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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What's Really Important? No...Really

Educators have a way of making everything seem important. I still enjoy the challenge from students and colleagues, when I say, "Everything is Social Studies." The only reason to truly know math is to take care of your finances, or build things that will make someone money, which is about economy, which is about standard of living, which is a social studies issue. The only reason to know Language Arts is to become literate enough to know the best way to make money in the area in which you live (in good times, and bad) which is an issue of economics, which is about standard of living, which is a social studies issue. The only reason to know science...yada, yada, yada...which is a social studies issue.

But really. What is truly important in life? Why do we (humans) try to make the easy things difficult? Could it be as simple as "Nature Boy" sung by Nat King Cole:
There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
"the greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return"
My mom passed away last Sunday. I left my classroom Friday at noon, to drive 6 hours to be with her, as were my siblings. By the time I arrived she was unable to talk, but could hear, and respond with smiles and eyebrows. She had her eyes open for about 3 hours after I arrived. She attempted to talk to me, but no longer possessed the strength to do so.

She knew her four children were with her. She slept from 11:00 Friday night until 6:32 Sunday morning. She took her final breath Sunday morning, and it was quiet, peaceful, and in a strange, surreal way -- beautiful.

Mom deserved a peaceful passing. She was a loving wife (for 57 years - Dad passed away in 2004) and mother. She once said to me that we'd have more if your father wouldn't try to help everyone who needed help. Yet it was Mom who tried to help every kid in the neighborhood. We had that kind of a house where my sibling's friends would come to eat. My friends called my mom, "Mom." I actually took extra milk money to school for several years because Mom thought one of my friends might need it.

She was a special lady, and apparently not just to me. After the funeral, I went into a local store to buy a pair of shorts, because I was going back to the house to do some cleaning and other things for which wearing a suit was not conducive. I was the only customer in the store, when I heard the doors open. Two ladies, probably in their late 50s or early 60s came in. I heard one of them say, "Janet Murry was buried this morning."

They didn't know I was there, and they wouldn't know me if they saw me. I just thought to myself, "Please don't say anything else. I just don't want to hear it right now." I guess I was feeling the possibility that someone would say the things we don't want to hear about the ones we love, yet we know they think.

The 2nd lady commented that someone else had passed away yesterday (although I did not catch the name). Then it happened...they kept talking...and all I could do was hope to get out of the store before they said something that would make me a) angry, b) cry, or c) fight back.

"We lost two of kindest ladies in town. What will all the shut-ins do without them?"

"Yep, we sure will miss them. You know they say the good ones go in threes. I'd sure hate to lose another one like them. It will really hurt [our little town]."

As I stopped by the check out counter, I saw the ladies nearby. I said, "Thanks for saying nice things about my mom."

"Who is your mother?"

"Janet," I replied.

"She sure was a wonderful woman. She was a saint. You were blessed to have her."

Yes I was. I'm just not sure I always knew that.

So what's really important...in the long run.

Not that we can do calculus. Not that we can understand Shakespeare. Not that we can prove Einstein's theory of relativity. Not that we can associate everything in life with Social Studies.

Perhaps it's about the idea of service to our fellow man. To love them...and be loved in return.

Until our curriculum has a bit more of that concept in it, I don't expect school will get much more interesting to students.

Note:Publications of professor-marvel.com or associated works (unless specifically labeled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The views expressed here are my own and reflect only my opinion.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We Don't Vote For Presidents Anymore...

we vote for who we think will win.

I have tried to put this into words for the past several years, and I am getting closer to what I mean inside my brain, but words are difficult to use to describe the subtlety of my argument. But here goes...

Since Watergate, the media has come to believe they are in the business of making the news rather than reporting it. They did not reveal JFKs indiscretions, but began to wonder about LBJ during the Civil Rights Movement, then with Nixon, they cut loose.

This is not an argument of should the media do this or not. It is a simple statement of my take on a transition of the perceived purpose of the media.

Here is the crux of my argument: We do not vote for who we think will best serve the country as President -- we vote for who we think will win the presidency.

Let me try to explain. In my voting lifetime, beginning in 1980, I have witnessed a subtle shift in the thinking process of American citizens.

We are a nation that seeks to win.

The Olympics is representative of this fascination we have with winning. Which country won the Olympics? It depends on whose paper you read. Do you just count Gold Medals? Total Medals? Place a point value on the medals (3 for gold, 2 for silver, 1 for bronze) and add up the points?

