Thursday, December 20, 2007

getting through that awkward stage

The decision to do a new lesson or project is a daunting, challenging, and soul-questioning endeavor. When integrating a snazzy 2.0 (two point oh) component, planning, like any other lesson, is extremely important. If you’re new to Podcasting or Digital Storytelling, getting your proverbial timeline set can be an exercise of total mystery and guesswork.

After a semester of working with classes, I’ve formulated a pretty little set of advice to live by from now on. Believing that these new tools can increase student achievement, I offer the following recommendations whenever you should choose to incorporate Podcasting or Digital Storytelling with your classes.


  • Write, edit, revise, write, edit, revise (rinse and repeat).
  • Grade those scripts!

  • Rehearse, rehearse, and then keep on rehearsing.
  • Familiarize students with a recording program. Use Audacity; it's free.

  • Give a set time limit for recording. Since a good length for a Podcast is a couple minutes, ten minutes is a fair window for production.
  • Tell students to talk to a point five feet beyond the microphone in order to eliminate "Quiet Talkers".
  • Screech...screech! Keep that microphone stationary @ all times!
  • Create a group folder on your school’s server so podcast files can be saved to an easily accessible location.
  • The teacher should save the file when the student is finished recording.

Movies / Digital Storytelling:

  • Write a three-column script (or story board), edit, revise, write a three column script (or story board), edit, revise (rinse and repeat).
  • Grade those scripts / story boards!
  • Use Atomic Learning or Flickschool to teach basic cinematography. Ask your TV Production teacher to help, or a teacher with a strong acumen for video production.
  • Have students talk you through their intended shots. Ask clarifying questions; settle for nothing less than comprehension and confident interpretation of topic.
  • If filming during class time, have students fill out a location sheet so you know where they are at all times.
  • Fear absence. Store the tapes at the end of every day. Don’t let kids go home with them.
  • Time permitting, share all / portions of the raw footage with the class and continue to discuss topic (comprehension and interpretation). They’ll not only think about their filming, but also, and more importantly, their understanding of their topic.
  • Create a group folder on your school’s server so files can be saved to an easily accessible location.
Like any lesson, if you see its relative value, you should most definitely be able to make it work. The first time through may remind you of that awkward prepubescent phase, but remember, eventually you’ll grow into that momentarily misshaped frame.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

concussive joy - is there any other kind?

When Jason and I collided, I had the unfortunate experience of standing at the very top of twelve concrete steps. At some point, later in the day, my mother shook my left arm a bit and asked if I knew what happened. I think that’s what she said.

At some point, later in the day, my father told me a joke about a duck. I don’t remember the punch line.

At some point, later in the day, my grandparents stood over me. My grandmother leaned over, almost face-to-face, and observed, “You’re much too young to be in a hospital.”

At some point, twenty-five years later, my second son arrived. On Brian’s second day of life, I took his older brother, Mark (then 1 ½ ), to the hospital for the traditional sibling meet and greet.

When Mark and I entered the room, his eyes opened and opened and opened. Had the lights been out, the room would have shone a radiant shade of blue. His focus immediately honed in on his mother, but he remained by my side, well aware of a new, uncertain presence.

Mark, this is your brother, Brian.

He thought about that statement. His head tilted a bit. He started to move toward the window.

Oh no, don’t do it!

When he reached the window, he turned around and looked back toward the door. He walked back across the room and stood directly under the door handle. He reached up with his right hand.

Oh no, he’s going to run away!

Mark moved away from the door and made his way over to his mother and brother. He raised both hands in the air, the tell-tale ‘pick me up’ indicator. Twenty seconds later, all four of us occupied that bed; mom holding Brain, Mark and I flanking them on either side.

At some point, twenty-five years earlier, my family stood, sat, and even joked beside me.

And at some point, twenty-five years after that injury, my family stood, sat, and even joked with one another.

There is love in a hospital.

Sometimes, it’s the best kind of all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

'it's' about time - a fictitional account

There’s this assignment in my head. It’s multi-layered and full of scaffolding. Certainly, it will win an award for Best Project Ever; at the very least, a nomination is guaranteed.

Like all the best assignments, it begins with rich essential questions. Context will be set, schemas will be exposed, and the slow but steady path to learning, knowledge, empathy, and growth will sprout. Banners of the questions will border the classroom, thereby making thinking unavoidable.

What follows is a careful reading of a novel. A clear and delineated reading log is part of the process for the students. They will read independently and in small groups; they will hear read-alouds and they will even get some directed-reading activities to hammer home comprehension, prediction, and analysis. Post-its will be provided, free of charge.

Quizzes will be given intermittently during the reading. Vocabulary, drawn from the novel, will be studied, synonymed and antonymed. And not a Scantron anywhere! Remember, we’re not teaching them to fill in circles.

Primary sources? Most definitely! Students will read documents direct from the time-period in which the novel was written. Letters, written by the author during his service in some glorious military endeavor, will be studied. Students will examine them for clues that indicate the slow development of his now timeless novel. A grandfather will come in on Friday and speak to the class. He won’t show you his scar.

Nobody wins an award for any of that. Standard stuff, right? But this assignment, the one brewing in my head, is just about ready for the stratosphere. Look-ee, look-ee:

So now the students are ‘getting it’. They’re only half-way through the text and they’re talking about the novel. They’re even asking questions of their own creation. They’ve abandoned the Post-Its and have noted-up the margins. There will be no discipline slips for these infractions. The desire to learn is far more important.

And then, I hit ‘em with the zinger! I’m taking this project to the next level. Oh, yeah, it’s going 2.0 (two point oh). If this assignment is going to work, they must do more than communicate, investigate, and appreciate; they need to collaborate. But those markers and packets of construction paper are defunct remnants of an ill-conceived educational past and they won’t work. But blogging will work.

Now, this isn’t just ‘get in the gate’ and go sort of blogging. It’s important that you realize that they’ve been reading blogs all semester. They all have accounts at Bloglines. These are Twenty First Century citizens through and through. Most subscriptions are blocked by the school filter.

The novel comes alive as students post as if they are the characters. Suzie is no longer a tired adolescent; through the power of blogging she’s been transmogrified into the tired protagonist from the novel. She posts and she comments. She inserts a ClustrMap. A Tibetan is reading.

In class, someone’s post is glowing with the power of a Hewlett-Packard projection system behind it. We re-read posts. We discuss the comments. I ask clarifying questions. We even use student posts to work on the conventions of the writing process. Students work independently and in teams. We edit and revise. There’s a mini-lesson on the comma. Bathroom requests increase.

The blogs are working…better than expected. Suddenly, students are posting on their own and comments are soaring. Suzie comes to my class before homeroom. She tells me her post from the other day now has thirteen comments. The Tibetan commends her interpretation.

At one point, we even Skyped another school.

I ask the students for permission to share their blogs with teachers in our building who may not be aware of the work they have done. They are happy to oblige. Tibetans are reading, surely the faculty will appreciate the work.

Email out, hyperlinks included.

Emails in, lesson concluded:
“Too much time.”

“No way you get through the entire curriculum if you do all that.”

“There is such a dearth of writing skills that an assignment like this is more than time-consuming, it’s a reinforcement of all that is wrong with student writing.”

“They could have just as easily written a paper.”

“Tell me how blogging helps with our State Assessments and maybe they’ll be a reason to abandon real teaching.”
One day, when this assignment wins Best Project Ever, I’ll thank a handful of avatars who made me believe that teaching is more than just quantity, more than just testing, and more than just commas. It’s about something you use with care, something you use deliberately, and it’s about something you use with an awareness of student advancement.

