Saturday, August 31, 2013

"how do i embed a music player on my blog?"

Several students have asked me how to embed a music player on a blog.  I have no idea.  Please help 'em out in a comment to this post.  Mahalo.

Friday, August 30, 2013

four reasons you shouldn't exist

According to this article, "Physics says you're an impurity in an otherwise beautiful universe." 

CSF reminder

Today is the deadline to submit your CSF paperwork to Ms. Dolan in Room 225.  If you still need the form you can download it here (it's 3rd from the bottom), and don't forget your transcript.  Mahalo.

August 30

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin; Bonus: Stanley Jordan's version]

Those of you in the on-the-ground course have all seen the sign: "There is glory in the attempt." Describe how this idea applies in your life.  Season your answer by listening to the music and reflecting on the evolution/remix of English and the stories we tell.  How does your understanding of the same idea change as you age/mature/gain more experience?

1. Journal/return schtuff & distribute 6-year plans/transcripts
2. Vocab quiz
3. Co-constructed preview of coming attractions

1. Choose first literary analysis book, post choice/reason to your blog (title: WHY THIS BOOK?), and start/continue reading.
2. Complete/curate Beowulf materials.
3. Audit & update your blog.
4. Read "From Scroll to Screen" (as follows) and please comment to this post with your views on e-readers versus books.  Be ready to discuss Tuesday 9.4 along with "The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online"

The Mechanic Muse: From Scroll to Screen
Illustration by Joon Mo Kang (in original, which you can see via link:
Published: September 2, 2011
The New York Times

Something very important and very weird is happening to the book right now: It’s shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes. We’re witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture. If anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type. But if you go back further there’s a more helpful precedent for what’s going on. Starting in the first century A.D., Western readers discarded the scroll in favor of the codex — the bound book as we know it today.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

August 29

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Wankatakiya" by Spirit Nation; "Resignation Superman" by Big Head Todd & The Monsters]

Given what you've learned about the first heroic epic known to be composed in English, and how it reflects the culture/values of its times, nominate an epic story from our times that will be remembered as an emblem of this culture in two thousand years. Explain your choice.

1. Journal
2. Learning by doing (yay constructive disagreement!)
3. Blaudit

1. Study vocab
2. Read "The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online" 
3. Be sure to sign up for Literature Analysis #1

the art of hosting good conversations online

(original online here)

The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online

By Howard Rheingold


college boot camp reminder

Please get your paperwork to Mrs. Dirkes in the college office by tomorrow, Friday, August 30.  Mahalo.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

per 5 literature analysis #1 sign-up

Please comment to this post with the book and author you chose.  Mahalo.

per 4 literature analysis #1 sign-up

Please comment to this post with the book and author you chose.  Mahalo.

per 3 literature analysis #1 sign-up

Please comment to this post with the book and author you chose.  Mahalo.

i have a dream

Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important speeches of all time.  On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, calling for harmony and an end to racism, to an estimated 250,000 people.  Here are some links to commemorate the event:
Please do your own research and contribute resources or perspectives in the comments.  Dr. King's speech represents the finest traditions of democracy, free speech, humanity, community, and rhetoric. It serves as a powerful reminder that there is more in life that unites us than divides us.  Taking a few moments to listen/read/reflect on this occasion is an opportunity to put us all in touch with the better angels of our nature.

August 28

JOURNAL TOPIC: ["Twenty Questions" by The Beastie Boys; "Philosophers Stone" by Van Morrison]

Reflect for a moment on your study of Beowulf. Summarize the knowledge you have acquired, summarize your research/thought processes and experience, and list any questions you have.

1. Journal/
2. Vocabulary
3. Beowulf mastery exchange: characterization, literary elements, themes, language/structure

[UPDATE: Today's agenda has been hacked for period 3-- mind mapper Lisa Malins will review her team's creation of the Beowulf map and coach the rest of us.  Hoping a few people get her presentation on video so periods 4 & 5 can see.]

1. 15-30 mins. study vocab
2. Review "The Beginnings of English" in textbook (p.12); fair game for Friday's quiz
3. Sign up on your period's literature analysis post
4. Read the Personal Statement Worksheet, write, and bring a hard copy draft (preferably typed but neatly written OK) to class tomorrow, Thursday 8.29
5. See you at Hack to School Night

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Hey! Why should I be on the Internet?"

Are you smarter than a (1995) 5th grader?

hero's journey

There are many, many resources with information about Joseph Campbell and the monomyth (hero's journey).  Last year Dulce contributed a link which I (can't find anymore but) particularly liked because of an opening paragraph that said, "I assumed everyone who has taken High School English would know the steps of the journey..."  This is one of those boxes people check when they privately ask themselves whether the person in front of them is educated/learned/wise.  Since Dulce also did us the favor of distilling the elements of the cycle (here), I copied/pasted her version below.  (Thanks, Dulce!)  We'll be working with this on and off throughout the year, so if you find a resource worth consulting please include it (with link) in a comment to this post.  Thanks!

