Why do we do what we do?

Monday evening, after the kids went to bed, I sat on the couch watching “Terminator” immersing myself in my weekly paranoia about machines one day bringing an end to humanity. The gist of this episode, like the films, put the basic humanness of its otherwise innocent characters on a bleak collision course with a war of extinction with “the machines.” The future looks bleak indeed.

But this episode had too much dialogue, too much weeping; no car chases, no gun fights. I quickly lost interest.

I wandered the web on my MacBook when I stumbled accross a BBC story of a former Swiss miltary pilot crossing the English channel with a rocket strapped to his back. I watched the video. I watched in silence as he jumped from a plane in Calais, France, and zipped off into the blue. I watched as he blasted past onlookers and chase planes. I watched as he deployed his parachute and landed in Dover, England, with nothing more than a stumble.

No threats, no deaths, no terror, no markets collapsing, no war, no hospital waiting rooms, no polution. Just one man, with a a rocket strapped to his back leading by example.

This story fills me with hope. There are yet a few hope-filled heros who do not become distracted from their focus; no obstacle clouds their pursuit of an ideal; no risk is unmanaged.

“I’m not worried about risk, I manage risk”, he said. What a profound confidence.

Yves Rossy landed safely. He valued risk, he measure it, planned for it, managed it … and landed it. I admire his achievement. I admire his desire to see a future in which we fly “a little bit like a bird.” I admire his desire to lead humanity forward to do what we have never done before. I admire his lack of paranoia about some undefined chance of failure. I admire his unflinching focus on success.

Next week, when I sit down to watch “Terminator,” it’ll be a bit easier to remind myself that a bleak future is fiction. Human fulfillment is possible if we do what we do with love, with joy, and with faith. Yves Rossy is “down to earth” by reminding us we are called to the stars.

“Flight of the Jet Man,” airs again on Friday October 3rd on National Geographic Channel(US). Can anyone find out when(if) it’s on in Canada?

LA 9 to Compare two films: Apples to Apples

I’d like some help considering what pair of films we ought to study in LA 9. Keeping in mind our course focus questions, what pair of films should we study in class?

  1. Why We Fight vs. The Atomic Cafe
  2. Artificial Intelligence: AI vs. I, Robot
  3. Hoosiers vs. Rudy
  4. Godzilla vs. King Kong
  5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind vs. Signs
  6. The Princess Bride vs. Dragon Heart
  7. Arachnophobia vs. Misery
  8. The Outsiders vs. Hairspray
  9. The Iron Giant vs. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Please leave a comment with a critical reason for your preference of films.

Focus Questions for LA 9, English 10, and English 20

After mulling over the possibilities of focus in my own mind, discussion in the STJ forums amongst students, and reflecting on literature choices from the first two weeks of class I’ve decide the following:

Language Arts 9 will focus on “The Human Condition – In Search of Self.” Early course discussions emphasized relationships (family and friends) and feelings that confuse or hinder the development of new relationships. We’ve seen doubts and fears in our approach to self and others and we’ll continue to grow in our maturing voices and sincerity.

English 10 will focus on “Decisions – Action or Apathy.” Students have been focusing on adolescent decision making: pressures to fit, or not; conflicts between work, family, and school; dealing with consequences to decisions and exploring the role of emotions in “life’s lessons.”

English 20 will focus on “World Perspectives – The Social Experience.” The discussions of our first text, Brave New World, have really determined our focus for us. The discussions go well beyond a defense of personal happiness(or lack thereof) and explore individual, group, and social responsibility. We’ll need to emphasize further the role of literature as a means of Social Criticism. We need to bring into the classroom real analysis of systems that exemplify shortcomings in Canadian Society.

These focus questions will heavily influence all major assignments and the mid-term exams in LA 9, English 10, and English 20.

“Is it bigger than a breadbox?”

Where are all those wooden nickels?I asked a student, “Is it bigger than a breadbox?” today. Their blank look reminded me that the older I get, the further removed I become from the popular lingo of my students. I have no desire to immerse myself fully in the vocabulary of my students, but I can leech unto them the background of some of my “Pingo Lingo.”

When I was a kid we would travel by station wagon, between Prince Albert and Saskatoon, and we would play “20 Questions“. We would each take turns thinking of something, and we would then each in turn ask questions until we where able to guess what the person was thinking. The first question was always, “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”

While you read…Brave New World

Using the format of a blog, comment at the end of each reading session on both the substance of your reading and its effects on you.

Record pages or sections on which you are commenting. Record your impressions of characters, events, conflicts, descriptions. Record responses to your own questions. Record questions about the novel as you read. Respond to course focus questions.

