Monthly Archives: July 2011

This is serious folks.

What’s your thinking about the best way to negotiate the soft rind on a lovely baked brie encrusted with ground macadamia nuts?

This was not my breakfast, but it is an appetizer I had last night at Cutter’s Bayhouse in Seattle and want to try to recreate when I return home from a power weekend working on the NWP Connect site . (Yes, that was a shameless promotion. Join up soon!)

Key ingredients:

  1. Brie (of course)
  2. Ground macadamia nuts
  3. Side of fig jelly
  4. Thinly sliced granny smiths
  5. Crostini

“Meaningful Choice” and Persistence in Teaching

Yesterday, I attended a workshop led by Michael Angst from E-Line Media on game creation in the classroom and its potential to help students engage with learning in various content areas and develop core skills at the same time. Mike talked a lot about flow and echoed James Paul Gee in describing what we can learn from students’ participation in video games and the features of what Gee calls “good learning.” He also introduced us to Gamestar Mechanic, an online space where students can make, play, and share video games. By helping kids shift from a player perspective—something they already understand and love—to a designer perspective, students are required to be creative, collaborate, and do some heavy-duty systems thinking, all of which are a pretty big deal in 21st-century learning.

Mike also explained that at least in part, MMPORGs (i.e., massively multiplayer online role-playing games like Worlds of Warcraft) owe their popularity to one of the key elements of good design: meaningful choice.

Games that embody meaningful choice:

  • are easy to learn but difficult to master,
  • allow players to have agency by driving the narrative, and
  • provide a balance of challenge and rewards that aren’t necessarily extrinsic.

On this last point, the reward of the game often derives from the simple pleasure of playing it for an extended period of time and getting good at it, usually in the presence of others who accord players status in recognition of their mastery.

As Mike talked about these qualities, I couldn’t help writing in the margins of notes, “This is actually true of teaching, too,” and it probably explains the persistence of those who defy the alarming attrition rate and stay in the profession in spite of everything. At its best, teaching feels more like a medium than a skill to me that is “easy to learn, but difficult to master.” (Well, maybe it’s not so easy to learn, but at least initially, the basics of it feel that way if you like kids and are passionate about what you’re teaching.) The rewards definitely aren’t extrinsic, but the potential for “driving the narrative” that unfolds in the classroom, or co-constructing it with the kids, does allow for agency if teachers are subversive enough to claim it.

Because subversion is what it takes to teach in ways that you know are best for kids in a day where the medium is increasingly dictated (read, “You will follow this script to teach this text/skill/concept.”). Still, against our better judgment sometimes, we play on.

And we do it because like Pip in Great Expectations, we have higher expectations of ourselves than does most anyone else around us who depends on the rhetoric that “schools are broken” to a) get re-elected, b) keep the presses running, or c) avoid paying higher taxes in the name of the public good.

In my next post, though, I want to take a closer look at something that can be an even more insidious threat to maintaining high expectations—the culture of school itself—and think about how National Writing Project is a different kind of MMPORG that helps teachers persist.

Here I go. Again.

How many blogs does it take to get to the center of one’s guilty conscience?

I’m thinking about blogging again. It seems like a good idea, but it always does at the beginning. Then it again turns into the obligatory journal I tried to keep while I was teaching high school, which is to say, I keep up the practice for the first two weeks of school, and then, let the slacking begin! Why is that?

  1. Life gets in the way.
  2. I have nothing to say on a given day.
  3. I try to blog too much too often, fail, then the snowball effect begins.
  4. My blog entries are way too long because I feel uncomfortable leaving loose ends.
  5. I feel an obligation to be profound and to stick to professional issues only when what I’d really like to do is blend in the personal (e.g., thoughts on food, family, politics, etc.).
  6. Something in me wants a thread, a theme. Closure—also nice.

Well, I could continue, but this list is beginning to sound pretty convincing, and I don’t want to quit before I even start, so to rebut:

  1. Yep, life will get in the way. Always has, always will, but the practice of writing is the compelling reason for doing this.
  2. Yeah, right.
  3. A weekly minimum would suffice—say, 3 entries per week.
  4. Limit myself by number of words or time. Remember Hemingway’s revelation in A Moveable Feast about ending while you still have something to say so you’ll have a place to pick up the next day? I should probably heed it.
  5. Break the rules and blend away.
  6. “Mebbe so,” as Lynley used to say. This may or may not happen, but at least the kernels of thought will be there if something does. If nothing else, the overall theme of the blog should suffice…

…and that’s “A Little Something,” a tidbit if you will, like those two-bite brownies at Whole Foods.

(These are surprisingly good, BTW. If you’re in a pinch for a party, try this: a platter with two-bite brownies on the right, Whole Foods’ coconut macaroons on the left, and fruit piled in the center. Strawberries look best, but always go seasonal and local, when possible. Nudge, nudge–are you getting the picture on the blending thing?)

So here goes. Again. A Little Something, 3 X per week, be it a brainstorm, a pic of last night’s dinner, or a political rant.

Wish me stamina and creativity aplenty!