Monthly Archives: February 2009

Who Watches TV On A TV Any More?

About three months ago, I caught an episode of Gossip Girl just to see what all the hype was about. Well, that’s not quite the truth. I only get a few channels with my rabbit ears so I thought I’d give the show a try. I haven’t watched it since but it is strange how this one episode completely changed my television viewing experience.

The show didn’t win me over by any means. Yet, one piece of dialogue stuck with me well after the episode was over.

One of the characters was complaining about her mom’s new boyfriend. Apparently her mother is a bit of a pushover for the men in her life and adopted new house rules on his request. As such she now has a curfew and a few other chores or duties that she had not had before.

I remember her friend telling her, “What’s he gonna do next, take away your TV?”

and then he said this memorable line that just echoed in my head.

“Who watches TV on a TV any more, anyway?”

What a great line. Before I watched this episode, I knew that television shows were available online. I also knew that my internet wasn’t quite fast enough to watch videos on. I was happy enough with my three channels that I could tune in with my rabbit ears.

Since then, though, I have upgraded to a faster internet service and have been streaming television shows and even downloading some. It makes sense financially. I don’t have to pay for cable. I can get channels for free with my rabbit ears and any show that I can’t tune in, I can manage to find online.

The best thing about watching television online is that you can get it on demand. You don’t have to wait for a show to come on at a specific time. You also get to watch it without commercials, depending on where you find it that is.

I must say, this has completely changed the way I see TV. And to think, all it took was one line of dialogue to open me up to a new digital world.

Everwood – Perfect Television

Everwood premièred on September 16, 2002 on the WB network. I remember it well.

I can remember seeing commercials for the pilot episode and thinking that it looked like a show worth watching. I also remember that the pilot was “extended” and ran for an hour and ten minutes.

There is no other show that I can remember in this detail. Most shows just don’t manage to grab me. Everwood did it right away. (Spoiler alert!)

The opening montage is just beautiful and poignant. Greg Berlanti is a brilliant writer who manages to hook the viewer right away.

We learn all about Andy Brown, a brilliant neurosurgeon who has the reputation of being one of the best doctors in the entire country. He is working late one night and neglects to go to his son’s piano recital. As he leaves the office, he is approached by two police officers who tell him that his wife has just been killed in a car accident.

Andy has two kids; an eight-year old daughter, Delia and a fifteen-year old son, Ephram. He up and moves the family to Everwood, Colorado for seemingly no reason. He starts up a family practice in this small town and tries to reconnect with his children.

Andy is played by Treat Williams. He is instantly likable and you really feel for this widower and out of touch dad.

Over the course of the series, Andy Brown develops as a character. He finally becomes the man that his wife wanted him to be when she was still alive. There is a really sad scene in the series finale as he stands at her grave and just talks to her.

The best thing about the finale was that it wrapped up every character’s story line. It tied story elements up from the very first episode, and it gave perfect closure to the series. The show was already on My Best TV Shows of All-Time list but after seeing the final episode, it topped the list.

I just watched the entire series again, all 98 episodes and it is as perfect as I remember. I can’t recommend this show enough. Season 1 is available on DVD and is well worth the price. Unfortunately, that was the only season commercially released. So go buy it, and download the rest. 

(Update – Season 2 has just been released. Run out and buy that too!)

So Looking Forward To It

At the end of the last school year I decided to give myself a little treat. It was something I had wanted for a long time. I went online and bought it.

I got the complete series of Everwood on DVD and it was worth every penny.

I absolutely love this show. The network only ever produced the first season for commercial sale. I bought it as soon as it was available and I waited for the second, third, and fourth season to be released. Unfortunately, they never were.

I knew that there were websites that sold complete seasons of television shows that had never been commercially released so I looked into buying it a few years back. It was really expensive so I never bothered.

Last spring, I checked again and the price had come down. I found a website that sold all 98 episodes of this superb series. I immediately bought it.

The DVDs came from Japan or China, I can’t remember which. The discs were screen printed and came in plastic sleeves inside a nicely made up case. It wasn’t as professional or as sharp as the official Season 1 box set I purchased, but at least now I could finally watch the rest of the series again.

