YouTube is Blocked…

Carol recently left a comment regarding my UbD unit for Death of a Salesman. This unit utilizes several videos I found on YouTube in order to help students learn more about the concepts central to the unit; however, Carol says that one stumbling block she will encounter if she chooses to use this unit is that YouTube is blocked at her school.

I will spare you all a rant about the utter shortsightedness of blocking all of YouTube rather than educate students about using it properly and instead offer a suggestion for getting around this sticky problem.

I added an extension to Firefox called Better YouTube. Through this extension, I discovered a way to download videos from YouTube. If you have Firefox, consider using this extension. If you don’t use Firefox, or don’t want the extension, you can still download videos.

First, copy the URL of the video. Next, point your browser to one of many available tools to download vidoes. This one from TechCrunch is quite popular. Your downloaded video will be in flv format (.flv). You will need a program to play it. VLC is a popular program, but there are others. You can search for “flv players” and try different ones.

The problem as I see it is that any school that bans YouTube most likely will also not allow employees to download programs. If you have a flash drive, you can try downloading and installing the program on the flash drive. The movies will all fit on a flash drive or CD, too, as the largest one was about 90 MB when I downloaded in in FLV format (and it is about 45 minutes long).

Do readers have any suggestions for getting around YouTube bans so that the valuable videos that are blocked along with the inappropriate dreck can be accessed?

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Death of a Salesman

I have been struggling with writing a UbD plan for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. I think have have one sketched out, though I still need to create guiding questions for various pieces of the unit, including YouTube videos and a selection from Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat.

In looking at the plot and themes of the play, and perhaps because it is so much in my thoughts lately because of my professional development courses, I made a connection between the play and the modernization/globalization or flattening of the world that our students will need to contend with in their work lives. One chapter of The World is Flat in particular came to mind — “The Untouchables” — as I began thinking about connections. I opened my book only to see Friedman himself referred to Willy Loman in that chapter. It must have been there in my subconscious because I had recently read it, but I was grateful to have my connection thus solidified.

I struggled to come up with a performance task that is relevant and addresses my essential questions, but would also be engaging. I think I have one. I am fairly happy with the unit as it stands because I think it is a unit that connects a past Miller was familiar with to a present and future he probably could not have imagined, and I think it will have interest and relevance for my students. You can check out the unit at the UbD Educators wiki.

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UbD Wiki: Summaries

Miguel Guhlin has joined the UbD Educators wiki and wants your help.  He is posting UbD chapter summaries and wants input from other wiki members.

I want to ask wiki members a question: Miguel suggested that we unlock those summary pages to allow nonmembers to participate.  What do you think?  My idea was that allowing editing by wiki members only would prevent vandalism, but it also closes participation — I have not denied membership to anyone, nor do I plan to (unless they join then vandalize the wiki, which seems unlikely), so perhaps the point is moot.

Check out the summaries and add your thoughts.  I’m really excited about Miguel’s work and plan to begin adding my own ideas this weekend.

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If You Liked…

In our high school literature studies, we often stick to tried and true classics, which is fine. There are very good reasons why these books are classics. But what if you want to read something newer, but somehow related to a classic? What if you want to extend learning for your students and want to choose a similar book? What if your students must read a certain number of books to fulfill state objectives (Georgia’s GPS require students to read 20 books a year) and you want to steer them toward books related to others you have studied?

I provide you with ten recommendations for extension. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments.

Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

Read it with Moby Dick by Herman Melville

What it’s about: In a small passage in his chapter, “The Symphony,” Melville’s Captain Ahab tells Starbuck about his young wife. As God fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib, so Naslund from Melville’s brief description creates Una, who begins her own narrative no less memorably than Ishmael began his: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” Una’s story is every bit as fascinating as that of her husband. She meets and rubs shoulders with such ninethenth century luminaries as Margaret Fuller, Maria Mitchell, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The book is a lush garden of literary allusion, from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene to Homer’s Odyssey.

Why students should read it: Naslund’s Una is one of the literary characters you will wish you could meet in real life. She is vibrant and real. Students will learn a great deal about mid-nineteenth century life and history from reading the book, too. The prose is gorgeous literary fiction.

A Thousand AcresA Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Read it with King Lear by William Shakespeare

What it’s about: Larry Cook, a farmer in Zebulon County, Iowa, decides to divide his thousand-acre farm among his three daughters, Ginny, Rose and Caroline, insisting he is saving them an inheritance tax. The daughters do not want him to do this, but Larry possesses a single-mindedness that will not be crossed. When Caroline objects more firmly, she is cut out of the deal. The family gradually implodes under Larry’s seeming madness, a suit to get back his land, and Ginny and Rose’s competition for the affections of neighbor’s son Jess Clark.

