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Monday, December 17, 2007


Local homeless now have a new weapon in war on poverty. In a pilot program funded by the Salvation Army and local homeless activist Rev. Gary, those suffering a domicile deficit have been armed with debit card readers.

"We have found that there are less people carrying cash so the traditional Homeless Times was not making any money. Plus some people were just lying. Now the habit challenged individual can be like, 'That's okay. I take debit cards."

The cards are linked through satellite to a central computer at Rev. Gary's chapel. Donors can only donate in whole quarter amounts, but advocates believe that the ease of the transaction will persuade those that wanted to donate less to give anyway.

Officials have been careful to screen applicants for the program. "We obviously have some clientele that are not comfortable with the satellite link. Our paranoid schizophrenics fell that the wires placed in their brains by the government was already enough of an intrusion."

If successful, the Salvation Army will be placing card readers on all of their red kettles next Christmas.

Not everyone is a fan of expansion however. Critics cite the potential for fraud as a primary concern. "So I'm supposed to swipe my card and enter my PIN for a total stranger? I don't think so," says professional critic Bob Hayda. "Get a job, or get out."

When questioned about exactly where the homeless should "get out" to, Mr. Hayda had no comment.

All attempts to contact the homeless by phone were unsuccessful.

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's Your Number

During a recent PD we learned some cooperative learning strategies and some of the teachers were concerned that it only involved lower level thinking. In defense of higher order thinking skills they cited the fact that memorization is becoming less necessary. Specifically they talked about phones numbers.

This, however, is a false comparison. Phone numbers are an end, meaning that these bits of information cannot be reordered, evaluated, or synthesized. Obviously not every piece of data is going be kept at the forefront of your brain for easy retrieval, but in order to successfully navigate higher order thinking skills certain neural patterns should be fresh and easily accessed.

Sometimes as teachers we forget the basics necessary to understanding. We assume that certain brain structures and information are common knowledge, but we are not common so we can't accurately judge what the commoners possess. This "let them eat cake" attitude leads us to ignore memorization which is foundation of higher order learning. Without a basic understanding of vocabulary and concepts it is impossible to get to the tougher stuff.

Good teaching reaches the shallows, deepest fathoms, and all other depths of knowledge. To extend a metaphor, Every deep sea dive starts at the shore.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cognitive Performance Enhancers

The scientific community was shaken today by the revelation that many of its luminaries had partaken in performance enhancing drugs. In fact many of the worlds greatest discoveries may have been a result of tainted brains.

It is not by mere chance that the Age of Enlightenment coincides with the introduction of coffee to Europe. Both Huygens pendulum clock and Galileo's improvements to the telescope both happened soon after the first Starbuck's opened in their respective countries.

Of course caffeine is just the tip of the performance enhancing iceberg. As you may have heard Nobel physicist Albert Fert recently submitted a tainted sample the Nobel prize governing body. "We found trace amounts of modafinil a non-amphetamine stimulant," stated Nobel official Ain Thatashaim.

The Nobel committee is still weighing all possibilities, but as it stands right now Dr. Fert may have to return the Nobel Prize.

Those familiar with the Nobel competition know that a culture of abuse has always surrounded the prize. Since the prize was first awarded 1901 an aura of suspicions has clouded the prize when winner for medicine, Emil Adolf van Behring, was found sprawled in his examining room with a syringe of pure caffeine dangling from his arm.

Jealousy over the attention and money paid to entertainers has forced many intellectuals into the shady world of performance enhancers. "We are doing the important work. We save lives. What does Brittany Spears do for the world," whines one scientist that wishes to remain anonymous. "Until the brain gets the respect that it deserves researchers will continue to enhance."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

City of Pine Lawn Makes Sagging Illegal

In an effort to crack down on gang activity in the fair city of Pine Lawn residents applauded the city council's recent decision to outlaw low hanging pants.

"It's like how they got Capone on tax evasion. The criminals are surrounded by many layers of subordinates. The Droopy-Drawers statute will allow our dedicated police officers to arrest and incarcerate the leaders of the the Pine Lawn underwear, I mean underworld," says the Pine Lawn police chief.

"I should not know what color underwear you have on," complains long time resident Ida Clair while pulling up her knee-high hose, "it's shameful what folks will do."

Always at the forefront of law enforcement a new officer will be added under the auspices of the Undergarment Task Force, that already includes one of the the nations only Bra Inspectors. If successful, other communities are expected to draft similar laws.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Genetic Link for Satire

Dr. Gita Klu announced yesterday the discovery of a gene that codes for the understanding of satire. LOL99, the humor gene, has been linked to the understanding and creation of wit. Individuals in which this gene is active demonstrate and ability to parody the creative work of others and accurately identify items that are ironic.

"I started looking for the humor gene after several of the jokes in my lectures just bombed. Extensive research had proven that these jokes were indeed funny, yet when delivered to my Genetics 280 class they just blew up in my face. It occurred to to me that perhaps the students in my course were lacking a sense of humor. It is only a minor leap in logic to assume that since the other senses are influenced by genetics then so too should the sense of humor."

Dr. Klu set up a series of experiments to determine the existence of LOL99. Mice were condition to expect a piece of cheese after successfully navigating a maze. Then researchers secretly replaced the cheese with a bad pun. Mice that expressed frustration were determined to be lacking a sense of humor. A DNA sample was extracted from each mouse and they were then given a copy of "Who Moved My Cheese." Amazingly, the mice that were lacking LOL99 were the same mice that actually read the book trying to determine the location of the cheese.

"Individuals lacking the gene experience frustration while watching The Simpsons and complain that Saturday Night Live has never been the same since the original cast left. They also tend to be Republican," states Klu.

