Thursday, December 13, 2012

Winter (Break) is Coming.

The semester is coming to an end. I have been teaching economics and AP Macro for just about 82 school days. Teaching a new subject for the first time always seems to suck, and these two classes are the fifth and sixth times I have taught a new subject in four years. This means I have not had time for much of anything but school since since sometime back in July. But that's not a bad thing. 

It's good to know that I have been keeping my students busy too.
One of my economics students tagged my school Facebook account in this post.

Today is the last day of review and exams are next week....

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


It's Halloween in the Dungeon, and you are invited to take part in a scavenger hunt. I came back to find this stuck to my classroom door.
Here are the rest, in no particular order.

Have you seen the Slenderman?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I have been Norsemen moderator for less than a quarter, and have had maybe a half dozen requests from girls to join the Norsemen. I'm told that we are a boys-only group, but I haven't checked. In truth, I stalled every time I was asked the question.

At lunch today, a colleague told me about this.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Do You Think They Have Too Many?

If you're just joining us, see the label secret_war.

Underground safe-house infiltrated by the infected, then raided by Administration officials; large number of arms in custody.

September 14th, 2012. The Dungeon.

A safe-house operated by an underground movement dedicated to eradicating the infection fell this morning, dashing hopes that an end to the infection was in sight. Reports are still coming in, but eyewitness reports state that an infected man managed to slip past security and enter the safe-house. Once inside, the infection spread quickly from person to person. As many as three more were infected, almost and entire squad. "It was a shot, desperate fight," said one eyewitness, who barely escaped this morning's incident. "People panicked and just starting shooting everything that was moving." said the same witness, who also alleges that several non-combatants were wounded in the firefight.

Moments after the fighting had stopped, Administration representatives raided the safe-house, immediately disarming the infected. "We literally have trashcans full of guns," said one source inside the administration. The raid by Administration officials may have been a godsend to the underground, say observers, who point out that the arms confiscated were prevented from entering the hands of the infected. "It may have prevented a victory by the infected," said the observer, "concealable weapons, assault weapons with high-capacity magazines, explosives, you name it, they had two of them."

Some believe that the safe-house in question was a main arms cache for the underground, which may have been why it was targeted by both the infected and the Administration. "The infected saw a way to win the war, the Administration saw a way to clean up the streets," said one observer. "As always," said one spokesman for the underground, "the Administration is missing the point."

There is no lack of speculation as to how the safe-house was penetrated. But the general consensus is that a member of the security detail assigned to the safe-house was lured outside and infected. The man then re-entered the facility, somehow managing to bypass security, and infect others. "Once it got inside, it would spread faster than people could get out, that is the nature of the infection," said one member of the underground, who had returned to the area to see if anything had been missed. "The question is," says the man, "how did he get past the checkpoint? Did he have help from the inside?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Plot Thickens...

After a relatively calm day, the secret war continues....

Reports of infection abating unfounded, says underground spokesman, provides details about the infection and how to protect yourself.

September 12th, 2012. The Dungeon.

A spokesman for an ad-hoc, underground movement dedicated to eradicating the infection has come forward in "an attempt to arm the people with the information necessary to survive this plague." The recent clashes between infected and infected are in an effort, says the spokesman, "to solve a problem the Administration refuses to believe exists."

The infected are hard to identify, but it can be done if people are vigilant, says the spokesman. "You will know them by their actions, the moves they make," he says. They appear "twitchy, nervous, and aggressive if confronted" he says. But there is a more definitive method of detection. "It's just that, for the most part, by the time you are close enough to spot it, it's already too late." The spokesman is referring to a curious feature of the infection. The infected are marked by an "X" on one or both hands. "We don't know if that is a psychological side-effect of the infection, in addition to their drive to infect others, or if it's some kind of physiological reaction." When asked how they came to these conclusions, the spokesman said "we have people in AP Bio and Anatomy," adding "we know our (expletive deleted)."

When asked about Tuesday's mass shooting that left three infected dead, the spokesman said "that man is a hero, and yes he was one of ours, but nobody has seen him today. We don't know if he is ok."

