Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Principal’s Office

I watched a new show on TV last night. “The Principal’s Office” (TPO) airs on TRU-TV, the new name for what used to be known as Court-TV. TPO follows administrators from three schools in Connecticut, New Jersey and Arkansas as they try to instill a modicum of order on their respective campuses.  The reviews are mixed but I thought it was, at the very least, fun and a little informative. It’s good to know that we all face the same challenges.

The offenses that came before the principals were seemingly petty. Skipping classes, excessive tardies and cell phone use. But those are the kinds of problems that most teachers can relate to. My guess is that the real meaty issues can’t be aired due to the ages of the kids in question. It takes some of the substance out of the show and the producers compensate by going for laughs.

Some of what I saw was interesting. All three schools had a well published, well disseminated violation chart. If a student breaks a school rule the principal looks at the chart and says, “This is your punishment for breaking that rule.” No negotiations allowed. Fair for one, fair for all. It’s a great idea because even the best, most even-handed administrator can administer justice unfairly without meaning to. We are all absent-minded, distracted or just plain overwhelmed from time to time. This way everyone is treated the same way and Susie can’t complain that Johnny only got one day of In School Suspension (ISS) when she did the same thing and got three days.

As I said, the reviews were mixed, ranging from Boston Globe reporter Joanna Weiss‘ generally positive look at the show to Verne Gay’s scathing comments on Newsday.com. Weiss wrote a passage in her review that struck home.

Still, if there’s a case to be made that today’s teens are too pampered, too coddled, and too quick to emulate wiseass cartoon characters, this show makes it loudly.

Verne Gay wasn’t as empathetic.

We can all marvel at the extent to which reality TV continues to explore and exploit the human condition, but the principal’s office? Producers play this for laughs, though just slightly. (These are high school kids, after all.) Even so, the show’s flat and almost stunningly uninformative.

I liked the show and so did my 16 year-old daughter. She even put off a phone call to her boyfriend to watch it with me and that alone was worth the price of admission. I recommend The Principal’s Office to anyone who has ever stepped into a classroom and had to face down 20-odd teenagers who have been raised by their television sets, video game consoles and iPods and were tasked with making sure that No Child is Left Behind.

My only complaint about the show is that, as I mentioned, the violations are minor ones that are often played for their comic effect. You can not point a camera at a person and expect them to behave the way they always do. Principals across America face challenges their forefathers did not. Government interference, crashing budgets, children with murderous intent and scores of other problems. In Knoxville, Tennessee a 15 year-old student was shot in the chest and died because of an argument that two young men were having in the school cafeteria. I get the feeling that we won’t see that on The Principal’s Office.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the show. Steve Halter from Arkansas stopped a young man in the hall and told him, “Don’t be a knucklehead, son. There’s no future in it.”

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I Love This Song…

OK…I know this has nothing to do with education but I love this song…Always have.

If you can’t see it…let me know. It’s a You Tube video of Richard Thompson – 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.


A Teacher Revisits His Sins

OK…as I said in the last post, bookwork isn’t teaching. But I did it anyway…

I assigned my Media Concepts class to read Chapter one of their book and they were to do the definitions in the front of the chapter and the review questions at the back of the chapter. So…how’d it go?

Chapter One: Old School Style

I gave the assignment to the general delight of section one and to the absolute horror of section two. The general consensus of the morning session was that we were officially starting the year. They were very comfortable with the book and the idea of writing out definitions. The review questions kind of threw them off but they completed them without any worry. The chapter quiz? The failure rate was 100%

The afternoon section did not agree with the morning session. The second I said, “Grab a textbook…” a collective moan was let out by the crowd. I basically had to beg them to just trust me this one time. So they grabbed the book and started on the definitions and review questions. The quiz failure rate was 100%.

Why 100%

The only thing that I can come up with was that the information covered in chapter one of this book was brand new information. It wasn’t review and it was never covered in any class the students have ever had. It was essentially about the business end of the television production industry. Brand new information delivered from a book and followed up with a quiz is a recipe for failure.

Multi-Media Version of Chapter One

OK…I simply delivered the same information with a PowerPoint (Apple Keynote actually) and stopped between topics for Q & A and feedback. All the definitions were on the slides but kind of worked into the topic. Not just “DEFINE CCTV.” The review questions were also all answered during the presentation.

