February 26, 2012

Hey faithful reader –

I’m moving! All posts that might have appeared here will now appear at Hopefully, it’ll help my post productivity.

See you there.




Sorry but here’s a good video

February 13, 2012

I’m sorry I never post here. All I ever DO is think about schools and their place in society and their efficacy and how to make them better, but I don’t have the mental energy to WRITE about it very often – not in an organized way. Here’s something that’s blowing my mind right now.

Impressive: AMC screens movies for kids with autism

September 30, 2011

An AMC location in Toronto is offering movies for kids with autism and their families – see the notice here. Pretty cool.


Make Learning Opportunities

August 23, 2011

I met a truly interesting cat this summer who turned me on to one of his projects, MAKE Magazine, and now I am feeling very excited about learning to hack things and share the learning with my students. If you’re interested in expanding what you teach your little weasels this year into tech stuff, do check it out.

I’m reading the MAKE Kids’ section this morning, trying to find the best entry point for my nephew Bren (who at 11 started substantial projects like helping renovate his Grandma’s bathroom), who I imagine is quite primed for building robots and playing with electronics – and I came across this fantastic and inspiring article about basic tech skills that all kids should learn before finishing school. Some of them have a whiff of survivalism – how to purify water, how to build a lean-to – but that whiff is only rank because of the armageddon-freaks who usually focus on them. (I suppose if society does collapse, it’d be best to not have to rely on the woods-militia for the basics, actually.) Of the 16 recommended things, I have only a passing acquaintance with maybe 8, and don’t think I could teach more than a couple of them to kids. How fun is that? One of the best things about teaching is the opportunity to learn new things – and pretty much everything at MAKE is intriguing and useful.

The other brilliant thing about this is that anytime you veer from the curriculum, you get to simultaneously veer away from the control mechanisms that kill school, subjects and minds – ie. standardized testing, reporting, etc. So get through the boring shit quickly (you’ll have to ditch that crappy textbook and really teach the stuff – the important, non-trivial stuff) and get your class into the interesting stuff. (I get the impression that this is more difficult in the States, but I know from experience that it can be done in Ontario, if you’re willing to write your own courses.) Like talking about ethics, or discussing the _current_ wars, or making little dancing robots, or learning how to tie a knot.

Check this out for another reason to share this with your kids.


July 3, 2011

During the last week of school, one of my kids (who has autism) got fixated on the word “crocodiles” after telling us a story in which he had apparently fed a (dead) chicken to a crocodile in a Thai zoo.

He started yelling the word “crocodiles” in a strange falsetto. Another kid grabbed a guitar I have in the class, and this song evolved.


It’s great on its own, but a magnifying bit of coolness is the clear example of honest integration that happens when we encourage it. Nobody was laughing at the boy with autism, but they weren’t pretending it wasn’t crazy to yell crocodiles all day long. They were free to enjoy it.

I want to write one of these:

May 24, 2011

You can have a cell phone, that’s okay …

May 22, 2011

The Toronto District School Board raised hackles this week by voting to discontinue its ban on electronic devices in schools, but I’d like to applaud the move. The banning of whatever is overpopular and not understood by teachers is an old practice – concert shirts and Walkmans when I was young, Gameboys and Pogs and Magic Cards later on, cell phones most recently – and I have always thought that there was something rotten about the practice.

Children have their own culture, as do teens, as does everybody, really – and who is to say which aspects are right and wrong? Just as every curmudgeon over 20 wants to declare their music “real” and the music of younger people “trash”, the Banning Things habit among schools is simply mean-spirited and unimaginative, and teaches kids to do the same later on. I may not have understood or enjoyed Limp Bizkit when my kids played it for me, but who gives a shit? They’re not trying to turn me onto it. They’re just enjoying it. It’s theirs.

Same for the Pogs and the Gameboys and the 3DS’s. Maybe I don’t like them, but so what? Is it my job as a teacher to tell people what to like? I think a lot of people think so – but there’s no evidence to validate the practice. Rock and Roll stood up to cries of “jungle music” just the same as Ragtime did. Videogames and computers turn out to be no less social than any other sort of pastime. Pogs – well, I don’t know what those were. But they didn’t destroy civilization, or even have an impact on it. The resistance of older people to younger people’s interests may be completely natural – but so what? Coercion – every instance of it – has to be justifiable, and the practice of reflexive banning isn’t.

Those upset by the news, please keep your heads on. A relaxation of the ban doesn’t limit or change how you run your class.  I’m not letting cell phones into my classroom. I teach grade 8, and my kids are very distractable, and I believe there’s a place for zones of quiet. But I’ll be pleased to not have to pretend to care if kids talk or text on their phones in the halls. And I’m VERY impressed that the TDSB was so quick in making this change – a welcome change from the glacial approach to change that schools and teachers generally show.

You can have a cell phone, that’s okay, but not me by Jonathan Richman

I loved this music class.

May 15, 2011

(reprinted from

Last year I took my students (junior high) down to the music room and just let them have at it: they could do whatever they wanted, with no concern about making “real” music or playing a familiar instrument. And it went really well. They collaborated sort of naturally – it was a small group of girls, who got along, so maybe that helped. After the first great session I decided to throw exercises at them, or experiments. For example, play a heartbeat and see where it goes. Or start with the piano instead of the drum, and see where it goes.

It was really great. They played and played without talking (much) and took the sound where it went for almost ten minutes. One kid broke out into a sung song, a sweet, high, old fashioned sort of voice, if only you could make it out. One sat and did nothing, interested but unable to dive in. We continued this for a couple of weeks.

I just discovered the recording again, and share it here. (The students are uncredited because I did not ask their permission to post this. They did agree to be recorded.)

music class recording 01 20092010

A conversation with my students.

May 8, 2011

from the true adventures of jepcomix

Tiny little computer machine.

May 8, 2011

Check this out – a 25 dollar computer (prototype) for teaching/learning programming.