Summer Reading Goof?

Well, today was the last official day of in-service time before Monday’s online start-up.  It was a day for recording videos, welcoming freshmen, and trying to get more classroom work done.  Still a bit that needs to get done tomorrow, but I’m hopeful it won’t take too long.  Beyond that, students have been able to come by and pick up materials that we’ve put together for them for at least the first two weeks.  Lots of books flying around, of course, including over 100 copies of How to Think by Alan Jacobs.  The summer reading list has been the subject of a couple of recent Frazz strips.  Here’s a good one to end the day and the week.

Frazz Summer Reading(image from gocomics.com)

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Summer’s (TV Season) Ending

Well, the two network shows that have carried me through the summer are coming to an end next week.  First up is the conclusion of Stargirl on the CW and DC Universe app.  The show has been a great blend of history and the contemporary, or light and darkness (sometimes really dark), hope and despair.  I really hope the final episode gets to be a little longer (like the first two episodes), as there’s a lot that needs resolving.  Here’s the final preview:

I look forward to a rewatch of the season sometime down the road, probably before 2020 comes to an end.

And then there’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD on ABC, which has done a good job of bringing on the pathos as it wraps up it’s seven-season run.  I had hoped to actually see more time-jumps into previous season, but that hasn’t happened.  We got some name drops in this week’s episode, which was nice but maybe not enough for this sentimentalist.  But the stakes for the finale are appropriately high on multiple levels.  And we get two hours on Wednesday, which is a treat.  Here’s the final preview:

I have no idea what to expect with this finale.  I’m hopeful, of course, but the looming threat of an erased timeline is something I never look forward to.  May the show has one more trick up its sleeve.  We’ll find out in a week.

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And It’s Only Wednesday

Sometimes you’re Calvin.  Sometimes your Hobbes.  Sometimes you’re both out.

Calvin Out(image from gocomics.com)

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The Danger of Wordplay

Here’s a classic Peanuts strip that features Snoopy as a wanna-be writer.  Even when his work isn’t that great, Snoopy can get a good gag out of wordplay (at the husband’s expense).

Peanuts Word PlayToday was one of our last big meetings before we start with students.  I also had a meeting with students, which was both encouraging and challenging (as we don’t really know how to proceed with preparing for the year).  We also received our class-sized shipment of Alan Jacobs’ How to Think, making it just in time to prepare for pick-up.  It’s such a good book, particularly for Our Current Moment.  I made a presentation in this morning’s meeting.  I’d been thinking about it for a long time.  I got a few nice comments in response, but it’s a reminder of what I’m looking for and not getting from sharing about the life of faith.  It’s a good but sad reminder rooted in the way I understand the spiritual life and how that might differ from the approach that others might take.  This will hopefully be my year to make peace with that.

Tomorrow is for smaller meetings plus making copies of materials for pick-up.  We’re trying to get as ahead of the game paperwork-wise as possible, which can be tricky.  I’ve also got at least one video to prepare for and a small on-campus event to think through before the week’s end.

(image from gocomics.com)

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Concurrently Speaking

We started a second week of preparation for the new school year today.  There are just so many things to take care of: cleaning out the gym after last week’s gatherings, checking in with student leaders, nurturing vital friendships, and planning for meetings can often keep you from getting to the work of curriculum.

Rumors are starting to swirl, just a bit, that we might return to some kind of lockdown in the coming weeks.  Even though our numbers are on the lower end overall, there is the concern of multiple days in the three-digit range.  For now, though, we have a plan in place.  We’re going to be 100% online for the first two weeks.  After that, we’re going to have half of the student body on campus for half the week each week.  A co-worker came across this June 2020 article over at Forbes that speaks to the benefits and challenges of the set-up.  First, the challenge:

