Tag Archives: high school

Paper Wads and Spongebob: When Is It Time To Grow Up?

The picture is a pile of paper wads from a single day. Paper wads. The custodian forgot to finish sweeping the floor and left this in the middle of the room. (Sweeping floors is difficult for a one armed man I guess. He’s not an amputee or anything. I have just never seen him working without a cell phone plastered to his ear.) I have actually watched a student who regularly comes to class with no paper get up, walk across the room and borrow a piece of paper just to wad it up to throw it at someone. Mind you…This particular student won’t use paper to turn in an assignment or anything like that. He just likes to throw paper at other boys.

It made me start to wonder something. Is throwing paper wads a childish activity? Does it rate up there with pulling pigtails and spitballs? Or do grown-ups throw paper wads as well? I know that, as an adult, I have never thrown a paper wad at a colleague. Well, maybe once in a newsroom back when we still used typewriters. And I was either frustrated or flirting. Or both. Probably both. So maybe it is not the paper wads themselves I am worried about. It might be the importance of the paper wads. They just aren’t that important to me but to my 15-18 year old students, paper wads rank up there with cell phones, iPods and girls. And way above education.

So I soul search a little. Was throwing paper at another boy or in the vicinity of a trashcan as important to me when I was in high school? I think I have to say, “No. It wasn’t” I think I was way too busy doing other stupid things but I really can’t remember what those things might have been. Girls were definitely on the list. So were cars and making money. Music? Perhaps but it was all on LP and AM radio. I worked a lot in the summer and after school too. Maybe I didn’t have enough time for paper wads. So I am going to go out on a limb and say that it is a pretty silly thing to do at school when learning is supposed to be taking place.

SpongeBob Is The Antichrist

A sixteen year-old boy or girl should not care about cartoons. Cartoons should not play a significant role in any teenager’s life. But is this as true as it once was? A decade or so ago, some broadcasting genius realized that there was a vast and relatively untapped market out there to exploit. A veritable Bakken Formation of potential ad sales. That market was, of course, tweens. Entire networks soon opened up and were marketing directly to the 8 – 12 year-old demographic. The market expanded as program directors ordered shows that appealed to a wider age group. Parents could chuckle at the Fairly Odd-Parents and the little side jokes their kids would never get. They were too busy laughing at fart jokes and animated spit takes. And then there was SpongeBob. I think that SpongeBob just might be the Antichrist. Or is he?

I read this quote in the Atlantic. The article was SpongeBob’s Golden Dream by James Parker.

“SpongeBob is one of the greatest believers in the American dream in all of children’s entertainment,” says Greg Rowland, whose consultancy, Greg Rowland Semiotics, has performed brand analyses for Unilever, KFC, and Coca-Cola. “He’s courageous, he’s optimistic, he’s representing everything that Mickey Mouse should have represented but never did. There’s even something Jesus-like about him—a 9-year-old Jesus after 15 packets of Junior Mints.”

SpongeBob. Not only has he surpassed Mickey Mouse in terms of potential, he is like young Jesus on a sugar rush. Of course this might just be the definition of Antichrist…That and a broad appeal. Certain cartoon characters work because they reach across age demographics. Instead of being for 8 – 12 year-old viewers or 13 – 16. Now we can market to 8 – 25 or 35 or 55 year-old audiences. And that way, we never have to grow up. And that is a problem.

I don’t remember my father watching cartoons with me. He may have watched Bugs Bunny with me but I am sure that if he had, I would remember. Dad was a very busy guy and he worked very hard. Please recall that years ago, if a kid wanted to watch a cartoThe Monkeeson, he or she had to wait until Saturday morning where the big three networks aired them for three or four hours. That was it. And my dad used his Saturdays to sleep in. He deserved it. And he knew that Mom would be up and that the cartoons we were watching were harmless. So we sat and watched cheaply animated cartoons like Space Ghost, the Herculoids and Jonny Quest. Some weirder shows like H. R. Pufnstuf and the Banana Splits. And the Monkees. I have to admit, I still love the Monkees. And Lancelot Link.


