 liter water is equivalent in volume to 1000 cubic centimeters, I showed them using a math manipulative item how you can neatly fit 1000 cm^3 cubes snugly inside the cube container, the same way that 1 liter of water had filled the same container to the brim.

Now that we knew that 1 liter = 1000 cm^3, we started to fill up some of the containers they had measured with liters of water. I kept asking kids what values they had gotten for each container, and volunteers kept pouring in more water to see if it would overflow. (We had some measurement instruments, obviously, to obtain increments smaller than 1 liter.) It was super neat. Every step of the way I kept exclaiming to the kids, "Remember that this means that you're adding in another ______ of those little yellow cubic centimeters!" (Kids were getting secretly competitive, obviously, when other groups' answers were getting eliminated and when the containers turned out to hold about as much as their own answers.)

It was super cool! We collectively marveled in the end at how even a relatively small container can hold a couple of liters of water -- proving that they can fit thousands of those little yellow cm^3 cubes!!

Afterwards, we went back up to the classroom. Our next task was to figure out how we can predict the height of the water inside a new prism-shaped container, once you transfer it from an old container that was filled to the top. I let the groups struggle with this for a while on their own, and most of them figured out one way of doing it (with some guiding questions, mostly). At the board, I had the kids explain their ways of doing it, and we saw that both ways -- finding % of volume taken up in new container, then multiplying it by the total height of the new container; or setting up V = l*w*h with volume of water and solving for h -- arrived at the same answers using very different geometric understanding. I made the kids show me work both ways, using their own measurements/numbers, to verify that they hadn't made an arithmetic error somewhere and that they did indeed understand both methods, and I heard kids say, "Tsssssss..." when they were finished. It's a noise that Salvadoran children make to indicate that something is unexpectedly cool, and that noise made me smile.

And of course, we did the actual experimentation. I filled Container A with water to the top, transfered it over to Container B, and announced to the class that the height rose to about 6cm. Kids got to see for themselves that their calculations brought them to the right ballpark of predictions!

How fun! Now we're ready for big boy conversions!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Income Tax Unit (Not All Mine!)

Sam Shah had asked, so here it is -- some piecewise lessons I've done in past, leading up to a debate on tax policies at the end of the income tax unit. This course I had only taught once, two years ago, as part of the NYC Math B curriculum. (Or, loosely following the Math B curriculum, I guess.)

Disclaimer: I didn't come up with all of these materials! Some of it I did (all of the extensive scaffolding, more or less, and some word problems). My colleague and friend, Tim Jones, from my previous school had taught the honors version of the same course before me, so I took a lot of the income tax stuff from him. (I had to add a lot of scaffolding for my regular 10th-graders though, and the unit ended up taking twice as long as his class did.)

Link to piecewise unit and link to income tax unit, dumped into viewable directories.

All the lessons are numbered in order (evidence to my organizational tendencies), so they should be easy to follow, but in some cases you'll find that I took two steps forward and one step back, because I had realized that my inherited (honors) version of the lesson was just too-much-too-fast for my kids. Have fun probing! If you have questions or comments, feel free to shoot them my way even though I don't teach much of this stuff anymore.

Piecewise Functions Scaffolding Up the Wahzoo

Out of habit (aka. a compulsive need to organize my work), my lessons are always digitized and numbered sequentially/labeled with keywords, collected into chapter folders and further grouped by classes. At the end of every school year, I zip up the entire folder tree and archive it in multiple places, labeled by year. At the beginning of the school year, I download all of the past archives onto each computer I might be lesson-planning on (one at school and one at home), so that when I need to look up an old lesson, it'd be in front of me in a matter of minutes, complete with handouts and relevant quizzes and tests.

So, anyway, the other day I started to teach my Precalc kiddies the basics of piecewise functions. After the first 1.5 lessons or so (in which I had introduced the mandatory Christmas bonus breakdown in El Salvador and had asked the kids to graph the bonus and to graph a simple progressive tax system*, and also had gone over the basics of evaluating a piecewise function), I thought of digging through my old stuff to pull up some scaffolding material for writing piecewise function equations.

