Tag Archive for education

Dreaming in the Digital Age

The Wife and I took the Rugrats to the Peoria Riverfront Museum yesterday, and we checked out their Dome Planetarium for the first time. They’ve got a great setup, and one of their features was the short film Back to the Moon for Good, featuring the Google Lunar XPrize.

When people ask why our students need to be studying in the STEM fields, this is just a part of what it’s all about. We need to have goals again, to have big dreams to follow. To reach for the stars and beyond. To solve human problems like cancer, or a loss of drinkable water.

If we told the NASA engineers who sent us to the Moon in the ’60s and ’70s what the space program would look like today, they’d be beyond disappointed. People can blame the government, and politics, and money, but it really comes down to the people themselves. The people who ask, “Yeah, but what has the space program done for us?”

If they were to be honest, they would ask, “What has the space program done for me?

I have two responses. First, here’s a list. Second, get your head out of your ass.

The school district I work for held a parent meeting for our technology program, and inevitably the anti-technology set had to put their two cents in. One complained we were only making our kids dependent upon technology, implying technology makes kids dumb and lazy. Another was from the “back in my day” camp, proudly proclaiming he wouldn’t touch a computer if we bought it for him.

Both speak from a position of ignorance. They honestly have no idea what technology has done and can do for them and their children, so they breed contempt and complacency rather than inspiring dreams.

Saying “I’m not good with technology” in 2015 is the same as saying “I don’t know how to read” in 1915. If you think it’s funny that you can’t operate the smartphone in your hand, then congratulations, the world has officially left you behind.

If you have trouble with technology and you just don’t get it, I’m sure you’ll get by. But don’t let your headaches get in your kid’s way. Let your kids start dreaming again, and aspire for bigger and better things, because the rest of us have no desire to return to Bronze Age savagery.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Hot for Teacher

A German teacher did a brief striptease for students at a Hungarian school, and one of the students caught it on video. Where were these teachers when I was a kid? Just about every guy I knew wished Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video would become a reality.

Make no mistake, she did a very stupid thing. I don’t think there’d be any question she’d be fired in my district, and rightfully so. At the very least she’s made it very difficult to maintain her authority over a classroom and has set herself up for all kinds of problems. The biggest difference I noted, however, was the parental reaction. Check out this quote:

One parent was quoted in the Sun as saying the students “couldn’t believe their luck” when the teacher started stripping.

Judging by the catcalls in the background of the video, that about sums it up. I imagine a lot of the boys were disappointed she didn’t get to go any further. If this had happened a US school, things would have played out quite differently. Sure, the kids would have been just as excited, but the parents would be crying over the corruption of their children. There would be counselors on hand and everyone would be worried about emotional scarring. Then would come the barrage of lawsuits.

Simple disciplinary action, including termination of the teacher, would never be enough for the moral majority. Sometimes it’s like Europe is a whole ‘nother planet.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Willful Ignorance

I walked into our high school computer lab today while students were using a website called Career Cruising to browse through their college and career options. Here are some of the things I overheard:

“Man, I don’t want to learn a foreign language! I want people to speak to me in English!”

A student nearby agreed: “Yeah, I’m in America, you should speak American!”

Then the subject turned to classes: “Brit Lit? Is that like British Literature? I don’t want to read what some British guy wrote!”

Another student asked: “What’s literature, anyway? Is that like reading?”

One girl asked another what child development was. The response: “That’s when you get to play with kids all day.” The counter: “Oh, I’m taking that! I want lots of babies.”

One kid expressed excitement that I’d cracked open the side of a computer, and told his friend to check it out. The friend’s response: “Who cares what the inside looks like?”

Having worked in education for over 7 years now, I can tell you this is very common. It’s very easy to just shake my head and say things like “The future is screwed.” The fact is, however, this is nothing new. I knew kids in high school who were just as bad, and there always has been (and always will be) underachievers and kids who are just plain stupid.

What’s really depressing about it is it’s never been easier to get an education. Kids don’t have to go to the library or look for books anymore, they can tap out a few keystrokes and find whatever they need. They can talk to more people than ever, and even kids in rural areas like mine have a great window to other cultures. In short, the Internet and technology really can be all that the education wonks wish it to be, the trick is making kids care.

Just as before, the tools are there. It’s just the kids would rather swap drunken party stories on MySpace than browse books on Project Gutenberg or learn Japanese.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Revenge of Your Modern World

A Florida teacher has been fired because — I kid you not — he’s been accused of wizardry. When Tim sent me the article, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scream. In a nutshell, this guy performed a magic trick with a toothpick in front of a middle school class and he got fired for it.

I first have to laugh that someone is dumb enough to believe this guy performed an actual feat of magic and not simple sleight of hand. I also find it funny that their school board had the stones to actually list this, on record, as a reason for his termination. This makes the Kansas state board of ed look progressive.

On the other side of it, I find it infuriating. I work in education myself, and I’m seeing one of two scenarios going on: 1) they needed an excuse to get rid of the guy and they used this parental complaint to do it; 2) a parent complained, and rather than stick up for the teacher they dropped the hammer. The other reasons cited for his termination (not following lesson plans, letting students on unapproved computers) are very flimsy reasons for termination, especially if the guy was in a tenured position. Hidden reasons or not, terminating the guy for alleged wizardry is beyond ridiculous.

What’s next, Pasco County? Adopting the Malleus Maleficarum into your school board policies?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Drinking the Apple Kool-Aid

One of the Apple execs I met yesterday made a good statement about their products: you don’t get it until you try it.

