Monthly Archives: September 2008

When A PBL Blows Up In Your Face…

Take a look at the last post about the concepts involved in image advertising. In that, I discussed the struggle I have had explaining the most basic of concepts to my students. I chalked it up to the fact that this was the very first time that any of these kids had any exposure to this information. Teaching media is not like teaching math. I am not building on 8-11 years of math instruction. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that my colleagues in the Math Department feel the same frustration at times. It’s just that I can imagine them being able to break down a new concept to the point where a student says, “Oh yeah…I’ve learned that.” Even if it means going all the way back to addition and subtraction. Hey, it’s a starting point…

But this Problem Based Learning exercise has been a disaster. I don’t understand it. Not only am I running it the exact same way I have for years, I have added a great deal of new information for students to put in their “Know” column. Their “Need to Know” columns have very little potential anymore. Maybe that’s the problem. Or maybe, just maybe, the problem is theirs and theirs alone.

On looking around the classroom today, here is what is going on. The group directly in front of me is discussing the merits of saying “Mother-sucker” as opposed to the other, more traditional way, of using mother-(insert favorite expletive here) and whether or not they can get in trouble for it. My answer, “No.” I pick my battles and that isn’t one of them since they never used the actual “F” derivative.

A group of boys are exploring their fascination with wadded-up paper and the garbage can across the room. I find it odd that kids who never seem to have paper for assignments always seem to have paper for this little exercise.

Two other boys are engaged in a little game of slap-and-tickle. I don’t know what else to call it. They basically just chase each other around the room giggling and touching each other. Tag? Nope. Slap-and-tickle.

In the back of the room, two girls are exploring the exciting and lucrative career of cosmetology. They’re doing each others hair. But hey, we need salon workers as much as we need french-fry chefs and oil-changers and, probably, way more than we need more advertising agents.

Two other groups are hard at work on their culminating presentation and, from here, it looks like they are doing it right.

So, you might fairly ask, where is the classroom management? Good question. Part of the PBL make-up is that “teachers take on the role of facilitator.” I was facilitating. I was facilitating my butt off. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t put a stop to extra-curricular activities. It means that I just let my wayward charges go on for a little while and then casually walked up to the offenders and asked them, “What are you doing?” When they told me the truth I asked them, “What are you supposed to be doing?” They usually just get right back to work when they realize that I’m paying attention.

Today I did their assignment. I gave a presentation that I had made up with all the elements that they are supposed to add to their own. I then called for questions and told them, “If your presentation doesn’t even remotely resemble mine, please raise your hands.” 90% of the hands in class shot up. We are three and a half weeks into a two week assignment and I just told them all to re-do it. Fun.


Teaching Advertising: The Concept of Image.

Just like every year, we are just starting out with our advertising simulation. The way it works is the students in my high school media class break into groups of three and form advertising agencies. They are given a letter from a fictitious company asking the newly formed ad agencies to submit samples in order to be considered for a new campaign contract. The letter is included in a student packet of information and the exercise is the culmination of somewhere around two weeks of exercises including seminars, lectures, web search safaris and a PBS video on advertising to teens called “The Merchants of Cool.”

The letter from the fictitious corporation has this paragraph in it:

“Of course, I should not have to mention that we will be looking for a sophisticated agency able to offer us a new corporate image, to suggest target markets for our products, and to incorporate effective advertising design and technique into the sample advertisements submitted.”

The problem I am having is the idea of corporate image. There is nothing I can do to get all the kids to “get it” at the same time. Too many are stuck on the definition of image as a picture. But image in terms of advertising is so much more than just a picture.

Finding the correct definition of image can be difficult for a kid growing up in a mediated society. Our students have come to expect the answers to be delivered to them in some form. The desire to search and learn is difficult to access. Reading comprehension is on the decline. If I could rap these definitions or write them into a comic book, TV show, podcast or sportscast, I might have better success. But I’m not that multi-talented.

Image: From a Google Search, “Define:image.”

  • An iconic mental representation.
  • A personal facade that one represents to the world.
  • Picture.
  • A standard or typical example.
  • Double, as in “the spitting-image.”
  • Visualize, as in creating a mental picture.
  • The general impression that something presents to the public.

Image in advertising is a way for a corporation to promote the positive aspects of a product or a company rather than dwelling on the “nuts and bolts” of that product. Image advertisements like those that represent Nike’s “Fitness Lifestyle” image, for example, do not mention price-points or particular Nike products.

