Wednesday, February 27, 2008

teaching a different kind of content

Amazing Coincidence:
In the space between 1:58pm - 2:03pm, two laptops embarked on similar paths to the cold, medicinally tiled floor.

One broke, the other sustained a mild concussion.

The students, in awe and merriment, said nothing.

And that's when I spoke:
I know that both were accidents, but what's most disappointing is that no one is taking responsibility and no one, absolutely no one, has said they're sorry.
One female student spoke. Out came a confessional that rang with as much sincerity as being side-swiped by a Prius:
But I did not mean to do it.
Absolute abdication in one, single syllable-filled sentence.

Amazing Timing:
On the Twit stream last night, Chris Lehmann shared a link. Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch gives his 'last lecture' on Oprah. Mr. Pausch is dying from pancreatic cancer. He is married. He has three young sons.

In his lecture, Pausch urges that a life worth living is heavy with integrity. He points to the importance of apologizing, and outlines three elements of an effective apology:
  1. Saying 'sorry'.
  2. Admitting fault.
  3. Asking how to make the situation better.
Amazing Flashback:
Seven years ago, while teaching Hamlet, a student decided to tell her classmates about her sexual escapades with her boyfriend. Shocked, I stopped the lesson by stating, "Well, I'm f-in' done."

I wrote the student up for inappropriateness. I included my reaction.

I earned a day off without pay, and a meeting with the superintendent.

At our meeting, he told me that environment, integrity, and respect matter more than content. He went on to say that the content is meaningless if the other three things were not firmly rooted in place beforehand.

To date, it was the best meeting I ever attended.

Amazing Foreshadowing:
I would call the teacher. We would decide that tomorrow's content needed to be put on the shelf. A different kind of lesson would be taught. Students would participate.

We'd start small, asking the students about protocols for handling the computers. They'd chime like Gremlins with answers.
"Two hands."
"No food."
"Close the monitor if you leave your seat."
"Keep cords from dangling out of the cart."
We'd tell them that the computers are things and that mistakes happen. We'd tell them about the absent apologies from yesterday. They'd sit silent like guilty creatures sitting at a play.

We'd show them Pausch's lecture. We'd ask them to think about the lessons Professor Pausch teaches. We'd solicit responses at the end of the video.

And they'd say:
"It has three parts."
"Say sorry, admit fault, ask how to make it better."
And that girl might say:
"I'm sorry for dropping the computer. It was my fault. Is there anything I can do?"
And that would be the best example of content learned.


goat song film study

Do you show movies in your class? Entire feature-length films?

Here's how popcorn and Goobers wiggle their way into my class.

We read Aristotle's "Poetics". We cry boredom. We sweat death. I up my bi-weekly therapy sessions.

Welcome to Mr. Rodoff's unit on Tragedy.

There's talk of hubris, whispers of peripetia, and chatter about catharsis. The students wish for more existentialism, and then I really know that the unit is off to a poor start.

To keep any hope of unit longevity alive, we make millenial jumps in time and read the James Hurst short story, "The Scarlet Ibis". There's a deformed little boy, a bloodied bird, and a dead sibling. An adolescent reading dream come true!

Not quite.

The purpose of the story is to establish the timelessness of the tragic terms from "Poetics", but most of my students don't 'see' the connectivity between two thousand year old terms and a short story from the 60's.

So if they can't 'see' the connection through the short story, maybe they'll see it through film.

But film is time. Film is commitment. Film is darkness and administrative doubt.

However, I want my students to 'see' the connection. No, not just see the connection, but get the connection. In my unicorn-filled dreamscape, my students take up residence in a state where they are innately thinking about tragic elements in everything they read, watch, and experience.

Enter Robert Redford's film, Quiz Show.

I take the time. I make the commitment. I welcome darkness and administrative inquiry.

There is no viewing guide, no note-taking, no quiz.

And at the end of the two day viewing period, I start discussing the film. I ask that they create a PNI list, independently and collaboratively. We hold wiki-based discussions. They ask questions. They bring up "The Scarlet Ibis". They make connections.

From 'I' to 'they'.

The power and magic of film.

Monday, February 25, 2008

a paparazzi-filled future

This must be a mistake! Surely there’s been some sort of tampering with the votes. The amount of talent around me and here I am, on the stage, accepting this Educator. I’m speechless, utterly and truly speechless. I don’t know what to say. I should probably just say ‘thank you’ and walk off this stage, to my right, yes I know to go to the right, but…oh my…

When I started on this sinuous path, there was no pavement, no posted signage, no, not even a rest stop. Seriously, I had to hold everything in, and doing that within the confines of my solitary classroom was no easy task. Oh my Lord, I can’t believe this. Pinch me, Dave.

Can I call you Dave?

