Thursday, June 30, 2005

My guiding pedagogical questions

I have some questions that guide my assessment of a language (and by extension any) teacher. One quick question I find that reveals the appropriateness of a language teaching method is this:

"Could this same method work with parrots and achieve close to the same results?"

Another question I often ask is this:

"Would this teacher rather work with robots (instead of human students)?"

The answer to both these questions in many classes and programs is a resounding 'Yes!' I find these questions useful in assessing my own teaching, and the approaches of other teachers. They also provide a good rough basis for describing recurring problems in teaching. For example, to describe my frustrations with an aspect of my teaching, I could say: "My main problem with this teaching is that it's not clear that it would differ if you were teaching parrots." Or "My main issue with this teaching is that it seems you would rather work with robots--you seem to get frustrated at just the moments when robots would perform better."

Well, those are my guiding pedagogical questions--what are yours?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dinner, Dance, and Explanation

I reflect on a Valentine's date in high school maybe 1-2 times a year. Every time I think about it, I both cringe and stand in wonder at myself. This experience has profoundly shaped how I think of myself as a social person. I asked the Senior Class President at Provo High School, to the dance--I was a junior at the time. The plan was to double with another friend and his date, they were both quite close to my date also, and the dynamic of the group was going to make it perfect--just the right dancing skills, enough social skills to make up for me, and enough familiarity that there would always be awesome stuff to talk about.

In tribute to Latisha (name has been changed), I felt at the time that the date was a clear success. Plenty of laughter, lots of real fun times. In further tribute to Latisha, I imagine she might still remember it as at least permissible.

When we went to pick up my friend, I learned he had been grounded. Plan #1 was to go with his date and Latisha to the dance, but it was decided that that wouldn't work. So it was a single date with Latisha. We went to dinner and the dance.

So after the dance, the plan was to go play Phase 2 at my home. It was a great game for groups, it's a sort of jacked-up Trivial Pursuit (that's how the really smooth and cool 2005 me describes it). Now, I'm not stupid enough to play the game with only me and Latisha, that's not enough people to make it fun. So here is what I did:

(Entering my home)
Me: So, it's too bad that Jake (name has been changed) and Sally (likewise) couldn't be here. We had planned to play a really fun game, called Phase 2.

Latisha: Yeah, that is too bad, it would have been great to have them, but I have had so much fun anyway.

Me: Anyway, Phase 2 is a great game. The way it works is like this. You're familiar with Trivial Pursuit? So this is like Trivial Pursuit with a bonus feature. There are 10 questions like Trivial Pursuit questions, you know like: Which actor has won more Oscars than any other up to the year 1990? etc. So those questions are fun. But what I really love about this game is that there will be a theme to the answers of the questions. So imagine that of the 10 questions, some of the answers you got were: Scarecrow, Brick, Emerald, Lion, Dorothy, you can see the theme of the answers is The Wizard of Oz. Cool, huh? And you get even more points for guessing the theme. Doesn't that sound fun?

Latisha: Oh my gosh, that sounds like the funnest game!

Me: Yeah. It really is. Now you can see why I'm so bummed Jake and Sally aren't here so we could play it.


So what, technically, did we do after the dance? Well, when push comes to shove, I guess what we did was this: I explained how to play Phase 2 to Latisha.

As Gabby can testify now, I am WAY more awesome in social situations. And I wish we owned Phase 2, I really do love that game. If you don't understand how the game works from that explanation, I can explain it much better in person, and would be delighted to do so.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Ralph's and Maude's blogs

My two oldest children, Ralph and Maude, have their own blogs. They are pretty dang rocking, and by rocking, I mean totally sweet.

Check them out:

Maude's entry on favorite blues is, in my opinion, one of the best entries anywhere on the internet, be sure to look it up. This whole blog idea is catching on. Tonight, Ralph was asking what our favorite and least favorite foods were, and then telling us his. Maude walked in and said, "I think I feel a blog coming on!"