So anyway…these broad appeal cartoons that started popping up in the 1990s have helped stunt the emotional and intellectual growth of our teenagers. I can mention groundbreaking TV shows in my classroom like Seinfeld or 24 and it results in blank stares. If I mention SpongeBob, even in passing, I can lose control of the room. Everything from a rousing chorus of, “Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?” to “SpongeBob? That’s my show, Boyeee!” Nobody gets that excited over Masterpiece Theater. But if we live in a perpetually stunted state of intellectual development, when will we willingly grow up? I once heard someone say that the definition of being an adult is developing the ability to listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. I guess that doesn’t really apply anymore…




Short Films: Day One

I thought that I might look around at some of my favorite short films and share them. The first comes from Philip Bloom. I really like everything about this film. I have watched it several times and see something more to like each time.

The history of the Salton Sea fascinates me. I have NO idea why this part of America’s past, present and future isn’t taught in school.

Bring in The Cat and Bar the Door! The President Wants to Talk to Our Kids!

On Tuesday September 8, 2009, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, will address the school children of America. And so far, I have received three different official reminders that some parents will be upset about this. Upset. About listening to the President. The President of the United States. Needless to say, I am stunned. But across the nation parents are keeping their children home rather than letting them become exposed to the words of the President. These are the same parents who will happily send their kids to school with the flu.

I Don’t Get It.

“Gang…You have a system that is wildly out of control. And they are capturing your kids…” Well that is what media mad-man, Glen Beck said on his radio show. He was talking in response to a caller’s shrill opposition to the very idea that the President would speak to her kids without her being there. Wow. That must be some message. Is it on AIDS? Birth control? Is the POTUS going to talk about the New World Order or the conversion of all Americans to the new national religion? It must be a heck of a message for people to get so worked up over it. Right? I mean the conservative whack jobs from the FAR right are calling it an “indoctrination”. Oooo…That sounds scary. So. What are we all worked up over?

Here It Is!

OK, brace yourselves people. Here is the essential question in Barack Obama’s speech. A quote from the actual transcript released from the White House prior to the speech being delivered. You might want to shoo the kids out of the room…

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Gasp! Wait…what? Everyone has a gift and staying in school can help you succeed? That commie!

Radio talker/big-box-of-crazy Michael Savage said, “Hitler had the Hitler Youth, and Obama would like to have the Obama Youth.” Really? The President said that? No, of course not, but the followers of Savage don’t know that. And Savage knows that they don’t but he keeps feeding people this crap so that his fearful audience will remain fearful and turn to him for guidance. And the occasional commercial message. You see, Hitler had an amazing propaganda machine and Michael Savage wants to be the Propaganda Czar for the next American Reich.  (Cool huh? Anybody can do it. You can try it at home too…Just subscribe to my new course “Be a Media Hack in 12 Easy Lessons or 6 Hard Ones.”)

The Great Communicator.

Ronald Reagan spoke to students once in 1988. I don’t remember a lot of weirdness surrounding it, even though he went on about taxes and the need for tax cuts. He also told the children, “I would say that the most important thing you can do is to ground yourself in the ideas and values of the American Revolution.” Can you imagine what would happen on conservative talk radio if Barack Obama said those exact same words?

My Problem With The Speech.

I have a minor problem with the President’s speech. Remember the quote from above? “Everyone has something they are good at?” Very, very true. however, No Child Left Behind won’t really allow that to happen. It is all about math and science. If you are artistic, you are considered “left behind”. How can teachers teach problem solving skills when they are teaching “the test”? How can they teach math when they are teaching “calculator” instead? In his speech, President Obama lists occupations for young people. Innovator, inventor, lawyer, mayor, Senator, soldier, nurse, doctor.

“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.But where does that leave the poets? The painters, the filmmakers? If a child wants to be an actor or a singer, that child is “quitting on his or her country”? I beg to disagree. Why are the arts the first thing to go in a bad economy in spite of all the research indicating that a grounding in the arts actually makes students achieve at a higher level?


I still don’t get it. If this were a message from the Pope, I would get it. But this is the President of The United States of America. The whole thing strikes me as being a bit unpatriotic.

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.

It’s Like An Old Friend Just Died.

I know that I promised to talk about my experiences making a student documentary called “Golden Grillz & Satan Likes Puppies” but something tragic has happened. My computer died yesterday.