Students were given clarification when needed, real-world examples were given and “Think Time” was provided in order to answer questions. “Think Time” is when I give them a question and nobody is allowed to answer until everyone has time to formulate an answer. Most of the kids can get the answer, some just take a little longer to put the right words together.

Results? Failure rate on the quiz dropped to 15-20%. Not bad for new and abstract ideas and way better than 100%. So I have redeemed my sins by following up the correct way and learned some cool stuff too.

Notes

I polled my afternoon block and got some answers.

How many read the Chapter and THEN answered the questions.  0/24

How many got the definitions from the chapter?                          1/24

How many went straight to the glossary?                                    23/24

How many could answer the Review questions?                            0/24

How many read the question and skimmed for keywords?            7/24

How many asked a neighbor for help?                                           1/24

How many never bothered with the questions?                            16/24

Nothing scientific here…just some casual observations. Feel free to comment.


The Cardinal Sin of Teaching

I am doing it right now. I am not teaching today but all the kids think I am. It is because they have been programmed to believe that what I am doing is actually teaching and, quite frankly, it makes them comfortable, calm and happy. What is this sin that I am committing that looks, feels and smells like teaching but really, really isn’t? Bookwork.

Yes, I said it. Bookwork. It was a weird weekend that culminated when I opened a box with my little executive Swiss Army Knife. I went to put the blade back in and didn’t realize that the knife was upside-down. I pushed what I thought was the back of the blade and sliced deep into my index finger. By the time Monday morning had rolled around, I got out of the car and realized that between the house and work, I had lost my glasses.

OK…it sounds like no big deal. A “just get over it it” sort of day. But I couldn’t think straight for some reason and since I had to cover this stuff anyway, I told the kids to get the book and read Chapter One. And *gasp* do the vocabulary words and the review questions. Definitions and chapter questions. And the kids were OK with it. “It’s about time we did some real school work” was just one response I got.

Real school work? Is that really where we are in this country? My daughter had an Algebra teacher in the 9th grade who decided that the book was a better teacher than he was. She failed. She’s the kind of kid that needs some bio-mechanical learning. “Show one, do one, teach one” is what we used to say in the Navy.

But bookwork isn’t teaching. It’s taking the day off. But the kids are OK with it because they are used to it. When educational success is measured byhigh-stakes testing scores, all most teachers can do is “teach to the test.” Because we all know that if a child fails to perform, it is the fault of the teacher and the teacher alone…right? I mean, there can be no outside influences can there? Or is that like grading dentists on how many cavities their patients get?

So, in order to get back on the teaching treadmill, I will cover the exact same material and then let the kids seminar about the different approaches and tie it all in to communication. I might even let them design the technological classroom of the future.


Another Year Begins…

Well it’s that time of year again…the start of the new semester. Students will be coming in filled with anxiety and dread, the same things that I feel every year at this time. But I have something going for me that they do not. An ability to look beyond the now and see the end to the means. I don’t require instant gratification and I don’t need to be entertained at all times. And, for the most part, I like being here. I just hope that I can find new and interesting ways to keep the kids from zoning out within the first thirty minutes of class.

We are looking for new ways to teach the same old stuff in my media and media production classes. I want it to be more relevant, not only to the students and myself but to the community at large. And especially to the business community. I believe that teachers have sort of become a victim of their own press. We start to think that we really are here to instill a love of learning into the hearts and minds of our youth. While some of that may be true, we are really here to help these kids get into the workforce, ready to take on their role as productive citizens, consumers, parents and, one hopes, community leaders.

Of course we do that through a thorough educational foundation but who are we kidding? I have not even thought about Beowulf since high school and when I am standing in line at the grocery store I don’t need calculus to make sure I have the correct change. But I’m glad I learned them. You figure out a geometric proof and you can think your way out of any problem. Learn to read Shakespeare and really understand it and a technical manual looks like “See Spot Run.” Learning to think is the single most important skill a child can develop. Couple that with some imagination, a good work ethic and a feeling of self-worth and today’s students will be tomorrow’s scientists, doctors and civil leaders.