Klu's research will be published in this month's issue of Ludicrous Research.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Modest Proposal

For the third time in about a week I have come across articles referencing the outboard brain all originating from an column in Wired. With varying degrees of awe and loathing authors have discussed the phenomenon of using electronic devices to store information previously held in the forefront of the brain. Some even decry the technology as making choices for us. We are cyborgs, or at the very least we have our own C-3PO and R-2D2 traveling by our side at all times. I fear however that techno-phobes and Luddites will be left behind struggling to remember their best friends phone number. Or worse, not have immediate access to the filmography of Kevin Bacon, and thus losing nearly every match of Six-Degrees.

For these unfortunate souls I suggest not an outboard brain, but an outsourced one. What's the difference you say? Well an outsourced brain is relatively low tech. Considering the number of people living in impoverished third-world countries the potential work force is staggering. For only a few cents a day you could have your very own outsourced brain. Instead of C-3PO a Gunga-Din. Ready at a moments notice to provide you with all of the necessary information to participate in sparkling conversation and witty repartee. We all know how smart Asians are. Who better to take care of all of the mental toil.

Honestly, it was a travesty that the Chinese were used as cheap labor to build our railroads. Obviously they should have been valued much more for their mental powers than their physical ones. The Japanese have noticed this weakness in westerners and have even built games that reportedly help build mental dexterity. If they were truly cutthroat businessmen then they would let us flail about in our intellectual squalor and sell us devices and people that would supplement our failing brains.

With the third world taking over the tasks of the useful ten percent of our brains (respiration, circulation and other bodily functions would most likely remain in the realm of the original brain) we would be free to explore the other ninety percent. Within a few year I predict that we will have mastered telepathy, telekinesis, and astral projection.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Curious Incident of Censorship in the Day Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime has recently come under fire as being to controversial for a Big Read. The curious thing about it is that I agree. This is either and indicator of age, a right turn on the political spectrum, or wisdom. For obvious reasons I am going to pick wisdom. In the past fifteen years as a teacher, and as a concerned citizen prior to that, I have fought against censorship. So what is different this time? In order to better analyze this particular situation I should probably review my history with censorship.

I come from a household in which my mother was horribly offended by violence and my father turn violently red at the mention of sex. Needless to say I wasn't allowed to see any R-rated movies. I was, however, allowed to read just about anything. I still remember fondly the day I learned the word phallus from reading The Excorsist. My dad wasn't nearly as happy as I was, but he never even threatened to take the book away.

This freedom to read virtually anything molded me into a typical militant high school student. Farenheit 451 was the worst thing that could happen to a society. Anyone that wanted to ban books was some sort of cro-magnon fascist.

Luckily, as I entered my teaching career I managed to tone down just a little. My first job in a Muslim school was a challenge. The philosophy of the school was that writing was technical skill not an art. As a first year teacher who had to devise his own curriculum I still thought it was important to at least read some authors as examples of good writing. With a limited budget I decided to purchase $1 copies of Call of the Wild. I had the submit the book for review. Amazingly it came back with only one black mark on it. The imam had crossed out the word sex. I ranted about him being a cretin because the word was refering to gender not the act. I was desperate for a job and the absence of one word did not really affect the text. I had compromised. I eventually left the job, not because of this incident, but because the general tone and philosophy of the school did not match mine. An interesting side note, some of the members of this mosque were later arrested for funneling money to terrorist organizations.

The next time a book caused any stir in my classroom was when a veteran teacher gave me some copies of Gal because I once again had to develop my own curriculum. I was a third year teacher, but it was my first year at my districts alternative program. Gal was a high interest read for my students, but two of the black teachers in the school had a problem with yet another portrayal of a dishfunctional black protagonist. It was probably this characteristic that made the book so interesting to the students. Forgetting momentarily that I was white I decided to fight what I thought was blatant censorship, but as a third year teacher with a first year principal it just wan't going to happen. Looking back now I realized that I should have been more sensitive to their point of view.

The final milestone in our journey to The Curious Incident, again deals with fears of an attack from the left. There never really was a battle, mainly because I had prepared for it. One of my students had written a poem containing the N-word. The topic was racial profiling and the word was used as dialogue from the police officer. Before anyone could say no, I wrote a justification for the poem and had the student write one as well. We were prepared for battle. When I failed to get a response to an email I figured that it was on. I was wrong. The poem was approved, and all we had to do was write a warning and disclaimer on the inside of the CD cover.

Both of the last two incidents happened in the same district in which we are currently dealing with The Curious Incident episode. For the most part I feel that I work at a rather liberal district and don't fear censorship or totalitarian mandates. In the case of the book I always felt that we had the backing of the administration. So why don't I want to fight this? Since I eliminated age and facism we are left with wisdom. My experiences have led me to redefine censorship and this incident doesn't reach the standard. Though I am dealing with close-minded people they are not keeping me or anyone else from reading the book. They are excercising their right to not have to read the book. They are essentially changing the channel. If I were to force this book on them, then I would be doing the same as if they denied me access. Wisdom has begun to make the clear cut a little murky.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Ultimate Scoring Guide (The 3W in Action)

In order to streamline grading I have decided to resort to honesty. We often seem appalled when we hear of a teacher that just assigns a grade because they know what the work deserves. Rubrics and scoring guides while helpful in letting student know what should be done are basically worthless when it comes to assessment. Everytime we get a new scoring guide I try to find some way to turn it into some sort of quantifiable number. I always fail. How do I know that I fail? Well when I derive the numerical date it never comes out to the grade that my years of experience tell me the paper should have. All work falls into three categories that correspond to either and A, C, or F. Or more simply, "Wow what a great idea," "Well duh," and "What the heck." I call this scoring guide the 3W since we all know that all good ideas can be distilled into an acronym.