It’s about time.

Monday, December 17, 2007

dropping a new year

You've filled 'em out before:

Scrolling, scrolling along until...

Depression kicks in.
Anger increases.

It's like a big drop-down kick in the pants.

Friday, December 14, 2007

prep time versus teach time

So it took ninety minutes to put his sub plans together. Let's presume that he teaches in the Block and therefore his class is ninety minutes long.

You know what, let's presume that he doesn't teach in the Block and his class period is, oh, about an hour.

Either way, isn't it fair to presume that planning for a period should be equal to, if not greater than, direct instructional time?

When (if) I go back to the classroom, I'm definitely following this model:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

presenting on the uphill

Worth noting: Slide #3, the one in red, used a friendly little font called, Children Should Not Play With Dead Things. To add to the joy of Slide #3, I gave the text a 'very fast' 720 degree clockwise spin. The PowerPoint is right here if you want to see it in all it's spinning font fun.

So I asked students to pick a slide and defend their choices.

And I quote from a senior:
I'd want to watch a presentation with spinning, bloody letters.
And I ran to a corner of my classroom and cried:
So much time spent on design and barely a dent! Oh, but to listen to their "presentations"! Why haven't we taught them how to present?
I'm all for design and Pecha Kucha, but shouldn't it be of some concern that our students' understanding of their content is in no way growing proportionally to their aesthetic awareness of slide design?

You're not new to this, nor am I, but as seniors in our school start the process of preparing their Senior Inquiry presentations, anxiety about another round of stammer and pause-filled presentations gnaws at my tricuspid valve.

Just yesterday I worked with Brian, a senior working on a presentation for his English class to demonstrate understanding of a central theme in William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies. He requested my help, wanting some advice on the design of his slides. They were a lot like option number one from the above slidedeck (I love that term, slidedeck!). We worked together and after teaching him how to create mildly transparent text boxes and use strong, central images, he seemed shocked that his slides actually looked, his words here, "adult and professional".

Naturally, as one who taught senior English for a decade, I asked him to take me through his presentation. A quizzical, 'wha 'choo talkin' bout, Rodoff?' look emerged.

Immediately, he turned to the computer and started looking at his slides. You should have been there! He looked at those 'adult and professional' slides and to his new-found misery, he realized that they could not help him deliver the content that he moments earlier had bullet-pointed on his slidedeck (still love that word, slidedeck!).

Shouldn't Brian know his content well enough to speak about it in extemporaneous fashion before he ever sits down to make a RISD-quality slidedeck?

Design doesn't create understanding.

place aversion

Today represents the one year mark since Shane's suicide. I am sitting in the library, a place many people had a tough time re-connecting with in the immediate aftermath of his death. You see, after moving through the halls, Shane took his own life right out in front of the library.

Place = Trigger = Aversion

It's understandable.

Recently, students began expressing a myriad of tribute ideas. Some planned to meet early in the AM and place a memorial. Some talked of not coming to school at all. Others wanted to organize a walk-out at the time of the shooting. And others...well, they silently went about their day to day existence. These are the students I worry about most.

Last year, as the Faculty Advisor for the school newspaper, the staff and I discussed the type of coverage to provide in our next issue.

No one wanted to "be the one" to write anything, to express an opinion that might come off as wrong, hurtful, or disrespectful. But everyone of them really, really felt that the school paper, by title and spirit, should 'chronicle' this monumental event in school history.

Near the end of the meeting, the editor asked if I would write an article. I protested:
"It's the student paper. Students should write for it."
"It's the school's newspaper. Anyone can write for it," she countered.
Sometimes students are quite argumentatively adroit. So here's the article that ran in the January '07 issue of The Chronicle:

One week after Shane’s suicide, I found myself embroiled in a verbal dispute with a student. As emotions escalated, I asked the student to step out into the hallway with me. My first sentence surprised not only the student, but also myself.

“I am angry, but I am not angry with you.”

The skeptical side of me likes to cling to the notion that alleged moments of clarity are bogus and contrived, but as I spoke the above sentence, I firmly believe that I had a much-needed, too-good-to-be-true moment of clarity.

We returned to the classroom and I apologized to the whole class, but I kept going. I told them that I was angry, livid, distraught, ravaged, hurt, and scarred.

Shane’s suicide hurt on levels that are as multi-faceted as a complex piece of machinery, but as I processed the untimely and violent passing of a student, I found myself torn apart over an unspoken, fractured relationship between me and my father.

On this day, my students were spared the details about my latent emotional issues pertaining to my family. As I left school that day, I knew I needed to talk to someone; preferably someone completely unbiased, but everyone in my cell phone contact list would most likely take on the obligatory role of Ken-sympathizer. The choice was clear: sit down with a psychiatrist.

To date, I have had eight sessions.

In the days following December 12, 2006, thoughts tumbled back to me, free-falling from my subconscious.

There was a time when bike rides were the norm. On Saturday mornings, a father would kiss his wife goodbye for the day. He would fasten two bikes to the back of his car and head down to Kelly Drive with his son riding alongside in the passenger seat.

They would start their day at the Falls River Bridge. They would make their way down the sinuous path that bordered the Schuylkill; father leading the way and son always right behind. That little eight year old boy would try to ride as close to the rear wheel of his father’s bike; a game requiring dexterity, but an action indicating a son’s admiration for his father.

I was highly unprepared for this repressed memory, and I had little time to process because another followed close behind.

Then there was a time when that son would stay at his father’s small one bedroom apartment on alternating weekends. At 6:30AM on Saturday mornings the father would wake his son and urge him to get ready for work.

At 7:15AM they would walk out the front door. They would turn the corner and pass two rusty bikes that leaned listlessly along the vinyl siding. By 7:45AM the father had his fourteen year old son at work. These rides would be taken in silence, but they would tear at the spirit of a teenage son who sat quietly mourning a lost connection once had with his father.

Why would these memories, twenty to thirty years old, return to me in the days following the traumatic event here at the high school?

I had no time to think, to make a connection or to put it all together; whatever it represented.

In fact, somewhere inside of me, there was a desire to avoid these memories.

How random, I thought, to have thoughts of my childhood and adolescent relationship with my father. There are many other things going on in my life that demand and deserve my attention. My wife, my children, friends, lessons and lacrosse, lacrosse, lacrosse seemed far more meaningful.

In the days following the suicide, we were all told that a varied and valid array of emotions may rise to the surface. We were also told that a varied and valid array of emotions may be buried. In the days that followed, the school community rallied together. Faculty, staff, and students demonstrated that our collective spirit can overcome even the most horrid event.

But some of us merely played along, exhibiting situational-appropriate emotional responses when needed. I did; because at the time, I could not process what really hurt me the most after December 12th. Seven days later, no longer able to maintain the guise, I sought help because I needed help.

Because I wanted help.

Because I want to help.

Parents emailed me. Students complimented me. A co-worker told me that I was brave.

Today, December 12th, the students seem extra quiet, the hallways extra-clean, and the memories, hard to suppress.

But today, December 12th, the students are here, the halls are clean, and memories keep us moving forward.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

beetlejuice, beetlejuice, beetle-

Sometimes, I have thoughts that are impure. I feel dirty and vile, and then I take those thoughts and post them...

So, you don't blog for egotism?
Forgive me for this one, but I'm staring @ that little Feedburner number over there on your blog and it's screaming 300 readers. Is this number meaningful for me, the reader?