I was really excited about watching these again. There were 20 discs in total and I made my way through them. That is until I came to a disc that wouldn’t work. I then went through all of them just to check. I’m glad I did. I found 5 discs that wouldn’t play properly.

I had no problem getting replacement discs sent and was super-excited about having the complete set of episodes.

I remember when I first watched the series finale, I was really impressed with it. The finale was absolutely perfect. Picture perfect television is rare. I loved ever minute of it.

So I have slowly made my way through watching this entire series in order again, every single episode.

I watched the second to last disc on Saturday and planned on watching the final disc with the two hour series finale on it on Sunday.

As I watched the finale with anticipation, it cut out half way through. I tried playing it again but the same thing happened. I tried it on another DVD player but still had no luck. I even put it in the computer. It was no use, the last half of the finale wasn’t there.

I was so pissed off. I had waited for this for so long. I didn’t want to wait any longer. I was sure that the company would send me another replacement disc but I just couldn’t wait that long. So I went online elsewhere and found it as a free download.

Yes! The Internet is the best thing ever.

I watched the finale again and it was just as perfect as I remembered. I will write about it in detail tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Teaching Tip Tuesday – Keep it at School

Teaching is a demanding job that can eat up every waking hour of your life. Whenever you are not in the classroom, you are thinking about it. Whenever you see a pile of junk that most people would just throw away, you automatically see how you could use this material in an art or science lesson. When you go shopping, you think of how perfect some items would be in your classroom. When you watch TV, you can get inspired and start thinking of a lesson idea. I could go on and on with further examples.

Any new or beginning teacher reading this is probably nodding in agreement right now. Any experienced teacher probably recognizes themselves in it as well. Once a teacher, always a teacher. You carry this role with you wherever you go. It is not something that you can turn on or off. At least, it may seem that way.

I used to bring work home with me all the time. I would go to work early every morning to do some planning, photocopying, or whatever else needed doing in the classroom. I would stay in the class well after the day had ended working on this and that as well. I would also bring home work to mark every night.

After a while of this, you get exhausted and realize that there needs to be a balance between work and life. So I adopted the philosophy of “Keep it at School.” Now this doesn’t mean that I never bring work home. I occasionally bring stuff home that I can mark while watching television but that is it. I don’t plan at home or bring any other work home with me any more.

For this to work, you really need to develop routines and procedures for how you plan. I type up all my lesson plans and print out a one-page day plan every single day.

I also use my planning time to actually plan. I get to school early every day and leave late. I get a lot of work done when my kids are in gym.

On average I get to school an hour early and stay an hour an a half late. So my workday is 8-5 p.m. I make sure that I take a half hour lunch break in the staffroom every day.

I plan my lessons a week a head of time. Before I leave the school on Friday, I make sure that my one-page lesson plans for the following Monday through Friday are printed off and on my desk. That way I can leave the school, enjoy my weekend, and not have to worry about class until Monday morning. When I get back to school, I start planning the next week’s spelling lesson.

It’s as easy as that. So don’t work too hard and keep reading Teaching Tip Tuesdays. I’ve got lots of ideas I want to share with you.

Go to Tip 5 – Supply Plans

My Customized Batmobile

This was my weekend project. I know some people will think I am strange but I saw this toy car on sale and knew what I had to do.

I’ve never been a fan of Speed Racer but I have been a Batman fan for as long as I can remember. In fact, one of the few toys I still have left from childhood is this old Justice League Batmobile.

I’ve been searching toy stores for a Batmobile just as cool for some time now. I haven’t been able to find one where you can just easily put the figures in and zoom the car around. I remember having so much fun with the above car and I wanted to share that feeling.

So I looked at this Speed Racer car and thought, hmmm. I could paint it to look like a Batmobile. I wanted to use model paint for it when I saw the warning about cancer-causing chemicals I realized that I couldn’t paint a child’s toy with that kind of paint. So I bought spray paint instead.

I prepared the car for painting.

I painted it black first.

I left two red stripes on it as a throwback to the old 1960s television version of the Batmobile.

