Friday, January 25, 2013

The Pacifier of the Digital Natives

Today, an amazing thing happened (and by "amazing" I of course mean "commonplace and universally understood") with one of my classes, which took place in one of our school's computer labs:

The Internet went down. 

Sure, you're as shocked and amazed as I was, because this has to be the first time in the history of the digital era that it's ever happened. #sarcasticmantotherescue

To be kind to our school district's technology folks - which I will admit I have not always been - loss of Internet doesn't happen nearly as often as it has in the past. Internet service has been pretty reliable, with the occasional momentary glitch. It's simply that you only notice it's down when you need it - like when you have a classroom full of students who are using Web2.0 tools to complete the great assignment that you re-tooled to integrate technology. Like today. 

In a nutshell - and in the usual dramatic genre - here's what happened:

The scene is a computer lab in a typical upper-midwestern classroom. Students are working at individual workstations, while their teacher - a devastatingly handsome, mild-mannered, unflappable type - is assisting when necessary. 

HALF OF THE CLASS: Hey, the Internet is down! Lammers, what are we supposed to do! We can't work on the assignment! AHHHHHH!!!

OTHER HALF OF THE CLASS: Hey, the Internet is down! Cool! We can't work on the assignment! I'll just go online do do something else and - whu, wait - the WHOLE internet is down?! Lammers, what are we suppose to do? We can work on anything!  AHHHHH!!!

ME (holding up both hands and forcing a smile): All is well! Remain calm! Nobody panic! I't's just a temporary situation! All is well! All is well!!! AHHHHH!!!

The Internet suddenly comes back, and a nanosecond later, the room is silent, save for the tapping sound of busy keyboards and hoarse breathing of the now shaking and "disheveled-to-the-point-of-homliness" teacher. It's as if, as far as the students are concerned, nothing has happened at all.

Don't get me wrong, I really like this class - and while it's not exactly how the moment played out, the flavor of the moment is close. As soon as the internet was back up, it was like the acrid smoke in the room from the crash of the web was replaced with the fresh air of a mountainside meadow, complete with wildflowers and soft chamber music. Fresh oxygen in the form of digital information transfer equaled life. And I was amazed.

It seems that every few months, a survey or poll is conducted regarding people and their reliance upon cell phones - or perhaps more correctly, their smart phones. The punchline to these polls is a question along the lines of how would you live without your phone. Answers inevitably vary by age, but the digital native response typically is that they wouldn't know. I normally take that info with a grain of salt (because you're never certain how the question was worded) but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to to see how that answer is reasonably accurate. Today's incident in my classroom highlighted two things: 1) many students immediately realized that they wouldn't be able to accomplish the assigned task (even though a "plan B" using non-web based tools on the computer was a perfectly viable solution), and 2) many students realized that they wouldn't be able to do anything at all.  Let me reiterate: I like these students a lot and they do good work. The shock to me wasn't that the students went right to work when the internet was back up - but rather the immediacy of the moment that separated panic and confusion from normalcy and calm. The pacification effect was impressive. If I didn't know better, I'd say that somehow my students were invisibly connected to the internet. (OK, that one's for you, conspiracy theorists.) 

Brooklyn Bridge, August 14, 2003
It begs a question of those of us who teach or integrate technology into our lessons: while we are preparing students to learn with technology, should we also be teaching them what to do when it's not available? I'm not a big believer of the "Road Warrior" future, but I do think that there will be a day - and my hope is that it is only a day - where our online and web-based infrastructure is either attacked or broken on a large-scale. I don't think that will be a great day for anyone. While my faith in people who work very hard at protecting our electronic lifestyle is sound, I can't forget the image of thousands of people walking home across the Brooklyn Bridge after a large scale power outage in the Northeast US. The well organized and run system of transportation was significantly compromised and overtaxed to the point of ... walking. Do our students know how to "walk" without their technology?

