Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The More I Know, The Less I Understand

At least it certainly seems that way. As a teacher I have a perspective on students and research that the general public might lack. It all goes back to my own days in high school I guess. Back in the old days (late 80's early 90's) when I had a research paper or report to do the first thing I did (after a fair amount of procrastination) was to head to the library. Once there I poured through the card files to find the books I needed. After reading and digesting the information I found I wrote the paper. Ah, the good old days.

Fast forward to the first few years of the 21st Century. With the advent of the internet (an innovation which really entered the scene during my last year of University), students now have access to literally a world of information. With the click of a mouse button they can gather information on any subject from any corner of the globe almost instantaneously. But having this information at their finger tips does not increase a student's understanding or knowledge. For the most part their search results in so many hits that they cannot weed out the useless and focus on what they need.

The other thing I notice is the increasing amount of plagiarism. Because of the vast amount of information they can get, some students figure that they can get away with cutting and pasting text from the internet into their projects. They don't seem to realize that as easy as it is for them to find the information, we teachers have access to the same tools. We can find it as easily as they did. Oh, and if you are going to cut and paste something make sure it is in the same font and is the same size as everything else! I actually had a paper passed in with at least 3 different font types and sizes. Oh, one other thing -- be able to read those big words you have on the page! Nothing gives you away like not being able to pronounce something you supposedly wrote.

Looking back on my high school days, I may not have had access to incredibly huge amounts of information, but at least I understood what I had.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lego my… Lego!

Today is the day! My kids have finally become old enough to enter the world of the LEGO building block! Not the huge mega blocks or the other lesser building blocks, but the original, and in my humble opinion best, LEGO.

I can remember as a child having all kinds of toys. You name it we probably had it. I can remember my first electric train set, board games and later video games and various and sundry action figures. Between my brother and I we probably had enough Star Wars toys to begin our own rebellion against the Empire! But by far the most popular was the box of LEGO. No matter what else came into the house, we always went back to the LEGO blocks. I remember I used to love the feel of the blocks and how they fit together. That solid feel they had when the blocks were assembled into a building or person. The effort it took to take some of the blocks apart. (Many or our blocks had teeth marks, and I see that now my children's do too.)

Now my own children have their own LEGO. In a rudimentary attempt at social experimentation (and what better reason to have kids than for experimentation!), I purchased two distinct kinds of LEGO. First the newer, moulded character LEGO. You know the ones. You can make cars and planes with the pre-moulded pieces and there are all kinds of different little LEGO people to go with the vehicles. Some people even make LEGO movies. The second type I bought was the original plain old blocks. You remember these as well. Everything you build has sharp corners and no rounded edges. The ones that hurt like hell when you step on them in the dark in the middle of the night. I wanted to see which type would win out.

After the initial wonder at the little people and their various planes and cars, the kids went for the old school blocks. Building the cars and boats and helicopter were fun at first but they soon found the restrictions of these pieces too confining. Now as they happily build replicas of the Aztec ruins, the little LEGO men and women lie in a tangled pile of little limbs and vehicles, like some sort of terrible LEGO world disaster.

I guess in this case, as far as pre-moulded versus original LEGO, less really is more. And best of all – I get to play too!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thank You MacGyver, wherever you are.

Who among us who grew up during the late 80s and early 90s does not look back with fond wonder at the adventures of MacGyver? Not only did he get to travel to far off places and have adventures, he got to live on a great houseboat (for a while anyway), and he had some really catchy theme music. I remember watching and thinking 'Wow, if only I could be half that ingenious, then I could have great adventures too'. Alas, it was not to be. With a few exceptions, my life has not lived up to the paragon of inventiveness that our favourite rogue genius set.

MacGyver carried with him, at all times, a Swiss Army Knife (something that I have adopted myself), and this was invaluable to him in his solutions to problems. Whether he was cutting through his bonds to escape a trap or carrying some unstable chemical to make a homemade bomb or disable one, his knife was his constant companion. (I hope Richard Dean Anderson gets a cut of Swiss Army Knife sales.)