It’s not like I have never lost a computer before. In fact, I am on my third home PC because my seven year-old eMachine finally died and went to wherever dead PCs go. Some say the scrapheap but I like to think that it has been released from its earthly bonds and is sitting in a field much like the Windows XP Desktop wallpaper. You know the one. Green fields and a lovely blue sky…

Anyway, PCs come and PCs go. Sure, we lost quite a bit of family stuff including all of my daughter’s digital pics and her iTunes library. Fortunately she still had most of the pics on her SD card and I was able to reload her iTunes from her iPod. Not as easy as it sounds. You have to sort of trick the computer into thinking that the iPod is an external hard drive and make it show the hidden files and then start loading things by hand.

But, as frustrating as it was, it was just another dead PC. I got a new one several days later. Another eMachines, this time with Vista. Microsoft Vista is not as bad as all the critics want you to believe. What is bad, as far as I can figure, is that it’s not Windows XP. And we hate change. I am no computer engineer and I am not a hard core gamer so my computer gets used pretty much like every other computer. For e-mail, the occasional casual game and some multi-media stuff like online video and some music. And for that, Vista is just fine. But I digress.

The computer that died was my school issued Apple iBook G4. It was a 14 inch laptop with a 1GHz G4 processor, somewhere around 640 MB of RAM. It was loaded with everything I needed to get through the day. Microsoft Office, Keynote, Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, Remote Desktop, Mac OS-X Leopard and some other stuff like video clips that I show every class. It was the first Mac I ever got my hands on and it was the start of something big.

My iBook allowed me to use a real live professional non-linear editing program. Before that, most of my editing was done tape-to-tape. It introduced me to Photoshop and it was love at first sight. So much of what my class is and so much of what we do is on that poor dead computer. I knew it was starting to die so I started to make back-ups of the important stuff like the iTunes library and most of my Photoshop files and a good chunk of my Microsoft Office documents and I have a mobile lab of eight newer and faster iBooks and I can use one for my very own, but it’s not the same. I really do miss my old iBook. Eight years is a pretty good lifespan for a laptop. Especially one that has been everywhere I have been.

It could be the hard drive or it could be the software or it could be the logic board. I don’t know and probably never will. School systems don’t like to spend money. So the little iBook that could will go into a pile of broken equipment that I keep in the storage closet. But before it went in there I cleaned it. I have no idea why but I used lint-free tissue, some alcohol and Q-Tips and removed all of the smudges, scuffs and dings and other badges of honor before I put it on a shelf.

I’ll put in a request for a replacement, maybe a Macbook Pro or an iMac. The requisition will be logged in, misplaced, found, sent back for clarification, resubmitted, lost again, re-resubmitted and then I will be told that it is “Up for Bid.” At that point, eight months to a year after the initial request, no one will remember ever having been asked if I can have a new classroom computer.

Classroom Video Part Two: Getting Started

If you mention classroom video to the average parent you bring up visions of some old 16 mm movie clacking away on a rickety old projector or, moving forward a decade or two, a VHS (remember those?) running on a 19 inch TV mounted up on the wall. The topics ran from PBS specials to hygiene movies. I personally loved the school bus safety movies. Lots of action and blood. Today, we run our classroom videos from DVD and use a dedicated player or a computer. But classroom video can mean so much more.

Using video production in the classroom can be fun, entertaining and meaningful for students no matter what grade they are in. From K through 12, making a video can impact student achievement and raise student interest in just about any subject. All it takes is a little equipment.

In my class we make our own videos and we don’t have a huge budget so we make do with consumer grade equipment. The kind of stuff you can buy from Circuit City or Best Buy or, for that matter, Wal-Mart. It gets kind of scuffed and some of it doesn’t even make it through the entire school year but it works well enough for us.


I am not a technical kind of guy. I am what you might want to call an end-user. I like what technology can do but I have absolutely no interest in how it works. I started editing video in 1979 and have worked in TV stations around the south ever since. I can’t talk at length about frequencies and diodes and other techie topics but I am absolutely dedicated to the creative side of the business. But as far as I’m concerned, computers work by magic.


We now have four whole camcorders as part of our classroom set. All four of them use a format called MiniDV. You want to stick with MiniDV if you plan to edit your videos rather than just showing them through the camera. We have three Canon ZR-930’s and one Panasonic PV-GS300. The Canons are very basic cameras with one extra benefit. They have an external microphone jack which allows students to plug in a wireless mic and boosts the audio quality immeasurably. Well…actually it is measurable but…never mind. The Panasonic is my favorite. It has three imaging devices instead of a single device, optical image stabilization and a pretty decent microphone. The video that comes off of this camera is great in terms of color saturation and clarity.