Adventures in Amway

My first adventure with Amway happened in 1994. I was then the president the so-called "Bean Society". We held monthly meetings to the tune of 75-100 participants. As anyone with a mind to make money off their friends would think, this was a golden opportunity, and so I was approached. The friend who approached me made it sound like he really wanted to catch up. Our last bonding experience was a drive to a Fathers and sons activity and during this drive we talked about the movie, "What about Bob?" When he called again, I was wondering if there was more to discuss about this movie. He was 4 years my senior, we never really did hang out, but after a mission, one is excited to catch up with anyone. He was very excited about meeting, and quite excited about the things I was working on, evidently. When the appointed day came, I was hanging out with my friend, Matthew, I asked my friend if it would be OK if I brought along a friend. To my surprise, he thought that would be most appropriate. He asked about the Bean Society, and I told him. At the time I was really enthralled with the Bean society--actually, I still am. He showed some good-will by showcasing some projects he had worked on that were similar in spirit--if not in any way--to projects of said society. This was by way of: "See, I totally get what you guys are all about, because I work on similarly fun projects!" He then took out a book with lots of pictures of very fancy houses. Exactly the kind of thing my unmarried, no commitments whatsoever mind was looking for:a gigantic golden house.

What really interested me was a card that depicted different levels of, shall we say 'success'. The houses I was looking at were houses of 'diamonds'. Well, you can well imagine I wanted to be a diamond. I then asked where he fell on the different levels. He was somewhere between rubies and emeralds (note: I'm not exactly sure on the names). Guess what? In just one week, a diamond was going to be giving a presentation! Talk about the chance of a lifetime! We didn't leave with any sort of commitment, or any clear sense for what the whole set-up was, except that it led to riches unfathomable. and my involvement with the society could very plausibly facilitate a rapid climb up the mineral ladder. At the time, I hadn't heard of Amway.

On another occasion, a networked friend of this previous friend spoke with me and my friend, Weston, about the prospects of using this society to get gain. He related that what he most looked forward to in his adult life was just being able to go skiing with his kids, or travel the world, and not to have to worry about financial matters. He then reminded us that we had assembled in whatever way we had, a group of up to 100 people, "You guys obviously have some drawing power!" and he asked: "Do you know how much money that is?" I don't think I had ANY idea.

One of my favorite experiences came during my married life. Apparently we had agreed to listen to a presentation at our home. The visitor was a very nice lady, and I suspect she was fairly fresh off an initiation in the book that displays the homes of 'diamonds'. She was most excited about these homes. "Can you imagine living there! Oh man!" I imagine we were one of her first presentations, she kept lobbing unconnected statistics and anecdotes that, if carefully tied together in some sort of overall narrative, could have presented a persuasive case to bum cash off your friends in exchange for everyday, household goods. My favorite line of hers was this:

Lady: OK, let me put it this way: Do you know how much a penny is worth if it doubles everyday? (She didn't specifiy any time-period).

Us: (shaking heads) No, no, we don't.

Lady: It's a million dollars! Can you believe that! A million dollars!

My next experience came surprisingly when a friend stayed over at our house. He was passing through New York, and the subject turned to "What is going on?":

Friend: Well, I'm working at this advertising agency for the time being, but I'm really excited about some other really exciting projects I'm working on.

Me: Really? What is it?

Friend: Well, it's a pretty slick idea. It's very simple. It's basically, well, you buy groceries, and other items that you buy anyway, and you basically eliminate the middleman. It's basically e-commerce. I have a simple e-commerce site, and you know how great e-commerce is these days! Then I help people set up their own on-line stores, and I save money by shopping from my store, and they can save money by purchasing the goods from my online place, or I can help them set up their own, then I am helping other people benefit in the same way by helping them set up their own e-commerce location, and I get a small percentage of their revenue. And they can do the same. I love it because I get to really help people. Like I say, it's a pretty slick idea.

Me: Yeah, it sounds pretty awesome.

My last adventure is the most brief, but in some ways the most telling. We were passing through Salt Lake en route to Provo and there was a convention happening at the Salt Palace. We pulled over to talk to some of the conference attendees. The exchange went like this:

Us: So what brings you here...what is all this activity about?

