Saturday, February 24, 2007

Trust Your Sushi Chef

Sushi is my favorite food. After being an overweight teenager, I've become, as an adult, pretty health-conscious. And I like to think in terms of "perfect" meals. These are meals that include all the essentials: protein, carbs, good fat, the right portion-size. And sushi is on the top of my "perfect" meal list. It's my pre-marathon carbo-load meal, the perfect post-surf or snowboard recovery meal, a great date food, on and on. I try to eat sushi at least a couple times a week.
The motivation for writing a post about sushi is not just because I like it, but because I think it's a metaphor for something. I'm going to try to figure out what it is as I write this post.

The topic caught my attention two days ago when I was showing my students a sampling of digital storytelling work Marco Torres' students have produced. We watched a story called "Sushi." In summation, the story is about a sushi restaurant opening in the San Fernando valley, a place rich in culture, but not Japanese culture. The restaurant brings it. The story starts with a play on the word taco. Tako being Japanese for octopus, not the meat, beans, and tortilla the people in the film were expecting when they ordered. I loved the way the joke led into a story about a new business in the community, a sharing of culture, and I think by default (there's a lot of Japanese culture in Hawaii) sparking a reciprocal interest in other cultures, a reminder to not take for granted the small things, like food, sport, game, story, that bridge cultural, generational, and geographical divides. (As I'm writing this I'm also preparing to Skype with my partner teacher in S. Korea, and I'm being quietly thankful for the tools and the people that have made this partnership possible.)

In many other relationships in my life, sushi has been a meal over which much bonding has taken place. Hakata in Silverdale, WA is the first place I go with my buddy Bryan Beale when I'm there for a visit, which is not often. Sushi Studio in Long Beach, CA is where I go with my cousins Janelle and Paul, my favorite people to travel the world with. Tukkurei Tei in Honolulu was the first restaurant our friends Brian and Jill took my wife and me to when we moved here. Standing in line for half-price sushi at Sansei in Waikiki became a regular Monday night event with our friends Jack and Michael. And $1 sushi hour at California Beach Rock 'n Roll Sushi has become the default we're-too-tired-to-cook meal. And recently, on a plane trip back to Honolulu from Los Angeles, my wife and I gave up our seats together for a woman and her little girl who seats were apart. She asked several people if they wouldn't mind moving, and to our astonishment, everybody said no. We couldn't believe it and were quick to accommodate. After the flight, she found us on our way to baggage claim and invited us to visit the sushi restaurant she owns in Venice Beach, CA.

So now I'm wondering, why sushi? What about this particular meal carries so much connotation for me. I think it has something to do with the sushi chefs. Everything depends on them. Everything is made by hand. All the ingredients are delicate. And what makes sushi memorable are the little things that individual chefs do to make their sushi unique: a dab of wasabi hidden in the rice, mango and jalapeno paired in a roll, using a blow torch to sear fish, publishing a menu as a comic book. It's care, creativity, delicacy that sushi represents. Yet, there's a simplicity that remains intact. And no matter how much you eat, it's good for you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Curriculum Day With Marco Torres

Historically, I leave curriculum days exhausted and overwhelmed. It's hard to come back the next day to pre-curriculum day lessons and ideas. I always want to redo everything. Yesterday, I came home exhausted but not overwhelmed. In fact, I showed up this morning with a renewed sense that what I've been attempting to do with blogs, wikis, and collaborative tools is good. But at the end of the day yesterday, what I took away from Marco's workshops was not necessarily curriculum specific, but it was inspirational because of the new ways (his word is channels) that students can produce and broadcast original stories and ideas. This morning what's at the forefront of my mind is from the last workshop of the day in which Marco introduced us to the grammar of film and photography. There are basically three rules, although he has this ten commandments joke thing.

1. Light
2. Composition
3. Sounds

Okay, I took film class in college and learned about different shots, creating moods, etc. But Marco presented it differently. He used, I already mentioned this, the term grammar. So what he showed us was entirely in the context of a sentence. First, he described the use of shots. A wide shot gives context; a medium shot shows action; a closeup shows emotion. He offered us a challenge: Take 3 shots that tell the story of a sentence, like: They argued in the doorway. Something like, a wide shot showing the doorway (here's a director's decision. Doorway leading to?). A few medium shots of the people arguing, maybe cutting back and forth showing the exchange of words. Then some closeups of parts of the body that reveal anger: hands, veins in the neck, etc. The images tell the story. What a cool activity for students. I'm going to work on putting together an activity. He followed up by making the connection to the grammatical elements of the sentence, verbs, subject, adverb.