The fact that I'm using an online media to pose this question is not an irony that is lost to me. (My love of the DittoMaster machine may pay off after all.) I have asked myself the question I have posed - and I admit, I would have a rough go of it. However, because I lived in the "Land of No Internet," I am confident that I could exist. It's dealing with those who won't know how to that worries me most. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Geezer Zone

DoghouseDiaries, 10/19/2012
Today's DoghouseDiaries web comic sort of sums it up for me.

I'm not a grumpy old guy, but there are some in my department that will tell you that sometimes my emails come across as if I'm playing the role of a little old lady. (Not the nice ones, who are gentle in voice and manner, and are quick to offer you a freshly baked good. No, I'm talking about the annoying ones who bitch and whine about how cold it is, then two minutes later complain that it's too hot.) I try to be reasonable when it comes to generation gaps. I don't drop the "when I was your age..." to correct beliefs or behaviors. I'll do it when I want to make a point with something I'm teaching, or add a little whimsey to a situation. And, I'll play the "back home in Minnesota" routine when I think someone is complaining just a little too much, usually about the weather. For example:

  • When my students and I are moving equipment from one end of the building to the other repeatedly: "Back home in Minnesota, we'd call this 'walking to school'!"
  • On a particularly hot and dry day: "Back home in Minnesota, we call this 'marathon training weather'!"
  • On a rainy, dark and dank day: "Back home in Minnesota, we call this 'The Fourth of July Weekend'!"

You get the idea.

But Ray, Raf and Will, the creators of DoghouseDiaries, nailed the mood of the day for me.

Keep in mind, this is just after I spent two great days at the Iowa Technology Education Connection (ITEC) conference in Des Moines. (Which rocked, by the way.) I spent two sessions working with smart - or app - phones and how they can be used effectively with students. I've changed my tune regarding those little gadgets - or at least I thought I had.

Last night, while working with a half a dozen young theater technicians, this scene in the last panel played out. We were going over the particulars of repairing lighting instruments, and I was demonstrating on a light in need of repair. I was talking while working, absorbed with the task. When I completed the repair - giving a blow-by-blow commentary of the fix as it happened - I looked up. Four students were face first into their phones, with the other two looking over their shoulder.

I'm glad I didn't go with my first instinct, which was to start throwing things. I took a breath. (OK, I took three because the first two were through clenched teeth.) "What's going on?"

The oldest student - a sophomore - spoke up: "We're looking for the video from last year's Stage Craft class - remember we did that at the end of the term? I think this was the type of fixture we worked on for that video."


Yup, he was right. We had put together a video for the purpose of accessing when people were - wait for it - repairing these very lights. (Unfortunately the video is no longer posted, but we think we remember who did the video and are trying to get it back up on the web.) So, they weren't blowing me off being totally bored with what I was saying - they were searching for additional information.  They were using their phones in a way that supported their education. I'm thankful I didn't tell them to put the damn things away.

Comedian Louie Anderson
But my first instinct was to go all grumpy old guy on them: "When I was your age, we respected our elders by paying attention!" And we did,  but it was more along the line of "When our elders were talking to us, we took off our headphones and turned off our Walkmans and paid attention!" Comedian (and fellow Minnesotan) Louie Anderson had a great line about being an old guy: "What am I going to tell my grandkids about how hard it was for me? 'When I was your age, we didn't have cable'?" It's sort of where I am. Computers in the classroom were first a reality when I was a sophomore in high school. We had technology, and we were properly wowed by it, but no one really knew how to integrate it. I think my trigonometry teacher may have had the right idea when he said "poke around with it. See what it can do." Hardly technology integration, but we learned a few things by "poking around with it."

I did seize the opportunity to say something about how great it is to have that sort of access in our hands when we have a task at hand. My students enthusiastically agreed. And when I say "enthusiastically," I mean they shrugged their shoulders and cautiously said "yeah" as if I was going to launch into another of my "when I was in high school" stories that involved a Radio Shack TRS-80.  I'll take that, though. They seem to get it.