Them: It's a convention...(awkward pause) an, it's, uh it's an Amway Convention. [It's a Harley...compatible. It's a Harley compatible, its basically the same thing]

Friday, June 17, 2005

Alert: my past is catching up with me!

So my best friend, David Kendall calls yesterday, and we start up right where we left off 12 years ago. I would have been totally taken aback except for my recent history.

Let me go back 10 months: So my best friend Devon Call calls me to see if he can stay at our place. Of course he can. Dude stayed with us in Greece, in our one roomer. It's great to see Devon, I have clearly lost touch with my Provo roots. then 3 months ago, Devon sends an e-mail that is CCd to my best friends: Ryan Kineteder, David Taylor, Merrill Liechty, and Weston Spencer--OK I have talked with Weston in the last 3 years so that's not such a big deal. This leads to a rapid torrent of e-mails.

12 months ago, we get an e-mail that my best friend Chris Clark, has a bro. in law that is a freaking celebrity. Maybe you have heard of the little grammy winning band Maroon 5? Yeah.

My best friend John Rather sends us an e-mail about this new-fangled blog: Times and Seasons. One of the entries is about a new site that my best friend Matthew Faulconer, has made: Feast upon the word. I go to the site, I'm overcome once again by Matthew's brilliance. We get to e-mailing, and then we have a phone call.

Meanwhile, on Times and Seasons, my wife (i.e. Best friend--but this one is the most current; and eternal) Gabby says, she says: "There is a link to your friend, Kacy's blog on Times and Seasons, it is like the best blog there is." Gabby is all sending it to all her sisters and friends. I'm all, this is awesome.

So I look up my best friend, Kacy's blog, it is like the best blog there is, and I get connected to her husband, my best friend, Christian's blog. Christian's blog has a link to my best friend Cameron's blog. Cameron is all into triathlons now, and my in-laws put on the St. George triathlon, so we arrange to meet up in St. George for lunch.

When it comes to keeping up friendships, I am offensively horrible. Yet somehow, despite my best efforts to lose touch with my childhood over the last 15 years, in the last 5 months or so, I have been in touch with much of the crux of my High School friends--except I guess for the Trojans and Momos (except Devon, Weston, and David K.)

Now I'm all breaking out and saying 'I'm all' a lot, and stuff, I'm getting back into dungeons and dragons, and singing with Billy Ocean: "Get out of my dreams! Get into my car!" I'm all doing Chinese fire drills at like every stoplight like I used to always do. I'm all doing the worm and the locomotion, and well, I think you get the picture.

Honestly I have missed these people more than I ever imagined I had.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

(long entry, I know it's not good blogging etiquette, and I understand if you want to stay in your naive little world where Maria Von Trapp is a heroine). Yes, I'm following the trend of naming posts after lines from songs in The Sound of Music

Lately, I can't watch The Sound of Music without feeling uncomfortable, and annoyed. I can't think of a scene that I think works--bad acting, bad writing, whatever. Much of this, of course, is because it is a musical, and few things (among them perhaps wicked special effects) kill good acting like knowing that whatever dialogue is currently happening is going to develop into a song in the next minute or two. The same principle applies in real life as well.

But I want to focus on the heart of what offends me: Maria as educator. As a foil against this, I have become more and more impressed with Dewey Finn (Jack Black's character) in School of Rock. So I want to contrast these two models of educators. Many of my thoughts could be viewed as simply a preference for a contemporary model educator (one who guides learners as they construct and produce vs. one who instructs learners what to do) only Dewey Finn is unique even for model teachers in recent movies (see for example Coach Carter, Dead Poet's Society, and Lean on Me)

The scene that tips it for me is after the goat-herd puppet show. Maria has been the lead voice, and has been shouting directions to the Von Trapp kids, which they follow, and they put on a good show. After it is complete, the kids have left and the Captain, Max, and the Baroness remain and the Captain (Georg) says something like "That was great work Fne. Maria!" And Maria responds, "They're your children!" Gabby pointed out that this scene can be disturbing, but she completely rejects my further claims. So I thank her for opening this up, but she shouldn't be lumped in to the rapidly growing group of people that watch Sound of Music and School of Rock this way--but I hope and pray she will some day.