I have a tough time digesting the notion that blogging is not about vanity.

There are far too many blogs with ClustrMaps and Feedburner stats to suggest that we aren't screamin', cravin', and cryin' out for some attention.

And now I feel really, really dirty. But I'm gonna go get me a ClustrMap! Oh...and don't forget to click on that big 'ol 'subscribe' button up there!

Monday, December 10, 2007

an educational bris

When an email begins with:
The entry below is why I want no part of blogs or wikis for class discussions..
I find myself thinking about the days of yore...

Remember assigning papers and students would submit their papers? From my end, these moments were exceptionally fulfilling because seeing all their work neatly stapled and piled upon my desk meant that my assignment had been effective.

However, grading those papers and painfully going from page to soul-crushing page made me experience full-throttle antithesis. These due-date honoring students had turned in what amounted to berry-less boxes of Crunch Berries. About mid-way through grading any given set, I suddenly felt like a highly ineffective teacher.

Their papers represented the epitome of suction. In order to re-establish my efficacy as a classroom instructor, I immediately wanted to punish my students' for their lack of adherence to the CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS & SPECIFICATIONS that I had outlined. But that's just a coping device to avoid taking ownership over the problems that I perpetuated.

Teachers are people too, and we are an adroit lot when it comes to the art of instructional separation.

Case and point:

Mr. Stevens wants to use technology. He wants to use it as a platform for students to demonstrate their understanding of the current content. He is, by nature, not a willing tech integrator and whenever he and I meet to plan, he often says things that distance himself from the technology.

At first, I thought these statements provided insight into his lack of knowledge or confidence about computers.

But I was wrong!

Turns out, Mr. Stevens constantly distances himself from any technology because then he can point and wave his teacherly finger at me if problems arise. If Mr. Stevens takes ownership over his desire to use technology, then he would have to deal with feeling ineffective when things don't work according to his preconceived notion of successful teaching. But Mr. Stevens doesn't want to feel that way. His students have been submitting papers with due-date precision!

All is right in Mr. Steven's classroom.

So, when he does make the choice to use technology and he receives this email:
hi mr stevens its jimmy i am sending are project but there was a problem since i showed up late and kate didnt andy gave us what we should do so he did the pic and about me so i got the blog and wall comment and kate got the top friends and likes and we were all going to do the works cited so i finished everything i needed to do and so did andy but i looked and nothing was where kates part was supposed to be i facebooked her cause i didnt no her phone number or email so i just imed her but i am not sure if she got it but here is out project any way i dont no if you want to check it with us just giving you our id and pass and our pass is Jackson but if this doesnt work then we can do it in class tomorrow thank you and ill see you tomorrow
then it's my problem, not his and he feels completely validated to dismiss technology.

But part of me wonders: what the hell do his students' papers look like?

Friday, December 7, 2007

educational value included

Mark came across blabberize, and first, he tested it out:

Then, he began to wonder about its place in an educational environment:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

an interest invested or otherwise

There's a student over here; just to my left, and she's staring at an error message box that just appeared on her computer monitor. The two of us are the only ones in the lab right now, and she tells me that she is having a problem:
I have this paper due and I'm trying to print it and it won't print and I have this error message and I don't know what it means and it's not my fault and will you write a note to my teacher telling her that I tried to print out the paper but something was wrong with the school equipment so, and yeah.
I look to my left. I peek over the monitor I'm using. I turn to see what's behind me.

And I pause. One of those really deliberate, Hamlet-like pauses because I'm hopeful that my simultaneous perusing and pausing will lead this young lady / future world leader / thoracic surgeon to the twenty-eight possible solutions surrounding her.

And now I'm thinking: God, please don't ever let me get sick.

In the spirit of Intervention, I decide to demonstrate actual investment in her plight because I realize that she may very well decide to pursue medicine as a future course of study. And if she stays local, I may one day find myself on her operating table.
Try another computer.
The immediate sense of relief she experienced is, at some level, hard to quantify here, but I'll paraphrase her comments:
Sweet Lord, it's a miracle! I am saved! You have set me free! My paper is spooling through the printer with vigor! You, good sir, great teacher, have shown me the light and for this, I am eternally grateful. God has sent you to me, to us, this school, this sacred bastion of higher learning. Thank you, thank you!
But the part I'll remember most; the part that will resonate with me for days and months upcoming, would be when she uttered this most majestic conclusion:
So, can you write me that pass?
Problem solving. I hear it, read it, and think about it on a daily basis. But I'll be a goosed-rooster if we've really empowered our kids to embrace its liberating, self-gratifying potential.

Monday, December 3, 2007

role and purpose

Sometimes my chest seizes up like I'm under a massive, soul-crushing amount of stress. These moments are damning and liberating because I want the feeling to evaporate, but I trichotillomania my way to a tolerable level of pseudo-comfort.

Rip, rip.

Do you have any stress-ers? Here are some of my more common ones:
  1. Twins
  2. My job
  3. Blogging
  4. Coaching
1. Going from two kids (both currently under the age of three) to four is, well, you don't need any whiz-bang mathematical prowess to deduce that's a 100% increase. Oh, and the questions about twins are constant sleep-deprivers:
Will my wife need a C-section?
Will they come early?
Will they be premature?
How long before we can hold them if they are premature?
What if one...?
What is the other...?
What if I...?
2. This gig I got goin' right now is somewhere between ephemeral and illusory; part high school popularity, part watery mirage. The '08-'09 state budget is a summer-time issue so knowing whether or not the grant will continue (and with it, the funding for my position) is one big David Blaine magic trick; could it be? maybe. no way!

I'm spending a lot of think-time devising a powerful platform to prove to my district's Great Contract Creators that any tech-driven initiative requires a sustainability plan that includes a Tech Integration Specialist. Really, can we just keep putting computers in the classes and not provide on-site, mission-critical professional development? I don't think so, but I know that beyond the occasional ew-ah presentation I have absolutely zero sway when it comes to the allocation of district spending.

3. Why are there so many friggin' questions about blogging? I only wish my students would ask a meager percentage of the questions that I find myself constantly asking about this topic. Heck, for my students, any topic! Ask something that has some depth and meaning! Take ownership over your own learning! When there's a problem, solve it! And I want to quote Vanilla Ice (who doesn't?), but when he muses:
If there was a problem, yo I'll solve it
an apoplectic moment of verb-tense agreement ensues and I'm left with hollow edicts and staring at the ceiling.

4. Mesmerizing observation: high school students go to parties. And at those parties, said high school students drink. Sometimes, a neighbor calls the police. And the police show up and then they bust and bust. Once in a great while, one of the busted is a player on the team I coach. Now there's this part of me, the part that attended high school and went to parties, that wants to grab that player of mine and say:
You're an athlete! How on Earth did you get caught? Rrrruuuunnn!!!
But another part of me, the part that works at a high school and believes in things like accountability and responsibility, wants to grab that player of mine and say:
See ya! You can try out again next year.
But that's heartless. That's cruel. And if that student were one of my would-be twins, then I'd grab that child of mine and say:
You've made a mistake and I hope you learn from it. I'm extremely disappointed with you. I still love you. Now, tell me about your day.
And where's your sister?

bubbles on your video

Thanks to Jim Gates for this one. And remember, a vote for Jim is a vote for progress!
So, remember how I told you about the history teacher with the video project?

Yeah, well, 'dem videos about to get poppin'!

This here nifty new app, Asterpix, allows you to create interactive videos by adding embedded notes. Simple mouse-over the 'beacons' and the video will pause and a bubble will open, replete with notes and hyperlinks. Notes and such added by the video creators.

