Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"how improbable it is that any movie at all turns out to be good..."

This post's title is a quote from a piece in Vulture by Adam Sternbergh,

Serena. Photo: 2929 Productions
Why Did This Movie Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper Go Straight to VOD?

I've not seen the movie, nor any of the movies by either star referenced in the piece. I was fascinated by his concluding analysis, answering the question he poses in his title. His answer is that productive collaboration is quite difficult, as he enumerates the many parts and processes that go into making a movie that didn't work in this case, despite all the evidence that everything should have worked, given the levels of talent involved.

It's the importance of the collaborative process in such a venture that I want to highlight. Here's his final paragraph:’s a much more rare artifact than a really bad movie: It’s an incompetent movie. Unlike more famous movie disasters, it plays out not like the product of one unchecked monstrous ego but of a thousand tiny decisions gone wrong. The editing is incompetent. The pacing is incompetent. The scenes don’t logically flow from one to the next. The soundtrack sounds like it was generated by a computer-soundtrack algorithm set to “mournful fiddle.” Serena is a bracing reminder of how much expertise goes into making even the most uninspired movie — how dozens of people with wildly different skill sets all have to perform well or the whole project is imperiled. The stars may be the ones with their names plastered over the title, but if you’re Jennifer Lawrence, trapped in Serena like Rapunzel in her tower dungeon, your powers of self-salvation are limited. You can’t reedit the film or rescore its music or re-scout its locations. In the end, the lesson of Serena isn’t how remarkable it is when a movie like this goes badly, but how improbable it is that any movie at all turns out to be good. 

It's likely that an insider to the movie biz would say, "It's really all the director's fault, ultimately, as she has to be the one making all those decisions about who does which job and how they do it." Yet clearly that's beyond anyone's capacity. So how does one identify exactly what are the ingredients that should go into making a complex collaboration successful? 

My own experience in elementary school classrooms, both as a student at a school which did not give grades, ever, and as a teacher who hated the kind of correcting that goes into grading, is that pride in a group product was the key to a successful collaboration. We needed to acknowledge ourselves as a we, and to agree that the we mattered, meaning no one gets left out, and then work together so that everyone succeeds in doing their part. 

It's harder to make that stick around the goal that everyone knows their times tables, or has their book ready for the Book Fair, than that everyone should know Jacob's Ladder by the end of the day. But if the class has done that kind of group goal-setting with string games first, then the other, longer-term goals get easier to reach.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Progressive Education in the 1940's

Part of my presentation on "The Myth of the Digital Native." I went to such a school in Los Angeles in the 1950's, student-centered, collaborative, no grades ever given. By then the public school climate had already changed radically, but that private progressive school is still going strong! Westland School's brochure reads like a brief for authentic education...

Friday, June 5, 2015

The scythe vs. the weed-wacker

Alerted to this video by a conversation in the IGDA Learning and Education Games SIG. Here's part of my contribution to the thread, prompted by the Washington Post article by  Kentaro Toyama.

Thanks so much for the scythe v. weedwacker video. I'm already thinking about ways I can incorporate it into my teaching--doing a consult with a dual immersion (Spanish/English) academy locally starting on Monday, for a Summer School session. I'd love to see a similar side-by-side video of someone with a broom v. leaf-blower. Both are great examples how the non-fossil fuel based traditional solution has obvious advantages. I'm not sure a sweeper could beat the time of the blower as the scyther so easily beat the whacker, but in each case there is the huge advantage of avoided noise pollution as well, and the personal health benefits to the worker v. the exposure to toxins which inevitably accompany our energetic systems.

In part of the thread, someone asked for opinions on one-to-one computing programs. This was part of my response

When I see a child with a device, my first question is "Who's telling it what to do?" Is the child in charge, creating or at least interacting, or is the device telling her what to do--usually, "Sit still and follow orders!"?

One-to-one programs can be wonderful. I've seen a few that seem to be working well. Again, is the child using the device to create and express herself? Is she attending to the repertoire of skills she's mastering with an eye to her own goals, assembling a portfolio, banking Digital Badges in a BackPack that's categorized according to her interests and goals? Does she have a sense of continuity and self-awareness about her learning? These are not new-age or technology driven concerns. These echo the timeless goals of good education.

RE: Is the choice of iPads as the device for a one-to-one program a good investment, v. the choice of another device? That's one question. For me the much more important question is, what's the ratio of the investment in the people to the investment in the devices – and especially in the software, in the details of the ownership and use of materials, and technical support – my rule of thumb would be, at least twice the amount of money should be going to hiring internal on-demand support, and providing learning and curriculum development time to the teachers who will use the devices, than is going to outside vendors, and make that ratio even bigger if you can. There's really no need to purchase curriculum and "text book" access. Use the Open Source materials which already exist, and give teachers time to adapt them to their particular situation.

There's so much back-stage hustling by sales people and administrators about these deals. If there's the potential to make a purchase, why not give this year's eighth graders the year-long assignment to collaboratively develop the plan for the implementation for their successors. Give them the budget numbers, let them form teams, and research, develop, and evaluate a variety of plans and approaches. If each classroom has just one device, say, it might be most cost-effective to outfit every classroom with homemade raspberry pi rigs, and the seventh graders get to build and assemble them next year...