Tuesday, December 23, 2008

forest of isolation

Dan Meyer's words, taken in snippet fashion:
I enjoy the job [teaching] more now than I did then. The job is easier, certainly, now. But ease and enjoyment rank lower on my list of Good Reasons To Invest Thirty Years Of My Life than a compelling challenge.
Funny thing, being alone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

where's the 'plus' ?

Once a 'B' student, always a 'B' student:

And yet another reason why people around me scoff ridicule condemn Twitter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

14 million and i'm just finding out about this

Odd the things of You Tube, but something like this gives me hope:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

hiding behind transparencies

alternatively titled, 'teachers wanted - must own lens'

It appears that sending MP3 files to our email is a lost cause, but right now, at this very moment, the teacher needs the files and he wants them sent via email...only email.

I suggest a wiki, but he wants no part.
Today is not the day to learn wikis.
Pulling the files onto a flash-drive could work, but the teacher believes that will take too long. He needs the files, and he needs them now.

I suggest a wiki, but he wants no part.
Today is not the day to learn wikis
I go covert. I'm lateral movement and head-fakes. I'm surreptitiously starting a wiki. I'm finished. I show him the wiki, and he's got this odd technophobic stare going.

Students upload and listen. The teacher listens with a profound sense of acquisitive joy while one student tells the teacher that wikis are easy and that almost all students have used them in other classes. The student says:
Wikis are easy. They're a lot like Facebook.
And the teacher responds with:
I don't like Facebook. I don't know Facebook.
One student questions his thinking:
How can you not like it if you don't know it?
The answer:
Well, I don't want you to know that I don't know how to do something when it comes to technology.
I walk over to the teacher and whisper:
Doesn't matter. They already think this.

Monday, December 15, 2008

a lesson of importance, annoyance

When the possible reward is greater than the potential risk, it's silly to just hover in your space craft.

Signs doles out a resolution to a pesky alien invasion that is overtly intimated throughout the film. The aliens, we learn, don't take kindly to water. People who've seen the film ridicule the erudition of an alien race that would choose to invade a predominantly water-covered planet. Then, when they realize that attacking a fictitious race does not get them anywhere, they turn their sights on director/producer/writer Zod M. Night Shyamalan. According to many of my peers, Shyamalan concocts a cheap ending to a movie whose message could have been delivered in the length of a trailer.

But there are two reasons why the alien's are worthy of defense:

  1. The invaders came to the planet for the people. If that's what they wanted, they weren't going to let any potential obstacles prevent them from taking action. Maybe they read Hamlet. They probably hated that droopy prince.
  2. The aliens attacked predominantly dry regions. They didn't head to Avalon, New Jersey. They landed in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Maybe they did know that water wasn't quite their Oil of Olay. Maybe they saw those large bodies of water and noted, 'stay away from those things'. Maybe they just didn't consider our plumbing system and penchant for hydration.

And there are two reason why Shyamalan's resolution is worthy of defense:

  1. He creates a solution that is simple, maddeningly so. But the process of discovering that solution is replete with questions, reflection, and inquiry. Sounds like the structure of a really effective lesson. The kind where at the end, students leave class wondering how they didn't see it, get it.
  2. Ever craft a lesson that (hooray!) lasts the whole period? But...you know/I know/the students know that the whole thing could have been completed in minutes. But everyone plays along, or everyone buys in because the journey toward the resolution is a rewarding process. Honestly, ever allow a discussion to continue in class even when you know that repetition is the foundation of every comment?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

we're gonna need some more cows

Garr Reynolds on kinetic type:
Though you would not likely use kinetic type to the degree used in these examples in a live talk, watching the treatment of type in these examples may give you some ideas for working with type on screen that evokes emotion or directs the eye in a certain direction, or that sets a mood, etc. The only real goal is to get us thinking about presenting differently.
to remind you (and myself) again that type matters and that the treatment of type requires careful thought.
The example - please watch - highlights that text can and should be evocative and purposeful.

There's so much to teach. I'm well aware of that, but as I move from classroom to classroom, as I see more and more students present, and as I think about students moving beyond our charge, it's imperative that we take ownership over developing confident, competent communicators, regardless of the chosen medium. Regardless of the subject you teach.

Monday, December 8, 2008

clickin' is for losers

Guiding question: What site would you use to learn about the United Nations?

It's an in-class activity about the United Nations. The teacher provides the handout. The teacher provides the link. Getting to the answer is a three-click event. 1.29seconds (if you used a stopwatch to measure elapsed time).

But that 1.29 seconds is achievable only if users know where to click. In order to reach this world-record time, users had to read some words and phrases on the home page. Terms like 'About the United Nations' and 'Member States'.

What to choose? What to choose? And that's why they don't choose. Why they don't read. Because once they are confronted with choice, once it's an exercise in reading, thinking, and gasp! problem-solving, they run like Artistotle's cave-dwellers, back to the simplistic comforts of the cave. Back to the comforts of Wikipedia.

Because here, it's an all-inclusive locale. Here, everything is click-less. And here, for all its cursory fact-gathering prowess , is a place where students have learned that gasp! problem-solving is not welcome.

Follow-up question: Do we dare tell them about accuracy?

Support The Future Project

Friday, December 5, 2008

are you there bob? it's me, webinar

My parents would have loved webinars.

As a child, one of the more geometric punishments my parents practiced involved me moving to a corner of a room. I'd face the corner, back to the room, and wait, marveling over the ninety-degree quality of the converging walls.

Every year meant one more minute of solitude in the corner. But every minute added gave me time to talk. I'd talk to people. People I could not see. People that I knew didn't really exist.

There was Bob, a rotund young man who had a penchant for praline's and cream. Bob would bring Barb, because Bob knew that with my speech impediment, names with bilabial sounds increased the precision of my speech.

Thandy and Theven refused to show up. They could never tolerate my thlurred S's.

Today, I sat in a corner. I spoke to the invisible. I spoke to them about presentations, rhetorical devices, slide design, and copyright-friendly images.

Bob was there. He was with me the entire thirty-seven minutes. He listened patiently. He never said a word. And just like thirty years ago, I have no idea if anything I said, anything I showed him, made any impact.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

embrace the future project

The Office of the President Elect has a website so it only seems natural that I have one to promote awareness (read: votes) about this blog's nomination.

A little odd, don't you think?

Sure. Maybe. Leaving this site to go peruse another site which, as it turns out, is about this site, seems to live right on the edge of The Town of Redundancyville and Awkwardland. Okay, it's a little odd, but it's important to remember that the list of nominations I've received drops no mandibles.

From the Hall of Received Nominations:
  1. Honorary Cutter of the Cord - four time nominee, yet to accept.
  2. The Litter Box Lifetime Achievement Award - redacted upon the surrender of my second cat.
And that's it. So perhaps you'll understand more about my interest in this nomination.

Now, you'll excuse me. I'm going to adopt a cat.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

the system is winning

It's the first day for filming Cold War movie trailers and the students in US History have story boards, cameras, remote control cars, and duct tape. The message about creative camera work survived a full day.