The other piece that I think I used to miss was the point of curriculum days, which is to give teachers ideas to take back to their students. I never took them back to my students. This year, I've been trying to. So today, I dedicated about 15 minutes at the beginning of each class to describe what I did, what I thought, and offer them an opportunity on our class blog to elaborate on what I presented.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Plagiarism? Part I

Over the weekend, I had some time to finish The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I've written about it already a couple of times, but a passage/idea I came across has started a new line of thinking related to student blogging, use of wikis, and plagiarism. The context of the passage is that two of the main characters were best friends in Poland during the Nazi invasions. Both were writers. One friend escaped thinking the other friend did not escape. Starting a new life, the escaped friend gave in to the temptation to plagiarize his friend's unpublished novel to impress a woman. By the end of the story, we find out the left-in-Poland friend had actually outlived everybody else, and in this passage, he finds out that not only has he been plagiarized by his friend but his newest story has been accredited to his estranged son, also a writer:

I read a sentence. And that was all I needed to read to know it could be no one other than me. I knew this because I was the one who'd written the sentence. In my book, the novel of my life. The one I'd started to write after my heart attack and sent, the morning after the art class, to Isaac. Whose name, I saw now, was printed in block letters across the top of the magazine's page. WORDS FOR EVERYTHING, it said, the title I'd finally chosen, and underneath: ISAAC MORITZ.
I looked up at the ceiling...
...At most a person has two, three good ideas in a lifetime. And on those magazine pages was one of mine. I read it over again. Here and there, I chuckled aloud and marveled at my own brilliance. And yet. More often, I winced.

Okay, so he's been plagiarized, but the thing is, he still sees the words as his life. You might think that he'd find some sort of authorial redemption. But he doesn't. Instead, he finds himself at a point in his life when only the ideas in the story matter. Do we find ourselves at that point with web 2.0?
A few of my classes have been trying out a wikispace. It's pretty experimental at this point, not a lot of focus or structure. After discussing the difference between weblog (individual space) and wiki (collective space), it was interesting to see that students still had issues with not signing their name to their contributions. What we've ended up with so far is essentially a list of individual comments, a message board. Then I gave another class some computer lab time to start their own writer's workshop page on our wiki. They started by having some fun with html and figuring out how to edit the pages. What surprised them most was their ability to edit and delete each other's work. So I'm going to think more about idea sharing and authorship this week. I'm also going to revisit "Something Borrowed" by Malcolm Gladwell.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

What I Couldn't Write

Thanks Bruce for writing your post on February 12th. I couldn't write on the boat, and I couldn't write once off the boat. I didn't know what was appropriate and what was inappropriate. Nothing I could write seemed like it would matter. But after reading your post and one of my student's posts, I felt like maybe words could massage my emotions a little.

Tonight is Jeremiah's memorial service at Punahou, and a friend asked if I might know an uplifting poem for a family member to read. I don't know if it'll be read. And I've talked with another friend about the last lines and how they might be interpreted. But as I read the email requesting the poem, I looked up and saw this one cut-out and tacked to my bulletin board. I put it there several months ago, which I don't do very often. For some reason, it spoke to me then.

Elevator Music
by Henry Taylor

A tune with no more substance than the air,
performed on underwater instruments,
is proper to this short lift from the earth.
It hovers as we draw into ourselves
and turn our reverent eyes toward the lights
that count us to our various destinies.
We're all in this together, the song says,
and later we'll descend. The melody
is like a name we don't recall just now
that still keeps on insisting it is there.

I also tried to write down, as coherently as possible, some anecdotes and memories to be shared tonight. This is what I wrote:
Last summer Jeremiah orchestrated the beginning of what would become the legendary Thursday night faculty water polo game. For the first few months, everybody played a well-behaved game. Then we all started to develop some endurance and a semblance of skill. Consequently, we also started to play according to the reputation of the game. What I mean is that underwater, we started to play more aggressively, a tug of the shorts here, a tug on the leg there. I'll always remember Jeremiah being the voice coming from the middle of the pool, saying "let's not play too rough guys! Let's keep it fun." at some point after the beginning of the school year, even Jeremiah quit saying it and started yanking trunks, too…my wife and I admired and looked up to Jeremiah and because they were at the next step in life relative to us. So we had a lot of questions and were looking for examples of young couples with careers, kids, and healthy families. A few weeks ago, we were in California with family. All our cousins have small children or children on the way, and I remember sharing with them about the way Jeremiah and used sign language to help empower Kirra's sense of communication. I also remember describing the way they saw Kirra as part of their life rhythm and how they'd do all the things they always did and would bring her along to share their life with her…but what I most want to share with Jeremiah's family and friends is about 20 special minutes Sunday morning. It is an image that has stayed with me and perplexed me and comforted me. The beauty of the sea cliffs, the reef, the people, the sky, the blue remained constant. But during and after the rescue attempt, at the moment when the students, crew, and chaperones were together, a pod of spinner dolphins encircled the boat and a humpback whale surfaced 30 yards from us. I'm not sure what all of that means, and I'm not doing a very good job with the words to describe it. But it reminded me of the beauty of Jeremiah's life and the beauty the surrounds him always…

Friday, February 9, 2007

Sigh Of Relief...Or Stress

"If when I die, the moment I'm dying, if I suffer that is all right, you know; that is suffering Buddha. No confusion in it. Maybe everyone will struggle because of the physical agony or spiritual agony, too. But that is all right, that is not a problem."