Next I added some yellow highlights on the running board and tail fins, I put stickers on the side, and I then put in the latest Batman action figure.

It’s not perfect. I wished I could’ve used model paint so it could be more detailed and have a nice even finish. But I think it turned out okay.

I know, strange weekend project. But I know the kid who gets this is going to love it. He will have a completely unique, one of a kind, Batmobile. Nothing much cooler than that.

Hardest Homework Assignment Ever!!!

I must be a really mean teacher. How could I possible ask my students to do something so difficult for homework?

You’ll laugh when I tell you what the assignment actually is. But first, a bit of a set-up here is needed.

I tell my students that they should be doing twenty minutes of homework a night. I don’t think this is an unreasonable request. I also don’t ask them to do anything terribly difficult.

This is what my homework program looks like. I send home a letter every Monday that outlines the homework for the week. I list 4 or 5 things that I would like the students to do for the week.

1) The students need to study the spelling words and be prepared for the test on Friday. I have given them a few different ways to study the words and I don’t ask them just to study them in a specific way.

2) Math – I sometimes ask the students to practice the timetables and I encourage them to memorize them. Other times I send home a one page worksheet as a review of what we have been learning in class.

3) Read for twenty minutes at least twice this week.

4) Write a paragraph on a topic of your choice.

I changed the Fourth Homework item this week to this.

4) Have a NO ELECTRICITY NIGHT. For one night this week, do not do anything for fun that requires electricity. This means that you cannot watch TV, play video games, go on the computer, listen to your MP3 player, etc. Write a paragraph about what you did.

I encouraged the students and wrote to the parents that this could be a family activity. I told the students that they can have the lights on and they still can cook. I just want them to try and entertain themselves without electricity. This ties in to our unit on Early Settlements and Pioneer Times.

I really hope that my students will take up this challenge. I told them that I will be doing this myself today. I can’t really ask them to do something I am unwilling to do myself. So tonight after school, I guess I won’t be watching Wheel of Fortune while I have my dinner. I won’t be going online either. I can do it, I think.

The Escapists

It’s not often that I read a graphic novel and say “Wow! That was amazing!”

It happened with Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and the again with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen.” These two books deserve the classic status that they have earned in the comic industry. Both of those books took the genre of comics in a new direction.

I want to add another book to this list of comic classics. This book shows us the process behind the comics and features a story within a story. It is apparently a sequel but stands alone quite well. So without further ado, I add “Michael Chabon’s The Escapists” to my Recommended Reads list. (spoiler alert)

In “The Escapists,” Max Roth loses both of his parents. He discovers that his dad was an avid collector of the merchandise of the comic book character from the 1930’s called The Escapist. Max decides to use his inheritance to buy the rights to the long forgotten character. He hires two friends to help him create new comic adventures of the Escapist.

The book follows their trials and tribulations as the trio tries to start their comic careers in the so-called comics capital of the world, Cleveland. Anyone who has created art can identify with their struggles and passion.

This book is a great read. I happened upon it by accident. I noticed the name Brian K, Vaughan on the cover and picked it up on the strength of that alone. He is a brilliant writer who always manages to impress me. If you get a chance, read his work. I’m sure that you will not regret it.

Teaching Tip Tuesday – Day Plans

I remember when I first started supply teaching. I would go into the classroom in the morning and try to figure out what work the teacher had left for me. I would often find a weekly agenda page with the date written down on it. Under each block of time would be one or two words about what they were doing that day for that subject. This kind of information is really no use to anyone other than the teacher. I vowed that when I got my own class I would never leave such vague plans for a supply teacher.

I also remember the ridiculously detailed lesson plans we were taught to create in teacher’s college. There is no way that this type of planning can realistically be done day in and day out by a classroom teacher. So I came up with what I believe is a happy medium.

My day plan is easy enough for any supply teacher to follow. It gives a clear idea of what the learning day for the students is to look like. It also serves as a record for what is done inside the class on a daily basis.

So what do I do?

I print out a one-page plan for each and every day that I teach. I know a lot of teachers who question this practice of mine but I find that it is extremely useful and not nearly as much work as everyone thinks.