The first W is the Wow factor. To get an A the paper must go beyond your expectations of the assignment or of the student. The wow moment comes when you say to yourself, "I never thought of that." There is an issue of standards however. If your standards for an assignment or student are too low then you are likely to say wow at rather mundane work. Conversely, If your standards are too high then you are obviously going to have some trouble being impressed.

In fact with high standards you are much more likely to say, "duh." A "Well Duh" paper is basically a regurgitation of ideas and content mention in lectures, discussions, and the text. This is the level most people work on so the corresponding letter grade is a C indicating the utter mediocrity of the work. I contend that average is the worst thing to be. So in order to avoid a C a student should aim for the Wow A.

When aiming for this A a student will sometimes fail spectacularly. So much so that you are liable to say, "What the heck." At this point the student should get an F. Now many of you are screaming that that is not reasonable, and I agree. That is why a student should have an opportunity turn their paper into a "Wow" paper.

They will not be likely to change from "What the heck" to "Wow" in a single draft. They will work their way up the 3W continuum. Along they way they may have to stop at a D or a B. These two grades or noticably missing from the scoring guide and that is because they respond to secondary grades. If A, C, and F are the primary grades on the grading wheel, then D and B are combination of these. They are the green and orange of the spectrum.

Ideally we wouldn't have to give follow the rainbow of grades, but since it is required I will continue to do so. The 3W scoring guide however introduces a degree of honesty into this Skittle colored world of academics. What would be easier for a student to understand than "Wow," "Well duh," and "What the heck"?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why I don't like Research Proven Methods

I have discovered a paradox. I am a huge fan of science, so much so that I have all but forsaken belief in a divine entity, but when it comes to research into classroom strategies I am repulsed. The key word is strategies. I like research done in the area of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, but when it comes to practical application into the classroom I feel there is a disconnect.

In the secondary classroom there is a need for authenticity. Like Holden Caufield, high school students can spot a "phoney" from the back row of the classroom. If a teacher does not fully believe in what they are saying, then it will have no impact on the student. Furthermore, the idea that there is a method that is best suited for everyone seems bizarre. Granted we are animals, but I don't think that placing students in a Skinner Box will lead to th desired results, though it may make the classroom quieter.

Whenever I look at GLEs (Grade Level Expectations) or Strategies That Work I just want to say, "duh." Seriously, if you don't know this stuff, then why are you teaching.

What I bring to the Instructional Coaching Cohort

I am a techno-weenie full of creative authentic ideas, and I only moderately offend people with my sense of humor.

To be honest, which is a rarity for me, I have no idea how anyon taught without the Internet. The project I am most proud of currently is the "Creation of the World" databaze. Using Google Earth, Timeline Creator from John Hopkins U, and Microsoft Word I have my students creating a database of world cosmogenies. We also recently completed a multi-draft essay without ever using paper.

Another project which is going into its 6th year is "Alternative Voices," a spoken word CD. This CD, like many of my ideas, comes from projects I do at home. The first time I recorded my voice onto a CD was just to say, "happy birthday" on a song mix. That eventually turned into what my students and I do today.

I have passed this CD out to just about anyone that wants to listen. I love sharing my ideas I have overcome severe stage fright and led several sessions of PD over at the H.S. that I hope weren't as boring as others that I have attended.

I'm not sure that I want to leave the classroom, but I am interested in sharing my ideas. Hopefully, this will help the students and bring me all of the glory that I deserve. However, my penchant for verbal irony may mean that I am not the ideal person for this position.

I wanted to add that I watch T.V. I have multiple media experiences that are a wealth of ideas, but I choose T.V. because it is the most controversial.

I am also a contrarian. I can and will see the opposite point of view.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If we can clone a sheep,

I am calling for an all out ban on the the following cliches. First on my list is, "We don't have to reinvent the wheel." The second is the ubiquitous use of the moon landing as an example of our pinnacle of technological success.

It is not that I am a big fan of reinventing the wheel. It's just that sometimes the wheel is broken or missing. The phrase itself is not offensive it is the incessant and inappropriate use of the maxim. Often it seems to be a dodge. Individuals that are not relishing the upcoming task will quickly blurt out, "We don't need to reinvent the wheel." Often the metaphorical wheel has been misplaced, misused, or misappropriated. At that point what seems like a sage bit of advice is just getting in the way of getting the job done.

I imagine that during period immediately following the initial invention of the wheel people were so excited by the possibilities that there were plenty of patent infringing types that were trying to reinvent it. In fact the first recorded use of this truism was in the opinion of judge in the case of Ugh v. Grunt. At the time of course he was right, but as society progressed the wheel has gone through many iterations adapting to new environments and vehicles.

So the original saying has lost much of its nascent meaning and is frequently uttered by the more stubborn members of committee.

The wheel was the moon landing of its time. Many a cave wife could be heard saying to her husband, "If we can invent the wheel, then surely you can find a way to bring home a decent piece of meat." The wheel of course has been replaced by the moon landing as the pinnacle of success. Surely, if we can put a man on the moon, then there is a whole slew of minor accomplishments that would pale in comparison.

My problems with this phrase are numerous, but high on my list is the fact that the moon landing happened nearly 50 yrs. ago and hasn't been repeated in quite some time. Possible replacements include, "if we can clone a sheep," "if we can make vast amounts of information available to everyone," or "if we can eat genetically modified crops." Seriously we probably have more computing power on our desktop than the entirety NASA had in 1969.

However, my main problem is that this particular giant leap for mankind was a massive government funded endeavour. If the same resources were piled on any of the problems gauged by the success of the Apollo program then I'm positive their solution is readily accessible.

