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.