The group over by the window didn't bring an ingenious dolly, and one of the students has a deep-seeded antipathy for duct tape. They've gathered props from their homes, but one proves debilitating; a road-block, a production stopper. There are four sheets of paper and on each sheet, a typed list of black-listed names, carefully numbered, courier-fonted and sized for the myopic. The students can not agree on the use of these sheets in their video.

This list is important. They tell me this. I suggest that the list 'should be used as a transitional object to advance the trailer and build tension'.

One student passionately and passive-agressively believes that using the list more than once in the trailer will confuse the viewer and distort the historical time line of events. Now, you might agree with her, but to hear her, to watch her walk away from her group, was to witness 'the literal' mindset taking over 'the storyteller'.

Eventually, her group agreed with her. They're not alone.

Across the room, a group is prepping to shoot a scene for their trailer about the Cuban Missile Crisis. They have their next shot all mapped out. The camera starts behind a person. We only see the back of his sport coat. Slowly, the camera rises directly above this person's head to reveal a map hanging on the wall. He's looking directly at Cuba. But the group wonders, 'how will the audience know?'

Their solution is to tape four red arrows around Cuba and write 'Cuba' on each. I ask them if their is another way to convey that the person is looking at Cuba without using the arrows. It's obvious that they're all thinking, thinking about an arrow-less world, but equally obvious is the fact that they need arrows. It's the only way they say.

And I realize that students love arrows and lists.

They're not ready for abstraction and undulation. We've hammered them with so much exposition that narrative, regardless of the medium, doesn't stand a chance.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

reports from a sorta-sub

Mrs. Teasher,

Are you tan?

Even though a substitute was in your room, we agreed that I would be in your classes as they worked on their research / multi-media projects. Here's my report:

Your C block worked quite assiduously (I rarely get to use that word). They created Google Docs so they could work on their scripts and storyboards outside of class without having to deal with emailing a file.

They gathered their research, but they had some questions along the way. One that kept popping up was, 'do we need to use the ten images in our video?' followed by, 'and if not, then why do we need them?'. I told them to help add some concrete understanding / visual anchors to their study. I think they rolled their eyes. A limb fell off. It was all quite creepy.

I implored / urged that in the development of their storyboards they have a lot of shots; that a minute's worth of video should probably look to have, minimum 25-30 shots. 'Our eyeballs be bored,' I told them.

Groups are like, totally like, hung up on the we-can't-use-people-in-the-video thing and it really, like really seemed to confuse and anger them. I noticed an effigy. There were some students who told their peers, 'get over it and move on', but they were deemed losers and shunned.

They know that they have to bring scripts / storyboards / props December 1 for the beginning of filming. I have a sense that some groups are thinking, 'oh, we don't need to bring that b/c our teacher will have it.' They are adamant about the fact that you have gavels and robes. Is that how you roll? If so, fine, it's just judicially skeevy.

And now...

D block...

Two groups finished, like finished. Everything done, time to spare, used time appropriately, focused, and what not. Connor and Madeline's groups represent the two completed. To note: Frank did awesome work. On Tuesday, he spent the better part of an hour insuring that audio and video tracks aligned. I didn't get to watch it yet, and it could be smelly and fetid, but he clearly took a lot of ownership over the project and deserves some kudos, if not granola.

"The Group" lived up to their predominantly vowel-inscribed educational tag...something with an I and an E, perhaps a P. They made mountains out of mole hills. They made Rubik's Cubes out of Munchkins. They made the Eagles look good. They blamed every aspect of technology for their lack of completion, but I'd blame their happy-go-lucky button-pressing fingers; fingers that pressed and pressed button after button without a moment's thought as to the consequences. I think they bombed Guam.

Unfinished groups claimed that they didn't finish because they were penalized for only having three group members. Groups of four that didn't finish, well, they bombed Guam. I'm not sure what their excuses were. They waved flags.

In the final three minutes on Tuesday (class, not the calendar day), unfinished groups first presumed amongst themselves, then decided to presume in front of me, that I would stay after school so they could finish. And while my heart is nowhere near three sizes too small, it is encapsulated in a tiny 5'7" frame. I shall not stay, not today, no way, you'll all have to find another way. Rhymes aside, the Instructional Aide and I felt that students had been giving plenty of time.

Yes, computers froze periodically, but nowhere near the debilitating frequency that I'm sure you'll hear about upon your return. In truth, the Instructional Aide, the substitute, and I told students almost every minute to 'Save! Save! Save!'.

The two groups that did finish followed that three-pronged platform of advice.

One group still needed to take photos on the last day because they didn't realize that their video needed to cover all aspects of the assignment sheet. This group, I think of three, made the three-person handicap excuse.

None of the groups were able to delineate tasks out to each other, so I took the initiative on this and let them know that while some people edit images, other people could be on another computer recording their script. This was an earth-shattering moment in their lives. Someone fainted.

While completion is key, students did work; not as focused as their C block counterparts, but I'd give the whole group a 7 out of 10 for effort. And an 8.5 out of 10 for exceptionally dark-colored clothing choices. There were slackers and such. Clearly, they're a part of our societal fabric. Hell, even movies have been made about them. Knocked Up! Dazed and Confused! Classics, one and all.

Pale and land-locked,


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

lovely, literally

Another drive-by, detail by literal detail:

What's your topic?
Um...it's right there. You're looking at it.

No. I'm not looking at it. I'm reading something. Something curvy and undulating.
So I should change the text?

Is it text? Or is it word art? Why did you choose to use word art?
So I'll change it.

But what's your topic? If it's his childhood, then why a grown up picture of him?
There are no pictures of him as a child.

Why does the picture have to be him?
But if it's not him, it's, well, it's not him.

Does it have to be him? An image of a child could work, right? You could use a rhetorical device to indicate that the picture is him, or isn't him. Depends on your comfort with humor.

Let's use Flickr's Creative Commons portal to search for a picture.

Mr. Rodoff, what do you think? I even gray-scaled it to make it look, um...older.

I think that's clearly not Shakespeare! He looks so sad. Why did you choose that picture?
Well, I'm going to talk about the relationship he had with his father next, and I didn't come across anything that conveyed happiness about that relationship, so I thought this image conveyed some emptiness.

So now that you've revamped your title slide, do you think this one fits?
Well, it has information.

Do the students 'need' that information? Are you testing on this information?
No, but how will they get this information without that slide?

But they'll want to read it. They won't want to listen to me.

But they should. And that's your responsibility. That's your task. They didn't choose to attend your presentation. Requirements for graduation dictated what class and when they'd attend, but whenever you are asked to present, it's up to you to gather their attention. Your slides will provide some visual reinforcement, some figurative extension, of what you are presenting.
So another image?

Sure. And since you went for the whole gray-scale thing that first time, I'd recommend following that style.
Flickr's Creative Commons?

What do you think?