The problem with these or any cliches is that they're easy to say and agree with. They are, however, lazy requiring very little thought from the speaker or the listener. What they gain in flair and efficiency they lose in accuracy and effectiveness. These two particular platitudes have not been excoriated as much as there cousins the "paradigm shift" and "thinking outside the box," but they are equally useless if not dangerous.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Plan Schman: Teaching in the Digital Classroom

I have recently been pondering my teaching style because I have been rudely forced out of it. During summer school I have a single computer in the room with Internet access, no printer and if I want copies I have to submit a request to the administrative assistant. Though I have a general outline of the events that will take place in my classroom, I have never been a fan of having a daily plan. As long as I know where I want to go, the specific route is of little importance. I will dub this style "Of The Moment" teaching. I am now going to claim ownership of this phrase since a google search resulted in very little information. Most of the sites it brought back add the word spur to the phrase.

Teacher accountability currently demands that teachers turn in syllabi and sometimes even daily lesson plans. If the syllabi is a general outline I see no problem with it, but I don't trust a teacher or curriculum that knows exactly which page of the text the class will be reading on October 12th. Lessons should change according to what was in the paper that morning, detour to answer a questioned posed by student, or emphasize a connection that has been revealed after the 4th time teaching a prep.

For of-the-moment teaching to succeed it needs to virtual and high-speed. Access to information needs to be instantaneous. Ideally each student would have immediate access to this data either on their own computer or through a hand-out printed during class. It also requires a teacher that is not afraid to admit ignorance. In fact the teacher should celebrate ignorance because it is an opportunity to learn. Students that challenge a teacher will make of-the-moment teacher even more successful. Learning is the successive destruction of old ideas and construction of new ones upon their ruins. So a challenge will either make way for innovative thoughts or point our the strengths of the current ones.

Insight is non-existant when you are using tunnel vision. Obviously certain skills need to be instilled with in the students, but of-the-moment teaching allows a teacher to find new pathways to the mind in order to place them there. Traditional methods will always work for some students, but traditional methods have also traditionally missed a good number of them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Top Career Choices For High School Students

1. Obvious Observational Meteorologist

Successful candidates must be familiar with the phrases: "It's hot/cold as a mug," and "Hey it's raining. All observations must be intuitively obvious to the casual observer and exaggerated to grand proportions for emphasis.

2. Hypochondriacal Urologist

Must be willing to diagnose bladder infections for any individual who has been forced to "hold it" for five seconds or longer. In rare cases urologist may reference diagnoses of fictional doctors or extremely knowledgeable family members that at some time previous has told them that they "have to use it."

3. Broad Interpretation Constitutional Lawyer

Though the interpretation may be broad almost all litigation will be focused on the first amendment and only a portion of it at that. A successful lawyer will steadfastly maintain that freedom of speech covers all speech, including, but not limited to, foul language directed at a teacher. Applicants will be occasionally called upon cite the separation of church and state as just cause for refusal to do an assignment. They are also fond of phrases: "I can say whatever I want", and "That's against my religion". (see Vague Theologian)

4. Logically Flawed Defense Attorney

A willingness to defend the downtrodden and mentally unstable is a must. All cases must be argued from the viewpoint that if more than one student has committed the offense then the act is excusable.

5. Corrupt Evidence Locker Attendant

Those filling this position are apt to "lose" documents of great importance and then proceed to produce a series of witnesses claiming that they indeed saw said documents in possession of the attendant.

6. PlayStation Sports Athlete

Scouts can recognize potential PSAs by examining the ration of self-reported skill to actual skill. PSA will detail feats that are only possible in a virtual world with a faulty physics engine.

7. Deconstructional Hair Stylist

Ideal candidates for this job are capable of removing synthetic hair from her own head thus creating plenty of work for real hair stylist.

8. Succinct Cultural Reviewer

This individual is always first to something "sucks." (note "sucks" can be replaced with the appropriate regional vernacular)

9. Vague Theologian

Can misquote the Bible at will and condemn others to hell based on this misinformation. However when questioned about the actual contents of the good book have little knowledge of what is writ within. They are also apt to say, "I'm not a Christian, I'm a Baptist."

10. Summer Vacation Planner

The most popular package amongst planners is a 5-6 week stay at a learning academy. While at the resort vacationers can expect to do pretty much they had done for the previous 9 months.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Concrete vs Virtual,Street vs. SuperHighway, Dirty vs. Nerdy

"They see me rollin';They hatin'.Patrollin'And tryin. to catch me ridin' dirty."

Much has been made of the digital divide. That's because of poverty or lack of education a certain segment of society doesn't have an on-ramp to the information superhighway. For some this is true, but for a vast majority of students that aren't on the digital fastlane it is because they are "ridin' dirty." The "tint" of the windows doesn't allow them to see the access roads. They roll right past more interested in keeping it street, pounding the pavement, and keeping it real.

"They see me strollin', they laughin'And rollin' their eyes cause I'm so white and nerdy"

Weird Al's parody of "Ridin'" has become an anthem for the white and nerdy mainly because most of us recognize ourselves in some portion of the lyrics. Though it does so humurously, it validates aspects of our lives by letting us know that there are others out their with similar nerdy tastes. The same can be said for Chamillionaire's original version. Students listen to the song and are comforted by the fact that their lifestyle is legitimized. I am not about to go out and learn Klingon because the narrator of "White and Nerdy" is fluent, but I can take comfort in the fact that there are others out there that debate the merits of Kirk and Picard. So "Ridin" is not going to inspire anyone to run out and get a revolver for their right hand and a 40 oz. for the left, but it will confirm that there are others that "got warrants in every city except Houston."