What is disturbing about this scene? The most basic is the false self-effacing (What?! You're congratulating ME?! I had hardly anything to do with this!! They were YOUR children captain, I simply supported their enthusiastic creativity!) The other contributing factors are just what was the back-drop for this false self-effacing: For starters, she had the lead role, no? It seems clear, or is at least suggested that she choreographed--produced--the production. The focus moments for the performers were Maria coughing from the foam-a-float, and Maria directing Gretel (?) to move the castle-mote person, and the new backdrop. Maria is the heart and engine of the effort. In an important and disturbing sense, the children are acting as Maria's puppets. I see the same features in her teaching "Doe, a deer" and music and singing in general--Maria is the center, do as she says and you will be beautiful. Even in the scene after they return from their outing, and the children are singing (without Maria) to the Baroness, Georg comes in and Maria waits by the side and motions to give the flower to the Baroness. This motion to deliver the flower says to me that Maria is still running the show. The children are doing as she has instructed them.

Some disclaimers: Of course what the children do under her teaching is impressive. They seem happier, they are obviously better singers, and they are in general more relaxed (but they didn't really have a direction to go except more relaxed, right?)

Now contrast Dewey Finn: The moment for me in the movie is when Dewey is playing the song Zach wrote with the kids ("...Maybe we were making straight As"), then steps back and watches the kids play. Even the words to the song seem to cut against Maria and her mis-guided teaching approach: "don't take much to memorize your lies...feel like I've been hypnotized". At this moment, Dewey is struck, and surprised, and he is transformed. The show is no longer about Dewey winning battle of the bands, it is about putting on a rockin' show. Dewey still plays a unique and important role, he is still a teacher--he knows more about rock-n-roll, and what goes into a rockin' show than the students, but it is now their production as much as it is his. After this epiphany, he asks if he can come in with a guitar solo. On the surface, this may appear that he is taking the center back from the students, but it is not like that at all. This request is the biggest compliment he can give--he shows that he takes these students seriously, he has been inspired by the music that they wrote, he asks if he can do the solo because he feels one coming on from their music. Contrast this with Maria directing to deliver the flower to the Baroness.

After the show, the principal congratulates Dewey, and he doesn't give some lame "They're your students!" He responds with something like: "Yeah, that was a rockin' show!" Not taking nor avoiding (un)due credit.

A few brief contrasts:

On initial thoughts and intents:
Maria: "I have confidence in me!" she is going to influence for good these kids.
Dewey: "Could I maybe get out a little early? I got some stuff I gotta do." He is not seeking to influence or be influenced. He is open and naive to the situation.

On setting the agenda:
Maria: After the kids have played some pranks (one could think to have fun) she guilts them into crying. They can have fun, and a lot of it, she shows them, if they do it on her terms: On her bed, in her clothes, with her songs. I get the sense that whichever students were there, Maria would give the same instruction.
Dewey: After he hears them rehearsing for their classical orchestra, he starts talking about making a rock band. This is all self-serving for Dewey, but at least it is in response to the students. They bring something to the table, they are each accomplished musicians. Had Dewey not heard them, he would not have recruited them for the band--he would have stuck with the fliers on light-posts

On original teaching approach:
Maria: Let's start at the very beginning...She teaches, and the students follow her instruction.
Dewey: At first, Dewey does the same sort of thing as Maria (do this! Now raise your goblet of rock!), he teaches and the students follow his instruction.

On their eventual teaching approach:
Maria: She is a static teacher. She does not change. She is the source of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. The students and family transform to accomodate her, but she sings in the hills to begin, and sings in the hills at the end.
Dewey: He is a dynamic teacher. He is transformed by the students. The students are also transformed and these transformations take place at the same time. They come to understand each other better.