  1. The call to adventure is the point in a person's life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.
  2. Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.
  3. Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.
  4. This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known. 
  5. The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero's known world and self. It is sometimes described as the person's lowest point, but it is actually the point when the person is between or transitioning between worlds and selves. The separation has been made, or is being made, or being fully recognized between the old world and old self and the potential for a new world/self. The experiences that will shape the new world and self will begin shortly, or may be beginning with this experience which is often symbolized by something dark, unknown and frightening. By entering this stage, the person shows their willingness to undergo a metamorphosis, to die to him or herself.

  1.  The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.
  2. The meeting with the goddess represents the point in the adventure when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. It is also known as the "hieros gamos", or sacred marriage, the union of opposites, and may take place entirely within the person. In other words, the person begins to see him or herself in a non-dualistic way. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely. Although Campbell symbolizes this step as a meeting with a goddess, unconditional love and /or self unification does not have to be represented by a woman.
  3. At one level, this step is about those temptations that may lead the hero to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which as with the Meeting with the Goddess does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. For Campbell, however, this step is about the revulsion that the usually male hero may feel about his own fleshy/earthy nature, and the subsequent attachment or projection of that revulsion to women. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
  4. In this step the person must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his or her life. In many myths and stories this is the father, or a father figure who has life and death power. This is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving in to this place, all that follow will move out from it. Although this step is most frequently symbolized by an encounter with a male entity, it does not have to be a male; just someone or thing with incredible power. For the transformation to take place, the person as he or she has been must be "killed" so that the new self can come into being. Sometime this killing is literal, and the earthly journey for that character is either over or moves into a different realm.
  5. To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return.
  6. The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.

C  Return
  1. So why, when all has been achieved, the ambrosia has been drunk, and we have conversed with the gods, why come back to normal life with all its cares and woes?
  2. Sometimes the hero must escape with the boon, if it is something that the gods have been jealously guarding. It can be just as adventurous and dangerous returning from the journey as it was to go on it.
  3. Just as the hero may need guides and assistants to set out on the quest, often times he or she must have powerful guides and rescuers to bring them back to everyday life, especially if the person has been wounded or weakened by the experience. Or perhaps the person doesn't realize that it is time to return, that they can return, or that others need their boon.
  4. The trick in returning is to retain the wisdom gained on the quest, to integrate that wisdom into a human life, and then maybe figure out how to share the wisdom with the rest of the world. This is usually extremely difficult.
  5. In myth, this step is usually represented by a transcendental hero like Jesus or Buddha. For a human hero, it may mean achieving a balance between the material and spiritual. The person has become comfortable and competent in both the inner and outer worlds.
  6. Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live. This is sometimes referred to as living in the moment, neither anticipating the future nor regretting the past.

August 27

UPDATE: Realized halfway through 0 period that today is picture day, so today's agenda is now tomorrow's agenda.  Smile. :)

JOURNAL TOPIC: ["Twenty Questions" by The Beastie Boys; "Philosophers Stone" by Van Morrison]

Reflect for a moment on your study of Beowulf. Summarize the knowledge you have acquired, summarize your research/thought processes and experience, and list any questions you have.

1. Journal/
2. Vocabulary
3. Beowulf mastery exchange: characterization, literary elements, themes, language/structure

1. 15-30 mins. study vocab
2. Review "The Beginnings of English" in textbook (p.12); fair game for Friday's quiz

Monday, August 26, 2013

not all schools are created equally

There are many, many choices in higher education, and this article reminds us that choosing one depends heavily on the oldest consumer rule in the book: Caveat emptor.

hack to school night

(my t-shirt from OSCON)

To be clear: the word hack has been associated with definitions ("sharp cough, "cut with unskillful blows," & "illegal/unauthorized computer access," e.g.) that do not describe what we do.

We make connections and facilitate conversations that help people learn.   We build, analyze,  evaluate and modify tools and working conditions to make them better.

You know how they say, "[So'n'so] just can't hack it?" Well, maybe [So'n'so] can't.  We can.

So, at Back-- er, Hack to School night this Wednesday (8.28) evening, we are at it again. Get here whenever you can. Bring whoever you want. Offer them the benefit of what you know and find a way to learn from them too. Share new ideas about technology and how you can use it to get ahead in life.

