Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Advice for Teachers

Two weeks ago, my wife gave birth to our third child, Emily Jean. She is doing well, and we have all adapted quickly to the addition. My other kids – Sophie who is three and Johnny who will be two in February – get along and play surprisingly well together. The other night while sitting in the living room, I watched them playing at my feet and I began to realize that there was much to learn from their behavior. As teachers, we can take these lessons to heart.

Fact #1 – Sophie is the boss. She calls the shots and Johnny follows them, no questions asked.

Lesson #1 – The reason I have yet to witness a toddler mutiny is because Sophie plays fair and doesn't abuse the authority she has over her brother. Sure, sometimes Johnny has to play dress up (on several occasions I have come home to find him dress in sequins and Barbie high heels), but Sophie also suggests other activities like coloring or playing with her brother's beloved toy trucks. She knows how to give and take, and this makes it easy for Johnny to follow her lead.

Fact #2 – When one of the kids doesn't want to eat dinner, my wife and I give them two choices: they can finish the meal now, or they can eat it later instead of having a snack before bedtime.

Lesson #2 – The sooner someone learns to cope with the fact that what they want is not necessarily a choice, the better off that person will be. We are all faced with thing we don't want to do, but sometimes we just need to tough it out and get through it.

Fact #3 – Everything Sophie does, Johnny does too.

Lesson #3 – When Sophie needs to blow her nose, so does Johnny. When she wants an apple, Johnny does too. It's not always a positive thing – when Sophie tantrums at the dinner table and tosses her fork to the ground, there is ultimately two utensils to pick up. As an administrator your faculty and staff will work from your cues and actions – regardless of whether they are positive or negative. It's your job to present yourself as a positive role model. The best way to prevent faculty from exhibiting negative behaviors is to not practice them yourself.

Fact #4 – Whenever Sophie asks for something, she begins the sentence with “Please may can I...”

Lesson #4 – Okay, so maybe her syntax is off a bit, but her desire to be polite is overwhelming. We teach manners at such a young age, yet so many adults forget them (or forget the art of being gracious). As the old adage goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Fact #5 – In the mornings, we have to check on Johnny to see if he's awake. If we don't go in to get him, he will sit for hours looking at books in his crib.

Lesson #5 – There is nothing wrong with the occasional silent meditation.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Should Schools look to Corporate Sponsorship to Ease Financial Woes?

We are in an economy where surplus budgets simply don’t exist. Because of this, school districts are forced to balance their budgets by trimming fat; sometimes in the form of important educational services or personnel positions. Unfortunately, this kind of action is often unavoidable and results in few if any positive outcomes - students suffer because of lack of services, supplies, or technology, and the morale and overall building atmosphere among faculty and staff is negatively affected as well. A balanced budget is a must, and many districts simply don’t have any other option but to make the necessary cuts. What else can they possibly do?

When the well runs dry, searching for water in new places is always an option.

That was one line of thinking that arose from a survey of mayoral candidates in Chicago, Illinois. One candidate, William Walls III suggested easing Chicago schools’ financial woes by allowing larger corporations an opportunity to purchase naming rights for schools. This may not be a new idea, but with the struggling economic recovery it’s an idea that is beginning to look more like a possibility than a crackpot scheme.

The New York Times article Name that School, Trim that Deficit describes a possible deal between communication giant Sprint and Chicago’s largest city high school, Lane Tech where rights to apply Sprint’s namesake to the school could bring in $600,000 annually. Furthermore, sponsorship of individual classrooms by other companies could bring in more cash making the physical school buildings worth millions in yearly revenue that districts simply don’t have access to currently. The potential (and solution to current financial burdens) is almost blinding.

Any corporation willing to invest that much money in a school is going to expect more than just their logo above the main entrance. This is where it gets dangerous. Will schools begin making decisions based on the best interest of their sponsor and not their students? Also, what happens when a sponsor chooses to allow a contract to lapse, leaving a school with a far less money and a budget that is used to a healthy pocketbook?

The bottom line is that schools are in desperate need of financial support. The immediate result of corporation-sponsored schools would be an lessening of tensions for students, school personnel, tax payers, etc. but allowing large corporations to have a hand in public education could drastically change the way decisions are made. These dangers are hypothetical at this point, but by no means are the possible negative side effects limited to those mentioned here. What awaits to be seen is if the reward is worth the risk.

Not all sponsorship is good idea.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Problem isn't Facebook, It's the Users who Misuse

About three hours ago, I wrote a blog post about a class project I was working on where students had to create pretend Facebook pages for characters in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. After posting, I hopped on Twitter to send the link out to my followers. Surprisingly, one of the recent tweets from someone who I follow also had to do with the topic of Facebook. It was a link to the ABC News story of 6 middle school girls arressted after creating a Facebook event titled “Attack a Teacher Day.” Needless to say, it was an interesting juxtaposition to my post proclaiming the value in harnassing the social network’s popularity among students.

