Monday, March 31, 2008

What the frak

It's the final season of one the greatest shows on television. If you haven't seen Battlestar Galactica, check out this short, and very witty, recap. Then get ready for a great final season of BSG.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Accept the Creator into your soul and thou shall be saved from homework

If you live in Larkspur, now is the time to find the Lord, or Allah, or whomever you would like to observe as the Grand Master in the pony show called life.

The district Board of Trustees is developing a set of guidelines for religious holiday observances that would eliminate homework, tests and other assignments on 10 major religious holidays. Only one of the holidays would be given as a district-wide day off, but students observing any of the holidays would not be responsible for make-up work.
Wow, doesn't this set a wonderfully idiotic precedent. I'm trying to find all the holes and problems in this issue and I keep coming to the primary issue yet again in mainstream is not the priority. Regardless of what the federal government wants to do with children being left behind or upside down or whatever damn thing, society does not want to own up to the fact that education is not entirely up to teachers, administrators, or the whole education system. It's a social issue, and the public doesn't care.

Not only is Larkspur dumping its educational priorities for religion, it's being selective about it in a way that actually discriminates against kids that don't observe religion. You have to observe the religion to be exempt from school work! Are you serious? Sorry Johnny, you don't worship a religious ideology, the work is due tomorrow. This reeks on so many levels.

I'm not an anti-religion nut either, so don't bother going down that road. I'm interested in putting the focus of the education system on the duty of educating kids. While many people promote the job of education going to local school boards, the result can end up like this, a selective process of religious discrimination that has nothing to do with education. I'm also not against the teaching of religion in schools. I'm a history teacher, how can the world's great religions not be taught. But the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment clearly talks about the Government not condoning a religion or condemning someone who is not religious. The Larkspur School District has ignored that and I hope the community steps up and makes education the priority.

Thanks to the Marin Independent.

Sure, I game

One of the more interesting looks from kids comes when I tell kids that I'm still a nut for video games.

Age must do some magical thing that immediately makes anyone over 30 seem totally uncool. Kids are amazed that I still listen to rap, still listen to Metallica, still play video games, and have no problem with begin goofy. But it's the video games that make kids look at me like I'm nuts. What can I say? I grew up in the generation where video games became a part of the mainstream. Consider this:
-I played Pong at my aunt's house a looooonnnnnnnnng time ago.
-My family owned an Atari 2600, and I played Breakout, Indy 500, and Pac-Man like crazy.
-Then came the wonderful world of the Arcade. Digg-Dug? Centipede anyone? Galaga? How about Tempest? I have fond memories of trips to Chuck E Cheese to spend $10 on Tempest machines.
-Remember Commodore 64? How about a game of Loop?
-Flight Simulator on the old Tandy's and Oregon Trail on the Apple 2E.
-When I moved up to the Sierra Foothills (about 5th grade), I left the world of gaming behind until about 7th grade, when a Nintendo system showed up. Super Mario and Excite Bike!
-Mortal Kombat. My God, I must have spent a rent check with my friend Jake in front of a Mortal Kombat machine at Safeway. Then on Sega.
-I moved to Sacramento after high school and found a comic book store that networked the multi-player first person shooter Doom. Oh my, BFG.
-My first PC brought about the simple multi-player game Sub Space.
-Nintendo 64 brought about the multiplayer Bond games and Starfox.

Eventually I started teaching and gaming took an occasional back seat. I still love a good strategy game; Civilization, Total Rome, Sim City IV. However, two games take my time more than any other, especially on vacations where I'm home alone while my wife still works. Flight Simulator on VATSIM is a good time waster (especially for grading work while you 'fly'), and America's Army, the military first person shooter that is free and actually quite fun. America's Army is ran by the U.S. military and is a huge memory hog, but nothing kills time (pardon the pun) than a nice game of shoot'em up.

Let's also remember that the average age of male gamers is around 33 years old. Games aren't just for kids any more. Oh yeah, and my wife will kick your ass in Guitar Hero. She bought the game for me and then took it over, slicing through the songs to the point of almost owning the entire "expert" category. I'm owned.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sir Elton John in Willits? PSYCH!!!!!!!