So I'll keep geezering on. I know how it was back when, and I know how it is now. I'll keep telling kids to put their phones aside when I need to have face-to-face communication, and I'll send them texts and emails when that's the better option. I'll use the technology when it suits me and my teaching, and I'll leave the phone behind when gazing at the stars on a clear night. And if the rest of the world zooms forward with the next gee-whiz thing that takes us further from face-to-face interaction, so be it. I'll try to keep pace and adapt with my students because, when I was their age, that's what I did.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Nothin' Up My Sleeve ...

Rocky and Bullwinkle. Ward Anderson and Scott, 1958.
Unique ideas and creative solutions for education (or anything else for that matter) can resemble the act of pulling a rabbit - or beast - out of a hat. Is it really that hard to come up with something completely original? Has creativity died?

Every now and again, I get stuck when coming up with an interesting, unique and creative set design for our school's theater productions. While I teach full time, and direct the extracurricular technical theater activities, I still want to create the newest and coolest contribution to the theater world. So I sit and think, and then I doodle, and after that, I open up a new SketchUp document, and play around with shapes and lines .... and then I turn on the TV and see what's on ... and then I get hungry and make dinner.

It's after I do all of that when I start searching the internet for ideas.

I don't search the internet to use someone else's design. (I've done that once, with the designer's permission, and it proved to be way more work on the backside of the process.) I search to see mostly out of curiosity what has been done before. What I find are some really great set designs - and not necessarily by professional designers. (In fact, it's hard to find Broadway designs online.) I also find some designs that lack inspiration, and at the risk of being designer-snarky, some that are just deficient of good design basics. These help in the "what not to do department." The common denominators of the research are the elements demanded by the script: things that are necessary for the progression of the plot or character interaction. After that, the designs diverge into their "good, bad and ugly" designations.

Draughtsman's Compass. Tudedude,2010
What inevitably happens to me - and to other scenic designers that have admitted so - is that I find one element here, and another element there, and combine them with my own idea or interpretation of what the set should look like. Theaters are built in different shapes, sizes and configurations, so rarely will one set design work for another theater. It's practically guranteed that it will be more work forcing the design to work in our theater space than creating a new design - but that doesn't mean that certain elements won't work at all. This is evidenced by a recent conversation I had with my Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer:

I am at my computer, straining to create a brilliant set for our next production. My Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer is looking over my shoulder with a smugly disdainful look on her face.
Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer: Hey, that looks familiar!
Me: Be quiet.
Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer: No, really. The staircase is straight out of Guess Who's Comming to Dinner. I can practically see Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn walking down it together!
Me: Leave me alone. I'm trying to concentrate.
Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer: Who else are you ripping off?
Me: I'm not ripping off anyone! I'm simply ... paying homage ... to great set designers.
Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer: Ah! The ol' "paying homage" dodge. You know what you should be paying? Money. These people design for a living. They can't eat "homage."
Me: I'm only using the stairway - and besides, I had to re-design the damn thing to make it fit onto our stage.
My nemesis.
Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer: Uh huh. I see that you are also "paying homage" to the archways in Casablanca, the furniture layout from Act I of Phantom of the Opera, the transom doors in The Odd Couple, and the baracades from Les Miserables.
Me: Those aren't baracades. They're potted plants.
Imaginary Award-winning Set Designer: Yeah, whatever. Look, if this is how you define creativity, that's your problem, but people will notice their stuff in your designs sooner than later.
Me: I'm not copying! I'm not! It's just a ... um, sampling. You know, a mash-up? Right? Sure!
At that moment, an older man with thick mop of white hair and black rimmed glasses bursts in.
Spencer Tracy: Hey, jerk! Whaddya think you're doing with my staircase? You give that back right now, or I'll show you what an old-school mash-up is all about!
And then Spencer Tracy beats the living daylights out of me.

Here lies the conundrum: is this the theft of intellectual property, or paying homage to a clever designer?