Anyhow, the history teacher always tells her students that their videos should stand on their own. Conceptually and thematically, she wants those videos to convey the mood and the issues of each event.

Now, as Dan Meyer has pointed out, creating really effective videos is a tough game. But now, Asterpix comes along and affords some textual help.

Something like Asterpix can only help increase the richness of student work, right?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

may the voice be with you

C&C Music Factory knew darn right-well that there are things in life that make you go 'hmmm'. Perhaps they once worked in a school, and they were charged with the task of developing lessons that integrated technology in meaningful ways.

Perhaps they knew darn right-well about their school's firewall.

See, a Spanish teacher wanted her upper-level students to work on their oral and written communication skills. She wanted them to refine and practice their use of the preterite and imperfect tenses. And she really, really wished that their stories could survive beyond the two minute space in time that they would tell them in class. Oh, and she wanted to afford them with opportunities beyond class to communicate / share in the target language.

Enter wonderful idea: Voice Thread.

Students would:
  1. Pick a memorable event from their lives
  2. Acquire a picture from selected memorable event
  3. Compose a two-minute script in the target language telling a personal story about selected event, replete with preterite and imperfect verb tenses
  4. Conference with teacher to receive feedback, revision ideas, and suggestions
  5. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
  6. Sit in a cozy office with script, laptop , and microphone and, deep breath, record their story into Voice Thread
Spanish Teacher, Tech Coach, and Librarian would:
  1. Meet well in advance and plan.
  2. Develop the assignment sheet and rubric
  3. Upload student pictures to Voice Thread
  4. Create a test 'thread' to insure smooth instructional transfer to students
  5. Secure a location for students to record their Voice Threads
  6. Celebrate the amazingly smooth integration of technology into a pre-existing lesson! Ew, yeah!
But here's the wrinkle in the wool that screwed everything up:

For three glorious days, YouTube had been accessible to one and all. On one of those days, well, that's when the Spanish Teacher tested Voice Thread and, tah-dah!, it worked. She uploaded her own picture, recorded her story, and shared it with some of the staff.

But the day students went to record, YouTube had been demoted backed to blocked / evil status and when this happened, our Firewall settings changed, making communication with Voice Thread's site a 30-second opening.

That's it.

No more than 30-seconds.

So every kid that recorded a diligently crafted, well-rehearsed story, found themselves listening to the first 30-seconds.
Damn you, Firewall! Curse the heavens!
I filled out the mandated / friendly "District Tech Request" and held my cherubic breath for a quick and timely (1)response AND (2)solution.

Okay, how 'bout one outta two?

I received a response, immediate and timely. However, a solution took over TWO WEEKS to appear.

That TWO WEEK delay is dangerous for someone like me. But for teachers, well, that time is open season for reaffirming techno-skeptic words and phrases like 'nope', 'told you', and 'that's why I wouldn't do it'.

Ya see, that's plenty of time for word to get out that attempting to integrate technology can be an exercise in futility and stupidity. I mean, why would any teacher willingly make the effort to modify an existing lesson to include technology when doing so runs the all-too-real risk of derailment?

Anyhow, tomorrow, over TWO WEEKS since the students first recorded their Voice Threads, they are going to give it another go. I tested it today.

It worked like a charm!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

of (quality) student-created videos

Students in US History II and English 12 do not have the time to make:

But after using resources like:


Can make a video like this:

There's nothing horrible about students (heck, all of us) maneuvering around as amateurs sometimes.

(Every image is a link...just thought you'd like to know...or watch.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

critical identity

You're going to dress them the same, right?
Why would I do that?
You'll give them similar names, you know, that rhyme, right?
Why would I do that?
Then what will you do?
I will emphasize identity, autonomy, and individuality.
But identical twin girls are special!
And each one will be her own person. That's special.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

of an appendage well-connected

skin crisis, part two
This is the second post in a three-part series, all tightly tethered to that creepy feeling. When put together, they will convey my stance about a word that means a lot to me in a world of online, open communication: identity.
See that kid over there? He's about to chuck a snowball at a passing car. His ability to calculate trajectory, distance, speed, and a myriad of other criteria make his upcoming toss a spot-on bulls-eye.


See that driver over there? The one who just had his windshield powdered by a snowball? He's applying the brakes. He's shifting the car in reverse. He's looking for the source.

But the kid is long gone. He's darted through the backyard and is already in the woods waiting out the search.


That kid is gonna grow up and he's gonna write a blog. That driver is gonna read that blog.

That blogger won't use his name on his blog. He will remain mildly anonymous. He will remember his snowball hurling days and think of anonymity and preservation.

That reader will gosh-darn read that blog with regularity. He will reflect on the thoughtfulness of the posts. He will comment assiduously. But he will soon reach a point where that blogger's voice is nowhere near as profound as the person who stands behind it.


I teach my student's to take pride in themselves. I urge them to stand up for what they believe in. And I sure as hell would never tell them to go stand behind a bush, shout an invective, and then run for the hills.

Don't hide in the woods. Don't run for protection. Stand up, take credit, believe in what you espouse.

Your message is strong, but you are stronger.

Sign your name. Step up. Be heard.


That driver over there? The one getting back in to his car? He's the U-12 State Select Baseball Coach. He's always looking for talent.

Monday, November 19, 2007

skin crisis, part one

Today starts a three-part post, all tightly tethered to that creepy feeling. When put together, they will convey my stance about a word that means a lot to me in a world of online, open communication: identity.

It's been a while since I've done the late night diner thing.

Diner runs afford the opportunity to extend the length of any given night out. Friends have a chance to see one another in a far more controlled setting; at least more so than scattered about in a bar or club. Having that extra hour at the diner helps to create a name for any given event; a way to generate a title / themeatic heading for that night's experience.

Over the weekend, a friend calls me, urging me to meet at the local diner. It's late, or, it's late because I have two children, both under three, and a full day with them is the equivalent to three days at work, but the tone of my friend's voice suggests compulsory attendance.

The young and the toothless. They populate the smoking section at the diner while the non-smoking section waits, empty and bright. My friend has retreated back to smoking, a habit now in its third reincarnation. We are seated quickly; no time for short, information gathering questions.

We order coffee, decaffinated, but when my friend starts with the word 'divorce', I look desperately for the waiter, hopeful that he overheard the start of a difficult conversation and will upgrade the caffination.

I am ill-equipped to offer empathy, and sympathy seems to suggest I'm-sorry-but-I'm-glad-it's-not-me, so I stare, hoping to conveys support, but then I realize that every thought I have about how I present myself is selfish and egocentric.

He delivers one line that resonates with me; a careful arrangment of words that captures the present-ness of his emotional state as well as the uncertainty of a disjointed future:
She wants to start over, but I have to start over.
Our coffee sits, cream-less and tepid, and I'm looking at my friend, talking in what I'm sure sounds like meaningless jibber-jabber. I feel awkward providing encouragement and I feel remiss when just listening.

Through his words, I sense that he wants out of this reality. And through his words, I infer that he just wants out.

When we leave the diner, I search for the title, the heading for this evening's event:

skin crisis.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

that creepy feeling

okay, so I gave little angryblackbitch a look-see and perhaps if I practice my craft well enough I'll be able to post in the look-I'm-really-calculated-about-my-run-on-sentence style that seems to sell really well nowadays but I just can't get past the feeling that angryblackbitch might really be just a moodywhiteworkingclassgal who finally found a platform to espouse her thoughts using a platform and identify that won't cause her any professional, personal, or global harm because in my line of thinking (and I'm well aware that my line of thinking is expressly my own and not the stuff of public mandate) people who have strong thoughts along with a trust-fund absence tend to present themselves as someone/something else because repercussion is a scary word (read: job dismissal) so I'm entertained but the educator in me keeps pulling at words like 'veracity' and 'authority' and then I realize that my window-shopping blog-reading life needs to be more than just a casual appreciation for vulgarity and societal sadness.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the best use of technology

There's this teacher down the hallway. She wants students to know, like really know, Supreme Court cases pertaining to the Fourth Amendment. So we talk and we say all the right things:

Inquiry driven.

So many trendy/timeless words that when she and I begin to plan, we suddenly feel a massive web-weight thrust upon us by our own conspiring.

We decide to have the students make recreations of Supreme Court cases. Videos. There are many steps involved: research, annotations, two-column storyboarding, pitching the project, filming, editing, post-production, and viewing.

All of that is a semester long project, but curriculum gets in the way and we only have two weeks.

Students spent the first five days completing all steps up to filming. Starting today, they were going to have five days to film and complete all the tech-driven steps; you know, the stuff we love to celebrate. The stuff blogs are made of!

But here's the tickle me Elmo moment: we could stop today and celebrate the knowledge and understanding we've seen and heard from the students without every picking up a camera; without ever having to split a clip or insert a transition.

And every student would be able to articulate the relevancy of their court case to their own lives.

This project represents the best example of successful tech integration. Students have yet to film one scene but the assignment has clearly cemented the fact that this group of students has a deeper knowledge of these court cases than classes from year's past. They are asking their own probing questions. They are self-directed. They are using pathfinders. They are acquiring primary source material on their own accord.

They are asking for more time to work on their storyboards. Say that sentence to yourself a couple times and let it sink in. Remember that video cameras and time to film around the school are waiting for them. But they are huddled together in their groups, working collaboratively on their storyboards. They are going back to find more research. They are asking how these cases apply to their lives.

They may never film. There just isn't enough time. But I wish the teacher and I had the foresight to film them during class today. We'd post it to TeacherTube.

And no one would watch. Because process doesn't fill the seats and it surely doesn't wow the eyes of the masses.

But it's not about what they do with their understanding that creates the 'wow' factor; rather, it's about how they reach that understanding that is the educational equivalent of CGI.

Thank you, technology. We may never use you, but you afforded all of us the opportunity to really practice and refine those much-needed 21st Century skills.

What a phenomenal project.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

head, exploding

Thanks to Russell Davies; although achieving the goal apparently requires scrapbooking.

Oh, and Dan Meyer; although if I think too hard about his points, I'll lose whatever funny I may have left.

And both make me wonder: is it better to be interesting or funny?

Monday, November 12, 2007

will u be my optimus?

Dear Optimus,

We've never met, but I have such strong feelings for you, I can no longer sit idle as my heart yearns for your powers of transformation.

When you convert from truck to robot, or robot to truck, you inspire my soul. You prove time and time again that change is timeless and necessary. You could serve humanity at any level, even educationally.

Join me, Optimus. Grab hold of my hand when you are in ambulatory robot mode and help me create change here at my high school. Teach me the value of persistence. Show me that the Decepticons are just machines; not fleshy homosapiens that I sometimes believe them to be.

You are a true change-agent. I need you, Optimus. This school needs you. You are a boon to tech integration. You value the past, but you can make people around me see that progress does not mean having to abandon that past.

We can do great things, Optimus. Prime & Rodoff. Rodoff & Prime. Prime Rodoff. Whatever the name, our collective influence will surely, once and for all, give credence to the calculated use of technology as a tool to advance student-thinking, teacher instruction, and filmmaking.

Oh, answer me. Let my heart break no longer. I am waiting for you. I've waited for you. I cannot wait much longer. I'm about to resort to handouts.

Don't let this happen, Optimus.

Timorously waiting,


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

comments, meaningful

It's been a while, I know that. The last time we were together, we were eating dinner at your favorite restaurant.

It's been a while, I know that. The last time we were together, you were laying in bed and I was reading headlines from the paper to you.

It's been a while, I know that. The last time we were together, you were sitting in your wheelchair, holding Mark on your lap.

You ordered lamb chops. I remember thinking that they always seemed so difficult to consume, but you cut through them like a surgeon.

OJ Simpson articles covered the front page. Above us, the television silently replayed highlights of 'the chase'. You turned your head and I'm certain you looked at my hands. They were holding the paper, but you must've noticed that they were shaking.

Mark reached up and tried to grab your glasses off your face. You leaned back to the left and smiled. Mark immediately determined that you were playing a game with him. At one point, you called him Ken.

We never really spent time together, just the two of us. I remember sitting across from you and feeling like I barely knew you. What were we talking about? What did we ever talk about? Probably golf.

I stopped reading the headlines for a moment and I looked up and saw my father and his sister standing in the hallway, talking to one another. What could they really be talking about? They hugged one another and then they walked in to see us. I'm sure they knew we both needed them.

Even sitting on your lap, Mark could see the room with the bunny rabbits. He leaned forward. He wanted to stand and walk on his own accord over to Snickers and Bubbles. You reached out to pull him back to your lap, but he was too strong, too determined. And he was just over a year old.

I told you the story about Father's Day, 1991. The father-son tournament at Philmont Country Club. Dad had been diagnosed with cancer. He wanted you to still play. He offered me up as his replacement. You knew I was a horrible golfer.

Your two children, my father and his sister, flanked me. You had turned your head away from us. It looked like you were fixating on the ceiling. I asked them why your eyes were yellow; yellow like those you would see on a cat.

Mark was babbling to the bunnies. You were looking at him like you would never see him again. He looked at you. "I love you, Ken." I reminded you that Ken was my name and his name was Mark. "Who's Mark?" I should have listened to my mother and not corrected you.

On the 15th, I hit a good drive. You were sitting in the golf cart, waiting. I admired the flight of the ball and turned to you for a much-anticipated compliment. "Even a blind chicken gets some corn." That's the last thing I remember you ever saying to me. A heart attack two weeks later took all of us by surprise. Do you know that I use that quote all the time? It became the central element to my graduation speech I gave some years later. Everyone laughed. Later that night, I cried.

The morphine was doing its job. It not only eased the pain, it eliminated it. Turns out, you can't beat pancreatic cancer, but you can mute the pain of inevitable death. It was my turn to leave the room. A few hours later, my father told me that you had finally succumbed. My hands never stopped shaking that day. I know you knew.

Mark was due for a nap. How odd to think that I left for that reason. I placed Mark back on your lap and you went to hug him. I hope you know that he cried because he was tired, not because he was scared. We left. And you left two days later. I took Mark back to see the bunnies sometime after. "Mom-mom?" he asked when we arrived. You would've been so thrilled.

Today my wife and I learned that we are going to have identical twins. We spent the entire afternoon calling anyone and everyone we knew.

Sometimes, having one really big thing to share makes you realize that there are so many things you've neglected to share.

It's been a while, I know that.

I have so much to share.

I wish the three of you were here to listen.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

the most expensive round of drinks

Do you remember when you would send out emails to ‘select faculty’, inviting them to meet up after school at a local lemonade stand? The people you invited were the ones you wanted to be around. The group was a hand-selected lot and the selection process screamed ‘elitist’.

Do you remember going to said lemonade stand and having a really good time? You would tell your spouse that you would only be out for an hour or two and four hours later, you were well into your Friday night with a new group of friends. Good times.

Do you remember returning to school two days later and hearing the mumbles and grumbles of coworkers excluded from the invite list? They wanted to be invited. They wondered if you would send out a whole faculty email next time around.

And you did.

And come Friday, they were nowhere to found. A lemonade-less lot.

And you vowed never to send out a faculty wide invite because it was a wasted endeavor, meaningless altruism.

It’s not that I disliked the idea of a whole-faculty outing, but I knew that any real or tangible social value resided in the consistency and tightness of the group.

A greater level of selectivity is integral in fostering and maintaining meaningful relationships. Behold:

I follow 18 people on Twitter.
I read 14 blogs.
I float around in one ning.

Edtech circles should strive to remain relatively small because too many connections creates too much verbal static.

Here’s a handful of fun thoughts about these online communities:

Involvement in a ning is professional development; the place where you can sit next to select people, doodle and pass notes back and forth, and when the whim strikes you, contribute to the purpose of the gathering.

Blogging is a department meeting; a room full of people whose sole purpose is the advancement of a unified goal. Keeping a small blog circle is crucial. Remember the one about too many cooks?

Twitter is happy hour. Keep it short and sappy. Great for the social scene. Go with a select group. Have a good time. Talk shop. Vent. Keep going and next thing you know, everyone thinks you need to surrender your keys.

No one invites 300 people to happy hour. It violates maximum occupancy laws.

a twitter survival guide

Must there be a set of guidelines for everything?

Click the image and behold!

Monday, November 5, 2007

best new blog nominee - not me

I've nominated a blog for the 2007 Edublog Awards:
Taylor's voice is fresh, alive, and vibrant. The use of digital images only enhances a visitor's desire to stay, read, and subscribe. Anyone in education, classroom or otherwise, should make it a point to add taylortheteacher to his RSS feeds.

And the best part of all: posts about Tupac and Eminem! Taylor's voice is human. She is honest and forthcoming, but she keeps a blog that is varied, informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining.
Here's to the freshest, most honest voice out there! Good luck, Taylor.

schiess das Fenster!

Taylor posits that Star Wars is a galaxy of learning asteroids; a movie that teaches us a whole bunch of good stuff about life, liberty, and the pursuit of Wookies.

Everyone has one movie; one they turn to as a processing device for the way life careens and jostles about.

Me, I just can't get away from Officer John McClane in Die Hard. When Twinkie-stuffed officer Al Powell receives a fresh corpse on the hood of his squad car, McClane shouts out, "Welcome to the party, pal!"

This quote finds a way to root itself in the classroom and the school with amazing dexterity:
"Mr. Rodoff, you're really giving me a zero for not doing my homework?"
Thank you, John McClane.

"Do I really have to work with a group?"
Oh John, your economy of words captures the true collaborative nature of life.

"Holy crap, someone is shooting off a gun in the halls!"
Sgt. McClane? Do you copy? 417 in progress, use caution.
At times, walking through the halls or teaching a class is akin to McClane's maneuvering through a ventilation shaft: "Now I know what a TV dinner feels like."

But let's be honest; some of those meals are flat-out delicious. We know they're not healthy, but we eat them anyway.

And we know that school can cause emotional coronaries, but we go anyhow.

Because sometimes, it's just a guilty little pleasure.

In the middle of the Die Hard, FBI Agent Robinson invites Sgt. Powell to leave the crime scene. Robinson states, "Now you listen to me...Any time you want to go home, you consider yourself dismissed."

Sgt. Powell responds, "No sir. You couldn't drag me away."

He'd make one hell of a teacher. I wonder what movie he would quote?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

tree me

A series of questions that caught my attention in David Weinberger's podcast, "What the Web Is For":
When are we humans at our best? When are you proudest of being who you are? If you wanted human beings to make a really great impression on Martian visitors, what would you take the Martians to see?
May I take the last part first? Thanks!
  • The Giving Tree. When everything is said and done, we are an altruistic lot.
Okay, now the middle part? Great!
  • Do you see those two children there? I'm with them.
So the first part:
  • At Wawa. People still hold doors. No preferential treatment. Some people go for the coffee, but I recommend going for the civility.

myers-briggs type inservice

Which word in each pair appeals to you more? Think about what the words mean, not about how they look or how they sound.
  • Inservice
  • Surgery
  • Adult
  • Fetus
  • Polite
  • Spastic
  • Respectful
  • Penis
  • Patience
  • Embarrassment
  • Role Model
  • Village Idiot
  • Professional
  • Orangutan
  • Tenure
  • Accountability
  • Impulsive
  • Teacher
  • Content you teach
  • Reality that most people don't care about it like you do and they never will
Insert Forrest Gump voice: Sometimes, there just aren't enough mirrors.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

leave your cork-covered face at the door

I used to tell my students that we all wear masks at various points in our lives. Invariably, one of them shouts out, "Just like the Greeks!".

It's nothing more than impeccable timing; we are reading Sophocles.

"Anyone care to share an example of a time when you put on a facade?"

Dramatic pause, appropriate for the current unit of study...

"Drinking," shares that confident, ew-yeah-I'm-talkin'-'bout-drinkin'-in-school-to-a-teacher kid.

Okay, so I've set them up on this one. You've done the same thing and you know it!

"Even-though-you-know-it's-illegal-but-let's-just-speculate-on-a-hypothesis-here, do people wear masks when they drink?"

The debate that follows is often spirited and engaging not because of the topic that allows the discussion to percolate, but students begin to reflect on their own behaviors and choices. The best moment is when we find our way back to Antigone and they analyze the concept of facades; not just as props in a Greek tragedy, but also as a means to unlock a person's true inner motives and desires.

Teachers should read Antigone and talk about facades. Because I'm beginning to think that their tried-and-true teaching practices are quite possibly facades that cover-up their latent willingness to try something new.

When teachers reveal their true selves, they remove their masks. They try something new or they plan a brand-new lesson. They will exclaim, "Yeah! I'll try that! Let's see what happens!"

There's no perfect lesson. I learned that after my first period of teaching thirteen years ago and it's a reality that has only been reinforced year after year. But I believe we are, at our core, pioneers and explorers. We seek out new strategies to enhance our teaching, to engage our students, and to mold and re-shape the learning process.

And we are at our best when we remove our masks and reveal ourselves as willing risk-takers, focused on affording our students the best opportunities for learning.

This Halloween, leave the mask on the desk or by the copier, and have an exciting, empowering, and re-affirming Holiday. And you'll say to yourself, "I wish Halloween could come more than once a year."

And it will.

Monday, October 29, 2007

when the leaves plummet down

hockneyizer number one - 1995
When I returned my first set of graded papers, a kindly student, Eric, stayed after the bell. If I remember correctly, he had earned a 'B'; a pretty good understanding of Lady Macbeth's motives.

"Mr. Rodoff? Yeah, um, I want to thank you for taking the time to grade our papers. But here's the thing: You spent a lot more time on each paper than any of us did."

hockneyizer number two - 1996
I am coaching the lacrosse team at an all boys' high school. It's our first day of practice. I tell them, "If you've never played lacrosse, you'll learn rather quickly that it requires a lot of running."

"Okay," says one of the would-be midfielders, "Why aren't you running with us?"

hockneyizer number three - 1997
It's my first year at Springfield, quite possibly my second class on my first day. A student in one of the dark corners of the room raises his hand.