Overall, School of Rock is much more hard-core and rockin'.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On phones

The local Police responded to several 911 calls made from our phone in the last months. Our phone was made by idiots who are also jerks. The "push-button" dialing is confusing for our phone. I wouldn't make a fuss about it, except other people's phones seem to approach this "push-button" dialing so straight-forwardly. On our phone, you can push a button, any button, and it might work; and that is the best feeling in the world. On the other hand, you can push a button and it either doesn't respond, like some lifeless sea urchin, or it does respond multiple times, with eagerness. So, if for example, I want to dial the number: 914-555-4432, I might get a range of results, such as these:

914-555-5--sorry, now it's wrong. No backspace? Sorry, that is too confusing.
914-4--sorry, now it's wrong
9 (no response) 9 (no response) 9 (no response) 9 (no response) 99--sorry, now it's wrong.
914-555-4433--this is the most frustrating. Notice: I am ONE digit away from a successful call. All that work for nothing.

And of course:
911--sorry, it's wrong, and it's the emergency number. The police will be visiting momentarily.

I live in area code 914, this means that I don't even need to use this pre-fix. Technically, this means that my calling 911 was careless in addition to ill-founded. Imagine how many times I would have dialed 911 if I lived in a different area-code but frequently called the 914 area code!

We have been discussing the need to get a new phone for maybe 10 months. I hope that, someday, we will.

Which is more stupid: a stupid phone, or the stupid people who keep using it?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Don't miss this Ensign gem!

In the midst of your struggle to express proper disappointment (or delight as the case may be) with the Ensign graphics editor, you may have missed this gem:

Spencer V. Jones, in his article "Finding Hope in the Second Coming" discusses prophecies of the second coming. He writes:

Some of the prophecies can seem overwhelming. Earthquakes, thunder, lightning, hailstorms, plagues, famine, waves of the sea heaving beyond their bounds, a desolating scourge, the sun darkened, and the moon turned to blood are all worldly conditions predicted to usher in that "great and dreadful day." The inhabitants of the earth will endure weeping and wailing, wars and rumors of wars, iniquity, false Christs and false prophets, men's hearts failing them, and the proud and the wicked burning as stubble.

[for me, this is when it gets good]

Some prophecies are even quite grotesque...

[at this point, I expect a bland overview, I certainly wasn't expecting his bold next move, but was I delighted? Yes.]

To repeat his last line:

Some prophecies are even quite grotesque, SUCH AS THIS ONE (my caps):

"Wherefore, I the Lord God will send forth flies upon the face of the earth, which shall take hold of the inhabitants thereof, and shall eat their flesh, and shall cause maggots to come in upon them...And their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets; And it shall come to pass that the beasts of the forest and the fowls of the air shall devour them up"

And that was it--he then went into some insightful thoughts about what we can do to prepare for this.

I thought it opened all sorts of doors for church talks, lessons etc:

Some stories leave people confused and nauseous, such as this one:
Some stories shouldn't be told from the pulpit, such as this one:
Some scripture stories are best not brought up in mixed company, such as this one:
Some scripture stories are downright inappropriate for children, such as this one:
Some stories have the tendency to offend large portions of any given congregation, such as this one:

As mentioned, he continued by saying even in the midst of this, we can have hope...and I'm certain I could come up with a good conclusion after these openings as well.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

10 candy bars

I have a fairly popular and accurate nerd test. I ask the person to name a fruit (and there is no prompting except for this simple question) and if he or she answers 'tomato' it's a nerd. The one answer (that I actually got, and I have witnesses) that put the system in overload was 'avocado'. I hadn't even taken into consideration that someone could exceed the limits of my test.

In a similar vein, when I say, 'name a good candy bar.' And the person answers with some fancy 'Milka' (OOhh, is that a European candy?...Impressive selection!) or some other reference to some obscure/impressive candy, I can conclude perhaps not the the person is a nerd, but that they are demonstrating their cosmopolitan knowledge, not their taste for candy bars. (But Milkas really are my favorite! That chocolate is WAY better than the American psuedo stuff! Really? Impressive!.)