Jeffery Davis
Creative consultant Jeffery Davis writes about "The Creative Thinking Myth" in his April, 2012 article on The Creativity Post. His contention is that there's more to creativity than original thought. Environment and a person's physical condition has as much to do with creativity as "right brain cognizance." He refers to several different researchers who have done work in this particular area. From my own experience, I would agree that he's on to something. I won't pretend to understand every single aspect of his work, but there are times when I'm not motivated to create or design - and it's usually when I'm tired, or hungry, or if I'm somewhere where I can't work undisturbed. When I do start cranking out ideas, it's when I'm in a good space both physically and mentally. It makes sense. And I'm not just referring to set designs - this applies to creating assignments, units, rubrics and other material for my Language Arts classroom.

Recently a colleague introduced me to this video series. "Everything is Remix" comes from Kirby Ferguson, and is in four parts. It's worth the view for those who are consumed with trying to be completely original. (Spoiler alert: stop trying.)

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

And here is Ferguson presenting at a TedTalks this past June:

So the pressure is off, it seems. Just as long as I keep most of my creative juices going, I can accept that my designs - be it sets on stage or lessons in the classroom - are remixes that meet the needs of those I work with.

What sorts of remixes have you created to fit your learning environment?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It Was a Slap in the Face How Quickly I Was Replaced

Sure, we were all there once: "Splitsville," "Dumpedtown," and the Greater "It's Not You, It's Me" Metro Area. We've all had a sour relationship. (Or five, but who's keeping track, right? I'm pretty sure I don't.) No one feels great after the break-up, and while time heals all wounds, time tends to move a bit more slowly. We go through a process of grieving, and we come to terms with the change in our lives. Certainly, we've all been the benefactor of some well meaning friend's or colleague's cliche-esque wisdom:

"Nothing lasts forever."
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” 
“It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.”
"Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all."
And my all-time favorite:

"I don't want to say I told you so,  but I told you it would never last."

Perhaps that last one is a bit more brutal than the others, but it's the one that resonates with us the most when it comes to accepting new technology into our lives and classrooms. We are told that as soon as we purchase/acquire a new technology, it's already obsolete. And with technology, an area of our lives that we intertwine with more each day, it's a lead-pipe cinch that change will happen.

Which is why I sort of panicked when Google SketchUp became the property of Trimble. I suddenly felt like the father of a lovely sixteen year old girl who has been asked out on a date by a new boy - one I had never met before.

The scene: I am with my Imaginary Sixteen Year Old Daughter as she is preparing to go out on a date. 

Me: And just who is this Trimble kid?

Imaginary Sixteen Year Old Daughter: He's a guy I met the other day.

Me: Is he a new kid at school, or have I met him before?

Imaginary Sixteen Year Old Daughter: No, he's been around for a while, but I just met him. He's really smart, and he does a lot of stuff with GPS and he's into construction, and - OH! he has this really cool laser optical thing, too. He's really technology savvy.

Me: OK, but what about Google? I mean, I thought you really liked him. I know I did.

Imaginary Sixteen Year Old Daughter: Dad, puh-lease! Everyone liked Google. I mean, every time he did anything, people fawned over him. I just got tired of it.

Me: But he's such a stable kid - the kind that will stick with you.

Imaginary Sixteen Year Old Daughter: Trimble says he'll be just as true to me as Google was - and since he's smarter than Google is in certain subjects, he's just a better fit for me.

Me: Uh huh. And what does Google think of all of this?

Imaginary Sixteen Year Old Daughter: Oh, he's cool with it, totally. In fact, he's the one who introduced us.

Me: OK, but I just have a few more quest-

I am interrupted at the sound of a car horn. Outside of my home, a flying DeLorean equipped with a Flux-Capacitor pulls up.

Imaginary Sixteen Year Old Daughter: Oh, he's here. Gotta go, Dad. Love you, bye!

And they fly off to God knows where, leaving me with a screwy look on my face.