This is a perfect opportunity for a teachable moment.

We must remember that the problem is not the technology, but those who use it maliciously. Back in the days of note-passing, you wouldn’t blame the pencil for a bit of slander scrawled on a piece of paper, would you?

It must be our job as educators and parents to be positive role models when dealing with social media. The solution to problems such as the girls in Nevada isn’t blocking Facebook – it’s educating students abut the difference between wrong and right on the web.

One silver lining to this – the article says the girls invited 100 people to the “Attack a Teacher Day” event. Only 18 responded. This means 82% either ignored it or deleted the invitation. Hopefully this is a sign of fledgling digital citizenship.

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The Outsiders Final Project - Facebook

I look forward to teaching 7th grade for one reason – reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It’s a classic piece of adolescent literature that every kid can relate to on some level. I like to read it with my classes early in the year because it is something that they tend to rally behind and I can usually ride out the enthusiasm it creates until after the Winter recess. This year marks the fourth time I have taught the book, and while I now have a drawer filled with lessons and handouts, I have never been able to find a suitable project to use as a conclusion to such a magnificent read.

Until now.

Students are creating a mock Facebook account for a character from the book. The project is a grand slam; it is rigorous and relevant to the book, but also collaborative and highly engaging. Students were asked to choose one of three main characters – Johnny, Ponyboy, or Dally – and create a Facebook wall complete with status updates and replies from other characters. These posts should demonstrate their understanding of important events in the book as well as the complex relationships between characters. Students have really stepped up to the task and I have been impressed by their overwhelming creativity and ability to approach a text from a different perspective.

For the project, I created Facebook templates with Photoshop. Since my students watched the 1985 movie version of The Outsiders, I included headshots from the theatrical release to serve as profile pictures. All students had to do was manipulate text boxes that were included in the template. To help troubleshoot, I also made a quick Jing tutorial video demonstrating how they should create their project. Click here to view it.

If you would like to use this project with your students, here is a zip file of all the documents you will need. I also uploaded my project outline sheet to Feel free to download it!
The Outsiders Facebook Project

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

An Argument For and Against Censoring Huckleberry Finn

Last night, news of Huckleberry Finn’s upcoming censorship was announced by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (video here). This announcement has been floating around local news media for about a week, but this was the first time I saw it from a major network news source. Clearly, the decision to alter one of America’s greatest literary works had stirred enough debate to bring it to this level, so I felt the need to declare my stance as well.

The only problem is that I don’t really have one. I can see both sides – so here is my argument for and against censoring Mark Twain’s classic work of fiction.

For Censorship

Because The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is part of the public domain, uncensored editions will always be available both online and from any publisher who chooses to print it with the dasterdly “N-word” still in place. If anything, removing language that some would regard as vulgar is only making the work more accessible. As an middle school teacher I would never suggest the book to a student. While I understand the cultural and historical background of the book, the student – and his/her parent – may not. And it’s not one scene that can be skipped over – the offending word appears 214 times throughout the book. Now that a version is available with some of this content softened, the book can now be read and enjoyed by those people who would have been too myopically focused on the predominance of a word that is no longer culturally acceptable.

Celbrities also say that any publicity – even negative publicity – is good publicity. The same can be true of this censorship story. People are again talking about Huckleberry Finn, a story that was written more than 130 years ago. For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is currently the #2 download on Project Gutenberg, trumped only by The Karma Sutra. It is again on the minds of Americans, and no one can argue that as a bad thing. If a little controversy is the cause, then so be it.

Against Censorship

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not the first, nor the last book to be published with inappropriate language. This language was not included by Twain as a vulgarity – it was simply part of the American lexicon in the 1800s. If Huckleberry Finn deserves scrutiny, then it is only fair that we uphold this standard for all other books – especially those we are currently publishing and embracing as a society.

Take, for example, the recent release by MTV reality star, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from the embarassingly crass Jersey Shore. It is a work of fiction that cronicals two girls and their exploits – one of which is a graffic retelling of a date rape scene. Here is the quote:
"This girl was putting up a fight. Most whores would just give in at this point
and accept the situation they were in. If she ate the dinner, took the gifts,
came home with you, she was obliged to put out. If she changed her mind and
didn't want to? Too bad. Things might get a little rough. She deserved what

In an interview yesterday with Ellen Degeneres, Polizzi admitted that the book is targeted toward early teenagers.

Why is it okay for a recent book – esentially young adult fiction – to condone rape, yet a book written 130 years ago cannot contain a word that was regarded as casual diction at the time it was written?

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