Monday, October 14, 2013

October Already !?

Week 6 - can't believe time got away from me and I've neglected this blog until now.  We've already plowed through our first novel, written an essay, held some great class discussions and are headed on a field trip.  No wonder it's taken me a few weeks to get back into the routine.  We're beginning The Great Gatsby so I'm pulling out materials from last year, scouring the internet for new stuff, and anticipating our viewing of at least two of the three films - Leo being the latest.  This year's group of seniors is quite a mix of academic all-stars and apathetic bodies but I'm doing the best I can thus far to keep up their enthusiasm and mine.  We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Farewell.  Adios.  Arrivederci.  Chow.  Aloha.

No matter how you say it, goodbyes can be difficult. And my seniors in the Class of 2013 are realizing that  as they deliver their farewell speeches.  No matter how adult and grown up they think they are, these teenagers are facing an exciting, frightening, uncertain time and it can be tough leaving the most stable place they've known.

As they reminisce about their younger years and pay tribute to their friends and teachers, it is always fascinating to me to see that no matter how many times I've heard these type of speeches through the years there are always those that surprise me.  Some are very sincere in ways I would never have guessed they could be.  Some disclose personal histories that are insightful and bittersweet.  Still others stay true to their classroom persona and deliver the most random, ridiculous, often disrespectful stories just to get the last laugh.  But whatever their approach, it is a time of reflection and closure that is useful to these soon-to-be-alumni.

I wish them all luck as they prepare to leave these familiar faces and spaces in search of the adult life.  There are soldiers, scholars, mothers, dreamers, and doers in this group and I hope they all find their personal happiness.


A couple of former students visited me last week, via Twitter and in person, and I'm happy to report that Orwell's novel 1984 is used on the campuses of MSU and SVSU.  So that alone assures me of it's relevance!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

News Stories Related to Orwell

As I'm putting together the last few weeks of material for my seniors, an upcoming assignment has them accessing a blog, "Pedablogical,"and looking at some news stories relevant to Orwell and Big Brother. The original post is from March 2011 so I've updated the list a bit, stealing story links and perusing the web to find my own.  So below is a list of some very recent news stories focusing on the use of technology in the name of safety and conveneince.  You be the judge...

1.  Behind the Webcam's Watchful Eye  Online proctoring at universities is becoming more and more prevalent. 

2.  Tracking devices in school badges  Schools in New Mexico insert RIFD chips into student ID badges that can track location of students at any time.

3.  Seattle Clothing Store Runs Without People Shop with your smartphone and robots!

4.  Texas School Requires Locator Chips A judge ruled that a school can require students to wear locator chips while on campus, though one refused.

4.  Computers That See and Watch Over You  Machines are getting more and more advanced in observing and interpreting human behavior.

5.  Birthplace of Big Brother Allows Citizen Surveillance Britain is pushing legislation to allow the goverment to monitor all citizens' online activity.

Convenience or Sacrifice?

Sometimes I hate my gadgets.  As I look at my desk just now, there is the large desktop computer screen, iPad, smartphone, and flatscreen TV surrounding me.  And while I am blessed to have the use of such tools and have come to rely on them, I am annoyed at the same time.  Seems I cannot get away from notifications, calendar alerts, messages, and the glare of red and blue blinking indicator lights.  And my students are all the more obsessed with their screens.  So as we've finished 1984, I came across a slideshow about how technology may be contributing to laziness and lack of social skills, things we've discussed in the past few weeks during class.  It's interesting to see how our daily lives have become dependent on personal devices and information from outside sources in the name of convenience and personal preferences - but at what expense?

How Technology Makes Us Lazy

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Little Life Lessons

It happened again.  Just when I thought my current classroom activity was either A) an amazing exercise or B) a complete flop, my students surprised me again.  This time it was to show me just how much they still have to learn in their 35 short days that remain at MHS.

We've begun to read 1984 and I have several preliminary activities before the kids get books in their hands.  Today's was my ROOM 123 PERSONAL INVENTORY.  The gist is that students are instructed to complete the form - no questions, no talking.  Then most of them, out of a bit of fear and good public school obedience training, set to work filling out the necessary information that gets progressively personal.  Things needed are identification numbers, GPA, make and model of car, medical history, family history, current employment status, cell phone network provider, list of close friends, and so on.  There are always one or two who fundamentally refuse to give up such personal information and question my motives.  And in a way I'm glad they have those reservations.  But more importantly is the brief discussion that follows.

Usually when I ask "how did that feel?" I get such responses as "invasive," "violated," "suspicious," "angry" and such, which is exactly what happened with today's groups.  Then we end up on a couple of tangents about how well they've been trained as students to sit quietly, obey the authority (teacher), and not question him or her.  One young lady was very uncomfortable with the word trained, but we eventually agreed that that's pretty much what has occurred over the past 12 years of schooling.  I mentioned that as an observer, several young men reached for their wallets to access their driver's licences (the number was needed for the exercise) and that's when I realized how much these "big kids" need to know before we let them loose into the adult world.

