Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 109- BREXIT

Doug Note- Tonight's chat will be about Brexit and it written by Rebecca Stacey. She will also be moderating the chat because I'll be on an airplane or in an airport. If the formatting of this is goofy blame my tablet.
Let's be clear - there were hints that Britain might leave the EU - there were suggestions that Nigel Farage might have captured a feeling of unrest - still we didn't really think it would happen. 
But, here we are. And so, there must be many questions for those watching us. For our friends at #wierded - let us see if we answer them.
What has actually happened?
We have voted to leave the European Union.  This is centred around issues of our common market, movement of people, EU parliament and common laws. Most notably though, for much of the campaign, it was about the free movement of people across Europe. There are currently 28 members of the Europen Union. Each country have representative members of the European Parliament (MEP's) and the countries take it in turns to lead the Parliament.  
Why have we done this?
This is the million dollar question. Because laws were being inflicted on the whole of Europe that were no longer relevant? Because the movement of people put massive strain on our schools and hospitals? Because we resented paying into the union, and the bureaucratic cost that was incurred? The 'leave' campain had many, many reasons. 
Any controversy?
Oh yes. We were warned of various outcomes but the real controversy here are the campaigns themselves. Dogged with awful imagery, racism, ( downright lies and politicians who couldn't get on with each other. Very sadly, an MP lost her life. The winning side is, as we speak, deleting claims made on their website and denying promises that they made - such as being able to spend £350m a week on our NHS. 
What happens next?
In short, we don't know. The world media watches on as we untangle ourselves from thirty years of laws. Businesses watch in worry and both of our leading political parties are engulfed in leadership tussles. Racist incidents have risen on our streets and the leaders of the 'leave' campaign look like a couple of naughty schoolboys. The banks have a plan (don't they always) - but the communities who voted 'out' cannot agree on why they did. Cries of 'go home' to anyone who looks out of place are reported whilst on social media teachers argue about elitism. In short, unchartered waters.
For schools
Well, we're short of government at the minute and so we think there may be delays to the many changes that are currently going through. However there is much uncertainty over the future. Children are scared by reports of racism and teaching inclusivity and diversity has never been more important. 
Future? Who knows! We are already in the grips of a teacher shortage - this won't help! A recession will hit budgets hard, and many are feeling a bit low, to be honest. 
I invite others to add their views to this piece - remember I'm trying to explain it to our American colleagues, not continue a divisive and worn argument - we've got twitter for that

Rebecca Stacey

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 108- Jurassic Park

by John Larriva

JURASSIC PARK is a damn miracle.

This movie is Spielberg at the height of his powers*. His command of tone, story, and technical wizardry, and how he intertwines them, create a total package summer blockbuster that is hard to top. This is a massive movie that spends the first half stopping for deep, philosophical conversations about the nature of nature, man's place in the world, and where or if science should draw any lines. It expects the audience to come along and keep up.

The wonder in this movie, the joy, it's magical. And it manages to hit those notes a bunch of times. Grant seeing the brontosaurs for the first time. Grant's look of absolute joy laying on the triceratops as it breathes. Grant and the kids in the tree calling out to the other dinos.

Grant, who is an expert in his field, hates technology. I love this, because I hate the conversation that comes around every five minutes on Teacher Twitter about technology in classrooms. There's always some who love to dismiss teachers who don't use technology. They're failing their students. They hate learning. They're doctors with leeches. So Dr Alan Grant's plight rings true to me. Dude is one of the best. And not only does he hate technology but it seems to hate him right back. He can't even touch  monitor. The metaphor goes so deeply that on the helicopter he can't even buckle his seat belt. He's gotta think around it and tie two female ends together. By the way, I'm sure this is an accident, but Grant finds a way with two female seat belt ends and all the dinosaurs find a way and they're all female. I'm probably reading too much into that.

The teacher and technology metaphor isn't completely fair, I'll grant you, since the tech expert in the film is the human bad guy- Dennis Newman- er- Nedry. A greedy, fat, slob who's pretty much all the worst possible programmer stereotypes rolled into one character.

Hammond, the main man in charge of the park, has no idea what the technology he has can do. He's not thinking consequences, he's thinking how awesome it all is. He just wants to get that technology into the hands of the boys and girls of the world. Check it out, kids, look what this does. Less understanding, more rushing forward blindly. He tells a story near the end about his first con- the flea circus. How all the rides moved and kids would come and pretend they could see the fleas and it was all nothing, meaningless.

I worry about that as a classroom teacher. What if I'm running a flea circus? Jurassic Park, as Eli points out, is just a bigger version of the same thing. Now I have more tech, more fancy, more money, but is it still all an illusion?

This post will run on and on so two more points to remember for the chat.

First, how many times must we prove something is a bad idea before we agree it's a bad idea? There are four of these movies now and the premise of the latest, which I haven't seen, is "Everything that happened in JURASSIC PARK sucked, but we can fix it now."  But there are two other moves that prove no, you can't actually.