The "Rocketman" was in Willits on Monday!

Except that it was a fake. Way to check all those newsworthy sources, Ukiah Daily Journal.

God almighty. And these are the people that want access to our private information?

Also in the news, I'm having Fifty Cent, Toby Keith, Chelsea Clinton, and Don Imus at my house on Thursday. We'll be discussing gardening tools. The Daily Journal will probably be there to report it all.

Monday, March 24, 2008


I would consider myself an engaging teacher.

However, here are the facts.........

-The current attendance discipline system at my school does not deter poor attendance, and actually creates alienation with the Administration building because we are supposed to constantly send kids up there.

-According to Ed Code, teachers may not punish a student by lowering a grade based on attendance. Grades are supposed to show the mastery of a specific subject matter area and attendance is not supposed to be taken into account.

-Funding for schools is based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA).

Here's the question:

Why have an attendance policy at all?

Those that cut are going to cut, serve the punishment, but the cut is still a cut according to the state for ADA. Students that are tardy for my class are sent to the office, which is idiotic for a Senior in high school, and will miss class and create alienation with the administration. However, I can't threaten a grade because its against Ed Code.

So why not drop attendance policies period? Write down the attendance, but ignore students that come in tardy and continue to teach. If they disturb the class, send them out for a disciplinary reason. But seriously, attendance policies have no bite, why fake like they really matter? Why not treat college prep Seniors like college students?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Not the greatest morale booster

It may be hard to see, but the first headline is "UUSD layoffs to be announced tonight". Just to the right of that story is, "Mendocino County Office of Education's Tichinin gets a $4,000 raise". Ouch. While I'm watching good teachers (seriously, Ukiah will be worse off if the lay-offs stick) wonder where they will be working next year, the Super of Mendocino County (Paul Tichinin) and the Super of Ukiah Unified (Lois Nash) are going to get nice fat raises. The excuse is the usual, Tichinin complains that he is underpaid for his position. Note to Paul, so are we. Oh yeah, and we don't make mid-six figures like both Supers do.

Not the best management move, taking a raise while the rank-and-file are getting culled. I'm wishing more and more that schools were run much more like businesses and less like entitlement factories for people that feel like they deserve something they have yet to work for. I've been reading quite a bit from former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, and I'm starting to really change my method of thinking regarding public education. Merit pay is a good thing, period. I work harder than some of the teachers on my campus. As Welch stated, why wouldn't you throw the money at the guys that get the job done and represent the company in an outstanding light? Wouldn't you rather retain and gain than alienate the employee into leaving or under preforming?

And don't give me the "Merit pay will pit teachers against teachers and bring morale down". Bullshit. Paying lazy ass teachers that don't work as hard to perfect their teaching brings morale down. Telling meritorious teachers that they are on the same level as crappy teachers brings morale down. These excuses for mediocrity are starting to irritate me. Consider me on the merit pay bandwagon. No, I'm not going to advocate for the idiotic "pay = test scores" routine. And merit pay won't work at all unless the administration were competent, which my school is.

Anyway, a good CEO would say that they are willing to freeze their salary until the district becomes more solvent financially. I wonder if our upper echelon will do the right thing.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Obama's "I Have a Dream" Speech is full of crap

A student came into class this week and said, "Mr. Brown, they're saying that Barrack Obama's speech on race last night was like the speech that Martin Luther King made in Washington."

Except that it wasn't.

I heard a repeat performance online and I just shook my head at the hypocrisy of Obama's words. While Obama was immediate and aggressive in his demand that Don Imus be fired after making an off-the-cuff remark that he thought was comedic, the presidential candidate is actually FORGIVING to a guy who basically said "Kill Whitey" in a prepared speech in front of a religious congregation. Where's the outrage?

My response to the kid who mentioned the comparison was "What do you think", and we went from there. As usual, I don't bring my bias into the classroom.....unless it's my hatred for country music......and the Dodgers......and the Lakers...........and France.

At least one major newspaper picked up on the hypocrisy.