Why students should read it: This Pulitzer-prize winning novel closely mimics the plot of King Lear, but gives Lear’s daughters some depth — while Goneril and Regan are “unnatural hags,” Ginny and Rose have good reasons for hating their father, and Caroline is not the unflinchingly honest daughter that Cordelia is. Students will see quite clearly how Shakespeare’s timeless stories and themes still apply to readers today. Students will be fascinated by how Smiley takes a quintessentially British author’s story and makes it profoundly American.

A Lesson Before DyingA Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Read it with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What it’s about: Jefferson is a young black man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Falsely accused of murder, tried by a jury of his white “peers,” and sentenced to death by electrocution by a dismissive judge, Jefferson believes the defense attorney’s closing argument, which compares him to a “hog.” Grant Wiggins (no relation to Grant of UbD fame!), a teacher at the black school in the Quarter, is employed by Jefferson’s godmother to help Jefferson die like a man.

Why students should read it: While To Kill a Mockingbird works because a child who doesn’t understand why certain things should be reports what she sees, this novel works because a jaded, bruised, and downtrodden teacher who is all too acutely aware of the oppression of racism tells us the story of the journey to self-discovery. It’s a powerful book, and through a study with To Kill a Mockingbird would make for interesting exploration into the justice system as it existed in the 1930′s and 1940′s, as well as questions of inequity in education and living conditions. Both teach profound lessons about acceptance and love.

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

Read it with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and/or Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

What it’s about: Gerard Freeman is an Australian librarian who lives with his mother — a clingy, obsessive woman afraid above all that Gerard will leave her. His only real friend is a pen-friend, Alice Jessell, an English woman with an injury which confines her to a wheelchair. Though the two have never met, they have been corresponding since they were 13 and eventually fall in love. Intensely curious about his mother’s past after finding short fiction written by her grandmother, Viola, Gerard travels to England to see Miss Jessell and learn more about the darkest secrets of his mother’s past.

Why students should read it: If your students thought Miss Havisham was deliciously creepy and loved the haunted Victorian feel of The Turn of the Screw, they will enjoy Harwood’s love letter to both novels. Viola’s creepy short stories are as delightful as the novel itself and would be good illustrations of the “story within a story” idea that students might encounter in other works, such as Hamlet.

The Poisonwood BibleThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Read it with Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

What it’s about: Baptist minister Nathan Price takes his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo [Democratic Republic of the Congo] to serve as missionaries right before that country’s independence from Belgium. The story is told through the viewpoint of Orleanna Price, Nathan’s wife, and each of his four daughters: Rachel, Adah, Leah, and Ruth May. Africa has a way of getting under the skin of the Price family women, each in a different way, and the book is a grim illustration of America’s own culpability in the devastation of colonialism on the African continent.

Why students should read it: The novel is rich in gorgeous prose and biblical allusion and shows readers a side of colonialism that is an interesting counterpoint to Conrad’s vision in Heart of Darkness. Kingsolver has a gift for creating vivid, realistic characters and bringing her setting into vivid relief (see also her novel The Bean Trees for an example set in America).

The Dante ClubThe Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

Read it with The Inferno by Dante and/or selections from the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the other “Fireside Poets.”

What it’s about: A murderer is stalking Boston. Strange and gruesome crime scenes appear to be coming right from the pages of Dante’s Inferno. The Dante Club, the group of poets engaged in helping Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translate Dante’s work, are the only ones who make the connection — which also makes them the likeliest suspects!

Why students should read it: Students studying Dante’s Inferno will gain an understanding of and appreciation for Dante’s work and the path scholars took to make it accessible for American readers. Pearl’s novel is also an interesting insight into literary Boston following the Civil War.

PossessionPossession by A.S. Byatt

Read it with British Victorian poets, such as Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others.

What it’s about: The relationship between Randolph Henry Ash, a fictional Victorian poet modeled perhaps after Robert Browning, and Christabel LaMotte, is uncovered by literary scholars Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, who turn Victorian literary scholarship on its head with their findings.

Why students should read it: I will admit that perhaps you want to recommend this one to your most voracious and enthusiastic readers because it is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding read. Students will be fascinated to learn about the dark, seedy underworld that is literary scholarship when territorial specialists are more concerned with preserving their pet theories than with disseminating the truth about their “charges.” The love story at the center will likely appeal to the resident romantic in high school and college students.