"There's a lot I need to know about myself," proclaimed one young lady.  And it's true.  We don't often think of how many numbers, records, and forms are connected to us until we are called upon to provide such information.  One young man asked which of the several numbers on his driver's license was the actual number.  So I showed him and then enlightened the rest of the group that the official number is the one that starts with the first initial of their last name.  You'd have thought I just gave them the secrets of the universe - seems no one knew that tidbit.

"I thought the M meant Michigan." (her last name begins with M)

"I always thought the numbers began with zero." (his last name begins with O)

"Mine is a D and I figured it meant driver."  (last name starts with D)

In a way it was a great "teachable" moment for me to be able to shed some real-life information with these soon-to-be graduates.  And I'm sure there are more to come as we continue to draw parallels between Orwell's world and ours in terms of technology, government and politics, societal trends, and the risks associated with all of the above.  Hopefully I can impart some more eye-opening wisdom before our time here is done.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Told Ya So!

And just to show you how relevant these last few lessons were...

Words We Owe To Shakespeare

Friday, January 25, 2013

Multitasking - Not for the Weak of Heart

I think it's safe to say that there's rarely a dull moment during our classtime, whether it's random stories about my kids and students' lives or listening to British actors read a play.  And a recent lesson was no exception.

We'd been working on breaking down Shakespeare's langauge to get a better handle on it and after doing the omissions and sentence structure work, next up was the poetic meter analysis.  I know, sounds pretty awful - scansion is the technical term - but with the help of childhood songs and an A. A. Milne poem, we were eventually reading lines from A Midsummer Night's Dream with surprisingly good rhythm. 

I wasn't sure how this was going to go, either, as I was typing up the lines from the play to project for the kids to read.  Ask them to a) stand up, b) read unfamiliar words, and c) stomp feet seemed like a lot to ask.  Sure would have been easier to hit play and listen to the audio recording, check for understanding, and move on.  But I was determined not to play it safe, especially since I'd learned most of this technical stuff about Shakespeare's writing is brand new for the kids.  So, I took a deep breath and worked through the activity. 

There were only a few questioning looks as I asked kids to *gasp* stand up and then move away from their desks.  We did the Milne poem reading to get a feel for the rhythm and rhyme, then I popped up the first of the Shakespeare segments.  Kids were asked to read aloud the words, in unison as much as possible.  So after a couple of do-overs and my keeping pace, that was successful.  Next up was stomping a foot on the indicated syllables while reading out loud.  A few more re-starts were needed, but I was impressed with how fast they caught on.  And everyone was moving mouths, saying words, and stamping a foot.  Awesome!  Music to my ears! 

There was another passage to read the same way, then we looked at the technical aspects - tetrameter vs pentameter and iambic syllables.  So for a quick introduction, it went well and I'm thankful no one booed me off the stage.  On to the memorization passage...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Yoda Speaks Shakespeare!

Stellar students I have!

In an effort to help students decode Shakespeare before we start "A Midsummer Night's Dream," we've been working with a few lessons and demonstrations about the language strategies The Bard employs such as contractions, omissions, and reversed sentence structure.  And lo and behold, I think it worked!  Though they were a bit skeptical at first, my seniors ultimately learned somthing, though I don't know how many of them will admit it.

To begin with, I presented a diagram of the Globe theater and a brief video highlighting elements of Elizabethan theater.  Kids took a few notes, guided by my list of questions, and then we discussed a few things.  A quick survey revealed all but about 3 of my students had the faintest idea of the Globe to begin with so this was pretty worthwhile in my eyes.  And judging from their elongated attention spans and intent disucssion, they seemed pretty into it.

I followed that lesson with the language tricks.  Pairs were given an envelope with 16 pairs of contraction, omission, and Elizabethan word pairs.  They made a grid of the slips, face down, and then played a version of the MEMORY game, turning over papers and trying to find a match.  I let them struggle with the words on their own to try to complete the pairs rather than give a cheat sheet so it was interesting to wander around and hear comments:

 "Anon, what the heck is that?"

"Ope goes with open!"

"Often - I found it!"

So if nothing else, kids now have a bit of a visual of the words and some early exposure to the common ones before we get the text of MSND.  There's a great outline here of the language strategies.

The next activity had kids building and rearranging a set of given words to make a variety of sentences.  First they were to arrange the words to form one that makes sense in our standard, American language.  Then I asked them to rearrange the words so it still made sense, but had a different structure.  So "my mother is gone" became "gone is my mother."  We did that a couple of times and ultimately ended up with some pretty good Shakespearean-sounding sentences.  And when at least one student from each class observed "it sounds like Yoda!" I was thrilled!  Yup, Yoda speaks Shakespeare.

So don't tell me, my lovely seniors, that you "don't get it" because you most certainly do!

And BTW, did I mention Shakespeare also invented texting shortcuts?