When Don Imus uttered his infamous slur on the radio last year, Obama cut him no slack. Imus should be fired, he said. "There's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group."

When it came to Wright, however, he wasn't nearly so categorical. Oh, he's "like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," Obama indulgently explained to one interviewer. He's just "trying to be provocative," he told another." Far from severing his ties to Wright, Obama made him a member of his Religious Leadership Committee -- a tie he finally cut only four days ago."

Such a clanging double standard raises doubts about Obama's character and judgment, and about his fitness for the role of race-transcending healer. Yesterday's speech was finely crafted, but it leaves some troubling questions unanswered.

It sure does. I'm wondering is some of the higher end Democrats are starting to pull out their hair and realize that it will be another year with a Republican in the White House. With Obama showing some serious chinks in his armor, and with Hillary being.......well.......Hillary (freezing interest rates for 5 years? idiot), its beginning to look like the most "presidential" candidate is the Republican. Of course that could change in an instant.

In the meantime, we get to listen to Obama go from respectable candidate to Al Sharpton suck up.

Thanks to the Boston Globe for seeing through Obama's "I Have a Dream About Accepting Racism" speech.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Need help with media problem, asap

So I received this message from our Super yesterday:

"We have received a request from K.C. Meadows, editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal, seeking salary information from all UUSD employees for the calendar year 2007, including the employee's name, title, base salary, overtime, and other compensation. Based on California court decisions.......UUSD is legally required to disclose the requested information"

I then read a copy of letter that K.C. Meadows sent to the Lois Nash, our Super, and it was flat out rude and aggressive. There was the usual "openness in government is essential to democracy", with the addition to "public employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in regards to salary". She then demanded a certain format for the records to be submitted to her and ended with "I expect your full compliance."

For the record, I could care if people know what I make. You can walk into the district office and figure out how much my salary is by reading a salary schedule. I think that it's the principle and the person that is requesting the information that is questionable. For those that haven't read my blog, K.C. Meadows is the editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal, and frequent basher of the school district and teachers. Her priorities have an interesting twist, like her recommendation of a pot garden on a plot of land kiddie corner from the high school, or her vehement protest against bringing the school up to standards with Title 9 or the Americans With Disabilities Act. Every so often she uses the newspaper to bash teachers and principals regarding every decision they make, thus creating the image that the school is somehow the worst institution in the community. Last year she spent months criticizing a bus driver for removing unruly kids from a school bus because the driver didn't want to put well behaved kids at risk.

Basically, she's a hack that is trying to create a crusade against the largest entity in town, the school. It's a soft target that can't hit back without looking bad, although our responsibility is 100 fold (taking care of kids) and her responsibility is stroking her ego in her piss-ant bird cage paper. If she's going after this information, it's probably with some sort of malice from that drug induced haze that she loves to promote.

Any suggestions or methods of dealing with her poking around in teacher's records?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Live, from Emeryville, California!

You'd figure that if we are at the UC Berkeley Model United Nations that we would be staying in Berkeley. That isn't the case, but unlike last year, the road has been much smoother. Instead of staying in the nowhere that was the Doubletree Marina, we went down the road to the Emeryville Hilton. The hotel was just as nice, they comped us breakfast, and the road to the Cal is "the back way" (basically up Powell to Shadduck) instead of the mess that is University Ave.

I have 10 kids this year, down by half from last year. What this has created is a more cohesive group and a lack of the two cliques that formed last year within the single class. Everyone has been in good humor, even when tired. Committees are much more organized this year, with committee chairs putting up with no garbage. Last year saw some committees look like a scene out of Animal House. That is not apparent this year. The committees are a tad shorter, more intense, and more the most part, a little less crowded. The committees also visit each other (something that occurred at Stanford), and have started dealing with crisis situations. Students seem well engaged, with the exception of a student who is in a small committee with kids that are serious about their business, and this is only this delegate's second time.

Probably the best thing is having students show up at 5:30 in the afternoon, after being in session for 4 straight hours, having a ton of things to say. Some students get incredibly frustrated with the lack of knowledge from other delegates, others jump with glee about getting a sponsored resolution passed, while others gloat that they have built a coalition big enough to kill any resolution that is not to their liking. It is an excellent sign.