The first thing I do is make up a template for every day of the week. I would have already designed my schedule of classes so I know what days and times the students have Gym, Library, French, and Computers. I typically teach Math in the first block, Language Arts in the second block, and Science and Social Studies in the last block of time (more on this in future tip posts).

With my plans, I can rest assured that if I cannot make it into the class for any reason, it will be perfectly clear what my plan for the day was. I keep the plans for the week on a clipboard that I keep on my desk. I teach off of the clipboard all day long. At the end of the day, I put the page into my Day Book as a record of what was done that day.

The great thing about this way of planning is that some lessons remain pretty much the same every week. I can cut and paste a lot of it. I can also remember lessons that worked well from last year and find them in the binder easily, load up the file and copy it on the lesson plan page.

So my way of planning may look like a lot of work but it really isn’t. I spend on average three hours a week planning. I think this system is streamlined and easy to use. Sometimes I add more details when necessary so that I may need one and a half or two pages for the day but most of the time I only need one.

Here is an example of one of my day plans. I hope you found this useful.

Sample Day Plan – MS Word
Sample Day Plan – PDF

See you next week for some more teaching tips.

Go to Tip 4 – Keep It At School

Family Day – Really?

Today is Family Day, a provincial holiday that falls on the third Monday of every February. It was started last year in the province of Ontario.

There is a need for such a day that I will wholeheartedly admit. The winter can seem unbearably long for some. I think this is why most universities have a study week in February. It helps us get past the February Blahs.

I guess everyone really needs a bit of a break in February. So what better way than to start a brand new holiday? So far, I am in agreement.

One problem with this whole set up is that the holiday is a provincial one. Federal employees are still working today. Some places of business will be open as well.

Another problem is the actual naming of this day, “family day.” For many people, today will not be a day that they can spend with their family. For myself, this is unfortunately the case.

I admire the fact that we have been “given” a day to spend with our families but that is not something we need to be given. Every day should be family day.

Our neighbouring province has a holiday today as well although they have chosen to name it Louis Riel Day instead. This way they are honouring part of their provincial history by paying homage to one of their founders. I wish we would have done something similar and made this holiday about something. I also wish that this holiday were a true holiday where everything would shut down for the day.

We need common days off where family and friends can get together. As such, the idea for this holiday is a great one. It’s just the practise of it does not live up to the ideal.

Sick Days

I tried to get ready for work yesterday but I felt absolutely horrible. I couldn’t eat anything. I just knew that I needed to take the day off.

I called a supply teacher in for my class. I popped a DVD in and covered myself up on the couch. I drank orange juice but couldn’t bring myself to eat anything.

I went back to bed after the movie and slept for three hours. That is quite unusual for me.

I still couldn’t eat anything after my nap. I watched some more TV and then decided to call the school. The secretary answered the phone and asked how I was doing. I told her that I felt terrible. She asked me if I wanted to see if the supply teacher could come in for me tomorrow too. I said that I would really appreciate that. She told me, “You’re always here. You haven’t had any sick days. You deserve it. Take care of yourself.”

She was right. I haven’t taken a sick day in years. Most companies allow their employees a certain number of paid sick days every year. I know of quite a few people who take advantage of this policy and manage to use their allotted sick days every year. I, however, cannot do this.

I try to lead by example. Teachers need to be in their classes and show a commitment to their job and their students. I am there every day doing my best. This is a little lesson that I hope my students pick up on.

Beatbox Lessons

I love to beatbox. I can get a pretty good rhythm going where I have a kick drum sound, a snare, some hit hats, and a bass line sounding all in one complete drum pattern. I can make a few record scratching sounds to add to it as well.

Beatboxing is an art. It takes some time and practice to learn how to do it well. I can hold my own here but I have seen some beatboxers who completely blow me out of the water.

Some beatboxers can sing and copy a well-known song so well that you’d think they were actually playing a record. It is almost unbelievable to see it. It seems impossible that anyone could do this with just their mouth.

I never really understood how anyone could sing and beatbox at the same time until I came across this video series.

This series is shows how to beat box. There are tips and techniques that you can learn. Anyway, this series is worth checking out.