So, here is one of my favorite applications - SketchUp - one which I've used in the classrooms since v.4.0 with a lot of success, and now it's someone else's baby. Google's philosophy was to make it free and to make it user friendly. Most of the time, it was; but even when it wasn't, it was still worth teaching and learning because it was doing some really cool advanced drawing maneuvers. I'm hoping that Trimble will follow suit, and that some of my worries are all for naught.

But really what I'm hoping for is that some of the shortcomings regarding SketchUp are addressed. Namely:

  • The application itself is not Web 2.0, which limits collaboration on models.
  • The self-paced tutorials are OK, but not easy to get to, and are short on some of the more advanced features.
  • 3-D Warehouse is sometimes not accessible to older models
  • Models in 3-D Warehouse are not consistent with scale I use in my drawings (which is something I can fix myself, but to me, it seems like it could be easily remedied.)
  • Shortcuts seem more complicated than need be

I suppose that this wouldn't worry me as much if it hadn't been for the fact that Google is doing away with iGoogle in the near future. I really like my iGoogle page. I know there are other things out there that will do the same thing, but - well, we've been together through so much. I got my MA with iGoogle, and I use it to prepare for my classes, and to use with my hobbies .... I'm just not sure how I'll do without her.

(Sorry. Lost it there for a moment. I know this sounds like a cheesy break-up story. I'm sure I'll be fine without her. I mean it. Be fine without it.)

This reminds me of my fondness of a suite of programs by Claris at the start of my teaching career. Claris Cad was a great little two-dimensional drawing program for the Mac, FileMaker was a powerful database, and ClarisWorks was the Mac contender to the early version of Microsoft Works. It ran beautifully on the Mac Quadras, and the the PowerMacs, and then the very earliest versions of the iMac ... and then it all came to an end. Claris got rid of everything but FileMaker, then renamed itself that same moniker. In short, Claris dumped me. Most of my files had to be converted to MS works files for the Mac, and since then have been replaced by files created by the updated, incompatible versions of current applications. Like the past love letters of so many (read "few") girls in my past, there are no longer any more Claris compatible files in my life. That's probably a good thing ... I think.

And that's where my trouble with SketchUp lies. What will become of her? She already has replaced the shallow 2-D drawings of my beloved Claris, and seemed so safe under Papa Google. Now this heart-throb Trimble comes along ... will he whisk her off to the sophisticated sunny beaches of AutoCAD, or the glitzy, high-rise world of TurboCad (motto: "What happens inTurboCAD stays in TurboCAD"), or will he just move her to the lovely landscapes of the Terminal Update Cove, where she will languish the rest of her days as v.8.0? Maybe she's just too good for me ... I'm so confused.

Learning and teaching technology is not like learning and teaching History or Algebra. It's not likely that The War of 1812 will turn into The War of 1814, or that quadnominal expression will have anything but four terms; and while new aspects of history, math and science are always being pursued and presented, it doesn't demand that sort of quick-change attitude that technology does. Technology is always moving, even when you're not changing or upgrading a favorite and trusted application. Chances are your students are already paying close attention to the latest changes and upgrades, so you need to move with them. The 21st Century classroom needs to reflect those moves, no matter where your comfort zone lies. I'll continue to use SketchUp and implement its upgrades and changes as I see fit in my classroom, but I'll keep a wary eye on where it's heading so that I can move with the changes.

My hope is that SketchUp will keep evolving to take advantage of the faster processors in computing devices, and computing devices will keep developing faster processors to provide SketchUp (and every other app out there) the room to grow. Someday, though, it's rudimentary three-dimensional model-making capabilities will be replaced by a hot new commodity that is attractive in every 3-D modeling way. And, just like days of yore, I'll fall for her completely and devote all of my drawing energy toward here in an effort to forget my dear SketchUp.

And if she winds up saying that we "should just be friends," I know I'll just get hurt in the end. Again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wednesday is Pork Chop Night

Branagh, K. Henry V, BBC Films, 1989.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.