Further, Americans who don't win personally, are quick to associate themselves with winners, as if this vicarious association will reflect the winning nature of the non-entrant. That is why we frequently see "fans" become numerous at the end of the season of winning teams, when there were open seats at the start. The "fair-weather fan" seeks to associate with those who are winning.

Now for the transfer to presidential elections. I am not convinced people vote for the person they believe has the best qualifications for the needs of the nation at a given time. [I not really convinced people know what the nation needs at most times - cynical, I know.] I believe, through the media, polls, and appearance (again Nixon vs. Kennedy - TV debate) people who do vote, frequently vote for the one they believe will be the winner, just to associate themselves with the one who won.

I seldom speak to people who know what the issues are, forget what the candidates believe about the issues. And this counts educators too. Education is not the only issue. NCLB, regardless of where one stands, is a relatively small issue in the context of the world today. And believe it or not, education is not always the answer to problems. I've met too many educated idiots, and you have too.

So when a student asks me, "Who are you going to vote for?" I tell them the truth. I haven't made up my mind yet. I don't know enough about where they stand on the issues, nor have I really prioritized the issues I think are important yet. That will come over the next 2 weeks. Is education part of the list? Yes, but not in the top 5 at this point. I'm more concerned about the banking situation, oil & alternative fuel, taxes, international affairs and economics, and our commitment to curtailing terrorism and protecting our country than I am about education right now.

And now for something that hit me today...Constitution Day

My classes watched a 20 minute, overview about the U.S. Constitution. In the video, a comment was made that led me to say to my classes, something like...
What make the United States great is the fact that we are not a country governed by people. We are governed by law. We are supposed to be equal under the law, and not have to worry about the whims or biases of a monarch, dictator, or royal family.
The president, by the Constitution, has very limited power. Yet, every four years, we look for which "rock star" we want to represent us. It has become a popularity contest. Perhaps we should remember the wise comments of Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci) in the movie With Honors: The Constitution limits the president to being nothing more than a servant of the people. He is, in essence, a bum and the only bliss he should be seeking is freedom and justice.

Direct Link
[If you have not seen this movie, why not?!]

Note:Publications of professor-marvel.com or associated works (unless specifically labeled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The views expressed here are my own and reflect only my opinion.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Classroom Videos With YouTube

Why YouTube? Because that's where my kids are anyway.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have started a classroom blog (Room 755). It is a daily post of our activities in class, with a little commentary at times. Hey, I'm the writer, publisher, and editor - I can do what I want, right?

Well, today in class, my students began putting pencils to poster board (computers will come later Web 2.0 folks). I interviewed each group about where they were in the process. I asked several questions before my Flip Camera began recording, so the students knew what I was looking for when I came to their table.

I took my Flip to my MacBook, converted the .AVI files to .MP4 files using iSquint, then uploaded the videos to YouTube. Most videos were between 15-25 seconds. It took about a total of 90 minutes to do all this and post the links to my Room 755 blog.

Yes, that is time intensive. But my students were excited to know that they had the opportunity to be "seen" online. No faces are shown...just voices and poster board.

If you would like to take a look, you can go to my YouTube channel or Room 755.

P.S. - My kids think it is pretty cool that Miguel and Steven have commented. Thanks guys. Any others who want to drop by?

Note:Publications of professor-marvel.com or associated works (unless specifically labeled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The views expressed here are my own and reflect only my opinion.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel

For three straight hours this morning, Samantha Brown helped me travel to China. We went to Xian, Sichuan, and Beijing. My wife came trotting down the hallway because she heard Samantha promo the Terracotta soldiers, said to be the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century. So I set the Tivo to record.

Why was this important to me? First, I begin teaching China in a few weeks (days actually). Second, the 7th grade Social Studies department (there are 4 of us) are trying to work out details to take our 500 7th graders to the High Museum in Atlanta to see the exhibit of the Terracotta soldiers.

In essence, the curator of the museum in China told Samantha (and me) that the clay soldiers were secretly buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife, much like the Pharoahs did in Egypt.

Now for kudos to the Travel Channel. All three episodes are available through iTunes for $1.99 each or $4.99 for all three and any future episodes in the series. TV the way it should be.

A poorly done movie is available too: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (The Mummy 3). I really liked the first two, but I think it is because Rachel Weisz was in those, and absent from #3. Either she made a good choice to stay out of Mummy 3 or she is the one who really made Mummy 1 & 2 as good as they were.

Note:Publications of professor-marvel.com or associated works (unless specifically labeled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The views expressed here are my own and reflect only my opinion.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Adding More Cowbell

I am the Man Behind Blue Eyes - but I always knew something was missing.

Thanks to Christopher Walken, I have figured it out...