I hope you know what you are going to say when you present.
I think I do.

I believe you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

confused: reticent - looking to present

Scared. Not about presenting. The selection process is frightening. There's a proposal on the table and I'm hopeful that the good, munificent PETE&C selectors choose me.

Doubtful. Not about presenting. But questioning the genesis of the title, 'Transforming Student Presentations'. Too stale? Too kitschy? Does it need a colon? Presentation titles love colons:
  • Geometer Sketchpad: meaningful integration tool for today's math classroom
  • Social Networking Tools for Classroom Use: transforming the learning environment into a truly collaborative learning space
  • Colons: providing superfluous sub-titles for titles
  • Hyphens - a fair substitute

Thursday, November 6, 2008

conversations at tombstones

Remember that time at the mall? We walked over to the customer service counter. You were holding an OP shirt, my birthday gift / token of middle school brand awareness. There were two people in front of us. You said:

"I think I should be first in line."

The cashier's blank stare. The jaw-dropping silence of the two African-American women waiting in line in front of us.

Grandmother, it's my please to introduce President-elect, Barack Obama.

Remember the Eagles game? They were playing the Giants. You would always sit in the same spot. You'd shout at the screen, something about monkeys. But we were watching football.

Grandfather, it's my honor to introduce you to President-elect, Barack Obama.

Monday, November 3, 2008

tough to be thankful


My life is primarily text dependent because of you. My mind, awash in ideas, is more confused than ever. Everything I do:
  • drive
  • shop
  • teach
  • spelunk
is now subject to your analytical whims. I should seek gainful employment at Adbusters. You've stripped away enjoyment from activities previously experienced and reflected upon with smiles and glee.

Recently, my family went pumpkin picking. I'm still thinking about those pumpkins - the arrangement, the chosen ones, the rejected. I feel for pumpkins dismissed, pumpkins groped, and pumpkins left for dead.

I'm still thinking about pumpkins.

Thank you, blog.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

by any other name

Assignment sheets offer up this deathtrap: 'create a PowerPoint'.

We assign PowerPoints when we should assign presentations.

But they're tough to assess. They're tough to teach. There's no time to teach presentations. There's state assessments. There's unit planning, curriculum writing, content, gobs and gobs of content to cover. And, of course, there's no time.

Time is not a constraint, it's our responsibility.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

this is your student on myspace

Her message is important:

But to our students, it probably resonates with as much impact as, oh, say:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

paralyzed by multiplication

The coupon will save me twenty cents off per gallon, maximum of fifteen gallons.

At a participating gas station, the attendant, a young girl wearing a necklace with a class of '02 pendant, instructs me to pump, pay, and bring the receipt and coupon to her when finished.

I hand her the receipt and coupon. She looks at the computer monitor to her right.
"Oh, you pumped fifteen gallons."
She's cheery, happy for me. I've maxed out the coupon, I'm taking it for all it's worth.

She stares at me. She looks back at the monitor. She's clinging to the coupon and receipt. And it hits me:
She's powerless, ill-equipped, paralyzed by multiplication.
There is a solution, and it's sitting on the shelf behind her. It's laminated (the company must know its employees). It's a spreadsheet. Her right index finger moves across the x-axis.

She's found the 15. She proceeds down the y-axis, finds the field that tells her how much money I'm owed, and exclaims:
"You get three dollars!"
She's so happy for me. And I'm filled with educational sadness.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

adieu, sweet cat, i'll miss you

In honor of my recently surrendered cat:

He wasn't one for using the toilet. Near the end, he wasn't one for using the litter box.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

y txtin is betr

C...u ask me a ? that needs a 1 word answer, but 4 me 2 get it, I have 2 open the First Class icon, type in my username and password, click on the 'mailbox' icon, click on the unread message icon, read the email, click 'reply', click 'send', click 'file', move cursor down to 'exit', then click on the 'start menu', click on 'log off', reinforce my intention to log-off by clicking on the 'yes-i-really-do-plan-on-logging-off-now' icon and then sit motionless, staring at the screen to insure that the computer lives up to its end of the bargain, and does, according to my double-swear, log itself off of the network.

Now, w/ txtin:
C...u ask me a ? that needs a 1 word answer, but 4 me 2 get it, I have 2 open the First Class icon, type in my username and password, click on the 'mailbox' icon, click on the unread message icon, read the email, click reply , click send , click 'file', move cursor down to 'exit', then click on the 'start menu', click on 'log off', reinforce my intention to log-off by clicking on the 'yes-i-really-do-plan-on-logging-off-now' icon and then sit motionless, staring at the screen to insure that the computer lives up to its end of the bargain, and does, according to my double-swear, log itself off of the network.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

an ambulatory approach

Each teacher at today's DI workshop had "no more than five minutes" to complete a randomly assigned RAFT activity.

Role: Hard to reach student
Audience: Teachers
Format: Advice column
Topic: How to reach me

Tick, tock. Tick, tock:
Mr. Stonehenge,

I'm sure you've heard this before, but engage me or enrage me.

You can't stand in one place,
Teach at one pace,
And expect me to sit stationary in one small space.

If you move, so will I,
If you provide choice, I'll fly,
If you raise the bar, I'll jump exceptionally high.

But only if...

If you.

Looking to move
Doesn't matter if you compose it, present it, or plop it in a three-minute poem: if you're going to teach, you need to accept the reality that you do have a responsibility to vary everything you do.

Start moving.

Monday, October 6, 2008

unlimited tutoring

We tried meeting on weekdays, but it's tough. Sunday mornings work best, but even then, the unpredictability of life makes these morning tutoring sessions, at best, intermittent.

So I text the student:
- Do u hv unlimited txt?
- Y
- Do u hv web?
- Y
- R U mendacious?
There's a delay, a gap of time, and it passes by until eight minutes later:
- R U calling me a liar?
- Would U prefer b n sagacious?
I'm rolling a size-1 soccer ball to Quinn. She's just mastered sitting-up, and when the ball stops between her legs, she leans over, picks it up, and treats it like a teether.
- Yeah, wise. That's me. Ms. 2400!
So now I tutor and the student responds at varying times. I'm not going to claim this is perfect; a substitute for face-to-face, pull out the Kaplan, Princeton Review, and College Board books. But when our lives seem to pull us in every direction except the one that brings us together, this strategy keeps us cognizant of our task, and provides another way for students to learn and teachers to teach.

Friday, October 3, 2008

not the happy kind of hour

  • He turns his papers in. Not on time, and never early. But when he’s good and ready, he is the master of ‘early entry printing’. He arrives three minutes before the bell, feigning assiduousness. He grabs a laptop, plugs in his flash drive, and is considerate enough to print on the ‘lowest quality’ setting. He never sees the blazing irony in any of this.
  • He’s broke. Tough economy, scarce job market, but this student needs recreational spending money. The lesson on the Federal Reserve is over. Twelve dollars worth of one dollar bills sit on the teacher’s desk. Mrs. Teacher is collecting homework. And five days later, no one, absolutely no one admits to the crime or any awareness of it ever happening. No worries: our school is only one month in to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. It’s almost unfair of us to expect any student to do the right thing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

clearly, he's not a whig

If you're looking for a third party candidate, one with talents rivaling, and possibly surpassing those of most hockey moms, then you might want to give Zod your vote.

