Monthly Archives: February 2012

Homeland – Great Television

Homeland (TV series)
Image via Wikipedia

I was very excited to see Claire Danes return to series television. Her first show, My So-Called Life was one of the best shows that television has ever produced.

In her new show, Homeland, she plays a CIA agent determined to stop another terrorist attack. Her character, Carrie Matheson, hears a rumour that an American prisoner of war has been turned and now serves Al-Qaeda. Shortly after gaining this intelligence, a U.S. Marine is rescued during a raid on the compound of terrorist Abu Nazir.

Sergeant Brody is brought back to the United States after having been missing in action for eight years. It’s awkward being reunited with his wife and two children after such a long time away. The family angle to the story only makes his homecoming all the more attractive to the media and the general public.

He doesn’t appear to be a terroist but Carrie trusts the source of her information and decides to keep a close eye on him regardless of what her superiors at the CIA think. They are treating him like a war hero and are partially blinded by the symbol he can be to the country.

The show is very well paced and full of suspense. The actors doing an amazing job. Mandy Patinkon plays a superior and confident to Claire’s character. I’ve always enjoyed seeing him on screen since I first saw him on Chicago Hope.

Damian Lewis plays Sergeant Brody and he does an amazing job. There are times when you think he might be the terrorist that Carrie suspects him to be. And then there are times where you think there is no way he could be capable of doing anything like that. This is where the suspense of the story comes from.

It’s really nice to see that this series has already been renewed for a second season. I love the actors, the writing, and the suspense.

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Teaching Tip – Play and Learn With Lego

Lego has so many educational benefits. It really is an amazing resource to have on hand. I’ve talked before about How to Use Lego in a Science Program but I thought today I’d expand on the other ways I use Lego in the classroom.

Lego Soccer


It’s nice to have some board games in the classroom for the students to use during free time. This is one of the most popular games in my classroom.

This isn’t just a Lego model, it is a fully functioning game. You can control the players, have them pass the ball around, and take shots on the goal. You can see the control sticks for the goalies that allow you to move the player up and down and all around.

Each player on the field sits in a small circular indent which allows the ball to come to a stop in front of them. By pressing down on the circular piece attached to the player, they will launch the ball across the field.

You can also change the shape and size of the field. I’ve bought a few of these kits and the special expansion kit. My students love playing with it and experimenting with field size. 

Creationary

Creationary is great game that gets students thinking, creating, and working together.

You roll a dice and get a category such as nature, vehicles, buildings, and things. You then choose a card and have to build whatever is on your card. Unlike regular Lego kits, there aren’t any instructions on how to build the item. You get a cartoon styled picture of the image and then have to figure out how you can use the Lego pieces from the tray to build it.

The key point to this game is that your creations need to be recognizable. You score points if the other players can identify what you’ve built.

There are three levels of difficulty so students of different ages and abilities can play together. This is another popular game in my classroom. I sometime use it during Math Centres as an extra activity to get the students being creative and problem solving on how to build these models effectively.

Any Tips You’d Like to Share? 

Please let me know how you use Lego in the classroom.

Do you have any games that foster creatively?

Please leave a comment below.

More Teaching Tips

Tracking a Mixset

You don’t need to have any special DJ gear to make a great mixtape these days. All you need is a computer and a free program that you can download.

In the last tuturial post, I showed you how to use Audacity to create a mixtape and how to match up the beats for a smooth and seamless mix. Today, I am going to show you how to turn your mix into a fully tracked album. This way, the songs will still blend together but each will have its own assigned track.

 

Once you have done this your mixtape will be ready to go. If you play music on the free VLC player, you’re all set. If you use Window’s Media Player, the mix will not be smooth. For some reason, that program will automatically put a few seconds of space in between each song.

If you want to make a CD of your mix, I recommend using iTunes. It’s a really simple process to make the tracks run seamlessly into each other without the annoying gap between songs. Here’s how to do it . . .

Making a mixtape on your computer is a great idea. It basically costs you nothing but your time and having the final product on CD makes it all worth while.

So go mix and have fun!

A Graphic Novel a Week

I decided that this year I am going to keep track of everything that I read and create a sort of digital book shelf. Here are some of the graphic novels I have read in the past two months. I only bought one of these books as well. All of the others I borrowed from the public library for free.

Doctor Who – Volume One: Fugitive

This graphic novel revolves around the final travels of David Tennant as the tenth Doctor. The stories take place shortly before the Doctor’s regeneration into the Matt Smith incarnation of the eleventh Doctor.