In spite of recent successes, the underground's efforts have been hampered by repeated seizures of arms by Administration officials. "Those people don't know what harm they are doing," he said. "When they take away someone's ability to protect themselves, they take away their right to protect themselves, they are condemning those people to the fate of the infected." Sources inside the Administration say that seizures of arms are on the rise. What is more troubling to them, says this source, is the increasing sophistication of the arms confiscated. This source could not confirm reports that some of the arms seized are getting "lost" before they can be returned to their rightful owners. "That only adds to the desperation people are feeling," said the underground spokesman." These "accidents" in the seized property department have led some inside the underground to speculate that the infection may by spreading inside the Administration.

When asked about rumors that the infection had run its course, the spokesman said that "best case, those are the hopeful imaginings of desperate people, at worst, they are deliberate lies spread by the Administration in an attempt to cover up the problem."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One Hundred Posts And Counting

I noticed that my last creative brought me up to ninety-nine posts on this blog. I started writing here as a kind of therapy. Any teacher will tell you this job is hard. My wife tells me that since I started writing here I have been drinking less (on weekdays anyway.) I'm not sure why that is. It isn't that this makes my job easier. It isn't that I can really write about the things that really bother me. It isn't that I can't fully brag about my students here. Teacher's can read this and nod their heads. They all go through this too. No amount or configuration of written words can fully describe this job to an outsider. Not the good stuff. Not the bad stuff. But I wouldn't trade this job for the world.

I don't know exactly why writing helps. I guess it just makes me feel better.

That must be good.

With that in mind, I thought this post should share something my students shared with me that made me smile. (Although I do not know if the sentiment is shared by all of my students.)


Disclaimer: Posting this image is in no way an endorsement by my of the opinions expressed in the image.

This Might Be A Regular Thing...

Yesterday's creative article has proved to be quite popular with people. I have found writing them to be a little invigorating in the mornings (once the coffee has run out). Since I will probably keep posting them here, I created a new label for them.

I used to write games for friends of mine in the Delta Green setting, but had to stop last year due to the increasing demands of my job. One feature of those games that my friends seemed to like were articles not unlike these describing events in the game. It feels good to be writing for fun again. (Even if I only spend ten minutes on it)

At least three infected were killed this morning in an ambush by a lone but heavily armed gunman, eyewitnesses say.

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012. The Dungeon.

An outbreak of the infection was quickly brought under control as a gunman armed with a semi-automatic, high-capacity disk-launcher stormed a nest of the infected shortly after 9am this morning. As many as three infected were killed before the nest was cleared. It is unclear if any infected were able to escape the massacre.

The shooter, as yet unidentified, is being hailed as a hero by some, but others condemn his actions as reckless, citing (unconfirmed) reports that bystanders were caught in the crossfire. "Immaterial," said one supporter, "you are either part of the solution or part of the problem, no one is innocent."

Shootings like this one and the one yesterday have done much to draw the attention of outside observers. "It is clear to us that a lot of thought and planning went into this morning's attack" said one observer who did not wish to be identified. That fact has not gone unnoticed by local citizens who have had to deal with the infection largely on their own. "Nobody paid attention until people started shooting," said one local who witnessed this morning's incident.

This is just the latest in a series of escalating skirmishes in and around the region. As the infection reaches critical levels in some areas, experts predict a rise in this type of lone-gunman vigilantism. "People are becoming more and more desperate. They are scared, and they don't think the Administration is doing anything to help them," said one eyewitness to today's gun battle, "Of course people are going to arm themselves."

It is the increasing size and sophistication of the arms involved that is drawing the attention of the Administration, which still refuses to acknowledge the existence of the infection. Recent seizures by Administration personnel have included automatic and semi-automatic weapons. But far more prevalent, sources say, are the smaller concealable weapons that just recently entered the market. "You never know who's packing," said one local, who did not want to be identified for this story, "you can't trust anyone nowadays."

Monday, September 10, 2012

This News From Our B2 Correspondent...

Being the Norsemen Moderator has led to some interesting experiences. (Let's leave it at that for now.) I wrote the following in the ten minutes after homeroom today. Some of you will understand more than others. (Again, let's leave it at that for now.)

And now for your post-homeroom casualty report.

A gun battle that lead to the deaths of at least two infected this morning was aggravated, sources say, buy the arrival of a large arms shipment.

September 10th, 2012, The Dungeon.

