tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Away from my Desk 2018-07-17T03:35:53Z Alec Patton tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1303757 2018-07-17T03:35:53Z 2018-07-17T03:35:53Z Ideas for teaching "Outcasts United": learning about lots of different conflicts in one book without getting lost

I just finished reading Warren St. John's excellent Outcasts United, about the Fugees, a youth soccer team in Clarkston, Georgia, composed entirely of refugees, and their coach and founder, Luma Mufleh. 

I'd love to read this book with students, and while I'll need to re-read it and mark it up in order to develop all my initial ideas, I want to get a few written down now, while I'm thinking of them. 

In particular, the ideas in Talking in Class would lend themselves to teaching this - there are so many great "what would you do?" dilemmas throughout the book. 

But first, 'Backstory' lectures, which could use a better name. 

Many of the book's chapters focus on the perspective of a particular family of refugees living in Clarkston, and open with an explanation of the conflict that forced them to flee their homes. These are social studies gold, but English trouble, because they slow the pace of the book, so less skilled readers will get bogged down in them and have trouble figuring out how to get through the sudden onslaught of new characters and settings, while more skilled readers will be inclined to skim them in order to get back to the soccer (as, I confess, I was once I was about three-quarters through the book).

I have a few ideas for helping the class to track the various families on the team, and for becoming conversant in the history of the 20th century through some of the conflicts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. 

Here's what I'd like students to learn from this aspect of the project:

  • Know the basics about what happened in a series of significant conflicts
  • Understand why these conflicts forced people to seek asylum in other countries
  • Understand the "semi-deep" chronology of events leading up to each conflict, and how they fit in the history of the 20th century relative to each other
  • Know where these conflicts took place on a map
  • Understand the role(s) that the US played in these conflicts, in order to underscore the broader point that America played a role in pretty much everything that happened geopolitically since WWII
Big world map
I'll put a big world map on the wall, and when we find out about characters who come from a particular country in the book, we'll put a pin there and label it. 

We can also do a quiz or two with a blank map of the world where students just need to indicate where the countries of origin are.

"Semi-deep" chronology
I'm using the term "semi-deep" because I want students to understand that countries don't just suddenly explode into genocide for no reason, but you can ALWAYS go deeper into historical backstory and I don't want to get bogged down. 

I'd like to put a timeline on the wall, with notecards indicating important events in the background to each conflict, so people can see the history visually, AND see that, for example, King Leopold of Belgium reigned before WWII.

'Backstory' lectures
Pairs of students will be responsible for giving a ten-minute lecture explaining the conflicts that are described at the beginnings of chapters. Different students will give the lectures on the day that we read a particular chapter. This lecture can draw on what's in the book, but should take more time on explaining everything.

As part of this lecture, the partners will...
  • put a pin on the country of origin 
  • put up notecards on the timeline as they explain them
  • set eight quiz questions for their classmates for the end of the week.
    • I'll add two questions of my own, and I'll also have the discretion to change the questions if they seem too easy, or incorrect 


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1280807 2018-06-19T22:21:41Z 2018-06-19T22:21:41Z Specialist spaces and equipment that a PBL school should have The classrooms at my school are designed for maximum flexibility and maximum visibility: we use chairs that are easy to move and to stack, wheeled tables that can be easily combined to make larger tables, we have lots of glass walls, and most classrooms have one wall that can be opened to turn two classrooms into one big classroom.

For most of what we do at school, this flexibility is ideal. However, projects also need some specialist spaces and some specialist equipment. 

Here's my list of spaces and equipment that an ideal PBL school would have:

Specialist spaces:

Garden (designed with a few raised beds so you can have separate control and experimental groups)

Test kitchen

Recording/film studio

Some kind of lab (I'll be honest, I have no idea what a good science lab needs, other than flat surfaces that don't wobble - which I know about because they're surprisingly hard to come by at our school). 

Wood shop/Maker Space (personally, I would emphasize stuff like drills and table saws over 3D printers).

Black box studio theater with basic lighting.


Specialist equipment that doesn't needs a purpose-built space:

Musical instruments

Sewing machines

Costumes

Books

Computers with publishing, design, engineering, and audio and video recording and editing software.


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1273495 2018-04-16T15:50:05Z 2018-04-16T15:50:27Z Project Idea: "Science Vs. Parents"

The Gimlet Media podcast Science Vs. is a great model for student enquiry. It starts with a clear-cut but open-ended question, such as "do detoxes work?", then defines its terms (in the case of detoxes, looking at four specific types of detoxes) and its standard for evidence (peer reviewed research and interviews with university-based researchers). Also it's funny, weird, and gross. 

I was thinking that students could produce podcasts based on the Science Vs. format, but I know that coming up with a question is really difficult in this kind of project, and everything rests on the quality of the question. 

Hence "Science vs. Parents" because our parents tell us lots of things, and we may be eager to disprove them (though of course the point isn't to disprove, but to find out the truth). 

Off the top of my head, here are questions that I could pursue:

  • Will taking arnica help with pain?
  • Will a shower take care of my headache?
  • Do I need more sleep than I'm getting? 
  • Can deep breathing help me get to sleep?

An immediate problem that presents itself is that I don't want to make a podcast that's going to make my mom feel bad (Science Vs. actually involved parents in the episode on chiropractors, and the producer's parents took it in good humor, but not all parents will be like that). 

Anyway here some resources I could use to stitch together with this project:

  • When we first come up with "stuff parents say that we disagree with", we could use the 2x2 boxes that Kelly Gallagher uses to teach argumentative writing, where you write down their arguments and your arguments.
  • George Hillock's "Evidence and Warrant" structure and his point that you start with evidence and then make the argument that the evidence demands you make, rather than starting from the argument and finding evidence to back it up, will be helpful too. 


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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1264228 2018-03-22T22:22:18Z 2018-03-22T22:22:18Z Teaching chronological history. Ideas.

I don't know a good way to teach chronological history in a PBL classroom. The only people I know who do it well are teachers who started in a more traditional school, so just have the resources they need at the ready, and know how to "do" chronological history teaching. They, as far as I can tell, shrink that aspect of the class into a day or so a week, and integrate it into the class.

I don't have that. I'm once again thinking, as I do every year, of John Green's Crash Course History videos. There are some problems:

  • John Green can be pretty insufferable on camera, and his comedy definitely comes with diminishing returns
  • He talks so damn fast
  • Because he, not I, will be in charge of the content, I can't tailor the chronological narrative to what we're doing in class (except through selection of videos).

On the other hand (and I think I need to be explicit about this with students) writing lectures takes a whole lot of time, and there isn't time to plan a weekly lecture AND manage a project. Here's a concept I'm kicking around:

  • On Monday, there's a history question for the week. I suck at coming up with these sorts of questions, but I'm thinking like "would you rather have lived as a Roman or a Mesopotamian. Bear in mind that you can not choose your social status, you will get it at random)." Or maybe a question that links more explicitly to the project, like (if we were doing "Why does the US have troops in __", it could be something like "Is the conflict in your country more like the Trojan war, or more like the war between China and the Mongols?"
  • On Monday or Tuesday, we watch the John Green video (and maybe I do a second viewing with discussion at lunch for kids who want it. Also, kids can obviously re-watch it as much as they want, and look at the transcription if there is one).
  • On Thursday or Friday, there's time for small-group discussion or a socratic seminar about the question.
  • After the discussion, kids write up their argument, thereby practicing the argumentative essay. They highlight their evidence and warrants within the text, so that A) they're thinking about it, and B) it can be assessed more quickly. 
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Alec Patton
tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1264133 2018-03-22T22:10:39Z 2018-03-22T22:10:39Z Project Essential Question: "Why does the US have troops in _____?"

This essential question is inspired by the Intercepted Podcast episode "Legacy of Blood- The 55-year US War against Iraqis". Before I listened to it, I knew about the US's 1980s support for Saddam Hussein but I had no idea that he was one of the key movers in a CIA-backed coup in 1963, against Abdel Karim Kassem, a leader who promoted education and women's rights, but was definitely a dictator. This, on its own, was not a problem for the CIA, but he wasn't enough of a clear-cut anticommunist for the Kennedy administration, so they supported Saddam Hussein and his Baathist allies, who executed Kassem after a show trial broadcast on the radio, and then murdered thousands of suspected communist sympathizers, using lists provided to them by the CIA (The New York Times did a piece about this in 2003).

This all blew my mind, and it got me thinking that there is always a rich, fascinating, and usually disturbing history whenever the US has troops stationed in a foreign country. Hence the essential question, "Why does the US have troops in _____?"

(The seed for this question was really planted in October, when I read about the US soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger. My first question when I heard about it was "Why does the US have troops in Niger?")

Mystery Piece

This question lends itself to a "mystery piece", a component that has too-often been left out of my projects. I'm imagining doing a world cafe, gallery walk, or jigsaw, with print-outs of maps and charts, in order to generate observations and questions.

Some resources for the mystery piece:

I'm anticipating that a lot of students will be shocked by how many countries we're in, and will feel aggrieved that we seem to be "the world's policeman". Some students will also have personal connections, either because they have family members deployed in some of the countries, or because they have family from those countries. And some students will be curious either because they hear about a country in the news a lot, or because they don't.

So I'm generally expecting consternation from across the political spectrum about the scale of US involvement in other countries. This will provide a launchpad for questions about moral responsibility, along the lines of "if this current situation is partly our fault, what is our responsibility now?", and these serious moral discussions will be enriched by in-depth study of the history that led to the present situation in each country. 

Why would a kid care about this question?

A fair number of kids will have a personal stake, because they have family members stationed overseas, and/or are thinking about joining the military themselves. Also, a lot of kids feel a basic frustration that the US invests so much money in fighting abroad, rather than investing domestically. This came up a lot when we studied the refugee crisis, so I assume it will come up here. There's also a bit of a "secret knowledge" element - finding out about covert cold war CIA stuff will allow them to laugh knowingly at relatively superficial TV news coverage, which is enjoyable. 