I pulled some of my favorite scaffolding things together into one packet this year. Here it is (I threw a couple of word problems in there for fun, since this packet I intend on grading as a project):

I am posting it because maybe you'd find it helpful to see how I break down piecewise equations into, well, pieces! (If your kids don't need these skills broken down quite so much, you might want to check out Sam Shah's collection of piecewise worksheets, which is a little more comprehensive in the skills they need. Again, I make no claims that my worksheets are comprehensive! They just step in and break it down a little more, like the problems in the textbook don't do...)

*Speaking of which, funny thing about tax systems: I randomly wondered the other day whether there are any countries in the world that actually implement a flat tax. Found this article that talks about how Estonia and two of its neighbors implement the flat tax system, and some of its less-apparent benefits and drawbacks. (For example, did you know that when neighboring countries all implement flat tax systems, it becomes a negative competition sort of thing, where each country may keep lowering their taxes, in hopes of staying competitive?) I shared some of the interesting tidbits with my kiddies, and even they thought it was fun!

And, coincidentally, El Salvador's own tax brackets are exceedingly simple. I am going to give it to the kids sometime next week, as additional practice for making graphs and writing equations.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Using Transformation of Lines to Teach Writing y=mx+b

I am probably super late to the game for thinking about this, but why don't we teach our older kids to write linear equations using the concept of transformation of a graph?? Especially because they seem to have so much trouble remembering to plug in a point to solve for b, and we keep teaching the same method over and over every year.

Here are my Do Now questions for the day (as warm up for writing simple piecewise function equations, which the kids did wonderfully with!). We have seen absolute value equations/transformations this year but haven't covered quadratic transformations yet.
1.) How do the graphs of y = |x| and y = |x - 3| + 5 differ? Be specific.

2.) Try to write the equation of a quadratic function with vertex at (-1, -9) and standard steepness/shape. Simplify your equation as much as possible.

3.) Using the same idea, write an equation of a linear function of slope 8, that passes through (-16, 7). Simplify your equation as much as possible.

4.) All 3 of the above are related concepts. How??

It turned out to be a super nice lead-in to piecewise functions; kids were whipping up linear equations left and right (correctly) and actually focusing in on the domain-restriction aspect of the task. YES! Small victories!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Measurement Unit: Episodes 1, 2, 3 (Conversions and Unconventional Measurement Methods)

I have been enjoying the beginnings of the Measurement Unit! I wrote about it briefly back in November, but basically it's an entire unit on conversions and hands-on measurements of various properties of an object.

This is what we did on Day 1 of Measurement Unit (following a mini review of how to do basic conversions):

We were exploring the idea What different types of quantities can you measure?

As usual, even activities as simple as this allows me to catch little gaps in understanding, such as the fact that many 9th-graders need a little nudge in the right direction to figure out how many months old they are. (Most of them just want to multiply their age by 12, and they neglect the fact that their birthday wasn't within the last month!) Also, many of them think that 7 hours and 15 minutes is the same as 7.15 hours. (Naturally, I had seen these issues last year during the same lesson, but had forgotten about them until this week.)

In order to measure their own reaction times, kids followed a fun mini reaction time lab I had found on the interweb (you know, that one where kids drop rulers and their partners need to catch the rulers as quickly as possible). Notice that we're working on estimations as well as actually measuring things and converting things! It made me giggle (and in some cases, made the kids giggle) when they estimated their own reaction times as 1 whole second. I told them that means that when someone punches them in the face, it'd take them 1 whole second to say, "OUCH!"

The kids loved it, as they did last year. Really simple intro to the unit. For homework, they needed to do a sheet of basic conversions:

Then, on Day 2 of the Measurements Unit, I had kids start by brainstorming how we can measure the height of a building! Following that, we talked about setting up ratios using shadows (kids did most of the talking, I just gave them probing hints/questions here and there) until the kids figured out as a class how to find the height of an object using shadows and similarity concept. Then, I explained that it's logistically difficult for us to do a shadows lab, since our period rotates hours each day and it's hard for me to pick items that have clearly visible shadows at all hours of the day. I drew this picture on the board:

And I reminded them that reflected angles are congruent on both sides (like we had seen in the previous mini-golf hole-in-one project) and I asked what lengths they would need to measure, in order to figure out the length of the tree. The kids figured it out collectively. I didn't have to do any talking at all! Brilliant. :)

The rest of the period, we went outside and used their mirrors and metersticks to measure a 3-floor building (~1000 cm tall), a second-floor balcony (~450 cm), and a tree (~300 cm). It was really lovely, and we all enjoyed being outside (especially because, you know, El Salvador is in its warm, dry season)!

