Education, Humor

More Homework Meme

Friend, drinking buddy, and occasional target of my anti-Buffalo, anti-reality-TV, pop-culture-mocking humor, Bill Ferriter tagged me in the latest meme to strike the blogosphere: #MoreHomework.  I appreciate the chance to share more about me, and perhaps enhance my connections to so many of you. Now, I have to do three things:

First, I need to share 11 random facts about me that you probably don’t already know.  Here goes:

  1. Thanks to my dad’s career in the U.S. Navy, I lived in three states and one territory (Puerto Rico) before junior high. #navybrat
  2. My first job was as the concessions guy at our local movie theater.  I ate SO much popcorn.  Yet, I still love it. #itsnotrealbutter
  3. I talked my wife into trading in our family’s Wii for an Xbox360.  Then, I bought Skyrim and now I stay up many nights playing video games.  #level20khajiit
  4. I have a pathological dislike for Christmas music.  I can’t explain it. #humbug
  5. I graduated from a campus of Long Island University that doesn’t exist anymore.  I still get mail asking for money.  #fundraisedeyebrows Continue reading

Work-at-Home Plus/Delta

plus-delta-pic2-300x154My last post spurred some discussion on Twitter and my inbox about the pros and cons of working at home.  I decided to publish my list here.

+ (Things I like about working at home)

  • Drop the kids off at the pool” whenever you need to, and in a friendly bathroom.
  • Midday kisses from my lovely wife (and that’s it.  Nothing more.  Gotta keep up the professionalism.)
  • Get the most done when I have the most energy (early) and taper off as I lose focus (afternoon), unless I feel like caffeinating.
  • Trying out all of the cool teleconference/video chat/collaboration tools I’ve been reading about for years
  • Can stay up late playing “Skyrim” and it doesn’t affect anyone else (except maybe the barista the next morning)

△ (Things I would change if I could)

  • Temptations… all of the temptations: Netflix, Hulu, iTunes Radio, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn…
  • The guilt I feel about leaving the 97 boys that I most recently taught
  • The feeling that I’m “always on” and my own difficulty switching out of work mode
  • The way I can’t seem to go more than an hour without a bathroom break
  • The look others give you when you say, “I work from home now”.  It’s half jealousy and half this:


The Bottom Line?  I don’t want my Work-at-Home experience to play out like The Oatmeal predicts.

Education, Humor, Science

The “Real” World

from Wikipedia
from Wikipedia

My friends and I often dig at each other over the differences in our knowledge of popular culture.  I fall firmly in the geek category–able to recite lines from Monty Python and Star Wars–more so than most of my chums.  I catch some heat for knowing the name of the ThinkGeek monkey (Timmy) or for knowing what PCMCIA stands for (it’s not People Can’t Remember Computer Industry Acronyms).

Where my interests stray from others, and #Murica in general, is my lack of fascination with reality TV.  It’s not just that I don’t enjoy watching others doing things that normal human beings would find disgusting/reprehensible/disturbing.  It’s not even the ridiculous situations that the producers of many of these shows create as fishbowls for the rest of us to watch.  I just hate the entire genre.

For me, the problem is related to physics.  No, really, stay with me and I’ll explain.  As a young scientist (before climbing the ivory tower of public education–#sarcasm), especially studying natural processes, the principle of the Observer Effect was drilled into me.  From Wikipedia,

 “[T]he term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed.”

We are taught that just by observing a process we are affecting it.  There is no such thing as observing how something behaves in the “real world”.  We can never know with a high level of certainty that we aren’t changing the way something would normally act.  This is an important idea for a few reasons.  First, it reinforces that all observations are potentially tainted by our presence and we work to minimize this interference.  Second, it forces us to acknowledge that our conclusions are not perfect.  This probabilistic nature of science is one of its most critical tenets and I find myself repeating it in my classroom all the time.