Henry V, Act III, Wm. Shakespeare (1598)

Perhaps a little more dramatic than need be for the start of another school year, but I will confess, there have been times at the end of the first week of school when I feel like Sir Kenneth and Sir Derek after their battle scene in Henry V. (Sorry Sir Lawrence fans - he was just too clean and kempt for this post. But it was very good in the role.) I will admit that when I hear people who describe teachers as "those in the trenches," I feel a bit of "oh, yeah!" But there are times when I cringe, because it brings to mind a very specific image.

Trench warfare. (Was there a time when anyone really enjoyed that?)

Yet there are times when I am mine own enemy. I am teaching the same schedule of courses that I've been teaching for the past five years (with minor variations). I (mostly) don't have a choice in this matter, but for me, it has been a good thing despite the lack of variety. For one, I can take materials, lessons and units that I have devised in previous years and tweak them so they fit the changing landscape that is the 11th and 12th grader. I can make choices with instruction that will allow for more meaningful learning, and after teaching this schedule for the past two years while attending grad school, I can implement technology in ways that I had not thought of before. These are all things in the plus column of "Why It's Good to Have My Schedule." 

Untitled. Hawkins, Z. , Dec. 13, 2007.
With repetition, however, comes the risk of routine. I found myself looking at last year's planner and grade book to see what I was doing on Day Six of the first term. Because I needed to know what I was going to do on Day Six of this term. This might sound like it's a smart thing to do, but I discovered that this year's students are way ahead of last year's students when it comes to understanding plagiarism and citing sources. This is the material that I start the course with so that all expectations are understood, and students write and research with a bit more confidence. So, on Day Six of last year, I spent time on reviewing the use of parenthetical references because, as apparently was the custom, my classes did poorly on their first two attempts. This year, they got it on the first try. Which meant that I had to come out of my trench. And coming out of the trench can be harsh. Allow me to illustrate this with a recent conversation I had with my inner imaginary Master Teacher:

Me: Ah, Day Six! Today is the day I spend time reviewing how to insert parenthetical references, like I have for the past five years, because my students haven't quite mastered that skill.

Imaginary Master Teacher: Except you don't need to do that. They all got it by Day Four. You checked it. They know it. Move on.
Me: Yeah, but ... it's Day Six ... and Day Six is ... I  ... um ...
Imaginary Master Teacher: No, go ahead. I'll wait.
Me: Well, see ... Day Six is that day that I hand out ... well, you know ... those three short stories that ... and ... um ...
Imaginary Master Teacher: Keep going, I think you're getting there.
Me: ... I ... ah ... see, they read the stories ... and ... 
Imaginary Master Teacher: Listen, you just keep talking, and I'll find some reading material to pass the time while you come to grips with things. Hmm, let's see ... something light ... here we go! Les Miserables. That'll do it.
Me: ... and then I show them ... more examples ... uh ...

Pork Chop. All Things Mimi, Sep. 26, 2010.
Perhaps you came from a family, or knew a family where the dinner menu was dictated by what night it was: Wednesday was "Pork Chop Night," Friday was "Pizza Night," Sunday was "Burgers on the Grill." That's what almost happened to me this year. Day Six nearly became "Pork Chop Night." Thankfully, I have voices in my head. (I know, that sounds really creepy, but it's OK - they aren't the type that keep repeating "redrum.") These voices are seasoned veterans of my teaching career, they have good instincts, and they headed off what would have been a redundant, not-so-useful day. I think teaching by the calendar is an easy habit to fall into when you have more than a few years under your belt. It can put a teacher in the mindset of trench warfare - the "I gotta do this no matter what" feeling of classroom instruction. And let's face it - if you don't like it, how do you think your students will feel?

The beginning of the year is where you make the first impressions upon your students and set the standards. There are times when you need to have "Pork Chop Night" in your classroom because it is a lesson that works, or is the slam-dunk example that every student understands and finds engaging. However, this year, Day Six needed to become "Carry-out Stir Fried Pork with Long Beans Night." Same ingredient, different flavor. So, today, on Day Six, we marched forward with Neil Simon, American Playwright, to feast upon two of his works. Not because it was next on the list, but because the students were ready to move to that. It's a good thing. 

