Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guns. Lots and lots of guns.

So the National Rifle Association had the chance of coming out as a rational voice that would balance gun control and freedoms guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the Constitution.  Instead they came out with this:

 

Arming teachers.  I can’t tell you how much of a bad idea this is.  And it’s not because I think that a teacher will go and cap Johnny for being tardy (although we have some teachers in our profession that are not qualified to have a weapon).  It’s about what we are expecting education in the United States to be about.  I don’t want a goddamn gun at school.  That makes me a cop, not a teacher.  If I wanted to be a cop I would have gone to the police academy and pursued a career in law enforcement.  I have nothing but admiration for our police officers but I have no desire to be one.  Neither do a vast majority of my colleagues.   It signals a failure in society that we would basically be ignoring by making schools more like prisons.  Even Darren’s suggestion for making voluntary Resource Officers takes the primary job of the educator out of the equation, and worse it makes the educator pay for a large chunk of the training. 

More guns at school will not work.  We have a police officer on campus many days and it is not the officer that deters fights or drugs.  Teachers with guns won’t deter mass shootings.  It’ll just put the problem on the back burner and allow for a greater chance of more tragedies. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The national conversation

There are not many events that make me physically sick to watch to read.  Watching people fall from the Twin Towers was one, as was watching the New Yorkers in the streets in the weeks afterwards sobbing uncontrollably about their lost love ones.

Friday classifies as one of those days.

The amount of tragedy and sadness was palatable at our school as the events of Sandy Hook Elementary started to leak in to students.  We discussed it briefly and then moved on as the information coming in was incomplete and a policy discussion at the time wasn’t really appropriate. 

Some people are prepared for the wrong policy discussion. 

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Yeah, that’s not the policy discussion I’m really looking for.  In fact, that Fox News contributor has to be a real asshole to even consider that the problem at the root of this catastrophe is school security.  No, the problem can be summed up around two issues:

Mental Health

Gun Control

And it is totally appropriate to start discussing both of those things at length.  As in right now. 

We need to talk about how we have lost control over certain guns in this country, and how the 2nd Amendment is vitally important to who we are as Americans.  We need to talk about balance; and how “murder” has become “mass murder” in the era of assault weapons and AR-15’s.  We need to talk about how over 2/3 of NRA members want stronger gun control, and we need to talk to those who want to ban guns about the 99% of gun owners that are totally responsible citizens.

We need to discuss the health of the kids, including the mental health problems that are being ignored by parents unwilling to face the challenges of raising their children.  We need to talk about the broken system that turns the cheek on an entire population of people, yet enables kids that seek to take advantage of a system that is fraught with a lack of accountability.  We need to talk about the mammoth expense of mental health, and the mammoth social cost of not granting it to those in need. 

These discussions are healthy and necessary for our country to evolve in a positive manner.  Not to talk about them or to assume that the solutions are black and white will just move us back to the same old rhetoric that has gotten us here. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Republican Senators shun Dole, look to Super Soldiers for protection

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Every time I think I’ve seen the Republican party stoop to a new low, they manage to surprise me with a vote that reminds me that idiocy has no boundaries. 

Take the United Nations Convention on Disabilities, which would basically create a minimum advisory standard for governments to meet around the world in regards to people with disabilities; a standard which is easily met and far surpassed by the United States.  In fact, the standard was set by the United States and the treaty was a model of U.S. law.  In fact, the standard was negotiated by a U.S. President with the United Nations.  In fact, that president was a Republican.  In fact, it was George W. Bush.  And in fact, this treaty was purely advisory.  This treaty needed a 2/3 vote to be ratified and with the honorable Bob Dole sitting in a wheelchair on the floor of the Senate, the Republicans denied the vote on the basis of conspiracy theories ranging from U.N. troops coming to Omaha to steal children, to the Cigarette Smoking Man forcing abortions on teenage women who love puppies, to Martin Landau coming to your house to kill you because you don’t remember that he was in Mission Impossible.  As ridiculous as it sounds, it is not nearly as ridiculous as the fact that many Republican Senators hate people with disabilities, hate wounded veterans, and wouldn’t know “American Values” if they came wrapped in an American flag with card that said “hey, we could be  leaders you know.”

I would totally blame Congress too if it wasn’t for the idiocy that I continue to read from citizens that vote these guys in.  These are the guys that are waiting for the United Nations invasion of Lubbock, Texas (yes, there was real concern), that believe that secession is a truly American right (although it is not mentioned at all in the Constitution or supported by the courts), and that think that any semblance of Americans actually believe this shit.  If there is one action from Congress that should create a popular electoral up-rising from the idiot-right wingers, it’s this one.  

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Suli induces edu-orgasm for reformer crowd…eye-rolling for everyone else.

In the mash of rambling-college-student-who-is-pissed-off-about-working-too-hard, there is a message.

I actually laughed at this video.  I mean, I wasn’t trying to be rude to Suli Breaks (the student in the video and proclaimed poet) but it just reminded me of those students that get pissed off because they are sick and tired of dealing with the “establishment.”  These teens are usually entitled and very bright; a combination that makes them believe that true education can’t be found within the confines of a classroom that is apparently intentionally cutting them off from true success.  For a very small number that may be true.  But I’ve seen plenty of Suli Breaks; angry that they are “forced” to go to college and then revolt against a system that can help them succeed.  When they then attempt to go the route of Steve Jobs, Oprah (who had a degree by-the-way), and His Airness Mr. Jordan (also has a degree) they realize that these educated men had something else going for them.  An insane work ethic.  They worked and practiced and slaved over details that most people overlooked or became bored with, and that’s a huge reason why they succeeded.  Most people don’t have that work ethic and right after the Suli’s of the world condemn the establishment, they then get angry at the establishment for not “preparing” them for a successful lifestyle; something that could have been attained if they focused more on school. 

Mr. Breaks does have a point that education is not only college, and that students need to seriously think about that investment in their future before they choose to attend higher learning institutions.  But statistics show that he’s dead wrong in just about every way regarding the overall lifetime success of a person that attends college versus someone who doesn’t.  And with the mistakes in his thesis, he might be the bright shining example of why you need to work hard to stay focused while attending college. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vote or Die, and preferably the latter if you actually used that term in the 1990s.

Maybe you really don’t care about how I voted in the 2012 election.  That’s fine.  Half of you didn’t bother to get off your fat asses and vote anyway, so I’ll just go ahead and remind you how I did everything I could to make your political opinion worthless.  Then you can go on any local talk radio show and complain about how bad the country is, because we all know that really gets change rolling.

Proposition 30:  Funding for Education  (VOTED YES)

I had a colleague that works at the school ask me “Why should I vote for this if we continue to throw money into a hole that doesn’t produce results?”    Yes, that was a colleague.  And my answer?  I told this colleague that they were right.  We are spending money and it is solving nothing in the realm of the problem that is education.  Money isn’t going to solve the problem of taking education seriously.  But here is the real deal.  If Prop 30 doesn’t pass, education is going to be in for a continued ugly ride.  And we are talking about years worth of ugly ride.  My job won’t be at risk.  What’s going to be at risk are sports, electives, Advanced Placement, music programs, support programs, and teaching days.  Read my past posts.  I’m not huge in engaging in gross hyperbole.  Want to fix education?  Create a better atmosphere.  But if this bill didn’t pass, you’ll have a lot less education to fix. 

Proposition 31:  Budget Issues  (VOTED NO)

We exist in the 8th largest economy on the planet and we want to a) create a budget that would only be dealt with over the course of two years, and b) allow one person to destroy the budget at will.  Not a good idea by any measure.  This is someone’s lame attempt at making the state legislature avoid actually fixing some of the economic issues of California.

Proposition 32:    Political Contributions (VOTED YES)

I don’t think the union should be able to use my money, at will, in a state where I am forced to pay union dues.  And since I know that my union regularly uses my money for causes that are often totally opposite my own, I don’t have a problem saying that they have to have my permission to do it.  Nor do I have a problem with the political contributions end.  The only reason I’ve heard from the other side not to vote  for Prop 32 is that the Citizen’s United Supreme Court case is bad, which is like saying that you aren’t going to watch baseball any more because the Kansas City Royals exist in this space/time continuum.  Making bad decisions because of bad decisions sounds like a union thing to do. 

Proposition 33:  Auto Insurance (VOTED YES)

This was probably not going to be good for new insurers or bad drivers, and that’s probably why it didn’t pass.  I’m insured and a pretty good driver, although I really like my current insurance company and won’t be changing it.  Regardless, this prop is the reason why voters are less and less interested in voting and more interested in almost anything else.