He'll reform Houston.

Thank you, major otis.

Friday, September 26, 2008

but don't let your teaching fall under 'random'

I link 'spontaneity' with other fanciful, fictionalized words like 'utopia' and 'normalcy'. As such, I took a calculated hyperlink over to Five Card Flickr Story thanks to the hyperlinking of Alan Levine.

Instructionally simple:
1. Pick one picture from a choice of five, watch the deck reshuffle, and then pick another until you have five photos.

2, Then, tell the story.
A BMX racer, lost. A confused crowd heads to the museum and airport, and ultimately, employs the racer's horse to hunt him down.

And there's probably some romance along the way.

Oh, and there's a delay at the airport. This adds to pot-boiling character development. And the consumption of empty carbs.

Any way to get kids to work on story-telling, right?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

solutions needed, not a follow-up email

I don't think it's his remote. I tried two other remotes with the teacher's overhead projector and the remotes were either sluggish or entirely unresponsive in their delivery of on/off commands.

At one point, I pressed the 'power' button 17 times, from 12 different angles/trajectories. I am part compass, part protractor. Geometry with size 8 1/2 feet.

I tried all buttons, even the button that has the text 'please don't press this button as it is the psychological experiment revolving around explicit cautionary statements against one's innate curious desire to press buttons'. Nothing happened; although, in truth, I think an island somewhere in the South Pacific amazingly relocated to an as yet undisclosed location.

Tried the new batteries that your staff gave me in the other two remotes as well. I even ate one of the batteries, pressed incessantly against my right ear lobe, and hoped it might be able to communicate with the overhead projector. I have a deep cartilage contusion, like a botched ear-piercing procedure. My stomach hurts.

What else is a guy to do?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

crushed with eyeliner

You'll never know Claire. She'll only let you tangle with her anger. If you're privy to anything else, you might get a word about her interest in graphic design. But she'll never, never show you her work.

Right now, Claire is in science class. She and her classmates are working on presentations for their study of the branches of biology. Claire's done her research. She's answered "the teacher's questions". She's recorded her finding on the assignment sheet. Claire heard the talk about PowerPoint reform, the Q&A about qualities of a good presentation, slides are cheap, treat them like they are on trial for their lives, and she's been directed to a handful of sites addressing slide design.

And she makes her first slide.

I inquire about her slide. I poke at her interest in art and graphic design. I'm direct about the expectations for slide design, and more importantly, presentation skills.

And she says:
This is how it's done. We get an assignment. We answer the questions. We write them down on a sheet. We type the answer in PowerPoint. We read them aloud. We sit down. And everyone gets B's
She's angry. That's her norm.
She's defying the front-loaded expectations, but she's in the wrong.
She citing precedent.

And she's right.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

four dollars worth of perspective

So he had this pseudo-fit / obsessive thing going on the entire drive to The School House.

"We need to bring donuts!" over and over he exclaimed.

"But we neeeeeed to bring donuts!" he whined from North Wales to the Route 309 on-ramp.

And no matter how many ways, times, and styles I told him that donuts were provided, he would not relent.

So a box of 25 Munchkins accompanied us into The School House, me refusing to hold them, Mark more than happy to carry them, his cinnamon-coated trophies!

And Director Chris, why in all her years, she always sees something new.

The first time a student brought donuts for Daddy Donut Day.

"He's such a wonderful, thoughtful, special young boy," she says.

And I feel like an ass for fighting him on what turned out to be an exercise of altruism and selflessness!

Monday, September 15, 2008

sleepless imagination

Three days in a row. He's in the living room, in his pajamas. It's 5:30AM. And I ask the same question:
"Why did you get out of your bed and come down here?"
Saturday's answer:
"My bed was making me dizzy."
Sunday's answer:
"I needed to snoop around."
Monday's answer:
"I was looking for Transformers."
Schools just kill this, don't they?

Friday, September 5, 2008


I watched both conventions with the same sort of awe reserved for bottle-necking at the scene of a mass pile-up on the highway.

I know I should not watch, should keep my eyes face-forward, drive smoothly by the wreck.

But I know that curiosity is a thinly-disguised veil.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

the four questions

(alternatively titled, 'not your traditional Passover')

(esoterically titled, 'metacognitive dissonance in traditional k-12 schools: a 21st century inquiry-based analysis of instructional practices ')

krasicki delivers some spot-on follow-up to Dan Meyer's request, Yiddish-infused as it is, that 'edupornographers' get a new 'schtick'.

He believes that today's students might ask their educators:

Why memorize information as long as I can find and retrieve it?

Why worry about plagiarism if I can locate what is worth saying, take what is already well spoken (does the world need more badly reworded variants of the same ideas?), and mash it up into something that I want to express as a different whole message?

Why test me on information tidbits that anyone and everyone looks up instead of teaching me how to think about information I look up?

If the majority of communication is telepathic, instant, sloppy, and disposable, why beat me up for grammar when I am trying to communicate ideas?

My chest seizes every time I think I know the answers.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

no, let me ask you

The overly sensitive people at WAYN (Where Are You Now?) sent me this slap on the wrist today, less than 18 hours after signing up:

The profile photo which was uploaded to your membership on Aug 28 2008 3:08AM has been removed as it was deemed inappropriate for the WAYN Profile.
To avoid photos being removed in future please do not upload images which are of an explicit nature, indecent, or could be seen as offensive in any way. Images which are obviously bogus, of celebrities, children...may also be deemed inappropriate.

Your profile image should be a true representation of yourself.
With the notable exception of my reflection, there is no better representation of myself than my son.

So, for the team over at Where Are You Now?

I don't care.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

do not open until 2033


If I tell you something phenomenal happened earlier, I'm not sure what you'll think. You may accuse me of rampant hyperbole, or of making something grandiose that you view as mundane.

But when "the great state of New York" cast all of its votes, when 2/3 of the needed votes had been rendered, when Senator Obama received the official nomination, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed.

You'll tell me it's no big deal. You'll tell me that the issue of race is an antiquated topic; that there are larger, more pressing issues facing this country, this world.

And I'll still feel overwhelmed. That perhaps I've done right by you, that I've modeled acceptance, that what a person can do trumps the color of his or her skin, that some things should be simple, are simple, rightfully simple.

Something happened earlier, and it was phenomenal. But you'll tell me nothing spectacular happened, and that will be just as phenomenal.

Proud to be an American,

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

nielsen ratings on the rise

The Alliterative Approach
Welcome back! I hope you had a restful, relaxing, and rejuvenating summer. A summer filled with family, friends, and fun.

The beginning of the school year is often a hectic and hurried rush of planning, prepping, and professional development; however, I'd like to extend an open offer to collaborate with you at some point during the school year.

