Sunday, January 25, 2009

We've Moved

I don't know if it was Educon or the fact we've reached the middle of the academic year or some bit of lunch stuck in my teeth. Whatever it is, I've up and moved the blog to wordpress. I've been thinking about it for a while, and decided to bite the bullet.

So, tada.

Come check me out at

There might even be pie.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Might As Well Blog or My Map for the Quarter

Can't sleepI've honestly been trying to go to sleep for the past 45 minutes, but I can't. No good reason, just restlessness.
I got much done today.
The book I've been waiting to teach, Dave Eggers' What is the What, lingers in back order purgatory, so I've decided to move on. Not only have I mapped out the remainder of this quarter, I've a plan of attack for the third and fourth quarters as well. I'd been letting things live in my head for a few months now because the final three quarters of my year will be linked. Tomorrow, I unveil this triptic project to one class of 11th grade students. I'm expecting it to be a bit intense.
The outline is available here, but I'll give you the skinny on Q3.
The essential question they'll be investigating this quarter is "What causes systemic and individual change?"

Reading: The students will be operating in Lit. Circles, reading and analyzing texts related to the question. They'll be organizing a timeline to complete the reading on schedule, having online conversations using moodle's forum feature and having three f2f group talks about the book. Even better, I'm working to get at least one teacher SLA or not working with each book (spaces still available) to put more of a focus on the exploration of texts.
Long Way Gone
Ishmael Beah
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Ken Kesey
It's Not About the Bike
Lance Armstrong
What is the What
Dave Eggers
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou
When I was Puerto Rican
Esmeralda Santiago
The Soloist
Steve Lopez
A Room of One's Own
Virginia Woolf

Writing: The 2fers continue this quarter. This may be my all-time favorite assignment. A bi-weekly 2-page analytical paper built around an original thesis from each student with MLA citation. The frequency gives me time to provide each student individual feedback for the next paper and shapes my remediation or decision on which skills they're ready for next.

: This is the long one. The students will be working with partners to identify a problem facing Philadelphia. From there, they'll be responsible for researching the problem's history, causes, impact and cost. They'll be drafting annotated bibliographies on all of the above and then creating presentations in the vein of The presentations will go up online where the world will vote for the problem and presentation that shows the most promise to be relieved. The top presentations from each class will create action plans in the third quarter and the fourth quarter will be all about putting those plans into action.

It's not how I was taught English. While Mrs. Henning-Buhr and Mrs. Miller were lovely women, I don't remember ever completing an assignment in their classes and feeling connected to the outside world. The goals across the three are simple: 1. Examine various texts for insight as to how their characters help shape a possible answer to the quarter's essential question. 2. Incorporate that insight into frequent analytical writing to deepen their thinking on the topic. 3. Carry that enduring understanding to application using literary ideas to inform real world problem solving. All right, maybe not so simple.
More later.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Little Perspective

Never one for the "What are you thankful for?" essay, my students watched the Water Buffalo video in class yesterday. I suppose I'm now one of those teachers who watches videos on the day before break, but that's my cross to bear.
The plan was to have them watch the video where a $450 water buffalo which equals an Indonesian family's yearly salary is gifted to such a family and we all learn a little bit about life and maybe, just maybe, ourselves.
To hit the lesson home, the students were going to catalog the price of everything they had on their person. This leads to, "Ohmigosh, I am carrying around the salary of an entire Indonesian family," and our very special episode of Blossom concludes.
In another instance of underestimating our kids, they got it.
First hand up, "It just made me think of how much I have and how much I take for granted. I mean, all that work they have to do just to farm..."
Well, my work was done.
The nods of agreement across the classroom told me I needn't proceed with the cataloging.
"Look up here," say I, projecting the homepage on the board.
After a 10-minute explanation, the kids are working in teams to find a loan to which they think we should contribute the $50 sitting in my Kiva account.
When we get back from break, the class will vote.
The judiciousness with which they approached the selection process was inspiring.
There's your critical thinking.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Proving Kevin Costner Right Canadian teacher friend of mine made an impassioned plea to a group of assembled teachers the other day to get them to stop buying bottled water. "It is wrong to charge people for something necessary to their survival," he reasoned.
As much as we speak of the fact our students don't know a world without an Internet, they don't know a world where where it isn't the norm to pay money for a bottle of water either.
And then, there's this:
...[S]tarting today (Aug. 1), coach passengers flying aboard US Airways Inc. must pay for a drink of water.
This morning, US Airways began charging fliers $2 for bottled water and
sodas and $1 for teas and coffees. First class members, trans-Atlantic passengers and a select group of others are exempt from the extra fees.
If this is a harbinger of things to come, no one tell Kevin Costner. I'll be picking up Bottlemania by Elizabeth Royte.

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.