Here is the program:
1. Learner-led conference (see below)
2. Periodic "Intro to OSL" presentations
3. Sign-ups for "friend of the course" events and "digital drop-in" nights

Here is the process:
1. Think about these questions and your answers to them;
2. Bring someone who cares to Hack to School Night;
3. Have them ask you these questions, be suitably brilliant in your replies, and demand that they take notes so that you know they're paying attention;
4. Turn in their notes to me, get your extra credit, listen to me brag about you briefly;
5. Go home and finish your homework.

Here are the questions:

student led conference script -

August 26

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Early Morning Wake Up Call" by The Hives; "Early in the Morning" by Ray Charles]

Today is the first "early out" on our calendar. Some say this is a bad idea (given all the demands on our already-crowded learning time). Others say this is a good idea (given that they'd rather be anywhere else in the universe besides school). What is your opinion of early outs? What will you do with the time?

1. Journal/return work/review Beowulf HW on blogs
2. Vocabulary: Fall List #2
3. Have you recited "Laughing Heart"?
4. Status on the moving parts and plans for the week

1. Post vocabulary definitions/sentences (title: VOCABULARY #2)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

NEW: assignments page

If you ever get that "What should I have on my blog?" feeling, the new Assignments page will help you keep track of the baseline requirements for the course.

it's a beowulf mindmap & you're invited

Over the past two years I've eased into introducing tools as the fall semester progresses.  Last year we didn't get to mind maps until mid-November and we took a few days to warm up to the idea before we dove in (you can see the finished product here).

However, each Open Source Learning community is different.  Even though we're only heading into the third week of school, several people saw an opportunity and asked if they could set up a mind map for the Beowulf questions where everyone could contribute and collaborate.  When I get a question like that it's hard to say/type YES fast enough.  So, thanks for the suggestion Rudy, and thanks for setting up a mind map Lisa (be sure to check out the map she did on Pride & Prejudice)!  Lisa networked with Trevor Hudgins (RHS '12) and created this post on her blog to invite everyone to participate.  

There is already a FB group but not everyone's on FB, so if you'd like another alternative-- or even if you're already working with the FB group and you want to compare/borrow (with attribution)-- check out the Beowulf comprehension questions mind map and upload your answers, questions, ideas, and insights.  Looking forward to hearing more about this tomorrow!


NEW: college/scholarship info page

Don't you wish there was a helpful, easy-to-find-and-use library with resources for college search, admission, and financial aid that we could all share? Let's build it. Introducing the College/Scholarship Info page, where we can all contribute information that can help students find and pay for the education they need. Everything on the page will come from you, so when you find something worth including please email it to

vocabulary #2


Friday, August 23, 2013

August 23

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Reflections (I Remember)" by Mary J. Blige; "Short Memory" by Midnight Oil]

When we read we make connections between the text and what we already know.  Sometimes we find ourselves surprised when a book calls to mind an old memory we haven't thought about in a long time.  What are your earliest memories?  What makes some things impossible to remember and other things impossible to forget?

1. Journal/collect résumés
2. Vocab quiz/correct
3. Essays for peer editing
4. Beowulf

1. Finish the Beowulf questions and post the answers to your blog.  At the beginning, please describe how you went about it (whether you worked individually or in a group, in person or online, how much time it took, etc.)
2. Check the course blog (if you don't already follow) for info on Literature Analysis #1

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 22

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "St. George and the Dragon" by Stan Freberg, "Knights of the Round Table" and "The Knights Who Say Ni!" by Monty Python, and "Knight Rider" (TV theme) by Glen A. Larson]

How do modern representations of knights and honor differ from ancient/traditional ones? What do modern portrayals of knights and honor suggest about the culture(s) that produced them?

1. Journal
2. A proper introduction to Beowulf
3. Vocabulary nagging
4. Résumés
5. Loose threads

1. Study Beowulf by reviewing the resources under the Beowulf post and answering the comprehension questions. Post questions and comments to begin the discussion over the weekend, and be prepared to continue live on Monday, August 27.
2. Find your own resources.  (I just found this one.)  There are many, many sites dedicated to Beowulf... if you find something amazing/insightful/truly awful, please share in a comment to this post.


Here are some resources to help introduce you to Beowulf. Please read/listen/read some more, then answer the comprehension questions at the bottom of the post. [*You may want to read these first.]

The Norton Anthology of English Literature is an outstanding reference work.  We don't have copies, so I am embedding pieces here.

First, an introduction that provides some historical context.

beowulf commentary from norton anthology


[These are cut/pasted with gratitude from the following URL with thanks to Prof. Boyer and St. Xavier University of Chicago:

The best beginning procedure is always to read the assignment all the way through, keeping track of characters, so that you know what's happening. If possible, read the whole work first. Try to get the

August 21

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" by Warren Zevon, and --depending on time-- "Heroes" by David Bowie]

What does it mean to be a hero? How are heroes depicted in modern movies and literature? How do you think these portrayals are different from classic and ancient ideas of heroes?