As homework, kiddies needed to do this:

One of the things I had wanted to change for this unit from last year was inserting more practice days in between activity days, so that the quizzes didn't come so much as a shock. So, today (Day 3), I spent half of the class reviewing and giving kids time to work on mixed practice problems, including a recipe conversion problem! It was an idea I got from a physics teacher, who used to make his kids bake in class using cups and teaspoons, but given only metric units. I don't have the connections here to get into the kitchen, but the kids still got into the problem. (It was pretty funny because I had to give them a little background on baking, and how you usually use cups to measure things like flour and sugar and butter, and only use teaspoons for the trace amounts of ingredients.)

After the little mixed practice, I told kids about how last year, I had found myself needing to figure out the exact height of my balcony in preparation for an Algebra 2 Bungee Jump project. I asked the kids how they thought we could measure the balcony besides the mirror/similarity method (which is a little imprecise). One kid in each class had the idea of keeping a string taut between the two floors, and then measuring the string. "Brilliant!" I said. That's what we did the rest of the class: we tied water bottles (as weights) to strings and lowered them to the ground from the second floor. They marked the places on the strings where they thought matched the height of the balcony, pulled the water bottle (weight) back up and measured the string. In the end, the group (in each class) that got the results closest to mine got a few extra points. So there was a friendly little competition, and the kids were super into it!

We talked afterwards about how tape measures is kind of the same idea. Wouldn't it be difficult if you had to measure your waist-line using a straight ruler?

Anyway, I'll write more later. I hope you guys will enjoy hearing about my measurement unit as much as I enjoy teaching it (and the kids enjoy learning it)! We will be going into 3-D measurements next!!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Things to Consider

There are things I regularly think about, that I know I want. (Sorry if the list sounds very needy. I think we're all entitled to want things, as long as we're willing to put in the work to make them happen!) :)

I want to have my parents know my kids, if and when I have them.
I want to live in the same city, should one of my parents one day be left to live alone.
I want my kids to be able to speak Chinese and to know the stories of our family, fables from our culture.
I want to go back to school.
I want to get back to dancing multiple times a week.
I want to get better at dancing.
I want to learn another language, then another.
I want to be a better teacher tomorrow than today.

I want to work for a school that has PD built into their schedule and their budget.
I want a school that allows me to move around to teach different math classes over time.
I want a school that pays enough for me to travel and to put away money.
I want a school that has small classes.
I want a school where teachers plan collaboratively, where teachers support each other with lesson resources.
I want a school where I can have access to computers, projectors, math manipulatives.
I want a school that offers language classes for teachers.
I want a school whose administrators I feel I can trust.
I want a commute that is under an hour, that doesn't involve driving.

I want an apartment that I can afford, in a neighborhood where I feel safe to walk around at night.
I want to live in a city that has outdoors activities at least part of the time.
I want to live near an international airport.
I want to live in a country where it's (culturally and legally) okay to live together before marriage, where it's encouraged for young people to talk about birth control.

Those are the things that I think about, because I am who I am at this particular point in my life. They help me formulate the questions that I ask when I talk to school administrators, because I know that making an international job decision, in a way, is more complicated than it seems, but in another way cannot be simpler. You need to know exactly what you want out of your job, your home, and your life. And then just really go for it.

PS. Shockingly, it's looking like I might not go to the job fair in London after all! A good opportunity has crept up (from my massive November/December email campaign) that just might turn into a solid offer. If so, then Geoff and I will have to make some quick decisions next week...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Interview Attire

(Disclaimer: This entry isn't about teaching. Those of you who prefer the teaching posts should probably move right along...)