If you are looking to enhance student engagement, enthusiasm, and inquiry, then we should plan on meeting to discuss the many lessons, labs, and learning opportunities forthcoming.

Feel free to contact or call at a time you find most convenient.

The Alliterative Answer
No, no, no.

Monday, August 4, 2008

a nasty letter

Dear Mr. Rodoff;

It has come to our attention that 31 days have passed since your last post. At Google, we pride ourselves on active participation from our bloggers, but we also take equal pride in our invidious treatment of users who neglect their sites.

Please post at your earliest convenience. This letter represents Phase One, our first step in re-activating your active participation.

The following protocols have been established should you continue to neglect your blog:

Phase 2: A call home
Phase 3: Ridicule on Facebook
Phase 4: Posting personal photos from your elementary school days
Phase 5: Pretending to be you, we will post inane comments on other blogs¹
Phase 6: Falsifying 'Ken Rodoff' entry on Wikipedia²
Phase 7: Saturday morning detention
Phase 8: Releasing the hounds
Phase 9: Something plague-like upon your home, possibly the L.Lohan Virus
Phase 10: Email follow-up
Phase 11: Referring to your teaching practices as 'didactic'
Phase 12: Forced viewing of Greatest American Dog Season One-Unabridged
Phase 13: Anything whose origin can be traced back to a Michael Crichton novel
Phase 14: U-Streaming you
Phase 15: Parent-teacher conference with school disciplinarian, special education coordinator, truancy officer, and nurse

¹ we doubt anyone will be able to tell the difference
² at times, this does help

Thank you for your choice to use Blogger as your blogging platform. We look forward to reading your upcoming posts.

Odds are, you're working on one right now. Phase One tends to solve all issues.


The Blogger Team

P.S. - It's a cheap move to use this letter as a post, so don't.

Friday, July 4, 2008

nothing more american

Major Otis invites us to dream a little:
The worldwide leader in multibrand two-for-one restaurant locations, Yum! Brands can satisfy your combinatory culinary cravings, however discordant...What's your dream Yum! Brands restaurant combination?
Me? Too easy:
um...Dunkin Donuts & Taco Bell.
Uh, yes, I'll have the Coffee Taco.
Oh, and a small box of Burritokins.
Drink? Yes, of course.
How 'bout a Frappachalupa?

Trans-fat options welcome.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

crappy motivation

They clamored, We want to learn how to integrate the interactive white boards in our teaching.

I responded, I shall schedule a day.

They emailed, Great, we look forward to a meaningful day.

And the day came. Amazing participation. Actively engaged, one and all.

An email the following day, whittled down and paraphrased:
The day was great. I'm just not motivated to do any of this in my classes.
Here's hoping the Pennsylvania State Legislature approves funding for year three of the Classrooms for the Future grant.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

attending a homeference

Remember that moment early in your career when you had to separate home life from work life?
Don't let that argument with your girlfriend spill over to your classroom.
Or work life from home life?
Yeah, that kid pissed you off, but check your frustration at the exit.
But how do your separate your living room life from your dining room life?
Okay, so he's crying because he wants you to read Fox on Sox. You'll read to him later. His 3-month old twin sisters are in the dining room, crying for a needed feeding.
There is no transition time. There is no 15 minute break between sessions. There is no vendor village, no blogger's cafe, no keynote.

But every moment is a spotlight session.

I'm living at NECC: the Never-Ending Childcare Conference.

Friday, June 20, 2008

question of an interim nature

The interim principal has left the building. In fact, he's fishing. But before he left, he met with each teacher. Standard end-of-year professional goal reflection review.

Here's my one memorable comment from my meeting with my interim principal:
I feel like we've been living above a fault line.
But then, just as the meeting was approaching its predictable ending, he asked:
What would be the first thing you would do to make this place better?
No one has ever me that. Has anyone ever asked you?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

good ahead, be gluttonous

Joyce led me to the good, statistically-driven folks over at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. They put out The Internet Typology Test and it will, most likely, give you plenty of room to bend your digital self into any type of technophile or technofear persona you wish - replete with statistics to reaffirm your own sense of survey-driven identity!

Perhaps you'll find that you:
use [your] extensive suite of technology tools to do an enormous range of things online, on the go, and with [your] cell phone. [You] are highly engaged with video online and digital content. Between blogging, maintaining [your] Web page, remixing digital content, or posting [your] creations to [your] websites, [you] are a creative participant in cyberspace.
You'd be an omnivore.

But would you be doing any of the above with your students?

damn you, PD days!

or, 'why are they in groups if they can complete the work on their own?'

The Event:
  • 2008 Presidential Election
The Situation:
  • Four weeks until election day
The Players:
  • The Candidate
  • The Travel Adviser
  • Demographic Consultant
  • Speech Writer
  • Backdrop Artist
The Final Push:
  • Visit four towns, in four separate states, as the last leg of 11th hour campaigning in hopes of winning the election.
The Questions:
  • Who is your candidate?
  • What is her political affiliation?
  • What is her platform on Iraq? Economy? and one other issue?
  • What are your four destinations?
  • Why have you chosen these spots?
  • What speech do you deliver at each location? Order of issues?
  • What catchy background phrase/slogan do you paste behind your candidate at each location? (in Iowa - Planting Seeds of Change; in Pittsburgh - Forging a New Tomorrow)
There will be deeper questions. Ones that you pose, ones that you have in storage, or ones that you wait for students to develop. Every class breeds different angles, slopes, and vectors - you just need to read and react like a pro-bowl lineman.

Something hints at differentiation. Something about this says every individual in every group may need something different than his or her peers.

Something about this seems plausible.

Something about this seems difficult.

More for the teacher than the student.

Is there anything wrong with that?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

production time > quality

The Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament Kick-Off video:

You can exhale now.

Probably a no-brainer for most of y'all, but the amount of time I put in using the following instruments:
  1. Flip Video
  2. Windows Movie Maker (antipathy continues to escalate)
insured that the end result would be blah hum-bug.

But I wanted to put something together for the staff. Something to demonstrate that this 'event' could occur, had the appropriate peripherals to make it seem 'real', and evidence that it could be 'fun'.

I've revealed something about my own skill-set, as well as my mis-guided selection process to produce the video.

And now I'm wondering if having students make videos for a class other than one specifically designed to teach the craft is an ill-informed, what-else-did-you-expect game plan?

The cherry on top: I'm 1-4 in the first round of the tournament.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

a drought 100 seasons and counting

If 'education' were a professional sport, it would be a Philadelphia team (close second: Chicago).

Friday, June 6, 2008

we've had a long, tough year

With four days of end-of-year PD waiting for the faculty, I decided to infuse an already exciting curriculum mapping experience with something just below esotreic.

From my email to the faculty:

Interested in competing in the First Annual Springfield High School Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament (SHSRPST)?