So anyway, a new year begins, new faces arrive, we are uncomfortable around each other for a couple of weeks and then everything starts to smooth over. We get to know each other, develop trust and fall into a familiar pattern. By the end of the semester we are working as a team, accomplishing things we never thought possible and then it ends just as abruptly as it began just to start all over again in the new year.


The Olympics

This is a quickie…

I was watching the opening ceremonies from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and was struck by the artistry, the technology and the design that went into the ceremony as well as the architecture of the new buildings and stadiums. But one question kept nagging at me.

What impact would the artists and designers and craftsmen of China have had on world culture if the Chinese government had allowed its people to spread out and prosper? Would we all be driving Chinese cars? Would the people of the United States understand more about China? More than just Mu Shu Pork?

An entire nation forced to keep its light under a basket. Maybe the Olympics will help.


I Know…I Know…

It’s Been A While.

I haven’t been here for a while. I took the summer off and thought only about myself and my family but not in that order. I also watched some TV, played some video games and surfed the Internet. Got outside a lot too but my baseball throwing buddy had a broken elbow all summer so we had to pick the safer alternatives.

I’m going to ramble on about some of my observations.

MMORPG

I now have a new understanding of “those people” who get totally immersed into the world of Massively Multi-player On-line Role Playing Games. The MMORPG or, to abbreviate the abbreviation, MMOs.

I used to look at Everquest players and World of WarCraft (WOW) players as a bit odd. You know…like pasty faced basement dwellers living on a steady diet of Red Bull, Pop-Tarts and Hot Pockets. Ten dollars or more a month to sit at a computer in order to pretend you’re someone else while going on virtual quests to gain virtual money and virtual fame and make virtual friends seemed like a pastime for people without any actual friends. I didn’t get it. But now I do.

When my youngest broke his elbow I looked for things that he could do that wouldn’t re-injure him.  I was seeing some commercials on TV about Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean Online (POTCO). I looked it up and, since it was free (HA!), I started an account for us and downloaded the game. I made my pirate and immediately started my first quest. Before I knew it, I had lost an entire night’s sleep, made new, albeit virtual, friends and had completely changed my attitude about MMOs and the people that play them.

Most of the players I have made contact with are parents just like me. People who have like interests and are just blowing off a little steam by thrashing around at skeletons, the evil East India Trading Company and various monsters and undead villains. And chatting about life in general. I have actually logged on and spent the entire time just chatting. Who knew you could have an interesting adult conversation while playing an on-line game? I sure didn’t.

But the free account didn’t feed the addiction because it is limited. Very limited. Ten bucks a month? OK…I’ll do it. I just have to remember to put it in the checkbook every month. But as I was playing I learned some things.

First off, POTCO really is populated with with people just like you and me. Mostly. There are a lot of kids there too and kids can be a little weird. First off, the avatars that you play with represent good looking people.  wish I could look like my pirate. But after a while I started to realize that the boy pirates were hitting on the girl pirates. It’s as if they really believe that the people behind the girl pirate avatars look just like their on-line pirate picture. I actually saw a group of higher level players trying to get a crew together for a boss battle and a lower level girl pirate asked if she could join. She was politely told no. Her reply was, “Is it because you think you’re prettier than me?” I was taken aback by the logic and self-doubt that it must have taken to even make that statement. I found myself wanting to console the poor little pirate but I had to remind myself that the world of POTCO isn’t real.

Marathons.

I watched more TV than usual this summer. Cable networks run a lot of marathons. All I could think was, “Just how lazy are program directors?” I mean, even if the marathon in question is my favorite show, am I willing to spend an entire day watching reruns of it? How much thought is put into running a marathon? Try a little creative programming once in a while.

Doctor Who.

Best show on TV period. Whether you catch it on SciFi or BBC America you should really try to watch it. And speaking of BBC America, Top Gear is pretty good too. And so is Life on Mars and Torchwood.

The Office.

The other best show on TV…period.

College Football.

Without it, life is just a little bit more dreary. Go Vols.

Anyway…

That’s about it. An uneventful summer and the start of a new school year. Changes are in the wind and, like always, some of them are good and some of them we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be here though and hope some of you will be too.


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