Although many of his adventures were farfetched and, as the series went on, increasingly contrived, I enjoyed it from start to finish. Some of his solutions even worked in real life! Viewers (especially students) even got a chance to see how science might be used in everyday life. Some teachers even used MacGyver episodes in class to demonstrate theory and practice. But I think the real value of MacGyver was his ability to think outside the box. Don't just look at the surface of a problem. Have a look at the underlying cause or around the corner and a solution just might present itself.

I remember once in High School using my knife, and some foil wrapper from a stick of Juicy Fruit gum to fix a video camera. Another time I was able to jimmy a lock on a window in order to get into my apartment when I had locked my keys in. Just yesterday I was on my way to town and inadvertently locked my keys in the car. Not such a big deal you might say. Well the car was running at the time! With the price of gas these days having a car running for no good reason is a big deal. Thanks to the 'outside the box' thinking I learned from MacGyver I was able to open the car, turn off the engine and save the day! Well at least some gas anyway.

So thank you MacGyver for hours and hours of entertainment -- and a few minutes of personal inventiveness too.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Words Fail Me (almost)

Perhaps you have seen the pictures in the newspaper of the latest testament to overindulgence in North America? No? This past Monday a Pennsylvania man spent 4 hours and 39 minutes eating a 20 pound hamburger! Why? "I wanted to see if I could," was his brilliant response.

Apparently homelessness, poverty and hunger have taken a backseat to this incredibly gluttonous genius' selfishness. What other possible reason could make someone eat that much food in an attempt to 'see if they could'? How many people could that hamburger fed? How much wasted food is produced by someone who fails to finish? Why would a restaurant even consider such a hair brained promotion? Why not give the money spent on producing this monstrosity to charity? The questions raised by this stunt boggle the mind.

Oh, and what did the king of gluttony win for his 'successful' feat? Four hundred dollars, 3 t-shirts and a certificate. I hope you're proud of yourself pal. I'm not sure I could be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Times are a Changing (or Not)

Well, we have just come through another Federal election. That makes what 3 or 4 in the past 5 years? Now we have a new government. But really? Let's look… Before the 2008 election we had a Conservative minority government with the Liberals/Bloc/NDP in opposition. Now after the election we have a Conservative minority government with the Liberals/Bloc/NDP in opposition. Can you hear it… the winds of change! It reminds me of a credit card commercial. "Spend $300 million dollars for an election to get the same results you had before the election… Priceless!"

What really depresses me is the fact that less than 60% of eligible voters took advantage of the opportunity to have a say in how our country is run. Now I want to make one thing clear. I am not what you would call overly political. I follow the news, listen to what people have to say and vote according to what the accumulated information shows me. Perhaps Liberal, maybe NDP, another time Conservative or Green. I don't really vote party lines, I look at who I think may be best for the direction I would like to see the country go in. Sometimes my candidate comes out on top, sometimes not. But the point is I make a choice. Right or wrong it's mine. What those who do not vote don't seem to realize is that their decision to do nothing is also a choice. It is the choice to let someone else make the decisions for them.

The other thing about elections that bothers me is the negative ads and comments. We have yet to see a huge amount of this in Canada but it is there. A lot of the ads in the recent election were of the 'vote against the other guy' variety. 'The Conservatives did not do this." "The Liberals will not do that." 'The NDP are… whatever." Here is a thought for all of those in a position to have a say in what message gets out, how about giving the public something to vote for. If the other guy did something unethical, immoral or illegal, then by all means, I would like to hear it. Otherwise, I don't care. Telling me they did not do something is like saying the sun came up. It happens everyday. Tell me why I should vote for
you. Because I will tell you one thing, the minute a leader comes along who can give the Canadian public something to rally behind -- that leader will be the next majority prime minister.