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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Night Watchman Maze …

I’ve had a couple of email requests about the puzzle in the “Mr. G” post.

I first saw this in a comic book when I was a kid and comic books cost 10-cents/ea. I wasted I don’t know how many hours trying to solve it. Never found a solution until I got to college and used it as a term paper in a logic/math class to answer the question: “Does it have a solution?”

I was successfully able to answer the question and explain my logical solution to get an “A” for the assignment. If you want the answer, request via email and  I’ll reply with the solution. 

I’ve used it in various classrooms when the assigned work is completed in less time than allowed and they need something “fun” to occupy/exercise their curious minds.

The materials required are one personal sized whiteboard and two different color whiteboard markers, one to draw the floor plan the other to draw a path.

As the story goes, a night watchman is assigned the job of locking all the doors of a building for the night. After a few years on the job assigned to the same building, the night watchman is getting a little bored with the job.

He decides to make his job a bit more interesting by trying to see if there is a path through the building where he can lock the all the doors behind him as he passes through each door of the building. The only rule is that he can pass through, close and lock each door once and at the end all the doors must be closed and locked.

He may start inside or outside the building and he can end up either inside or outside the building.

The floor plan of the building is displayed below. It has five rooms and sixteen doorways.Your task is to draw his walking path around and through the building to accomplish his goal.

The building floor plan is easily constructed on a whiteboard.  Starting with a large rectangle, bisect it horizontally in the middle. Then construct the three rooms above the horizontal line and the two large rooms below.  Then erase breaks in each of the walls where indicated to represent the 16 doors.

With practice, it should take less than a minute to draw and easy for the kids to re-construct on their personal whiteboards. 

In any case, it’s not as easy as it looks….

Monday, February 27, 2012

Who Put Tootsie-Rolls in the Snake Cage?

The first Monday after the ski week school vacation was spent in a 4th grade classroom. Like a number of other teachers in this school, this guy has classroom pets. In this one school, I have encountered: turtles, guinea pigs, rats, mice, fish, large bearded dragon lizards, and various snakes.

The two cages in this classroom each contained one pretty good sized corn snake. Initially, I wasn’t able to see how big they were. They were hiding out under tree bark covers until later afternoon when the classroom warmed. Both had beautiful orange markings. One was about 4’ and the other about a foot shorter.

Just before the end of day bell rang, one of the students came up to ask me: “Who put the Tootsie-Rolls in the snake cage”? After examining the something that DID very much look like about 6” of Tootsie-Rolls along the inside glass, we had an impromptu lesson on what snake poop looks like.

I’m just glad they didn’t ask what it was before it entering the toothy end of the snake as I could only venture that these constrictors eat live meals.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mr. G…

The schools are out for what is commonly termed “Ski Week Vacation”.  I’m betting there won’t be much skiing as the closest slopes are about 160 miles from here and there is hardly any snow to ski this year. But, last Friday was the last day to pad the paycheck for February this year so I took the 3rd grade assignment.

I arrived at the school, signed in and picked up the class attendance from the office secretary. As she handed me the form, she said “I need to give you a heads up about one boy in your class.”

This is never a good sign…

“His name is G-----, and he’s a tough little so-n-so. He’s pretty mouthy with all the teachers but sometimes “ok” with subs. He probably won’t do any work; he’ll crawl around on the ground or walk on all fours crab like in the classroom. He might make weird, rude noises without warning. Be firm and you might be ok. If you DO have problems and you can’t take it anymore, just send him to the office with some work and he’ll spend the day with us. Don’t get me wrong, he’s really very smart but almost always out of control.”

“Oh, I almost forgot…He’s also not allowed to use the boy’s bathroom as he’s been known to pee on the walls and defecate on the floors. If he needs to go, send him to the office and we’ll deal with him here.”

With that warning, I’m already tired as I wander out to find the classroom.

The assignment is pretty basic. Some math assessment and spelling tests, reading, and water color artwork followed by an end of the day assembly on the playground. This would have been a pretty easy assignment day if it wasn’t for the unknown “Mr. G” situation.

