Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bad Student

I am a miracle of the modern educational system. There really has been little progress in the way that students are taught since I began school in 1970, so that is why I classify my experiences as modern (my kids insist my experiences are ancient). The miracle is that I graduated. From anything.

I should have been left behind. I am one of those students who don't belong in that atmosphere where a teacher stands behind a podium and dispenses knowledge. I am a loner. I think my own thoughts and I am easily distracted. I believe it is called ADD or ADHD now. When I was a kid it was called stupid, rebellious, and sometimes class clown.

I still wake up from nightmares where I must return to high school to take some class that mysteriously slipped under the radar. Other nightmares revolve around a missed semester of college that I must do over as a humiliated adult. College is not for everybody. I am just lucky they had the best parties there.

Oddly enough, I became a teacher. I prefer to think that my career choice was a response to not liking the way the I was taught and thinking that I could do better. I did not become a teacher so that I could return to an educational system that allows me to punish today's students as some sort of payback to society. I don't understand teachers that teach angry. Shouldn't learning be fun and not some sort of experiment in torture?

When I was a young student, I would doodle while pretending to take notes, and think my own amusing thoughts. Sometimes I would play the game where I try to figure out what famous person the speaker looks like. Other times I would plan out my response if a rogue band of ninjas attacked. Of course, in my fantasies I always won, but they would have needed to be really bad ninjas.

As an adult learner I have the same issues that I did when I was a child, except now they are worse. I still must be trained and have "professional development." I am still the guy who sits in the back and can not focus on the person lecturing for very long. It is only the exceptional speaker that can hold my attention. Information is still presented in the same way to me. Lecture style- sage on the stage. It makes me want to scream! I simply can't learn that way. I need hands on, interactive environments that encourage play. This is when I am at my best. Or, if that is not possible, give me a goal, the tools I will need, and let me find my own path to knowledge. Be the cheerleader -encourage me along the way.

When I find myself in a lecture and I have a computer in front of me, I will back channel- using Instant Messenger and Email to talk with others about what is going on. I will Google things being discussed, or just post to Twitter. I have tried to force myself to focus and collect the information that is flung at me from the podium, like poo from the monkey cage, but my instincts force me to duck. If the speaker can not entertain and inform, they have probably lost me. I have always thought that there was something wrong with me, but lately I have stopped fighting my natural inclinations and accepted that this is the way I am.

I try very hard to do the things that are expected of me as an adult, but I can't escape from my lack of focus. I know I am not the only person who feels this way. I can spot the rest of you. It is easy from the back of the room. So my question is- how long do we put up with a teaching style that doesn't meet our needs?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Fourteen years ago today, I took my then girlfriend, Amy, to Alexander's on the Bay. I had spent a lot of time planning, or I should say worrying, about that night. I was very nervous. I was so nervous that I couldn't eat all day.

A month or so before then, I took my mother's wedding band and had part of it added to an engagement design I liked. I asked some of my friends who were girls to question Amy about the cut of diamond she liked best. I bought the biggest ring I that I could barely afford, and spent the next two years paying it off.

I talked to a couple of friends who had a band and convinced them to come to the restaurant unannounced and sing for us. I couldn't take the chance that the owner would say no and decided that was the best plan.

We dressed up for dinner. I told her a story about doing something different and dressing up, after all, it was a fancy restaurant.

We sat down and I nervously tried to make small talk while looking out for my friends and hoping it would all go as planned.

Then they came around the corner. You could hear them first. They walked in slowly towards the table singing Amie. One guitar and two voices, singing the part that goes like this-

"Amie, what you wanna do,
I think I could stay with you,
For a while, maybe longer if I do...

Don't you think the time is right for us to find,
All the things we thought weren't prob'ly could be right in time,
And can you see, which way we should turn, together or alone..."

And now it is 14 years later, we have three kids, and I am still a big goober. I often wonder how I got so lucky in life.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Leaving the Island

I left the island almost exactly a year ago. I was sitting in a summer conference session learning about web 2.0 tools. At the time I did what I always do, I jumped right in and began exploring. I didn't know what I would find or have any idea that a trip was in my future, but as I created my Twitter account something within me began to change. I had tapped into a new power.

In the first few moments nothing seemed different, but by inserting my ridiculous picture as a representation of myself in Twitter, it was as if I was applying for a passport. The only difference was that I chose the stupidest picture a had of myself instead of the most professional. The picture is appropriate, because I am rather silly, so I left it in Twitter and kept it here on my blog as well.

I say that I have left the island because I am no longer isolated. Instead of mocking something new, which is of course the most grown up and mature thing that I could have done, I took a chance and just tried it. Without expectation, I allowed Twitter to grow and I sought out others simply because they were out there too. I formed a social network of people with similar interests, or at least people that made me laugh. Before I began my exploration, I knew the definition of a social network, but not the experience of being a part of one. It is similar to seeing a book on a shelf, as opposed to actually reading the book. Unlike a book, I don't think anyone will turn Twitter into a full length movie, but if they did it might look like this...

Earlier this week, I tried to express to a group of follow computer resource teachers how Twitter has changed me. Very few, if any of them, really know me. After all, I haven't been off the island that long. Telling them how I have changed seemed so hollow.

I tried to tell them of the professional growth that I have made in my short time on Twitter. I emphasised the personal learning network aspect of the micro blogging service. I even compared it to the master's program that I was in a few years ago, but the comparison, while accurate, sounded funny even to me. It is not hard to understand why there was a snicker or two.

You can be a travel agent, but people must choose to leave the island on their own. No one should be Gilligan and remain stuck on an island forever.

So, how do you encourage others to leave the island?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Disney Vacation in 1 Minute or Less

For the second year in a row, my school system is hosting a video contest for all of the computer resource teachers during our summer conference. The theme is, "What did you do on your Summer Vacation." I love to play and make things, so I entered a video. I am not that excited about the competition part, not that winning wouldn't be nice, I just don't like people to get upset about who won. I like the creative part of the contest. The building of an plan of action and putting things together to make the video. I like to share what I have done because I like to make others laugh, and there is nothing quite like that sound when a large group of people bursts out with a good belly laugh.

I recently went to Disney World with the family and I pulled a few videos and pictures together to tell my little story. (Warning! if you are a CRS, don't look! Save your viewing for the conference!)

It took my longer than I really wanted to spend making my summer video, but that seems to be the way I operate. The first picture in the video I made based on the design for the Lancelot Link logo. I used Paint Shop Pro 9 to create the logo (this would not have been my program of choice, but sometimes we must adapt and use what is available). I decided to go with a spy theme, so I looked for a short YouTube video with a tape player on it. I recorded myself making the mission statement using Windows Sound Recorder. I also performed a bit of Karoke for the sound track. I used the My Space Karoke tool and sang Secret Agent Man. I then recorded that version using Camtasia (free 30 day trail version) and exported that file to mp3.

I used Microsoft's Movie Maker to create the video. It is the easiest program to use for this function that I have available. I would have used Camtasia for this, but it doesn't always do what I want it to do without fiddling with the controls, so I stuck with a program that would do what I wanted it to on the first try.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video!