Content that kids could learn through this question

I'm planning for students to choose a single country to focus on, either on their own or in pairs. So if a pair chose to go in-depth on Germany, their question would be "Why does the US have troops in Germany"?

This question shows one of the dangers of this project, which is there are a whole lot of pieces to the puzzle, so that kids will face a cognitive load choice between a load that is way beyond their ability to carry, and one that is pretty much effortless. In other words, it will be hard to plot a course between the incredibly superficial ("Germany lost WWII so they weren't allowed to have an army. We're done, can play basketball for the next four weeks?") and the overwhelmingly messy and complicated ("Berlin was divided up between the allied powers after WWII, and also Germany split into two countries on either side of the Cold War. The US agreed to essentially provide West Germany with a military, plus Germany became the most clear-cut "front" of the cold war, so the US and Russia both packed their sides with troops. OK, so what happened after the Berlin wall fell? Why are there still so many troops?").

Ideally, kids will be able to explain the history of conflict in the country at least since the 1940s, identifying the different players, both colonial and postcolonial, and the way(s) that the country fits into regional and global power structures (which is to say, both political/military, and economic), focusing particularly on the role that the US has played in the country's history since the 1940s.

I think a constant pressure in this project will be kids trying to find a clear-cut answer to the question "how can we fix this country so we can get our troops back home?" which is a great question, but will tend to kids trying to find simple answers in order to get past the unease of living in doubt. 

What adults can be involved in this?

I'd love it if everyone interviewed one person who has been stationed in this country, one person with expertise on the country (an academic or an intelligence expert) and one person who comes from this country.

What could they make? Who would be the audience?

Parents and families strike me as the most powerful audience for this, because it should trigger (and enrich) lots of substantive discussions. 

A podcast is an obvious product, since I was inspired by listening to a podcast. The issue with a podcast is that it's hard to follow chronology, particularly if you're explaining shifting allegiances over time (the Intercepted episode works in part because it's focusing on the US's role (and, even more specifically, its misdeeds) in Iraq. If it was also explaining the interplay of relationships between the Iraqi government, the Kurds, Sunnis, Shias, Iran, the Yazidis, etc., it would be utterly baffling.

A Ted-Talk style lecture with graphics might work well, as would some kind of beautiful infographic. A Youtube video (again with graphics) might also work. 

A play along the lines of The Great Game could be really effective (a promenade piece would be especially cool) but in order for this to work, the team would need to choose a country, or maybe 2-4 countries as shorter pieces taht weave together, and making these choices tends to be a nightmare. 



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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1263904 2018-03-21T17:21:08Z 2018-03-21T17:21:08Z Teaching the art of writing a description that defamiliarizes the familiar

    When I taught theatre at the University of Sheffield, I taught students about the Bertholt Brecht's "Alienation" effect. "Alienation" is an unhelpful word for it, because it's got nothing to do with either Freud, or Marx's "alienation of labor". There was a better word that we used, but I've forgotten it. In any case, the basic concept is that it causes you to look at something with fresh eyes, casting aside your assumptions about it. 

    "A Typical Day" by Zack Bornstein does this really well (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/26/a-typical-day). 

    I'd love to use this as a model text for students. Here's how I think I'd do it: 

    1. Divide up the text and give a section to a group of 3-4 students with no explanation. Let them puzzle out what it's describing.
    2. Bring the full class back together to popcorn out ideas about what the text is describing
    3. Go back to small groups to "translate" their section into more familiar language
    4. [At this point, I think it would be good to call it a day]
    5. The next day, start with groups reading out the full translation - possibly reading Bornstein's passage followed by the translation
    6. Students start writing their own descriptions of their own lives

    Stuff students can learn from this:

    1. Decoding text, close reading
      1. In order for this to work, there needs to be some kind of accountability for the quality of the translations. Possibly we could have the group verify that the translation is correct and adequate, but this will take a long time, so we might want to split up the performance of the original text and the translation.
        1. Another possibility would be to have one person act out the scene, while another person narrates what's happening, and their inner monologue
          1. Example: you could act out 8-8:05 by having a phone alarm go off, with the actor lying down, who jerks up and looks around. Meanwhile the other performer narrates their inner monologue: "wow, that was a crazy dream. What's that sound? Oh yeah, my alarm clock. I've gotta get up." Then the actor hits the phone, tells it to shut up, general stage business until the phone goes off. 
    2. Specific descriptive writing (albeit in an eccentric form)
    3. Looking at their own life and recognizing its absurdities - a key to both amusing writing, and self-knowledge ("the unexamined life is not worth living, and all that)
    4. If students are able to go deeper, they can also notice how the apparently dispassionate description contains a lot of pathos, as well as social commentary (the products made by children, the misery of an office job).
      1. I'm not great at teaching this, so I'm not quite sure how it would come out. Maybe by drawing attention to those moments and saying "why does the author include this?"
        1. Students could write about their own lives in ways that makes a social commentary purely through observation and defamiliarization (Brecht would be proud).
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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1263894 2018-03-21T16:40:13Z 2018-03-21T16:40:13Z "Keeping the Receipts" and teaching citation

    The first time I heard the term "receipts" used to mean evidence (I think it was when we all found out that James Comey had been taking detailed notes on all his conversations with Donald Trump. (https://www.hercampus.com/news/james-comey-has-receipts-prove-trump-tried-stop-fbi-investigation-michael-flynn)), I was disheartened by it. And, as a person who wishes we didn't treat commercial transaction as our reference point for research, and more generally wishes being "consumers" wasn't so central to our identities, I still am. 

    However, as a teacher, I'm kind of excited about it, because it's such a clear and familiar metaphor for research and evidence. 

    You could start out by asking students for stories about when they've tried to return things, and what happened. Some students will have had infuriating experiences with inflexible clerks, some students will have returned things that they probably shouldn't have. Out of these stories, we'll tease out some important points:

    1. If something doesn't look new, you probably can't return it (this is irrelevant to the discussion of research but it will come up)
    2. Generally, you need to show evidence that you bought the item from the store - a receipt, or they may be able to find your credit card.
    3. The more a store stands to lose, the higher the burden of proof they will put on you as a customer 

    From here, we'd want to investigate something immediately compelling. I think it'd be nice to use a graphic organizer with actual "receipts" on it, where you cite your sources. I could see a few approaches to this:

    • A counterintuitive claim about a book we are reading as a class (say, "Junior is actually the villain in ATDPTI") with quotes and page number citations (this is inspired by the classic "Johnny's the real hero of  Karate Kid" video (https://nerdist.com/is-johnny-the-real-hero-of-the-karate-kid/) but I don't think I'd bother showing that video in class, unless of course we'd already watched Karate Kid. 
    • A shocking, true, historical claim ("George Washington wore dentures made out of human teeth")
      • The problem with this one is that everyone will google it and find the same source. But if groups of 3-4 students all investigated different claims (and perhaps we had a few false ones thrown in too) they could "show their receipts"
    • A "Document-based Question" (DBQ) - the old AP History standby. These seem ready-made for this kind of task, but possibly not instantly compelling
    • An "Encyclopedia Brown" mystery

    Students could then use their "receipts" graphic organizer to write up an argumentative essay, using the receipts to make either footnotes or parenthetical notation.

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1254764 2018-03-01T18:23:53Z 2018-03-01T18:23:53Z Idea for starting the first day of school

    Start with the Dan Wise “sit by day of the month you were born” game

    Everyone has an envelope taped to the bottom of their seat. Inside is a sentence from chapter one of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Each envelope also has instructions for the concentric circles.

    For homework, an open ended write/draw/record yourself assignment to introduce themselves to me and the class the way Junior introduces himself.


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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1232183 2018-01-15T01:05:27Z 2018-01-15T01:05:52Z Teaching The Hero's Journey: The "call to adventure" vs. the "call to heroism"

    I often get tripped up by the hero rejecting the call to adventure in the "official" hero's journey, since in so many of the examples I can think of, the hero is champing at the bit to start the adventure. 

    I can illustrate this with the two films I'd like to show in class to introduce the hero's journey, and map it as a class: Stardust and Moana. Neither of the heroes of these stories refuses the call to adventure (on the contrary, they chase it with a zeal that encroaches on foolhardiness).

    In Stardust, Tristan is so eager to get to the "extraordinary world" that he successfully gets past the man whose family has been guarding the gate for centuries. 

    In Moana, Moana is so eager to start her adventure that she nearly gets killed attempting to sail past the reef early in the film (Maui refuses the call, and one point I'll want to draw out in Moana is that every story contains multiple heroes' journeys, and would be very different stories if different people were put in the center of it). 

    As I'm typing, it occurs to me that Finding Nemo is a good example of a hero reluctant for adventure, but the "reluctant hero" definitely feels like a (mostly comic) subgenre.

    So anyway, here's what just occurred to me: having an adventure is not the same thing as being a hero. Tristan is eager for adventure, but it takes him an incredibly long time to give up on kidnapping a star (making him actively villainous) and instead become a hero. Moana is thrilled to go on an adventure (and unlike Tristan she is morally driven from the start of the film) but when things get really tough she stops believing she CAN be a hero, and literally refuses the ocean's call to heroism. 

    How I will teach this is to ask students at the start of class to write about a time they had an adventure, and a time they did something heroic, making it clear that they don't need to be the same incidents. Then we'll discuss the difference between "having an adventure" and "being a hero" and introduce that nuance to the hero's journey. 

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1173862 2017-07-15T21:52:46Z 2017-07-15T21:52:46Z How the Hell did it Come to This? A Reading List


    How the Hell The Right Came to This

    "How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind" by David Wong (Cracked.com October 12, 2016) - the title is classic misleading clickbait. This was one of the most insightful pieces I read during the campaign. The fact that it was published on the online platform of a Mad Magazine ripoff boggles my mind.