Proposition 34:  Repeal the Death Penalty (VOTED YES)

California’s death penalty law is idiotic.  Either go China and execute people at a rapid, sustained pace, or get rid of the law and go life-without-parole.  The overall financial costs are roughly the same.  But this twenty year prison term and umpteen appeals is not going to work.  Neither is the constant debate over how a needle is going to be inserted in the arm to avoid breaking the Eighth Amendment.  Enough already.

Proposition 35:  Human Trafficking  (VOTED YES)

Ok, I have to admit that I was a tad bit concerned about the sex offenders having to report their Internet Activity.  But that was just for a second.  A really quick second.  Then I realized that California’s sex trafficking laws are sort of a joke and I decided that people that pimp 12 year olds should go to jail for a really long time while other inmates start calling them girly names.

Proposition 36:  Three Strikes Law  (VOTED YES)

I actually remember voting for Three Strikes and being concerned about non-violent criminals going behind bars for the rest of their lives.  Now, meh, not so much.  I voted yes because I think the prisons are massively overcrowded and we have become a state that is obsessed with incarcerating people.  It’s a logical change to a good idea gone a little rogue.

Proposition 37:  Labeling GMOs  (VOTED NO)

Most genetically modified foods are actually already labeled on the back of the containers.  This law was actually not about GMOs.  It was about Monsanto.  It was anti-Monsanto down to its core with no real concern about the good that GMO foods have down to poverty, food inflation, and environmental protection.  With no scientific basis for hating GMOs, and with a statute that would have created a law suit nightmare for retailers, I voted no.

Proposition 38:  School Funding  (VOTED NO)

Hey look, a rich lady is trying to beat back Prop 30 by paying tons of money to get a law passed that sucks. 

Proposition 39:  Tax Loophole  (VOTED YES)

While I admit that regulations in California are stifling business expansion, I also think their overall tax liability is a joke.  Loopholes totally fool the idea that corporations have a high tax rate and this might be the start of holding them more accountable.  Now if can just start working on those idiotic environmental reviews.

Proposition 40:  State Senate Map (VOTED YES)

Someone didn’t like the redrawn maps so they pouted and attempted to change it.  Nah.

Measure F:  Official Condemnation of Citizen’s United Case and call for Constitutional Amendment banning free speech for corporations.  (VOTED NO)

This is such a Mendocino kind of measure.  Basically it was a simple advisory vote that allows the county to write a letter to someone-or-other in the Federal government demanding that the Citizen’s United get overturned by Constitutional Amendment.  Obviously the person that spends the most money in campaigning is going to win elections and we can’t have that.  Just look at Mitt Romney.  Oh wait…..

Measure G:  $1 Fee Review for Abandoned Vehicle Program (VOTED YES)

It’s been around for a decade and I see no problem helping the county get rid of the crap that’s let on the road.

President:  (VOTED Barack Obama)

Yeah, so Jon Huntsman wasn’t on the ticket and that’s a damn shame because a Huntsman/Christine Todd Whitman ticket would have probably slaughtered Obama.  But my party wouldn’t move away from the 1950’s references and the country, including myself, decided to vote for the guy that was going to move the country in a more “forward” (get it?) thinking manner.  The result made me happy for two reasons.  First, I think Obama was the better candidate.  Second, the loss (and the Senate losses) forces the party to reevaluate why all the candidates rose their hands during the primary when asked about Grover Norquist’s No-Tax-Pledge.  Republicans must get out of the rut of becoming the party of the Angry White Man, and start thinking about the future.      

Monday, November 19, 2012

B.Y.O.B- Bring Your Own Bag. The Green Police have arrived!

Yeah, this commercial was so funny when it came out.  And when those select few furrowed their brow in worry and started to quibble about the reality of the Green Police in the future, you slapped your knee and shoved another Cheeto in your mouth because it was the Super Bowl. 

Well, it looks like Mendocino County has taken the trendy step of readjusting people’s buying habits in regards to bags.  Starting in January, all plastic bags will be banned from stores in Mendocino County and all paper bags will cost a dime.  The idea mainly revolves around the environmental impact of plastic bags (of which hardly any are recycled) and their paper counter-parts (of which more than half are recycled). 

I’ve of two minds about plastic bag bans.  First, I get how environmentally unsound the practice of plastic really is, and that figuring out how to get them out of landfills and off the street should be a priority.  Paper bags are another matter, and the way the city has rigged the ten cent charge is kind of a joke. 

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That’s funny, because from every angle I’m viewing it from, that is a classic definition of a tax.  And to not call it a tax is kind of like saying that Cop Rock wasn’t shitty television if you watched it with the sound off.  And even worse, this tax doesn’t go back to the city for services that it desperately needs, it’s basically a tax that goes right into the pockets of those big corporations that the city regularly slams as being anti-competitive, which the city has decided to become a part of with this idiotic measure.

What does this mean for the consumer?  Well, Wal-Mart instituted a bag ban a couple of years ago and what this created was a significant drop in my overall visits to Wal-Mart.  In a time of economic distress for the valley, the city has managed to engage the population in a scenario that will reduce trips to the supermarket and decrease overall revenue for the city.  Carrying your own bags around is an inconvenience when doing significant shopping trips and I’m totally uninterested in dealing with it. 

That, and having to deal with the new Green Police.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy Fall!

I’ll admit that this is not my picture.  It’s from @UkiahCA101 on Twitter, who is someone running a nice little campaign that is really promoting the good things about the Ukiah Valley.  It’s pretty dang convincing except for the weed, the transients, and the idiotic bag ban that I’ll get to later.

But this picture does contain my favorite season.  Fall is in the air and in Ukiah, that has some distinctive qualities.  The mornings are much cooler.  The oaks and maples turn beautiful colors of orange and red, although those pale in comparison to the vineyards that turn vibrant reds and golds.  Practice turkeys are now being cooked on the stove and dinners sometimes consist of homemade mashed potatoes, turkey, and loads of gravy in a bowl.  Egg Nog has been drank, the slippers are out, and I’m regularly wearing a hoodie again.  Yes fall is here!

That means basketball season started about three weeks ago.  You know, about when I stopped posting to my blog, or when I stopped finding the time to grade papers, or when I stopped caring about the piles in my classroom.  Yep, basketball season has made my room look like Doc Brown’s laboratory and thankfully this week off will allow for a little catch-up.    

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disney buys Lucasfilm, and millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror

So the mammoth corporation that is Disney has bought the company that made Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and that blockbuster that is Willow; Lucasfilm. 

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Like most of you, a little part of me died when I imagined Walt Disney’s Little Mermaid associated with a bad ass bounty hunter like Boba Fett.  Something that mixes the space fantasy that is Star Wars with a company that has a theme park with “It’s a Small World” must surely be something that has been conjured out of a nightmare from someone that believes in Intelligent Design.

But then you step back and realize that Disney has brought about some really nice films in its history.  Remember that Disney bought Pixar, and look how that impacted Pixar’s ability to produce feature films (it didn’t).  Remember that this company created The Avengers, and had a really good run with Pirates of the Caribbean.   And not that I’m advocating an animated Star Wars film but the scripts of many of the animated films are far better than the three Prequels of Star Wars could ever be.  Disney has the resources, the klout, and now they have access to one of the most valued movie names in history.  It very well could work out.

So let’s all step back and realize that we will never feel what we felt in the 70’s and 80’s.  It’s gone.  But can all hope that a good Star Wars comes in 2015 to satisfy years of missing that great series of flicks.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Unbelievable

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I didn’t think 2010 could be topped.

I was wrong.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Apple says it’s not the size but how you use it that matters

Oh look, it’s Tim Cook. 

And look, he’s got the iPad Mini out to show the world how he’s going to revolutionize education.  Soon every school in the country will be able to use Mini’s to watch Khan videos, play Angry Birds, and go into the Settings tab to screw with notifications.  I can’t wait.

Every time a new Apple gadget comes out the Techno-wonks on the Interwebs fall all over themselves trying to convince people that the Education Revolution will be televised via Facetime, and all the problems that people in classrooms have will be so much better because when a child has a tablet, the child is calmed, nurtured, and is somehow experiencing a realization that is only found when you drop acid or cuddle with an Apple product.  You hear about the cost benefits of tablets (there are none), the ability for different learning styles to excel (questionable theory, and can be done without 1-1 tech), and the dynamic teaching experience that the tablet provides the user (because we all know reading is boring and unnecessary). 