Nike image advertisement.

Nike image advertisement.

But it can be hard to impress on some students the differences between the definitions of the word image. I have had three student groups, so far, bring me a picture and ask, “Is this a good corporate image?” Others are keying in on corporate images that are easy, like “comfortable.”

I am not certain why this group of teenagers are finding it difficult to accept the concept of image advertising. At best estimates, these kids see 3,000 ads every day and many of those are aimed directly at them. Image advertising attempts to usurp their need for self-identification by offering them the quick and easy solution of a pre-packaged corporate personality. Sprite did it a few years ago when they aggressively went after the hip-hop market. Their sales went up and their “Q-Factor” as a soda quadrupled. Sprite has since moved away from this marketing strategy but it was undeniably successful.

Now, how does Sprite equal hip-hop in anybody’s mind? It takes an advertiser to make the connection. I imagine the thought process went some thing like, “I have a product without any real identity outside of the fact that it’s a lemon-lime soda. I also have a lifestyle that is sweeping across all demographics and doing very well in crossover markets so…1+1=2.” Cynical? Sure. Did it work?? Without a doubt.

This is the first time I have had this much trouble getting this particular concept across. I want to blame myself but one class gets it, the other doesn’t. What I need to do is to find some way to distinguish the small differences between the classes in terms of educational demographics and start teaching to the differences. It could mean more PowerPoints, fewer PowerPoints, more hand-outs or seminars or something. All I know is that the answer is out there. I also know that, while this is an abstract concept to some, the notion of image in advertising isn’t all that abstract. Especially not when compared to what is to come after graduation.

Adult Human Contact

It just occurred to me that I went the entire day yesterday without a single adult conversation until I got home. That’s close to 10 hours without a conversation about politics, gas prices, good places to visit on a budget or who has the best Mexican food in town. The kinds of things that make up casual conversation with our peers.

I can tell when I am getting starved for that kind of interaction. I spend WAY too much time talking to the clerk at the gas station or I try to engage complete strangers in a discussion standing in line at the Wal-Mart. Stuff like that. Or I just wander into another classroom and spend all together too much time trying to spark a debate or a petty complaint session. It makes me dull and uninteresting.

Most of my conversations yesterday involved the sparkling wit of teenagers. “This stuff is boring.” “Why do we gotta have a dress code?” “How come I failed that quiz?” “Why is lunch so bad when they charge us $2.40?” And like a moron, I answer them.

This Stuff is Boring.

“Yes. School can sometimes seem boring. It bored me when I was in school. But I never let my need for entertainment outweigh my desire to succeed. Learning isn’t about memorization it’s about skills. Learn the correct set of skills, including surviving boredom, and you will become a fully realized adult who is ready to accomplish anything. Tell me how to make it less boring for you and I will try and tell you how to make it less boring for yourself.”

If that doesn’t work I tell them, “When it says Six Flags on the sign out front, you can complain about the lack of entertainment.” OK…I really say that to myself but the point stands.

Why Do We Have a Dress Code?

“Dress codes exist everywhere we go. We dress one way for work, another way for church and even another way to hang out with our friends. Dressing a certain way for school is just another code we have to live by.”

The fact is, I don’t like a dress code for high school students. It stifles creativity, has the appearance of placing a school’s emphasis on something other than education and takes up way too much of a teacher’s day. We shouldn’t be fashion cops. I didn’t have a dress code in high school beyond wearing appropriate clothing. If I wanted to wear a “Jaws” t-shirt to the first day of school, I could.

But some schools have a real need for dress and/or uniform codes. Gang culture has placed an importance on certain colors that just didn’t exist when I was in high school. Intruders are coming into our schools and killing our children. A school uniform just makes it easier to sort out who belongs on campus and who doesn’t. So…I guess I’m on the fence. I can really see both sides of the issue. Except in terms of hair. If a girl or boy wants to go to school with pink hair, let them. It will not be a distraction to education. And it’s the only thing a young person cannot change when he or she gets home.

How Come I Failed That Quiz/Assignment/Presentation/Whatever?

“There are many things to consider when measuring success, especially your own success. Did you complete all the steps in a timely manner? Was everything complete and did you check all of your work? Do you really understand the assignment? If you don’t, did you come to me and explain your needs? I will be happy to meet with you before or after school if you need more help? Or set you up with a peer tutor?”