Eyewitness reports say that two men working in tandem were able to keep cover and repel repeated attacks by a "large number" of the infected. Aiding these men was a clever use of cover and the introduction of a new type of firearm (see photo) These new weapons, believed to have been introduced by an arms dealer out of Asia, bring increased range and concealability to the battlefield, turning what would have surely been a total-infection situation into a narrow escape. Tensions have been high in the region as increasingly sophisticated arms are smuggled in from outside sources and as collateral damage draws more and more people into the conflict.

Last week, Administration Forces intervened in an early morning battle between the infected and uninfected, resulting in the seizure of a large number of weapons from both sides. A spokeswoman for the Administration refused to comment on accusations that the Administration's actions led to the escape of many of the infected and that the seizure of "defensive assets" forced many of the uninfected underground with no means of protection. There are unconfirmed reports that the weapons sized last week were quietly released after some sort of waiting period, but that may have been too late for some.

Administration officials still refuse to acknowledge the existence of the infection and continue to confiscate arms where they are discovered. This policy may have lead to the recent arms shipment, sources say, as individuals seek to defend themselves in this ever-growing secret war.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Now Keep Your Hand Up If You Were Being Honest...

Universal Reading Day is a program started a few years ago here at Nolan. The school selects a book that is likely to appeal to the students (so they have an incentive to read it in addition to their other required readings) and it is assigned over the summer. A few weeks into the school year, half day of presentations or activities relating to the book. Last year was Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. This year we selected Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games. Activities this year included a mock-reaping and Hunger Games (trivia), which was won by the freshmen class, a discussion panel that I wished I could have seen, and a discussion on service and personal sacrifice. 

In addition, the social studies department chair and I gave a presentation which the planning committee described as a "discussion of various government structures and their effect on personal liberty." Below is a copy of that presentation. He did a great job putting the framework together and covering Latin America. (It's kind of his thing, you should follow him on Twitter.) The only contributions I made were on internet technology and censorship (which is kind of my thing) and Syria.

Some of this you just had to be there for, but I still wanted to share it. We only had 40 minutes, but I'm still proud of it.

Favorite thing Mike said: "If Chavez wrote the book, this guy read it." 
Favorite thing I said: "Ben Franklin would be blogging if he were alive today."
Favorite question (from a sophomore): "How close do you think the United States is to that kind of repression and censorship?"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Creative Commons Indeed

Aaaannnnnd....They found it. A student brought this to my attention today. Now I know what accounted for that second spike in traffic from Facebook....
But as one of my good friends put it "That isn't condescending skees, that's normal skees. Condescending skees leaves dents on your soul for the poor choices you've made."


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Creative Commons?

It's the first week of school, and I was so tired this morning I poured cereal into my coffee maker. I needed something to make me smile. The images below are what I found.

The photo of me is from a photography project run by one of the councilor's at my school. You can (and should) read about it over on his website. (That's probably where the student found it) The project is up on a bulletin board in the hall outside the councilor's office. I will admit that I felt good when it was my turn. It meant.....well that thought doesn't quite jive with the rest of this post. I'll keep it to myself. Next to each photo is a quote from the subject. If you want to read mine, you'll have to visit my school (you can read some better selections while you are at it.)

I don't think this is quite what the photographer had in mind. I don't know if he will be happy about this. (I'll bring it up the next time I see him.)

And for good measure...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Go Change Your Password

Here is most of a post I did for a blog I run for teachers at my school on tech stuff in the classroom. I've expanded on it a bit for this venue. Re-posting is something I try to avoid. For one thing, D20 has a more, how do I say this, tech-enabled audience. For another, that blog is more for short-form, how-to, and help posts. But I think we can have some fun expanding on this topic here.

Mat Honan, a well-respected tech journalist, was hacked recently. Hard. Attackers were able to access his iCloud account and erase his phone, iPad, and Macbook while they played havoc with his twitter account. You can read his article on the entire sad episode over at Wired.

His iCloud account, he now knows, was compromised through social engineering. So no matter how strong his iCloud password was (it really wasn't), the attackers were able to get in. What would have saved his Gmail and subsequently his Twitter account from being used to spew racist and homophobic material to his over 17,000 followers, was implementing two-factor authentication.