1. Journal
2. Vocabulary Q/A
3. Résumés
4. Heroes in literature/intro to Beowulf

1. Begin reading here; read the first section of the modern text (Prologue-Chapter X) and take reading notes
2. Read the excerpts in your textbook (pp.31-60) and take notes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

r.i.p. elmore leonard

Elmore Leonard, one of the great modern crime novelists, died today at the age of 87.  You can read more here.  Highly recommended: Leonard's essay on writing, "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle").

(Thanks, BoingBoing!)

August 20

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Freedom of Choice" by Devo; "Freewill" by Rush]

We use phrases like "pay attention" and "make a decision" all the time-- what do they mean to you? How would you teach a child to do either?  How might you improve your own abilities in these areas?

1. Journal/check lit analysis books
2. 1987 AP Exam feedback from partners (for Wednesday)
3. Resume (REH-zoo-may) -- click this link for reference
4. Vocabulary

1. If you haven't already, please post your notes from last Friday's Socratic seminar (and/or your "Right to Your Opinion" reading notes) to your course blog (title: MY OPINION ISN'T (A) RIGHT)
2. Read pp. 2-14 in the textbook
3. Study vocabulary

Monday, August 19, 2013

vocabulary #1

faux pas

Sunday, August 18, 2013

p2p assessment

This weekend I had to read and grade:

  • 154 blogs
  • 154 journals
  • 246 essays
  • comments, emails, etc.
I almost made it.

Spending time with your work gave me a few ideas:
  • The people who posted posted well, and I'm looking forward to reading more of their work this year.
  • Since some of your work is either personally sensitive or data-sensitive (e.g., a resume that contains your home address & phone number), we need a secure place besides your blog for work that you only want to share with people you select.  Using an online portfolio will also give you a way to showcase your best work if you want to use it as part of an application or presentation in the future.  I like pathbrite but I'm open to suggestions-- click the link, play around with it, and see if you can find something better by Friday, August 23.
  • Peer-to-peer feedback is going to be especially important in a writing-intensive course with so many members.  Long-form writing is a huge key to success in learning this material, and obviously I can't do this every weekend, so this week we will talk about peer-to-peer feedback strategies and tools to reward success, including Project Infinity and the 2013 Peer Assessment  Showcase.

August 19

JOURNAL TOPIC: (today's tunes: "Learning to Fly" performed by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and "Learning to Fly" performed by Pink Floyd)

What did you learn in this class last week?

1. Journal
2. Observations on Week 1/feedback on journals, assignments, and overall performance so far
3. Literature analysis requirement
4. Vocabulary and grammar
5. Poetry mop up
6. (if there's time) "The Right to Your Opinion" follow-up & implications

1. Read your partner's 1987 AP essays and evaluate according to the AP Scoring Guidelines (due Friday, August 23)
2. Define and write sentences around the words in vocabulary #1 and post to your blog (title: VOCABULARY #1)
3. Select a novel and bring it tomorrow
4. Answer the following questions in a post on your blog entitled REFLECTIONS ON WEEK 1
  1. Are there any factors that you think are going to affect your participation or experience in this class? Access to a computer?  Mobile/smart phone?  Transportation?  Friends/family? Schedule?
  2. Think of an awesome best ever learning experience that changed you. What did you learn? Where were you? What happened? Who else was there? Did it teach you anything about how you learn (or pay attention... or remember, or think?) How did you know what was happening? 
  3. What are you most [excited/concerned] about in this class? What do you look forward to in learning?  How do you think it can/will make a practical difference in your life?

ap eng lit comp scoring guidelines

Use these AP scoring guidelines to evaluate your partner's essay. Substitute the ideas from our questions for the novels/concepts referenced here.


preview for mon 8.19

Tomorrow after the journal we will audit the first week.  We'll talk about "The Right to Your Opinion" and whether or not we need a testable moment.  I'll be especially interested in your thoughts on how to optimize the network and connect the dots between Big Questions and AP Literature & Composition.  We'll talk about the Literature Analysis course requirement and for homework I'll ask you to select your first novel.  We'll also talk about vocabulary and grammar.  Without them, banana mumu a I oy fait accompli extraordinarily baseball aphotic (*learned that one the day before yesterday! :) blech.  Plus we wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to each other.   Too many human beings are unhappy enough as it is; imagine if we all had the Terrible Twos our whole life because we couldn't make ourselves understood.  Speaking of which, remember "The Laughing Heart" (especially if you haven't taught it yet).  The Gods will offer you chances.  Know them.  Take them.  See you tomorrow.

member blogs

I've posted all the URLs I have on the Member Blogs page.  If you haven't yet, please email your URL to  If you need help please get it online today or in person tomorrow.