Oh…Mr. Warlick it is.

My bad.

My mother and father, for always believing in me and for their amazing purchasing powers. Without them, there would’ve been no Atari, no Intellivision, no Commodore 64. They harnessed the power of credit limit and technology to instill in me a technological curiosity that, to this day, still percolates with bubbles of inspiration.

Mr. Maltese, for crafting lessons that, in their writing and his oral instructions, seemed more like infomercial than educational. Oh, and for believing in me without ever having to say that you knew I could do whatever I wanted. I only hope that I can continue in the powerful conveyance of inspiration without ever having to crack someone over the head with an after-school special pep talk. Honestly, he’s the best teacher ever and there’s no way I would be here without him. Mr. Maltese, this Educator is for you, for you are ‘the Educator’. know. You complete me. You had me at ‘hello’. Or was it ‘wiki’? I recommend that all of you, native or immigrant (not that kind), find a giant and stand upon its shoulders. Travel with it to NECC. And upon its clavicle, ask questions, seek information. Better yet, information fluency.

And finally, Web 2.0. You are an ever-changing entity, a tumultuous adolescent with an over-aggressive, no-quit puberty streak that keeps everyone around you overwhelmed, intrigued, and frustrated.

Oh, I remember those early days of skepticism and doubt. There was no way you could ever be worthy of my time, my students’ time. But I can’t quit you, and I won’t quit your tweets, your blogs, or your pods.

And even if some applications are too simplistic to warrant inclusion in a serious discussion of tech integration, don’t ever change. Because in truth, I would have never received this honor without your Animoto, your ToonDoo, or your Blabberize.

You remind us all that simple is, for some, a complex and scary word; a word that, when digitized and Flash-enhanced, still keeps many educators away.

But you keep creating doors. Doors for me to open. Doors for me to explore. Doors for me to consider. And doors to thresholds upon which my colleagues and I may take some of the most wondrous experiences in our teaching careers.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

shiny, happy years

REM's new single is out and ready for download. Whoop-dee-doo, right?


Back in the dark ages of the 80's, I became friends with a kid who attended a neighboring high school. We were bunkmates at the now defunct, but once best summer camp ever, Twin Oaks (long live Ga-Ga!).

The first time I went over to his house, he met me at the end of his driveway. We walked toward the house. He told me that his mother was an art therapist.

The house was filled with his mother's artwork... in every every hallway. And each painting an homage to motherhood, depicting little fetuses nestled between motherly thighs.

Anyhow, here's the thing: prior to meeting this kid, my musical taste was extremely limited (read: Hot Hits 98.1 FM). I owned two cassettes, Thriller and Synchronicity. But this new-found friend had musical taste that Rand would have admired. He sifted through his albums, pulled one, and told me to borrow it.

Life's Rich Pageant

Now, I know that REM is too mainstream today. The move from IRS over to Warner Bros. was a big harbinger of commercialism, but hey, they had families to feed.

I listened to the album. Again. And again.

I wrote my 11th grade research paper on REM.

I own every album.

Why I like them isn't important, but what liking them has meant for me is of immeasurable value.

They show up with a new album at all the right moments:
  • Document (1987) - date first girlfriend
  • Green (1989) - graduate high school
  • Out of Time (1991) - father's cancer goes into remission
  • Automatic for the People (1992) - enter education program
  • Monster (1994) - father re-marries
  • New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996) - begin teaching
  • Up (1998) - officially begin dating Jess
  • Reveal (2001) - marry Jess
  • Around the Sun (2004) - birth of first child
  • Accelerate (2008) - birth of identical twin girls
Consistency is a tough word. It just doesn't have the staying power that its definition rests its reputation on. But the spectrum of my life can cite only four examples of consistency, unwavering and well-timed:
  1. Mom
  2. Dad
  3. Jess
  4. REM
And as lame as it may sound, the four of them make my life complete.

But this list is bound to grow. The timely release of this most recent album will most assuredly cause the list to double.

One band. One wife. Two parents. Four children.

My life is timing, and REM, my well-timed alarm, awaking me to savor the moments in my life that have the most meaning and importance.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

a full-bodied profession

Teaching is an art.
innate skill,

Teaching is parenting.

Teaching is classroom management.

Teaching is to the test.

Teaching is time
22 minute lunch,
45 minute class,
90 minute block,

Teaching is meetings.

Teaching is jargon.

Teaching is interpersonal.

Teaching is motivating.

Teaching is collaborating.
instructional practice,
lesson design,

Teaching is changing.
21st Century.

Teaching is change.

Teachers change.