If I was using this story to teach my students about online security, this is what I would highlight for them.
  • Consider the strength of your passwords. If you can remember all the passwords for all the services you use online, you are doing it wrong
  • Consider the strength of your security questions. Are they something an attacker could answer from your Facebook page or any other source of public information on you?
  • Consider your password recovery options. Most accounts require an email address in case you lose your password. Is that email account the one you currently use? Is that account secure? Services like Gmail will allow you to give a phone number instead of an email address for password recovery. 
  • Consider using two-factor authentication in important services like banking, Facebook, and your email. That would mean an attacker would have to have your phone and your password to get in. 
  • If you are using iCloud or a similar service, consider the strength of that password. Especially if you have remote-wipe enabled.
Imagine you're a teacher and this happens to your student-facing social media accounts. Skip past the fact this bad guy now has access to all the information on your student's Facebook pages (the students that haven't piracy-restricted your account to the nines that is.) The attacker can talk to them with your voice. You're lucky if all they do is send out spam links or uncharacteristic statements to your students. It's embarrassing, but they'll probably get what's happening. (It's probably happened to their friends more than once.)

Imagine you get cracked but you don't hear about it until your administrator calls you in a week later and asks you to explain the printed-out Facebook chat log in his hand...You could probably prove your innocence by pointing to IP logs or other evidence (if the attacker wasn't using an IP in your building). You probably wouldn't survive the accusations of incompetence and irresponsibility if you didn't lock your stuff down. Get your school IT guy in the room and you might convince your administrator, but try explaining it to the parents. Even if they believe it was the attacker and not you, their response might sound something like "you built a door between my child and the wide world, and then you didn't think to lock it?" Depending on what was sent to your students, it might be the police asking you to explain the chat-log instead of your administrator.

But these things happen. Despite our best efforts, despite reasonable and even unreasonable precautions, bad people will do bad things. I think Gina Trapani put it best when discussing the Mat Honan hack on This Week in Google when she said "no matter how many locks I put on my door there is always a way inside the house, it depends on how hard the person is going to try." Teachers always face extra scrutiny. We accept that the first time they fingerprint us. And there are always seem to be people willing to believe in the worst about their neighbors at the drop of a hat.

If you're going to use these tools with your students (if you're even allowed to use them.) You cannot use them in ignorance.

Think of the evil that is committed against children. Consider everything that filled you, a teacher, a person who has committed a portion of your lives to well-being of children with absolute rage or deepest sorrow, now imagine how much easier it would be for the people who do those things if they could speak with your voice.

Now go change your password. And if you aren't teaching your kids about security and the same time you teach them about the tools you use, start.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What We Make It

When some people reflect on what the internet has become, they see it as a repository of embarrassing things you did when you were in college or high school, just waiting to resurface and bite you. I like to think of it as photo albums you can't lose. My wife and I just moved into our first house. While packing up my office, I found a few notes relating to some things I had written and posted online but had forgotten about. The site was still there, attached to an account I no longer use. (I had set it up to share stuff with friends without using Facebook) Like any box of junk you look through when you move, it had one or two things in it worth saving.

One of them was an essay (I guess you could call it, or a eulogy) I wrote on a sushi bar we used to frequent in college that had since closed. It was kind of a secret place. Something shared with friends. Most of those friends have moved away. Some of them are now married. Some of them I see from time to time. Some of them I have not seen or heard from in years.

I put it up last summer, and that feels like a long time ago. So I decided to clean it up (boy do I suck at writing) and re-post it here. 

Reflections on Sushi Place, May She Rest In Peace.
We were both in the car when I noticed it. We were closer now that we had ever been in quite some time, probably more than a year. My wife was driving and I was supposed to be navigating with the use of my iPhone when I recognized the intersection one block north of the hospital that was our destination. "You know," I said, "we're right next to Sushi Place."

"I know!" She said, sounding excited and sad at the same time. Apparently she is more location-aware than I am. I wanted to go see it, to take a picture. We weren't in a hurry, my aunt was being discharged that day after suffering a fall and a broken leg. It would only take a minute. So we went.  

After we visited my aunt and went home, this visit kept nagging at me. I am a teacher on his summer vacation. I'm not in a hurry. So I'll write about it. (I need the practice.)

We knew it was gone ever since it came up on a Google search as "closed" several months back. Reading that made me sad in a way I did not quite understand until I saw the place empty. And that's not because I'm a fat guy who likes good food. (Although It was very, very good here.) 

A good many very happy memories of my college years fall somewhere around visits to this place. My wife and I (before we were married) shared meals here with some of our closest friends. Those of us who know about this place have lost a secret in which to initiate others.

