Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summertime and the livin's easy...

Wahoo! Summer is off to an excellent start. The weather is surprisingly mild and comfortable and we've been very active so far. Already in the past week we've done the following:
  1. Rafted the lower Klamath River, with an excellent overnight stay at the Tree of Heaven Campground. Hank rode in my tahiti. He's a cool customer. He took a couple of naps in the front of my boat during the rapids. Hank needs to become a bomb-defuser or something related...
  2. Camped under a full moon with a bunch of friends for 3 days at the Whistlers Bend Park along the North Umpqua River just outside of Roseburg, OR. I ate a lot of chips and drank cheap beer, which is always cathartic.
  3. Attended the wedding of some friends from work. Met some really nice people and had a great time hanging out in the hills of Jacksonville, OR.
  4. Resurrected an old computer and installed the latest version of Ubuntu (a linux distribution). Amazingly easy and cool. Microsoft will eventually lose its operating system dominance if open source software continues to show this kind of quality.
  5. Built a stylin' tank-tread robot with the kids. Juliet is taking a robotics class this summer, so I figured it's never to early to start geeking out. A couple of years ago I bought the Vex Robotics System, which is an excellent platform for studying robotics. Here's a movie of what she's calling, "robotcha". The taped-on flashlight is Hank's contribution.

My other favorite thing this week was having some down time with the kids. In particular, Hank's vocabulary development has been hilarious if not downright ingenious. Here are some of my favorite words I've heard out of his un-schooled mouth.

  • prettyschool - n. (prit-ee' skōōl') A school for children who are not old enough to attend kindergarten; a nursery school.

  • rootbeard - n. (rōōt beerd) A carbonated beverage flavored with syrup made from the extracted juices of roots, barks, and herbs that have been fermented with sugar and yeast.

  • vitamint - n. (vahy-tuh-mint) Any of various fat-soluble or water-soluble organic substances essential in minute amounts for normal growth and activity of the body and obtained naturally from plant and animal foods.

  • meatbulb - n. (mēt'bôlb') A small ball of ground meat, esp. beef, often mixed with bread crumbs, seasonings, etc., before cooking.

  • dupposed - adj. (duh-pohzd) Assumed as true, regardless of fact; hypothetical: It's dupposed to go this way, Dad.

  • blathroom - n. (buh-lāth'rōōm') A room containing a bathtub or shower, and usually a sink and toilet. A place where "kids" can be "dropped off at the pool", or sometimes on the floor.

I've adopted rootbeard, as it's infinitely superior to the traditional pronunciation. It feels right that a proper gentleman would find his chin covered with foam after quaffing an icy cold root beer. Of course all of these words are hilarious until Hank hits kindergarten and then we'll have to pretend that we are surprised and disgusted.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Time for Rock

Almost there, just 3 more "in-service" days and summer is here. We graduated the largest class in our school's history yesterday, and I must admit, I'm going to miss some of those young'ns... some great human beings in the class of 2008. As summer approaches, I've been getting back into music so I'd like to offer some finds over the past month. Here goes:
  • Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs - they're stepping out a little with this new album. I'm still trying to decide whether I like the direction, but I'm listening to it all the time so it must be good. I like the way Ben Gibbard is playing with words and timing on "I Will Possess Your Heart."

  • MGMT - smooth 70's-like disco, synth-pop... The first time I heard "Electric Feel" I wanted to hate it, but it stuck like glue to my ear.

  • British Sea Power- interesting band but more importantly, best band name... ever.
  • Editors - Just found out about these guys. Their lead singer sounds like a mix between Rick Astley, and Brendan Perry.

  • Speaking of Dead Can Dance... Perry's "American Dreaming" sounds like some freaky alt-universe version of Neil Diamond. This clip has a little "Spinal Tap" moment up front.
  • Weezer - what's not to like about Rivers Cuomo? One of my personal heroes... and I love that all their albums are just self-titled. I can always say, "The new Weezer album is great!"
  • The Shins - Nothing new here but I'm still obsessed with their music.

    ...and Interpol too.

  • Finally, if you've ever loved Bowie you gotta hear this by Flight of the Conchords.
Email me if you have any good music recos. Enjoy the summer!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Getting Schooled Online

Teachers! Beware of the Internet - you could lose your job! This sounds like the same kind of propaganda that one might have heard when Babbage's Difference Engine was set to take over all counting-related jobs on the planet. This summer I've decided to do screen recordings of all my in-class software demos in PhotoShop, Flash, and Dreamweaver. Besides being immortalized in poorly scripted videos, I see the following advantages:
  • Students can access the demos at any time
  • Staff members can also use them to learn
  • Interested students can move at their own pace
  • I don't have to teach the same demo, over and over again, during my lunch period

My favorite of these is obviously the eatin' vs. teachin' benefit. It's a little frightening to realize how much of what I teach can be handled online. Recently, my students wrote about what an online high school experience would be like. Most of them said they would enjoy the flexibility and self-paced structure that the Internet provides, but many believed that traditional schools provided socialization - which they deemed just as important to the knowledge and skills gained during high school. Curiously, out of about 150 students, not one of them mentioned the need for a teacher. Hmmm... I'm sure this is just youthful oversight. Or is it?

Yes, I believe that teachers are needed. Primarily because I've taught many students who possess learning styles that are not compatible with the online world. They need human interaction to progress. But what about those students who can learn online? For years MIT has been offering free (FREE!) online courses of over 1800 classes through the MIT Open Courseware site! That's pretty amazing. Why take classes from your assigned "teacher" when you can choose from the brilliant minds at MIT! Also, I would recommend checking out the OpenCourseWare Consortium - a fascinating effort to share educational content using an open-source model.

I think a complimentary online high school model could be a great asset for high school students, as long as we could somehow assess authentic learning, which is no small feat. If the past is any indicator, our high schools will continue to be challenged by lower operating budgets. The economies of scale will lead to innovative but less human approaches to learning. I can easily see a model where I teach on two high school campuses simultaneously via a 2-way video conferencing device and a large projection screen. I would physically switch classrooms from week to week, and student work would be submitted and assessed via email and the web. This has been happening for years in post-secondary institutions, so it seems inevitable. It could be cool, as long as they can find some poor soul to keep students from playing Flash games during my lectures.