The Thirteenth TaleThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Read it with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and/or The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

What it’s about: Margaret Lea, a fan of nineteenth century fiction like Jane Eyre, turns up her nose at the popular books of Vida Winter. Until, that is, her father, a rare book dealer for whom she works, acquires a first edition of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. Margaret tears through the book, dismayed to discover the title is a ruse: the book lacks a thirteenth tale. Miss Winter, impressed by Margaret’s writing, contacts her to write her own biography, tantalizingly promising the secret of the thirteenth tale will be hers if she accepts.

Why students should read it: Setterfield clearly loves gothic fiction of the 1800′s, and I have to admit, I finally read Jane Eyre this past fall because of Setterfield’s devotion to the book as expressed through the pages of her own novel. This novel will hook students with its mystery and gothic atmosphere, while enhancing their appreciation for the gothic fiction of the nineteenth century.

WicketWicked by Gregory Maguire

Read it with The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

What it’s about: Maguire tells the famous story of Dorothy’s nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, through her own words and in a sympathetic light. This answer to Baum’s classic becomes a political allegory in the deft hands of Maguire, who imagines the Wicked Witch to be Elphaba, shunned and rejected from childhood, and fashions a complicated past complete with Galinda (Glinda — her college roommate and friend!), the Winkies, and the Wizard himself.

Why students should read it: Most high school and college students won’t be studying The Wizard of Oz, I suppose, but they will benefit from looking at the other side of the story and examining point of view in narrative. Students will be hooked because of what they already know of this story, but they will stay intrigued by what they learn when Elphaba shares her side.

Reading Lolita in TehranReading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Read it with Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Daisy Miller by Henry James

What it’s about: Azar Nafisi was a literature professor when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader of the new Islamic republic. She was fired when she refused to wear the veil, but secretly conducted a book club for female students. This book chronicles her stories teaching Western literature both in and out of a university setting. Her focus is on the four books mentioned above and her Middle Eastern students’ responses to and connection with Western literature.

Why students should read it: Not only does this memoir give Western students a different lens through which to interpret literature, but it also gives students a new and deeper appreciation for these four books of the Western canon. The trial of The Great Gatsby was particularly intriguing to me; I shared this section with my American literature Honors students when we studied Gatsby. I also read Lolita after reading this book (thank you Professor Nafisi — it was wonderful).

Do you have other recommendations for books that can be paired with classics?

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Clayton County Schools to Lose SACS Accreditation

The Southern Association of Colleges and School (SACS), the chief accreditation agency here in Georgia, is recommending that Clayton County Schools lose its accreditation. The AJC article linked focuses on the fact that loss of accreditation would strip Clayton students of HOPE Scholarship eligibility. At any rate, the real losers in this system are the students and teachers. I interviewed for a teaching post in Clayton County right out of college, and I’ve never been so glad I didn’t get a job. The stories I’ve heard from teachers in that system are upsetting. What do you do to fix an entire school district that is “fatally flawed”?

Update, 3/24/08: I know this issue makes many people angry, but I must remind you to read the comments policy before submitting comments.

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Teaching Today, Part 2

In a recent post, I discussed three cultural markers that have made teaching more difficult for those of us who teach today than it was for our own teachers.  However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the ways in which teaching is a lot easier for us today than it was for our forebears.

The World Wide Web is a huge repository of lesson plans and learning experiences for our students.  Our students today have information at their fingertips in a way we never did.  If I don’t know the answer to a question a student asks, I can look it up instantly.  When I was student teaching in 1997, I had to write something like twelve weeks of lesson plans.  It was grueling and hard, and the ERIC databases we were pointed toward weren’t much help, nor was our on-campus curriculum and materials center.  I imagine student teachers today have a much easier time with this particular task — they can draw from lesson and unit ideas shared freely or at low cost by other teachers who have tried them out.  In addition, state standards and educational organization standards are widely available for student teachers to study and access.  I can’t remember that I was given a copy of any standards by my professors, but my mentor teacher did allow me to photocopy her copy of Georgia’s QCC standards.

Technology has also allowed us to create and save documents easily.  I still have a file cabinet, but almost all of the stuff inside it exists on my hard drive.  That wasn’t true when I started teaching.  Software has made it easier for me to keep track of the documents I create.  We don’t need to save handouts in a file for 20 years like our antecedents did.  We can save them on hard drives, CD’s, flash drives, or other media.  In fact, we can even scan documents we don’t have in our computer and put them there.

We can take professional learning courses and college courses online (in some cases), obviating the need for trekking to schools across town one or two evenings a week in order to earn PLU’s for our certificates or advanced degrees.  We can work more or less at our own pace at a time that suits us.  Online learning gives us a certain amount of freedom over our learning that our own teachers didn’t have.