So, once more unto the breach dear friends, once more we take charge of the classroom and everything that happens there. What are things you do as teachers to keep Day Six from becoming Pork Chop Night? How do you make this happen without reinventing the whole menu? 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

And Now, My Quadrennial Rant

Ah, the Olympics. That amalgam of sporting conquest, inspiring back stories, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat .... and the NBC color commentators.

I know that those who have previously played, participated, trained and/or coached a sport or activity have knowledge about what they are supposed to cover that the rest of us don't. That brings the potential for a reasoned and informative commentary. It can also provide a little excitement for when someone does something great, even at the risk of being a little too Ameri-centric. But what it ultimately does is ruin the amazement for the rest of us, to the point that in normal conversation we sound pretentious:

Me: "Did you see that awesome gymnastics thingy by Zelda Rheumatismansky last night? It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen!"
Someone Else: "Yeah, she was good, but her feet were a little apart when she did the tripple-axel-Molotov-Hamill-Camel-extension-with-a-drop-loop-Aye-Caramba on her dismount. Really disappointing. 
Me: "Oh, yeah, I ... noticed that ... too ..." 

I have a new definition of "The 99 Percent:" It's the percentage of the worlds population who CANNOT DO ANY of what an Olympic gymnast does in competition. And I'm going to speculate that it's probably a higher percentage. So, "I am the 99.98 Percent," which means I am just in a lot of awe that a body can self-propel itself to fling, run, swim, spike, tumble, throw, shoot, and goal as much as I've been seeing in London.

While I appreciate the explanation of rules and technicalities, I don't think using descriptors such as "devastating," "catastrophic," or "horrendous" is right when a highly trained athlete makes a bobble. I can understand why an athlete will feel that way when things don't go well. Training for four, eight, or even twelve years to attain an Olympic medal only to come up short will illicit empathy from all of us watching. We want our people to do well, and to realize their goals. We cheer with them when they do well, and we may even cry with them when they miss their opportunities. What I don't want to hear half way through a routine or a match is that "it's over for him/her." Thanks, expert color commentator! Now I don't have to tediously watch the rest. I'll just turn the channel now to see what whacky things are happening in Judge Judy's courtroom. Now if we can just get Turner Classic Movies to flash the graphic "Rosebud is the sled!" right in the middle of Citizen Cane, we could spend more time watching reality TV.

(Oh, spoiler alert: I may divulge a critical plot element of the film Citizen Cane at some point during this post.)

I would like for color commentators to keep their hyperbole in check, or at least in the realm of reasonable. When I think "devastating," it conjures up scenes from Joplin, MO after the EF-5 tornado last May. "Catastrophic" is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or the Haitian earthquake. The human tragedy in Darfur is "horrendous." I really don't think that a highly trained athlete with sponsorship and endorsement deals missing out on Olympic medals is "tragic." It's disappointing, discouraging and heart aching - and we need to allow them to have these feelings. But please, don't try to get me believing that our world is a little worse off because someone else triumphed and is celebrating their victory. And don't tell me that someone is "done for" in the middle of their match. It's like seeing a graphic in the middle of Godfather III that says "Michael Corleone dies at the end, old and lonely, in one of the most laughable death scenes in film history."

(Spoiler alert: technically, this is not a spoiler, because very few people have the stomach to watch Godfather III to its conclusion. Think of this as me saving three hours of your life for something far better. You're welcome.)

There is a lot of other nonsense that NBC is doing: using winter Olympics athletes to promote summer games (I'm looking at you, Apollo), getting Matt and Al  to "humorously" attempt and make a mockery the events that most of us don't watch, the six-hour tape delay that requires Brian Williams to urge the NBC Nightly News viewers to "turn away from the screen because we're just going to 'show' the results and not 'talk' about them" (Spoiler alert: big tall swimmers win some medals ... again ...), and of course, the contest to see who can be the first one to really piss off Michael Phelps by asking him for the umpteenth time "how does it feel," and "you're really not going to retire this year, are you?" All of this is fair game, but alas, I don't have time to write about it.