The problem is that none of this replaces good teaching.  None of it.  Zero.  Apple is just as evil as Microsoft who is as evil as Monsanto who is as evil as Shell who is as evil as Wal-Mart….unless none of them are evil and we are all just too damn stupid to not think that they are after good profit margins above all else.  I watched what happens when Apple comes into a district with no money and starts to dictate policy.  It’s a strong lesson in cost/benefit analysis that has the teacher using valuable time not learning how to be a good teacher but learning how to jump through techno hoops.  And look, you might have brand new iPads, or iPad Minis, or near obsolete Mac Books that students can use but that don’t necessarily get them to learn anything.  Apple wants us to become dependent on the tablet.  They aren’t really that interested about learning.  They are interested in the market.

So you think I’m being overly harsh and pessimistic about Apple and that’s very cute.  Especially adorable is how you are probably thinking right now that I’m too enraptured by my own ego to accept the collaborative opportunities that technology can afford my students.  It’s like the Internet Age all of the sudden grew good teachers out of the Ethernet cables of the universe and granted them collaborative ability.  Before America Online there was only an old hag and her abacus, with an occasional ruler to rap the knuckles of sleeping students that would nod off during the incessant lecturing. 

Or maybe we are all forgetting that some “Sage on Stage” teacher really motivated us into learning and critical thinking, and that was done before people surfed porn and played World of Warcraft until 2 a.m.  Maybe some of us teachers forget that a sheet of paper is a calculator is a graphing calculator is Wolfram Alpha, and that the one thing makes the tool work is a good teacher.  Instead of meetings with Apple trying to buy tablets, why aren’t we meeting with successful teachers trying to propagate good classroom management techniques?  Instead of playing with videos, why aren’t demanding that our kids read more?  Instead of staring at a tablet, why aren’t we getting our kids moving?  Basically, why are continuing to put the tool ahead of the teacher? 

And why does Tim Cook really even matter to Education?           

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Because it is Thursday and I demand more Star Wars flash mobs



Maybe I haven't embraced my inner nerdiness enough lately because I'm just in the mood for a Star Wars flash mob that makes me wish I was in Europe.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It’s the start time stupid

Out of all the things our school needs to deal with high school start times has now become the priority of one of the school board members.  This has lead to meetings and studies about why we should or should not move the start time of Ukiah High School from the current 7:30 to 8 a.m., or to the even more preferred time of 8:30.  This would also potentially move the end time of school back from 2:45 to 3:45.  Most of the reasoning for this stems from a variety of reports that are now trending about student sleep cycles.  This one in particular discusses some of the problems and consequences of teenagers not getting the necessary 9 1/2 hours of sleep they needed to function during the day. 

So, it looks like that lack of sleep is the reason why students are absent, tardy, have low test scores, and generally misbehave.  And look, there are actual studies that say this:

  • Sleep is vital to your well-being, as important as the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat.
  • Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence -- meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 pm.
  • Teens need about 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best (for some, 8 1/2 hours is enough). Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.
  • Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week — they typically stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends, which can affect their biological clocks and hurt the quality of their sleep.
  • Many teens suffer from treatable sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea

This is the kind of study that makes teachers want to punch scientists in the face.  The information presented here is kind of like the Romney for America ticket calling you and presenting information about why America hates having a Muslim for President.  Some Americans might actually believe this.  But when you look at the small sample size of the poll that take people from Nebraska that contain members of the Westboro Baptist Church, you soon realize that the information is kind of a joke.  Sort of like this study. 

While reminding us that teens don’t get a lot of sleep (something that most people are well aware of), the study fails to investigate why this is really occurring, relying on the trusted reasons of “it’s natural”, “restless leg syndrome”, and narcolepsy.  Oh, I don’t know, this all seems kind of fishy to me.  I realize that narcolepsy has a massive standing in the adolescent community, but I think this might be a tad bit more relevant to why teens don’t sleep.

Monster Energy Drinks

Do we now forget that teens eat and drink all kinds of shit to get them wired?  Monster, Starbucks, 5 Hour Energy….have we forgotten that we are now a culture that wants easy remedies to solving our problems?  Who the hell needs healthy alternatives?  Just take instant rush in the morning and all is fine…until the crash. 

And now that we are really getting technical about what kids do before they sleep, how about turning off the computer.  Seems like the computer screen does not have the same impact as reading a book, and actually makes the mind work harder before you go to bed.  Oh, that means iPads too.  In fact, pretty much all the electronics that parents can’t control are an impediment to kids getting a good night’s rest.  So this means that if we move start times back kids get more time to stay up and an excuse to just be late at 8 a.m. instead of 7:30. 

Starting later is no skin off my back.  I’ll sleep more, have more morning prep time, and I’ll end up still doing my extra-curriculars regardless.  But the impact on the students could be totally invasive.

-First of all, it was the students that requested the early start time in the first place.  Higher academic students wanted to take AP classes early in the day so they could do extra-curriculars, and Juniors and Seniors wanted the early start time so they could get out earlier and work part-time.

-Because the nearest athletic opponent is an hour away, the later finish time would create a situation where younger kids will miss up to three periods of school for a contest, and upper classmen would miss one or two.  While people like to jump on the “athletics doesn’t run the school” bandwagon, I’d like to remind you that nearly half of the school participates in athletics, including a vast majority of the higher academic kids.

-When you include other extra-curriculars; chorus, band, drama performances, clubs, MESA, and other school activities, you are now looking at well over half the population of the school missing periods worth of academic learning. 

-Then you have the off campus appointments that family members schedule that will now interrupt class time.  Medical, dental, you name it and no longer will a 3 p.m. appointment time be good enough. 

And maybe our board members should take a look at attendance at the end of the day as well.  My numbers show the worst tardy problems during first period.  However my worst attendance is far and away after lunch, and that has been the case since Day 1. 

I’m afraid this is the usual exercise of avoiding problems of accountability by straying as far from the real problems as possible.  Move that start time up an hour and we can make our kids really give a shit about STAR testing and Common Core Standards and Formative Writing and Problem-Based Learning and whatever else we actually didn’t like when we were kids.  And this method of moving the start time, like many other programs that deem to move the unmotivated to academic success, reeks of only considering the bottom tier of academia while totally ignoring those that want a more complete education.  Choices for these students has already been limited by dramatic cuts to education, yet we seem to have no problem blasting away at their opportunities.  Very classy.

So, back up the start times and see what happens.  My guess is maybe a slight initial bump in attendance as everyone plays along.  Then it will come back to normal, and maybe even worse as students miss more afternoon classes.  Then higher level kids will want AP classes or band classes earlier in the day, and then more kids will want classes earlier.  Then we will move it back earlier for everyone.  Then a study will come out saying that narcoleptic teenagers are at risk of concussions by slamming their heads on desks due to inner-ear equilibrium problems.  That will require all teachers to get concussion training, which will require that the teachers take online video classes that allow for a certificate to be printed that says that the teacher can identify a concussion.  Only the teacher won’t watch the classes because he feels for the student that lost their job due to the late start times so he pays the student $50 to watch the concussion videos for him.  Yet because of the computer screen activity, the student can not go to sleep. 

And the vicious cycle continues.                   

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Giants win the pennant! Again!

There was something fundamentally glorious about watching Matt Holliday make the final out to Marco Scutaro in the pouring rain last night.  You probably don’t understand it unless you are a stark raving San Francisco Giants fan that was wishing a full on Hellraiser event on Holliday when you nearly destroyed Scutaro’s legs during a wipe-out slide earlier in the National League Championship Series.  That’s totally ok.  Not much is expected to be understood from this bizarre realization that the Giants are going to the World Series again. 

Realize that most of us had the Giants in big trouble back in May when the team was leaking gas at eight games behind, then in August when the Giants lost Melky Cabrera and the Dodgers gained the Boston Red Sox, then in the NLDS with the Reds up 2-0, and finally when the Cardinals had the Gigantes locked in their sites up 3-1 with Barry Zito on the mound.  Crazy, baseball related stuff happened and the Giants are going to the World Series.  It’s unreal.

My wife and I plunked down the cash and hit up Game Six of the NLCS where we watched Ryan Vogelsong completely own the Cards.  We also watched the Kingston Trio sing the Anthem, Lil’ Wayne sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, and James Hetfield of Metallica scream “ARE YOU READY TO KICK  SOME CARDINAL ASS?”  It was awesome in so many ways and totally worth the money. 

Yeah, and that’s a still picture I took with no sound, no feel, and no anticipation of an elimination game.  Being there was incredible and it was one of the better experiences that I have been a part of.

So onward to the World Series.  Oh, and another reason why Matt Cain is a bad ass…..Giants know they have the series won, nothing left to prove right?

 

Court is adjourned. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Phone Home

I’m still trying to gauge the reaction I would have received if I would have called my father or mother asking them to come to the campus to pick up my cell phone while I was a Senior in high school.  Well, first off I lived alone at that point so Mommy or Daddy weren’t going to bail me out.  But let’s just play dreamland and assume I had the balls to call my parents and beg them to come get my phone. 