So, back to reality television.  The reason that I can never seem to get through ten minutes of a reality TV show is that I get hung up on the idea that it’s a lie.  Even the most private interactions between two people include at least one other person and a video camera.  Every frame of video that we see is filmed and the participants are (usually) aware of this.  These are not, for the most part, hidden cameras.  Picture a big guy with the camera and bunch of wires hanging off of it, and another person holding a boom mike up in the air out of the frame.  Would you behave in a normal way if these people were right next to you?  No.

photo from Flickr user edmundyeo
photo from Flickr user edmundyeo

The entire interaction that we are witnessing is artificial.  It’s forced and manipulated and not real.  While the words being spoken might not be scripted down to the word, they are not the result of normal thinking and behavior.  The way the characters conduct themselves is not how they would behave if there was no camera crew present.

This may seem nit-picky or whiny, but the fact is that if I want to see how people behave in a candid situation, I’ll sit on a bench at the mall with an Orange Julius in my hand and people-watch.  If I want to see how people act with a camera pointed at them, I’ll watch The Office or Arrested Development.  Because even a mockumentary is honest about its dishonesty.

What do you see as the entertainment value of reality television?

Education, Humor, Science

The 5 TED Talks that Most Impacted My Life

Now that online TED Talks have reached one billion views, it seems that everyone is sharing their list of their favorite talks.  This got me thinking about the role that these short videos have had on my own life.  I realized that watching them has opened new doors to me, pushed back against my views, and shifted my perspective on many issues.  Here are my five most influential TED talks:

Will our kids be a different species? by Juan Enriquez

As a science educator and parent, this talk really opened my eyes to the possibility that technology could impact the speed of evolution, and that my children might be that different from my generation.

Aliens, love — Where are they? by John Hodgman

There is little that Hodgman creates that I don’t find mercilessly hilarious.

The 4 a.m. mystery by Rives

Possibly the funniest TED talk that I have ever watched, this one has impacted my own sense of humor and the way I use it in my teaching.

How to learn? From mistakes by Diana Laufenberg

Laufenberg is one of the awesome teachers at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, who explains here how failure is an important part of teaching.

Religions and babe by Hans Rosling

Rosling’s way of presenting data graphically is remarkable and it influences much of the way that I teach my students to create graphs.  This is the most recent of his several TED talks.

These are the ones that changed my thinking the most.  What are yours?

Education, Humor, Technology

My Top 10 in 2010

As much as I crack corny jokes and “pun”-ish those around me with my cheesy humor, I am actually not a big fan of tired cliches.  Nonetheless, I feel the need to wrap up every calendar year with a look back on the things I learned and the highlights of my digital world.  To this end, and possibly just to put them all in one place, here are the ten blog post and articles that influenced me the most in 2010.  They are sorted by the effect that they had on me.

Made Me Laugh

Short Imagined Monologues by Timothy McSweeney (and others)

This entire blog deserves your undivided attention for about one hour.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Okay, wasn’t that AWESOMELY funny?!?  It’s easy in a year that bashed teachers and promised that firing them would make education better to get depressed and forget how to laugh.  That’s when I visit McSweeney’s for some much-needed hilarity.

The Oatmeal Comics at

I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said that the funniest jokes are about the things all around us that we all grumble about in our daily lives.  The Oatmeal is a perfect way to turn grumbling into laughing.

Made Me Nod in Agreement

7 Class Size Myths (and the truth) by Valerie Strauss at The Answer Sheet

This is one of several WaPo blog articles that really pushed my thinking this year, as well as fed my growing frustration with the class size problems that we all see coming.  I walked away from this article realizing why my biggest classes struggle more and why so many policy makers want to make us believe that teachers are the biggest factor in a kids life.

The Social You vs. The Professional You by Jeff Utecht at The Thinking Stick

I use the ideas in this blog post when I’m talking to teachers about the difference between Twitter and Facebook and why it’s helpful to write a blog.

Education Experience is Paramount by Kurt Wootton at Huffington Post

The new education blogging section at the HuffPo has been very interesting and a nice range of views get shared there.  This one has immense significance for so many districts across the country that are hiring superintendents from outside the world of education.

Finding the Strength to Write by Chris Lehmann at Practical Theory

Chris, who is the antithesis of every administrator I’ve ever known, expresses himself in ways that I wish I could match.  He strikes directly at that feeling of hopelessness that plagues all ed bloggers and classroom teachers from time to time.  Is what we are doing actually making any difference?  He convinced me that the answer is a resounding YES!