This is how one our typical weekend visits would play out. First, you should know that it is a long way from where we lived at the time, and even further from where we live now, so going there was a journey in itself. Being college students, we would drive in groups in order to bring everyone who wanted to go. We usually got there around noon.

Walk through the doors of the Mae Hua supermarket, past whatever booth was in the entrance (from cell phones to earthquake relief, it was a different booth every time), down the corridor to the left just before the supermarket itself, and into the food court. 

Someone would go into the supermarket itself and pick up a six-pack (or two) of Sapporo or Kirin while the others went ahead. Depending on the length of the checkout line, they would either be sitting around a table, white ordering paper and pens in hand, or at the register, handing over their slips and their cash (They only accepted cash back then), by the time the beer arrived.

Sushi Place was small. It had a bar that wrapped around the counter that enclosed the prep area, a cash register, and a refrigerated display with cans of coke and green tea. The bar was set between another restaurant called Korean Garden and a coffee shop called Escape, with another commercial space that was alternatively a hair salon, a judo studio, or vacant.

If our group was small enough, we could sit there, between the glass display case and wooden models of Japanese sailing ships, and watch the chef prepare our food. In front of it was an open space like a mall food court that it shared with the other restaurants. We would sit there more often than not. They would put our beer in the glass cooler for the soft-drinks next to the counter, and they would even lend us a bottle-opener.

If we had a big group we would sit at one of the large round tables shared by the other restaurants. If you sat with your back to the counter you could look into the supermarket proper through a wall that's top-half was all glass. If you sat with the counter to your left, you could look at the food being served at the other restaurant and think "that looks good, but I will never come all the way out here and not eat sushi." If you sat with the counter on your right, you could look through a set of glass doors into the coffee shop (and think about dessert.) If you sat facing the counter you could watch the people work and the Japanese game shows on the TV. This is all scenery, the frame in which you would sit and talk, eat and drink.

The miso soup would arrive sometime during the first beer, and would be gone before that beer was empty. The first round of sushi would arrive sometime during the second beer. (This time scale could lengthen or shorten depending on the crowd, the complexity and volume of the order, and the joyfulness of the occasion.) The sushi was always delicious.

On our first visit, the friend who brought us  recommended the Tsubasa rolls, and it became our favorite. A different friend on another visit had me try the Uni (sea urchin), which then became my metric when judging the quality of other restaurants. I am not practiced at describing how food tastes. All I can say is that it was always good. That opinion is shared by other (and perhaps more reliable) witnesses.

At some point during the meal, Angela would get up and walk over to a store that had been known to sell Totoros (one of her addictions). Sometimes she would come back with one, sometimes not. After the food, we would sit and talk for a while. We would either finish the beer or tie it up in a plastic bag to take home. Angela would be the first to get up. She would walk through the glass door which was the rear entrance of the coffee shop and order pearl milk tea.

Escape was slightly larger than a Starbucks, but I never saw it as crowded as one. It served coffee, smoothies, and bubble tea. It had couches and tables and bright electric lights. Some people would get tapioca "bubbles" in their drink (like me) some wouldn't (like my wife). When we were finished, we would go out through the front door of the coffee shop and into the parking lot. Sometimes we would stop while one or two people enjoyed a hand-rolled cig. Then drive home.

We spent time here with three couples who would eventually get married (two of those close friends, one acquaintances) We spent time reconnecting with old friends who live far away, and even with friends who hated sushi. I did not lose these friends, only a place, a context in which to hold them. The talented people who worked here will not want long for a job elsewhere, I think. I have no doubt that I will taste food which is as good or better at some point in my life. But I have lost the possibility of repeating history, and that makes me sad.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life is PVP

I think she captured it perfectly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

André, Is That You?

Image via wikipedia by Duncan Cumming.
This past semester I added the film Exit Through The Gift Shop to my sociology course. Skip the idea that the whole thing might be one big Banksy prank, it does a great job showcasing contemporary street art. Overall it fits quite nicely into a unit on counterculture. (If you haven't seen it, I recommend it, and thanks to Phill for recommending it to me.)