    "The Great Republican Revolt" by David Frum (The Atlantic, January/February 2016) - this was written over a year ago, and it was one of the first pieces I thought about after Trump won. Basically its about the difference between Washington conservatives and the Republican base. 

    "Why Nobody Cares the President is Lying", by Charles Sykes (New York Times, February 4th 2017) - Charles Sykes is a former conservative radio host who saw the way conservative media was changing from the inside. 

    "Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology" by David Roberts (Vox, May 19th 2017) - This is an analysis of why facts don't matter much at the moment.

    The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter (The Atlantic, 1964) - this is over fifty years old, but Hofstadter nailed it.


    How the Hell the Left Came to This

    "How the Left Lost Its Mind" by McKay Coppins (The Atlantic July 2, 2017) - an account of the left's own hyperpartisan, conspiracy-obsessed media landscape. The writer makes it clear that it's dwarfed by its counterpart on the right, but it still exists and it's not good. Also the graphic (a tinfoil pussy hat) is pretty clever.

    "Fairfax County, USA" by Matt Karp (Jacobin, November 28 2016) - an analysis of the Clinton campaign's unfortunate strategy of winning the presidency by appealing to wealthy, college-educated moderates




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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1152352 2017-05-07T21:14:40Z 2017-05-07T21:15:06Z When I found my words on someone else's website. A story a tweet and two emails

    I demonstrated Turnitin.com to my students by submitting a draft chapter I was writing for a book about project-based learning. 

    This wasn't a great move: the submission lit up like a Christmas tree with incidents of "plagiarism" - most of it was self-plagiarism, because I had copied chunks of previous work into the doc to use as guides. 

    But a few lines all came from a South African education website, all from a post about project-based learning. The lines all looked familiar - I double-checked, and sure enough, they all appeared in the book I wrote in 2012, Work that Matters: The Teacher's Guide to Project-based Learning.

    I did this sleuthing during class, while my students were posting their own papers on Turnitin, waiting for their results, and comparing scores. 

    A few of my students were fascinated by my unfolding plagiarism drama. One student documented this sleuthing, and tweeted it:

    It took a day before I wrote the "strongly worded email". Here's what I wrote:

    Hi _________


    I was looking at a post from Schoolnet SA, and I recognized some of the material in it from Work that Matters: The Teacher's Guide to Project-based Learning, which I wrote for the Innovation Unit in 2012 (for example, in the list of essential questions, and the information about check-ins).

    Work that Matters is a free resource, and it's great to see it being used around the world. I also know it's been used in lots of other resources, not always with credit, so it's entirely possible that you've never seen it before! 

    I'd be grateful if you could acknowledge as a source on the page.

    All the best
    Alec
    A few days later, I got a reply:
    Hi Alec

    Thanks so much for writing and apologies for not replying sooner. 

    Thanks for pointing out the resource Work that Matters: The Teacher's Guide to Project-based Learning. What a superb booklet - your writing ability is excellent. I don't recall seeing the booklet before but I wrote the post a few years back. I apologise profusely for not acknowledging your resource (or the resource where I took it from). How embarrassing! I have now acknowledged your resource, hopefully in the appropriate places. Thank you very much for pointing this out so pleasantly.

    Warm regards

    The page in question has been updated. So, happy ending!

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1149502 2017-04-26T12:53:42Z 2017-04-26T12:53:42Z The tension between “personal” authenticity and “real world” authenticity


    It's surprisingly difficult to reconcile work that engages every student's passions with work that leads to outcomes that are meaningful on a scale that goes beyond students and their families.

    Here's what I mean by that: if students are doing a project that connects with what is meaningful to them personally, everyone will be doing their own project. I'm a big fan of this, and kids still work collaboratively when they do this, because they critique each other's work.

    What this work lacks is scale - when everyone's doing their own thing, you can't so something like run a big science experiment. If you're doing meaningful, cutting-edge science, you need everyone working on what they're commissioned to work on. This means that you're going to be doing work that doesn't resonate with everybody - or rather, you might be able to find a piece of the project that resonates with everybody, but there will be a lot of work that people need to do that they don't find innately interesting. This applies equally to teacher-led and student-led projects: even if you are doing a large-scale science project that's student-driven, it will only work if it's driven by a few students, with everyone else getting on board to help realize their vision.

    This means that you need to help individual students find their own “entry points” into a project that will make it meaningful to them.

    There are moments (such as the project launch and the exhibition) where every student gets pumped up and joins in for pretty much the same reasons, and it feels good to be working as one big group. But full-group enthusiasm is ephemeral. It doesn't get you through a six-week project.

    When you're talking about the project (as opposed to the project launch day), engagement is much more like trying to pass a bill through congress - every single person has their own particular interest that you need to appeal to. And the very fact that one group of people is excited about a project will be enough to make other people think "ehhh, this probably isn't my thing."

    This isn't really surprising. Imagine going up to a group of fifty adults and saying "Hey, you all live in the same general vicinity, I'd like you all to work on a complex and important science experiment together, over the course of several months." It just wouldn't fly.

    The extraordinary thing is the extent to which most students, most of the time, are ready to go out on a limb and give something a try, even it it's not the thing they would personally choose to do with their time.


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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1110129 2016-11-23T01:32:31Z 2016-11-23T04:05:37Z Subjects and Folders, Projects and Tags

    School subjects do harm to educators' power to reason. Here's what I mean by that: imagine a school stops teaching history. There's just no class called "history" anymore. Let me guess what you're thinking about this school: its students will be intellectually malnourished. Depending on your ideological predilection, here are a few worries you might have:"they'll grow up unmoored from their heritage", "they won't learn from the mistakes of the past (for example, how can you understand the potential implications of this political moment without knowing about Germany in the 1930s? And how can you understand Black Lives Matter if you don't know about the Civil Rights movement?)", "without turning a critical lens on the stories we tell ourselves about the past, students won't be able to understand the power structures that undergird all contemporary discourse." 

    OK, I share all these concerns. But here's a thought experiment: let's say that in every school across the United States, all students took a class called Philosophy. In it, students learned about the fundamental principles of argument, and the various attempts across the millenia to create a coherent theory of justice, of judging right and wrong, and (more recently) of fundamental rights. They learned the mechanics of argument and logic. Now imagine that the schools decide to stop teaching philosophy, an replace it with history. Wouldn't that seem like a catastrophic loss to these fictional educators?

    One explanation for our attachment to our current slate of school subjects is what behavior economists call the "endowment effect", by which people tend to overvalue what they own ("overvalue" in the sense that people tend to want more money for things they already own than other people are willing to pay). 

    In the case of school subjects, we fear what we would lose by getting rid of a subject. But this fear implies something totally inaccurate: it implies that there is a really good reason that we teach the set of subjects that we teach. But if you consider the skills and knowledge that you need as an adult right now (let alone what we might need in the future) it's obvious that English, History, Pure Math, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry are an odd set of categories to build an education around. And I'm not making an instrumentalist "we should be educating people for the careers of today" argument here. Rather, I think this is a weird list of subjects for ANY POSSIBLE desired educational outcome. The only outcome it fulfills is "to become an educated person according to the current definition" and arguing for the current list of subjects on that basis is (as we'd all know if we'd taken philosophy in school) circular reasoning. 

    Here's what I think: subjects are a weird way to organize school. If we were creating the concept of "school" now, there's no way we would use them as an organizing principle, because they aren't a good way to organize learning. They are, in fact, a "folder" system, and what we need is a "tag" system. 

    The "folder" system was, until recently, the only way to organize information: when I was growing up, information was mostly stored on paper, and sorted in folders. Because organizational structures tend to outlive their usefulness (sound familiar?), most computers still use folders to organize information. 

    This is not optimal - documents do not have only one characteristic and if I'm trying to file an interesting article that argues that you can learn a lot about the 2016 presidential election by studying the fight over Title Nine in universities, what folder should it go in? "Political Analysis?" "Current Events?" "Women's Rights?" "Sports?" "Higher Education?" "Argumentative Writing?" It depends on what I want to use it for - and what I want to use it for will vary from semester to semester. 

    Because of this, computers increasingly (though not as quickly as I would like) organize files by tagging rather than by folders. That article about Title 9 can only go into one folder, but I can give it as many tags as I want. 

    Education should have a tagging system. If students are learning through interdisciplinary projects, it's easy to identify what they are and aren't learning in each project - which means it would be easy to give it "tags". Over the course of the year, these tags would make it easy to see what skills and information a student had been taught, and what they hadn't (and if these tags connected to assessment - for example through portfolios and Presentations of Learning, you'd be able to see what the student had actually LEARNED which is a lot more important than what they've been "taught"). 

    So let's ditch "subjects" as an organizing principle - they make us think in terms of what's taught rather than what's learned, and they reinforce the endowment effect in totally unhelpful ways. 


    For more on "subjects", check out "Changing the Subject" by Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan, which Andrew Gloag turned into an animation narrated by Larry. 

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1103784 2016-10-31T04:51:54Z 2016-10-31T04:51:54Z Four dimensions of assessment for learning (an extremely rough cut)

    Came up with these a couple of days ago. 

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1102554 2016-10-27T04:03:09Z 2016-10-27T04:06:11Z A logistical report from the midst of a podcasting project - mostly about mics, some thoughts on punk

    We're approaching the final week of the Mad Props Project, students have recorded a lot of tape and are starting to record narration, and today most (but not all) of the computers stopped recognizing one of the yetis (those are mics, for the uninitiated) and at least one computer appeared to have stopped recognizing all of the yetis. 

    So I have some observations and thoughts about the technical aspects of recording with students.