In these last few days of copious spare time before school resumes next Monday, I want to make sure that I nail down the last few details about job searching, so that I wouldn't have to worry about it later this month when everythingstartstohappenatonce. One of those details is picking out some appropriate interview outfits -- not an easy/trivial task, mind you! I want to make sure that I would look extra sharp in London, so that in case a school has a hidden interview slot (as they often do... they always hold out, in case someone sparkly comes along at the last second), they would be willing to give me a shot when I approach their interview sign-up table.

So, I went out and got a haircut this week (a mistake, because as it turns out, my hair is shorter and wavier and less manageable now), bought some new high heels (my old ones are broken at the heels part, after I made the unfortunate attempt to walk across the city of Buenos Aires with them on New Year's Eve), and set out to find some new shirts to replace the stained "money" shirt I had worn to some previous interviews. And, curses! After wasting hours at the mall, I decided that the stores here generally lack professional-looking shirts for women, likely because rich Salvadoran women don't generally wear cotton button-down shirts to work. In fact, a vast majority of well-off Salvadoran women don't work at all! Nooooooooo...

(I am very sure that it's a gender bias thing, because those same stores here sell plenty of dress pants and button-down shirts and ties for men!! For women, all they had were sexy, frilly silk shirts and tight jeans to go with, that would definitely not look very professional in an interview setting.)

So, I was back to square one. I came home and jigsaw-pieced together, to the best of my ability, three outfits that would carry me through a long weekend of interviews. In the end, my sister (the style guru) told me to try to handwash again the stains that never came off of my dry-cleaned clothes. I did that in desperation, but we'll see how well that works when the clothes are actually dry tomorrow.

Anyway, that was a very long-winded intro to this question for you ladies: What do you typically wear to an interview? Or, do you think that it matters very little and you just throw on whatever you normally wear to work?

(I find that my best-looking interview clothes come from Ann Taylor. They're so much more expensive than regular work clothes, so I generally keep them in the closet and try not to damage them. But, the material is so great and sturdy; I feel like even if the world started to fall apart in front of me, I would still look cool and collected. Is that silly??)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Vacation Stress

It sounds very ironic, but I've been feeling a lot of stress during vacation about everything that is not immediately related to school.

Okay, so first I read about how London had the blizzards of a lifetime that had shut down Heathrow Airport for days. Guess what I am worried about now?? I have already booked my (very expensive) flight and lodging for the London job fair at the end of January. I am worried that at the last minute, some snow storm is going to set in and ruin one of my three connection flights each way. (I am flying from here to Texas to New York to London, or something like it. And same on the way back. 18-hour commute each way, and taking off an unprecedented 3 personal days surrounding a regular weekend.) After having invested in all of this time and money, I really, really hope the weather isn't going to go bezerk on me...

And then, there is this issue of my graduate school transcript being lost in the mail, just like I had feared. To be fair, I had been requesting both transcripts as early as mid-November. My ever-reliable Berkeley transcript had arrived in El Salvador the first week of December. It's now January, and my grad school transcript is still out there somewhere in the abyss of international mail-forwarding. Our mail-forwarding company in Delaware says that they have no record of having received anything in a few weeks; CCNY says their records indicate that the damned thing was sent on December 13 (after much follow-up on my part. Otherwise it would have taken them even longer). I don't see any reason why in 3 weeks of transit, it still hasn't even made it as far as Delaware, unless someone royally screwed up somewhere. ugh.

To remedy the situation, I've Fedex'ed in another transcript request today (because -- believe it or not! -- CCNY doesn't accept online transcript requests). Pretty pricy stuff. $45 to make sure it gets to CCNY by Wednesday morning. Then, I'll have to follow up again to make sure it actually gets across the street to Columbia U, into the hands of the right people. sigh. (And who knows if it'll even get there? Honestly, at this point, I have no faith in any part of any system.) My last-last-last resort would be to ask Geoff's parents to dig through their basement to see if they can find another copy of my graduate transcript lying around somewhere in the stuff they've been safekeeping for us. But, that would make the Coxes all stressed out, so that'd have to be my absolute last resort.