I have always enjoyed the tenth doctor. It’s nice to have some continuing stories for this character. I could almost hear Tennant’s voice through the extremely well-drawn panels and character dialogue. It was a fun read and I hope to catch more of this series in the future.

Green Lantern – Blackest Night Saga

The Blackest Night storyline is told through a series of graphic novels and it crossed over into other DC Universe series. It revolves around the creation of five new lantern corps, each one driven by a specific emotion and empowered by a specific colour.

We’d already seen the Yellow Lanterns in the ongoing series, but this saga introduced us to the terrifiying Black Lanterns. The Black power rings basically revive the dead and they are then drawn to consume the hearts of those around them.

I especially like the Green Lantern Corp trade paper back. It hit some emotional marks, was beautifully illustrated, and possibly the best book of this series.

Batman & Robin – Batman Vs. Robin

The original Robin, Dick Grayson has assumed the role of Batman after the death of Bruce Wayne. Damian, the son of Bruce Wayne, has taken on the role of Robin and they continue the legacy of the dynamic duo.

This book loosely ties in to the Blackest Night Saga as they try to resurrect their fallen mentor. But things get heavy as Robin is controlled against his will to fight Batman.

Transformers – For All Mankind

For years now, the Transformers comics have been presented to us in a continuing line of mini-series. Sometimes it has been hard to keep track of what stories go in what order and what exactly is in the cannon. That is why I am glad that they have finally launched an ongoing series set in the Generation 1 time frame of Transformers.

This story takes place after the war between the Autobots and Decepticons that was documents in All Hail Megatron. It is now three years later, Megatron is dead and Transformers all over the world are hiding from government forces that are hunting them down.

It’s a great story and I can’t wait to read more of it.

Original Names in the Age of Google

band names Pictures, Images and Photos
In this day and age, musicians have to use the Internet effectively. There is no excuse for not researching your band name before you even consider trying to start a music career.

If you are starting a band, a rap group, or even launching a solo carreer, I think your first step should be to take it to Google.

Google Your Name

I can’t stress this enough. Your name is very important. You should take some time to check out all of your options before you put out any of your music or start playing shows.

Be Original

If a band out there already has the name you wanted, pick a different name. You could also change the spelling a bit or add another word or even a number to the name if someone else is using it (although this can sometimes be confusing as well)

If an organization or website has your name, figure out a way you can differentiate yourself from them creatively, or keep searching for an original band name.

Reserve Your Space Online

Once, you’ve picked your name, use it for everything. Sign up for a domain name, even if you don’t know how to build a website. You can always get a free blog and then point your domain there. It’s fairly easy to do and best of all, it’s free.

Keep It Universal

Get the same user name for everything. Sign up for a Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Google account, etc with the exact same name with the same spelling for each one.

One of my biggest beefs when I try to find an artist on those platforms and I can’t. It’s really confusing if your band is called Haven’t Met Yet but on Facebook you go by The Haven’t Met Yet, and on Twitter you simply go by Haven’t Met, and on MySpace you go by The Real Haven’t Met Yet Collective. See how that can be confusing?

Pick one handle and use it over multiple platforms.

Build a Web Presence

One of my biggest beefs is when I go online to research an artist or band for an upcoming interview, I cannot find them. There simply isn’t any excuse for not being online these days. Most platforms are free and easy to use. You can get some of your music online for free. Even YouTube is a option. Just get something out there.

Don’t Forget the Bio

I also need to find a bio (biography) of you online. Once again, take some time in writing this and use the same bio over multiple platforms. After all, you want people to know who you are, where you came from, why you do what you do, and how long you’ve been doing it. It just adds credibility.

Make it Easy

I have so many artists, musicians, and bands that I can interview or play on the show. If you don’t use the Internet effectively, and it is simply too hard to find you, I may move on to someone else and you’ve lost a chance to get some shine on the radio, podcast, and blog.

Join the Discussion

If you have any tips for new artists, or anything you’d like to add to this list, please leave a comment below, retweet this, or take it to Facebook.

I’d love to hear from you.

Support the First Lady! Teach Your Students about the 5 Best Brain Foods for Learning

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.Image via Wikipedia

On January 25, 2012, ABC News reported on a Los Angeles school district making huge strides toward improving the nutrition of their school lunches, just as First Lady Michelle Obama starts in on her new healthy eating initiative for American schools.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has been acknowledged by the first lady as one of the healthiest school districts in the country, and district officials from LAUSD are also standing by Mrs. Obama’s move for change in the quality of food served at schools. Changing their cafeteria menus has been a positive change for the district. What we’ve got is a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables that we’re using,” said LAUSD food services deputy director David Binkle.