One of the artists shown in a film is a European graffiti artist named André. André, alternatively Monsieur A, is commonly known for a painting a long-legged cartoon character with a cross or "x" for one eye and a circle for the other. Indeed, the artists is shown spray-painting this figure all over Paris in the film. The image to the right shows the trademark face but without the legs, just so you get the idea. I re-watched the film the other day and this image stuck in my head because I had seen it before.
I first noticed this on a bike ride earlier this year, but had no idea what it was until I saw Exit Through The Gift Shop. Either André has been running around the woods in Southlake Texas (unlikely) or one of his fans has. Perhaps the film made an impression on the youth of Southlake. (It is on Netflix.)

The segment of trail where this was shot is connected to three different subdivisions, two of which are ungated, meaning anyone who knows about the trail can use it. (I know one cyclist personally who loves to slip from neighborhood to neighborhood using these trails.)
There is a smaller figure to the right of the central figure, but with the eyes reversed. On the left are what I take to be the initials "I.C.V." or maybe "I.C.U." Maybe our artist is identifying himself in the style of MBW, the central figure of the film. Who knows.

I took a 360 image of the area to give you an idea of the park where I spotted it.
We learn by copying. I wonder if anything else will show up.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

MEC Presentations

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting at the Marianist Education Consortium Summer Workshop. I gave three presentations, one on social media, one on Google in the classroom, and one on securing online resources. I have already shared an edited version of the first presentation here. I decided to include some notes on the other two.

I used Prezi for the first one, and keynote for the other two (long story). I have attached PDFs of the other two talks below.

Google in the Classroom
Session Overview: Participants will receive an overview of Google tools including gmail, docs, reader, sites, blogger, calendar, groups, voice, and YouTube, with a focus on the collaborative aspects of each. This session was held in one of UD's computer labs.

A PDF of the presentation can be found here.

Pitfalls of Online Resources 
Participants will be briefed on basic security precautions when using information technology in the classroom. The session will touch on topics such as best practices for passwords and password management, online encryption, two-factor authentication, and basic malware protection. Additional consideration will be given to email security and recovery, as well as backups and general PC security.

A PDF of the presentation can be found here. (Note: The PDF is missing a link to a video I used for Stuxnet.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What the TSA Can Teach Us on Technology and Education

By the end of this summer I will have taken two trips out of state on an airplane. This means that by the end of this summer I will have been subject to the Transportation Security Administration's "enhanced pat-down" four times, once each out and back. This is of course my choice. I chose to take both trips, one for work and one for pleasure, on planes instead of driving. And I will choose to opt-out of the full body screening which is in use in every major airport in the United States. I make this last choice in particular for several reasons. I will not participate in the pretense that this act is anything other than what it is, a strip search, even if it means a public frisking. As with most things that are unpleasant, I try to take it as an opportunity to learn something. I think there are lessons here that apply to any disruptive technology, especially in the classroom.

The TSA refers to this technology as "Advanced Imaging Technology,"of which there are two types. Active millimeter wave scanning sends millimeter wave energy through the subject and analyzes the reflection. Back-scatter X-Ray machines direct low-level X-rays at the subject and analyze the reflection. The idea here is to detect objects under a person's clothes. ( This technology makes sense to a lot of people. After all, the machine allows the agents to feel more comfortable and it allows the passengers (who don't think about it) to feel the same comfort. Why wouldn't it? The passenger doesn't get touched and the agent doesn't have to do the touching.

These machines are tools, and tools are an extension of their users, at least that's what we teach our students. A person is doing X, the act, to you, using Y, the tool. Something said between students on Facebook has the same validity as something spoken between those students in a classroom. Submitting to a search via a machine is the same as submitting to a search via someone's hands. Advance Imaging Technology makes an otherwise morally reprehensible act feel somewhat less-so, it does not change the act. 

Full body scanners allow people to pretend they are not searching or being searched in the same way a keyboard lets someone pretend that words sent over the internet do not carry the same weight as words spoken aloud. The technological facilitation of the those acts does not change them. The morality behind each is the same. A student should not need to submit to abuse any more than a regular citizen should have to submit to a strip search or enhanced pat down. And a person flying on a plane is no more exotic in this day and age than a high school student with a Facebook account.  

The premise here seems to be that technology has made the act of scrip-searching every person who gets on an airplane easy to do, therefor it is okay to do. Apply that premise to any other part of life in this country. Computer technology is to the point where we might as well record every piece of correspondence sent over the internet and glance through it just in case. Should I be allowed to search the contents of a student's phone? Their email account? Their locker? Because they might be concealing something? Perhaps. But only in circumstances where I can give my reasons to a third party in authority and when that authority agrees with me. Only in circumstances where the student may provide their own arguments and objections to such a search. Not on an ad hoc or arbitrary basis and defiantly not as a matter of course.