I have to watch the horrendous, devastating catastrophe that is the final of women's beach volleyball, as it is certain that one American team will fail miserably and be forced to take home the silver. Oh, the humanity ...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sub-letting Your Instructional Day

Karns, K. (2008). "What's in my bag."
If there is one thing I know of that sets classroom teachers apart from the rest of the work-a-day world, it's this: when someone calls in sick, they can hang up the phone and go back to bed. (I know that there are exceptions, but let's for the moment take a look at the big picture.) When a teacher calls in sick, he or she is expected to construct a plan for the day so that someone else can take over. Many times, this calls for a moderate adaptation of what a teacher has actually planned for that day. In some cases, a teacher may need to find the substitue themselves. (It's probably no secret that teachers have a "go-to" substitute for when the need to be out of the classroom; that person isn't always be available, however.) The final step is for the teacher to get the day's plans to the sub. The advent of email and websites has made doing that remotely easy. Sometimes, however, a teacher needs to deliver the materials to the classroom prior to the school day.

Something that I've observed regarding integrating technology into lessons is that most subs don't understand the overall assignment, or don't know much about the technology that is being used. How does that affect the classroom if the missing regular classroom teacher?

Based on a recent experience, I would say poorly.

Please don't mistake this as a harangue on the substitute teacher. I have many to choose form that are perfect for my classroom: energetic, tech savvy, and possessing of a good dose of common sense. There are some who I have asked never to be be assigned to my classroom ever again. The reasons for those folks are less than exciting: they mostly didn't want to be in my classroom. Still, there are days when the best classroom plan is "silent sustained reading," simply because what I had planed to do would take more time to explain in a written plan than would actually take to implement by the substitute teacher.

The issue is this: the classroom teacher who integrates technology into their lessons/units/courses puts a lot of time and effort into the thought and planning process. If they do it right, they consider all of the benefits and pitfalls of implementing technology in their classroom. They are damn near experts on the software, hardware, and perhaps even the research behind its integration. They are prepared for all of the successes and failures that will come.

Kirkland, M. & Selman, M. (2009). "Bart Gets a Z."
The sub is there to satisfy the legal requirement that a licensed teacher be in charge of the classroom. There is no law or rule that stipulates they need to be expert in the subject they are stepping into. That's not to say that they aren't expert - some of the subs for my classes have had some amazing experience and credentials. But the substitute that helped write the AP World History exam last year will likely not have the knowledge of how my students use digital image editing for their projects, or have access to or experience with Edmodo.

The easy answer is "well, when I get back, I'll get everything back on track." The problem is - based on actual experience - is that the nagging back pain might be a kidney stone blocking the essential plumbing. (You'll miss three-to-five days because of this, but the painkillers are amazing.) This means your sub will be on call for many days in a row. That's a lot of time to have to "get everything back on track." You may not be able to schedule the substitute who understands exactly what you are doing in your classroom. What do you do then?

I wish I had an answer to this one. I'm fortunate that I work in a school and a department who support integrating technology, but they also have their own classrooms to tend to. Sometimes you have to restort to the "life gets in the way" philosophy. Perhaps your technically infused lesson will have to wait until your return. In my experience, a day or two delay is not a lesson killer; a week is a long time to let things go without specific instruction. I've had those days where specific instructions were left behind, along with the caution "please make sure they are working on their projects." I've always received the report the next day that "those kids really worked and were focused on the computers." Many times, the work wasn't project related. Kids are still kids when it comes to the substitute teacher.

How do you handle the heavy tech lessons when a substitute has to step in for you?

UDATE: And, oh, by the way, Happy 2nd Anniversary, BlamSpot! I can't wait to see how you handle the terrible twos!