Mucho mahalo.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

applied journalism 101

This past week Santa Maria Sun reporter (and AG soccer coach) Camillia Lanham visited class to find out more about Open Source Learning.  Students learned about the First Amendment and what's on the record (everything) and off the record (nothing) when you talk to a reporter.  They also learned that investigative journalists do more than blog from their couch.  They go where the story is, they talk to people with different perspectives, ask all sorts of questions, evaluate the credibility of their information & sources, and do their own independent research to double-check their facts and ensure they've learned enough about their subject to describe and explain it to the public.  This is one reason to consider how we learn about the news. Not every loud opinion or blog qualifies as journalism.

When Camillia visited she took this picture

and later sent it to me so I could ask Melissa Steller if it was OK to put it in the paper.  (Melissa said yes.)  Why was it important to ask that question?  

Once upon a time, we waited for the film to develop so we could tell the stories of our pictures.  Now we snap away with our phones and let our pictures tell the stories of us.  Do you think people should have the courtesy to ask each other permission to post the pictures they take, or does this matter anymore?  Do you want more control over the use of your image? As a start, what do you think about asking each other permission to publish pictures/video on the Web or elsewhere? To my way of thinking, this is a free and easy way to show that you are considerate and professional.  I think I asked everyone in this picture permission to post, but if I missed someone or you changed your mind please let me know. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

August 16

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Little Know It All" by Iggy Pop and "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" by Neil Young]

Consider the following image (courtesy of the fine folks at BoingBoing). What issues, problems, or challenges in your life once seemed HUGE but got smaller as you gained a larger, more mature, better-informed perspective on things?  Does this matter in your life?  How?  Does the diction detract from the message or strengthen its impact?

1. Journal/turn in
2. Socratic seminar: "The Right to Your Opinion"

1. Post the MONTAIGNE/AUSTEN ESSAY to your course blog by Monday, August 19
2. Read the Personal Statement Worksheet and complete the Senior Resume Worksheet by Monday, August19
3. Take the 1987 AP Exam and write yourself notes about which questions you found easy, which questions you found challenging, and which questions will haunt your dreams until you pass the exam.  Exam answers and notes also due Monday, 8.19 (answers can either be on your course blog or hard copy, notes should be on your blog, title 1987 AP Exam).  Full disclosure: I think this is the exam I took.  And I think I got a 3.

preview: austen/montaigne essay

I'm about to do something different.  I don't remember the last time I gave students an essay prompt to think about in advance.  But today's conversations got me thinking and they led a solid example worth thinking about during tomorrow's Socratic seminar.  So here is the prompt for the essay you'll write over the weekend:

As David Foster Wallace wrote in his 2001 story "Good Old Neon": 
What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.
Do Montaigne's techniques and topics support Foster's notion or contradict it?  How does Montaigne's style provide a window into his thinking?  Compare with Austen's style in Pride & Prejudice.  Include examples.  Avoid summarizing or rehashing the original text.

August 15

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: Fela Kuti's "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense"]

How would you go about writing a satire of The Poisonwood Bible? Would you focus on the same issues/themes as Barbara Kingsolver? What techniques would you use to draw the reader in and cause him/her to think differently?

1. Journal (or use the time to review summer reading notes for the essay)
2. Return/discuss summer reading notes
3. Poetry recitals with explanations from blogs

1. Brush up on "The Right to Your Opinion" for tomorrow's Socratic seminar
2. Review Montaigne & Austen (spoiler: essay/s this weekend)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

the right to your opinion

It's such a simple way to end an argument: "Well, I'm entitled to my opinion."

Not according to logic. As author Jamie Whyte points out, one person's entitlement creates another's obligation. Think about it: if you are entitled to cross the street safely, I am obligated to not run you over in my car. But what if you're wrong in your thinking? What if we're in London, about to cross the street, and you look the wrong way and think the coast is clear? Am I obligated to watch you step off the curb and get crushed? This will be the focus of our first Socratic seminar this Friday (8/16). Make sure to gather and evaluate solid evidence; your opinion isn't nearly as important as (the way) you think.

The Right to Your Opinion -

don't take my word for it

August 14

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: Mozart's Symphony #25 in G Minor]

There is a story about Thomas Edison in which one of his assistants said something like, "We've tried this a thousand ways and it doesn't work! We've accomplished nothing!" Edison reportedly replied, "Nonsense. We've learned a thousand ways it doesn't work." What's the moral of the story, and what is your perspective on the idea?

1. Journal
2. Collect/account for course agreements & summer reading notes
3. A word about Big Questions
4. Treasure hunt
5. Essays & P2P evaluation

1. Finish Poetry #1
2. Begin reading "The Right to Your Opinion" for discussion on Friday 8/16

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

sorry about scribd

I'm not super in love with Scribd right now.  I like Scribd a lot because I like embedding documents on this blog.  Scribd worked when DocStoc didn't (still not sure why that happened).  The full screen images are sharp and I appreciate that somehow it's free to use.  Or so I thought.