As ironic as "White and Nerdy" is it still falls into the trap of assigning skin color to a cetain behaviour. I am not offended by the song. I have no problem making fun of white people or any people for that matter. However, most of the students I have had at the alternative program, the long-term suspension program, and in summer school believe that in order to keep it street then they can't be overly successful in school. Those that are successful are seen as selling out or acting white. By extension Chamillionaire can be seen as providing a schematic for black behaviour.

A vocabulary quiz drawn from the lyrics of these two songs would most likely have results that would break quite nicely along racial lines. Obviously education is also a determining factor, but it is a fact that black students are underserved by our education system. Number one. The word "oak" as in "I'm grippin' oak" most nearly means. A: a deciduous tree B: a popular drug C: a wooden steering wheel D: the city of Oakland. Number two. A keyboard design for the maximum physical benefit of the user can be described as. A: Aesthetic B: Ergonomic C: Economic D: Chronic.

I wouldn't be so concerned if I detected even a tad bit of irony or if I had the feeling that students would grow out of this like any phase of adolescents. Statistics show that most of my students don't have the luxury of growing out because they are going to be gunned down or locked up before they get a chance to.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Summer School Thus Far

My class size is now manageable. Today there are only 22 students in class. Other than excessive talking, they don't seem like bad kids. I still haven't seen anything to justify the horror stories that I hear from the high school. Granted when there are a few thousand students in the building it could get more chaotic. My philosophy is to teach whoever is in front of me. This goes for students in the hallway too. If I see a student, and all people are students, I endeavour to teach them.

The second period class has shown signs of apathy. I start off each class with a "30 Second Mystery" and they usually last about 10 minutes. Even after the time has elapsed a number of students still refuse to turn in the answer. They may be getting frustrated with the questions so I have been trying to find easier ones to ask.

Only 12 days to go. Grades aren't looking great, but I am relatively positive that most of them will pass.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Media Literacy (Alternative vs. Summer School)

So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a good number of my summer school students are present on the web. Bebo is by far the most popular social networking site. Even if I hadn't given them the survey I would have known that Bebo was the favorite. Today while blogging a few students used anonymous browsers to surf to their Bebo sites. This is lightyears beyond my students at the alternative program.

During the regular school year most of my students can't remember a password for more than 30 min. Here We only go to the computer lab once a week and not only do they remember their logins and passwords for Blogger, but they all remember their network logins as well.

I haven't had a single student ask if they can just do the work on paper. They all seem to enjoy doing the blogs. It seems to come naturally to them.

As for mass media literacy they all seem to be a little behind the curve. By far the most popular television show is The Wayans Bros., which has not had an original episode since 1999. I would venture to say that it did not have an original joke since the pilot. Many of the students would argue and say that the show was still in production. This leads me to believe that they still do not have an understanding of content delivery. Is a knowledge of budgets and production details necessary to be media literate? Does it make you a better reader knowing the process a book goes through in order to reach publication?

Most of them were at least familiar with the summer blockbusters even if they had not seen them. I only had a couple of students that hadn't seen a movie in over a year. Over all I have a better feeling about the state of media literacy and the shrinking of the digital divide. I don't know if "at-risk" status is a symptom of a lack of media exposure or if this illiteracy is just another by product of being at risk. If I had to venture a guess I would say that it is the latter. My students spend so much time dealing with crises in the concrete environment of "the streets" that they can't find the on ramp for the "super-highway."

English Teachers Live and Create Virtual Worlds

I have always been curious as to why there seems to be more language arts teachers involved in technology, particularly the interenet. My current theory is that as teachers of reading a writing we have been living in virtual worlds for a majority of our lives.

I use to joke that going to movies and watching tv was professional development, but I was always half serious. Both of these media are just different forms of literature. So it is only natural that Language Arts teachers should be among the first to take of residence and create content on the web.

I have to admit that I haven't searched and that all of my evidence is anecdotal, but there seems to be a lack of math content on the web. Most of the math teachers I know don't use technology for anything other than excercise drills. I know that thousands of math teachers are screaming about this statement, but I bet there are far less math teachers reading this than English teachers.

Most of the science content I have seen is just virtual representations of real world phenomenom. This is not much of a problem. Science is the study of the world around us. I would no more expect them to study the internet than I would have them study fluctuations in gravity in Charles Dickens Tale of Two Cities.

As for history teachers, their presence on the web nearly equals that of language arts teachers. Of course the only difference between the to disciplines is that history is supposedly true.

It would be interesting to see some statistics on this. I could be totally biased and just think that language arts teachers are gods.

First Day of Summer Blogging

My first period class has 32 students and there are only 23 computers available in the lab. In addition I had two keyboards that malfuncioned. One of them would not type an "X" which isn't that big of a deal, but the other had a faulty "E" key which would make typing in English impossible. I managed to switch it out with another keyboard.

Almost all of the students followed directions. The few students that were not able to get on to a computer immediately were set to work writing their entries on paper so that they merely had to type when a machine became available.

I did have a couple of students who insisted that they would work on this from home. We will see if this comes to fruition.

During the first period the text ask them to pick a painting and talk about their feeling and memories associated with that image. Many of the students grew a little more excited when I showed them how to include the picture with their blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer School

Tomorrow we start blogging. I am going to try to do the assignments in the 9th grade writing book. At the end of each section they give a journal idea. I will use these as the prompts for the blogs. In addition I will also assign writing about the Lit. and some reflections on the learning going on in the class

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Interview Process

I recently had the privilege of being on the committee charged with finding the districts new CIO (Chief Information Officer). Though I wasn't asked to, I submitted two questions to be asked by the panel during the interviews. One of the questions concerned what role teachers should play in deciding which websites would be blocked.