Tournament Dates:

Opening Ceremony and First Round: Monday, June 16, 2008
Second Round (elimination day): Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Third Round / Quarterfinals: Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Semi-Finals, Finals, and Closing Ceremonies: Thursday, June 18, 2008

Please email me if you'd like to participate

And then, after some confusion, dismissal, and the requisite 'it's-just-Ken-so-it-can't-be-serious', I sent out the following clarification:

1. How will the tournament run?

- On Monday, June 16th, find 5 people during your day to play a best of five Rock Paper Scissors match (RPS). Record your results (who you played, score of matches) and email me those results. Based on those results, I will seed ALL participants for single-elimination tournament play which will begin on Tuesday.

- On Tuesday, June 17th, you'll receive the bracket. Find the person you are slated to play. Play a best of five. Winner moves on. Losers go home (not literally...we're contractually obligated to be here). For elimination games, it's best to find someone to serve as a witness. Send me the results (score of match).

- Results will be posted in the main office. Stop by when you can and see who you play next. Feel free to play whenever, but semi-finals and finals will not be held until Thursday, June 19th.

2. What if I'm going to miss a day for personal (golf) or sick (golf) reasons?

- As long as you don't plan on being absent Thursday, June 19, you can still participate. Just contact me, let me know the date in conflict, and accomodations will be made.

3. What if I've never played RPS?

- You can learn in seconds. Ask around, ask a student, or find me. Many people have used RPS to settle hotly contested issues, like taking out the trash.

4. How long is a best of five match?

- A best of five match, if a 3-0 sweep, won't last more than a minute. A match that ends 3-2, but with a bunch of ties throughout (ex: both people throw 'rock') could take two minutes. Hopefully, even if you're as busy as Chris:

I have a great deal of work to do. Curriculum mapping, final exams, preparations for my room, wiki-workee for my courses, moodle-ing in advance of next school year, and other things.

you'll still find minutes (literally) to play.

5. Five people on Monday? Who are my competitors?

- Your choice. If you are w/ your dept. doing dept. work, then you'll have plenty of opponents to choose from right in the same room. This way, you can focus all your June energy on curriculum writing and take a few minutes scattered throughout the day to play.

6. What about lunch?

- Please, eat lunch. Curriculum work and RPS competition require well-nourished participants. And, you can conduct a match off-site, at a local eatery.

7. Are we 'on our honor' during the first day of competition?

- Yes. If you are playing against someone and you think they are a shady little liar, then make sure you email me the results when your shady l ittle opponent says s/he will.

8. Will there be a prize?

- Yes, the winner will receive a prize.

9. Is there an entry fee?

- No.

10. Will there really be opening ceremonies?

- No. Sorry. That part wasn't serious. Shame on me.

11. What is the 11th question about?

- Nothing

Join. Play. Maybe have some fun w/ your co-workers.

And so now there are 32 participants.

Can we end on a happy note?


Whatever underlying effect the tournament may or may not have, all I know is that I'm determined to win at least one match by bringing an Avalanche.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

tidying up a bit

The files need purging. Reorganizing. Examination. And, for the most part, a place to reside indefinitely.

On commenting (from a could have been / would have been comment based on this post):
- Yes, I veer into verbal non-sequitirs and quips because blogs don't make valuable conversation forums. They're great for expression. They're great for widgetizing. And for me, blog stat analysis is far more enjoyable than managing fantasy football stats.

- When I really want to discuss, I'd choose a face-2-face, or something Skype-ish (decked out with functioning webcams). I'm a real-time kind of fella.

- Something tells me that the Lincoln-Douglas debates wouldn't have played so well on Abe's blog. Although I hear WhigParty.ning.com could have helped bump their numbers.

- If I take the time to comment on someone's blog, then those authors are, to me, meaningful, relevant, thought-provoking, and or entertaining. But I never presume 'comment' denotes 'conversation' or 'discourse'.

- Links are fun. Choose Your Own Adventure stuff. I'm all giddy and early 80's again. It's like middle school, but hyperlinked.

- The discovery of new resources, lesson ideas, and "vid snacks" are yummy and invigorating. Most make me want to get back to my own class because I've found that the sharing of these 'goodies' never convert to useful tools with co-workers. 'Thank you' emails pour in. Appreciation in full-throttle. But there's little to no transfer. Interesting how 'sharing' now means 'more work for the teacher'; even when shared items are celebrated as a way to spark enthusiasm and interest in students.

- It's tough times reading comment streams. If one only scans comments, is that person a bad blogger? Does the term 'blogger' only refer to the authoring of one's own posts? If you don't have a blog, but you comment on blogs, can you call yourself a 'blogger'?

- When comment tension gets going, when a 'blogger' has to constantly clarify, explain, debunk, disprove, support, regurgitate, I find myself yearning to "talk it out". Maybe on a phone. Ideally, face-2-face.

- Old School Blogger: is there such a person?
Above 'hyphen-points' composed March 6, 2008, just after midnight, five hours and twenty-eight minutes before the birth of Twin One.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

34' x 29', or so they say

I like Diesel's approach to sales.
1. The jeans, while shelved, are a mixed and jumbled lot; a seemingly random array of denim fashion.

2. The staff will not engage their customers.
They wait for them. They wait for them to seek out their help. They wait for them to need help make meaning out of the perceived chaos.

When a customer seeks out an associate, conversion is staggeringly high (Read your Underhill).

Think about this model for education compared to this one.

Thanks for the inspiration, Kate.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

one, two, three, all ears on me

Hearing, like car purchasing, is a study in depreciation.

You probably know about Mosquito Ringtones. They sound like...mosquitoes.

One site, offering free downloads, informs adolescents that:
Many of these frequencies are inaudible to people over the age of 30, enabling you to receive calls and text messages without...your teachers or parents knowing

A great, new tool for classroom management?

Monday, May 26, 2008

by word, image, & video

Memorial Day 2008

A Drive-By Gawking

The scene: A mother and father, each pushing a double stroller. They are a block away from their home, returning after having lunch at the local pizza shop. A green Saturn, driven by a middle-aged woman, approaches. The driver slows down, stops in the middle of the road, looks at the mother and father (each pushing a double stroller), smiles, nods her head in disbelief, and drives away.

Look Out! Salad!

Seriously, look out! Those cucumbers are eerily close. And the radicchio? Right behind you.

Brothers in Arms

(note: Flip video not a pretty conversion over to Google...yikes!)

Monday, May 19, 2008

an unexamined summer

Dear Graham,

On the first day of sixth grade, students at Rydal Elementary stood on the blacktop, waiting as three teachers took turns calling out their class lists. It was a well-known fact that you wanted to be "an early draft pick". If you were part of the last 24, you didn't even have your name read aloud.

You had Ms. Gesler.

The lucky 48 would look over their shoulders as they moved to the safety of their new classrooms. Most of them snickered, but no so overt as to be caught by Ms. Gesler. She was a professional snicker slaughterer.