What about innovations in the classroom? If we didn't have unilateral strip-searches before the technology to call it something else was available, was there anything we do now in education that we didn't do because it wasn't previously possible?

Posting weekly grades online comes to mind. As a history teacher, it didn't bother me. It kept me on top of my grading and it kept my students and their parents up to date on their progress. It also serves as an enabler for helicopter parents. Suppose I don't have easily gradable assignments, suppose I assign essays or other long form, harder to grade assignments? Might a weekly grades update, mandatory or not, encourage teachers to offer smaller, easily gradable assignments just so they have something to post? One of the criticisms of internet technology that often crops up is that it caters to the student's desire for immediate satisfaction. Students are losing or never build the capacity for patience, contemplation, reflection, etc. Might the frequent publishing of grades be encouraging that?

New things are now possible. We should always be asking ourselves what good is being done when we use it. And we should always consider the harm. Technology makes doing good easy. It makes doing evil easier. Ignorance and indifference are attractive salves for today's youth. May this be a reminder to teach my students to consider, to think, and to see things for what they are.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What I Learned at MEC

Every summer the Marianist Education Consortium holds a workshop for its schools. A colleague and I were asked to take part in the planning of, and later to be presenters at this summer's workshop, which ended last Thursday. We, along with two other teachers from our school, attend the workshop with about 40 other teachers and administrators from the other schools under the Marianist Provence of the United States. The theme of the workshop this year was "Marianist Education in the 21st Century." (And now you know why they wanted to talk to me about it.)

While I was initially apprehensive about the whole thing, I ended up having a good time. Much of the focus was on new technology in the classroom and how we use it. At the same time, we are reminded to maintain the Marianist charisms.
If you have ever spent any length of time in conversation with me you know I have some strong opinions about this stuff. I came back with a lot to think about. I have my notes, so you may see more posts on this in the next few weeks.

First and foremost, those of us who use this stuff in their teaching need to do a better job teaching other teachers, and we need to do a better job teaching it to our students. It's easy for us to look at kid with an iPhone and say "Wow. They figured it out." And we let that assumption stick whenever technology comes up. We make the assumption that they can figure it out on their own and then wonder why they make bad choices with it. A lot of them don't understand how it works. We know this when we see them not only fail to cover themselves when they act inappropriately, but by the fact that they think it's okay to do so in the first place. There is no difference between what you type into Facebook and what you say to someone's face, and they only hear that after they have already done it, so often it's a habit. We turn into the nagging teachers telling them to stop doing something they like to do. (There are plenty of adults who need to learn the same lessons.)

When we fail teach how to use this technology the majority of students, for the most part, get the technology and the ethics wrong.

We need to teach them balance, said one of the presenters, and to be present to the people who are physically around them. And she was absolutely right. It is true that the ability to have persistent connection to the internet is causing a problem for a lot of our kids. But we can teach them to be present to each other through these connections, just as we can teach them to be present to those around them. One of the brothers in a discussion panel reminded us that while students now will mess around with cell phones during class, they used to doodle in their notebooks.

The difference is that teachers didn't confiscate the pencil.

There is a gap in understanding between teachers and students on these issues, and until we fix it, students are going to continue getting lost and continue getting hurt.

What did I learn at MEC? We have a lot of work to do, and I think the "we" just went up in number.

(Below is the edited version of one of the presentations we made. It's missing some things you only get in the commentary, but you get the point.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm Moving

Next year I'm teaching economics and AP macro. Do you know what that means? Seniors. Only seniors.  It is the policy of the current administration to "contain" (that was the word my dean used) the seniors in A hall as best they can. Senioritis is highly contagious, after all. Teaching seniors carried with it the possibility of leaving D20, from which this blog takes its name. I made it known that I wanted to stay, but I have been dreading a certain phone call all summer.

That call came today....Did I mention that I'm glad I'm still a teacher? There is a new dean in town, and I must say I could not be happier with the choice. The best part? (For me, anyway. I mean, besides the fact that I'm still a teacher...) There is now a certain newly-vacant classroom which was offered to me today....

