Monday, September 24, 2007

Class Blog Discussion

I posted the prompts for my class blog discussion, which will be happening in early October. If you see anything that might need to be changed or can think of any additional questions, feel free to offer suggestions.

I'm sticking with the plan we came up with at our last meeting, which is to have my students write prompts for the teachers at our conference to respond to. I think I'll have them write questions about the reality show Kid Nation. It relates to Lord of the Flies, and is pretty controversial. I'm sure we'll think of a couple other relevant topics as well. I'll have the blog set up with anonymous comments enabled so there will be no need to sign in or get a blogger account. That way anyone who comes to learn about classroom blogging should be online and part of an active discussion within five minutes of coming into the room.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Some Old Guy with a Blog

You know, there's nothing like working with 14-17 year-olds all the time to make a guy feel old. To be honest I thought I was doing pretty well in this category. The gray is just barely starting to show, my hairline is holding tough, no premature wrinkles or anything to complain about. But not just that, I feel pretty young, too. I still listen to the latest music, I'm not stuck in the eighties or anything. I keep up with pop culture and *used* to think of myself as at least reasonably cool.

But that was yesterday--in the days of my youth. Now I'm just some old guy with a blog.

You see, I teach in a "cottage" as I've mentioned before, which is actually a double-wide trailer containing two classrooms which are connected by a closet. In that closet I have been storing my TV because I've been using some multimedia lately. Well, I was pushing my TV into the closet for safe keeping when I overhead a conversation in the room next door. It was obvious immediately that my trailer-mate was gone and two girls were in his room talking.

"Hey, I wonder what's in the closet." I heard one of them ask.

"Go see," responded the other, with an excitedly curious tone.

The next second the door opened and I nodded hello to the girl who stood there and looked at me like I was the last thing in the world she had expected to see. She didn't say a thing, turned around and the door swung shut behind her.

"What's in there?" I heard the other voice ask through the door.

"Some old guy with a TV."

I promise I'll post my class blog prompts soon, but I thought this was an anecdote worth sharing :-)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Back to Work

School is back in full swing and it's time to get back to my research project. I have written a few questions for my class blog discussion, which I want to center around the book we are reading, Lord of the Flies. I'm hoping to get that new blog up and posted sooon with the questions I have already written.

From my inquiry group I am hoping to get some feedback about the questions I have already written, and hopefully generate some ideas for additional questions. I think that it's essential for this first discussion to have good topics and questions to discuss.

The next step will be to have the students write and post their own prompts for a second discussion, this one centering around Macbeth. For the final blog discussion of the semester I will have my sophomores write prompts for my ninth graders to respond to. I'm excited about this last step because it will give me some communication and discussion between classes and grade levels, one of the unique features of a blog discussion. I see this as sort of a precursor to the kind of work that Jason Malone is getting going with his students having discussions with classes from around the world.

So my question is, what can I do to improve the questions I have, and what additional questions or topics could I post for my students to respond to?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Teaching Generation Y

What happened? Where did these kids come from? As a gen-Xer raised by a pair of decidedly baby boomer parents I can't help but look at the latest crop of teenagers and shake my head in wonderment. Aren't all adults supposed to be horrified and disappointed by the rebellious antics of the next generation? Shouldn't we be cringing and bemoaning the fact that our civilization is headed straight to hell? Isn't that the natural order of things?

If you had asked me back in 1989 what I thought the twenty-first century would be like, I would have painted a picture that looked something like the futuristic dystopia of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. I would have argued that the teens of the future would be listening to some new combination of death metal and hard-core gangster rap while watching explicit violence and sexuality on prime-time television and taking insane amounts of some new generation designer drug. It seemed to me that since the idyllic 1950s that I heard so much about we had rapidly descended into a pit of ever-increasing violence, cynicism, angst, and social ills that were frankly impossible to combat.

But the millennium generation seems to have caught on to a cultural wave that I never would have expected. Rock music in general has moved back to a less gritty and more organic, songwriter-oriented sound, gangster rap is slowly giving way to lighter brands of hip hop as the allure of explicit lyrics fades, drug use has fallen, binge drinking has decreased among teens, abstinence has increased, and those teens who are having sex are now much more likely to use condoms than ever before. Who would have thunk it?

I'm not saying that today's kids aren't faced with some serious problems. Crime, violence, drugs, overpopulation, global warming, terrorism, the list goes on. But what does surprise me is that the two previous generations' angst, anger, pessimism, and rebellion seem to have given way to a certain optimism and even enthusiasm for the future. These kids are definitely aware of the problems they face (their boomer and gen-X teachers and parents have made sure of that), but what surprises me is how many of them feel up to the challenge of facing them. According to today's Denver Post, teens in 2005 volunteered twice as much as their parents did in the late nineteen eighties--they really seem to realize that there's a lot that needs to be done, but unlike their parents who just whined about it, they're doing something.

In a year when the biggest cultural phenomenon among kids has been a Disney movie called High School Musical, I'm not so sure anymore that the violent dystopia found on the island in Lord of the Flies is going to resonate with my students the same way it did when I was fifteen and read it for the first time. Seriously, when I was in junior high any movie with the word musical anywhere in the title would have been instantly doomed to utter failure. I can clearly remember having to hide the fact that I had seen just about every musical out there with my theater-going mother ("Don't ever admit that you know show-tunes!" a well-meaning friend of mine once told me earnestly).

So maybe it really is a "brave new world," but one that twentieth-century futurists like Huxley and Golding never would have imagined. Absent the pervasive irony of the twentieth century, a brave new future doesn't sound quite so bad anymore. Although I can't shake the feeling that as a society we're still headed in the wrong direction in so many ways, while working with this new generation of kids I've managed to see a ray of hope for the future that I never thought I'd find in working with a bunch of teenagers.