Of the five candidates interviewed all but one answered the questioned from the standpoint that a teacher would request that a site be blocked. The only one that didn't was a candidate that was familiar with my position that most sites should not be blocked. My main concern is sites that are blocked because they are deemed to be classroom disruptions. The most glaring example is the fact that the term "hip hop" is blocked while a similar search for "death metal" is not. I maintain that neither should be blocked and could serve curricular purposes. Current policy states that they can be unblocked for a short period of time after school hours for a teacher to do research.

As hour society becomes more digital it is vital that students have access to this information. I am speaking specifically of sites such as YouTube, MySpace, and 2nd Life that are taking on increasing significance in the 2008 elections. One of the candidates state that his default position is to block when there is any doubt. The problem with this position is that the unblocking process is nearly as difficult as unblocking an artery. This block at all cost seems to be at odds with teaching.

Education serves several purposes one of which is to develop well informed citizens capable of making intelligent decisions to propel our representative democracy into a productive direction. If we can't even let students participate in the communities that are on the interenet how can we succeed in this mission. The political process is energized by "meet up" groups and email contact directly from the campaign. Barack Obama is one of my friends on MySpace. YouTube offers access to hours of political speech and commentary. At what point do we let the world into our classroom?

I live in my own little world of edtech blogs and develop misconceptions about the world. I just assume that everyone is like me and wants to free up information for students, but I now know that the default setting is to see a predator lurking behind every IM, percieve a waste of time everytime a students reads lyrics to a song, and fear freedom and thought whenever it threatens control.

Labels and Tags

In order to effecively use blogs as a portfolio I have to come of with a tagging system. At the beginning of the year I should generate a list of possible tags.

We definitely need to tag each draft so that a coherent and chronological pattern in growth emerges. For the students to see their progress and the teacher to assess progress is essential to the learning and writing process. We can probably label them "first," "second," etc. A search for these tags would then bring up a list of all first drafts for the year. Then the teacher and the student could see if there has been any improvement in the initial quality of the writing.

Entries should also be tagged with the genre. That way students can easily seperate journals from essays from poems. Though all writing serves the same general purpose they definitely require different skills. Isolating those skills will aid in the educational process.

They could also be tagged with audience and organizational pattern though I'm not sure if this is necessary.

I should probably come up with a tag title for each piece so that if I need to confirm that a student did the work it could be easily found. I also need to do a better job of keeping track of when an assignment is given so that I can make sure that they are turned in on time.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Portfolios - The Demise of the 3-drawer Filing Cabinet

Things to add because:

  1. Cover Sheet - An equivalent would probably would be uniform file naming system. Last Name_First Name_Grade_Genre_Title(no more than 2 words). In blogs we could just use tags.
  2. Storage and desimination - The English Dept. could host a list of favorites on administered by the dept. head.
  3. In blogs all work is dated and archived.
  4. What about prewrite? Should the blog include graphic organizers, outlines, etc.
  5. Electronic Portfolios is superior for the storage of audio and video content.
  6. English teachers might need a scanner that students could access.
  7. Socs locker or Microsoft Sharepoint. Both of these programs allow collaboration and track changes so that multiple drafts would be saved.
  8. Could the portfolio be used to gain access to the next grade? Why can't it be used as a final?
  9. We need time. Half days. Full Days. For portfolio assessment.
  10. If we go to electronic we would need training.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Good That Comes From Blogging

I wanted to talk about some of the positive aspects of blogging today. We just had parent conference last week, and I was able to pull up the students work on the computer while talking to the parents. The next day several of the students came to school with stories about how they discovered their parents reading their essays that night. Interestingly, we were writing about the moral code that they live by, and I think several of the parents were surprised to find out that their children claim to live by the code of the street. Hopefully, as we continue to blog I will have more stories like this.

Many of my students are parents as well and as such sometimes can't make it to school on a regular basis. Apparently, they get time off after they give birth. Because of the blogs and email I have been able to keep in contact with these students so that they don't fall too far behind.

And now a less touching tale of classroom management. As a language arts teacher I have frequently had conflicts with students about whether they met a deadline for drafts of their papers. It should be mentioned at this point that I suffer from certain filing deficiencies and rarely had evidence to support my side. This led to many a compromise reulting in partial credit and excused assignments. I am now having the students turn in their drafts to the blogs. Since a date is affixed when it is posted in has minimized such arguments. Of course this gives the students until midnight to turn in their work, and in some case until 2:00 in the morning because they have the time set for Pacific and we live in St. Louis.

Another classroom management benefit is that students can no longer claim that they were afraid to turn their work into a sub. I no longer have to accept this excuse, and it was with a smug sense of satisfaction that I was able to say this to a student last week. Most of the time the work wasn't done to begin with and the sub was just an excuse of convenience.

As my management issues improve and student skill increases I hope to have more stories like this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Since starting blogs in the classroom the single most annoying problem is the students' inability to remember logins and passwords. There have been other snafus like students using nicknames that I don't recognize or posting to the wrong blog. I have them all for two classes and sometimes they get confused. Some of the students can't even remember the password to logon to the network. Those I have in a spreadsheet sent to me by administration, but I made the decision early on that students would be responsible for they're profile on blogger. Mainly I am lazy and didn't want the responsibility, but I also thought that it was important for them to learn how to create and maintain an online profile.

I thought that the threat of losing all of their work on blogger would be incentive enough to keep track of the password. The fault in this reasoning is that my students for the most part don't value their work. They do value points so I had many of them create a new blog every time I assigned a writing. Of course they would then forget to give me the new URL and thus we would have many a panic moment when grades were due. I guess that I could give them a grade for maintaining the blog, but again this seems like a false incentive.