"So, you got tired of teaching just guys? Learned you're not gay? Is this why you want to teach at a school with girls?"

hockneyizer number four - 1998
Serving as the Faculty Manager at a basketball game, my job description is simple: make sure students don't curse or do anything inappropriate that would reflect negatively on the school.

Colin, sitting in the back of the bleachers, sees his web design teacher. Colin yells out, "Yo, you failed me, bitch. I oughta kill you!"

I remove Colin. I write him up. The next day I am in a meeting with my Principal. I ask, "How long will Colin be out on suspension?"

"Are you a Principal?" he asks. "Sometimes the fear of punishment is more effective than any punishment. Maybe you should learn that before you tell a Principal how to do his job."

hockneyizer number five - 2002
The students I am teaching are low-achieving seniors. They are respectful, but I can tell that literature is lost on them. They speak of careers in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work.

At a meeting with the Special Ed. Coordinators, I ask about teaching life skills.

"It's not our job," says one of the Special Ed. Coordinators, "to teach them how to do their laundry. Is that what you think you or any of us are here to do?"

And that ends the meeting.

hockneyizer number six - 2003
One month before I leave for Japan on my Fulbright Memorial Scholarship and I am well-beyond excited. I begin preparing my students for my trip, sharing with them some of the beautiful elements of Japanese culture.

Two students ask questions, rapid fire:
"So you'll be the tallest one over there, right Mr. Rodoff?"
"How does everyone in Japan walk or drive when they always have their eyes closed?"

hockneyizer number seven - 2006
A student passes me in the hallway between A and B block. She asks, "Is it true that I won't have you for English next semester? You're going to work with teacher instead? I was looking forward to having you. I've really been looking forward to your class. I even read the prerequisite reading. And I've never done that."

So, Taylor, would you believe me if I told you that all of these snapshots are the reasons why I think the good ones stick around?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

see that door over there?

Mark wants to go to the supermarket and we are a family in need of milk, so off we go. The walk from the car to the entrance is always full of excitement for Mark. I can sense his anticipation: The race-car shopping cart. The embedded Manhattan Bagel. The mountain of grapes. Just three of the wow! can't wait! supermarket moments.

When we finally coordinated our assault upon the Superfresh this evening, the sun had already set. As we began walking from the car to the door, Mark noticed a man enter the store, and then witnessed the sliding doors immediately shut.

"Oh, maaan," moaned Mark, "It's closed."

But then Mark witnessed a miracle. As we stepped up to the entrance, the sliding doors re-opened, welcoming Mark into the store. Elation ensued.

"Look, Daddy, they opened for me!"

And my wife and I let him have this moment. We allowed him to bask in the idea that this once shut door opened for him. We admired his sudden sense of self-confidence; the belief that opportunity existed where moments earlier he had felt rejected and left-out.

Mark sat in the race car shopping cart. He munched on a bagel. He kept the bag of grapes by his side until checkout. And I walked up and down every aisle wondering why teachers tend to see only closed doors; why they lose their sense of optimism and opportunity.

If they could only see what is on the other side of the glass. If only they would walk up to the door, press their hands upon the glass and peer inside, they might see something so enticing, so meaningful, that they might step back and jump up and down on the mat, willing the door to open.

I've seen teachers do just that. They'll get a glimpse of something on the other side and they'll bang their fists, they'll jump up and down, and if they need to, they'll even break in.

And it doesn't matter what's on the other side of that door. It's not about finding a wiki or a podcast or a blog. It's about finding a new, improved, or enhanced way to do something better. For themselves and for their students.

That door's not closed. It's waiting. Walk up to it. If it doesn't open automatically, open it. I've seen too many teachers turn around from a door that holds something desirous on the other side. They claim they don't have time to open it.

You have tenure, open that damn door.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

how to create immediate antithesis:

how to crisis

Shane killed himself in front of the library ten months ago. A lot has changed around here.

Today, we conducted our first school-wide Lock Down Drill, a simulated event/incident/nightmare. Leading up to this event, an assembly, faculty meeting, and announcements helped prepare everyone. But some people wanted more. Or, better yet, some people needed more.

Over the last two weeks, people asked questions.
  • What do I do if I'm in the hallway and the intruder is right there in front of me?
  • Is it okay to run outside?
  • Can we use our cell phones?
  • If we're to station ourselves in the classrooms in such a way that we can't be seen by someone in the hallway, then how are we supposed to close the blinds on the windows?
  • What should we use to cover the glass in the door?
These are valid questions. They are practical and they provide information and protocols. But one question, asked during the assembly, irritated me:
  • So I'm in the bathroom, in a stall, sitting on the toilet doing my business and the intruder walks in. What do I do?
Okay, if you know the student who asked the question, you know that it's a student who desperately craves attention; a student who has asked a question or made a comment at every assembly since he entered the high school. Why he is called on is part mystery, part theater of the absurd, but he did ask the question, and he did get an answer.

In fact, we were all told that if we find ourselves 'in a moment' then we should, like the little Amish boy in Witness, lift our legs up to the level of the toilet seat and remain absolutely quiet.

There's just something so disappointing about this question and its response. It is over-specification of an unwritten policy as well as an acute delineation of details.

And then I think about the pointedness of the question and its even more-pointed response, and I realize that the question is nit-picking and its corresponding answer is debilitating.

Sometimes we ask too many questions. Sometimes we ask them because we are not so much interested in the answer as we are with stalling a process.

Sometimes we work too hard to provide answers. Sometimes we over-specify, over-scaffold, and over-justify and we render ourselves paralyzed.

And this Q&A business is slowly emerging as the most profound obstacle in getting teachers on board with change.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

if these microwaves could talk

Donate a microwave to your faculty if you have an extra. School-based altruism just feels so good.

But what doesn't feel so good is when the faculty defiles your microwave. Disrespect it long enough, and next thing you know, the microwave may send out an email to your faculty:
Dear Faculty,

It is with great sadness that I come to you today to tell you of my intention to leave Springfield, this Friday, October 26.

I will miss all of you. Thank you for affording me the chance to cook your leftovers and mass-produced frozen dishes.

I am honored to say that I served as your microwave.

The Microwave in the Faculty Lunchroom
And the microwave would feel justified, proud, and optimistic, but the one who:
  1. Donated the microwave, and...
  2. Crafted the email on behalf of the microwave
Would get a barrage of emails expressing shock that he was really leaving his job.

Honestly, do people not read a three sentence email? Do people really not read?

Wait! I know the answer: NO, they do not read!

So...why on this goodly green planet do teachers always put on the 'golly-geewillickers' face when they lament the fact that their students don't read?

They'll say:
  • "I mean, honestly, the instructions are right there on the handout."
  • "I even bold-faced the task words."
  • "Oh, and don't even get me started on the obvious disregard for the rubric."
  • "It's like people make up their own guidelines as they go along."
  • "And every handout is available on the mail server, our Moodle class, and in a folder in the classroom."
  • "Why bother even putting a scaffolded assignment together? Just do some work and tah-dah!, you've earned a diploma."
  • "Books? Are you serious? Do any of them even read a single, grammatically correct sentence?"
  • "Microwave-generated emails? Unlikely! Did you hear that Ken is leaving Springfield this Friday?"

Monday, October 22, 2007

a little giggle in your ear

because in today's world, you never have to be alone.

In The Know: Is The Government Spying On Paranoid Schizophrenics Enough?

cut your leg off, eat HTML

Reading another blog, I came across a nifty little widget, a snazzy rectangle from Blogrush. Thought it might look 'good' on my page. Now, what to add on a page is post worthy, because determining widgets can be a time-consuming blend of personal aesthetics and pathetics.