A trio of seemingly impossible personality traits about Ms. Gesler, but all true:
  1. She was an uncool Bobo Fett.
  2. She made Yertle the Turtle look altruistic.
  3. She could make Chuck Norris cry.
She had no interest in the lives of her students, and no time for summerly anecdotes. She would never ask her students to:
  • Think about a noun that was a part of their summer
  • Think about an adjective that described a part of their summer
  • Think about a verb that conveyed an action they engaged in over their summer
  • Write a personal narrative that told the story of the noun, adjective, and verb they had selected
  • Use Flickr's Creative Commons pool to select poweful, appropriate images that helped convey the nouns, adjectives, and verbs they had chosen
  • Import those pictures in PowerPoint and use their chosen words as the text for each slide
  • Rehearse presentations based on their personal narratives and slides, focusing on delivery and other rhetorical devices
  • Present their slides and stories to their classmates while those in the audience would provide feedback and ask clarifying questions
In truth, she couldn't do this. No computer. No overhead projector. No PowerPoint. No Flickr. No Creative Commons.

But even if she could, she wouldn't.

But you could.

Friday, May 16, 2008

summer employment opportunity

There are five 8th graders sitting in a classroom and they all need a job. They've scoured the classified sections of the local newspapers, but every job seemed too specific, too technical, too much. So I gave them the following 'classified' (with inspiration from a higher power):
Wanted: Summer employees. Candidates must be in 8th grade. Interested? Please send four-slide PowerPoint highlighting your skill set. Pending our interest in your slides, contact for interview will follow. Be honest. Be prepared to defend your qualities.
So far, five 8th graders have submitted their PowerPoint slides. In truth, there are only five applicants, and they are all in the same class.

Here's one slide from Eddie's PowerPoint:

And here's a slide from Jeff:

Turns out, Alex has a quality that a potential employee would like:

But Gabby believes that this quality is in short-supply nowadays:

And then there's Melissa. Melissa figured out that the job description was way too vague, so no matter what the task, she wanted the employer to know that she's one heck of a:

And when they shared their slides at the end of the period, they realized that maybe, just maybe, they had done more than share their skills - they had acquired a totally new skill.

As Melissa said at 10:17AM this morning:
This is really making me think.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

we smart like pineapple

According to Mark Bauerlein, students spend their time on sites that:
harden adolescent styles and thoughts, amplifying the discourse of the lunchroom and the keg party, not spreading the works of the Old Masters.

I's agree!

In fact, I have proof that adolescents from the previous century lived a more academic, Old Master-filled life.

Here's a snippet from my high school treatise:
When in the course of my daily travails I stumble upon the rigorous and hearty company of my like-minded companions; of whom, I most and must readily admit oft times challenge the rigidity of my thinking, we engage in the spirited and light-hearted contest we have entitled, 'Old Master Challenge'.

Its rules, accessible to all my peers; as, for well we all know, today's adolescent collective is an inspired, collective lot of well-articulated deliverers of discourse, makes for a competitive and dare I say fun passage of the inexorable grinding of time.

October 5, 1988

I'm having a tough time coming up with:
a. Sites that "spread the works of the Old Masters"
b. Adolescents seeking out these URLs

But I did find:

And if Bauerlein would like to take the proverbial bull by its proverbial horns, here's two URLs ready for occupation:

Adolescents are adolescents, and the infusion of technology isn't weakening their communication skills, although Naomi Brown cites an NAEP report (National Assessment of Educational Progress) that only 24% of twelfth-graders:
are capable of composing organized, coherent prose in clear language with correct spelling and grammar.
Curious thing around here is that over the last five years, 85% - 89% of graduating seniors continued their education at either a two or four year college.

Friday, May 9, 2008

According to the Education Hub on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website:
Much research has been conducted as to what makes a great school. There are many intangible components. However, research supports the notion that great schools and school systems tend to have six common elements:
  1. Clear Standards
  2. Fair Assessments
  3. Curriculum Framework
  4. Instruction
  5. Materials & Resources
  6. Interventions
In fact, PDE even created an illustration:

However, the more time I spend looking at that image, the more time I spend thinking about increasing student achievement, I tend to see this:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

don't grade notebooks

My notebook from a week long graduate course on assessment:

My notes from said week long graduate course on assessment:

And here's the moment when I officially abandoned note-taking:

And I wonder why assessment irks me.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

get that out of my face

Three days of state testing. This time, science. I'm proctoring in the LGI (that's Large Group Instrucution / Institution). Fifty two kids. Yesterday, during the first test, one of the students used his test book to draw an extremely large image of female genitalia.

Then, he was all work, all business; like he needed to draw a really big vagina before he could settle down to the task of testing.

But he was too on task; taking too much time on a set of test questions that should've only taken him minutes to complete. He's that smart. Probably could be #1 in his class; worst case, with minimal effort, #4. He's that smart.

Testing is a joke for him; a big political cluster-fudge developed by morons, distributed by fools, and proctored by mental midgets.

So there was little to no surprise that the forty minutes of "on-task" writing turned out to be less-than scientific.

Oh, the vagina stories! Labia haikus. Uterus-inspired sonnets. Reports from the vulva. And every poem, every story, dealt with some form of visitation, from guests alive to guests plastic.

Needless to say, he refused to take the second test today. I doubt he would spend as much time crafting such vibrant, detailed prose about male anatomy.

I will miss you, vagina-drawing boy, but in truth, that sentiment is as sincere as your approach to every facet of school.

In the meantime, I'll think about the other fifty one students. They deserve as much attention, as much support, and as much positivism that I've seen heaped upon you over the years from every one in this building.

There's only so many times you can shove a vagina in our faces.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

from noble to professional

Sometimes, I feel that Dan Meyer, a coast away, is hovering around my building. And then, with Legolas accuracy, he delivers an opinion that seems to confirm my aforementioned assertion about his omnipresence:
I aim at professional work in a job which doesn't demand professionalism. Daily, I leap at and sometimes clear a bar which exists only in my head, in the work ethic I have self-imposed, a bar which in reality hovers shin high. Can I tell you: the friction between what my job asks of me and what I ask of myself is spectacular.
A great many conversations over the past few days have dealt with curriculum development, professional responsibility, and inevitably, ego. Off the charts, running amok ego.

Nothing brings out the notion of 'surreptitious autonomy' than an administration promoting a standards-based, aligned curriculum upon its staff.

I like Dan's innate and explicit belief that teachers should push themselves into a 'professional' realm of instruction that mirrors the rest of the working world.

Additionally, I surely don't have a problem recognizing that this job...

1. Is a profession; and therefore, we should honor the notion of 'professionalism', not 'nobility'.
2. Makes us employees, governed by employers, and they can demand quality work, conduct, etc...

I think too many of us forget the second point.

Sure, you can close your classroom door, but you're still bound by a professional hierarchy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

don't hire Chinua Achebe, hire Ewan

Ewan is indelibly linked to dog shit. Try as he might, he can not distance himself from a pile of dog feces. Times are tough for Ewan, but he isn't aware of his current plight.