Of course a tripod is a requirement. It has two main functions. It reduces camera shake and reduces user fatigue. In other words, you can set up a tripod for hours and it never gets tired and it never gets shaky. Try that with a 9th grader. Look for one that is strong enough to hold the weight of your camera but if you’re using a consumer level camcorder, a twenty to thirty dollar tripod will work just fine.


As mentioned a little earlier, you want a camcorder that uses MiniDV tape. Not only is this becoming the standard format, it is just easier to work with when it comes time to edit. You will want to use a computer to edit in a style of editing called non-linear editing. It’s just easier to fix mistakes and the old linear, tape-to-tape equipment is expensive, slow and getting harder to find.

So you’re going to need a computer. We use Apples because Macs come out of the box with everything you need to download and edit video, create podcasts and author DVD’s. PC’s come with Microsoft Movie Maker which is a decent but somewhat limited editor. Other software is available and I have used Pinnacle Studio before with great success.

Then What?

Well, that’s up to you. Try to think of the video in terms of a text or an essay. Every movie a student makes is like a mini term paper. It requires thought, planning, research and some technology skill. Add that to the fact that kids just love TV and you can’t miss. Just give the class a topic, assign some jobs and let them run with it. It might encourage them even more if you post some of their work someplace like Teacher Tube. My class started an after school project with some local artists and filmmakers and their documentary ended up being shown around the city to great reviews. It was called “Golden Grillz & Satan Likes Puppies.” More on that in the next post.

Wow…Where Does the Time Go?

I sort of forgot that I was a “blogger.”

I started this because I wanted to stretch myself as an educator and as a writer and because I was out of books to read. I thought that forcing myself to write on a regular basis was going to be a great exercise in…well…something. So I started a blog. Or web-log, if you prefer. I think I’m too old to hip stuff up by making contractions out of it. Anyway, I was going through some old files on my computer trying to give the thing a data enema and I came across an interesting bookmark. Turns out it was mine. I had all but forgotten my own web-log. Last time I was here was January 30, 2008. And as I sit here on May 1st of the same year I have to wonder: Where did the last 2 months go?

The world has apparently kept turning and, since I’ve had to start cutting the grass again, the seasons have kept changing but it has been such a blur that I can hardly remember any of it.

Let’s see…My son broke his elbow at school and had to have it reconstructed at the expense of my insurance company. It took 15 staples to close up the hole the doctor made in his arm and he has been in a cast for almost three weeks now. The pins used will stay in his arm until “they start to bother him.” Thanks Doc. The school’s response?  They are threatening to fail him because he missed too many days. You see, if a student in Tennessee misses more than 4 days, the school can fail him or her or force the student to make the days up in an after school program. And they wonder why we have so many drop-outs. Anyone have the name of a really good, really sleazy personal injury lawyer?

Gas has gone up to the point that I am starting to worry about getting to work. I have a pretty long commute. Long enough that I have to change my oil every six weeks. You do the math.

I read a story on the ABC News web site about a 14 year-old kid who snapped due to some bullying he was forced to endure. Young Brent Clark was tired of it and took a knife to school to deal with the bully. The bully was out of school that day and Brent went a little nuts and took his frustration out on a female classmate. He didn’t hurt her but he scared the crap out of her and let her go. The next morning his mom looked in his backpack and it was filled with the kind of stuff that kids think will help them kill all the kids the bug them. A gun, some knives and the ubiquitous duct tape. The parents took Brent to the police and they promptly arrested him and held him for months at a juvenile detention facility.

The reason this story got to me was that Brent says that he never intended to kill anyone. He just wanted to stir them up enough to call the police. When they arrived, Brent was going to rush out “shooting so the police would just shoot him and end it.” It wasn’t an attempted school murder rampage, it was an attempted suicide. It made me sad and angry. Something has broken in our perfect little society and I wish I knew what it was.

And lots more stuff happened along the way. And then I rediscovered my web-log. I gave it long critical look and did not like what I saw. Too disjointed and too technical. I’m going to revamp it. If I remember to.

So, to all ten of you who have actually been here, I will strive to show up more often. I might even finish the Video in the Classroom series. And I plan to talk about my experience at the Magnet Schools of America National Conference. My presentation was called “Golden Grillz & Satan Likes Puppies”.

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