But after browsing, perusing, and all the other requisite tasks one goes through to consider inclusion, I copied, pasted, and uploaded some quality HTML. And then, click-click-view, and there, in full rectangular glory, was my new Blogrush widget.

Our relationship lasted six weeks.

Today, Blogrush sent me a declaration of separation; a notice that our human-HTML bond had been terminated.

We regret to inform you that your blog did not pass our Quality Review criteria.

You will notice that the widget no longer loads on your pages -- please remove the BlogRush code from your blog for now.

We determined that your blog did not meet our strict quality guidelines. Please do not take this personally but realize that we must abide by a very strict set of quality guidelines. (They are listed below.)

Below is a complete list of our quality guidelines:

- The blog contains unique, quality content that provides opinions, insights, and/or recommended resources that provide value to readers of the blog.
- The blog should be updated on a regular basis (at least several times a month) and should not just go a few months between posts.
- The blog should already contain at least 10-12 quality posts. New blogs with very little content will not be accepted.
- The blog's primary contain must be in English. BlogRush is currently not available for non-English blogs.
- The focus of the blog should be quality content.

Best Regards,

The BlogRush Team

In truth, I had no idea that the widget could walk away. My impression has been that widgets are like digital GAPs, always looking for some good, free pub. A widget on my blog was akin to someone shelling over $40 for a hoodie with a GAP logo on it: free advertising.

What occurred today would be the equivalent of the GAP calling me and telling me that I needed to return the hoodie because I had not created enough retail traffic.

I am left a little confused, a little hurt, and a little vindicated.

I had never been one to wear GAP hoodies, and I surely refuse to define myself by the acceptance of an invisible web-based entity that knows little of me and chooses only to judge me by the traffic which I generate.

Sitting in the school library at this moment, I see seniors working on updated thesis statements, revising, editing, and posting to their blogs.

I'm quite certain Blogrush couldn't hold a widget over the quality of content these students are creating, and I'm realistic enough to admit that their work is far more important than any blog by any adult.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

do you need a bigger baby?

Q: What am I doing?
A: Perusing the Media Education Foundation '07-'08 video catalog
Q: Why am I looking at this?
A: Because the title of the foundation has two words tied to a couple of my interests.
Q: What do I find most interesting in this year's catalog?
A: Baby Barcode
Q: Why do I find 'Baby Barcode' so intriguing?
A: He could be my son. And he is quickly, with great celerity, becoming an active member of:
a nation that places a lower priority on teaching its children how to thrive socially, intellectually, even spiritually, than it does on training them to consume.
- juliet schor, author, Born to Buy
Q: Do I realize that our schools are leading the charge to create a nation of consumers?
A: Of course. In fact, what I really know, what I really see, is that when any new computer shows up at my school, students and their families are most likely put in a tenuous position.
Q: Is it about having to keep up?
A: Of course. I've read Robert Frank's alarming essay, 'Our Climb to the Sublime: the $5,000 BBQ grill and other milestones', and he makes a profound point:
We are in the grip of a luxury fever that rivals the spectacular excesses of the Gilded Age of a century ago. But unlike that earlier period, which was dominated by a small number of families with enormous wealth, our current consumption boom involves a vastly large number of people all along the economic spectrum.
We need to take notice that we can not keep presuming that technology levels the playing field or creates a greater sense of equity. We need to recognize that simply using a nifty Web2.0 app doesn't mean parity, but instead, money. Even NetZero is $9.95 a month.

Q: What can I do about this issue?
A: My cell phone is ringing.
Q: What can I do about this issue?
A: I'm using my mobile web right now.
Q: What can I do about this issue?
A: I'm having Verizon Fios installed tomorrow.
Q: What can I do about this issue?
A: I'm sending out my homework assignment via text message.
Q: What issue?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

what is school?

  1. A place where a student pulls out a shotgun from a duffel bag and proceeds to commit suicide in front of the library.
  2. Where a girl stays after the last bell and finally wants to talk. But she says nothing. She turns her back to the teacher, lifts up her shirt, and there, in firework red, are whip marks scattered deep across her back. An extension cord can do that? Nope. Not without a father.
  3. An institution that tries to juggle two seemingly incongruous concepts: differentiated instruction and state testing.
  4. Where a girl decides that the entire class should hear that her special, wonderful boyfriend placed his genitals in her mouth the previous night behind the Tilt-A-Whirl during the church carnival. Honestly, who really wants to talk about Hamlet?
  5. A chance for ninth graders to indoctrinate themselves by intoxicating themselves on vodka-filled water bottles. Good old-fashioned fun. But I've never had to have my stomach pumped, and surely never twice in one year.
Wait. Ask me again.

What is school?
  1. Statistically speaking, the safest means of travel out there.
  2. Wireless technology.
  3. Diversity.
  4. Health class.
  5. Frog dissections.
It's all perception and lenses.

Taylor, thanks for the inspiration. You've got a lot of moxie!

Monday, October 15, 2007

i can kick your ass @ intellivision football

Growing up, you probably had a prized possession; some product of consumerism and conspicuous consumption that defined the retail soul of your being.

For me, it was my Intellivision Game System; specifically, Intellivsion Football. I would challenge my father, a man who grew up around football, and every time the end result was lopsided.

81- 3. 75 - 9. Something squared - 7. And my father would always play, although I'm sure it must have irked him in some places of his being that his skinny, soccer-playing, 11 year old son had his number. Sometimes, I would sit side by side with the TV, and although I could not see the screen, I would still beat him. Those were the days, but thank you Natalie Merchant, for these are the days.

Days like today. When I have a captive audience. When I present Classrooms for the Future to my faculty over the course of five, fifty-minute cycles, fifteen teachers per session. I 'ew' and 'ah' them with my wiki. They marvel over polldaddy. And I have no adjectives to describe the gaper-delay like awe that overcomes them when they see an embedded slideshow instead of a PowerPoint icon.

But the prize for them came in the latter twenty minutes, when I introduced them to social bookmarking and They were a willing audience (all but one) and they registered, installed extensions, tagged a site, and added someone to their once unpopulated network (!).

So now time is tick-tick ticking away and it's time for my conclusion; my teacher-led moment of instruction (Dear Warl-ck, Forgive Me, For I Have Instructed in A Teacher-Centered Fashion!). I tell them about my Intellivision-rich childhood. And then I ask a simple question:

Why did I kick my father's ass at the game?

And they provide the simple answer:

I played it all the time.

Bait. Yummy, delicious bait, and they eat it up.

"Delicious is, at some level, a program. Intellivision Football is a program. I beat my dad because I knew the program. I played it all the time. You have to 'play' with Delicious if you want to develop a level of comfort with it. Because when you play with it, when you take ownership over it, then you, like your students with content knowledge, will actually be able to do something meaningful with it."

I said more:

"And if you leave this room and you say to one another, 'well that was good, but when will we get to do it again?', then you haven't learned the essential skill that we so desperately want to impart to our students: self-directed, inquiry-based learning. And if that isn't a skill that you want to equip your students' with, then honestly, what are you doing?"

When I said this the first time, at the end of the first session, I felt odd, like I had over-stepped my bounds. Yet as the groups came and went, it really felt right. Like it needed to be said. Like it needed to happen.

It needs to happen.

We cannot demand inquiry-based learning from our students if we don't model the behavior, either in front of their beady little eyes or on our own.

So go learn how to use Delicious, because, in truth, you'll never beat me in Intellivsion Football.