Made Me Think in New Ways

Roger Ebert: The Essential Man by Chris Jones at

Always a fan of movies (of the crappy B variety or the Oscar-nominated cerebral kind), I have always had enormous respect for the film critic Roger Ebert.  This article is a must-read for any film buff as it shares the largely untold story of Ebert’s major surgery and his writing since.

Seven habits of highly effective technology trainers by Doug Johnson at The Blue Skunk Blog

For better or worse, more and more of my time over the past few years has involved providing edtech professional development to my colleagues.  This piece did more to improve my presentations than any other single resource.

tl;dr by Will Richardson at web-logged

As most of my like-minded colleagues, I often bow at the altar of Will Richardson.  This post uses the “too long; didn’t read” shorthand to symbolizes the way that reading is changing and reading instruction is not.  Great stuff!

Ignore the Test by Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant

Scott makes some very good points about standardized multiple-choice tests being the scapegoat for the poor preparation we are giving many of our students.

What do you think about these?  Where’s your Top Ten list?  Well, get on it!

Humor, Technology

The Winding Path from RSS to OK Go

Hi, my name is Paul, and I am a news junkie.

While some of my fellow bloggers admit to vices that range from reality TV to quilting, my fix is an order of magnitude more boring.  I just love learning about the major news stories of the day.  I have no real fascination with weather or sports, but national and international news bits are like candy to me.  That’s one reason why I’ve written on several previous occasions about the ways I use RSS (and Google Reader/Reeder on my iPhone) to “feed the beast”.

My nearly insatiable desire for more news led me to NPR as my primary daily source.  I find its reporting to be both more informed and more unbiased than most.  They don’t get dragged into sensationalism, and they treat their audience like the educated and rational folks that we mainly are.  In short, I respect them because they respect me.  And, through my avid public radio listening I was introduced to the Planet Money podcast.

I’m not an economist and I don’t have the money skills to ever invest wisely, but I thoroughly enjoy the writing and style of the show.  I listen every week while I plan my lessons.  Now, I can make sense of the seemingly endless flow of bad news from the media about the financial situation we find ourselves in.

And, so it was that I recently heard an episode of Planet Money in which the economics of the music industry was discussed.  One of the people interviewed was Damian Kulash, lead singer of the alternative band OK Go.  To learn more about the band, I highly recommend this bio written by Ira Glass.

Thus, in one of the strangest lines of reasoning and coincidence ever, we get from a news addiction to one of my favorite bands.  If none of this has made any sense to you, I would like to blame it on blogger fatigue and simply leave you with this, a great example of OK Go’s fun and entertaining music videos.

OK Go – This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

Education, Humor

Nickel-Bee No More?

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education

Dear Mr. Duncan,

I read the piece today in U.S. News and World Report in which you presented your views on the changes needed in the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.  While some, including this blogger, have expressed concern with President Obama’s selection of yet another Sec of Ed who has never been taught in a classroom, I am still interested in what you have to say about NCLB.

It is reassuring to read your acknowledgment of the problems with NCLB.  I sincerely hope that you follow through on your promise to solicit the opinions and advice of teachers and parents before crafting another counter-productive national edict.

I was most intrigued to read that you have not yet chosen a name for the new legislation.  I would like offer my help, since my colleagues often call upon me when they are in need of a catchy acronym.  I have considered your needs, and I have included some suggestions below.  To keep with the habit of needing an easy way to say every acronym (see the title), I have supplied guidance regarding the appropriate way to say each one:

DODNTINT: “Do, or do not.  There is no try.”  Inspired by the sage advice of Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back”, and driven by the fact that it doesn’t matter how hard you try only whether you reach the arbitrary goal set for you.  Pronounced “do-don’t-tint”.

DASED: Different Abilities + Same Expectations = Devastating.  Pronounced “dazed”.

FTGWC: Fill the Gap with Children.  Use the increasing number of failing children to fill that achievement gap.  Pronounced “fit-go-wik”.

DMWL: Do More With Less.  A traditional educational war cry.  Pronounced “dim-will”.

DUMB: Duncan’s Underfunded Mandates Bonanza.  Pronounced “dum”.

All of these are hereby protected by the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 license, but I would be happy to discuss further acronym-writing opportunities with you.

Best wishes,

Mr. Science Teach