Let’s start by recognizing the key problem for the concurrent classroom: an inequality of attention. (I’m reserving the term “hybrid” for educational experiences where all students in a class are online and then all students are face-to-face in a classroom together. For example, most executive MBA (eMBA) programs offer a hybrid format. A concurrent classroom, in contrast, has people online and in person in the same class at the same time.) Students physically in the classroom have an obvious advantage: they can interact more fluidly and naturally with the teacher and each other. The juxtaposition prompts online students to feel even more distant and disconnected by comparison, and more likely to succumb to the myriad distractions in their home. Even with clever technologies like screen sharing, tracking cameras, and omnidirectional microphones, attempts at free-flowing conversation between people in the classroom and students on video will encounter poor video resolution, echoing audio with lags and the inevitable but persistent mistakes with the “mute” button. Applying traditional teaching practices from in-person or online classes will fail to deliver high-quality, impactful educational experiences.

Yet the concurrent classroom is unavoidable.

From there, the article gives some of the potential benefits of the “concurrent” format and how to get there.  I had to laugh at the mention of the “cold call,” which is a great way to keep students on their toes.  But it’s definitely something that’s tricky when you’ve got students present but not in person.  And that pesky “mute” button (by necessity) also makes things interesting.

A good read and a sobering reminder of what stands on the horizon for many teachers across the world this fall.  It will be an interesting problem to try and solve.

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Sunday’s Best: Hypothetical Hobbes

This week’s classic Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson takes the spot today.  Always interesting to see Hobbes push back on Calvin’s schemes.

Calvin Hypothetical Question(image from gocomics.com)

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Like Learning at the Kitchen Table

I feel like I spend a good chunk of my time in meetings as a naysayer, as a “wait a minute and slow down” kind of guy.  It’s not because I want to be a killjoy, not that I want to rain on the parade of the newest and coolest development in things.  It’s more that I’ve learned to be a little more aware of what can get lost in the process.

That’s especially true in times of significant change, which is a big part of what is happening with education, as one quarter online looks to turn into a longer, indeterminate reality.  Which is why I have found Mark Bauerlein’s recent First Things article titled “The Problem with Online Learning” so encouraging.   A snippet:

Academic content is now implicated in a technology that youths have been primed to use, interpret, and value for different purposes. It’s not that the screen is inherently contrary to academic learning (though I doubt the physics of the screen are as generative of advanced literacy as are the physics of the printed page). Rather, it’s that years of a certain behavioral conditioning at the screen make it difficult for students to treat the screen primarily as an instrument of learning, not an instrument of diversion, and teachers don’t have the time or the power or the knowledge to recondition them.

Even the space the kids inhabit when learning at home hinders the shift: American teens have converted the bedroom into a social space, not a private space. When kids go to their rooms and shut the doors, they’re not secluding themselves. They’re opening up to the world (and shutting out the parents down the hall). Now, this game room/chat room/screen room is supposed to be a classroom, too.

That might not seem like such a big deal to many, but it is something worth reflecting for a while, at least.

At the article’s end, Bauerlein gives a list of suggestions for parents to implement as a way of “correcting” for their child’s digital environment.  It’s a nice list:

    • When your kids have to complete a writing assignment, have them do the first draft by hand with pencil and paper, a print dictionary and thesaurus beside them.

    • Do not let them read assigned books online—print copies only.

    • When they watch instructional videos, have them take notes by hand in a spiral notebook dedicated to the subject (research on the advantages of note-taking over any screen method is solid).

    • Finally, keep the leisure screen shenanigans completely out of the homeschooling hours—no breaks for video, no browsing until class is over, no social contact while the teacher is talking.

    • Collaboration over homework is fine, and texting and phone calls after “school” ends are, too. But the school day must be kept intact and uninterrupted.

The whole article is worth a read.  I imagine most teachers aren’t necessarily thinking about that as they prep their lessons and most parents aren’t thinking about this because they are trying to make sense of the logistics of whatever their child’s school will be asking of them. Regardless, it’s encouragement worth heeding.