Several months ago someone asked me If I had my pick of rooms in the building, which one would I want? My answer apparently is not a common one to that question. I know about it because I spent a week or so subbing in it when I first started teaching. It was on one of those days that I took this photo.
This is the room I was offered. Apparently, people don't like this room. The dean was actually surprised when I said I would take it.

It's in the basement under the old gym. It used to be the band hall. Now it's mine. I don't know If I will change the name of this site or not. Oh, and did I mention that my wife and I are also buying a house?

It's going to be a busy summer. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Glad I'm Still A Teacher

A few weeks ago I applied for a position at my school that, while it would bring me new and interesting responsibilities, would have meant leaving the classroom. I applied for the job with encouragement from unexpected corners and with the belief that, when there was work to be done, I was not comfortable sitting back and volunteering nothing. As part of the application process, I wrote a letter to the administration outlining what I felt I could bring to the job. As I re-read that letter now, I think it just as easily applies to what I'm already doing.

I considered publishing the whole letter here, but the reader must forgive my embarrassment and be content with the partial text that I have included below.
I am very much the product of Nolan Catholic. I discerned my vocation here. I met my wife here. My commitment to the mission of this school began while I was a student here and it has continued into my adult life. I began teaching here as a substitute and then as a part-time teacher in 2008. I continued to work as a substitute after my position was eliminated the next year and came back as a part-time teacher in 2010. Including this year, my first as a full time teacher, I have taught four different subjects, assisted with a fifth, and I am slated to take over two new subjects next year. I was raised a Roman Catholic and while I have struggled with my faith in the past, I was married in the Catholic Church and I served as a conformation sponsor to one of my students this year.
I thought that I wanted this job. Then a week ago, a chance conversation with a former student on Facebook led me to put together a video of an ecology field trip to Big Bend in 2010. I spent a few hours on the project, most of that finding and sorting the images and video I had of the trip. When I finished, I didn't want the new job anymore. It wasn't just that trip, it was every assignment, every good day and bad day in the classroom with my kids over the last three years. And while I will never do those things again, you can never repeat exactly the experiences you have in a classroom. I would have lost the classroom; at least for most of the day.

I don't want to be a part-time teacher again.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Facebook Feedback

In a few weeks, I'm supposed to present at a workshop for Marianist educators on social media (among other things). In the course of preparing for one of those presentations, I posed a question to my students via my classroom Facebook page. After some prodding, I got some good material, which will defiantly be used in a presentation and which I will probably write about here later.

These were the first two answers.
I got long, well-thought-out answers from these kids. They mentioned things that had not occurred to me before, and they prodded my thinking in new directions. Fascinating. I may write that post as I work on the presentation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

That's Kinda The Point...

The other night I was...I almost said "killing time," but I know better...let's say I was waiting on something. I have a particularly creative student, and if you are a regular here, you know who I'm talking about. That student has a public website that I look at from time to time. This seemed like as good a time as any. It was a good thing that my coffee had run out by the time I got to the post I am about to share. Had I been drinking anything, it would have been sprayed across my laptop.
I ended up laughing so hard I choked. The photos she mentioned stem from an incident when I lent my phone to several students so they could photograph something in the vein of Everett C. Marm. Before you panic, know that iOS has shortcut that allows you to use the camera without unlocking it. It was, for all intents and purposes, a digital camera and nothing more without the password.

[Side note: I considered keeping a compact digital camera in my classroom in case the need came up again (besides, stick an EyeFi card in one and you now have a dedicated whiteboard camera.) But discovered that my phone is arguably a better camera than the one I had at home.]

As I recall, I was in the middle of checking over my US History final exam when the exchange took place. It was about 20 minutes before I realized they still weren't back with my phone. (Insert feeling of dread here.) The photos, when they did come back, were quite silly. I would post them here, but that would be breaking the rules.

It would also be breaking the rules for me to link to her site. Which is a shame, she is a talented photographer. But there is no way to stop her from linking to my site. 
One of the original uses of my site was to share photos of her work in my classroom. (Whiteboard art is up there with sand castles, it can be amazing, but it's not going to stick around.) I didn't tell her to link to my site. And I won't tell her to stop. How would you go about preventing someone from sharing something that by its nature is infinitely copyable? (How's that working out for you, RIAA?) That's kinda the point of the internet, isn't it?

If we are supposed to be teaching them how to use it, let's do that.

Keeping that in mind, I'll take this opportunity to post some of her work that I haven't shared yet.