Reaction?

 

Yeah, it wouldn’t go over well.  And the maniacal laughter would be followed by a simple “No.”

Actually I couldn’t see myself calling my parents anyway.  There is something demeaning about your Mom or Dad meeting the teacher to pick up a cell phone taken because the kid was playing with it in class.  But I’ve had more parents come to my class in the last month than I have in the previous TWO YEARS to pick up cell phones for their kids.  It’s amusing, a bit thoughtful, and a bit tragic. 

So my policy is simple.  If you are misusing it in class I take it for 24 hours.  It’s locked away and safe and in the twelve years of practice I have never lost any electronic device.  If a parent wants the phone they can come down and pick up the gadget while I tell them that Johnny couldn’t help getting on Facebook to check the status of a weekend LARPing session.  Most parents don’t use this method of phone collection, except for this year.  In fact, those parents that have elected to arrive to pick up the phones this year do so within two hours.  Once parent was here in 45 minutes. 

Now, out of the total number of parents that have come into my classroom a vast majority of them talk of strong repercussions for their phones being confiscated.  That’s refreshing to hear, although I much rather they learn the lesson of not being psychologically attached to the device for the day instead of giving them back to the thing that caused the problem in the first place. 

We have, after all, lived without cell phones before.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Some guy yells at the moon, thinks that’s where College Board is located

I’ve been a vocal critic of the College Board, home to the oh-so prestigious Advanced Placement program.  I think the conferences are over-priced and totally underwhelming.  I think they have a monopoly on the pricing of exams.  And I think they focus way, way too much on satisfying often arrogant college professors that probably hardly teach classes anyway.

But sheesh, it isn’t like it doesn’t have strong benefit to those that make use of it.

Enter John Tierney, a former high school teacher and college professor that has decided to call the College Board a scam.  The problem with his argument in The Atlantic is that it is less legitimate and more “hey you damn kids, get off my lawn.”  Since I’ve now taught seven years of AP Comparative Government, and 4 years of AP U.S. History, I figured that I’d throw in my five cents on the ever more controversial Advanced Placement testing. 

“AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate…….The high-school AP course didn't begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses.”

Having been to a university to acquire my degree, and having talked to former students that have been to some of the most prestigious colleges in the world, I’d have to say that this comment is somewhere between “bullshit” and “unbelievable bullshit” range.  Advanced Placement courses are supposed to be equal to Introductory level survey courses at four year colleges.  AP U.S. History is far beyond almost any college history course that I have taken within lower division course work.  You write not only constantly, you learn to write well.  Most of my history classes had writing once every three weeks to a month.  My classes are writing every week, sometimes more.  The breadth of information needed for APUSH would be like taking all my former upper division specialized classes and throwing them into one 55 minute a day course for a semester.  It’s insane.  And if Tierney honestly believes that AP courses can’t touch his college courses, he’s doing his AP courses incorrectly.

Increasingly, students don't receive college credit for high scores on AP courses….”

Yes and no.  Some of the more elite colleges are dropping this requirement because they are basically losing money on students’ success.  Students can still get credit for levels at many of those universities and skip the introductory work that many students find as repetitive.  Oh, and by-the-way, you don’t have to go to Yale to get a first class education.  Enough of that.

“Studies show that increasing numbers of the students who take them (AP courses) are marginal at best, resulting in growing failure rates on the exams.”

This is actually statistically incorrect on many exams, although I do agree that many students who take Advanced Placement courses are marginal.  But if you aren’t under pressure from your administration in regards to test scores, then open enrollment should be a very desired priority.  Students that want to succeed should be exposed to rigor.  They should be exposed to curriculum that demands focus, that demands concentration, and that demands a commitment to do more than take up a seat and be average.   Some will leave.  This year’s roster was full at the end of last year.  It….isn’t….as of this moment.  That was simply a choice by kids that didn’t want to put forth the commitment.  That’s less the College Board and more variables that they can’t really control. 

“Despite the rapidly growing enrollments in AP courses, large percentages of minority students are essentially left out of the AP game.”

The head dude of Advanced Placement at the College Board, Trevor Packer, has addressed this concern many times online at the Annual Conference.  In my opinion this isn’t an issue of the College Board as much as an issue of society itself.  Blacks and Latinos (although not all minorities) are suffering from a general problem in terms of education.   In my classroom Latinos have become a much bigger presence in Advanced Placement curriculum, although they still struggle mightily on the test.  Saying that, even those that take the class and don’t pass the exam improve their overall chance of getting their degree dramatically.  That’s more than worth it. 

“The AP program imposes "substantial opportunity costs" on non-AP students in the form of what a school gives up in order to offer AP courses, which often enjoy smaller class sizes and some of the better teachers.”

I think this is a horribly warped perception of opportunity cost in relation to Advanced Placement classes.  If you have an Advanced Placement class then the opportunity cost is Auto Shop?  Yeah, try again.  AP is not killing electives and to even think that’s close to the truth is idiotic.  The only real relevant opportunity cost comes from college prep classes having some of the stronger kids going to AP classes, which sometimes brings down the intellectual stimulation of college prep classes.  That doesn’t happen too much at our school since a whole lot of Seniors want an easier schedule and don’t want the challenge their final year. 

“To me, the most serious count against Advanced Placement courses is that the AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification -- a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry.”

So, I fell under this category until I chose not to focus on the test and focus on creating dynamic thinkers and better learners.  Those that pass the exam are going to prepare for the exam by studying outside of class, and that means that you reach the middle-of-the-road students by making the class really damn good.  The rigidity comes from the teacher who is really concerned about test scores, and while they are in the back of my mind, in the end I want better students, not better test scores.

Some of the comments made at the bottom of the article were interesting as well. 

“As a long-time AP English reader, I have regularly asked the CB what it is doing with the immense profits this "non-profit" concern makes from AP--in the hundreds of millions, I estimate. I never get an answer. Maybe this article will elicit one. It certainly does not go to AP readers, who (in my field) spend long days scoring the exams under sweat-shop conditions, with little compensation.”

So you are paid $2,000 to read essays over the course of eight hours over eight days, and all expenses are paid; the lodging, the food, the transportation.  And that is sweat-shop conditions and little compensation.  Listen, I’m the first to complain about the food at the Reading but the gross hyperbole to compare exam reading to a sweat-shop is pretty much ultra-trolling.  If the experience was anything close to nasty I wouldn’t go. 

There are plenty of issues to discuss about the College Board with the monopolistic tendency of charging a whole lot of money for a test, or five in some students’ cases, being at the top of the list.  But when you start screaming that the scam is in, then you do little but really leave out options for higher end students, and those options are more and more limited as the funding continues to be funded towards lower achieving students.  Let’s get a conversation going, not howl at the moon.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Amazing, and not so

I hate Clayton Kershaw because he’s good, wears a Dodger uniform, and kills the Giants.

I hate Scott Hairston because he’s akin to Beatrix Kiddo offing the Giants one-by-one, game-by-game, which a sword of wood that has been possessed by souls of the Birmingham Black Barons.   

I hate Mat Latos because he’s an insufferable asshole who enjoys taking shots at the San Francisco Giants, including Dave Fleming’s car.  Because of my enduring hatred for the man, the elimination game of the 2012 NLDS was so, so beautiful.  Buster Posey was basically Jesus facing Satan on the mountaintop, only in this holy scripture the Good Guy kicked the Bad Guy in the teeth, said “Go fuck yourself”, and proceeded to trot around the bases right into the National League Championship Series.  Even if the Giants get swept in the next series, that hit and that game were soooooo worth it. 

It’s a good feeling that has come at the end of Homecoming Week at Ukiah High School.   I think Homecoming has been more subdued this year as compared to past years, although that hasn’t prevented tired students from lunch rallies, missing students who are working on floats, and rambunctious students who are just acting crazy in general.  It’s fine in the sense that it hasn’t greatly disturbed my class.  But I still see it as such a divisive waste of time and energy.  While the local newspaper is given quotes about bringing the school a sense of unity, I see pretty much none of that.  I don’t see any sense of purpose, inclusiveness, or any real constructive outcome except to win a bell by proving to other students that you have money, and that your Mom and Dad will spend hours working with the other twelve students that are working on a float.  Well it’s almost over.

And we’ll always have this game.      

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Time to say no

That’s Straus Ice Cream.  It’s good.  Well it’s good but it’s also expensive because the cows are free range, the cream is organic, and the chocolate chips are grown in humane conditions that probably involve love and tenderness and yuppies that act like they don’t want to screw you for a profit but really do. 

I’m eating a lot of it.