But his father is. You see, his father took a moment the other night on the family computer to check up on his son.

Ewan's dad checked the history in the web browser.
All clear.

Ewan's dad took a peek at his son's Facebook.
Good to go.

Ewan's dad searched his son's name in Google.
Holy dog shit!

Turns out, the second link contained the following snippet:
Ewan points to the notion that art for art's sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit.
Perturbed, Ewan's dad clicked the link, but finds himself staring at a new screen with a message that the site he is trying to access is private.

Ewan's father is furiously curious and curiously furious, and summons Ewan before him. Ewan explains that the private site is his English class wiki.
"Why are you using your full name?"

"I'm not. My teacher told us not to. My username is UinEnglish."

"Well, you clearly used your name in the wiki. I mean, that's how I found this."

"Dad, that doesn't make sense. Our teacher told us the site is private."

"Then tell me how I can search your name in Google and find this? What if someone else searched you in Google? What would they think if they saw your name and a sentence you wrote that claimed art is dog shit?"
The next day, Ewan's father contacts the English teacher. Sounding eerily similar to Will Richarson, Ewan's dad wants to know:
...what are you doing to help students shape their online portfolios so that when their future employers or future mates run the search, what they find is not just a lack of negatives but a potential plethora of positives?
The conversation is professional and calm. Resolutions and modifications begin to take shape.

Resolution / Modification #1 - Private isn't so private after all
The English class wiki is private, but it turns out that the content in the site isn't private/invisible to Google. And Ewan did use his full name when he added content to the Chinua Achebe Quote Analysis page. From now on, Ewan will continue to use his 'really clever' username whenever he posts to the wiki.

Resolution / Modification #2 - Be your own best editor

Ewan didn't say that art for art's sake is purified dog shit. Chinua Achebe did, but Ewan forget to add some really important punctuation; punctuation that would have illustrated that he was quoting Achebe.

Resolution / Modification #3 - Don't trust a snippet
The search results that came back from Google don't tell the whole picture. Even though Ewan forgot some much-needed punctuation, his next sentence stated:
When Chinua Achebe described art for art's sake as nothing more than waste, he de-values the same type of free expression that afforded him the opportunity to craft his writings.
Surely, no one, Ewan's father or a potential employer, would have an issue if more context had been visible.

Resolution / Modification #4 - Don't hire Chinua Achebe

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


In the dark ages of the early 1990's, I attended the University of Hartford. Sometimes, I participated in "leadership conferences" (read: willing to wake up on a Saturday sans hangover). Here's a letter I wrote to my future self while "learning to lead":

Dear Future Ken (If you still go by the identifier 'Ken', as I presume life in the 21st Century will become wholly digitized. If so, please use the following greeting - Dear 10-0110-Kappa),

I know you're going to be disappointed when you receive this self-crafted note from your younger self. The use of hand-written notations will tear at your binary spirit. Looking upon lined paper will remind you of deforestation (remember trees?). But most disheartening is that when you read this, you will have dreadfully fulfilled your younger self's self-fulfilling prophecy:

You are a teacher.

Go ahead, look around the room you're currently sitting in (yep, I know you'll be seated, too). Eerie, isn't it? The pin-point acumen I have in mapping out the space between this letter's creation and your reading of it. And to think that folks say that young people "don't have a clue".

Now, putting aside your paltry salary (And I bet you'll be paying for health care as well. Even teacher's unions will prove powerless against a majority of taxpayers ponying up the bulk of their own coverage.), I'd like to throw you a compliment (cherish this, because you'll learn that they're few and far between in a teacher's career):

You're a good teacher.

Not Teacher of the Year good. Not likely to appear on Oprah good. But good. Quietly doing right for your students. Carefully taking more time to think about instruction and relationships than on handouts and assessment.

And don't listen to everyone who wants to wave the tattered flag of assessment in your face. There's not a number in the world that ever accurately conveyed the worth of a child. You and me, we're evidence to that.

You've been teaching now for 15 years. It's 2008. Do you live underground or above the Troposphere? Whatever you do, stay out of the Mesosphere (can you say, 'burn, baby, burn'?). What are some of the new inventions? What are students like? Don't bother trying to write me back, I'm just using this space to kill some time. The presenter tells us we're supposed to write for 20 minutes.

Dad has a portable phone. I imagine that they'll keep gaining ground. I mean, people love things that are portable. I have my Walkman with me right now. Odds are, your students will love music just as much as you did/do (Wow! It can be confusing writing to your future self.).

My friend Mike (you guys still friends?) has an Apple computer. Beats the crap out of my Toshiba Word Processor (graduation gift? My high school graduation gift?? Good grief, please tell me that you're still pissed off about this one!). Sometimes, I just sit at his desk and type and type and type and then I print everything. Nothing beats a dot-matrix printer.

I have a feeling that you'll have a computer. And I'm certain your school will have a bunch. I mean, we did have a computer class at Abington (remember making your name appear all over the screen?). Maybe they'll be in classrooms. Say goodbye to bookshelves.

Are you thinking, what's a 'book'? Haven't seen one in years. Are people reading anything? Or is everyone watching television? Have you been on The Real World? Or better yet, who hasn't?

I'm watching a lot of television these days, and I'm averaging 1.2 movies per week. You better be a good teacher, because you're already up against a massive army of mixed media. Maybe when you read this, classes will no longer be 47 minutes. Maybe they'll be 2 minutes at a time, 23 times a day. Jump cut. Fade in. Fade out. That's what the future of education is all about.

Finally, future self, I want to impart a couple things about teaching that have stuck with me. I think the current student in me has experienced enough instructional practices to make some informed recommendations.

I'm super-gluing the following to my conscious just for you:
  1. Say 'hi' to every student in your classes...every day. Then, ask each student a question. Questions don't have to be about course content. Kids love to talk about themselves. Heck, I'm 22 and I love to talk about myself (oh, and write to myself...talk about ego). Ask 'em something like, what's your favorite hot food served cold?
  2. Do more than teach. Don't 'honor thy contract'. Instead, 'honor thy students'. They need more than a teacher; they need a presence.
  3. If you're going to narrow down your course to 'what's important', then tether yourself to 'theme', 'symbolism', and 'allegory'. Students bring plenty of these three from their own lives. Use your content to explore the myriad of experiences embedded in their Schemas.
  4. Stay current. Already, I get made fun of for referencing The Dark Crystal, so imagine using that one on 21st Century adolescents. Can you say 'Gelfling meat'?
  5. It's okay to make kids run hills, literally and figuratively. It's not a punishment; it's exercise. It's conditioning. It's life. Uphill. Up hills.
If you're anything like me, you'll figure all of this out for yourself long before you read this. If any of the aforementioned kernels is out-of-the-box new, then you've probably out-stayed your welcome. You're due for a change.

But I think that would be a shame. I can't see you doing anything else...except having children; lots and lots of children.

Just remember...college is expensive, and it's only going to get pricier.

Hugs and kisses,