"It is wisdom which is seeking for wisdom."

-Shunryu Suzuki

Last week, our freshman English subdepartment talked about how we're going to integrate technology into our curriculum. We're getting ready to present our principal with a plan for next year when every freshman will have a laptop. We started the meeting with a whiteboard full of every type of software application and internet tool the school has come across up to this point. The list went something like: MVN Forum, iLife 6, Notetaker, Inspiration, Moodle, YackPack, Comic Life, Blogger, Wikispaces, and probably more that I'm forgetting right now. This task combined with missing a day of school to fly to the mainland to throw my mother-in-law a surprise 60th birthday party started the one-step-behind-everything feeling that lasted throughout the week.

I was deep in Moodle and starting to feel like I didn't know enough about it to use it further with students, starting to have my freshman and sophomores comment on student blogs in other countries, and working on podcasts using Garageband and Podomatic. And I've never done any of these before. I started to wonder whether the time we were spending learning these tools was usurping time from the core curriculum. I was reminded of several essays I read in Harper's last year. (I don't remember the titles and will continue to look through my files.) The gist of the articles was that we can become so overloaded with information and choice that we start to shutdown and become inefficient. One of the images from one of the essays was the cereal aisle at a grocery store. High fiber, high protein, whole grain, which is best? Anyway, I was feeling inefficient.

Serendipitously though, several encounters with colleagues, students, and familiar texts left me feeling like it's okay to be just hanging on in the name of innovation. First, several students told me how much they were enjoying working with podcasting and how differently it's made them see the writing process. They also told me how much they were thinking about their blogs, and I think their blogs speak for themselves. I also received an invitation from a school we're starting to collaborate with for my students to start commenting and making introductions. Finally, I came back to Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, and Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind thanks to a student blog. Discussing the ideas of quality, value, interconnectedness, and perspective in these books set me straight, or at least made me comfortable in my discomfort. Sigh of relief.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Override The System

Dr. Robert Sylwester spoke to our faculty yesterday after school about how technology relates to brain development. The first interesting point he made was that technology is the human attempt to override our natural systems. In this way, he likened drugs to technology. One analogy he used was if you've been up driving and your natural system says it's time to sleep, but you have many more hours left to drive. You put the drug caffeine into your system to override sleep. The example he used for technology was that our feet can't move at 50 MPH, but if we put wheels on our feet and throw in a motor, we can move that fast.

From there, I started imagining all the natural systems (although I'm not sure if that term is appropriate here) that we're overriding by using web 2.0 in our classes. First, we can see what we can't see, or at least have a better idea of what we can't see. Things like thought processes, ideas expressed in non-linear terms, not to mention overriding the proverbial walls of the classroom, collaborating with brains all over the world.

Dr. Sylwester went on to describe the second ten years of development, which happens in the frontal lobe and is the business of secondary education. He pointed to the need for understanding the complex balance of didactic instruction and contructivist learning. And raised our awareness of the fact that adults (not really parents anymore; their job wanes after the first ten years) function as the parts of the brain that are not yet develop, namely the cerebral cortex, whose job it is to interpret sensory data, identify problems, and figure out how to solve them and, most importantly, if they should be solved. In other words: moral judgement.

I hadn't really thought about much of this information explicitly for awhile. But it was pretty near the forefront of my planning when I taught middle school, remembering from Ed Psych 304 that those four years of brain development where a bit chaotic, and there were strategies we could use as teachers to better align our lessons to the way their brains were processing information and learning. Maybe I'll write about those specific strategies in another post. But those were my thoughts during the presentation.

The thoughts/questions that are still resonating are:

1. I know we teach brain development in science course, but how explicit are we about the way brain development affects their learning and the decisions they make in their adolescence? For example, as I ask my students to consider their responsibility in the world, what would be different if they were more aware of the fact that not only is this an important question to consider as a citizen, but it's also the kind of questions that their brain needs to work on at this point in it's development?

2. Dr. Sylwester said that most learning, especially in the first ten years, is fun, and based in games, formal and informal. And that school is the only kind of learning that we insist on calling work. Hmmm...