I didn't know that Scribd required membership fees to download and print documents.  Thanks to those of you who told me.  I just visited as a guest and got the same result.  So, to ensure free/easy use, I'm posting the wording below.  You can copy/paste into a document and print.

I have read Dr. Preston’s “YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO BE A HERO” memo and the course syllabus.  I hereby understand and agree to the terms of both the memo and the syllabus.  I understand grading policies, the role of standards, and student responsibilities for this course; I further understand and agree to school and classroom policies and I accept full responsibility for the consequences of my actions.  I hereby commit to the four practices; I will be Prompt, Prepared, Polite, and Productive, and I will be successful in Dr. Preston's class.

Student Name
Student Signature
Parent/Guardian Name
Parent/Guardian Signature

reminders for tomorrow (wednesday)

1. Please post your Big Question.
2. Please do your homework.
3. Please bring your course agreement paperwork.
4. Please bring a spiral notebook or composition book.
5. Please comment to this post with anything I forgot.

Thank you. :)

essay assignment #1

Here is the prompt. Please comment with any questions, and post to your blog this evening. If you can, try to limit yourself to 40 minutes. We'll talk about working process and outcomes in class tomorrow (Wednesday, August 14).

*UPDATE: This is really hard to read on my machine, so here is the text of the prompt.

(Suggested time-- 40 minutes.  This question counts as one-third of the total essay section score.)

Palestinian literary theorist and cultural critic Edward Said has written that "Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience.  It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home; its essential sadness can never be surmounted."  Yet Said has also said that exile can become a "potent, even enriching" experience.

Select a novel, play, or epic (THE POISONWOOD BIBLE-- ed.) in which a character experiences such a rift and becomes cut off from "home," whether that home is the character's birthplace, family, homeland, or other special place.  Then write an essay in which you analyze how the character's experience with exile is both alienating and enriching, and how this experience illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole.  You may choose a work from the list below or one of comparable literary merit.  Do not merely summarize the plot.

August 13

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Move On Up" by Curtis Mayfield]

"Action expresses priorities." -Mohandas Gandhi

What are your priorities?  Specifically, what are you doing here?  Why are you enrolled in this course?   What actions can your colleagues and I expect from you this year that will express your priorities?  What does success look like to you?  How will we know when you've "made it"?  If you've ever set bold goals at the beginning only to accept less at the end, how can you prepare your mind to see things through this time around so you won't have any regrets next June?

1. Journal (normally we'll complete this at the beginning of each class period, but since you're writing all period today, please get a spiral notebook-- if you don't already have one-- and write/edit today's journal entry in it before class on Wednesday)
2. Essay
3. Collect &/or account for summer reading notes

1. See
2. Finish your essay and post to your course blog by beginning of class on Wednesday, August 14 (title: ESSAY #1).
3. Please read & complete Poetry Assignment #1
4. Research the following quote, translate it, and explain its relevance to this moment/course in a brief comment to this post:
dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude, incipe
(due by the beginning of class Thursday, August 15)

poetry #1

This commercial below was produced by Levi's (and then pulled from the airwaves in the UK due to the image of the young person staring down riot police), and it raises questions. Here are the ones you are required to answer by Thursday, August 15.  Please post your responses to #1-4 on your course blog-- title your post POETRY #1.  Question #5 will, natch, be an impromptu live performance.

1. From what poem/author does this commercial borrow (without credit)?
2. Why might the use of this poem by a corporation be considered ironic?
3. Does the poem reflect the reputation of the author? Why/why not?
4. How did you find the answers to #1 & #3? Describe your research process and your sources in detail.
5. Memorize the poem and be prepared to recite it on demand.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

from one second to the next

"I can't say 'go play.'  Any mother understands.  I can't say 'go play.' We pray that another child doesn't get taken from a family member's hand."

Take the pledge.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

this is a lollipop moment

I want to start this post by thanking Brenna McNamara.  Her tumblr rocks, and if you haven't seen her comments on the Montaigne posts you're missing out.