Beatboxing:How To Make Your Rhythms Flow

Beatboxing:How To Hum And Sing Whilst Beatboxing

Teaching Tip Tuesday – Take a Number

Welcome to the first edition of Teaching Tip Tuesday. Today I want to share with you a small tip that I am so glad to have come across in my first year of teaching. I have used it ever year since and will continue to do so. It may seem overly simple, but that is the beauty of it.

On the first day of school, I have the students arrange themselves in a line in alphabetical order by their last name. It is always a nice ice breaker activity. It shows how they can work together to solve problems and starts a team building atmosphere right away.

While they do this, I have the class list in my hand. I double check to make sure that they have done it correctly. I then go down the line and give each student a number based on the alphabetical roll. For example, Sean Adams would be number 1, Carla Barker would be number 2, and so on. I usually skip number 13 because I don’t want anyone thinking they are unlucky number 13.

Student numbers are the best organizational tool ever. I’m not even exaggerating. I have the students write their name and number on everything they hand in.

When the students hand in work, I can quickly put the papers in numerical order and see right away who hasn’t completed their work. It also is nice to have them in order so I can add marks to my mark book quite easily.

I also like having student numbers so that I can write a catch-up list of work to be done on the board. This way I don’t have to write down 25 names on the board. I can just write “MATH pg 35. 3, 5, 7, 8, …” Students know their numbers and know what work needs to be done.

Another benefit to this numbering system is that whenever we have a fire drill or a field trip where a head count is needed, I can have the students line up in order or call out the numbers and have students raise their hands as I check them off the list.

So try it out. Give every child in your class a number. You’ll find out that this numbering system has so many benefits. You can assign textbooks, calculators, and other resources by number as well. The benefits are unlimited.

Go to Tip 3 – Day Plans

The Book I Wanted to Write

I went into Chapters last week with my brother. We sat down in coffee shop and caught up. We haven’t had the chance to hang out, just us guys in a while. It was nice.

He bought me a hot chocolate but when I got the thing I didn’t even know how to drink it. I felt a little uncultured. Hot chocolate to me is usually just a cup with some liquid in it. This cup didn’t even look like hot chocolate. The weirdest thing was that I just got the regular one. They had a deluxe – something or other – special kind, as well.

I’m a Plain Jane kind of guy. Is there a male equivalent of this saying? I don’t think there is. Anyway, so I got this fancy beverage that didn’t sound like it would be such an event from the menu board.

The hot chocolate came with about a two and a half inches of cream on top and that was covered with chocolate syrup.
I couldn’t figure out how to drink this thing. I tipped the cup several times and only ever got some of the cream. It took me quite a few “sips” before I ever got to the beverage.

It was a good drink though. After that, my brother and I hit the magazine rack. I don’t often buy magazines any more but I picked up two; the latest Writer’s Digest and The Writer. I like these publications.

We walked around the store for a bit just browsing. I wasn’t planning on buying anything else. We were on our way out of the store when a book jumped out at me. The title called me. It sounded an awful lot like the book I’ve been wanting to write for about twelve years now.

I flipped through the book. I told my brother that this looks exactly like my thesis. We’ve talked about this book I’ve wanted to write lots of times. He told me that he didn’t think it was exactly the same. Yet as I flipped through it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was. So I bought it.

The title is very similar to the working title I had for this project as well. I’ve been researching this now for a while. I so wanted to write this book.

Has this ever happened to you before?

Reserve Judgment

I’m tired of battling perceptions. I don’t why people have to form an opinion on a quick glimpse. Can’t people actually look at something objectively without a hasty judgment?

Of course, that being said, I know how hard it is not to immediately judge something. I guess it is in our nature to judge a book by the cover. As much as I try to look beyond the cover, I still find myself coming to hasty judgments from time to time.

There was a point in my life where I wouldn’t hesitate to speak my mind. I was blunt to a fault and hurt a lot of people’s feelings in the process. At the time, I didn’t take any responsibility for that. If other people couldn’t handle the truth, that was not my fault.

Perhaps wisdom is finally starting to come my way. I now realize that I can have a positive or negative impact when it comes to other people’s feelings. A simple look, compliment, or comment can truly make someone’s day. I’m sure we can all think of a specific moment where someone made our day, in what would seem to be a trivial way.

