"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

They're ba-ack!!

They're your former students. They're wonderful. You remember them fondly. You help they're doing well and that they're happy. You'll never forget something or other they did or said.

You can't remember their name.

I wrote back in September about the annual duty of learning names of new students. But these are people you're meeting for the first time. Most students will cut you a little slack if it takes you a couple of weeks to get all the names down.

But when students you've known, often for years because you were involved in extracurricular activities together, drop in for a little pre-holiday visit, misplacing a name in your head brings on shame and disgrace, not to mention the implication that you've forgotten that student. They'd have to be a fool not to realize when I greet them with a "Hey, there you are! How are you?" but no name, that I just couldn't care enough to recall their name.

But it's not true. It's just that, for me anyway, I use the mode of memory I developed in school myself and employed so usefully when I was (briefly) an actor, often juggling three different scripts in my head at a time. You have to work on a "need to remember" basis. You put that temporary information in a high-traffic space which gets plenty of stimulation, but not into deep storage where you put things like the year of Shakespeare's birth and what exactly anaphora is. That way, when you don't need that temporary info, you can easily dump it without bruising your brain cells. Otherwise, you remember that stuff forever, along with other things you have no use for, such as the batting average of every member of the 1969 Mets and names of all the Marx Brothers films in chronological order.

But faces seem to go into deep storage whether you need it or not. We are evidently pre-verbal animals, or at least those parts of our brains are the last to go. So, beloved former students, when we see those glowing faces, sometimes buried under beards and strange tattoos (not to mention how the boys have changed), we do know EXACTLY who you are. We just wish that you had a bar code tattooed on your neck that could be automatically scanned as you enter our classroom so your name would pop up on a display on our desks. (That would be super-cool, wouldn't it?)

Don't be hurt. We remember you, we know you. Some of you -- we love. Just-- when you visit us, come with a friend who keeps saying your name over and over out loud to help us out.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cheap student tix for NYC theater

Follow Student Rush here. (http://twitter.com/#!/StudentRushNYC). They offer free tickets to Broadway & Off-Broadway shows to benefit students and other theatergoers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Free stuff! Free stuff! Free stuff!

As a high school teacher I am frequently called upon -- formally and informally -- to support students writing research papers in other disciplines, especially the social sciences. One of the biggest challenges is teaching them how to identify and use the best possible sources, and especially how to track back as far as possible to the source of a generally reported or accepted conclusion. That is, not necessarily a primary source, which is rarely absolutely necessary, or even desirable in a 1500 word student paper, but perhaps the academic paper which first reported the material or provided an influential early interpretation of the material, which has guided subsequent research and discussion on the topic.

So we go through all our searches and we find the right combination of search terms to find what we want and cast aside the irrelevancy and there it is--we find Exactly The Right Source. And the URL indicates it is at JSTOR, a wonderful online source of a variety of academic journals, but one which is subscription-based. In fact, I don't believe JSTOR even offers single articles. You have to be attached to a big institution which can afford the big subscription fee to get at all that good stuff, and that does not apply to most public high schools.

However, a brilliant friend of mine, a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago (who just happens to be my future daughter-in-law), having heard my bellyaching about this at Thanksgiving has sent me this link to the Directory of Open Access Journals. Here's the headline:
This service covers free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals. We aim to cover all subjects and languages. There are now 5832 journals in the directory. Currently 2432 journals are searchable at article level. As of today 484097 articles are included in the DOAJ service.
I haven't had a chance to use it yet -- the next batch of papers will be in the second semester, but a quick browse through shows it is pretty amazing. Most of it is way above the needs, and perhaps the reading ability of most of our high school students. But it is important to teach students that new information and ideas do not come from Newsweek or TMZ, but often from peer-reviewed academic journals, and that is better to source the journal itself than US News and World Report's digest of it.