Each of us has tremendous capacity to learn and succeed, and this year I will implore you to take the opportunity that Open Source Learning presents.  This is where words and their nuances become important to our understanding.  The word implore means, "To ask or beg earnestly for; beseech."    Why would a teacher-- especially one with a Ph.D. and a reputation for being a demanding smart-ass-- beg students for anything?  Two reasons: (1) Each and every one of you is capable of success and this opportunity is too important to pass up;  (2) Asking is more effective than demanding because our connection in learning can't depend merely on titles or roles.  All of us have to be present from the neck up, if you know what I mean, and that decision is strictly voluntary.  (We've all mastered the art of appearing to think while our brains are far, far away.)  I think of you as learning equals who want guidance and support instead of inmates who need carrots and sticks.  My philosophy of learning is based on a few very simple premises, and the first one is this:


Sure, sometimes we all make mistakes and do bad/stupid things.  I've been making mistakes for nearly 44 years and some of them still make me wince.  Occasionally that's what learning feels like.  However, I believe that most of us do the right thing most of the time, even when no one's watching and there is nothing to be gained.  More on this (along with the inevitable commentary on plagiarism and cheating) in a future post.

For now, as you think about next week and the beginning of your senior year, I want to share two brief videos about trees and lollipops.  The video about trees is really a video about a high school student who saw a need in the world and created a way to meet it.  TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis, who started the organization when he was 18,  describes the magic that happened when, "We could see that we had actually healed something."  Andy's experience of being a teen was no different than yours or mine: "As teenagers we had been told that you can't fight city hall, there's no hope, the problems are too big..."  It's amazing what can happen when you forget all that and focus on the things that make you curious and caring in the first place. 

The second video begins with a question I'd like to ask you: How many of you are completely comfortable with calling yourself a leader? In this course each of us is a fully-fledged member of a network. Gone are the days of the classroom one-to-many broadcast (even when I lecture it will feel more like a conversation).  Gone are the days of being invisible in the back row.  Every single one of us makes an impact on someone; yesterday I saw a sign at the Ventura County Fair that said, "To the world you are one person; to one person, you are the world."

Drew Dudley makes the point brilliantly.  Each of you has immense value and your contributions enrich our experiences.  Adding value by sharing ideas is what entrepreneurs do.  Several of you have already demonstrated this publicly, which is why I started this post by complimenting Brenna. It's a thrill to watch the pioneers who lead the way, and Brenna's comments (and Lisa Malins', and others') have already changed my mind and changed my life for the better. If that sounds exaggerated or ridiculous, it's only because you're not used to hearing it. It's time for each and every single one of us to begin considering how this learning experience can be of most value to us-- and how we can be of most value to each other and everyone else in our lives. As Drew says, "Every single one of you has been the catalyst for a lollipop moment. You have made someone's life better by what you said and what you did." Let's celebrate the lollipop moments.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

back to school checklist

One more thing this morning-- please have a look at the Back to School Checklist page.  Next Tuesday we'll hit the ground running and I want to help make sure everyone's ready. 

remembering to balance-- and go outside

According to this article, "There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature. The vast majority of today’s kids use a computer, watch TV, or play video games on a daily basis, but only about 10 percent say they are spending time outdoors every day, according to a new nationwide poll from The Nature Conservancy."

With one week to go until school officially begins, I have a tendency to "ramp up" and think about  drastically shifting time allocations to achieve goals.  Fifteen years ago I wrote a book about time and I think about it a lot, but often I don't take my own advice and I get stressed out.  Reading the study about nature reminds me how important it is to balance work/tech time with relationships and things as simple as going for a walk (my dog Brewster is staring at me in full, impatient agreement).  As you'll see in upcoming posts about Open Source Learning, I learn just as much as anyone else in the process, and one thing I've learned is how easy it is to get stuck in front of a computer screen.  I've been at mine for over two hours and it's only 6:30 A.M. (and I'm supposedly on vacation).  So, more on this later; I'm taking Brewster to the beach.

montaigne #4: on habits of mind

As NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing."

As you reflect on your own habits of thinking, read the following passage (after the jump) about Montaigne's view of the topic and ask yourself: Do your habits of mind help you achieve your goals, or do they get in your way? Answer in a comment to this post.

montaigne #3: on reading

It's amazing to me how personal and unique the experience of reading really is. Reading can bring to anything to mind: brutal wars, torrid love affairs, journeys to exotic locales (including outer/inner space), or even Marvin Gaye singing the Star Spangled Banner at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. But mostly, reading is an imagined conversation. A short text is like passing someone in a hallway and getting a snippet of information ("Hey, how ya doin'?" "Fine.").  A medium-length text can be more enlightening or entertaining ("Dude, you wouldn't believe what happened last night!").  A longer text can feel like a relationship; when I finish a really good novel I feel a little wistful saying goodbye to characters who have managed to take on lives of their own and become "people" in my imagination. Experiencing all this without leaving my chair still surprises me with all sorts of thoughts and feelings I wouldn't have if I didn't read.