What I want to say is, “You failed because you didn’t study, were more concerned with your cell phone, your iPod, what Susie wrote on her Facebook page or whatever. Sit down, stop talking and do your work.” But I don’t because it sounds mean. And maybe it is. But it’s what they told me in school and it worked.

Why is Lunch so Bad When It Costs $2.40?

“Uhmmm…I got nuthin’…except maybe that $2.40 isn’t really a lot (NOT ALOT!) when you consider what it costs in the real world.”


There are days when I hope for a meeting just so some adults can talk about adult things in an adult way. Like today.

Random Thoughts

I really don’t have an agenda here. I’ve been thinking. Sometimes that works out well and sometimes…not so well. So here are some random thoughts.

Grading Stuff

I am sitting here grading papers during my planning period. Progress reports are due today and I just realized that I haven’t graded a single thing in almost four weeks. Why? I just hate grading is all. There are so many inconsistencies involved with grading. For example, A’s and B’s are weighted with 7 points. C’s are weighted with 9 points, D’s with 4 points and F’s get a 69 point spread. Something feels wrong about that but because I didn’t spend my college years learning about education, I can’t figure out what it is. The whole 100-90, 89-80, thing just made sense. Sort of metric. And what’s with the F’s?

Why does a student have a 69 point window to fail and just a 7 point window to get an A? Its a good thing dart boards aren’t set up that way. Looking at in total, that’s a 31 point window to pass and a 69 point window to fail. But I like to think that since life is pretty much set up that way, it’s getting our students ready for reality. Like I said..random thoughts.

Another reason I don’t like grading is that it is almost like an indictment of my abilities as a teacher. Almost. If I give a 10-point quiz and the class percentage is 81% passing, I can sort of say, “They got it.” But if the class average is say, 63% I can’t in all honesty say, “Stupid kids…they should listen better.” But what if the same quiz were given to two different sessions of the same class and one group passed and one group failed? And I, as the teacher, didn’t do anything different? My head is starting to hurt.

So I put on some Miles Davis and plunged in and graded everything. Thank-you Miles.


I stay out of political commentary as a rule because I don’t feel like I am qualified to discuss it above the water-cooler level. But Sen. McCain’s choice of a running mate feels like pandering to me. All this time the Republicans were campaigning on the notion that Barack Obama was too inexperienced to be the President of The United States, that he enjoys celebrity status more than political status. So who does the GOP offer as a running mate? The role of the female on the big political ticket will now be played by Sarah Palin.

Young, depending on your point of view, attractive and, above all, just “plain folks.” Alaska hockey mom makes it to the bigs. Just like the movies. Only this is real life where the vice president is a step away from the presidency. McCain is 72 years-old and a four time cancer survivor. I have nothing against the man but I am also occasionally realistic. Palin went from the PTA to the city council of Wasilla, Alaska. As mayor of that city she went as far as to discuss the banning of books in the local library and may have threatened to fire the librarian for not giving the mayor’s office her full support.

Sarah Palin is a half-term governor who will be a heart-beat away from the presidency. I think that if I met her I would really like her. Athletic, smart, an NRA member and the kind of person who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.

See...She's Just Like Us.

See...She's Just Like Us.

She seriously sounds like someone I would like to sit and have a cup of coffee with one morning. But I can’t vote for her because it feels like stunt casting. Like it’s sweeps week and some TV show that is failing in the ratings brings in a “Very Special Guest Star.” Sorry…I may be open-minded but I’m not that open-minded.

Nickelodeon Has Ruined it For All of Us.

If you watch a show on Nickelodeon and it takes place in a school, who is the dumbest person in the room? No more phone calls folks, we have a winner…Yes. It’s the teacher. And dumber than the teacher? The Principal. “Saved by the Bell,” “Ned’s Declassified High School Survival Guide,” “Drake and Josh” among others consistently show the students as the clever ones, the smart ones and the ones who are fighting the oppression they are dealt out at the hands of their teachers. It never seems to be about learning and striving to succeed in an increasingly technological society. Success is measured in how they get over on the teacher.

What that translates to in the classroom is a group of generally disinterested kids who wonder why school isn’t like it is on TV. Or am I just oversimplifying things?


When did our foreign policy jump the track to the point of underestimating the nationalism of Russia? Were we so concerned with Iraq and the war on terrorism that we forgot that the rest of the world kept on turning? Or did we really forget that other people and other countries just aren’t like us?

I don’t know why this surprises me. It just does.

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