Apple users extol the virtues of their OS all the time. Three of my friends, including (former) die-hard PC user John Roling, have switched to Mac and vow to never go back. A school in Indianapolis employing a 1-to-1 initiative dropped their PC laptops in favor of MacBooks and couldn’t be happier. A Minneapolis-area school switched their 8 buildings from PC to Mac and offered to load Windows for anyone who wanted it; not one teacher requested it.

The rest of us ask “It costs how much?

The MacBook I purchased in December was my first real experience with a Mac, and it’s been growing on me ever since. Wednesday, on the way up to Chicago for our Apple briefing, my superintendent and I stopped off at the New Lenox School District 122. A teacher showed us how she used Macs, and I picked the tech coordinator’s brain about the back end. Both of them couldn’t be any happier with their Macs, and the downside on the back end is far from a deal-breaker.

That night, we hit the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue. I played with an iPod Touch. I fiddled with an iPhone, then browsed the MacBooks, Apple TV, and the iMacs. I chatted with the sales reps, and I damn near came home with an iPod Touch for the Wife.

Yesterday we sat in on the briefing, learned about Apple’s sales and growth, and got a lot of hands-on experience. We created a podcast in Garage Band in minutes (complete with pictures), and fiddled with a lot of the features that would really help in an educational setting, such as the built-in Dictionary and the Speech text-to-speech engine. We even got to see a lot of the thoughtful extras, like Webclips.

We drove home stunned.

Sure, I still have a few beefs. The closed nature of some of their products, for starters (the iPod Touch may be open to more developers soon, but the iPhone will be AT&T-only for some time). The lock-in to iTunes. The lack of true GPS on the iPhone and the Touch (every time someone tried to show me the triangulation feature, it failed or at least failed to build directions off of it). The way the Nike+iPod is restricted to the iPod Nano. And, of course, the price tag.

Yet it’s hard to argue with the value. Like people say, most of this stuff is just cool to use. Apple has put a lot of thought into the layout and design of both the hardware and the software, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the system’s stability. OS X is loaded with features you just don’t get on Windows (or at the very least aren’t as polished in Windows), and the iPhone and Touch interfaces are an order of magnitude better than the Palm’s (there’s no stylus to lose, either).

The Wife scoffed when I told her I almost brought home a Touch for her. She had been looking at one of those credit card-sized photo viewers to show pictures to people, and she carries a calendar and address book in her purse. The Touch would fill all those functions and then some, saving her space in her purse and give her a much better screen and interface to boot. When I got home, I sat her down in front of my MacBook and gave her a tour of the Touch on Apple’s site. Sure enough, she’s impressed and looks forward to getting one in the near future.

Even tonight, despite my irritation in being forced to purchase an iPod Nano if I want to use the Nike+iPod gear when I try the Cool Running 5k plan this Spring, I found myself pricing out both the gadgets and a pair of Nike+ shoes or the Shoe Pouch. All day I’ve been trying to figure out if I should sync the Wife’s iPod Touch with my school MacBook or if I should buy an iMac for the family, and she doesn’t even have the damn thing yet. I yammered about Apple crap all night, and the Wife says I haven’t been this excited about computers in a long time.

Right now, if someone asked me what kind of computer they should buy, I would tell them “If you can afford it, buy a Mac. If you can’t, buy the best machine you can afford and slap Ubuntu on it.”

I feel so dirty.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Gonna Take a Bite Out of Apple

I’ll soon be writing one of these from a MacBook.

Sadly, it won’t be mine. At least, it won’t belong to me; I’ll just be hammering on it for the next several months. My boss, it turns out, has been impressed by what he’s seen out of Apple software and thinks there’s a lot to take advantage of in an educational setting. I don’t disagree, but the trick is a) working out how to fit it into our network and b) cost. The first isn’t a real obstacle, just something to be aware of. The second is a bit tougher for a small, rural school district.

“Buy one to evaluate,” he said. “We’ll worry about cost later.”

Sounds good to me! Besides, maybe there are ways to help with cost. Apple used to give free copies of OS X to educators when it first hit, so there’s got to be something they’d be willing to do to get a foot in the door at an all-Windows district. So I fired an email off to a rep. The work day was more than half over and we’re headed into a holiday, so I didn’t expect a response until next week. As such, I didn’t bother providing a phone number.

An hour later, I got a phone call. It was the rep, on the road.

He got my email, found our school website, and called, all from his car on his iPhone. Pretty slick iPhone commercial right there (it’s too bad his Cingular/AT&T connection didn’t live up to the same standard).

Next I was impressed by the rep himself. I figured he was just a good salesman out for a commission, but our conversation went very well. He spent more time talking about services and support Apple could provide to both myself and our teachers than how great their hardware/software is and how much money we’d have to spend to see discounts. The latter is all certain other vendors want to talk about.

That is, if they bother to talk to us at all after they find out we’re a small district not purchasing in large volumes. They fax me a quote and I never hear from them again. Some do provide tech support, but I have yet to have one tell me what they can do to help my teachers use technology in the classroom better, and I’ve been at this going on eight years.

If this Apple rep lives up to half of what he promises, it’s easy to see the value for purchasing the hardware. Especially when considering the deep education discounts offered on their software (which, by the way, includes teacher copies for home use, something certain other vendors rarely — if ever — provide).

So a sweet new MacBook will be headed my way next week.

Time to find out if the product itself lives up to the same promises.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.