It’s due to stress.  It’s not kid stress because kids are actually really easy.  In fact, this years crop is pretty much outstanding; from the Second Language students asking question after question, to the Advanced Placement students wanting to dive deeper into economic reality, to my APUSH students who are so damn good that it is stupid.  I mean, you can’t make up the awesomeness that involves walking into class and having these students every day.  It’s really damn cool. 

Until they leave.  Then comes the stuff that has nothing to do with students.  It’s the stuff that nags, that takes up time, that requires energy but eventually produces little results.  It’s often nonsense to you but might not be nonsense to someone else, and that someone might be mad if you call it nonsense which creates more problems.  And so on and so on.  So I’ve started saying no to people.  I’m sorry but my resources can only be stretched so far and the piles of work that need to be graded for the students in my classroom now take priority over my volunteer work for your benefit.  Does that sound mean?  Sure, except the real mean thing is not putting forth the full effort for my students because of the potential risk of someone else being offended.  We all have jobs and right now I need to reprioritize mine and get my focus back.    

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The picture says it all.

A truly offensive week

That gif is on loan from Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles, probably one of the best baseball blog writers in existence.  One hopes that it is enough to kiss his rear end because I didn’t really ask to borrow the gif and I’m sure that I’m liable for Joe Pesci Goodfellas style ass-whipping if I don’t give credit where credit is due.  But seriously, the dude writes well and you should read his posts if you are a baseball fan.

By the way, the gif has nothing to do with my week and I posted it because I thought it was funny.  LOL A’s.

My week was actually very positive.  The vibe within my classroom is positive and work that is coming from students is quite good.  On Friday the group collaboration on creating a democratic government for a fictitious country was so good that I didn’t want the periods to end.  One of my classes has a little low energy but picks it up once we get the period going.  Otherwise, all is pretty good.

Then why the “offensive week” comment?  A colleague wrote an e-mail to me this week that stated that some blog posts I make were offensive.  No specifics were made but the message was very clear and it did state, without ambiguity, that some of my writing took a tone that the colleague didn’t like.  That brings up an interesting issue about what happens when I write something that someone I work with doesn’t like.  Ok, maybe it really isn’t an issue because what happens is nothing.  Seriously.  Nothing is going to happen and nothing should happen because simply being offended is not legal grounds for anything in this country.  If you are really interested in being the kind of person that burns down buildings and lives simply because of Freedom of Expression, I point you to something you can relate too all too well.

There are three reasons why I blog.

First, I like to reflect.  I go back and check out how lessons went, how my frame of mind was, and the usual “Silva-Brown’s Report Cards” to try and find trends that help my teaching.  It allows me to see what works and to anticipate moments where I notice certain amounts of stress, or moments where I notice I’m working too hard with not enough results.  It’s extremely useful.

Second, I like to talk.  I’ve always had a thing about expressing opinions and I figured a blog would be a nice place to do just that.  I talk about a lot of things, some might not be in the realm of totally tasteful when it comes to holier-than-thou prudes that still think what I’m actually saying.  I get that my job has the benefit of tenure, and that allows me to discuss education related issues without fear of reprisal, which is how it should be anyway.  I don’t go after colleagues, I don’t go after my boss, and I don’t talk about students with the exception of group behaviors that usually happened in the past and that identify no one.  The only time my blog became a real problem was one the parent of a disgruntled athlete actually printed off all my posts and gave them to my then principal with “offensive” words and phrases all highlighted; with particular anger at a post for saying that I found breasts to be an attractive attribute of the opposite sex.  Here’s a news flash.  I still do.

Third, I like to write.  For some reason I’ve had no real problem writing things down, and my family always said I seemed to write well.  This wasn’t a reason early on.  However I’ve grown to really like writing again and I’m working on making it better.  I look back at previous posts and I see the sub-par, petulant, hyperbolic, simple-mindedness with no real direction or coherent thought.  Now I see sub-par, petulant, hyperbolic, simple-mindedness with no real direction or coherent thought, but damn its written a whole lot better. 

So I continue to write.  You can choose to read, or not.  That’s kind of the really neat thing about that First Amendment thing; it allows you the first line of censorship defense by simply not looking at offensive material.        

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Because the NFL doesn’t have other things to worry about

In a league that has the roid ragers, convicted felons, and this guy……

……it’s tough to imagine a crime so unspeakable that it warrants a stiff warning of a $15,000 fine. 

So what is it that is so heinous, so horrific, so God awful that the National Football League throw the war hammer of justice upon the soul of the unclean?

Oh.

It’s a hat. 

I mean, it’s a San Francisco Giants hat.  That pretty much makes sense since Alex Smith is the quarterback of the SAN FRANCISCO Forty-Niners and all.  And let’s not forget that Smith wore the hat last year when, you know, the Giants were not about to win the National League West title.  But apparently it is now an issue, and the loving father and husband needs to re-up his NFL street cred by going to Centerfolds to make it rain, hire a gang of hookers for a session of unprotected group sex, and then murder one of them with his best friends to create a prolonged court case that might smear the entire sport. 

And do it all without the Giants cap.  Dammit.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Batman’s Bane Movie

Yeah, yeah.  A fire will rise.  Whatever.  This really was not the Batman finale I was looking for.

If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet then you are probably a loser anyway, so spoilers.  Ok, maybe I’m just a little irritated that Christopher Nolan’s send-off Batman is just a bit weak.  Maybe I’m irritated that the characters (with the exception of Catwoman) started acting in ways that totally contradict the comic book.  I mean, Alfred walks out on Master Wayne?  Then again, maybe I’m just irritated that the movie was sort of boring.  I wonder what could have made this film a little better…..

 

The story of Dark Night Rises has to do with a big guy named Bane who successfully takes over Gotham by blowing up stuff, breaking the Batman, and then waiting months down the road to blow the whole city up using a nuclear weapon.  Batman comes back from healing, slaps down Bane, and blows up the nuke over the water while secretly disappearing from his job as caped crusader with the uber-hot Selina Kyle.

The problem with the movie is that it takes liberty with storylines that become unrealistic and a villain that is waxes eloquent about all kinds of things until the end of the movie, where his spine goes squid-like and he just about sobs like a little baby.  And while the breaking of the Bat is actually somewhat similar to the Knightfall storyline from the comic books, the healing process is something out of Star Trek V script that is only missing some God-like entity to whisk Bruce Wayne out of his pit prison.

 File:Bane breaks Batman.png

The lead-up to the breaking in Knightfall was so much better; as villains all take their shot at Batman over the course of a series until Bane waits for an exhausted Dark Knight and then breaks his vertebrae.  The story of the healing was also done well, delving into various storylines that resulted in power struggles and bizarre encounters until Bane and the original Batman met again for another round.  It was a well thought out, well scripted epic.  This was a two hour movie that was less of a send off for Batman and more about putting scenes around this. 

  

Any doubts that Anne Hathaway could pull off Catwoman were killed in the movie.  No, she wasn’t quite Heath Ledger’s “Joker”.  But I’m not kidding when I say that she kicked Michelle Pfeiffer out of the water easily and was much more true the nature of the comic book than almost any other character out of the Batman genre of movies.  It also helped that she was really damn hot.

You should go to this movie if you are a fan of the Batman movies (it gives a bit of lame closure) or if you are a fan of Christopher Nolan movies.  Be warned, this is probably Nolan’s weakest movie.  It’s not bad but I’d say it is safe to call it weak. 

Then again…

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I support the Chicago Teacher’s Strike #CTU

I don’t take a strike lightly.  In my opinion a strike is the absolute last-of-last resorts when it comes to labor/management negotiations.  That is doubly important when you are dealing with essential public services, like teaching.  If you protest or picket or walk off of the job you are a taking an incredible risk of alienating the pubic and doing more harm than good to your cause. 

However teachers have now become society’s target for blame for all its ills.  They are being asked to do more with less, and with less respect from society, that at any time in modern history.  The days of believing that Education is necessary for a thriving democracy have been lost in partisan bickering and a society that has turned the profit-motive into a cultural necessity.  Eventually you can only beat on teachers so much.  Eventually they need to take a genuine stand.  It started in Wisconsin and now Chicago has become the next focal point.

Remember when you are reading this that I’m a teacher who believes that the best teachers should be paid more, that the worst teachers should be fired right now in totally unceremonious fashion, and that academic institutions should be the pride of the nation.  None of that is going to be accomplished until society takes the education of its children seriously.  One of the complaints of the strikers in Chicago was that a teacher had no air conditioning in their classroom.  That’s a given.  That’s not a negotiable item.  And you don’t base the value of educators on one test.  Ever.  Period.  If that’s the case then I’m never getting evaluated because the only students I have taking the State tests are my 30 Advanced Placement kids, and they are always proficient.  Imagine that.  Can’t say the same about teachers that deal with Special Day kids, Second Language Learners, Students with IEP’s, or those that just teach kids that are worried about eating, sleeping, or whether or not they will get beat by a drunk father when they get home.  Testing evaluations are not a valid way to decide who is and is a not a good teacher. 