    1. The existential nightmare of the unrecognized device

    Two different yetis are now in some state of non-functionality. One (donated, which means trying to claim warranty will be complicated) just stopped responding entirely. The light on the mute button that indicates that the Yeti is alive and communicating just doesn't come on. I've tried different cords, different USB ports, different laptops, and both mac and PC and I'm getting nothing. No idea what to do about that (and the internet hasn't been forthcoming either). 

    The second problem yeti plugs in, lights up, and then doesn't register with the computer, which (I eventually realized) acknowledges its existence on a not-immediately-obvious window as an "unrecognized USB device" (or something like that), but refuses to go any further. A former student checked it with all the PC laptops and found that it worked with exactly two laptops.

    I'm hoping our IT guy will be able to solve this, but I sure can't, and it raises an interesting issue: updates get pushed out to our laptops from IT central, and even our IT guy doesn't know when they'll come or what exactly they'll do, so it's possible that an update led these laptops to lose whatever driver they need in order to recognize the Yeti (I don't really understand PCs). So what this means, I now realize, is that any hardware that plugs directly into a school laptop is at the mercy of whatever changes in the world of school IT. Now, I suspect that if, say, a new Mac operating system rendered the yeti non-functional, it would be the first thing you read about when you googled "Blue Yeti", and Yeti would be scrambling to tell us all how to fix it. But HTHCV upgrades don't get the same kind of press, so I'm adrift. 

    2. The delicate flower that is the mini-usb cable

    The yeti is a USB mic. It has a mini-USB port in its base, and then plugs into the USB port on a computer. The mic itself is attached to the base in such a way that you can rock it back and forth - and, without much difficulty, guillotine the mini-USB cable, bending or even shearing off its head so it ends up looking like this:

    This has happened A LOT to our students. To be honest, I've nearly done it myself. I'm going to go out on a limb and call it a design flaw.

    3. Punk Rock PBL vs. Equipment

    I want to share my favorite quote about education, which comes from the song "Try this at Home" by Frank Turner:

    The only thing that punk rock should ever really mean

    is not sitting 'round and waiting for the lights to go green.

    What I love most about being a project-based teacher is when kids make a project their own, and start figuring out their own solutions and workarounds. So, for example, since this project started students have asked if they can go find a quiet room to record, left with a mic, got permission from another teacher to use an empty room, and recorded. Last week, two students who'd secured an interview with someone on the east coast interviewed her by huddling together outside the door of the school, using a telephone mic. The audio from that won't be pristine, but they looked around, decided outside was better for background noise than in, and got it done. I don't think there's any better sign that a project is "working" than students DIYing solutions like this. 

    The downside is that stuff gets broken. Now, had I declared that my makeshift office studio, with its one mic and "studio-in-a-box" sound insulator, was the only place anyone could do interviews or record narration, I could probably safeguard my equipment better. I also would have lost a huge amount of time, because only one group would ever have been recording at a time. 

    I was thinking about this a lot today, because throughout this project my feeling has been "students just need to treat the yetis really carefully, and every busted usb cable is a sign of their shortcomings (and therefore of mine, as a teacher, for failing to make them conscientious). But take a moment to consider the following: which do I want to cultivate more in my students - a punk-rock 'I can figure this out for myself' attitude, or a careful and tentative approach to using equipment? Obviously, I want them to be punk rock about this.* 

    4. Let's hear it for XLR

    And once I realized this, something else occurred to me: I'd been laboring under the assumption that USBs were the default connector of microphones. This is insane. XLR is the default connector of microphones. And how many XLR mics have I seen get knocked over onstage? How many times have I dropped my sax mic? Sooooooooooo many. And they tend to do great. So there is a durable audio technology - the industry standard. Another great thing about XLR? It doesn't require any software for a mixing board to recognize that a mic has been plugged into it. 

    So next year I'm planning to get a couple of XLR mics, run them to a mixer and thence into a digital recorder, and then (I think - stop me if this seems dumb) transfer files from the recorder to the squad's laptop via SD card. I'm thinking that an mp3 on a SD card is more likely to be reliably recognized by computers than a yeti is. 

     

    *Just to be clear, I think there's a separate issue about using tools properly and treating them with respect - for example, practices like holding laptops by the monitor, or absent-mindedly whipping laptops up and down in your hands while conversing with a friend so the monitor swings open and shut, are to be discouraged. 


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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1081503 2016-08-16T01:50:47Z 2016-08-16T01:50:47Z Remembering the Sergeant

    In my first year of teaching I used to have groups assign someone the role of "sergeant", whose job was to "leave no-one behind", because "a good soldier never leaves a man behind."

    In other words, the Sergeant makes sure everyone is contributing to the conversation, and draws out quieter voices.

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1076021 2016-07-25T22:29:36Z 2016-07-25T22:29:36Z The correct response to "We did a project just like this in 8th grade!"

    This just occurred to me. 

    When, as happens in PBL schools, students inform you that they already did a project that, to them, sounds similar to your project, and you can hear their frustration that they're just going to be going over old ground, the correct response is "Thank God for that. If lots of you have experience in this, that means we can make this product to a professional standard."


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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1071483 2016-07-10T17:26:17Z 2016-07-10T17:26:17Z From the Innovation Unit Vaults: "Shakespeare would have wanted the kids at Kingsmead school to study the Simpsons"

    This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog. This post was my big moment in the sun: someone had managed to get national coverage for starting a petition demanding that students at a school stop studying The Simpsons in their Media Studies class, and focus on Shakespeare instead. Stephen Fry weighed in, and at one point tweeted the words "Well exactly" with a link to this post. Over 25,000 people read it. And now you can too:

    The BBC reported today that over 400 parents at Kingsmead Community School in Somerset have signed a petition demanding that the school's Media module stop using class and homework time to analyse The Simpsons, and devote the newly freed-up time to studying Shakespeare. On BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, parent Joseph Reynolds particularly recommended A Midsummer Night's Dream. 'There's a time and a place for The Simpsons,' Reynolds said, 'but it doesn't belong in the classroom.' Reynolds appears to have a particular understanding of pedagogy, based on two commonly-held but erroneous premises: that the main function of education is to expose students to new things, and that education that prepares students to negotiate the day-to-day world they'll be living in is not 'real' education. I'll look at these assumptions in turn:

    Exposure is not the same as understanding

    People who don't understand education often think that a teacher's job is to introduce students to unfamiliar things. Actually, the best teachers help their students to look at familiar things with new eyes - so physics teaches students to look at suspension bridges in a new way, biology completely alters their understanding of saliva, and learning about the Holocaust completely transforms what they think when someone calls somebody else 'queer' on the playground. It's wonderful when a teacher introduces you to something that you've never encountered before, but it's just as wonderful when teachers turn the everyday into something rich and strange. To their great credit, Kingsmead are standing behind their Media teachers. Assistant Head Andy Dunnett told the BBC that 'Students are encouraged to look at the text in a critical way. Initially it's about building up their skills as critical thinkers. They also learn about different aspects of the media audience, visual narrative, presentation and stereotypes, and some quite high level thinking ideas like satire, irony and parody.' This brings me to my response to Reynolds' second assumption...

    Education should prepare students for living in the world

    You might think everyone feels this way, but the curriculum suggests otherwise. To give one example, most schools take it for granted that 'there's a time and a place for economics, but it's not the mathematics classroom'. So, students graduate able to measure a triangle within an inch of its life, but not to compare interest rates on mortgage offers. And they graduate able to identify a sly reference to Spanish succession in an Elizabethan play, but not to critically engage with popular media - that is to say, the billboards, posters, magazines, TV programmes, and advertisements that tell them they should buy more, lose weight, plug their sweat glands, indulge in snack foods, despise those who come to this country looking for protection from tyranny, and get angrier at benefits cheats than at tax cheats. 

    There's some pretty dodgy stuff in a Midsummer Night's Dream (the play's first scene explicitly argues that if a woman falls in love with the man who kidnapped her, it's a good thing), but kids aren't going to be encountering it every day for the rest of their lives. William Shakespeare himself suffered the slings and arrows of the dreary snobbery that animates Reynolds' petition - Ben Jonson alluded to this when he interrupted his memorial poem to Shakespeare to point out that his subject 'hadst small Latin and less Greek.' Shakespeare got his own back most effectively in Love's Labour Lost, with the latin- spouting buffoon Holofernes, who analyses a contemporary love poem as follows:

    You find not the apostraphas, and so miss the accent: let me supervise the canzonet. Here are only numbers ratified but, for the elegancy, facility, and golden cadence of poesy, caret. Ovidius Naso was the man: and why, indeed, Naso, but for smelling out the odouriferous flowers of fancy, the jerks of invention? Imitari is nothing: so doth the hound his master, the ape his keeper, the tired horse his rider. But, damosella virgin, was this directed to you? (IV,2,1268)

    It's easy to imagine a real-life Elizabethan Holofernes petitioning a school to stop teaching Shakespeare, and teach more Ovidius Naso. 'There's a time and place for Shakespeare,' he might have said, 'but he doesn't belong in the classroom.' Shakespeare, who in his time was a contemporary writer (a fact often-forgotten by crusaders like Reynolds) vividly understood how education calcifies when it neglects what is happening NOW. 

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1071280 2016-07-09T20:21:43Z 2016-07-09T20:21:44Z From the Innovation Unit Vaults: "I owe my PhD to the Sherwood High School Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival" (January 19, 2010)

    This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog: 

    My High School, Sherwood, had an annual event called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival, a revue of about fifty songs, broken up by a single intermission – played, sung, and in many cases, arranged, by students (just shy of 200 in total, not including the ones who build the set, and run the sound and lighting). When I first auditioned in 1995, it had been going for 25 years. I started out (like everyone) as a backup singer, then played saxophone in the band, and sang the lead on ‘Money (That’s What I want)’ and the Guess Who’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’. But my favourite moment was playing the tenor sax solo on Louis Prima’s ‘Jump Jive and Wail’ – actually, that’s not quite true. My favourite moment – or at least the one that most sticks in my mind, was at the beginning of the show – standing in a row with the rest of the horn section, back to the audience, hearing the drummer’s count-off, spinning around as one (you had to have choreography) and kicking in with the horn line, greeted by a screaming, sold- out crowd of 1000... but I’m getting bogged down in nostalgia. It’s only since my colleague Dave Price started talking about High Tech High that I realised how much I owe to Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. The title of this post is no exaggeration. I have a PhD in English literature (and I completed it on time), and the reason I was able to do it has more to do with Rock ‘n’ Roll revival than with any of my High School English classes.