Looks like UC Davis Model UN in May is going to take off. Some students have already committed, although I'm sure that might change as graduation time moves closer. The question is whether or not this will be going next year. Budget cuts have it on the chopping block, a tragic consequence of idiot Arnold and his non-prioritizing budget methods.

Let's hope for the best.

Whoops, last thoughts on the Social Studies Conference


I got a little side tracked because of Berkeley Model United Nations, where I'm currently at right now blogging my little heart away.

The last workshop I went to was a terrible little ditty called "Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink". After being in there for five minutes, the presenter explained that teachers should "ignore the state standards" and focus on her lessons that were about how humans waste water through a variety of means. There were no connections to History, Government, or Economics. When she referenced that students should be watching more films like "this one", and then held up An Inconvenient Truth, I rolled my eyes and restrained myself from blurting out, "HE LOST ALREADY!!!! GET OVER IT!!!"

My wife was also done. Her workshop was supposed to be about the Civil Rights Movement and ended up being a sales pitch to go with some group to South Africa. She actually walked out.

Overall feeling from the conference? Like most conferences, its a mixed bag. Some workshops looked like they were really about helping teachers, while others were so blatantly a sales pitch that it was really hard not to verbally slap the presenter. While I can understand that this isn't always easy to control, the committee could do a much better job doing the minimum of screening workshops. Presenters can't say "ignore the standards" in today's teaching climate. It's unprofessional and makes a teacher look the wrong direction in terms of preparing for his/her class. Add to that some Economics textbook presenters that had material that was just crap. Fine, the basic concepts are there, but there are no pictures, boring graphs, and font that is around 11. Mix with that a cheap plastic binding and you have a guy that matches the image of a used car salesman from Modesto.

Saying that, there were organizations that were there to really assist instructors in teaching kids. I can't believe that people weren't flocking to the following organizations in the exhibit hall:

-San Francisco Federal Reserve (The International Economic Summit): Tim Crawley has an excellent simulation that could be used in any Economics class, and is an excellent foundation for an International Relations club or class. The workshops are excellent. Teachers are taught how to run the simulation and then they work the simulation (which is engaging and fun). In fact, more teachers should be taking advantage of the SF Fed. The institution is really trying to reach out to teachers with tours, workshops and the International Economic Summit.

-C-Span (C-Span Classroom): As I stated before, it really looked like C-Span was trying to support teachers, not sell them some crap.

There might have been others, but most were textbook vendors or people trying to get you to go on a tour. I'm a week behind so I can't totally remember.

I think that it's in Ontario next year (SoCal). I think that Teaching American History is slated to go, which means that I'll go if I'm comped everything. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Blogging the California Council on Social Science Conference, again

-Ok, now that is cool. I just got out of "The Threat Matrix: Making Sense of Security Priorities in the 21st Century", and it rocked. I've dealt with Teresa Hudock from Calis before, and every time she comes out with more and better materials. This session involved using security priorities during different historical times to investigate why conflict happens. It also looked at using the Three Levels of Analysis for International Relations to delve deeper into historical events. It was excellent. Check out the site for Calis and download a ton of stuff from their database.

-Wife and I met up and headed over to "C-Span Classroom", which provided some very relevant tools for use in all my classrooms. I think that I'm running low on patience right now as I'm very short with presentations that are either selling something, or are boring. This information was good, but wife and I walked out with 15 minutes left because we wanted to tour the Exhibit hall more.

-I guess that I didn't make myself clear on the "give me more than a lecture or a sales pitch" situation. In "Teaching Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Cases", we were introduced to a sales pitch for the Constitutional Rights Foundation, a book that they were selling, and then we had to read the section on Texas vs. Johnson, which I'm quite aware of. While the book was nice, it only had 15 court cases in it, and I make my kids study over 20. I walked out. I just don't like time wasted.

-Lunch was way too long and at a Mexican place that ripped off my wife. $10 for a handful of spinach with vinegar and oil is insane. I didn't even bother with the name. I'm in full impatient mode now. Impress me or be gone.