Make sure you take the time after, during, or before each reading session to make an entry into your blog. 10-15 sentences per reading session might be enough.

Make each entry interesting, personal, intelligent. Avoid retelling the story or simply “dumbing-down” the text. Write posts that engages your readers in critical thinking, enhances their attention span, and fills them with speculative awe.

Write several short posts per week, once a day at least. Write longer posts when your mood strikes you. Tag each post before publishing. Use categories such as the following to keep your responses organized:

Community, Identity, Stability
Science and Technology
Sensual Pleasures
Family Life

Track the posts you make and the comments you send and receive in a spreadsheet. Try to spend no more than 15 minutes on the computer per class. If that isn’t enough, do more work at home or during spare time. There is a need for quite, concentrated reading time during your day. Here we go.

Are your posts “readable”?

I’ve added a bit of mumbo jumbo to the edit-post form to show readability stats. The function shows word/sentence count and:

The Gunning-Fog index gives the number of years of education needed to understand the text. Short, plain sentences score better than long, complicated sentences. Based on words per sentence and “hard” words per sentence.

The Flesch-Kincaid index gives the number of years of education needed to understand the text. Short, plain sentences score better than long, complicated sentences. Based on syllables per word and words per sentence.

The Flesch index, usually between 0 and 100, indicates how difficult the text is to read. The higher the score, the easier the text is to read. Based on syllables per word and words per sentence.

This short post warrants the following scores so far:
Words: 123 Sentences: 10 Fog: 9.1 Kincaid: 7.0 Flesch: 67

These simple stats basically mean anyone in about grades 7-9 should be able to easily read this post.

It might be interesting to look back on posts you’ve written, click on edit, and see what scores these formulas calculate for your readability.

According to wikipedia, the formula is 50+ years old and is built into MS Office as well.

I promise not to get too fired up about linguistics, but I have been doing oodles of programming lately… and I am an English teacher, after all.

Now I’ve scored: Fog: 9.4 Kincaid: 6.5 Flesch: 69


Big changes in the Mac Lab

The new MacPro server is set up and ready to go and each new iMac is lit up and rolling. Still a couple install bugs I have to sort out: like naming each computer(minor error at startup as Leopard assigns its own name). They should get you to the net and back.

I’ve spent far more time than I wanted setting everything up, but I know the value of an automagic, autonomous Mac lab. Each iMac has the standard out of the box Mac stuff, iTunes, Garageband, Safari. But I’ve added the usual favourites as well: Firefox and Microsoft Office. No Adobe applications yet as there was a mix up somewhere and it hasn’t arrived. The new cameras and their bell’s and whistles should be here soon. I still have to order more audio gear(keyboard and mixer) and other odds and ends. The Comtech blog will have details as they unfold.

The iblogs have been updated, again. Little surprises, mostly. New themes, better support for tagging. Recall how we had to add code to align an image in a post, you’ll like the automagic stuff there too. Trackbacks still do what trackbacks do, but we’ll use Pingbacks from here on in.

Post tagging will be emphasized(3-5 tags per post is enough) which means a post should only need to be in one category. This summer I added tags to all my old posts, but in the process deleted all my categories, so I have new work to do there someday :grrr

I’ve added a new blog devoted to tags called iblog.stjschool.org/tags/. It updates on the fly when any post is published at iblogs.stjschool.org. I’ve written a couple widgets to support the rollout of the sitewide tags blog too.

Reminders about blogging at STJ: abide your signed “Computer Use Agreement.” Set your privacy and comment moderation settings to whatever level is comfortable to you (Private blogs do not appear in the tags blog/widgets, though). Don’t forget to update your blogroll and refresh your tagline.

If you are looking for ideas for your first post, my Random Idea Generator, Focus Question Generator, Critical Thinking Generator, Learning Log Generator are all now plugins you need to activate in order to add them to the Edit Post form. Or you could browse Snowflakes, or Ideas won’t keep.

If you want to boast, help, cry, complain, or belly-ache about something about the site go to the Forums. I need some help, again, choosing the course focus questions . . . hint-hint.

Course Outlines and Reading lists for Language Arts 9, English 10, and English 20.

In 2008/9, each CTS student I teach must earn 2 credits in Information Processing before moving on to the ComTech modules. At least one credit must be in Keyboarding, if you can’t get a second keyboarding credit I recommend Information Highway 2. What Comtech modules will be ready will depend on circumstances in and beyond my control. I have some very interested “Industry Partners” willing to share in our efforts in ComTech.

My son Malcolm took this last image, I like the surreal blur as I puzzle over the Leopard Server install manual in microprint. Notice the 14 inch monitor(circa 1996) The cinema display has since arrived via China–>Alaska–>Ontario–>Calgary–>Edmonton…