The morning bell rang, I greeting the kids as they entered.  I was feeling pretty good after taking attendance and “Mr. G” seemed to be missing. That feeling was short lived when “Mr. G” arrived just under the wire to be tardy.

His desk is apart from the rest of the class and closest to the door.  He stood standing just behind his desk chair, two steps away upon entering. He just stood there staring at me, mouth wide open, not moving.

“Have a seat Mr. G. Since you weren’t here for lunch count, are you having the hot lunch or did you bring your own?”

-- Nothing --

“Did you hear me, Mr. G? Hot or cold lunch today?”

-- Nothing, still standing, silent, mouth agape --

“He does that all the time” offered more than one classmate in the class. “We just ignore it.”


About a third of the kids knew all about “Mr. Homework and the bad, bad 5th grade class” from their older brothers and sisters. Upon request, I retold the story and what I expected of this class so as not to repeat the consequences suffered by the 5th graders so long ago.

At some point during the story, I noticed that “Mr. G” was now sitting at his desk and listening. No outbursts, no weird mannerisms but laughing with the class at all the expected points during the story.

So far so good…

We get through the math assessment and spelling tests. Surprisingly, even “Mr. G” is doing work. Sloppy work but at least it’s something.  The reading and water color projects don’t interest “Mr. G” much as he’s aimlessly wandering the room.

Escorted back to his desk, I tried to engage him in idle conservation so the rest of the class could continue unmolested. I found out that he has a brother who is in middle school, his dad is an auto mechanic and not surprisingly, he doesn’t much care much for school.

“Mr. G” does like to ride his bike, play with his friends at home, and likes games and puzzles.


My “bag of tricks” includes a fun, time killer puzzle for those rare occasions where time allotted for class work is longer that the time kids need to complete it. If anyone needs something to occupy his time, “Mr G” is a prime candidate since the alternative is mischief.  Required tools are two different color whiteboard markers and one of those student sized personal white boards.

After showing “Mr. G” how to draw the layout of the puzzle and explained the simple rules, he was quiet for the rest of the time before recess, working on a solution to what looks deceptively simple but is in fact, impossible to solve.

As I roved around the room checking on the rest of the classroom I half expected “Mr. G” to give up and turn to other disruptions in the classroom. That didn’t happen. I surreptitiously checked on “Mr. G” to notice that he was carefully considering advanced approaches as he progressed through the puzzle…he wasn’t ready to give up.

The first recess bell came and all the kids except “Mr. G” exited to the playground. “Mr. G” was still engrossed in the puzzle and was reluctant to go. Since I had yard duty, I had to usher him out the door to join the rest of the class.

His Dad arrived during recess and introduced himself letting me know that he had checked “Mr. G” out at the office for a doctor’s appointment and wouldn’t be back the rest of the day.

With only 5min recess left, he waited until the bell before escorting his son back to the classroom to collect his backpack and jacket.

As I signed out after school, the office secretary gave me a look that begged an answer.

“He didn’t do much work, but at least he didn’t disrupt the class”

Her response: “Let’s count that a success, then” I left the building.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lie or Truth...

School administrations pretty much frown on teachers taking the leading or trailing days off before long vacation breaks. Teachers also don’t usually give up the short minimum day if they can help it.

President's Week break starts Saturday and today is minimum day at the elementary school. That’s a double hex on getting a sub job for today but 30mins before school started, the call came for a 5th grade assignment. That told me the vacancy was for a legit reason.

The office told me that the teacher injured his back somehow and is now horizontal for the duration for at least today…and possibility tomorrow.

As per usual, the first thing the kids want to know is: “Where is Mr. L today?”

Knowing that 5th graders are a bit savvier than younger kids, I offer them a choice:
“What do you want first…the lie or the truth?”

Interestingly, they chose “lie” first so I told them the “tale” of the “Blue Lollipop Agent” before I told them the “truth”.

It turns out the I’m going to have to come up with something more unbelievable than “rare blue lollipops” because almost half of this class still had Valentines Day candy that included …you guessed it…not so rare BLUE Tootsie Roll Pops!  

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


What do you do in situations where you’re not quite sure if the student you are addressing is a boy or a girl?