Because of a blog I read earlier in the year, I decided to let the kids to use their phones to keep track of the passwords. I think this worked for several of the students, but as a security measure it would be terrible. These passwords aren't protecting anything valuable, but if they lost their phone then they would also be giving up access to their blog.

So, I have decided that a password is a school supply. If we can charge for pencils and paper, then can we charge the students for keeping track of their passwords. I suggest ten cents for every time I have to look it up. Now there will be an issue of the student not receiving anything tangible, but I would make the argument that it is intellectual property and the students are only giving us a reward for recovering it.

Friday, March 30, 2007


If you have specific questions to ask I will compile them in a blog posting around Wed. Before that though here is a computer problem algorithm.

  1. Just start clicking.
  2. Just start right clicking.
  3. Play a little bit and click again.
  4. If you must go to the help menu.
  5. Better option look on message boards and geek sites for answers.
  6. Ask Dominic
  7. Take a break and watch an episode of Battlestar Gallactica (If you don't have cable then go see Pan's Labyrinth)
  8. Reinvent the wheel.
  9. Come home click some more.
  10. Play.
  11. Have Fun.
  12. Ask me. All questions should be written on a bag of Lamar's donuts.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The N-word

Until I can more clearly state my opinion I wanted to provide a space for everyone to express their ideas and opinions. This not something that should just be forgotten, nor should anyone be scapegoated.

Using Inspiration To Make Timelines

At our last professional development Gail Rock mentioned that she used Inspiration to work on timelines with her students. The images here are some examples. I have also included her assignment sheet below.


Students will be looking at specific social or political movements, which have brought about change in the United States from Pre-Civil War to present time. The movements for study will be:
Social Reform (includes Utopian Communities, Temperance Movement and
Prison Reform)
Educational Reform and Literary Styles
The Women’s Movement
The Abolitionist Movement
The Civil Rights Movement

Students will work in groups or alone. The project will include classroom research (50 points) Library Research (50 points) and the final computer timeline worth 100 points.
It is important that all students be present in school to participate fully in this project. Make-up time will be available after school the week of 5/22.

Classroom Research:

Students will utilize the textbook to begin an outline of events, people and dates for their topic. They will be given beginning worksheets for their area. They will use the textbooks index to locate information throughout history. They will utilize the timelines from the chapters that they find information on in their topic area. They should have a rough draft outline by the time they go to the library.

Library Research:

Students will find more specific events, people and dates to fill in details on their area. The librarians have books and resources to help the students with this project. They may also check the Internet if available. The Internet can also be used to begin to locate pictures to add to the timeline.

Computer Program:

The Inspiration computer program allows the students to type in an outline which will than be able to generate a graphic timeline. They can add pictures to this outline of people or events involved. The final product will be a timeline that I believe they will be proud of.

I am asking all parents to please sign this so I know that you have been informed about what is being asked of your child. If they attend class and utilize their time well, they should have an excellent grade for the semester.


Ms. G. Rock
US History (Social Studies 1 and 2)

_________________________________ ____________________________________
Parent/Guardian Date Student Date

Friday, March 09, 2007

Resources, Resources, Resources

Twice since giving a presentation about different technological tools to use in the writing process teachers have mentioned that they don't have the resources to do what I was suggesting. First I would like to mention that other than a computer with an internet connection and the software that is provided by the district, no other pieces of hardware are required.

More importantly, however, is the mind set that immediately finds the obstacles. I will grant that projectors and SmartBoards are hard to come by in our district, but a long waiting list is the first bit of evidence we need to build the case for more funding. Most board members and citizens would be appalled if they were informed that we were teaching classes without current textbooks. We need to create that same mentality when it comes to other forms of hardware and software.

With out concrete examples of what can be done with technology those who can control the budget will assume that it can be done WITHOUT technology. There is evidence that IQs are rising and some prominent scholars have suggested that it is due to media exposure and literacy. What is IQ other than a measure of our problem solving and pattern recognizing abilities? Technology manifoldly increase the means of solving problems and the ability to recognize patterns helps quickly adapt to new technologies.

A pattern that frequently occurs in this district is the gap. The achievement gap. The digital divide. Why are African-American students consistently scoring lower than their white counterparts? I maintain that it is constant mindset of remediation that hurts these students. Through the use of technology we can show the students the power of the media. A demonstration of power of the Web 2.0 would serve as a powerful reminder that we come to school for more than credits and a diploma. We come so that we may influence the world.

So if we truly are world-class the we need to have a world audience and we need to be taught by the global community. The second have of this motto is "Where all means all." I'll admit that this caused some confusion at first. However, I would like to think of this as more than a motivational cry for No Child Left Behind. I think the all means the entire population of minds on this planet; a population that can be brought to our classrooms through technology.


I was going to post today about an assignment using Inspiration. Unfortunately, the assignment done by students in Gail Rock's class came to me via email. I have now gone nearly 24 hrs. without access to my district email. It is very frustrating.

I apparently am a communication junkie. This is good since I am a Communication Arts teacher, but I am going through withdrawal. I am resorting to talking to my students, and there is only so much I have to say about Lil Wayne.

Oh well, the aforementioned assignment will be post soon. Granted, I am going on spring break and may not think about school for a week. It requires my full mental powers to clean the basement and watch re-runs of Law & Order.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Literacy Questions

Literacy Day with Dan Holden
1. How do you download ifilm?
2. What is ibiblio?
3. Can I put up prompts in the blog for students to respond to?
4. Can I put articles in there for them to write responses to in their blogs?
5. I do read your blog page every now and then!
6. How do you leave comments on students work?
7. What kinds of books are on Project Gutenberg? I can’t get to the site right now?