Are you a teacher?

oops, I did it again

Dina Strasser writes:
If I scan a page of a vocabulary workbook into the computer, convert it to PDF, and add digital fill in the blanks, my kids may be “motivated” to work on it– but it’s still the same damn workbook that has no basis in effective teaching practice, flexible problem solving, or language acquisition research.
She's right. She re-made the workbook, but this isn't a useful example of technology integration.

There's no point using any tool, tech or otherwise, if the only dividend one hopes for is student motivation. The real goals are student comprehension and ownership over content.

How about Blabberize? Simple, surely not "elegant", but I'd bet $1000 to a nickel that the kids will take greater ownership over their vocabulary, and no surprise here, know the words.

There's proof of it right here, right now. I've taught Sadlier-Oxford, Level G for a decade. A decade!!! Seriously, try inspiring a love of 'concomitant' every semester. Damn near impossible.

But just the other day, a student used 'concomitant' in a sentence. She spoke the word and it gushed forth like any other word in her vernacular. No test. No scantron. No assessment in progress. Just a second-semester senior using and owning content.

And seriously, when did trying to do something different become so distressing and unsettling?

Even low-tech teachers revamp and revise. And if they're not, then let's show them that sweater table over there at The Gap.

They're more than qualified to refold. And refold. And refold.

Friday, February 15, 2008

conquering gaussian blur

He thinks he's directing his own film. He's placed a camera behind him, recording what appear to be self-selected moments.
  • Like soccer games. 128 frames per second. The majestic presentation of his once athletic self.
  • Like walking through the halls. Capturing the self-assuredness of a teenager's travels from class to class. Recording his illusory importance in a sea of anonymous foot traffic.
  • Like the night of his parents' separation. Steady in its focus, reminding him that manhood is a tear-less path, all stoicism and unflinching rigidity.
  • Like meeting his wife. The camera pans, circling him as if wishing an embrace; immortalizing a moment of revelation and reassurance.
  • Like the wedding. Streaks of light pouring over every frame. Something ethereal. Everything permanent. Perfect.
  • Like the birth of his children. The chaotic, hand-held style embellishes his anxiety, but zooms out. Immediate relief. Endless potential.
He likes to think he's directing his own film, but he knows better.

He's part audience, part demographic.

He's sometimes audience, a would-be reviewer.

But he is the cinematographer, all lens and focus.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

stay out of trouble

I'll read the newspaper:
Brenda Orr of Doylestown was trapped in a burning bed, immobilized by multiple sclerosis, when she dialed 911 on Jan. 29.
Not good.
Twenty-eight seconds passed before a Bucks County dispatcher answered Orr's call.
But less than thirty!
Then he put her on hold.
I'm sorry, did you say 'hold'?
It took 26 more seconds for a second dispatcher to pick up.
And then the dispatcher asked, "pick-up or delivery?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

inspirational throw-away

How's that saying go? One man's detritus is another man's gem? Something like that, right?

But here's the point:

Over at Dan Meyer's tome, Christian Long posted a comment in response to the short film, People In Order:

My Hon Eng II (10th graders) classes will ALL be watching this video in the coming days.

They’ll be challenged with writing the ‘ad copy’ that will entice film festival goers to come see this wacky little idea-concept. Oh, and they’ll have to use this week’s vocab list — all from Act I of Macbeth, BTW — to help lift their text off of the generic floor.

Over at Ken Rodoff's sent email folder, Ken composed an email for an Algebra teacher in his building. After Ken moved past the metaphor and aesthetic of the film, he wondered if the video could work in a math classroom:
Here's a 3 minute video of people, ages 1 - 100, in order, banging on a drum.

It is a lot more dynamic than the above description.

Part of me wonders if it would fit in a math class.

Kids predict how many beats, total.
Kids predict which person, by age, will hit the drum the most.
Kids watch video.
Kids discuss the findings.
Kids could graph age / beats.
Kids could come up with some conclusions/findings.

Kids messin' around with numbers, probability, basic math.
What started out as distraction and menagerie turned out to jump-start some educational percolation.

Are we trying too hard to make something out of, as Dan labels it, 'show and tell'?

Or are we demonstrating the never settle-ness of innovative teaching?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

be confident, young men

It all started with Kevin Costner.

Once this sappy thespian decided to cry, along came Ben Affleck and metrosexuality. Now, guys are one big insecure mass of self-awareness and image-shrouding. But they don't cry, at least not in public.

They wear hats and hoodies.

And they're wearing them in school. And yes, it annoys me to the top of Mt. Poopy.

Somewhere along the line, they became burdened with pounds of insecurity and self-loathing. I don't see bravado. I don't read it as fighting the system, and I'm a fairly literate soul. If Hat Removal Refusal is indicative of anything, it's a waste of argumentative energy.

When a teacher ask any male student to remove his hat, he invariably reacts as if you have taken one of his progeny. Give me back my son flat-billed New Era hat.