Mrs. Obama’s plan marks the first time in 15 years that the nation has made efforts to improve school lunches nationwide, and the LAUSD is setting a great example, especially by seeking out and serving local produce. “Sixty percent of our produce is coming from within 200 miles of downtown Los Angeles,” said Binkle.

Within the next several years, teachers across the country will have to help their students transition to healthier eating habits at school. While they may miss the pizza and fries, it is now more important than even to promote and teach about healthy eating. Natural food is essential, not only to your overall health, but to the quality of your brain function and work in class. Here are some brain-boosting essentials for students of all ages.

1. Water

Never let your students slack on drinking water. Our brains are made up of 80 percent water, and cannot function properly without it.  Water is the fundamental building block of our cells. Your students probably aren’t conscious of how much water they are drinking, but an adult body loses around 10 to 12 cups of water every day. So kids need to drink a little less than that to stay hydrated. Try taking more frequent breaks to go to the water fountain, and make sure to stop to let your kids take a drink before and after physical activity, like gym or recess.

2. Teas and Fresh-Squeezed Juice

Tea is a great way for your students to get the water they need, without the monotony of 8 plains cups of water every day. Some teas also help brain function and overall body health. Green tea is light enough for kids and can be mixed with a bit of honey to improve the taste. Green tea is loaded with antioxidants, catechins, and vitamins C and A. Kids also love juices, and there is nothing better than fresh-squeezed juice. Try finding a used juicer and having your kids take turns bringing in bags of fruits or veggies. Or simply talk to your students about the difference between juice that is from concentrate and juice that is not from concentrate (juice from concentrate is highly packed with sugar, while squeezed juice retains the natural sugar and fiber you would get from eating a piece of fruit).

3. Fruits and Vegetables

Eating fruits and vegetables is the best way to keep your body healthy. Make learning about fruits and vegetables a fun thing in your classroom, and eat more fruits and veggies yourself to give your kids an example. You can choose absolutely any fruit or vegetable, and it will have benefits for brain function, but the best way to get all the nutrients you need is to eat as many different colors as possible. The best brain foods are blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, bananas, oranges, broccoli, tomatoes and spinach.

4. Nuts

If you’re going to have any sort of snacks available for your students in your classroom, try keeping some nuts on hand along with a few apples and oranges. Nuts are great sources of protein, and eating them with fruit makes a balances snack. Nuts like sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, cashews and walnuts have minerals and vitamins that boost brain function.

5. Whole Grains

Whole grains are the final component to a balanced diet, and it’s great to teach your students about the difference between processed and refined grains, like white flour, and whole grains, like oatmeal and whole grain flours. Whole grains are rich in vitamin B and magnesium, which aid brain function. Luckily, many food makers are jumping on board and making classic kid favorites, like Goldfish crackers and Lucky Charms cereal, with whole grains.

By-line: Alvina Lopez is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: alvina.lopez @gmail.com.

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The Help – Excellent Movie

The Help is an incredible film. It’s based upon the novel by Kathryn Stockett. I’ve heard good things about the book but I have so much on my plate right now that I knew I probably wouldn’t get around to reading it. That’s why I watched the film last night, and I am so glad I did.

There are very few films that resonate with me and leave me saying, “Wow, that was amazing!” This film did just that.

It’s set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s amidst the beginnings of the Civil Rights Era. And although it is a period piece, it was almost like I was watching a science fiction film. I couldn’t believe the size of the houses that these small white families lived in back then. I couldn’t imagine myself living in such a large place and employing maids and nannies to keep my house tidy and raise my children. I couldn’t imagine inviting people into my house who I had no respect for and then treating them horribly as they did all the thankless tasks that needed to be done. But that is exactly how these black women were treated by their white employers.

I knew racism was huge back then, especially in the south. And I have heard about the separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites but I was shocked to see that the black help were not even allowed to use the washroom in the houses that they worked in.

(spolier alert)

One of the characters in the film, went so far as to draft a law that required a separate washroom to be built solely for the use of “the help.” It seems that most of the characters are silently complacent in the racist practices of the day. Fortunately, not all of them act in such outrageous ways.

Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, returns how from college and is shocked to see that the woman that her family had employed for her entire life had been fired. When she tells her mother, “She raised me!” we can see the hurt in her mother’s eye. It’s as if she didn’t even know that “the help” had fulfilled her motherly duties and was loved by her own daughter for it.

Skeeter wants to be a writer and she has the brilliant idea to let “the help” finally speak for themselves. She wants to interview them for a book but is met with a lot of resistance. The white women who employ black maids and nannies don’t like the fact that Skeeter is being so friendly towards them. They don’t like her talking to them at all. The black women are also scared that they will be fired if anyone finds out (or even worse that they’ll be beaten or murdered.) It’s a scary time but Skeeter manages to compile some amazing and heartbreaking stories from “the help.”