So here is a list of chocolate candy bars that I would saddle any of my horses with. I apologize if your favorite candy bars don't appear on the list, feel free to make suggestions, but based on my research methods (see below) I don't see much change coming), but you never know, do you? You never know.

10: Reeses peanut butter cup

9: Almond joy

8: Hershey's chocolate bar with almonds

7: Twix (peanut butter)

6: Hershey's chocolate bar

5: Krackel

4: Symphony with almonds and toffee bits

3: Snickers

2: Twix (caramel)

1: Kit-Kat

You probably didn't think that kit kat would win, huh? I was surprised as well. As background, most of my information comes from which candy bars I get at the check out at the grocery store. I know that there is a sense of getting ripped off with a kit-kat, like it doesn't have "the goods" (i.e. nougat, caramel, or peanut butter) of other bars that it outscores. But that isn't what I'm looking for in a candy bar, what I most look for in a candy bar (usually) is that it tastes like a kit-kat.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

License suspended

We got notice that my license has been suspended due to a traffic violation. The cost of the original ticket was $150.00. We paid the ticket, so ignored the follow-up letters saying we better pay it or else. Well, apparently we didn't pay it, our credit card had expired or something like that. Rather than asking us to pay again, we were given a late fee of $200.00. And, as I mentioned, my license is suspended--and we now owe $350.00. On so many levels this is awesome.

I'm not sure where to start, this could be an explanation of the ridiculousness of traffic laws and fines in New York, or it could be a complaint against a policeman that would actually enforce such ridiculous laws, or it could be my struggle to come to grips with the fact that, in any given situation, I am only capable of talking myself into further trouble (more on this another time).

I don't get tickets. I am a safe driver. I don't think it is cool to go real fast, or run stop-signs. Furthermore, I have rehearsed what to say to a policeman or woman in the event that I get pulled over, emphasizing the respected officer's authority (this is a tip I got from my brother, Jim):

(I first turn on the cabin light, and put both my hands in the 10 and 2 positions on the stearing wheel and look ahead)

Officer: (says whatever)
Me: Yes Officer.
Officer: (says whatever, makes a clever remark about my disregard for the law and civil society)
Me: Yes Officer. I understand that you have the authority to issue this notice, and I certainly appreciate your authority to do so, are you also authorized to issue a warning? You can check my record, I am a very conscientious driver...Are you authorized to issue a warning?
Officer: Yes, here is a warning, you take care now!

I have rehearsed in my head a hundred times what I could have said to the policeman who gave me a ticket for turning right (Folks in the West know that I meant 'right') at a red light. It is illegal to turn right at a red light in New York. Of course 500 yards from where I got the ticket, I would have been outside of New York and it would have been OK, but I maniacally burst through the red light on the empty street to turn right.

I could have said, "I'm sorry officer, I'm used to Utah (or Westchester) where it is not illegal to turn right on a red light" I guess I thought I was in Westchester, [not 500 yards from it]. (then continue with original dialogue above). Instead, I panicked, said that I couldn't recall turning on a red light (a note of defense: in speeding situations, when asked "Do you know how fast you were going?" I have rehearsed to reply "I can't recall, I wasn't watching, I thought I was going with the flow of traffic" this is usually a good response in such situations. My mistake here was a simple bad translation between situations for which different rules apply). Then, to explain why I couldn't remember turning right at a red light, I said, "I guess I'm a little frazzled, I just finished taking a test."

lets get back to dialogue mode:

Officer: How did you do?
Me: I actually administered the test, I'm a teacher. (I thought being a teacher could recall fond memories for the police officer, and why would anyone give a teacher a ticket? But I think it probably made him see me as a quasi authority figure, and so a threat.)
Officer: Oh, you're a teacher are you?...

I really didn't see the ticket coming. Why would a policeman ever give a ticket for turning right on a red light? I thought it was a great opportunity for a policeman to lecture on the dangers of turning right at a red light then issue a warning. But he went ahead and gave me a ticket to help me recognize the seriousness of my actions.