    This isn’t a slur on my English teachers, some of whom were great – but I already loved reading critically, and writing critically, when I arrived – and the curriculum felt like it was geared towards mastering concepts that could be demonstrated in exam conditions – not a skill that I ever drew on as a PhD student.* 

    On the other hand, these are the skills I learned from Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival:

    1. Hitting deadlines: There is absolutely no deadline like a performance: you get no chance of an extension, and no partial credit for late completion.

    2. Working consistently, year-round, with no visible reward: When I was practicing saxophone in June, I wasn’t preparing SPECIFICALLY for Rock ‘n’ Roll, which wouldn’t take place until March – but I wanted to keep my chops up, and I knew I would be set back if I took a break. So I practiced all the time, whether or not I had a gig coming up. This skill is key, because when you do a PhD in the UK, you’re only assessed twice: at your upgrade viva, which happens at the end of year one, and at the final viva – when you go into a room and defend your thesis against two examiners for a few hours, at the end of which they decide whether you get a PhD or not. So if you can’t work for long stretches with no imminent deadlines, you’ll never finish. Those are the skills that applied directly to my PhD, but there are others whose significance is much wider:

    3. Working in a heterogenous group: It’s no secret that when you segregate according to academic attainment, you segregate, to a large extent, by social class. This is not the case with singing and dancing – and as a result Rock ‘n’ Roll was very nearly the only time in high school that I didn’t spend surrounded by other middle- class people.

    4. Working towards a publicly-validated result: I’m going to get very High-tech High here. Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is a venerable institution in Sandy Spring, Maryland: lots of people now performing in it are the children of past performers – and tickets for the six annual shows (over two weekends) sell out so quickly that many people who get in line before the box office opens leave disappointed. The upshot of all this is that I spent rehearsals terrified that I wouldn’t live up to the standards that the community expected – and I think this was good, productive fear.

    5. Developing secondary skills that were unrelated to my primary skill: I was in Rock ‘n’ Roll revival because I could play saxophone. I also had to learn to dance – which I was less good at – and I needed to procure a set of vintage costumes for myself – which I had absolutely no skills or experience in. But I got it done, because I had to. It’s an important characteristic of projects that they force you to acquire skills that you came to the project with no knowledge of, or indeed interest in.

    6. Accomplishing something that seemed impossible: At thebeginning of rehearsals, it’s impossible to imagine that you will accomplish what was accomplished the year before – a seamless run of songs, on a great-looking set – and in fact, I’ve never known of another school that has pulled off what Sherwood pulls off ever year. 

    Now it’s always satisfying to achieve more than you thought yourself capable of, but what’s amazing about Rock ‘n’ Roll is that whatever role you have played in accomplishing it, almost all of the credit DOES NOT go to you. Everybody involved – musician, singer, dancer, lighting designer, carpenter, sound technician – has contributed only a fraction of the whole. There’s no question that playing music onstage to cheering crowds is good for the ego, but perhaps the most powerful lesson of Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is that it’s not all about you. 


    *I should note that editing the school literary magazine, under the endlessly serene and compassionate supervision of Mr. Deitchman, DID provide me with some of the skills I needed... a pattern is developing here. 


    This post got a bunch of comments:

    From Annette:

    Alec- I could not have said it better myself. It is amazing thinking back how much we would accomplish from the early December auditions to performances in March. These are some of my favorite memories in my life (so far). I got goose bumps thinking about that countoff at the beginning of the show- especially our very last one senior year- down on the corner. I'll add to the social aspect even more though- working alongside a dance partner for months on end, you grow to adore them! Some of my best memories from RnR were dancing with Afiba and Adam. I'll also always remember dancing with you during the bridge in "Money." It makes me smile just thinking about it! I also completely agree that RnR helped us with our skills for higher education. We all share such a special bond being alums of the show that no other high school students share. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Hope you are doing well, Dr. Patton! love- Dr. K.

    From Holly:

    Wow, well said. Thanks for sharing. I was in RRR from #19-22 and can say that doing that and the newspaper no doubt helped me gain skills to survive getting my PhD (especially when I lost an advisor to cancer and my co-advisor moved to another university at the same time). Sherwood was great to me.

    From Dan:

    This was a great blog post to read. I think back to those years fondly with vivid memories of so many of us dedicating our time to hard work for many months in the pursuit of putting on a great show. To paraphrase Jack Black - a great rock show can change the world. I'm not sure if the experience was as much of an obvious impact on my path in life, but Rock 'n' Roll Revival definitely shaped me on a personal level. The dedication that we all put in to this show with our time and hard work was for me probably the first of many times that I started on a path for what seemed to be an unobtainable goal. Standing on that stage in front of a thousand people night after night to dance and sing allowed me to learn how to put aside inhibitions and embrace a confidence in myself I never knew existed before, and that has continued to serve me well in my current career. I will always cherish the time we spent together working on the show, building friendships, building partnerships, making music, entertaining each other as well as the audience, and having more fun in a school sanctioned activity than most high school students will ever understand. Those 4 years went by quickly and I miss being a part of the show, but I'm grateful for the time I had and the role RRR played in my life. Alec - nice post, and Jump Jive and Wail was also one of my most memorable moments, but from the dance perspective.

    From David Horwitz:

    Written on behalf of us ALL -- thank you, Alec! It amazes my adult friends when I tell them that at MY high school, the football players were also dancers in the annual rock and roll show, students who could sing were given the chance to do so in front of seven sold out crowds of 1,300 people, and 15% of the entire student body was actually involved in this amazing production, year after year! Those of us who went to Sherwood definitely had a unique high school experience, one that will stay with us forever. Thank you to Bill, Gene, Joe, and everyone else over the years who made this time of our lives so special! - David Horwitz '85, RRR #12 and #14

    From Afiba:

    Well done. English class is only part of what makes a great Dr. Of English. This paper demonstrates that we are the sum of our experiences.

    From Tony Jordan

    I'm from your Dad's generation but we had Rock 'n' Roll too. I can't say it improved my school work but it sure was a gas. I used to go to parties and dances envious of the guys that played in bands. They had all the girls and seemed really cool. After all I played clarinet in high school band, not terribly glamorous. Then one day I accompanied a friend who was auditioning on tenor sax for a local rock band. He walked into the suburban church basement where they rehearsed wearing shades and a beret. He said "Lay some chords on me, man." and totally freaked out these suburban teens. Later after his audition, which hadn't gone too well I asked if I could try his sax. Since clarinet and sax fingerings are similar I cranked out a version of Night Train. The next day I was asked if I could get a hold of a tenor sax and my Rock 'n' Roll career was launched. Since then I've played in dozens of Rock, Blues and Jazz bands. After my having given your dad introductory sax lessons he and I went to Berklee for a summer course where I began to play bari in their sight reading band. I met your dad's teacher, the legendary Frank Foster from the Count Basie band. Well it's 40 years later and I'm still blowing horn in various big bands, combos, pit orchestras and my sax ensemble. Playing music has been spiritually rewarding and enriched my life immeasurably. Don't let your horn gather dust in the closet. You can always find a group to play with if you want to.

    From C Madoo:

    Thanks for the memories! I was in RnR #16-20 and there is nothing else like it. It prepared me a lot for the real world. I actually went back a couple a years ago and it broght back alot of memories.

     From Jim Hofman:

    Hey Alec thanks for your great post as well as other who wrote in with memories--cool to read! I am with your train of thought on R&RR under the direction of Bill Evan and Gene Orndorff. Its been 30 years since my first time on stage at the R&RR and they are both still there. Amazing! I heard today one person in the musical dept was let go because of the States budget but that it was Not Bill. I`m wondering was in Gene? Well Alec, when I was in The R&RR, that was 12 years before you set foot on stage there. So yeah the memories last a life time :) I always have said: "These kids have no clue how much they will treasure the fun experiences by being a part of Sherwood High School`s Annual Rock and Roll Revivals. You don`t know it when you are in H.S, but later on in life, you definitely realize how BIG of a chapter in life H.S. and the R&RR was as for fun memories. Alec, you hit it on the nail about how it puts all "classes" of students together to create something--nerds, jocks, pompom chicks, teachers, musicians- whatever Ha, it was all good, and that was that. There was no Bullshit at SHS. Everyone mixed well there. I was not aware of any clicks of kids with nasty attitudes, black white, jocks, freaks, nerds--there was not much of that crap thank goodness. If there was I ignored it. I hated trends except tight Jordash jeans on chicks :) And Definitely was no attitude crap of any type is Bill Evan`s music classes or in his R&RR`s. Bill Evans would kick your ass with his vocal chords alone. He started teaching at Sherwood in 1979 and in March of 1980, which was Rock and Roll Revival #9, Sherwood was blessed with Bills talents as the new musical director. He had mega classical and opera vocal chops but for some reason used it to teach after not gettin the right gig. So, H.S got him instead to all the kids advantage. He would demonstrate how to sing from the lower gut, and the damn walls would shake. He was the force that the R&RR show needed. He was unSTOPable--30 years later he is still there-Ha wow Jesus what a long career. I know Bill was impressed with the talent at Sherwood in my days there. Music was so incredible in the 80`s. Top 40 music was more fun then for sure. Ok I`m STILL stuck in the 80`s according to my wife. I play 80`s at work in Sirius daily. Its fun and easy tunes, the Cars, the Police. I don`t get Boyance and today’s hip-hop craze. Don`t need it personally. Some cool cats I remember going down memory lane during Sherwood’s early 80`s alumni readers might know like Sean Whalen, Bobby Brooks. I know allot of cats from Sherwood that went on to become full time musicians to this day. Its reminds me of a sports team that works hard together at something and wins. The R&RR was a bonding project. I`m 45 Alec, and when I see my old HS pal Kevin Yorke here and there, we have the memories with us still like it was not that long ago. When I did the Rock & Roll Revival #9 thru #12 in the early 80`s, it was all a group thing like you said. It was never about one person. I envy all the people who work hard on Broadway because all those actors and dancers and crew experience tons of fun and bonding with each show. I guess it` probably the same way on a movie set for 3-4 months, and then BOOM it`s over. Does anyone remember Kevin Yorke as the master of ceremonies as a DJ one year I think 1981 I think, or Tom Musgrove as Wolfman Jack in 1980 What great cats. I always loved the shows when they had a DJ weaving things together. You are who you are, and the R&RR brought some of that out in us. Arif Durrani with his keyboard tie on always smiling--he still plays today. He was the keyboard king in HS. I remember thinking I need a keyboard player for my top 40 bank Eclipse. I asked Arif the next day, and then for the next 5 years into college even we did top 40 dances everywhere Exactly 100 gigs. Going back even farther was ninth grade asking my neighbor Tommy Dobridge to join my band with Jamie Fornatora and Paul Betances on drums. Well Tommy, he was always playing my favorite slow song "Stairway to Heaven" PERFECTLT on his guitar, over at Pete and Chris Benoits house. I asked him to play lead for Eclipse and the rest was history. I still have Tapes of Tommy solos from a bunch of our gigs and some back yard Parties. As far back as the 8th grade party at Tim Maddens back field playing Beatles and Van Halen. 

    From Mindy:

    I was so jealous of all those who had the talent and nerve to perform. I was SHS class of 1984. Looking back, I wish i was on that stage. I still have no talent but it looked like such a great time.

    From Beth Miller Buckley:

    Hi Alec... Beth Miller(Buckley) here :D I was in R&RR's 7-10!! and I remember when it all started (w/ Sam Andleman and Roger Oliver).. thanks to 3 older sisters that were at SHS before me...but I was the first in my family to be on the stage of the Ertzman...and I will never stop being proud of what we all did together back there...and what a great experience it was......I didn't go off to be anything major..just a mom and a Domestic Engineer..LOL BUT once Bill Evans came in and took over as musical director...the show turned into one of the most professionally done I had ever been in...the encouragement Bill gave to let our talents flow was off the charts...something time can never take... Since my time there..this show has touched more people than anyone can count..and I am so glad to see it is going as strong as ever! SHS was a safe place where we were all very close and to this day remain so....R&RR was an even safer haven...where when you think you're close with someone...you aren't until you do this thing together with them...then you are close...and with as much time that passes there has been no erosion at all....that's a good place to be.. Thanks for the great write up..I am sure you are probably one of my very good friends son/nephew etc...Olney itself is a great place to grow up.




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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1071277 2016-07-09T20:00:24Z 2016-07-09T20:00:24Z From the Innovation Unit Vaults: "'Laughing at Shakespeare in the right places' - intellectual impoverishment in California" (February 10,2010)

    This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog: 

    I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Flanagan’s deeply misguided article, ‘Cultivating Failure’, in the Atlantic. The article is one long warning against the evils of ‘The Edible Schoolyard’, a California project spearheaded by the chef and gardener Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Foundation, which supports schools in developing gardens and connecting them to the curriculum. According to Flanagan, this is what happened in the pilot school: ‘In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations.’ The result of this nefarious scheme was, Flanagan explains, that ‘students’ grades quickly improved.’

    Those trying to grasp what, exactly, Flanagan’s problem with ‘The Edible Schoolyard’ is will grasp in vain. Her evidence amounts to this: in California, there is a huge achievement gap between Black and Latino students and their white peers. And she reasons that if students spend 1.5 hours per week in a garden (yes, that’s the amount of time we’re talking about here), that’s 1.5 hours that the Black and Latino students are spending doing the sort of manual labour that their forbears have been trying to escape. There’s a deep vein of snobbery here, thinly disguised as concern for the underprivileged. Contrary to what Flanagan seems to think, agriculture is a complex, multidisciplinary business. It requires careful planning, complex calculation, precise implementation, and continuing observation. If she thinks working in a garden is a waste of time because she doesn’t see how it will help performance on standardised tests (which she regards as the only educational outcome worth anyone’s attention), she might as well demand to know why chemistry students are larking about with test tubes when their laboratory experience will never be reflected in their performance on paper-based exams. But Flanagan won’t ask this question, because mixing chemicals in a lab is ‘real’ learning, while measuring the PH of a soil sample in order to grow food is what farmers do. It’s tempting to laugh at an association this facile, and I recommend you do so. It’s utterly preposterous. The subject of laughter brings me to Flanagan’s vision for education – or rather, the vision that she hears when she speaks to Michael Piscal, founder and CEO of the Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, the White Knight that she sets against the ‘dowager queen’ (her phrase) Alice Waters:

    “Look,” he said, when pressed, “there’s nothing wrong with kids getting together after school and working on a garden that’s very nice. But when it becomes the center of everything—as it usually does—it’s absurd. The only question in education reform that’s worth anything is this: What are you doing to prepare these kids for college? If I can get a kid to read Shakespeare and laugh at the right places, I can get him to college. That’s all that matters to me.”

    This is as intellectually impoverished a vision for education as I have ever encountered. It’s straight out of My Fair Lady: 'let’s not teach kids to engage critically with literature, just make sure they can blend in with high society by laughing at the right spots.' The idea that we must choose between a generation of graduates who can grow food and a generation who can recognise an Elizabethan double-entendre is a false dichotomy – but if I had to choose, I know which skill I'd want them to have.


    This post received one comment, posted by my brother, Andrew:

    Excellent analysis. Looking at it from an outside perspective, I am amazed that Flanagan could interview Piscal, get that quote ("laughing at Shakespeare in the right places"), and not have the critical capacity to give more than a cursory glance to his '25 words or less' vision of what pre-collegiate education should be. Did she just hear the name 'Shakespeare' and figure that's what learning really should be? I can barely begin to express my frustration with Flanagan's thesis. And it's hard to know where to begin in breaking it down. When the foundation is built of paint, bread sticks, and shellac (Fat Tony's construction material of choice for Springfield Elementary), is their any point in trying to look at what was piled on top? It all topples down regardless. Even so, let me just point to one example of her rhetorical slight of hand. She puts the "Edible Schoolyard" educational program into perspective thusly: "If this patronizing agenda were promulgated in the Jim Crow South by a white man who was espousing a sharecropping curriculum for African American students, we would see it for what it is: a way of bestowing field work and low expectations on a giant population of students who might become troublesome if they actually got an education." Maintaining a garden of your own, then, is roughly equivalent to sharecropping in the Jim Crow South (i.e., "an economic arrangement that largely maintained the status quo between black and white through legal means" following emancipation, according to Wikipedia). Is that a fair comparison? Because it is, in fact, the basis of her entire thesis. Namely, that engaging in all of the activities involved in maintaining a small food garden at school (including 1.5 hours of manual labor a week) is roughly equivalent to working as a low-paid immigrant picking fruits on an industrial farm. If anything, that assertion trivializes the back- breaking labour illegal immigrants are forced to engage in to survive. Mostly, however, it is simply a false analogy. Flanagan's lack of self-awareness is breathtaking. She purports to be attacking those who would patronize, while simultaneously taking this view on what comprises proper education: "hours...spent reading important books or learning higher math" are hours spent "attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt." We must 'lift' these immigrants (though of course 'lifting' them in a totally non-patronizing way) out of the desperate struggle of agriculture, because obviously everyone knows that the only worthwhile life is one of reading and letters or math and science. This is the goal we should all be striving for. Flanagan clearly knows what is best for you, but that is not because she is being patronizing or condescending. I am happy to see that the "Edible Schoolyard" program is still alive and strong, and delighted to think that the children at those schools, aside from the many educational benefits of that kind of a program often enumerated in this blog, are getting at least an extra hour or two a week outdoors, working with the earth, getting exercise, being in nature. I just hope Flanagan's attack doesn't threaten that.

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1036454 2016-04-19T02:53:23Z 2016-04-19T04:16:50Z Cultures of Complaint in high school: FOGS (possibly the first in a series)

    In my younger and more vulnerable years, I performed a private ritual whenever I went to a show or movie, and found myself in a less-than-ideal seat: I would furtively look around until I found somebody in a seat that was unequivocally worse than my own. Then I would relax, knowing I didn't have the worst seat in the house. 

    I don't remember when I stopped doing this, but at some point it just didn't matter so much anymore. I also don't remember when it peaked, but I now suspect it was tenth grade. This phenomenon probably has a name already, but since I regard it as the defensive sibling of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), I'm calling it Fear of Getting Shafted (FOGS). 

    FOMO is a phenomenon that, at its best, drives discovery and adventure. At its worst, it leads people to take stupid risks ("If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump to?" is a question about FOMO). My favorite story about FOMO comes from cultural critic, university teacher and Vietnam Vet Henry Allen, who told me that he always felt like he missed out on the sixties because he was in Vietnam, but a friend of his who was a radical activist told him the thing about the sixties was that even in the midst of a riot, he'd be wondering if there was a better riot a few blocks away. Fundamentally, FOMO puts you on the offense - it sends you down the street searching for a better riot. 