Technology has also allowed us to collaborate.  I never would have dreamed we’d have something like the UbD Educators wiki five years ago.  I couldn’t have imagined that blogging and social networks would spring up around educational interests.  Now we can connect with teachers of our own discipline and others, and we can share ideas, commiserate, plan together, write together, research together, and help one another in a million ways that wouldn’t have been possible when our own teachers were in the classroom.

Our world has become small, and some have said, flat through technology as well.  Collaboration isn’t limited to teachers; students can also work together and learn from each other.  Students in Bangladesh and Camilla, Georgia can learn about globalization together and continue the work with other students around the world.  Students in Atlanta’s Jewish community can teach students in Idaho about the Holocaust or connect with students in Israel and explore what Judaism means together.

The more people we have working together, the better our results are.  Because we can share and collaborate in ways our own teachers never would have imagined, teaching is, in this way at least, easier for us than it was for our own teachers.

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Teachers Can Be the Worst Students

I am currently taking two online professional development courses through a local school system. Both are book studies, and if you look in the sidebar, you can guess which two books. The interesting thing to me is that one group is active, dynamic, and interested in conversation about the book we are reading. Participants are posting resources. Participants are actually reading each other’s posts and providing feedback that instigates discussion. Interestingly enough, a large number of the participants are not currently teaching, but they are taking the course to keep their certificates current.

The other group does the bare minimum required. Many of the response posts are bland recapitulations of the poster’s points with a somewhat encouraging “I agree” stamped on. We’re reading a really interesting book, and the discussions are just mind-numbing. I think the majority of this group is in the classroom, too.

I really hope these teachers are not accepting the kind of work they are producing from their own students.  On the other hand, part of me wants to say that if you aren’t willing to be a good student, it doesn’t make much sense to be a teacher.  I think the best teachers genuinely like to learn.  I know, I know.  A lot of professional development is stupid.  But these two online courses really aren’t!  That’s just my opinion, I guess, and clearly the majority of the other participants don’t agree.

I find the dichotomy really interesting.

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Teaching Today

Today was a professional development day, and we had an interesting guest speaker on the topic of discipline. I wanted to share part of what he discussed today with edubloggers in hopes that we can contribute to the dialogue.

Do you think teaching is harder today than it was for your teachers when you were in school?

Most of my faculty said yes, it is. So did I. Why, I wasn’t sure I could articulate, but I just knew something different exists between teachers and students today that didn’t exist when I was a student myself. Our speaker identified three cultural markers that changed schools and made teaching (and for that matter, parenting) more difficult.

  1. Columbine. If the last few days with another school shooting in the news have underscored anything, it is simply that our schools are no longer about education first. We are about safety first, and education has to come second. That’s frightening on a couple of levels.
  2. Monica Lewinsky. The dialogue we have to have with teenagers is different. A sizable contingent of our girls does not believe oral sex is sex, and, surprisingly, our boys are doing little to disabuse our girls of this notion.
  3. Technology. We can’t keep our students or children from bad information. We used to be able to control what they heard and saw a little better. Now they pick up information they aren’t mature enough to process. The Internet is an amazing, wonderful, useful tool, but we all know it has a dark side that has given our youth access to stuff they frankly shouldn’t see or in some cases (in my opinion) even know about. I wish I didn’t know about some of it, too — I was pretty happy not knowing, truth be told. Our speaker didn’t mention this aspect of technology, but every teacher knows that it has proven to be a temptation for cheating, too.

Obviously, other factors have changed our society and contributed to the way our educational system is today, making our jobs harder than our own teachers’ jobs were.

Why do you think teaching is more difficult today? If you don’t think it is, why not?

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Neil Gaiman: Free Book!

English teachers, here’s one to pass on to your students.  In celebration of his blog’s seventh birthday (quite impressive!), Neil Gaiman is going to post one of his books online for free for a month.  Readers vote on which book they want to see.  It might be fun for book clubs or classrooms to participate in a literature circle or perhaps even create student blogs to discuss the book.

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Book Glutton

Book Glutton might be my new favorite website (via Classical Bookworm).  Here’s a demonstration:

I can see all kinds of exciting potential for literature studies.  Literature circles would be great on Book Glutton!  I love the proximity chat and annotation features.  Caveats: the site is still in beta, and according to Sylvia (Classical Bookworm), only works in Firefox (though I admit I didn’t test the site in other browsers, nor could I find information on the site that states the site doesn’t work in other browsers — still, I thought it prudent to pass the warning along).

The first thing I wanted to do was dive in and form a reading group with my students.  Social reading networks.  I love Web 2.0.

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