How do you feel about reading? [*Besides disliking school assignments. I think we can agree that none of us like being forced to do anything.  I'm asking about the reading you've sought out on your own. And if you haven't, it's time to start. Email me at if you need help getting started.] How have your reading experiences (or lack of reading experiences) influenced the way you think and feel about reading? As you read Montaigne's ideas, think about how we can choose texts and design reading experiences this year that will make you a happier and more effective reader. I look forward to your comments.

montaigne #2: on education

The next topic as you think about Montaigne is education. As a twelve-year veteran of the system (assuming you began in kindergarten) you undoubtedly have your own opinions about education. How has your education helped you think? What practices are effective and what needs to be modernized? What do you think of this article on homework, which ran on the front page of The New York Times?

Here are some thoughts from Montaigne (after the jump). Does his view on education surprise you? Does it seem like what you would expect from him? Do you agree/disagree with him? As you did last week, please feel free to compare these ideas with what you read (and this time, please respond in a comment to this post). Take notes on the ideas and the writing style, and remember that we will begin the year with a series of in-class essays on these topics, so if anyone has ideas or questions please don't be shy-- start sharing your ideas in comments now.

about the summer reading and montaigne #1: stream of consciousness

This year’s summer reading is a mix of eras, styles, topics and genres. Pride & Prejudice is widely acknowledged as a classic masterpiece. As you read, think, and take notes on this book, pay close attention to how Jane Austen describes the details of marriage as a cultural custom and how she develops a conflict. What is it about her style that makes an “old” story so attractive to new audiences? (Pride & Prejudice was released as a feature film in 2005; give your imagination the chance to “see” the book first, then check out the movie’s imdb entry—does the cast look/act/speak as you imagined?)

Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible was published in 1998. Studying a contemporary author gives readers the chance to ask about the thinking behind the text (as they did in this BBC interview). How are the topics of gender, politics, religion, and social custom dealt with in this book? What similarities and differences do you see between Kingsolver’s writing and Austen’s?

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne is in a class by himself. You can’t escape the word essay in school, but the way we use it has nothing to do with the way Montaigne meant it when he titled his book Essays. In school the word suggests three paragraphs of tightly structured sentences with appropriate transitions sandwiched by an introduction and a conclusion. In Montaigne’s French, however, essays literally means “tries” or “attempts.” Today's world of first-person musings on blogs, texts, tweets and facebook pages was preceded by a world in which hardly anyone wrote this way. Montaigne was one of the earliest Western authors to try to capture and organize his thoughts as they occurred.

In 2010 New York’s Other Press published a book by Sarah Bakewell entitled How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. I’ve never met Ms. Bakewell, but after finishing the book (again) I miss her. Reading How to Live while reading Montaigne’s Essays was like walking through a dark cave with a trusted guide who’s telling you all about what you can't see. Ms. Bakewell explained Montaigne’s writing in the context of his life. I understand Montaigne's ideas and his style more clearly because of Ms. Bakewell's descriptions of the people and events that influenced his thinking and approach to writing.

Following is the first of several excerpts from How to Live that may help shed some light on your reading of Montaigne. NOTE: These excerpts aren't written for children and they may contain words, names or ideas that are unfamiliar. Lector caveo. Yes, I could have been less annoying by avoiding the Latin and simply using the English, “Reader beware.” [And don't get the impression that I know more than a few phrases in Latin; I got this one from an online translator.] However, that would have failed to illustrate the point that there will be things in nearly every text we read that you won’t recognize, and that in the end you and you alone are responsible for making sure that you understand what you read. If you don’t get it all the first time around, or if you don't recognize names like Plutarch, Heraclitus or Seneca, congratulations: you're just like everyone else, including me, who examines something closely for the first time. Don't be shy about getting answers. Look up words and literary allusions, and make sure your references are credible (we'll discuss this further in class). Crowdsource by posting questions and ideas on the blog so we can respond. Send me an email at if you get stuck.

Because Montaigne’s writing is so different from a fictional narrative, we should examine it differently. Read the next few posts for new topics to review (or focus on as you fervently read this week).  See what insights you can unearth and think about how your notes (see previous post on Active Reading Notes) help you remember and organize the information you read. Post your ideas, observations, questions and criticisms (professionally, please) to the blog.

I will read your comments and contribute to the thread. This is neither a formal assignment nor extra credit. (Question: What’s in it for me?  Answers: Getting a head start on mastering material we’ll need to accomplish our goals this year; Meeting our colleagues and creating a sense of community to give us feedback and help us when we need it; and, Experiencing immediate success and understanding instead of just sitting around wishing we didn’t have to read.)

Here is the first excerpt from How to Live (after the jump).  I look forward to your thoughts and questions on this.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

meet fiddleoak

I don't normally use the word genius unless I'm being sarcastic, but Zev (a.k.a. Fiddleoak) is a genius.  He's 14.  Check out his images here.  Is anyone willing to contact him and see if he'd talk with us online about how a picture can be worth more than a thousand words?