    FOGS, on the other hand, is a protective instinct. Ponzi schemes are driven by FOMO, and FOGS is what tells you that they're probably too good to be true. But at its worst, it leads to a joyless life of endless suspicion of other people's motives. 

    My favorite illustration of FOGS is an economic exercise called the "ultimatum game". Here's how HowStuffWorks summarizes it:

    You're standing on the sidewalk with a friend, minding your own business, when a man approaches with a proposition. He offers you $20 in one-dollar bills and says you can keep the money, under one condition: You have to share some of it with your friend. You can offer your friend as much or as little as you like, but if your friend rejects your offer, neither of you get to keep any of the money. What do you do?
    According to the "rational actor" assumptions of classical economics that no-one ever follows, you give your friend $1.00 and your friend grudgingly accepts it. But what tends to happen (at least according to HowStuffWorks, Wikipedia, and this article I found on Stanford's website) is that people tend to offer about $8.00 to their friends, and that offers below $3.00 tend to get rejected, leaving nobody with any money. 

    Now, there's a lot going on here, but I think FOGS operates both in the offer of $8.00 ("I don't want to be a jerk, but I don't want to be the chump who walks away with less money") and the rejection of low offers ("I'd rather both of us walk away with nothing, than me be the only chump here").

    FOGS is also one of the most powerful weapons in the Trump campaign - Trump constantly claims not just that Americans aren't well off, but that other people are giving us the shaft and laughing at us (in fact, as this Washington Post article shows, he's been doing this since the '80s, and getting great results).


    Where I'm going with all this is that while FOMO tends to be the frame of mind most often associated with teenagers, I think FOGS is much more powerful, especially in large heterogenous groups (such as, just to pull an example out of the air, classrooms). 

    FOGS is the ingredient that gets left out in discussions about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, because even if I feel intrinsically motivated to do something, a grade (or, even better, extra credit) is insurance that I'm not getting shafted, as well as (equally importantly) evidence to everyone around me that I'm no chump. 
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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1035424 2016-04-17T20:24:36Z 2016-04-17T20:24:36Z A quote about coaching

    At some point I attended a round-table, or panel, or training about coaching. It's probably obvious to you already that most of it didn't make much of an impression.

    But I liked this quote a lot: "Coaching is giving a chance to examine what they are doing in light of their intentions", which appears to have been said by James Flaherty.



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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1035421 2016-04-17T20:18:42Z 2016-04-17T20:18:42Z Some notes from the Project Zero workshop I attended months ago

    I'm going through an old notebook, which included my notes from the project zero workshop. My awesome, heavily-annotated packet is lost forever (I took somebody else's packet with me) but the stuff that remains seems useful.


    First, The Artful Thinking Palette

    I haven't given any thought to this since the workshop, but I remember thinking that the thinking skills (or whatever one might call them) on the artful thinking palette seem useful, and (at least at the time) were coherent and instantly understandable in a way that I've never found our Habits of Heart and Mind to be. 

    Here's a screenshot of the palette:


    I feel the absence of a usable, easy-to-remember set of thinking skills in my teaching. My suspicion is that using something like this in my class (or, even better, across the school) would help kids to be able to identify how they are learning and growing, which would in turn make them both more confident that they are becoming more skilled over time (which I think is a frequent source of anxiety across the HTH schools) and more able to assess their own development and focus on areas where they most want to improve.

    Next, and finally, the Triadic Model of Dispositions

    The big insight here is that if you know how to do something, and are willing to do it, your mastery of that skill is incomplete until you are "alert to the opportunity" to use the skill. 

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/990705 2016-02-10T22:05:11Z 2016-02-10T22:16:32Z Track Exchange: "The Headmaster Ritual" by The Smiths

    Wow, a song about Manchester schools! This is dear to my heart - when my dad was in high school he spent a year studying at Manchester Grammar School. His experience seemed to have been much better than Morrissey's, though. And he made a very good friend who became my honorary "English dad" when I studied abroad in England decades later. 

    I know England has a history of institutionalized brutality in its schools (see Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall", and lots and lots of novels for more on this - I have a personal theory that Lord of the Flies would have turned out very differently if the kids stranded on the island had come from, say, HTHCV). But what really strikes me about this song is that it isn't about getting angry and fighting authority, it's about getting scared and wanting "to go home" (which, incidentally, pairs neatly with the line "Driving in your car, I never never want to go home", from another Smiths song, "There is a Light that Never Goes Out"). I can't think of a lot of rock songs written from the perspective of a scared, homesick kid. 

    And, on the subject of the music - first of all, I love the ululating, and I want to point out a distinctive Morrissey vocal habit - starting a straight out of the previous line, as if it just occurred to him as he was singing - for example, "He does the military two-step down the length of my neck/I wanna go home." Finally, this has got me thinking about the outrageously clean, processed sound of eighties rock - the way the drums are recorded, they sound almost digital. I remember hating this in the nineties, a time when it seemed like every song was recorded entirely in the red, but I've come to love it. 

    My Track for this Week:


    "Waiting for the Man", as performed by David Bowie, live at Nassau. The reasons for choosing a Bowie song at the moment are obvious, but I also wanted to share this because it's such a great example of a cover song teasing out something from a great song that the composer himself probably doesn't realize was there. In this case, this is partly due to a chord substitution that gives it a kind of "Twist and Shout" build-up. When my band plays "Waiting for the Man" I normally advocate for these changes (and normally get shut down) but man, I love this tune. 

    My track for next week:


    I advise listening without the video first. 
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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/975796 2016-01-22T18:23:36Z 2016-01-22T18:23:36Z Track Exchange: "The Age of Consent", by New Order

    All right, a track from New Order - the band whose relationship to Joy Division I can never QUITE remember. I hadn't knowingly heard this song before, which is surprising since it's number two in Spotify's New Order Top 5, nestled between "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle." 

    First Response:

    First impression is that "Age of Consent" is vastly more human-sounding than either of those songs. When it opens with that guitar riff, it could be an Allman Brothers song. When the drum kicks in with that twitchy hi-hat it becomes clear that we're not listening to country-rock, but even so, the song's "electronic" elements are subtle - except for one singularly un-subtle synth line which sounds extremely 1980s - and the processing on that The processing on the "Oh-oh!" at about 3:20. Other than that, though, the song is electronic in form (it's structured in layers that come in and out rather than verse-chorus) rather than instrumentation. 

    Now, I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to criticize the "music for robots" style that I associate with New Order - I love that stuff. But the "humaneness" of "Age of Consent" is striking, especially because for much of the song the singer is audibly at the top of his range. I love this sound (when it works). The Four Tops used this to brilliant effect, pushing Levi Stubbs' voice absolutely to the top of its range (you can read about it here). Also, that distorted, slightly out-of-time guitar that drifts in and out at about 2:45. 

    Next listen (the following morning).

    As I type this, I'm listening to this again the following morning, and maybe it's because it's Friday, but all I'm thinking is "road trip." Or, more specifically, "road trip movie montage." 

    Why I chose my song:

    So my song was "Village Ghetto Land" by Stevie Wonder. I chose it because the end of "The Drugs Don't Work" reminded me of it. But there was no question that I'd be offering a Stevie Wonder song to Track Exchange before too long, because he's incredible. My brother pointed out years ago that it's a great instance of form and content clashing with each other really effectively - because it's such a pretty, delicate melody. But it's understated enough that it doesn't fall into what I think of as the "creepy nursery rhyme" cliche beloved of scary movies. The song is genuinely disquieting, because it's genuinely beautiful.

    This week's track: David Bowie's cover of "Waiting for the Man", live at the Nassau Coliseum


    Jose, I want to applaud you for writing a tribute to Bowie in which you acknowledged your uncertainty about Bowie's music. I personally find that with a lot of his music, I respect it more than I viscerally love it - though he's written some of my favorite songs of all time.

    So, I'm choosing a Bowie cover of a Velvet Underground song. If you don't know it, you should probably listen to the original first.. It's here.
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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/967115 2016-01-09T01:22:51Z 2016-01-09T01:22:51Z Track Exchange: "The Drugs don't Work", by the Verve

    This is a weekly exchange of music between Jose and me. You can read Jose's response to my track (and find out why he chose this one) here

    First Response

    This week, Jose has taken a trip back to my adolescence, with "The Drugs Don't Work", by the Verve. I have to admit, I missed this song the first time around, though I definitely didn't miss "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (I don't think it would have been possible to miss Bittersweet Symphony as a fan of rock music in the nineties). However I definitely read a piece in a British music magazine declaring "The Drugs Don't Work" to be an anthem for its particular, rather brief era. 

    Anyway, enough about that. On to the song itself:

    .

    The first thing I noticed was the strings - real strings, not like the Rolling Stones sample that cost The Verve their royalties on "Bitter Sweet Symphony."

    Interestingly, my own memories of the Verve made it a lot harder to listen to THIS song "fresh" than it was to listen to Mac Demarco. For example, that article I said I wasn't going to talk about anymore, and don't really member, (almost) definitely said that the Verve's lead singer said the song was about his father's illness, not (as one might naturally assume) about substance abuse. Remembering that, and remembering my own father being in the hospital, meant that the line "The drugs don't work/they just make it work" hit me like a punch in the gut. But then, as the song went on, I started thinking "y'know, this really does sound like it's probably about substance abuse after all." So my relationship to the song was complicated. 

    Enough subtext - on to the music:

    The basic chord pattern of the song, though not groundbreaking, is extremely effective (it's a tiny little emotional journey - it reminds me of Leonard Cohen's description of "the minor turn and the major lift" in "Hallelujah").

    Then there's the two extremely country-sounding guitars which are, in the best possible way, "noodling" in the background. A warm, reverby sound from one, the other one sounding like it's it's being played in an empty concert hall, a long way from the mic. I'm showing my limited guitar knowledge here, but is there pedal steel going on there?