“Charlie” is a cute 3rd grader with chin length blond hair, wearing a stylish long sleeved shirt not tucked in, but over skinny legged jeans. In this school it’s not safe to assume that the name “Charlie” indicates a definite gender.

The face, voice and mannerisms can go either way. This isn’t the first time or even the second  that I’ve run into  situations like this. Having been wrong twice before, I don’t want to make this the third strike.

I’m NOT going embarrass him/her (and more importantly myself) by asking. I’m certainly not going to ask any other kid in class to clue me in so for most of the day, when needed, I just address “Charlie” by name and continue to watch for some deciding factor before making yet another inadvertent faux-pas.

It came just as everyone was lining up for the 1st recess when two boys in line were fighting over a ball to take out with them. Deciding that neither of these guys should get the prize, took the ball and tossed it to “Charlie” wherein one of the losers said:

“Awww, HE always gets to take the ball out!”

-- Dilemma solved!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Did you hear the one...

...about the substitute teacher that won a Super Bowl ring this weekend?

"Chase Blackburn, a key special teams cog the last time the Giants made it this far, had been cut before the start of the season. So he was back home in Dublin, Ohio, trying to get a job as a substitute teacher. He was in the basement of his house, playing with his two sons, when Giants assistant GM Kevin Abrams called"

Congratulations to Chase and the NY Giants!
From:  Just Another Substitute Teacher

Friday, February 03, 2012

Double Subbed…

I was a bit puzzled when I logged onto the substitute assignment system last night to discover a job offering for today as I already had an assignment for Friday afternoon. I had assumed that the computerized system wouldn’t allow double assignment bookings for the same day.

After yesterday’s fiasco, I checked to see if my previous assignment listing for Friday was still active. It was!

It was then I noted that new assignment was a half day MORNING assignment for BAND at the middle school.

If I took this new morning assignment, I would have about 50mins travel time between schools. That was more than enough time since the two schools were less than two miles from each other. This was the first time I’ve been able to bookend two half day assignments for the same day

It made for an interesting experience. Imagine eighty-two middle school band kids followed by nine elementary SpecEd students in one day!

It WAS a day of contrasts!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Mistakes Were Made…

It’s not unusual to have assignments cancelled before day of the assignment. It’s part of the job and normally not a big deal. My preference is to have cancellations as much in advance as possible so I might have the opportunity to schedule an alternative.

But there are limits to my “understanding index”:

Cancel a week before: AOK

Cancel the day before: A bit disappointed, but still acceptable. Maybe another assignment will show up tonight or tomorrow morning.

Cancel the night before: That’s cutting it a bit close, but there’s really nothing I can do about it.

Cancel after I accept your late morning call, for a job that started an hour ago, where I have rushed getting ready, driven to the school in less than 20min since I got the assignment and THEN cancel?: Well, now I’m pissed.

“Then, why did I get a call to come here today?” I inquired in my calmest voice I can manage at 09:30am this morning.

The school secretary explained that she had already called a different sub come in. She needed to enter the assignment in the computer system but accidentally sent it as  an “open assignment” that automatically put it out for calls. She didn’t know she had screwed up until I walked in the door.

“…Ok, so I’m not working today, but what does that mean for me since I DID accept the assignment. The “mistake” wasn’t mine and I’m here as instructed? Will I be paid for at least part of my time?”  While she sympathized and apologized once more for the mix up, she said there was nothing she could do.

I left the parking lot feeling more than a little pissed. As it happened, the street I was traveling on went directly past the district office. I pulled into the district parking lot to have a chat with the district substitute coordinator lady to escalate my case.

After explaining what happened, she contacted the school and verified my narrative of events this morning. She then checked for any available open assignments for today. Finding none, she asked me to wait while she talked with the payroll office.

“The payroll system isn’t set up to pay by the hour so instead, we’re going pay you today for a “half day” assignment if that’s acceptable.

More than acceptable, I returned home and logged on to the SmartFindExpress substitute assignment system and printed this month's completed assignments showing today’s cancelled botched assignment and today’s completed half-day assignment.

Trust but verify and document…