But unions do need to jump on board and become part of the solution.  Pressure bad teachers out of the profession and become an organ of Education, not necessarily an organ of Teachers.  If Chicago teachers come out ahead in the current labor situation, they must take advantage of the opportunity to further the profession by helping remove the dead weight.  Help create teacher evaluations and help create good teachers so that we don’t need to worry about evaluations so much. 

In the mean time I wish those that the striking a strong will and clear mind in their decision to defend the rights of a historically important and currently under-valued profession.  I wish them them the wisdom of using this time to start developing solutions to present to administrators, district leaders, and parents.  I wish them the constitution to withstand the criticism that they don’t care about kids, even though every shred of past evidence points the contrary.  And I hope that all Chicago teachers realize that educators all around the country are watching their stand and have earned our respect.       

Sunday, September 09, 2012

This is not a smoke free zone

090712scottsfiretankerpa3

Yep, that’s a real picture from the Lake County News of a fire bomber hitting the Scotts Fire, about eight miles from my house.  That’s a pretty long eight miles, over the Russian River and up an area called Cow Mountain.  However the concern is more for those living in the smaller towns of Blue Lakes and Lakeport over the hill, and less for our town because the wind usually comes off the ocean and heads east.  That’s not to say it isn’t eerie to see the strong glow of flames in the east hills, or watch the fire bombers roar overhead every few minutes.  I think everyone is keeping an eye on the Scotts Fire.

The fire actually started at the end of a four-day week that felt nothing like a four-day week.  It felt like a six-day week and most teachers I talk to agree while having no idea why.  It’s only a couple weeks in and margarita talk has commenced at the lunch table.  That’s not to say that the feeling is negative, just tiring.  I think some of us are in the full impulse groove right now and we haven’t quite hit the point were we ease off the gas pedal and conserve energy for, you know, ourselves.

The theme of this week revolved around students in various states of “medical” distress, from the very genuine to the very suspect.  This is a touchy subject for teachers to deal with because the last thing a teacher wants to do is seem totally uncaring to a 17 year old kid that is really in an injured state.  That’s not asking for trouble, that’s asking for a SCUD missile full of Sarin nerve gas to fall into your classroom.  But I’d have to say that about eight out of every ten students that are on extended medical leave are students that are A) milking it, or B) don’t have the outside influence telling them to move on with life and get going.  Sound mean?  Well, mean is when that student tries to pull that shit at work or in college.  Then the response is “I don’t care” or “That’s ok, I’ll find someone that can do it.”  That’s mean.  This was not one of those times.  This week a student suffered a pretty traumatic accident and as a teacher my focus was to immediately take away any stimuli that was dangerous to the healing process.  I told the counselor that grades would be taken care of, I left a message on Facebook to the student not to worry about school, and I tried to basically make it known that I understood that life happens, and that educators need to adjust when necessary.  This was necessary. 

Another necessity is apparently this thing called Back To School Night.  It’s an exercise where I get less parents attending from near 150 students, than I do from the 12 basketball players when I conduct a beginning-of-the-season meeting.  I’ve never had a negative parent at a Back to School night, although I had one get rather irritated at me when I told her that I thought Hugo Chavez was dictatorial in his managing of government policy.  It didn’t go far because I think I promised her that I wouldn’t use Chavez as an example of an authoritarian regime in class.  I also think I lied.  I’m not anticipating a huge turnout again this year due to a couple of reasons.

It’s on Monday.

Monday Night Football.

The Voice.

Basketball Wives.

Hoarders.

Are you getting the picture?  Those parents that are actively involved in their child’s lives will be there and they will be very interested in my presentation on how they can be very active in their kid’s progress in my classroom.  But again, that number will be VERY small.

Onward.   

Monday, September 03, 2012

Take the week, swirl around your mouth a bit, let it linger on your tongue.

The week began with Kelsey Sheehy of U.S. News and World Report interviewing me for a story about teachers using the Party Conventions as a device in the classroom.  If you have nothing else to do you can read Sheehy’s education blog and my comments in her newest posting.  Essentially I tried to avoid telling her that the Conventions are pointless exercises involving myopic politicians and bad public speakers.

The Republican Convention was a pointless exercise involving myopic politicians, bad public speakers, and The Man With No Name talking to a Chair With No President.  I really like Clint Eastwood, and I actually thought that the chair bit had lots of potential to be humorous.   Unfortunately Eastwood was a few steps from 2011 Dick Clark New Year’s Rockin Eve in his delivery and it ended up just feeling utterly lame.  Not as lame as most of the other speakers but getting there.  With the exception of Marco Rubio, there wasn’t a speaker at the entire Convention that either was dynamic, or had commentary that seemed relevant to this era.  So I spent some of this week watching bad speeches and giving it very little time in my classroom.  Note to Democrats that are smirking, you’ll get equal time.

I had my first cell phone issue this week.  It was dealt with quick, it caused little disturbance, and I think that it will become less and less of a problem in that class.  Part of the reason for that is decreased class sizes.  Only one class is totally full and the rest are starting shrink little by little.  This allows for more eyes on less students and a greater ability to engage in activities in a less confined space.  It helps with management, it allows me to grade more effectively, and it give me a greater opportunity to find students with special needs faster.  What I’m trying to get at is the person who said that class size doesn’t matter is an idiot.

The reason why some of my classes are dwindling is because students are leaving for Independent Study.  I find Independent Study interesting.  In a society that seems to care about their children learning something, they take many kids that do very little in an organized format, put the learning in pretty little packs, and give credit when the pretty packets are complete.  I don’t quite get how A) Students that can’t come to school (but can go to extra-curricular) are going to succeed on their own, and B) What the benefit of packet learning is.  Oh well, gotta worry about those within my four walls.

And this week, we are at it again.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Second helping of #EdCampSFBay

EdCamp SFBay

So my wife asked me if I actually learned anything from my third helping of Ed Camp.  My first two experiences; EdCampSFBAY 1 in Oakland, and EdCampSocialStudies in Philadelphia, were extremely positive experiences and there was a thought that maybe the conferences were going to start to sound a tad repetitious.  I actually had that concern as well on my way down there on Saturday morning around 7 a.m.

Though not totally about technology, almost all the sessions within EdCamp are somehow geared towards engaging students through the use of all sorts of hardware, software, or Internet goodies.  Presentations are conducted using this technology so the whole presentation is not a lecture, it’s an engaging experience.  Everyone in the room has an iPad, laptop, or a netbook, and everyone is constantly on it.  Twitter backchannelling is active and strongly encouraged, although a little tougher on Saturday because Hillsdale High School in San Mateo had no Internet.  But usually people share thoughts online while in the same room or in other rooms.  You get comments from other sessions while you are in your own.  Don’t like the current one?  Leave and go to another.  It’s encouraged.  I walked out of none.

After the meet-and-greet, and the presentation of session ideas, I chose a session about 1st Day class ideas by Catlin Tucker, teacher at Windsor High School not far from where I teach.  She’s very into the ideas of class flipping and tech integration.  Some of the first day ideas were very good.  I then got ideas of some of the ed tech she was using in the classroom; Google Sites, Google Voice, Socrative, and Remind 101.  Catlin is a very powerful teacher, and I haven’t spent one second in her class or read one word of her book.  She just exudes good teaching.  I did a ton of listening in her session, period.

The next session was titled “Bridging the Achievement Gap using Technology and PBL”.  This was more of a discussion than anything else and I provided more input than anything else.  I stuck around because I wanted to get more PBL strategies but the conversation kept going tech, tech, tech….and I’m of the opinion that technology is not the answer to bridging the achievement gap, good teaching is.  I’ll get to that later.

My third session was my most productive, “New Ways of Thinking About a Flipped Classroom”.  It included a teacher from Marin County, a teacher from Hillsdale in San Mateo, and a teacher Facetimed in from North Carolina.  Instead of the technical aspects of Flipping, the teachers actually attempted (I say that because I’m not sold on everything) to address the actual pedagogical issues around the idea of individualized student mastery.  First, focus on the best use of face-to-face time.  Second, focus on Higher Order Thinking Skills, focus on student-centered and student-managed learning.  I liked that the focus got away from the whole “video outside the room” model and really tried to explain the mindset of flipped classrooms. 