-I was just at a workshop that went a step in the right direction. "Fostering Global Understanding: Teaching Germany and the European Union" was a well directed and interesting look at the European Union and Actually it did a great job in perking my interest in the European Union and the booklet of transparencies are going to be useful in class. The workshop was ran by the Goethe Institute. Nice work.

-I'm in the lounge. The "Using Instructional Technologies to Teach High School Economics" was Thinking Economics and Virtual Economics. I use both already. Nothing else looked interesting.

-The 4 p.m. workshop, "Establishing Deeper Understanding in History Class through Projects and Activities", didn't show up. An empty room with a group of us teachers irritated meant only one thing......It's Miller Time! Yep, the bar was nicely full of teachers who talked some shop and otherwise. My wife also got out early (her workshop wasn't very good) and we eventually looked at getting a nice meal. We ended up at Jack London Square at Scott's Seafood Grille, where we ate excellent food (she though the Cioppino was the best she'd ever had), drank excellent wine, and simply enjoyed the harbor, the music, and each other's company. It was a much needed romantic evening. I'll be back for final thoughts tomorrow.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Blogging the California Council on Social Science Conference

I don't even know if I can be happy at this conference with the knowledge that 23 teachers in our district were just given their walking papers. Hell, I might even be one of them.

7:05 a.m.
-My wife and I have made our way to the Marriott City Center in Oakland for the conference. The hotel room is paid for by the Teaching American History Project from Mendocino County office of Education. The $30 a day parking is not. The room was already cleaned for us when we got here, so we are settled and I'll report back later.

-Just went to the "Teaching Civics as a Course in Constitutional Law. The guru is Rich Kitchens, a teacher at Piedmont High School. I was lucky to be one of the first in the workshop and was greeted to a textbook and cd that are both full of valuable information. The class is basically a civics class that is taught with the emphasis on law. It looks amazing. I'm thinking of seriously taking one of my classes and teaching it like this. It looks fun, intelligent, and most of all, full of critical thinking for the kids. I'll gladly hump Kitchen's website, which supports his text. I'm planning to go to another session with this guy later.

-Ok, so not all the workshops are going to be great. I just attended "Europe and the Middle East: Exchanges and Dependencies". There were two speakers and both were pretty boring. The first one treated the class with a boring college style lecture on connections between Europe and the Middle East in ancient times. The second was more modern, yet nearly as boring. They were there to promote some outreach program from UCLA, but I was so bored that I forgot the site. This weekend will be about human capital, and how to make the best of it. This last hour was a waste.

-I went to "Best of the Web for Students, Teachers and Parents", but I realized that this was much more for teachers that haven't got much Internet experience. A teacher put all of the links he's investigated on a site, which is nice but a little impractical with the advent of Delicious. When the teacher started talking about making pages with Front Page and navigating his website, I walked out. I wandered into "Solving Great Economic Mysteries in U.S. History" and ended up staying the last 40 minutes. It was a nice look into the causes the Great Depression and some relationships to the current economic conditions. I liked the lessons so much that I went down to the National Council of Education Booth and bought the book......for half price......with no tax.......and no shipping.

-The exhibits are a mix of amateurs that are trying to sell bogus materials to non-profits that seem to really care about students and teachers. I'll let you know what is good and what isn't later. I can tell you now, Jackdaws was my wife's favorite.

-There was a very nice farmer's market in downtown Oakland and it was a nice respite from the workshops. Eventually we ate at a Japanese sushi/ramen place called Suruki's. It was quite good at a very reasonable price. I had pork dumplings and a huge mixed ramen that I would rate highly at only $6.50

-Just attended another workshop by Rich Kitchens, this time on "Teaching About the First Amendment". It was another dandy workshop that had a lot of questions from teachers about student conduct. It is amazing how touchy teachers can be about student behaviors. One surprise was when one teacher stated that she would not let her child into a class where the teacher reads the Bible during silent reading time. I bet a $1,000 that she wouldn't care if it was the Qu'ran, meaning that it seemed more a Christian issue than a secular issue.

