Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Memory

I haven't seen my daughter in a while--has it really been more than 10 years? I wrote about her a few years ago in an earlier post and am not inclined to write about our situation. To be honest, I'm not even sure there's a situation to write about anymore. But I do have memories and I thought I'd write about one that I recalled recently when talking to friends about Christmas.

Back in December of 1991, when I was in Japan for my dissertation research, my daughter, K, had serious doubts about Santa coming to visit our home. In the States, before we had gone to Japan, K spent her first three Christmases at my parents' house where there was a seven-foot Christmas tree set up in the living room near the fireplace. But in Japan, most houses--let alone condos--are small and do not have fireplaces. There is also little room for a ceiling high Douglas fir or Scotch pine, which they don't sell in Japan anyway. In our small, modest abode, we had a small artificial tree--the kind you'd see on a counter at a business office. This was the norm in most Japanese homes.

Well, you can imagine K's skepticism. She wanted a bicycle for Christmas and even wrote a letter to Santa asking for one, but was unsure about delivery of such a large present. It would be difficult enough for Santa to bring a bike down a real chimney. "How could he deliver a present to a house without a fireplace?" she'd ask.

All I could do was shrug my shoulders and admit, "Good question."

"He couldn't get through the mail slot in the door, right?" I had to agree. She even glanced at the vent over the stove. But then she looked back at me, and we shook are head in unison: "No way."

Of course, being the devious father that I was, I was simply setting up my daughter for the Christmas surprise.

I should note that K did not doubt the existence of Santa; she just couldn't figure out how Santa could get into our home. As for me, by sharing in K's skepticism, I had removed myself as a suspect in any phony Santa charade. If K did get the present she wanted, it could only have come from the real Santa, not the dad who seemed to doubt Santa could actually fit through a mail slot. So I bought a bicycle and kept it hidden in its box unassembled until...

Christmas eve: I told K to set out some milk and a cookie, "Just in case." K was still doubtful. "Do you really think he can come here?" she asked over and over. But she must have held out a sliver of hope because she set the treats with care on a table next to the mini-Christmas tree. By 9 PM, K was fast asleep, undoubtedly exhausted from all the hoping.

I assembled the shiny red bike, attached the training wheels and headlight, and placed it next to the table next to the mini-Christmas tree. I am no mechanical engineer so assembling it took me more effort than I want to admit, but I did an adequate job, accomplished after some trial and error over the course of a couple of hours. Exhausted bleary-eyed, I plopped down next to the table, reached over and took a small bite out of a cookie that had been sitting there unattended on the table for a few hours. I grimaced at its staleness and, still bleary-eyed, reached for the room-temperature glass of milk next to it. "Oh crap!" I muttered. A mouthful was enough to bring me to my senses. I'm lactose intolerant, you see, so I put down the cookie and milk, moved quickly to the kitchen sink, spit out what I could and rinsed my mouth with water. Without a thought of what I had left behind on the table, I trudged off to bed and fell asleep worrying that I'd get a stomach ache from the milk.
And sure enough I woke up with a sudden pain in my stomach. "Oh crap," I muttered again. But when I opened my eyes, I realized that the pain in my stomach was not from the milk. K was straddling my stomach, jumping up and down. With a fistful of my T-shirt in her hands, she shook me fiercely. "He came! He came!" she screamed. What are you talking about? I was so groggy, I don't remember if I said that or was just thinking it. But it didn't matter. K quickly jumped off and ran out of the bedroom still screaming. She returned in a flash.

"Dad! Dad! Come and see!" she commanded from the door.

"Who came?" I asked still trying to get my bearings.

"SANTA!" she screamed in that high-pitched voice that only a four-year-old girl can muster.
Ah, the bicycle, I smiled. When I entered the living room, she was sitting on the bike pretending to pedal it.

"Wow, did Santa really bring you this?"

"Yes!" she said beaming. "I know for sure he did."

"Oh? And how do you know that?"

"Look!" she said.

My eyes followed in the direction in which her finger was pointing and, sure enough, there was a half-filled glass of milk and a half-eaten cookie. K jumped off the bike and scooted over next to me. "Look at that," she said outlining with her fingertips a jagged semi-circle in the cookie. "You see that? Those are Santa's tooth marks."

My eyes widened as I slowly recalled the sequence of events that culminated in K's discovery. But I just smiled and nodded in acknowledgment. Who was I to question such irrefutable proof of Santa's visit?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I Tricked Myself

I have online quizzes for many of my courses. As you might imagine, student's love online quizzes since they can use their notes and books to find answers. I've tried making the quiz time really short, but this disadvantages many of the international students who need time just to understand the question, so I give them plenty of time to complete it. Why? Because the questions are detailed. Not necessarily long but they contain information that may be incorrect. As I tell my students: In a True/False question, every portion of the the question must be true to be True. If even one part of the question is false then the answer is False. I will often place the false information towards the end of the statement so students have to read the entire question before answering or risk getting an answer wrong.

The non-international students find the extra time great since this gives them some breathing space, but they will accuse me of being "tricky" because I backload the false information. Me? Tricky? Students fail to read the entire question, get an answer wrong, then need to blame someone else for their failure, right? I mean, geez... y'know... I mean... well...

Okay, maybe I AM tricky, because I just realized that... that... I can't believe I'm gonna admit this....

I tricked myself...

As a conscientious teacher, I usually take the online quiz myself to confirm the quiz questions and answers are correctly matched. During the course of creating a quiz, it is quite simple to set the wrong radio button for the answer. Sometimes I will create a multiple choice question with answers then change up the order of the answers but forget to reset the radio button to the correct answer. Sometimes I simply forget to make a selection and leave the default choice--usually the first answer--as is. Anyway, to avoid these occasional omissions, I will take the quiz myself before making the quiz available to students.