My fourth session was the ever popular “Things that Suck”, where teachers discuss and debate all sorts of issues that revolve around education.  Teachers always have opinions on things about education (go figure), yet this session was a little more measured.  Comments about things like network filters and homework had plenty of teachers thinking in the realm of “what is”, not “utopia would look like this.”  I also notice that some teachers really have no clue about technological that exist for a lot of schools.  The conversation about 1 to 1 classrooms (one computer, preferably mobile, for one student) was thick and pretty unrealistic.  People were talking about dropping computer labs as if everyone has one.  Hey, I’d like one up and running before the plan comes down to get rid of it.

My final session was called The Smackdown, which is basically when volunteers quickly come up and describe some kind of ed tech situation that will help the teacher.  Believe it or not, 99% of the stuff is gold; stuff that you just want to use tomorrow because it is so damn cool/useful/awesome.  I contributed Hippocampus.org, a location where people that really want to Flip using videos can use those already created for many subject areas.  My favorite applications of ed tech included Flubaroo, Dropitto.me, Youtube’s ability to clip its videos, and a cheap mobile document camera from IPEVO. 

People drove from all over California and Oregon to attend EdCampSFBay and I would like to think it will not be my last.  I get a lot of information from them although sometimes it feels like you really have to buy into a certain type of pedagogy to be taken seriously.  I was happy to see teachers this year that were a little more receptive to the idea that technology is a tool, not the answer.  But the complete objection to state standards (“they are only for weak teachers”) and calling the philosophy of Direct Instruction “Sage on Stage” (as a negative) really turns off a lot of really good teachers.  I immediately sent out a Tweet after the Standards comment that I thought that quote was shit, and the conversation went nowhere fast.  Anything done the old way, even if was and is effective, is pretty shunned.  New is better, even if there is no evidence that it really is.

Still, I get so much good knowledge from EdCamp that I can’t help not going.  I do make small changes here and there to my teaching and much of it comes out positive.  That’s what professional development is supposed to be about.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ronald McDonald goes on bender, wakes up on high school roof

My school week ended when I did my usual 6th period walk through the Admin building and was motioned over by a staff member to watch a totally bizarre sight.

Ronald McDonald was on a hand truck being rolled out to a pick-up in the parking lot.  It wasn’t the clown himself but the statue of McD from a local establishment that is being demolished for a brand new structure.  The staff member and I smiled in amusement of the scene in front of our eyes, and I was told that the prank was (obviously) that Ronald was left on a container roof near the back of the school.  The mystery is how the beast made it up top; it’s not like the statue was particularly light.  However it seems like the maneuver was done in good fun and the attitude was that it was a no-harm-no-foul situation.  No property was damaged in the stunt and Ronald McDonald went back to preparing to oversee the McCafe.  People got a good laugh and it was truly a harmless high school prank.

My regular week ended on Friday night when I played slow pitch softball for the first time in fifteen years.  Two things came to my mind while I was out in left field during the night game;

-Wow, I’m not 19 years old any more and don’t run very fast.

-Oh shit, that ball just sailed ten feet over my head.

I went 1-2, scored a run, and committed four errors while in left field.  All of them involved simply misjudging fly balls that looked like cans-of-corn off the bat, and ended with me looking like Alfonso Soriano on quaaludes in the outfield.  I might want to start back a bit next weekend.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Todd Akin sees Russia while discussing the physiological merits of legitimate rape

There are only so many times a person can face palm. 

I mean, it gets to the point where I can’t really talk politics any more because I have some distant political connection to the likes of Todd Akin, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Christine O’Donnell.  I am a Republican.  They are Republicans.  Our political party is the same.  Ew.  I mean, these guys aren’t some serious political conservatives.  They are nuts.  They have turned the party into a total circus; complete with policy issues that make the clown car come into the tent and do a dozen Chinese Fire Drills while the rest of the crowd wonders what the fuck is going on.  I mean, what the fuck is going on?

And it’s not even really Akin.  He’s an idiot, a fly, a moron that is getting a lot of attention because the distraction of the abortion issue plays right into Barack Obama’s political theater.  Seriously, it’s like the Obama Campaign was dealt a hand of pocket aces and his grin shows to the other players that life is about to suck.  No, it’s the constant refusal to have a legitimate discussion on anything, anywhere, without insisting that every issue is black or white.  It’s the reliance on the Grover Norquists of the world who seem to have every Republican politician by the nut sack over the tax pledge.  If a Republican really wants to be President then they would take a copy of the tax pledge, go out on stage at the Republican Convention, and piss on it ala Coach Lou Brown in Major League.  Then bring in followers of Jon Huntsman dressed with Nation of Islam bowties to take over the town hall and announce over the loudspeaker that “the real Republican intelligentsia has arrived.”  To appease some liberals, allow Huntsman to throw Todd Akin into the Coleman Federal Pen to see how his body reacts to different forms of rape.

More than likely none of that will happen and the circus will make it’s way through town, Barack Obama will probably be reelected, and the Republican Party will insist that the problem was that Mitt Romney was not Conservative enough, when the real problem is that Mitt Romney should be acting like Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.  With the current state of the economy Romney should win easily.  Yet polling is down across the nation.  Hell, it shouldn’t even be tied.  All because he’s not listening to the people, the majority of the party, or any person with common fucking sense.  Instead he’s listening to the “base”, which consists of people telling him that an “Energy Plan” is opening up drilling off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina……not two years after the Deep Water Horizon destroyed the Gulf of Mexico.

Excuse me while I go hide behind my couch.   

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beginning of good things

The sun is shining on Mr. Silva-Brown’s classroom.

Good knowledge is flowing, the problems are minimal, and there seems to be good connections with a whole lot of students this year.  I think part of that has to do with the smaller sizes of all my classes.  This year I have less total students than almost any time in my career, and that give me the ability to manage the class is a much better fashion.  The atmosphere isn’t crowded and my vision isn’t scattered.  I’m able to really get in and mingle with more students doing more things.  It’s the way it should be, and those idiots that constantly say that teaching with 40 students and teaching with 25 students produces no difference are idiots.

I could attribute the nice environment of 2012-2013 to a multitude of other variables except that those variables are not a whole lot different than last year, except I’m a year more experienced and the students are, for the most part, different.  I’ve actually been going through old blog posts from last year and found that I was this positive last year too and ended up kind of cranky by the end of the year.  Couple of things I want to look for in terms of distraction or energy suck:

-Does basketball take away from my teaching?

-Do complaints from parents when grades come out distract me from teaching?

-Will the greater sense of optimism from the district trickle down to my classroom?

-If the Giants can sweep the Dodgers tomorrow, will Juan Uribe demand a trade to the San Jose Giants because he realizes that members of their pitching staff are better than Joe Blanton?

In the meantime I’ll ride the wave of good teaching and insist that the distractions evade my presence.    

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The day before

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It’s unfortunate to see this sight in Northern California in the summertime.  But it’s also normal, something that comes with the territory of living in this part of the world.  That’s a wildfire that is burning just east of Covelo, about 90 minutes northeast of my house in Ukiah.  In that picture I’m actually standing at Willits High School, 30 minutes closer to the fire and current employer of my wife.

And that was what my day-before-students day was like, hanging out with my wife whose school is going through the joys of “modernization.”  Today was the first day her portable was ready and that meant we spent hours moving furniture and boxes from across campus into her room, unpacked it, and had her ready to teach tomorrow.  Yes, it took a long time.  Yes, I kind of anticipated this was going to happen after the joys of my own experience with “modernization” a few years back.  So I was at the beck and call for today and by about 6 in the evening we went home with my wife confident that tomorrow was going to rock. 

And tomorrow will rock because it is year 12 of the teaching gig and I’m ready and raring to go.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

No National Board = Not a great teacher?

I remember first hearing about being a Nationally Board Certified Teacher at my Teaching American History Grant (TAH) workshop about seven years ago.  Since I was (and still am) interested in perfecting my craft, I investigated what it would take to become one of the few, the proud, the Nationally Board Certified.

Well, I found that it took money and the desire to start the teacher credential program all over again.  I would take the time to explain the entire process for National Board Certification except that it can be summed up into three primary focus areas.

Pay over $3,000 in fees.

Submit a portfolio of a bunch of teacher stuff that makes that one you submitted in the credential program look like a brochure for Proactive.

Jump through hoop after hoop for a credential that guarantees you zero financial benefit and expires in ten years. 

Darren over at Right on Left Coast pointed me to this article by Diane Ravitch on the corporate underbelly of Board Certification that further confirms that being part of this process weighs not-at-all on your ability to be a fantastic teacher.  In fact, exactly zero fantastic teachers I’ve had the pleasure to be associated with are Nationally Board Certified.  That includes my Master Teacher, the great teachers at my old high school, my current high school, and many high schools for which I cooperate in professional development.  It’s just not worth it. 