 Make your own at MoreCowbell.dj 
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Emotional Exhaustion

Today I showed my classes the Discovery Channel's documentary, The Flight That Fought Back. I was hoping that my students would sit through a documentary, and they did.

We did not complete the entire 53 minutes but each class was near enough to the end that they understood the impact of 9/11/01. As I have mentioned, I work with a wonderful woman whose brother was on the 92nd floor of the North Tower that day. She brought a copy of the family flyer they posted around New York in the days after the attack.

As I tried to mention the flyer I had posted by the door, I couldn't get through it. I choked up. I admit it. It's been 7 years, and I still sympathize strongly with my colleagues personal loss of that day. My students choked up too; probably because of me and not the content of the video.

But that made me think of the power of our emotion as we teach. Do we empathize with the material we present? How about the students we teach? I know that is probably difficult in math -- my emotions over numbers are usually just anger that I can' figure out the problem. But how can a teacher do a good job of presenting the issues of poverty, genocide, persecution, or war without some kind of emotion and be effective?

Similarly, how can a teacher present patriotism, pride, success, or victory without some kind of emotional presentation?

I'm not saying that everything should be cheers or tears. I am saying that in order to reach people (our students) we must touch their heart as well as their mind.

Note:Publications of professor-marvel.com or associated works (unless specifically labeled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The views expressed here are my own and reflect only my opinion.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Day of Intention

What is the true INTENT?  What did we really MEAN when we wrote...?

That was the crux of today's meeting with a Georgia State DOE Program Specialist, Dr. William Cranshaw.  We went through all the new Social Studies standards for the 7th grade (6th grade teachers were in a different room to learn their standards).  The best part of the information was the "Teacher Notes" section.

The Teacher Notes have been provided to assist teacher in understanding, interpreting, and generally having a clue what some of the generally stated standards mean, and what the standard-writers were thinking when they wrote them.  Further (and even more important) what the new test-writers will be using to construct our state's CRCT (Criterion Referenced Competency Test) high-stakes test -- which saw 70%-80% of our state's students fail last year.

The meeting was tedious, just as Dr. Cranshaw prepared us for.  But it was necessary.  I believe he said his staff would be delivering around 22 of these one-day sessions around the state.  Wow.  I guess I can't complain that they don't care about Social Studies and the results of the tests.

This year the test is actually a field-test of the questions to determine validity and reliability.  We'll see how that goes.  I still am very opposed to this kind of testing as a measure of student understanding, and therefore value in a educational setting.  But, I can wish all I want, this lazy, inaccurate, expensive system of assessment is a part of the game we play when we sign on to teach in the advanced age of the 21st century.  [Excuse me while I pick up the dripping sarcasm].

Still, the day was productive and beneficial.  It was worth my time.  I just hope my classroom's not a total mess when I get there tomorrow morning.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Announcing My Classroom Blog

Room 755 is my blog for my classroom.  It is not necessarily meant to be a though-provoking blog, but rather a recording of daily events in my classroom.  Each day will be posted at 5:30 A.M. (I love this feature in Blogger).

My students, parents, administrators, and possibly other teachers (especially 7th grade Social Studies teachers in Georgia) might be able to find material here, add to the material here (through comments), and critique the material here (again, through comments). 

Our Standards are new - as I've mentioned before.  As teachers, we are not very sure what is expected of us as we prepare our students for the CRCT in the Spring.  Last year was such a fiasco, we know it can't get worse...can it?  The state threw out the scores for 6th and 7th grade.  The concern this year is (for me at least) will the test writers pay any attention to the INTENT of the Standards, or will they simply pick and choose random facts that might or might not be understood to be important by any given teacher...which appears to be part of the problem last year.

Room 755 is a record of my understanding of the meaning of the Standards.  Currently, we have spent time learning the Concepts [pdf file] and as part of the Concepts - the 5 themes of geography (since Human/Environment Interaction, Location, and Movement are 3 of the 5 and expected to be covered in the first Unit [pdf file].

Anyway, if you have an interest in following my class on our journey through Africa, the Middle East, and Asia stop by.  Leave a note to my students.  Many of them do not believe I know anyone through my network.  A comment might convince them.

You can also check my personal portal at Professor-Marvel.com
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

20 Days - Already!?

That's right. Twenty days of school have already past. One month down, eight to go.

So what have we accomplished?

Not much productivity, but much in the area of groundwork, foundation, and routine.

I must be easily amazed, but I cannot believe that I had to have another talk with my classes about how many gaps we have to fill. The importance of coming into my classroom ready to work is still something I have to "fight" every day.