I feel like I am always being judged. Parents form opinions of me based on very limited information. Some of these parents have never called, written me a note, or come in for the parent-teacher interview. Yet, it is these same parents that seem to be causing me the most grief.

These parents don’t know anything about the classroom atmosphere or my teaching methods. They haven’t taking the time to learn them either. I’m a pretty open guy, just trying to do my job to the best of my ability.

To any parents out there, please find the time to connect with your child’s teacher. Don’t spread your comments to other parents or members of the community without first addressing them to the teacher. These comments can be damaging. The work their way through the community and a perception is created. It works the same way as rumours and doesn’t really accomplish anything.

If you have a concern, talk to the teacher. I know that I’m always ready to hear from you. You’ll find that most teachers are pretty open and receptive.

People Look Better on TV

I don’t know why I can be so taken by someone simply because they are on television. I can’t figure out why people seem to look better on TV. Perhaps it is easier to fall in love with someone on the screen. I just wish this would happen in real life soon.

I’m ready to move on. It’s been a long time since my heart was broken. But I don’t want to go looking for my true soul mate. I figure that if it is meant to be, we will find each other. Maybe that is naive of me.

I don’t think I’ll find her on television. But I guess, you never really know.

All I know is that there is this certain redhead who keeps showing up on commercials. She is a store owner and not an actor. She is really cute and something about her just draws me to the television every time I see a commercial for this store.

This chain has several commercials where actual store owners appear. Some of these owners have their name appear on screen as well as the location of the store. So I’ve kept a sharp eye out hoping that her name would appear in one of these commercials.

It finally did tonight.

Her name is Sarah Rurka. I thought knowing her name would help. But she’s from the other side of the country. So I guess that is that. I just thought I’d write her this entry in the hopes that she might read it and drop a comment or an email.

So Sarah Rurka from Home Hardware, I’m enamoured. I just thought you should know.

Teaching Tip Tuesday

Writers love alliteration, don’t they? I know that I do. That’s why I can’t think of a better reason than to start this new weekly series.

I’ve actually been thinking about this for some time now. I know that my readership doesn’t consist merely of teachers so I don’t want to alienate anyone. I don’t want to turn this blog into a teaching blog. Quite frankly, even I would find that boring. Yet, when I write about teaching, people seem to respond to it. I have some search engine hits from some of my teaching related topics as well.

I have a lot of teaching knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I have tips, tricks, and procedures that I use in the classroom quite successfully. It might be great to get some of these things down on paper, as it were. As I have stated before, a thought unrecorded is often a thought lost. I shouldn’t keep all of this stuff in my head. If I do that, I might forget some of the things that have worked well.

So this series is as much for me as it is for my fellow teachers. I am a pretty organized guy. Perhaps some of these tips will be useful in the business world as well. I doubt that they will all be limited to the classroom.

I hope that you will read this ongoing series and comment on it as well. I think that teachers should help teachers. It’s a tough job with so many facets to it. It can be easier with a bit of sharing.

Go to Tip 2 – Student Numbers

Belly Sunday

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block for about a week now.

I managed to hammer out a few blog posts but that was about it. I like to pre-write my entries so that writer’s block never stops me from posting. I wanted to have another look at my YA novel before I send it back to my cousin for her final approval of the revisions. But something stopped me from doing all these things. I don’t know what it was.

Perhaps my muse was on vacation. She’s back now.

I’m listening to Belly, a great band from the mid 1990’s. This is the fourth entry I’ve started today. One is left unfinished. Two are ready to go. I think this one is ready to go as well.

I just thought I’d share a video clip from Belly with you here. Perhaps if anyone else is suffering writer’s block this week, a swift kick in the belly will help.

I hope you enjoy this video. I saw them in concert in Toronto on April 11, 1995. I’m actually wearing the T-shirt I bought at that gig as I type this. I haven’t worn this shirt in years. It was my good luck exam shirt during university. Perhaps it is still good luck because I’m getting writing done today.

Happy Sunday Everyone!