  1. ifilm is a website that is currently unblocked. You just go to and do a search for whatever content you want. Be careful there is inappropriate stuff on there.
  2. I just looked up ibiblio. It seems to be a collection of public domain material. It is similar to Gutenberg, but it also has music, software, etc. I will have to check it out more.
  3. If you want to post prompts for students then a message board would be better. I haven't has as much success, but if you want to try it in your class you should take a look at
  4. You could create your own blog and then students could go and respond to it. You need to be careful of copyright issues. This answer could also apply to #3.
  5. You'll have to read it to get these answers.
  6. If you are talking about Word then you need to activate the REVIEWING toolbar and click on the comment button. I forgot to mention yesterday that there is a PowerPoint presentation available on the district server. The path was on the handout but here it is again.
    my network places>novell connections>central 500>data>hs>presentations
  7. The books on Gutenberg are those that have entered the public domain so you are mostly talking about those from the early 1900s on back. You will definitely find the dead white guys there. If you can access the site it is because you are doing something wrong. Just kidding. I'll check it out for you later.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Note to Self

Use Inspiration to create time lines. Thank you Gail Rock

email HS about how to turn on grammar check and readability statistics.

Tools>Options>Spelling Grammar>Readability Statistics (check box)
Check Grammar w/ Spelling (check box)

Reading Strategies Brainstorming Session

Make connections
read in speech time
slow down
reading & re-reading
reading the headings
breaking up sentences
context connecton

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


So I was comforted to find out that there are other people in the world that don't duck and cover whenever they hear the words on-line social network. That this ally would be a K-state alum and currently resides in Oklahoma will be overlooked. For the record Mizzou will once again rule the Big 12.

The workshop presented by Wesley Fryer was not only comforting, but informative. During the presentation he took an impromptu call using Skype. I was so impressed that I downloaded the software right there and start a chat with someone else in the room.

That person happened to be David Warlick, who was giving a presentation later that day. During that particular presentation he said two things that struck me. One was that he referred to the school 2.0. When applying for a job as the technology specialist for my district I mentioned how I wanted to create the classroom 2.0. My wife, after reading my letter suggested that I might not put that in there because people might not understand. I can't remember if I left it in or not, but the fact that there are people in education that would not understand that is depressing.

Now I said that there was two things that Mr. Warlick said of interest. The second is that the reason he liked certain blogs is because that were talking about what other people were saying. I have to admit that there is a part of me that wants to become a "famous" ed. tech. blogger, but the idea of being part of an educator community is also very appealing. Usually the only community you get to be a part of is the group of teachers that go out drinking after school to bitch about how the kids don't know anything. I think a community of tech literate teachers would be much more fulfilling.

I still hope to be famous someday.


This is day two at the METC. The keynote seems to have a little more energy. So far we have already been introduced to tools that we could use in the classroom. Right now he is talking about google language.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Episode 5

"Nonsensical, Clueless, Lost, and Basackwards"

Episode 5


EXT. – DAY Briarpatch bordering a smooth sandy beach

Eddie comes stumbling out of the patch, pamphlet still in hand. To his left he sees a tower immediately surrounded by architecturally functional administrative buildings. These were surrounded by a grouping of architecturally functional cracker box houses. Residents were going about their business wearing black robes, mortar boards, and multi-colored stoles. He spots what appears to be an information kiosk.

Minister of Information
How can I help you?

You can start by telling me where I am.

You are at the Ivory Tower Center For Advance Learning. Would you like a copy of our mission statement? We worked really hard on it.

Yes please.

MOI struggles to hand a telephone book size packet to Eddie.

MONTAGE – Reading sequence
A) Eddie Reading.
B) Dissolve to flipping pages.
C) Dissolve to scratching head.
D) Dissolve to flipping pages.
E) Dissolve to Eddie emphatically placing the packet back on the kiosk.

So to summarize your mission is to ensure that students do not fall through the cracks.

Of course, we said it a little more eloquently and verbosely.

Doesn’t the fact that I am here prove that you are failing your mission.

One, don’t get smart. The last guy to do that was thrown into the briar patch. And two, you may have noticed the banner hanging from the tower. It says, “Mission Accomplished.”

One, I thought it was your mission to make me smart. Two, I met Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch and he is doing just fine. And Three, the existence of a banner is not a priori evidence of anything.

Now that we have established a baseline measure of your reading and math abilities you may enter.

That was a test?

A basic skills test yes. You read the mission statement and counted to three. You are good to go.

Those are your standards for admission?

They used to be higher but too many students were falling through the cracks so we lowered them. Here is your i.d. that must be worn at all times. You must remove your hat, and your pants must be pulled up at all times. There will be not electronic devices allowed past this point including but not limited to cell phones, headphones, and gramophones. You must wear this uniform at all times and remain in your assigned seat. All staff must be address with appropriate salutation. Failure to adhere to any of these rules will result in severe consequences. You will be test every half hour to mark you progress. If you fail to make progress your teacher will be reprimanded. Do you understand?

Eddie is pulling a pair of khaki pants and a blue oxford shirt. He looks up.

Not entirely.

Here is a discipline handbook. You spend the first month of your education studying this. Of course there will be a test.

Blood, hair, or urine?

Do you think that you are funny. I am not laughing. There are random and scheduled drug tests for anyone who thinks they are funny. Here is your schedule of courses. There is a map of the campus on the reverse side.

Eddie grabs the paper and morosely saunters onto the campus. As he walks away we notice a slogan on the back of his shirt. It states, “It is cool to be smart.”

Fade Out: