Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hacked Learning

“Mr Dyson! I’m done,” calls Kate. I walk over to her terminal. Sure enough, the screen is covered in numbers and letters.

“Ms. Libby, you and I both know this isn’t what I assigned.”

“Aw come on, Mr. Dyson,” she cracks her knuckles. “You know I know what I’m doing.”

“You’re making things up is what you’re doing. I bet you typed all this in about ten seconds. Stop it and get back to work.” I walk away from the grumbling student and survey my class. Twenty-seven heads bent low over keyboards, clacking away. My Teacher Sense tingles and I turn to a row on the far right.

“Stanley! Who is under your desk?” A good-looking boy looks up. He looks distracted, like he just got caught with his hand in the NSA. Again. “What? Nothing. Nothing, Mr Dyson. No one is und-” A brown mop of hair and a smile pops up next to him, “-der my desk except Angela,” he finishes with a sigh.

Angela smiles brightly. “Hey, Mr D! Just dropped my pencil. Sorry. Can you come here for a minute? I want to show you something.” I make my way over to her computer and lean down. “Look,” she says. “Look right there, at those numbers. Don’t those numbers look suspicious to you?”

“Suspicious, Ms. Bennett?”

“Yeah, watch.” She cracks her knuckles and types a few more lines. “Look. Now it’s gone. Isn’t that weird? I swear I saw that line a few days ago when I was doing my homework too.”

“You think something on the computer followed you home?”

“Duh, no.” She smiles again. Pretty girl, a lot of teeth. Wants to be an astronaut she says. “I think it followed me from home to school. Can I check it out?”

I sigh. Students have the most active imaginations. “Sure, knock yourself out. Just finish what you’re working on for class first. If you catch anything in that net let me know.” I spy a hand waving across the room and head towards it. On my way I pass another big boy, thick glasses pushed close to his scowl. “How are you doing, Mr. R-”

“Spider.” He cracks his knuckles and doesn’t look up when he corrects me. “And fine. And goodbye.” It’s no use making small talk, but a teacher has to try. Real life connections and all that. I reach the student shaking his hand in the air like a drowning man. “Monty, you waved?”

“Mr. Dyson, sir. I can’t do what you asked. I need more time.”

I sigh. “Why does every assignment need to be a big production with you, Monty? Must we be so dramatic?”

The student looks up at me. “But Mr. Dyson. I can’t do it! I don’t have the powerstrips.”

“You don’t need any powerstrips. Look, your computer is on. Stop playing with the mouse and get back to work. You can do it. Look, Liz over there is having the same problem as you and she’s not freaking out.”

Liz stops typing long enough to call over her shoulder. “I’m not having any problems. Leave me out of this.” She cracks her knuckles and hunches back over her keyboard. Her sleeve comes up and a flash of black shows on her shoulder. What has she drawn on herself this time? How did she get it back there?

I hear giggling and the quiet boop of a game. I don’t even have to look to know where it’s coming from. “Kevin! Kevin! Come here!” The student who comes towards me has so much charisma, so much potential. He almost glows with it. Still, he needs to get a clue. “Kevin, what did I say about games in class?”

“Oh come on, Mr. Dyson! You need to come see this one. It’s great. So immersive!”

I try not to sigh. He does have talent, and I should be supportive. “I know you are good at this, and that’s great. But right now you need to focus. Please?”

He sighs, nods, and cracks the knuckles on one hand, then the other. “All right, all right.”

“Thank you. Gary, Wyatt! I know I don’t see you designing what I think I see you designing!” The two boys snicker and as soon as they see me heading their way I can see them close the window. Weird kids. I’ll check on what they were doing later.

David rolls into the classroom on his bike. They let him through the halls on it? He waves to me and starts to make an excuse, talking as much with his hands as his mouth but I’ve heard it before and I stop him. “David. Unless aliens abduct you, I need you here on time. Got it?” He nods guiltily. Some kids get too much independence.

“Mr. Muphy, if you don’t back away from the screen you’re going to be wearing that thing has a helmet soon. Peter. Peter. Peter!” I try not to stomp over to Peter’s desk. Where he’s sleeping. Again. I lean down and shake him gently until he snorts and starts, “Wha-huh?”

“Peter, I hate to interrupt your nap, but what do you do here?”

“Uh, I write reports?”

“In theory. Did your mother get the note I sent home?”

“Yeah,” he sighs, “and she got the phone call from the principal and the email from the office.”

I nod, “Good. Please get back to work. I’d hate for this to spill over into what I’m sure is a very busy weekend.”

So many students, so many different assignments. It’s not easy letting them all chase their passions, but they do love computers. It’s strange that my other David is absent though. He kept going on and on about some new website he’d found. Said it was like a game. He wanted me to look at it. Playful kid. I’m sure it’s nothing. And then there’s Boris, my first Russian student. I swear if he clicks that pen one more time I’m taking it away. Or Liz will. Girl looks like she might set him on fire.

Terry pokes her head up from behind her screen. I love it when they do that. Looks like a field of digital prarie dogs. “Mr. Dyson? Can you come here please?” When I get to her she beckons me to lean down closer and whispers, “Someone is sending me messages.”


“Look. Code.”

“No, Terry. That’s not a coded message. It’s literally just code.”

She shakes her braids, “If I can decode it-”

I stop her, “If you can decode it I’ll give you a special job. But I promise it’s not a message.”

My rounds take me near Hiro and Dee working quietly. Dee never talks but seems to get what I want anyway. “Lex is having trouble, she looks like she’s just clicking on random things again. Can one of you two help her? Unless you’re not two of the best in the class….”

Hiro cracks his knuckles and smiles. “We are too. Dee too?”

I glance at Dee who stops what he’s doing long enough to make a noise which might have been a sigh, but like I said he’s hard to read. “Dee too.”

As I straighten my principal walks into the room with an unfamiliar student in tow. You’d think he’d have more important jobs than to deliver new kids. Oh well, there’s always room for more. Our little classroom machine hums along quite nicely and one student won’t throw the balance off too badly. “Mr. Dyson, I’d like you to meet your new student. This is Tom Anderson.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 83- World of Warcraft

By Guest Moderator Jennifer Borgioli Binis

I once spent three hours running through a sewer, clad only in underwear, darting from hiding place to hiding place. On every dart, I would be spotted by a guard and before I could take more than five steps, I was dead. Were I clothed, each death would result in damage and repairs cost money, so.. naked. I died a dozen times, give or take a few. Each death required running back from the cemetery to my body, waiting for the guards to pass, and then resurrecting myself. Following my last death and run back, I resurrected at the feet of a powerful Sorceress (I don’t remember who she was - just some Horde lady). After quickly opening the a chest at her feet, I grabbed the thing inside and put it in my backpack. I took one step and was killed by that not so nice lady. Again. This time, I rezzed (resurrected) at the cemetery, and proceeded to hoot and holler, yelling to my husband, “I got it!” Not because I got the thing but because that thing got me an achievement and points. Those achievement points got me closer to a DIFFERENT achievement that I’ve been working on for years. Yes, years. This bigger achievement will get me nothing besides a title that will float above my head. So don’t tell me that grit isn’t a real thing.

So yeah… I play World of Warcraft. More precisely, I play as a Human Shadow Priest (Level 100), which means I play for the Alliance (as opposed to the previously mentioned Horde.) I’m a bit of an anomaly in that I play one character (aka toon). Some players I’ve met in the game play multiple characters (called alts.) I play PVE (player versus environment) and only kill mobs (non-player controlled characters). I’ve only once killed another player in PVP (player versus player) because I had no other choice. That player was the only thing standing between me and an achievement. As is pretty clear in this paragraph, playing WoW or any massive on-line game involves learning a whole new vocabulary and way of interacting with the on-line world.* Odds are good that there are teachers in your building who play WoW, Eve, or something similar. Maybe you’re a gamer in your free time. Although it may sound like a foreign language, there are many connections to the world of education. Tonight’s WeirdEdChat is about exploring those connections and trying on a new vocabulary for size.

*If you’re interested in getting a better sense of what it’s like to play WoW a different way - doing raiding, being in an active guild - check out You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. It’s a seriously good read.

Tonight’s questions are framed around both the world of WoW and its mechanics.

Q1 Background: If one were to draw an analogy to education, those in the Alliance are the students who loved school so much, they made a career of it. They saw the power and beauty in formal, public education and wanted to be a part of it. They celebrate positive change and seek to ever evolve the system, while maintaining the heart of a free, liberal arts education for all. The Horde, meanwhile, are the students who hated school so much they joined the system to change it from within. School didn’t work for them and now they want to ensure that no student feels the way they felt. They seek to change the system through ways that are sometimes dramatic and subversive.

#WeirdEdC Q1: What type of educator are you? Alliance or Horde? Defend your position.

Q2-Q5 Background: Part of the appeal of games like WoW, Eve, Everquest, or the like is working with players from around the world. In WoW, players queue for dungeons (smaller, enclosed spaces, usually run with 4 other players) or raids (larger, more involved spaces that can range from 10 to 30 players). Once in the raid, there are set roles with set responsibilities.

Q2 Background: The tank. The tank is the player who pulls (pokes the bear, as it were) the mobs in the dungeon or raid. They go first and take the hits. They are up in the mob’s business and when they die, it’s game over. Once the tank goes down, other players willingly step into the fire to die, knowing they’ll never finish without their tank.

#WeirdEdC Q2: How do tanks manifest themselves in education? Who are our tanks?

Q3 Background: The healers. Doc. Heals. Players who choose to play as healers are so popular, they get extra perks for running dungeons and raids. We need them. They are found on the edge of a fight, conjuring healing rain, hovering over wounded players, and remaining light on their feet to ensure they don’t die and leave their charges unprotected. They are the nurturers but aren’t afraid to yell at tanks if they get too far out of the heal’s reach.

#WeirdEdC Q3: When have you had to play the healer in the last week?    

Q4 Background: Melee damage. They are the fighters who are right there with the tank, though more bumblebee than sledgehammer. They dance back and forth, moving with the fight, covering and protecting the tank, attacking the mobs weak points. They are consistent, consistent, consistent. Nothing flashy, nothing special but dependable and steady.
Ranged damage. Ahh.. sweet ranged damage. Look to the left of the heals. See that toon that is casting spells directly at the mob? See how the player follows the healer and stays waaaay back from the tank and the mob? That’s us ranged players. We can cast spells that inflict damage on the main mob plus all the mobs around it. We can cast one spell that kills slow, and then three or four others that kill them kick. We can conjure pets that do some of work for us.

#WeirdEdC Q4: Now you know all the classes. Choose your class.

Q5 Background: It’s not uncommon for players to kill one mob multiple times, hoping for it to drop one particular item. That item may complete a set, be an ultra rare mount, a once-in-a-game pet, or a piece desperately needed for an achievement and WHY WON’T IT DROP, ALREADY??

#WeirdEdC Q5: What loot are you waiting for? What’s the idea or thing you keep trying you think would solve some ed issues?

Q6 Background: Once players reaches the top level, currently 100, they are pretty much forced to work with other players in order to get better weapons and armor. At the top levels, these opportunities are presented in raids. Some players belong to guilds and will raid together. Others, however, have to sign up to do a raid with strangers. Although WoW’s construct has ways to ensure all of the players who sign up are about equal in armor and item level, it can’t ensure all players know the mechanics of a particular mob or raid. As a result, players go into the LFR (looking for raid) queue knowing they’re like to wipe, or die, a lot. Occasionally, though, you arrive in a raid and it’s like clockwork. No one stands in the fire, the tanks direct the mob away from the group, everyone stays within the heals reach, and all damage players remember to focus on the adds, not the boss. (last one, I promise. Bosses are the main mobs inside a raid. There’s usually 2 to 3 per raid and all come with friends. These friends are known as “adds” and a guaranteed way to wipe the raid is for the damage players to focus on the mob instead of the adds.)

#WeirdEdC Q6 Did you get to choose your school team? What have been your experiences joining a team you did/didn’t build?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Slideshow Karaoke

This was the funniest lesson I've ever done.

I'm not sure that qualifies me for Teacher of the Year status or anything, but today I had an entire class of students engaged, participating, speaking, and begging to be in on the fun. It didn't take long to set up, it practiced a ton of skills, and my room was raucous with mirth.

I didn't come up with Slideshow Karaoke, I'm not sure it has a direct parent. I learned about it this summer from Darren Massa. I filed it away in whatever part of my brain is now full time dedicated to remembering possible lesson ideas, to be accessed as needed. As organized as my external filing system is, my internal one probably has that next to the names of everyone who ever played in Metallica and next to the plot of all the Star Trek movies* College** is in there somewhere too, Mom.

I was inspired to pull Slideshow Karaoke out of the filing cabinet because we've been doing a lot of presenting lately. My kids in front of the room speaking is happening frequently and while they are getting better at it they aren't getting better as quickly as I'd like. Lots of constructive criticism, lots of advice, lots of time to practice. We needed a little extra push so they could internalize some of the things I've been saying about not hanging onto the slide for dear life, about using the slide as a starting point and then speaking extemporaneously from it.

Slideshow Karaoke.

Here's the basic drill (how I did it, you change it, it's your world)- I broke my kids up into eight groups. Why eight? Because I have six Chromebooks and two MacBooks. I told each group to create a five-to-six slide slide deck, plus a title slide. Don't put your name on it. Your slide deck needs to follow one topic. Each slide needs to have an image and a short piece of text on it. That's all. Every deck goes into a shared Drive folder. Not much time was given to create these decks. They don't need to be detailed.

Then I call groups up and randomly choose a deck from the folder. Not the one they choose. The group must present the slide deck as through it were their own presentation. Do your best to fill in the blanks in your knowledge of the topic. Improvise. Think on your feet, stay calm, and do your best. I'm not expecting accuracy, I'm expecting creativity and effort.

Dear readers- my kids are hilarious. Hi-lar-i-ous. Some of my quietest kids came out of their shells and Back to the Future. Turns out none of them had seen Back to the Future. Try to imagine how confusing the plot of that series is if all you know about it is some pictures in a slideshow. They totally faked their way through it, getting a bunch quote unquote wrong about the movie but completely right in the context of what they were given.
made up the best stuff. I had a group who had to present about

We learned about slideshows, we learned about public speaking, we learned about improvisation, we learned about making clean, understandable slides, we learned how funny and quick some of our friends are, and we had a great time. Everyone. The shy ones, the one's who would be terrified of speaking in public, got to be supported by their peers. It didn't kill anyone, no one cried or stressed out. The class made it a safe place because everyone was in the same boat- totally unprepared.

There are other forms of Slideshow Karaoke I've heard of. One is create a completely random deck. Random image, random text unrelated to image. Put five of those together. Then give the speaking group a random topic. "You have to talk about why the character in this books is a hero." The speaking groups need to take these random slides and try to fit them into the narrative they have been given. I think this is what I'll do next.

The other is take all the presentations currently in your Drive, choose a slide from each and create a new deck. Give the speaking group an unrelated topic and make them relate it. Same idea, but making use of slides that have a specific purpose adds another level to it.

I'm so amused by the decks my kids created that I'm even linking to them right here. Use them in your class or use them as a jumping off point. This has so many possibilities.

*except Into Darkness, suck it JJ and Orci.

**all the WWE I watched in...

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 82- M*A*S*H

A few things to start-

First, I'm shocked I've never written a M*A*S*H chat before. I could have sworn I had. I must have started one and then thrown it away for a better idea. I have a memory of doing this before.

Second, yesterday I live tweeted the finale of M*A*S*H under the hashtag #GoodbyeFarewellAmen, a shortened version of the title of the episode. I omitted the "and" and I'm enough of a nerd that I have to tell you I know it's wrong. I somehow didn't loose a thousand followers over those two hours. The finale is the best last episode of television except maybe for the Breaking Bad ending. The level of difficulty in wrapping up 11 seasons cannot be overstated. How do you tell a strong story, and give characters we've come to love a goodbye that is satisfying and moving? Under Alan Alda's direction they managed to do it. It's not a perfect episode, but it's so damn close that you can't argue. It was moving to me because I just spent the last however long working my way through it, starting from 1.01, on Netflix. It was my "putting the baby to sleep on my chest" show.

Third, think about this like our Veteran's Day chat. Yes, I'm counting an anti-war show as a Veteran's Day chat. Welcome to #WeirdEd, how are you surprised?

I came to M*A*S*H in reruns, obviously. The final episode originally aired when I was two. M*A*S*H  was on in the afternoons between classes in college and I would kick back and watch the two-in-a-row that whatever network it was on would show every day. It became part of my routine twenty years after it ended. I don't know why I started watching it. Maybe it was on before Rosanne, another college favorite? Either way, I fell in love with the show. It's mix of humor and heart, madcap and message, was and still is exactly the kind of thing that appeals to me. If you stop and think about this chat for instance, or my first book, you can see M*A*S*H all over. I want to be the teaching version of Hawkeye Pierce on one of his less lecherous days. Amazingly talented and disrespectful of authority at the same time, but so good at his job that they can't do anything about it. I've learned the hard way that no matter how good you are a district can wreck you all they want, but the fantasy stands.

I want to work in a school with those people. I ought to clarify I mean those people from the later seasons. I love the early show, but it got better as it got older, with probably seasons 6-9 as the high points. Charles is better than Frank. Potter is better than Henry. BJ is better than Trapper. Klinger becomes more interesting than Radar, though Radar was really strong for a while. In fact everyone was strong, even Frank, who was the most cartoon-like of the bunch. Larry Linville deserves a lot of credit for keeping Burns from being an utter clown when he easily could have been.

But a principal like Col Potter would be the bee's knees. A teaching team made up of Margret, Charles, BJ, and Hawk, with Klinger or Radar as your admin assistant? You're talking big time lessons and learning. Margret's class would be the most organized, wham bam with procedures. Charles would have that class of kids that sit properly and pronounce everything well and are snooty but you understand because their teacher has them doing next level work. BJ's class would love him. Adore him. He'd be the favorite teacher. And Hawkeye's class would be orderly chaos. He'd storm into the principal's office monthly on some crusade. Everyone on staff would like BJ (except Charles who isn't impressed with anyone) but Hawkeye would be one of those teachers that would be divisive in the lounge. "You like him? His class is always so noisy. I'm not sure how he keeps grades in there."

 When M*A*S*H wasn't about the horrors of war it was a weekly Catch-22, highlighting blind leadership, mocking authority, and fighting for what is right in even the darkest situations. The show did things no other show had tried before, including following a dead soldier around the camp, using an on-screen ticking clock to show how long a patient had to live, and doing an entire episode from the first-person perspective of a wounded soldier. That's three episodes that tried harder than any episode of Friends or The Big Bang Theory, both of which are technically in the same genre as M*A*S*H was.

The show tackled racism, sexism, and gay rights. It was progressive before its time, sometimes delving into being preachy but that was almost always motivated by character. Hawkeye was Alda's avatar after a while, and Hawk evolved to speak for things Alda wanted to say. Was the character also regressive when it came to being a womanizer? Yes (something that drove the author of the original book, Richard Hooker, up the wall), but even that wasn't rewarded. Many plots revolved around Pierce trying and failing to hook up or hooking up and learning something. Did that make women often a plot point more than a character? Yes. It was a show made in the 1970s. And not to pick on Big Bang Theory, but that show is just as bad about women (the name of the show is a damn sex joke) and it doesn't have a Margret to be strong and speak up.

I realize this is less an essay about what we're going to talk about tonight in the chat and more me going on and on about my favorite TV show and well, it's my space. To be honest what you're reading is probably one of the rare times a blog post is a rough draft for a chapter in another book.

Tonight we're going to talk about M*A*S*H. My favorite show. A show about friendship and war. About how insanity can keep you sane and how you can find joy in even the most hellish places. About a team of people becoming a family, losing family members, and growing stronger. A show that was often flawed, sometimes incredible, and inhumanly consistently good, funny, and original for eleven long seasons.

And damn that writing was clever when it was on.

Flagg was the second best reoccurring character after Syndey Freedman

Someday I'll find a reason to use this line on someone

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 81- Back to the Future

"Doug, Back to the Future Day was the 21st. You missed it."

No I didn't, loyal reader. I skipped it on purpose knowing that I could go back any time I wanted. There's a storm tonight, I know when the lightning strike will happen, and we can go back, Marty! And then...

Back to the Future gets a lot of love, and most of it is well deserved. Like most pop culture iconography it's importance has been somewhat inflated and skewed by my generation and the one slightly ahead of mine who are clinging desperately to our own past to avoid aging. But it's a pretty great movie, a lot of fun, and has some interesting things to say about who the adults in our lives are, where we've come from, and where we're going. 

We'll be dealing mostly with the first one but it's hard to ignore the second and third since they mostly tie so well together and the date the internet celebrated actually took place during Pt II (completely unplanned at the end of Pt. 1, sequel culture was not what it is today). These movies are pretty easy to tie into school and a surface level. I mean the first one happens predominantly in a high school. It's about who your parents were when they were in high school. It's also about a boy's mom trying to score with him, but everyone's already made that joke so let's move on before someone has to stab their own eyes out with sharp rocks

But #WeirdEd is rarely about the surface level so let's try to dig a little deeper, shall we? Let's talk about Mayor Goldie Wilson and almanacs and being called a chicken and making like a tree and crashing into manure. Let's see if Marty and Doc really did learn anything. (How did they become friends anyway?) 

We're going to have to crank this chat up and get it moving fast though. How fast? About 88mph. Why? I'll hand that over to Doc Brown-