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Archive for October, 2008

Wherever You Can Find It

I woke up with a scorching sore throat and called in a reliever. I'm at a coffee shop right now, putting down some echinacea tea but, sore throat or not, I needed a personal day. It's been a rough few weeks, light on blogging, which, if you'll recall, is as good a sign as any that my job satisfaction is tanking, that someone needs to send a St. Bernard up the mountain after me.

In the middle of all this, Ian Garrovillas got a T.A., a class tutor, and a new lease on his career. Also, Jen, a first-year English teacher somewhere in the Los Angeles Unified wrote:

I don't normally post on good days, so I just wanted to take a moment to say that today went pretty well. This isn't to say today was smooth — crying girls, a special ed kid going off the wall, and a surprise admin observation were just part of the fun — but it was functional, kids understood the lesson, some real punkasses did a bit of classwork for a change, and we even had some laughs. Maybe there's hope for this year, and this career, yet.

And I'm encouraged by these newcomers. I still wonder, though, exactly how low I have to set my standard before I can qualify days as "good" or, especially, "sustainable." Reasonably how low, I mean.

Download high quality here. See the pilot for instructions.

[I set off a hydrogen bomb on my blog with that last WCYDWT (since redacted, so if you don't know what I'm talking about, don't sweat it). Everything from a lousy audio transcode to Vimeo shutting down my account for violating its TOS. Sorry for the confusion.]

BTW: Let's give it to Dan:

I thought it really demonstrated a more common error of classroom management: rewards are determined by the receiver, not the giver. Some punishments will be rewards to certain students and vice versa.

The conversation in my ILC recap has taken a few predictable turns, namely the one where I expect too much of presentations, that I need to lighten up on the presenters. I don't know how to relax my standards or if that's even a good idea. I do know how to distill everything I have ever enjoyed about any presentation into two steps. I don't care what your presentation covers; if you manage these, I will love it.

  1. Unless your presentation is billed as "beginner-level" don't include information I can easily Google. What I mean is, while I know nothing about Photo Story, it was painful spending seat-time on a tutorial for adding narration to Photo Story, which is Google's top result for the same query. I can get that anytime1.
  2. Instead, cover the stuff I can't Google, that stuff that makes your presence worth my district's money and my time. Here's an easy outline: a) why Photo Story; what problem were you trying to solve? should I care about that problem? b) what complications did you encounter while implementing Photo Story? how did you overcome them? c) what did you learn?

This particular outline forces you to reckon with audience expectations and puts you in a position to satisfy them. It would have improved fourteen of the eighteen presentations2 I attended at ILC3.


  1. This was the most dissonant element of ILC. Half the presenters told me not to tell my kids stuff their steroidal smart phones could tell them. The other half were doing the opposite.
  2. None of which were about Photo Story, okay?
  3. Though this outline is useless if you turn your back to the audience and read aloud from a slide titled "What I Learned."

or: My First Ed-Tech Conference
also: My Last Ed-Tech Conference

I'm back now from the Innovative Learning Conference in San Jose, CA. When I first bumped into Alice Mercer, she said, "This doesn't seem like your kind of thing." She's either right, and I'm just the wrong person for ILC, or else ILC should have stepped its game up in a lot of ways. Obviously, I'm biased toward the latter. Either way, I shouldn't have missed class time for this.

Therefore, a brief preface of ILC's good stuff and then my best advice for the presenters there. If you're reading this and you presented at ILC, obviously I'm not talking about you, or your session, etc., and hopefully you all realize by now that I reserve my harshest criticism for myself.

Preface

It was nice meeting Collette, Rushton, Alice, Gail, and some other folks; CUE organized the conference well, with the right number of sessions per day (five) at the right length (an hour, though some presenters didn't earn ten minutes); the catered lunch was fine, just fine.

That Said

In order to earn one seat-hour from a few dozen people, your presentation needs either:

  • a compelling personality behind it;
  • expertise, the sort of expertise DFW wrote about, the kind that has such a tight conceptual grasp, it can explain itself from any side, from any angle, from a macro- or microscopic lens;
  • a compelling narrative, something with an antagonist, with obstacles to overcome, even if they're just stubborn network administrators; this is why I pinned my talk on math methods (back in the day) to a fictional student and gave her a photo;
  • illustrative, complementary visuals; video, PowerPoint, handouts, makes no difference to me so long as they're pretty and useful;
  • empathy for audience expectations, the sort of clairvoyance where you know what your audience is wondering, what it's waiting to see.

Fourteen of eighteen presentations I attended couldn't manage one of those.

There was the usual PowerPoint plague, presenters standing for thirteen minutes stock-still in front of a bulleted slide, that flat text often describing a highly visual concept1, those bullet points often disregarding basic mechanical English2.

As a guy who teaches compulsory Algebra to kids who have hated Algebra, I don't see how fourteen presenters managed to blow a scenario where an audience volunteered to attend their sessions. Where the audience is interested in the session (provided the presenter didn't falsely bill it). Where the audience is pulling for the presenter. Where the audience is eager to be dazzled, fed, or inspired.

ILC was like walking into eighteen car dealerships, pockets bulging with cash, declaring to every salesperson, "I'm here to buy," and discovering that fourteen of them couldn't close the sale.

Equivocations

I don't mean to be overly particular but what I saw this weekend was visual- and verbal illiteracy at a high level. I saw fourteen educated professionals put styrofoam on a plate, convinced it was steak. I want no part in that sorry transaction. I want to produce and consume the best I can while I still can.

I'm speaking at CMC-North in Monterey this December on how not to ruin entire classes with visual illiteracy. I realize it'll serve me right to have some punk kid out there in the audience, snarking about me on his blog and on Twitter.

All I can do is hold myself to this same standard.

Promoting Quality

If you're cool with some profanity and if you're even a little invested in the state of online gaming, check out this presentation from NY Tech Meet-Up. It did more to inspire, educate, and illustrate in five minutes and change than did the median presentation at ILC 2008.


NY Tech Meetup Presentation from Charles Forman on Vimeo.


  1. There is no excuse for describing student video production with text bullets. Show video!
  2. ie. If you're going to shame yourself with bullet points, they should read (eg.) "Noun; Noun; Noun; Noun" not (eg.) "Noun; Noun; Noun; Past-Tense Verb."

Wordle Done Right

Martin Krzywinski's Lexical Analysis of 2008 US Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates:

Please notice that Krzywinski didn't just copy and paste some text into Wordle's entry window and assume that the largest words somehow, magically, constituted theme. Wordle was one tool deployed in the service of much deeper analysis.

Previously Sniping:

  1. Hackwork
  2. Correct Me If I'm Wrong

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