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Grace, Forgiveness, the Engine

From a recent post by Alan Jacobs concerning the school he teaches at and the issue of racial reconciliation:

Christianity has a lot to say about sin, repentance, and forgiveness. It tells us that we all sin. It tells us that when we sin against a sister or brother, in thought, word, or deed, we must seek to make it right, and to ask that person’s forgiveness. And if we feel that someone has sinned against us, we are to tell that person so, to give them the opportunity to repent. The New Testament authors go on and on about these matters. 1 John 1: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”; but also we should take care to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3) — we must do more than speak words of penitence, but also pay our debt to our neighbor, the debt of love (Romans 13). And our overall daily approach to one another is prescribed by St. Paul in Ephesians 4: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another…. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Also in Colossians 3: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”

If you’re not a Christian, this stuff probably looks like a way to let people off easy. And in one sense it is. As Hamlet says, “Treat every man according to his desert, and who should ’scape whipping?” Christianity is all about people not getting what they deserve, and genuine repentance + the grace of forgiveness is the engine that makes this happen. And, for Christians, them’s the universal rules: there are no exceptions.

It’s become fashionable, in some circles, to denounce calls for reconciliation. Some say, “We don’t want reconciliation, we want justice.” But to Christians, reconciliation is what justice is for. When injustice marks our relations, then what is unjust must be repaired or healed in some way, insofar as that is possible, so that we may live peaceably and lovingly with one another. Walking away from one another is not, for Christians, an option. Forgiveness must be asked for and granted, ordered and received.

Among other things, this is a good reminder that even the largest institution or organization is built on . . . consists of . . . interlocking relationships.  Over time those relationships get codified as roles.

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Focus on Learning

Yesterday our school announced that we were postponing the start of the new year by a week.  Beyond that, the first two weeks have been set aside for online instruction.  From there, we will work towards bringing half of the student body on-campus at a time in two-day sets.  Big news, for sure.  So now we are in (re)planning mode.  A good chunk of meetings each day.

That means it’s more of a comic strip week here.

+ + + + + + +

Earlier this week, Jef Mallett’s Frazz had a good gag about the difference between the real world and the comic-strip world and the issue of schooling.  Now Mallett has Caulfield in the midst of a classic elder-teacher situation with Mrs. Olsen.  Here’s the first one:

Frazz Retired 1I think we all of us know at least one teacher from our school days that was always on the verge of retirement.  And now that I’m a teacher, I know there’s always this weird dynamic of who leaves, when they leave, and whether or  not a class will say “they left because of us.”

Frazz Retired 2A nice twist on the “you never seem happy” demeanor of a teacher, for sure.

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Between the Soup and the Sushi

Tuesday was my first day back full-time to school.  After the last meeting, I headed downtown to grab some sushi for dinner.  The kind folks at Ahi and Vegetable add a salad and miso soup to their meals, so I usually start there while the sushi chills a little in the fridge.  Somewhere between the miso soup and the sushi I took an almost-hour-long nap.  And then I slept pretty well later in the evening.  Turns out that I was worn out.

The pieces of the school year are slowly falling into place.  We spent our fourth quarter online, so we’ve got some kind of foundation to build off of should we need to return there.  At the same time, the last two days have reminded me of things that can be frustrating in such situations.

At the end of this morning’s gathering, I spoke some of the Andy Crouch/Praxis imagery of blizzard/winter/ice age.  I’ve said before that it’s been a good way for me to get some kind of handle on things.  The tension comes in trying to live in between the images.  Just because it’s “ice age” in one area doesn’t mean that it’s the same in other places.  And yet . . .  We’ve been able to keep the numbers low in Hawaii, but the last few days have seen a rise in numbers.  Granted, Hurricane Douglas might have backed up numbers some, but it’s still something to reflect on.

All of which to say?  What have we learned?  What are we learning?  What are the implications of what we have learned?  How do you keep things in mind when so many things present themselves as pressing concerns?  The next week or so will tell, of course, but only for a short window of time.  It’s like the game changes every few days.  It’ a time of moving targets.  How do we adjust while keeping steady and significant aim?

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