    Now, everything sounds like the Beatles if you listen hard enough, but the "Oooh, la la la la  - la  - la - la la la" backup vocals definitely reminded me of those great falsetto "ooh la la las" on "You Won't See Me."

    My last, rather odd musical reference point is the final stab by the strings that ends the song reminds me profoundly of "VIllage Ghetto Land" by Stevie Wonder. And Jose, you should listen to that, so I'm choosing it as my next track exchange.


    Why I chose my song


    For reasons I can't explain, as soon as we started Track Exchange I thought "I've got to choose a song by Love. I wasn't even a fan of Love until my twenties, and I've never listened to any of their stuff besides Forever Changes, but that album is just fantastic. Even when it's ridiculous it's fantastic (and it's often ridiculous, just look at the track list). The reason I chose this track is the trumpet solo that the singer sings along to. That's one of my all-time favorite moments in popular music.

    Next week's pick:

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/963754 2016-01-04T22:47:22Z 2016-01-04T22:51:11Z Track Exchange: "Robson Girl", by Mac Demarco

    This is the first in a series in which my mentee, Jose, and I exchange tracks that are worth hearing, and write up our immediate responses upon hearing them. You can read Jose's first post here.

    Jose's first entry is "Robson Girl", by Mac Demarco.

    First response:

    This song is definitely somebody's summer jam, meaning this is the first time since I moved to San Diego that it feels kind of unseasonable, but it provides its own warmth. 

    It starts out with a jangly guitar riff that feels to me like driving to the beach. I was immediately reminded of "Steady as She Goes" by the Raconteurs. Most of the track stays mellow, but the guitar is shimmery enough, and Demarco's voice rough enough, that it avoids the soporific levels of mellowness that you get from, say, Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz. 

    Then, after meandering through the chords for a couple minutes, Demarco takes it to the bridge, with what sounds to me like a heavily distorted slide guitar. Without this break, the main riff would get pretty old, but with it, it's a shimmery, summery treat. 

    I don't know anything about Mac Demarco, but the whole thing has a very British feel - I'd go so far as to say a very "britpop" feel - as if Blur had stayed cheerful when they went lo-fi -which is no bad thing

    Further research:

    Well I'll be, he's Canadian! Wikipedia wasn't especially forthcoming about him, except to say that he's been critically acclaimed, toured with the Japandroids (who I've been meaning to listen to for a while) and has been on Conan. I'll have to listen to more of his stuff!

    An inspection of the lyrics on Genius didn't give me any insight into what a "Robson girl" is, but it did make it obvious that the song has hardly any lyrics.

    Why I chose MY track this week.

    My contribution to Track Exchange this week was "Drive", by REM. I felt obliged to start with something from the nineties, since that's when I went to high school. I never became a huge REM fan, but there most atmospheric songs are some of my favorite songs ever, and it doesn't get any more atmospheric than "Drive". Also, the song's posture towards music (and life in general) could not be more nineties. I mean, it's got Michael Stype deadpanning "Hey, kids, Rock n' Roll, nobody tells you where to go" with about as much inflection as Daria (look her up, Jose), but the song builds to totally sincere, lighters-in-the-air emotional climax (it's got STRINGS, for goodness' sake). And if nineties rock is about ANYTHING, it's about pretending not to care, while actually caring SO MUCH it hurts. The video matches this perfectly, with Stype staring dead-eyed into the camera and singing while crowd-surfing. 

    You can read Jose's response to my track here.

    My next track: "Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale" by Love

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/914905 2016-01-04T22:46:46Z 2016-01-04T22:46:46Z The Tribes Project: Pictures from an Exhibition

    On Monday, September 8th, the Tribes Project's final performance took place, in the Commons of High Tech High Chula Vista.


    For our finale, students joined the stage saying "I belong to the tribe of ______". At the end, after I hit the cajón three times, the whole group said "We belong to the tribe of the new generation" (a phrase suggested by a student, and generally agreed on by the group - I think I was the only one who associates it with Pepsi). 

    I like the dynamic of everyone streaming onstage, but one thing we never got right was the pace - a few people would trickle onstage, then EVERYBODY else came on at once, all talking. Getting a slow build (the "drizzle to rainstorm" effect) would have taken more rehearsal. And the final shouted phrase punctuated the show effectively, but I don't think anyone understood what they were saying. Maybe if we'd used a phrase that we'd introduced at the start of the show, and continued to return to at different times, the phrase would have been recognizable enough for the audience to understand it. Here are photos from the finale:


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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/909731 2015-09-26T02:40:10Z 2015-09-26T04:53:44Z The Silent Teacher and the last day before showtime

    Today was a first: I taught the entire day, and hardly ever spoke. This came at the end of a week of illness, and I'd been afraid it was coming for a while. I made a tag for myself that said "I've Lost My Voice" and hung it on a lanyard. Then I made a second tag that said "This Is Not A Metaphor" and put it in my pocket. 

    It was a beautiful day. I started both classes with fifteen minutes of silent reading (I heard kids walk into the classroom and shout "Yes!" unironically. Giving kids time in class to silently read books of their own choosing is the one gift I would like to bestow on every new teacher. A room full of people engrossed in books feels like a sacred space. It's beautiful. It's also really easy to scan around and note who seems to be picking a new book at random every day, and who is making no progress through their book of choice, and schedule some time to give that kid the support they need. 

    My first slide explained that I couldn't talk, and asked the kids for their help, and they were awesome. I got their attention by clapping twice and snapping twice in rhythm, which kids started picking up on and following, then I pointed to kids to read the next slides. I realized how often I add little asides when I'm explaining something and how unnecessary these are. There's nothing like communicating solely through pre-prepared slides and a mini-whiteboard to make you think about your words! Then we watched a spoken word piece about being an introvert (by Kevin Yang - it's very good). Then I had everyone come into the circle. I silently lifted my arms and inhaled, and dropped them slowly while exhaling, for five breaths (I'd done this yesterday, so kids knew what to do). Then rolled out my neck, and then put up a slide that said explained we were playing "Secret Leader". I quickly chose a detective and a leader, and we played. 

    At this point, in the first group I put up a slide explaining they should rehearse until we did a run through, and they dispersed immediately (reasonably). 

    For the second group, I explained in advance (on my whiteboard) that there were a few slides, and I would signal when we were done. 

    Here are some photos (from today and yesterday) of what we've been doing (all taken by a phenomenal student photographer):

    These two guys took the poems they wrote about each other based on dialogical interviews in week 1, and combined them into a single spoken-word piece. They've made this their rehearsal spot. 

     This is one of our two web designers. They're in different pods, and I've never seen them speak to each other, but they're collaborating on a site where visitors can see all our poems and self-portraits, searching either by the author of the poem, or the person the poem is about. It's still a work in progress at the time of writing, but you can see it here.

    This group has written a piece enumerating the "rules" of being a girl at ages 5, 11, and right now. Lying on the floor is part of the choreography.

    This is a rehearsal for a tightly-structured piece about the "tribes" of Mexico and the USA - a theme they chose. I love this photo for two reasons: first of all, they strategically write their script on whiteboards so when they perform, they seem to have them memorized - as if they've had cue cards. This is really smart, but I'm making sure they are memorizing their lines since they won't have whiteboards in the performance space! Also, I love how this picture captures one of the many odd things about high school - where else would part of a theatre company come back to rehearsals after lunch in sports uniforms?

    These two are figuring out which photos are missing, as they create a slideshow of self-portraits, with live musical accompaniment. They tested this today. The group is split regarding the music. Yann Tiersen's "Comptine D'un Autre Éte" turned out to make the slideshow look a bit like, in one student's words, "a memorial". The other option we tried was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", but the pianist only knows the first four chords, so while he did a lot with those four chords, it did feel a little too repetitive. We'll be leaving that decision until the day of the performance.

    Here are students composing a song for the performance - if the song isn't ready, the back-up option (for reasons I don't fully grasp) is Cake's "The Distance". 

    Group building a popsicle-stick house the outer layer of which will be popsicle sticks used for the popsicle stick poems we wrote using the prompts "Home looks like/Home smells like/Home sounds like/Home feels like/Home tastes like" (credit to Zoe Randall for realizing the only sensible thing to do was build a house). I'm a little concerned that they built all the walls without using glue (I haven't asked, but I'm confident the reason for that is that "it's cool"), but it's quite a feat of engineering. 

    These guys are rehearsing "the unspoken rules of the bathroom". Did you know that if all urinals but one are occupied, it's known as "checkmate"? 

    This is notable because it demonstrates an ongoing issue - a strong preference for planning and arguing, rather than getting work on its feet. It's really scary to get up and try something, but if you do it, it normally takes 30 seconds to determine whether it's worth pursuing! Where as you can argue it for HOURS.

    Finally, these four photos come from devising our opening. The text comes directly from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (liberally modified by us - sorry Alexie). I begin by welcoming everyone, and then I say that I’m going to read the portion of the text that inspired the project. I begin “I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe.” But then, before I can continue, a student stands on her chair to say the next line: “But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants.” Then, different students stand up on their chairs around the space, saying the next lines in the sequence. I start the final line - “And that’s when I realized…” and the entire team finishes in unison: “that I was going to be OK”. 

    If I were doing this again,I wouldn’t have taken volunteers to read on the spot, with 56 kids all in the same (big, noisy) room. And this may have been a big contributing factor in my current voicelessness. But when we did the scene, it was electrifying.

    Can you tell I’m excited for the performance on Monday?

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    Alec Patton
    tag:awayfrommydesk.posthaven.com,2013:Post/898726 2015-08-28T14:51:49Z 2015-08-28T14:51:49Z Chikle's "Lil Bits of Magic"

    My colleague Chikle (art teacher Enrique Lugo, if you want to be formal), is collecting teachers' "Lil' Bits of Magic" on his digital portfolio. It's awesome, and you can find it here.

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    Alec Patton