Sunday, July 31, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

You should read this article. Seriously.

"Confession of a cheating teacher" from Philly's own The Notebook

Great journalism that I hope will shed some light on where we are failing in education in this country. The culture of standardized testing does not work and is not sustainable. It will not reach any of its goals no matter how low those goals are gradually moved. I say that as a dedicated and informed high school classroom teacher.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reader Response Pairing

This summer I am working on expanding the collection of memoirs and personal essays that I teach in my two classes. High school students respond particularly well to personal essays, and I find that they tend to generally enjoy writing about themselves and their lives. Personal essays are a good way for teachers to encourage self-reflection and journaling practices among their students.

I picked up a copy of Growing Up Latino and have been reading through it to find useful texts. Jesús Colón's "Kipling and I" (The link is a PDF copy that I found on the Montclair University website. The copy also includes Kipling's poem "If . . ." and some critical thinking questions. Nerdy teacher stuff.) is particularly intriguing as it provides a nice bridge between personal essays and reader response essays. Colón writes about the effects of a work of literature on his young life, directly referencing lines from the poem and explaining how his perceptions of its message change as he gains life experiences.

Colón provides a nice model that students can use in their own writing. I hope to try this out with some of my classes in the coming semester. We'll take a look at this example and then find poems (or song lyrics) of our own and connect them to our life experiences. I can see this working to bridge personal writing to writing about what we have read. My hopes are that the students will begin to understand reading as a personal connection between an author and a group of readers where ideas are exchanged, manipulated, re-interpreted, and put back into the public sphere for the process to continue.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Totally Got to Play Chain World!

I've been reading a bit about Chain World, a video game revealed at the 2011 Game Design Challenge in SF, CA (if you followed that link, you can skip to the next paragraph). In brief, Jason Rohrer is an independent game designer who created a Minecraft mod, put it on a USB stick, and wrote some rules for playing the game. You only get to play it off the stick. You only play it once. When you are done playing it and saving your alterations to the world, you have to pass it on to someone else. He submitted the game as an entry in a "Video Games as Religion" challenge and passed it off to wander around the world and become the stuff of legends. Each player gets to contribute to the development of the world and the alterations that they make take on stories of their own, get interpreted, misinterpreted, added to, destroyed, or ignored by each subsequent player (like the real world, except one person at a time). Rohrer was player one, while player two was this guy named Jia Ji, a programmer who mostly works to get money donated to charities and disaster relief. Ji, independent of an against the wishes of Rohrer, set up an online auction that would have gotten the game passed on to various celebrities and regular people. One would bid for a slot in the game's passage from person to person. Procedes would go to various charities. Angry blogging ensued. People either enjoyed that the game was already being altered and reinterpreted, or hated that it was being monetized and regulated even for supposedly good causes.

Those who think that this Ji dude is somehow corrupting the game seem to be angry at least in part by the fact that a player is limiting the way that the game is played, and somehow corrupting its original intent. I think that they are wrong, not , however, for the reasons that Ji gives (something about how things should be used to get money to people in need). Ji strikes me as a ridiculous, hippy, goody-two-shoes,spotlight-hogger who needs a hobby other than the thing that he already does for a living (and this Rohrer dude seems pretty zany, too). What has actually happened here is that now everyone is getting to play the most interesting and actually available part of this unimaginably rare game. Li didn't take anything from anyone or corrupt anything. He just took part in the only way that any of us can hope to play the game.

Rohrer created a video game so limited that essentially nobody (or at least a vastly insignificant number of people) will ever get to directly play it. Even if the auction play order is broken (as it may have already been), you will never be in possession of the USB stick even more so than you will never win the lottery. That means that, for most of us, the interesting part of Chain World cannot be the actual playing of the USB stick. It has to be the in-real-life effect of the game. We play it by thinking about it, and sharing some of that thinking with others so that they can also think about it. We discuss and philosophize about the game. People also do this about religion. People get very angry about religion and yell about how other people's interpretation of religion is wrong. We get all hot and bothered about how other people ruin and misuse religion, even for supposedly good causes. Chain World is supposed to be a video game as a religion. I think that Rohrer succeeded, and we can all play at least the IRL part of the game. I'll never see the USB stick, but I did get to read a few cool articles, think some cool thoughts, and write a blog post that maybe a few people will read. Nobody has ruined my shot at playing this particular Minecraft mod. I totally got to play Chain World and it was a fun way to spend about an hour-and-a-half.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Punk Not Profit

Punk Not Profit is one of many music download blogs that cater to the completionist in us all. I bet you thought you had every single inch of tape ever blessed (cursed?) with Glenn Danzig's voice. Is it important to have the instrumental outtakes from Samhain's November Coming Fire? I'm not sure, but there are worse compulsions out there.

Blogs like this help to bolster the argument that free music downloading drives the careers of musicians. Most of what Punk Not Profit shares is not available for sale anyplace anymore. I go on, download some rare bit of nonsense and keep scrolling. "Oh, look. An early Exploited demo. I've heard these guys are fun." Download. Listen. Buy some more music next time I'm in a record store. It's free advertising.

And if you prefer classic and psychedelic rock over punk, take a gander at The Day After the Sabbath. The dude loves you so much, he makes you a mix tape every few weeks. Then you start hunting down complete albums.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vegan Black Metal Chef!

The Vegan Black Metal Chef makes me laugh and laugh. I would caution agains using as much salt and butter substitute as he does. I would also say that headbanging, posing w/ an awesome guitar, and using a mace to mash potatoes are all awesome and common practice in my kitchen from here on out.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert

The last book in the Dune series may very well be the best. Chapterhouse: Dune continues the story of human settlement in the cosmos over three thousand years beyond the original Dune. Herbert demonstrates humanity's capacity to learn and grow, as well as our capacity to lie to ourselves and regress. He continues themes of nothing ever actually ending, the struggle for survival, and the constantly shifting definitions of tribe. Herbert takes the ideas and motivations that drove characters from earlier novels and holds them up as flawed. I really enjoy that the history has not at all treated the heroes of the first four novels well. This is a wonderful book that serves as a fine disengaging point for a truly epic story arc.