The agenda is on the right side of the board.
Pick up your name slip.
Get your Notebook.
Begin the Starter.
Have the Starter completed within two minutes after the bell.
I know many edbloggers will cringe at the thought of routine and bells every period. Well, you'll have to get over it...it's my reality (and nearly everyone else's too).

Why an agenda?
To avoid the daily question, "What are we doing today?" They still ask, but I don't have to answer...I just point.

Why a Starter?
To get them to focus. To cover the basics of Social Studies and Geography. Remember, the gaps in my students go back to 2nd grade. Today's starter included naming the imaginary line from which we mark north and south latitude...the equator. I was happy that 114 out of my 132 students got that one correct. But Prime Meridian and International Date Line is something that will take a little more work.

Why name slips?
We have to submit attendance every period of the day through Infinite Campus (Impotent Campus as I call it). It's one of these "We can do this, so why not do it 8 times a day." So students pick up their name, and the slips that remain are absent. I can report that quickly (within 20 seconds). Then I collect the name slips and mix them up to call on students throughout class to answer questions, go to the board, and do other things. It's random that way. I also learned my students' names quicker this way.

Why the Notebook?
Most teachers have a notebook of some kind. In the case of the Social Studies teachers at my school it is very important. We have no current textbooks, and will not receive any in the near future. The Notebook is the student textbook. Since we studied the concept of economic systems, one of my students asked if we were a Traditional Economy in regards to our textbook philosophy. See, they can apply concepts to real life situations. :-)

We have our struggles. I teach on an ELL (English Language Learner) team. I requested this team, and was granted the opportunity (again). We still work hard to understand how to put together organizational tools. Today it was our second attempt to create a 4x4 table, and put the information in the correct square. We have tried to identify when to use Venn Diagrams and when a T-Chart might be better. But we are learning.

Behavior (or misbehavior) is a serious issue. This is why establishing routines is an important part of our first month. I spoke with the other teachers on my team to find out what minor routines they were trying to develop...things like Name, Class Period, Date in the upper right corner & a Title on each page. If we can all do the same thing, the students will adapt quicker. It seems so controlling and dictatorial, but in our climate of testing means everything, that's what we have to do in our situation to stay on the AYP list and off the #$%@ list.

I am a tech guy. I absolutely hate the thought that when we tried to use the computers in Stations the class could not function. They have been conditioned to a certain style of teaching...spoonfeeding. They do not know how to conduct a basic search, or read instructions. (Remember, teachers read the instructions to them during Testing Weeks).

Here's a flowchart I am working to see if we can get here by the year's end. I welcome ideas, criticisms, and thoughts.

By the way...My student is wrong. We are not a traditional economy in public schools. It's is most definitely a Command Economy. Which is probably why students and teachers don't much care for school. They know it could be better.

Note:Publications of professor-marvel.com or associated works (unless specifically labeled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The views expressed here are my own and reflect only my opinion.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Caught in a Whirlwind

Already three weeks into school.

No standards with which to start.

New standards adopted by the state.

Four online classes to teach with University of Phoenix.

Mom diagnosed with cancerous tumor on her spine.

Trip to St. Louis to see Mom in the hospital over Labor Day Weekend.

Started our Running Club today with around 25 students.

I miss writing. It's not that I don't have anything to say (My wife says I never shut up). It's almost that I have too much from which to choose. I'm making myself sit down and write. I simply have to do this, or I feel my thoughts getting rambled, and my life disorganized. Writing is how I think and learn.

I received an email from Doug Johnson today. Doug and I have never met in person, but I enjoy his writing, and admire his integrity.

A few months ago, Doug posted a review of NECC 2008, and asked a question of what we might like to see in the future. I commented that I would like to see a TEDTalk format for the lesser known edtech people to have a chance to share their ideas...no more than 15 minutes...but going on all day.

Doug sent an email to me today. He had forwarded my idea (and others I'm sure) to Don Knezek and Leslie Conery of ISTE. He received a response, and sent me a follow-up. That's integrity.

Truth be told, I had forgotten about the comment I had made (which is why I wish there was a way to automatically post comments made on other blogs as a post to my own blog). I would have remembered it later, if some conference used the idea. It would have been another of those "I thought of that years ago" moments I have frequently enough...which is why I like to blog, because then I have a record of my ideas that I can refer to when things happen.

Anyway, Doug - thank you for possessing the integrity and honesty to keep me in the information loop of this idea. Second, I think I should get my 15 minutes of fame if NECC 2009 coordinators include this in their program. I think I'd call it - How To Develop Ideas On The Fly.

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