This film, along with some of the things I’ve been reading lately have really opened my eyes to the racism that still exists today. I’d thought we’d come so far since the 1960s. I can’t believe how much of this stuff still goes on.

The tag line to the film says, “Change begins with a whisper.”

We need more change though. Racism is still here, and I hope this film and this book spark some real discussion about these issues. After watching the film, I really want to read the book. I’m added it to my “to read” pile.

Chase Rating: 10/10

Transformers Autographs

I love going to comic book conventions and meeting some of the creative people who create the comics I enjoy.

Here are a few of the Transformers autographs I have in my collection.

I got this book autographed a few years back. It is the trade paperback to the first Generation 1 story Dreamwave Comics produced.

Pat Lee, who did the pencils for this series scribbled his name for me on the bottom right of the cover.  I also got the inker of the series, Rob Armstrong, to sign my book as well.

This autographed sketch came with the special edition of the Omnibus for IDW Comics. It is signed by Simon Furman, E.J. Su, and Don Figueroa.

The comics are doing an excellent job of telling Transformer stories while being respectful of the characters and history of the franchise. I am thankful that we have these beautifully drawn and well written stories being told. It keeps Transformers alive.

The movies have been a huge letdown with their focus on special effects and their total lack of character development. When we have over twenty years of Transformers lore to draw from, I am really surprised that the movies weren’t more carefully written. There are plenty of fans who could have done a much better job in producing the movies. I wish the creators of these comic books had written the movies, they would have been so much better.

Long live the comics!

Become a DJ With Just Your Computer

Becoming a DJ is a lot easier in this day and age. When I was younger, to become a DJ, you had to buy some pretty expensive gear. Nowadays, DJ sets can be relatively inexpensive, but before you run out and buy one, why not try mixing for free with just your computer?

I use a program called Audacity which you can download for free. It’s a really simple program that can have you mixing tracks with the best DJs out there.

Here is a tutorial that I made to show you the basics in how to make your own mixtape, radio show, or podcast.

In this second tutorial, I show you how to beat match and overlay two tracks for a seemless mix.

You can do a lot with just your computer these days. There is basically no need for you to run out and buy a DJ starter system.

This is the ION DJ system and it basically lets you do the same thing but it is going to cost you about a hundred dollars. Plus, this system looks more like a toy and probably wouldn’t stand up to much punishment.

The Hercules MP3 e2 looks like a much better starter DJ set but both of these unit won’t allow you to cut and scratch. These DJ systems are meant for beginning DJs and basically just allow you to mix and overlay tracks.

If you want to cut and scratch, you need to spend a lot more money and buy a deluxe system such as Numark IDJ, Traktor Kontrol S4, or Stanton SCS 4DJ. These units will cost you anywhere from $500 to over $1,000.

Learn the Basics for Free

Before you drop that kind of money on a DJ system, learn the basics for free. It only makes sense. And hey, if it’s good enough for me to mix when I’m not at the radio station, it should work just fine for you too. Next up, Tracking a mixset.

Next TutorialTracking a Mixset

We Love Books Day (Not Valentine’s Day)

Happy Valentine's Day...Happy Valentine’s Day… (Photo credit: Јerry)

I’ve never liked celebrating Valentine’s Day in the classroom. I’m always happy to see when the day falls on a weekend so I can let it slip by relatively unnoticed. But even on those special years, the kids manage to bring in Valentine’s cards or treats to share.

It’s inevitable, Valentine’s Day will make it to your classroom in one way or another. So, this year, I’ve decided to embrace it (pardon the pun.) But instead of focusing on romantic love, we will show our love and appreciation for great litearture.

We will start off in the morning by creating a “We Love This Book” bulletin board. Each student will have to make a poster about a book that they enjoy.

Next, we will go to the computer lab and each student will create a list of movies that have been based on novels, short stories, or books. When we get back to the classroom, we will compile all of the student lists together. I am sure there will be a lot of content duplicated on their lists, but I am also certain that we will have an impressive number of movies when we are done.

We will then discuss why there have been so many movies made that were originally published as novels. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the movie producers really love those books and wanted to bring them to life.

I will bring in a variety of movies that were based upon novels, and we will have a vote as to which one we will watch. The students that have brought in treats or Valentine’s cards can exchange them at this time.

I think this might be the best way to observe this day in the classroom.

Do you have any great Valentine’s Day ideas?

Please leave a comment below with things you have done to celebrate this day in your class.

Thanks.

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