So now when a teacher boasts of Board Certification, I give a bit of an inner sneer.  In terms of Ivory Towers, bragging about National Board Certification ranks just above Google Certified Teachers and Apple Distinguished Educators.  Hoop jumping does not make the teacher.   

The Flow

Not too many people get to experience “The Flow.” 

That’s because it is pretty much reserved for people that get ideas and become excited when better one’s come around, and then they share them with other people.  Teachers get The Flow when lesson planning becomes deeper and more meaningful.  For me The Flow happened around 1 p.m. when I came upon an idea for morality in the development of law.  I started looking up information, tearing out old text books, and within an hour I had a weeks worth of lessons cranked out.  When I looked up it was suddenly 3:30 and I realized that I had to head off to Willits for my wife’s work party.  I didn’t want to stop.  I had all these ideas that demanded attention but I had to put them off until tomorrow, and remember to also do the little things before things start on Monday.

The attitude within the district is decidedly more optimistic than in past years and I won’t pile on the reason for that.  I can say that much of the district had this attitude towards some people in particular.

I’ll leave it intentionally ambiguous because those in the district will get it.  Me?  I don’t join people with pitch forks and torches in attempting to slam other people that haven’t wronged me in any way.  The overall point is that the overall attitude of the district seems better this year and that’s a very good thing. 

Tomorrow’s the district meeting and then the final tasks that will prepare me for students on Monday.  Saturday I’ll be in San Mateo at EdCampSFBayArea to get my tech integration on.  I might see you there.   

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

March of little people

There are umpa lumpas at Ukiah High School.  Yes…busy, busy workers running around trying to find ways to fit in at their newest home.  We are talking about the Freshmen.
Today was Freshmen orientation at Ukiah High School, otherwise known as The Day Mr. Silva-Brown Stays in His Classroom.  The sight of hundreds of children running around campus with their parents and the dynamics of said relationships drives me nuts after about five minutes.  I watch parents push around kids, kids push around parents, both push around administrators, and gangs of 14 year olds roam the school acting extremely self-important.  My one interaction involved me saying “excuse me” while I was walking down the hall and the froshy saying “yeah, excuse you” as I passed.  And Mom just stood there texting on her phone, seemingly oblivious to the exchange.  Instead of a confrontation I walked back the classroom and continued to prepare for the year, thankful that my clientele is Juniors and Seniors and not those Smurfs that need a swift kick.
Somewhere in the afternoon there was an announcement about this guy.
 

Yeah, and that glass bat Melky Cabrera is holding might as well blast in his hands for all the good he’s going to do for the Giants.  Fifty game suspension.  When I heard the news I started looking on Twitter for the current status on this guy.
That’s Roger Kieschnick, probably the best power-hitting outfielder for the San Francisco Giants farm system, currently playing for the Fresno Grizzlies (AAA).  He was on the disabled list and is the best hope for some juice in left field for the Gigantes.
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Jesus.  Enough already.  Frosh orientation, Melky, now Kieschnick is out.  What the hell happened to the day?
Two things.  One, I’m way to engrossed into San Francisco Giants baseball if I’m checking the disabled list status of farm hands.  Two, I’m pretty damn prepped and ready to roll.  Let’s go already.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Official return

I’ve been doing prep in my classroom for about a week now.  I like the feeling of being able to use this, the week before kiddos, to toy with curriculum and brainstorm new ideas.  It’s usually a good day.

Today I chatted with colleagues for awhile, filled out some beginning-of-the-year paperwork, and then went about looking for a better activity to start out Government this year.  I have Econ down, APUSH is going to be intense out of the gate, but it’s Government that consists of the majority of my students.  I want to make it sparkle. 

Today was actually the Buy-Back Day, where teachers have the option to attend professional development now, or by the end of the year, or get docked a day’s pay.  I don’t participate in district lead PD because it makes my hair hurt.  I’m really big into using my time in an efficient manner so I attend plenty of professional development throughout the year.  By the end of this weekend I’ll have more than doubled by required hours for Buy-Back when my “Meet the Experts” at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, and my EdCampSFBayArea are through. 

That is not to say the return is not fraught with difficulties.  But the difficulties are beyond my control and what I need to focus on is that my classroom is ready and welcoming on Day One.   

Monday, August 13, 2012

Message to teachers

I’m sure there is a law that requires edu-bloggers to give some kind of beginning of the year message to all those that are about to start-up in the Fall.  Those that don’t add to the blogosphere are picked up by black sedans in front of their houses and take you to mock up of the movie Brazil.

Yeah, I can’t afford to let my face end up like Rue McClanahan on a bender so I better send words of wisdom (for what they are worth) to rooks and vets alike. 

Let’s remember that we have some one of the most important jobs in existence.  No pressure or anything but we really do.  We have the ability to shape and mold future generations to do really cool things like invent iPhones, win Olympic gold medals, and disclose hundreds-of-thousands of documents on Wikileaks.  Hey, it could happen!  Also remember that what is going to be learned as important to the kids might not necessarily be what you intend to be important.  I’m not under any illusion that AP U.S. History will all of the sudden create a deluge of people interested in investigating how fat President Taft was.  However you never know which little piece of everything that you do will impact that brain and therefore impact their life.  Teach with passion and the conviction that the students are paying attention, even when they don’t seem to be.

By the way, you are a paid professional.  Act like it.  Dress the part, prep the part, execute the part, and then reflect and make all the parts work better.  If people don’t really know how to be professional, mentor them.  If people refuse to be professional, make them a non-existent part of the educational process by being awesome.  If the shame doesn’t bring them around, find other professionals to tell the interloper that the teaching is bigger than their overinflated ego.  Tell them to get with it or get out. 

Expect to work hard.  If you are a rookie or have only been doing this for a couple of years; yes, it is supposed to be this hard.  It does get easier as the years go along but it will never be “easy.”  It’s not supposed to be easy.  We are doing something that is very difficult in conditions that are far from optimal.  Get over it and work.  Come to work early, leave late, and always work on making things better for kids.

And be yourself.  Teach within yourself.  As controversial as it might sound, most of the instructional models that you will be exposed to are crap.  All good teaching has essential elements that models simply put in a nice outline and force you to repeat.  Good teachers take the elements and make them a successful part of instruction by using their passion, preparation, and ability.  Kids don’t want an act.  They don’t want a script.  They want you to care, and not just about the curriculum you are teaching.  The curriculum is a vehicle to teach lessons that will never be in State Standards, Common Core, or any idiotic textbook maps, alignments, or whatever.  Bring “you” into the classroom, teach them something, and you will be rewarded with things that money can’t touch.

Your abilities are the most paramount thing to teaching these kids.  Don’t get wrapped up in all the conversation about technology.  Technology is a tool.  But it is currently being touted by everyone as one of the overwhelming necessities in the classroom.  It’s thought that if you don’t teach about or with technology you will doom the souls of your students to a purgatory filled with Wal-Mart Mac N’ Cheese and a constant loop of the movie Glitter on a drive-in screen.  That is not going to happen (we hope).  The iPad will not make you a substantially better teacher.  Neither will a QR Code.  Neither will Dropbox, Twitter, a blog, Wi-Fi, or the fastest computer this side of the HAL 9000.  Tech is a tool, not the focus of the teaching.  You listen long enough and it will sound like technology is a necessity.  Wrong.  Great teachers are a necessity.  The relationship between a teacher and the students is monumentally more important than the relationship between electronics and the student.  Period.

This is why you should ignore Flipping.  You should ignore it because if you try really, really hard to Flip your classroom, you will have found that you actually Flip much of it anyway.  Only you made your kids read, write, and didn’t bail them out by creating pretty videos.  Reading and writing is becoming a lost art in this world of technology.  You are bound by the ethics of teaching to stop that.  Technology is a wonderful thing.  But to the young minds that we teach technology has become an agitator against reading and writing.  It is the Echthroi, the Nothing, that which tempts people into a pit of ease and false serenity.  You must stop this.    Don’t do it as Atreyu or Charles Wallace, do it as yourself.  Bring your own talents and passions to the profession and bring about a new Renaissance of the read and written word.

The last thing I’ll throw out is to remember to focus on your students.  The most important things that will happen this year will happen within the four walls of your classroom, and almost all those other distractions are superfluous crap.  Unions will not make you a better teacher.  Neither will district-lead professional development.  Or pissing matches with colleagues.  Or confrontations with irrational parents.  Or anything that keeps you from focusing on best meeting the needs of the kids.  Learn to serve them in the best way possible.  Teach them.  Demand from them.  Hold them accountable.  Be there for them.  Support them.  Smile at them.  Shake their hands.  Laugh with them.  Cry with them.  Take this wonderful profession that you have chosen and do good.

Go.