Until all the ducks are lined up, I can't even feel properly disappointed when I don't get into the already-very-selective summer program! All I want is a chance to have my best shot at applying (or at least to have a complete application) -- is that asking for too much? :(


Geoff and I really enjoyed our trip to Argentina, even though it was a bit schizo and we had to take 8 flights in 9 days in order to get from place to place!

The three Argentinian cities we saw were Buenos Aires, El Calafate, and Ushuaia. Buenos Aires was really cool (obviously), because it had a lot of culture. On our first night there, we went to an exquisite tango show + drinks + introductory lesson. It was one of the most pricey things we did in all of our trip, but very cool!

There is a little touristy walkway called La Caminita that is quite famous in Buenos Aires. There are a lot of artesans there on holidays and weekends, with some really neat things, so we put on our shopping hats and went crazy. :)

Our last night in the city was New Year's Eve. We went out for some Indian food!! (I know it's a little ironic to be eating Indian food in Buenos Aires, but we can't get it in El Salvador, so...) As a bonus, we received some funny party favors (See Geoff with his plastic mask and tie below). We spent the rest of the night roaming the streets and enjoying the open-air partying atmosphere of Palermo, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Apparently, it is very hard to find a cab on New Year's Eve in Buenos Aires, after the cops started recently to crack down on drinking and driving. We had given up and started trying to walk across town back to our hotel, and we had actually walked for over an hour before we got lucky and bumped into a really nice taxi driver who was refueling at the gas station! He took us back to our hotel, so that we could nap for a couple of hours before getting up to catch our flight to Miami.

El Calafate was another Argentinian town we had stayed at during our trip to Argentina. The town is famous for its Perito Moreno Glacier, which is unique because it's the only glacier in the world that is actually advancing despite global warming! The guides explained to us that every year, there is so much snow fall over the mountain because of the pressure difference, that the snow compacts and accumulates into giant sheets of ice within 10 years, and slides down the mountain to join the existing glacier. The glacier is, in fact, larger in area than Buenos Aires, and it measures 60 meters above water and 140 meters below sea level! It is enormous.

Anyway, we got to walk with crampons on the Perito Moreno glacier, as well as spending some time looking at its generally awe-inspiring scenery. The front side of the glacier breaks off small chunks roughly every 5 minutes; those chunks fall into the water and make an impressive cracking noise. (Although the guides say that it's not nearly as safe as it looks. In a couple of decades previously, 32 people were killed from glacier explosions.)

And, the best part of hiking the Perito Moreno? In the end, they give you some whiskey, served over fresh glacial ice with the local chocolate/caramel dessert alfajores.

Speaking of foods, Argentinian cuisine is delicious. Besides alfajores, they also have a variety of craft beers and a steamed milk + piece of dark chocolate tossed into it combo called submarino. Roquefort cheese seems to be very prevalent as well -- an easy evidence of their heavy European influence. But, most delicious of all is their asador, which is lamb grilled on crucifix:

The lamb is divine with the traditional dipping sauce (Chimichurri?), which tastes spicy, citrusy, and super flavorful like the Indian vindaloo sauce.

After El Calafate, we went to Ushuaia, which is nicknamed "El Fin del Mundo" (The End of the World) for being the southernmost city in Argentina. It's a surprisingly small town, with some neat touristy features. We hiked a nearby glacial mountain, went out for a boat tour of the nearby islands that host a variety of sea creatures (including penguins!), and we also hiked through the national park to the ending marker of the southernmost Argentinian high way. (Truly, the end of the road.)

We also visited a lovely museum about all things Ushuaia and Patagonia, that is located at the site of a former prison of Argentina. (As it turns out, Ushuaia owes a lot of its development to the prisoners, who were sent to Ushuaia to work on a variety of public projects.)

(Did you know that the first European boats to sail around South America were small, like the one in this model?? HOW COOL.)

Anyway, I am coming back to what seems like a fair bit of work/errands before school starts in a week. bleh. Hope you all had a lovely new year! :) Ciao!