Now the late-term online exam I gave last week had 77 questions. As per usual, I took the exam and found two mistakes, promptly corrected them and took it again. Result: 77/77. Grrrreat, the exam is ready to go. I double check the availability time--4:45-6:00--the date--yes, I have set the wrong date before--and other miscellaneous options. I send an email reminder to my students to find a computer with a hard Internet line--WiFi can ruin your quiz/exam if you become disconnected--and reiterate the time of availability.

Subsequently, I look on the Grade Sheet on Blackboard and can tell that everyone took the exam without any major incident. Whew. Actually this was the first time I ever gave an online exam. Quizzes yes, but not an assessment with more than 15 questions. So I'm glad that all went well. But any sense of relief I had was short lived.

Mere minutes later I get my first email.
I hate to ALREADY be the pain in the ass, but I just finished the exam and already have a few "contestations" to make about the grading. 
Contestations? Huh? Did my student just call herself "pain in the ass"? (Oops. Did I just write "herself"?) Then faintly from my bag I hear in a soft voice: "LINE". I check it and find a message from another student.
Sensei! Tanizaki wrote the tattooer right? You made a trick question I think that said "it would not be far fetched to call the artist in akutagawa ryunosuke 's the tattooer sadistic" and I said false, because ... akutagawa didn't write that 😂 but it said I got zero points for that question? Obviously the tattooer was sadistic but akutagawa didn't write that! Lol
What? I mean, yeah, "The Tattooer" was sadistic and it WAS written by Tanizaki, not Akutagawa.

So I check the exam and sure enough I have the wrong radio button selected. Crap. But then how did I get 77 out of 77 when I retook the exam? Did I enter the wrong answer? Did I select True?

Did I... omigod... trick myself?


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Teaching with hay fever

I hate ragweed. It is the bane of my life. I have a runny nose, itchy eyes, sore throat. I manifest all the yucky symptoms of a cold but without a fever. Ugh.

So in bungo today, we were learning the interrogative/emphatic particle や (ya) and I used a famous poem as an example. I set up the poem explaining how Narihira was hooking up with the princess Takaiko who was already promised to the emperor. Of course, when the powers that be found out--her brothers--they secreted her away where he could no longer meet her. A year later he goes back to the place they used to hook up and recited a poem expressing his loneliness:

 Is the moon not there?
  Is the spring not the spring of old?
   My self alone being the same self...

So as I recite this poem, I sniffle a bit and suddenly feel a tear streaming down my cheeks.

Juliana: Sensei! Are you crying?!?

MarieClaire: It's the pol...

Juliana: "The poem?" she blurts out before MC could complete the sentence. "Are you so moved?!?"

The class--MarieClaire, Xavier, Monica, Irene, Mark, Phoebe, Pim, Yuta, Chloe, et al--exploded into laughter, as I try to explain my issues with hay fever.

Did I mention?: i HATE RAGWEED!!!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Speaking of Learning: Learn Self-control

So CDI this past week was quite stressful. From Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, we discussed: 
  • Course goals vs. objectives
  • Assessments: to measure or not? 
  • Do I know the subject so well that I don't realize what my students don't know? 
  • In-class activities: are they engaging or is it busy work? 
  • Et cetera, et cetera.
Addressing these kinds of questions and confronting my own syllabus was pretty intense. So to alleviate some of the stress--I guess--they made sure we had PLENTY OF FOOD. So everyday at 8:30am we had breakfast, at 10:45am coffee break, 12:15 lunch. While it was not crazy good, it was better than the usual fare we've been served lately during these days of budget cuts and belt tightening: Tandoori chicken, salmon, shrimp and avocado sandwich, just to name some of the better options.

The killer, tho', was the snacks. In the back of the study room, there was a table with a large urn of coffee, water, soda and FOOD: 
  • Fruit (bananas, plums, apples, and--omigod!--cherries!)
  • Energy bars (Special K, granola, and--oh no!--peanut butter W/ DARK chocolate)
  • Bagels with cream cheese
  • Potato chips (regular, wavy, ruffles, BBQ, and--my favorite!--kettle)
  • Muffins (plain, whole wheat, cranberry, blueberry and--gulp!--coconut)
  • And a bottomless bowl of small Trail Mix bags.
They were constantly restocking the table ALL DAY LONG. So of course, I had to try EVERY single treat available. And to confirm which one I liked, I had to try them again... and again. I was like a puppy dog who found open and unattended bags of Puppy Chow, Milk Bone and Beggin' Strips. I swear, I think 


So before I get back to work, I need to exercise a bit, maybe for a couple of weeks. I feel sluggish and kinda dumpy. Ugh!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Course Design Institute (CDI)

All week long, I participated in the Course Design Institute (CDI) at school. The goal was to awaken us to a Learning Centered approach to teaching. I am not against such an approach, but I learned that I am not as learning centered as I thought. I usually think:
  • Are students studying? 
  •  Did students do the reading? 
  •  Are they writing their paper? 
Of course, implicit in this attitude is the hope that student are learning.

But instead of focusing on what I want them to do--study, read, write--I should have focused more on what they want to do:
  • Are they learning? 
  •  Are they thinking about (engaged in) the topic? 
  •  What can I do to facilitate their comprehension of the subject? 
Well, I addressed my own demons, and focused on the issues that my students should address in my class on The Genji. Based on the ideas and feedback I received from my colleagues, I reworked my current syllabus and submitted it this morning and... I ended up with the second best syllabus/course design for the Institute this week! Woo hoo!

This is not official and the recognition comes with no prizes, but it was nice to be recognized by my peers and colleagues anyway.