Second, the mix of models and CGI is marvelous and it's what makes the movie work so well. With modern eyes we can tell where the green screen is and what's matted and puppeted. And Spielberg builds the movie so well you do not care. Not only that, but it holds up. The T-Rex attack is an all timer and it hasn't aged a day. The raptors in the kitchen, same thing. The perfect blend. Almost as if going too hard one way isn't the way to do it. By the way, this same philosophy is what made MAD MAX: FURY ROAD work so well, and it's why THE FORCE AWAKENS is a great watch.

Ok, one more thing**- Jeff Goldblum is the best part of this movie. He's so cool and he has all the best lines and he's sexy as hell.

*you can literally say this about 95% of Spielberg's movies

**one more again- Muldoon has the best death and the most badass final line- "Clever girl." Nedry's death is horrifying. And I sympathize with the blood-sucking lawyer needed to go to the bathroom, though I wouldn't have left the kids.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Finding Love in Our Anger- A Straight Educator Looks at Orlando

[Ed. Note- This is the companion piece, written by me, to Jess Lifshitz's Take Time To Heal- A Gay Educator Looks at Orlando. Together they make up the overview of this week's #WeirdEd chat (Weds 7pst), but they also are the start of an important conversation educators need to be having about tragedies like Orlando and the way America talks about members of our society.]

This could be a very angry post. It could be an angry post about guns. It could be a rant about “thoughts and prayers”. It could be a nearly unhinged explosion against the NRA and its grip on too many politicians. It could be an punishing, expletive-filled pounding of anti-gay and anti-trans legislation that encourages hate. It could be a screed against GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump and his statements before and after Orlando’s tragedy.

Because I'm furious. Bindingly, crushingly furious. About the tragedy in Orlando. About what it says about us. About how I can't even be surprised since we let twenty kindergartners die in a similar attack and did nothing. Furious that the gay and trans community has suffered so much and still are treated like aberrations by humans we share the planet with. That Muslims get painted with the broadest possible brush no matter what any truth is.

I’m pro-anger. I’m not a person who runs from that emotion. Anger is a powerful fuel. Anger awakens us, makes us sharp. All in doses, of course. Moderate your anger intake for the cleanest, most efficient burn. Too much and focus is lost, too little and you let things slip by without a reaction. Anger is not violence. Not in a mature person. I’m not pro-violence. I’m pro-anger irrigation. Build an internal system to manage and direct the flow. Anger is a fuel to be channeled into action. Into positive change.

Anger can be channeled into love.

I’m trying very hard to turn this frustration, which is just impotence of action, into love. The love that we saw in the videos of people lined up around the block to donate blood (while still knowing there are states where a gay man can’t legally donate blood, thus creating more anger). The love I saw in the outpouring of emotion on social media from around the world for the LGBTQ community in Orlando and all over.

Love heals. Love wins.

I read a tweet that said you can’t understand the sanctity of a gay club until you’ve been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public. I consider myself an ally and I’d still never thought about it in those terms. Thought about what this attack means. And it’s not only this attack. There was a shooting in a black church not long ago. Invasions of sacred spaces by those able to do massive damage because the American government doesn’t care enough about their lives to act in any way that would prevent it. The fingering and blame of a Group, a Them, soon follows, but only when the narrative works. Even then, as is the case in Orlando, the narrative is wrong. Not that the finger-pointers care. Blame away is better.

Image by Kristen LaFlamme

Sometimes it’s hard to find the love.

This is supposed to be an education blog. At a different point in the year this is the paragraph where I’d go into a thing about how do we talk to our kids about Orlando. But, when it happened I had three school days left. Many of us are already done. If we have kids in front of us we should still find a way to have the conversation about Orlando, and I think at this point the only way to approach it is from a place of honest love. Kids understand love. Maybe we’d talk about what we know about the shooter’s motivations. Maybe we’d talk about guns (something we’ve done a few times in this space). But one conversation- after the fact- does almost nothing.

Our classrooms need to exist as places of love. I don’t mean the “I love my kids” stuff we normally talk about but true, open, honest love. Discussions about what it means. Discussions about the emotion’s power and sway. Love takes us to empathy. Love moves us to understanding. I don’t know what else to do. I can write my Congressperson and vote and shake my fist and write, but my best, strongest connection to the future is in my classroom.

Again we are forced to have the discussion, “How do we teach this? How do we talk about this?” We all know those answers. We have to do it. It’s our part. It’s, quite literally, the least we could do. We’re still going to have the conversation because we must. To pretend it’s not an education issue is to do a disservice to every single LGBTQ, Muslim, discounted, scared, minimized student we have.

We must not shy away from conversations about LGBTQ rights. We must not shy away from conversations about religions as they pertain to the humans we share the world with. We must not shy away from the love we can share with every other being. It must become part of the fabric of our classrooms, our schools, and our society.

Ignorance abhors honest conversation.

Further resources:

Take Time to Heal- A Gay Educator Looks at Orlando

[Ed. Note- This week's #WeirdEd (Weds, 7pst) will be about the tragedy in Orlando. Because of the weight and personal nature of the topic I reached out to Jess Lifshitz and asked her to give her take and also write and co-moderate the chat. The voice of a gay educator is what we all need to hear right now. Of course, I also have things to say and that can be found in my companion piece- Finding Love in Our Anger- A Straight Educator Looks at Orlando.]

by Jess Lifshitz

My heart, our hearts, have been wounded by the events in Orlando.

