Thursday, July 31, 2008

Viacom's Drop-out Rate shoots us the indelicately titled "How American Youth Will Screw Viacom" describing Viacom's lackluster sales growth in the Second Quarter.

After I dried my tears, I read on. What got me most was this:
The fundamental problem could be that the "youth demo" that Viacom has hotly chased after for the last couple decades is a bust. Teens and twenty-somethings don't watch TV anymore; they don't read newspapers; and they're technologically promiscuous -- how can big media sell advertising against them if you can't corner them in front of any single device?

Welcome to the classroom, Viacom. The parallels extend beyond the classroom. It might just be me, but each time I speak to a group of teachers, formally or informally, about new tools and tactics for the classroom, I invariably get the same question, "But, which one should I use?" It's the silver bullet question, and I hate it. It's the question that tells me either they weren't listening or I didn't strongly enough make the the case that it's about a paradigm shift.
Undoubtedly, Viacom execs are confounded as to which tool they should use to bring their audience back. Of course, one tool won't do it. If I may make a hyperbolic metaphor, their target demo is out of the cave.
The dancing shadows of I Love Money and Real World/Road Rules Challenge MMMCVI just don't hold the same magic.
The same is to be said of the classroom, though it could be argued textbooks never held quite as much magic.
It's not just networks; now Viacom's gotta compete with the world.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How will I waste time now?

scrabulous logo
Stupid copyright getting in the way. Philly City Paper's staff blog, The Clog

Everything is ruined forever! 

social networking site Facebook finally pulled down Scrabulous, its
third-party version of Scrabble, after being threatened with legal
action. Following Mattel, who owns the international rights to
Scrabble, U.S. rights holder Hasbro slammed Facebook with a Digital
Millennium Copyright notice. F-book took the game down due to the
copyright concerns (which, let's be honest, it totally violated wicked
hard), and Hasbro in turn is filing suit against the application's

Can't we just jump forward in time to a free and open exchange of ideas? Stupid copyright. Stupid, stupid copyright.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Brain Dump: What I'm Tinkering with for Next Year

We're adding another year to SLA this fall. I'll be teaching Freshmen and Juniors. As such, it means I'll be developing a new curriculum for the Juniors. I'll also be working Larissa Pahomov the newest addition to our English Dept. We've started trading e-mails back and forth in prep for the coming year. My last epistle included some of the big and medium ideas for the year. I thought I'd throw them up here for review.
Freshman Interviews: This would be an opening mini-project where each of my 11th graders interviews one of my 9th graders using questions drafted based on the 11th-grade essential questions. The interviews will be edited as podcasts put on Drupal and iTunes. The hope here is two-fold:
  1. It gives the 9th graders something they will be able to examine as 12th graders when they get there.
  2. 2) One of the concerns I heard over and over last year is that the 10th graders never really got to know many of the 9th graders.
Objectives: Get them considering the essential questions, building communication skills and learning how to develop effective interviewing/research questions.

Bi-weekly 2fers: One of the pieces I want to build into the year is the idea that, at this point, the kids should be able to consistantly develop a thesis and draft a formal paper with little assistance. The plan would be to have kids write a 2-page paper every other week based on readings, class discussions, outside reading and/or current events. I'd set up a standing analytic soring rubric based on things like conventions, focus, organization, incorporation of outside sources, etc. Because I'll have two sections of 11th, I'll alternate the assignment weeks to help with grading.
Objectives: Develop independent writing skills, practice conventions of formal writing, build diversity of thesis development.

Change Project: This one's still in the tinkering stage. Because, conceivably, half of my students next year will have been my students last year and half will have been in Josh Block's class, I'm heading back to the drawing board on my 3rd Quarter "Change the World" project. I'm planning on working with our new History teacher Diana Laufenberg on this one too. In the opening weeks of the year, we'll brainstorm and research different topics in the world that need attention/changing. The students will identify those areas they have the most interest/stake in and then be grouped accordingly. From there, they will be assigned the task of moving to define the problem through its relation to the texts we examine in class as well as identify and perpetrate needed change.
The project will culminate as their fourth quarter benchmark. The idea here is to get them thinking as a group in a year-long way they can then build off of as seniors when working individually on their capstone projects. I'm thinking the first quarter entree will be an examination of local community service groups and a required period of community service through Again, this would be partnered with their History work. Maybe Q2 will be about selecting issues they have examined in Q1. I don't know. This one is still fuzzy, but feels like a strong and compelling idea.
Objectives: draw connections between literature and real life, draw connections between history and literature, encourage community involvement and subsequent reflection, foster group communication skills, build intensive research skills, encourage real-world problem solving.

Outside reading: While I think Larissa and I agree the texts we've selected for 11th are great, I know some of the students are going to have other ideas. I don't want to have the kids feeling like the only time they read is when we've selected and assigned a text. As such, I want to incorporate outside choice and reading this year. I'm not certain how the accountability side of this would work. Perhaps the assignment of one outside reading book per quarter. Maybe one of the 2fers each quarter would be assigned to include a comparison between their selected texts and a class text or current event. I know that moves away from inquiry a bit, but I'm just brainstorming, right?
Objectives: develop personal choice in reading, build comparative analysis skills, increase the breadth of literary experience.

Outside speakers: Because of our partnership with The Franklin, SLA has had the opportunity to hear from some scientists at the head of amazing scientific endeavors. I'd like to work with Diana again to pull in as many relevant outside speakers as possible. I had the chance to meet Andrew Carroll last April. He lives in D.C. and would be great to have in whilst the kids are reading The Things They Carried. For that matter, I'd like to get in touch with Tim O'Brien who lives in Boston. If we can't get him down, I'd like to at least blog/skype/whatever. This is to say nothing of Larissa's work with the Free Library last year and getting Sudanese refugees in to talk while we're reading What is the What. I'm thinking one speaker a month would be good to shoot for with other, smaller speakers coming in as a type of brown bag lunch series.
Objectives: Authentic textual connections
School Paper/Lit. Magazine: This never got off the ground last year. I'd like to see it as an extracurricular activity. Just putting it out there for now.

Visiting Professors: I'd also like to get some local professors who specialize in the books we're reading to come in and talk. Maybe that could be a brown bag seminar. I'm not sure.
Objectives: Deepen understanding of literature, build academic dialogue about given texts.