I'm trying hard not to date myself on this one, but try as I might, I’m just plum unable to come up with any element of my adolescent wardrobe that I would’ve fought and protested before removing.*

I know there are far more important things to post about and I'm quite certain that I've just gained membership into the Yep-You're-37-Now-Club, but an issue that has lived here for the last five years has finally irritated me beyond the walls of the faculty lunchroom.

Every school has its own dynamic environment that makes it oddly frustrating and special, and in truth, I'd settle for omnipresent hats over the one moment of on-campus student suicide. But something tells me that the constant testing of the rule is anything but a test; it's a cry for intervention. These boys are hurting on the inside and their outward appearance is a hat-shrouded reduction of their once proud, teeming identities.

We need to help them. We need them to remove their hats and tell them that it's okay.
We don't expect you to be Orlando Bloom.

The world doesn't need anymore Hayden Christensen's.

Stop crying! You sound like Kevin Costner!
Take your hats and throw them in the pyre!

Let us celebrate an effigy of insecurity.

And head, unencumbered, let your identity and confidence awake itself anew!
* Notable exceptions: acid-washed jeans and Jams.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

generous is as generous does


Thank you, Dan Meyer.

Thank you, Frank.

Thank you, Alan Becker.

Images are links.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

the very hungry edublogger

In the light of the hallway a little tech coach lay on a laptop.

One Monday morning the library opened and - pop! - in came a laptop in the hands of the tech coach / would-be edublogger.

He started to look for a way 'in' to the blogosphere.

On Monday he read one blog. But he was still unknown.

On Tuesday he started two of his own blogs, but he was still unknown.

On Wednesday he commented on three prominent blogs, but he was still unknown.

On Thursday he registered with four tracking sites, but he was still unknown.

On Friday he embedded five widgets on his blog, but he was still unknown.

The following Monday he read blogs, started a post, checked Technorati, commented on blogs, analyzed Feedburner, edited his post, commented on more blogs, reviewed Statcounter, updated his widgets, posted a blog entry, pinged Technorati, and promoted his post on Twitter.

That night he had subscribers and an authority number on Technorati!

The next day was Tuesday. The edublogger wrote one short post, and after that he felt much better.

Now he wasn't looking for an 'in' any more - and he wasn't a no-name edublogger any more. He was a ranked, well-connected edublogger.

He built a small bastion, called a table, and sat at it. He sat at it for more than one year. Then he peered above his computer monitor, stood up, looked around and...

Realized there was a beautiful world around him!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

when you lose your creativity

I'm filing a Missing Creativity Report.

It will show, in 4x2 across the face fashion, that being out of the classroom can does deprive a once curiously creative teacher of his verbal-linguistic mojo.

I miss the reign-taking of direct instruction. I miss the connections with students, the developing relationships. I miss the self-gratifying experience of believing that I just wrote something, said something, or taught something that made an impact.

I'd write vocab stories. We'd read them. I'd never distribute the approved vocab text.

"You're odd," they'd say.
"What are you on?" they'd inquire.

"I'm high on nouns and adjectives," I'd respond.

What did I look like to them?
What did I sound like to them?

I behaved as if a mirror stood in the back of the room, keeping constant watch on my affect, appearance and attitude - all OCD, flat-front khaki, and 5'7".

Maybe I'll find myself back in the classroom, The Teacher, taking attendance, devising seating charts, grading papers, accepting and vetoing hall passes.

But then again...

Monday, February 4, 2008

heart month number one

Because my heart is a flutter with amorous Valentines. And I'm tired of the 20 dollar co-pay for weekly chiropractic care to treat nerve-suffocation.

How To Avoid Trapped Arm Whilst Cuddling In Bed

Everything is so erudite and proper when voiced-over by a well-accented britain.

the first five

No case of the Monday's here, just a tilt-a-whirl start to a surprisingly warm week.

7:30AM - Extracurricular meeting in the library. Twelve students, one Goth, the rest one hue away from compliance. Debating methods to increase student involvement. Poster route, the eight and a half by eleven sized. Agreed. They propose well turned messages for the student body. Shout outs and suggestions. 'Submit or you'll get cancer.' Ensuing laughter. Laughter? Next meeting: Social Filters.

7:33AM - Student in Fordham hoodie, an homage to better-than average SAT scores. I ask if he is going there next year. I'm making a gigantic leap, from raiment to matriculation. He temporizes, asks where I went. University of Hartford, 'but you were still in your swaddling clouts when I attended.' I just said 'swaddling clouts'. To students, the 80s are the Dark Ages, and I've just added Elizabethan Era. I'm inches away from black-pleated corduroys and above the calf navy blue socks.

7:35AM - Colleague asks about mimesis in Hamlet. There is mimesis in Hamlet???