Wounds heal.

But what if wounds start to heal before being thoroughly cleaned out and made better? I worry that we are letting our wounds heal too quickly in this country.

When news of the mass murder of 49 LGBT human beings first broke, we felt outrage. We felt horror. We felt like something had to change. We vowed to do better. We vowed to do more. We vowed to make our country safer. And I do believe we really meant it.

But so quickly, our wounds start to heal.  We start to move on. We start to feel the peace that comes with distance. For some, it only seems to take a day or two. For some, it seems to come far too quickly for real healing to occur. I think that instead, we are allowing our wounds to scab over. Again. Without actually fixing anything. Again. This is what allows the infection to grow.  

So, instead of moving on, I am begging us all to stay hurting. For now, can we just please sit in our discomfort? Can we stay in our anger? Can we allow ourselves to feel the tragedy of nearly 50 lost lives? Can we allow ourselves to stay in pain?

Because I think this pain is necessary. We have to feel the full weight of what we, as a country, have become. We have to feel the horribleness of it all. We have to stay in it until we can begin to find our own role in it.

Because we do, each of us, play a role in what we have become. It is far too easy to blame one person, to blame one group of people, to blame everyone else. But I think that what we really need to do is start to look at our own selves. What is our role in creating the kind of country that allows something like this to take place? That is what I think we need to start to figure out.

As educators, I think that this is a particularly important question. Because I think that schools have the power to either contribute to a world that is unsafe or to contribute to a world that feels safer. We can lament laws that do not exist, but should. We can complain about the rhetoric that comes from our politicians.  We can bemoan the way religions continue to perpetuate hate instead of the love they are supposed to be spreading. But right now, we do not have control over these things. But we do have quite a bit of control over what we do in our own clasrooms. Over how we teach our students. Over what books we put on our bookshelves and over which ones we choose to read to our students. We have the power to make this world better by starting in our own classrooms and in our own schools. We have a choice to make, but if we don’t stop and think about and argue about and discuss that choice, then we will stay where we are and nothing will change.  Staying silent allows the infection to grow.

And there is so much silence in the world of education. Especially when it comes to LGBT issues and LGBT human beings.
I worry that teachers had less of a problem discussing the murder of forty-nine people with their students than they did discussing the fact that these murders took place in a gay club with mostly gay victims. Because we seem to have an easier time discussing violence with our students than we do discussing the fact that gay people exist. We get nervous. We get scared. We get nervous to say the words gay or lesbian or transgender.  We feel fear.

Well, fear is what got us into this mess.

We have to stop allowing that fear to silence us as educators. Because, yes, we feel fearful of how parents and administrators will react when we bring up LGBT issues in the classroom. But you know who is feeling a whole lot more fear than we are right now? Young kids who are on the terrifying verge of coming out. Young kids who want to come out but who have just seen that people just like them were murdered in cold blood at a place where they were supposed to be safe. That is real fear.

And it is our job to help them feel less fearful. It is our job to find ways to show them that they have every right to be themselves and also not fear for their own lives. It is our job to find ways to show them that being gay or lesbian or transgender is a beautiful thing and it allows them to find a place in a powerful, brave community.

And it is our job to help other students, those are not LGBT, find ways to be vocally supportive. It is our job to model for all of our students how to be allies and how to really stand with those who are being targeted with hate. It is our job to teach all of our students that you cannot make the world a better place by staying silent.

So it is time to start talking. And I hope that you will join Doug and me so that we can talk about what scares us, what stops us, what stands in our way. And so that we can also start to talk about how we can do better so that we can really allow the wounds of this country to begin to heal.  

Jessica Lifshitz is a 5th grade teacher, who writes about teaching and learning and what it is like to be a gay educator on her blog

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 106- Programming with Wokka (and Sam Patterson)

[Weird-In-Chief Note: My entire family is sick, is getting over sick, or is freshly not sick, so the chat wasn't going to be done by me this week. When I can't do it, who better to ask than a puppet? I'm happy Wokka and Sam are able to help us out this week. Post by Wokka.]

As a puppet, I don’t blog much, but Doug says this is just a teaser to get you thinking. (and Doug knows from teasers) The thing is, we can do stuff in the classroom we have never been able to do before, like 360 pictures and green screening and drone flying- so many cool things.

Has this changed the learning in your room? Has this shifted the goals you set for your learners? We are talking the SHIFT that CODE has imposed on the thinking we can do.

But do we do it? How to can do? What do you do? Shoe bee do bee do tutu.

What are the things they do when they do them with you? How do they do the things you have not yet imagined them doing?

How can you support the learning students need to do to meet the challenges no one has yet imagined? And which standards does that address?  How can we use programming as a smokescreen to dismantle the institutionalized classism of education? What are the critical difference between a hawk and a handsaw?

Please think carefully before tweeting as we at #WeirdEd have a mouser fluffing image to maintain.