-Well, everything sucked so I came back to the room during this session. I started with "Using Current Events to Make Content Real and Improve Literacy Skills", but it was basically a sales pitch for Newsweek. I headed over to "Technology in the History and Civics Classroom", except that for the five minutes that I was there the person couldn't work the technology. I wasn't interested in a lot of sitting, especially in a session about Colonial Williamsburg and technology. So I'm back, and I won't write until after dinner, maybe.

-Ugh, what a shitty night. First we attempted to eat somewhere locally, which is difficult in downtown Oakland because quite frankly, this place is a pit. We walked around the block and didn't feel safe because we ran into constant pan-handlers and never felt even remotely safe. We felt 100 times safer in New York at midnight than we did at 7 p.m. in downtown Oakland. We decided to drive out to Berkeley and hit a restaurant that was recommended to us by the PBS television show Check Please, Bay Area. The restaurant is called Picante. It is located in Berkeley, and it was far below expectations. The food was horribly average, with the exception of Soupa Azteca, which was awful. Tortilla Soup with a little chicken and watery broth? The chips were either overcooked or very stale, and the pitcher of margaritas was full of ice and lacking in alcohol. This place is beyond “kid friendly”, it’s kids everywhere. Kids are running around, on top of tables, and bumping into you while in line and at dinner. Needless to say that we are not returning. Need to be up early to start it again tomorrow.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

BBQ time

The 70's weather demanded that the BBQ get fired up and some steaks get grilled. Along with the juicy flanks, my wife bought asparagus and splashed them with olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and they found their way to my barbie.

I'm not holding my breath that winter is good, but it was nice to work the grill this weekend.

Finally it's been said

Barack Obama stated something that most teachers have been waiting to her for years.

"It's not good enough for you to say to your child, 'Do good in school,' and then when that child comes home, you've got the TV set on," Obama lectured. "You've got the radio on. You don't check their homework. There's not a book in the house. You've got the video game playing.
So turn off the TV set. Put the video game away. Buy a little desk. Or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don't know how to do it, give 'em help. If you don't know how to do it, call the teacher."
It takes a lot of balls to finally call out the one group of people that the buck stops with, the parents. Yeah, I'm all for teacher accountability, and yeah there are bad teachers, but the problems with academics is driven by a lazy, apathetic society that speaks out of both sides of their mouths and refuses to follow up with action. Remember our Program Improvement status? Sure you do. Remember the parents that signed their kids out of taking the test, thus helping us right into Program Improvement? No, you don't hear about that do you.

Of course, let's also remember that Obama has talked a nice game, but has no real set agenda. Hell, crowds are screaming at him when he blows his nose and says, "Excuse me". Read more at the L.A. Times, and thanks to Joanne Jacobs (check blogroll) for the story.

On task

Friday was Stock Market Project check day in the library computer lab. Probably the most popular assignment with Seniors is the Stock Market Project, where students are given $10,000 to invest in the actual markets. The students are to use legitimate technical aspects (EPS, PE ratios, earnings, debt), and some information gained from news items. The kids get really competitive and do a fairly good job on the final projects, which include a report and a power point presentation.

Once a week we use the computer labs to check dividends, compute the total value of their portfolio, buy/sell, and do an assigned task for the day. On this particular day I had go make presentations during the last 15 minutes of each period trying to promote International Studies and AP Comparative. The librarian was kind enough to look over the kids for the 15 minutes to make sure they didn't get too crazy. When I came in at the end of the day she gave me a wonderful report. Her exact quote was,

"I've never had a class not try and play computer games when the teacher leaves them, even for a second. You left for a quarter of the period and they were all on task the entire time."

Wow! It was the kind of report that makes things the job that much better, knowing that your classroom management skills make an impact even when you aren't in the classroom. I would say that this came about because of two things. First, the students realize that I'm consistent with my rules and that follow through is absolute. Second, the assignment is engaging. Students are interested in the real aspects of the Stock Market and how their decisions impact their portfolios. "Mr. Brown!!!! The Dow is down 130 at the open!!!" is not uncommon in the mornings.

What a nice way to start the weekend.