I’d Rather Be Testing…

The phrase that drips with sarcasm during this time of year (which is a recurring event throughout the school year) is “We’d rather be testing than teaching, right?” At work we have been doing more of the required state testing using our computers rather than basic pencil and paper. We not only are doing our rounds of the standard testing on our computers, but a new system they are field testing on top of it. Never mind the fact that we spent more than a month last fall doing exactly the same testing.

Here is how it works:
The state dictates how and when we will test these youngsters (mine are in the 6-8th Grade range). When they (that wonderfully ambiguous ‘they’) give us a new system, it is up to us to utilize the resources at our immediate disposal in order to implement it. So in addition to the time allocated from classrooms the students will be taking these tests, we in the IT support world must take away access to the technologies we have in order to prepare for the testing to be done.

In essence, due to powers beyond our control (for now), we have to take computers out of classrooms, then we have to take the kids out as well. To put this in a little perspective, there has been much feedback making the rounds in tech department emails, most of it completely negative. Not flaming or irrational, but just things that don’t work, and more so, hurt the kids’ ability to learn and use technology.

So many, like myself, had to completely wipe out and re-image dozens and dozens of computers (I had about 140 to do, half twice-over, 3 at a time) well before testing was to begin. And these are increasingly heavily used labs of laptops that are wheeled into classrooms (something very cool indeed.)

Other departments have brought in the numbers, namely the fact that nearly all of the technology that is integrated into classroom work gets tied up for testing for over half a term. At my school, we use up a little over 2 months for testing. Yes, it is staggered, kids aren’t out of classrooms for that long. But the labs are tied up for that long. Given all vacation time, students are in school for about eight months total, and for one fourth of that time they don’t have research, writing, or creative use of our computers.

It certainly seems like a good use of funding and the limited time these youngsters have in school, no? The teachers regularly complain (among so many other grievances) about not having enough classroom time with their students. It is not even just the teachers having difficulty justifying it. Administrators cannot believe how much time we devote to testing instead of teaching, and they voice it to us, too.

It’s an awful position we put ourselves in, truly. All the teachers would rather be teaching, and all the students would rather be learning. So what to do? How do we fix it?

Now, I work in the technology field. And part of my solution: stop using computers for testing at all. Apart from students who need specialized assistance, using technology slows down the process rather than speeds it up. Why? Because not all kids are tech savvy. Sure they can use gadgets specifically marketed to them, but it’s not universal. I have some kids who can work in flash, and others who can’t figure out how to save a word document after doing it for four years.

My assumption on how we got to this terrible place is that it is because it is the technology experts who demonstrate the functions of any piece of software. So when a tech person says ‘sure, it’s a snap’, they mean for them. It’s rare to find one who understands the difference between how they work with technology, and how a layperson does.

So, since not all kids can use technology the same, and since any technology now requires more set up and constant monitoring and maintenance, let’s get back to our pencils and paper. I say the same with all voting systems. Let us mimic the British: check off on a small piece of paper who you want elected, and stuff it in a box. Then, for that precinct, have dozens of little old ladies race to be the first counted and double-counted out of the county and country. Minimal error, humans are accurate, and you can’t beat the simplicity. Simple = error free.

My other solution: stop testing at all! Let’s go to what so many brilliant, industrial, universal education systems do: you don’t move on until you pass a rigorous exam every couple of years. This does two things: leaves more room for teaching and less room for kids to be left in the dust due to thin and hasty teaching, plus it ensures that all kids at a grade level are, in fact, at the same grade level.

Let us actually be tough and get kids up to par. We can raise the bar, and they’ll make it there and push themselves for it. Imagine a world where if you don’t put in the effort, you won’t get to move on. Holy cow, I might even have been a good student in school.

… but probably not.

Days Go By…

Last week absolutely stunk. Sometimes it is stunning how rough and rude people are with everyone and everything around them. And also so very destructive. We have been constantly replacing and trying to teach people how to properly use some of our equipment, but nothing sticks. Teachers won’t reinforce what we teach, and kids are absolute morons. Well, not all of them, but the majority are. And you can tell.

Our composition lab has assigned seating, and whenever you have a good kid sitting at a station, there are no technical difficulties at all. Everything works, because they’re not trying to walk around with their headphones plugged in or do something they want to do but don’t know how to do with the computer audio system. Teachers don’t tell them not to, mostly because they can’t tell what the kids are doing, since they spend their time teaching instead of learning tech stuff (and understandably so).

So my whole week was spent fixing that junk, repairing printers, and running around constantly because it’s the only week, until the end of the year, free of testing of any kind. Now we’ve started up over a month’s worth of testing that will tie up 30-50% of all our computers. Oh, and some are just field tests. And the main big one is the test that we did in October. All of October. (sigh) I won’t rant here.

I’d rather speak of my fun weekend. Part of what made my week hectic was me trying to fit in some good old fashioned practice time. On Saturday morning I filled in for a tenor sax player in a pro big band. It was just a couple of hours, and by the end my chops were aching a bit, but damn it felt good to play again. All I did was sightread jazz music for two hours straight. There wasn’t any pressure, as I wasn’t going to be at the gig; they just wanted a full band to rehearse with. I made lots of mistakes, but still not as many as I had originally thought I would make, and so much of my embouchure and technique came quickly back to me. I dug it.

When I got home, it was a bit after lunch time, so I watched some of the ballgame and relaxed with a beer and a burrito. Then it was outside to enjoy a lovely afternoon and rake up my lawn to attempt to bring it back to life. I’ll tell you, nothing makes you feel more lame than getting worn out from raking. But it was nice to be out and having Austin run amok as I worked. I felt fatherly.

Eventually, our neighbors across the street came by, namely instigated by their little girl soliciting her being twelve and able to babysit now. She reminds me of my sister at about that age, which is cute but at the same time a little disconcerting. At last, Michelle was able to meet them and talk a bit. Two of the three neighbor kids offered to help rake, so I gladly accepted their services in exchange for some lemonade.

Sunday, poor Michelle was sick to her stomach, so I let her sleep most of the day away. I took Austin to the hardware store to gather up supplies to turn our lawn green again, and then he and I had lunch and returned to work outside. I got a little more of the lawn raked (good God my back was/is sore), then as soon as I got far enough, we were on to our mission: reseed the dead spot in the middle of my freakin’ lawn. It’s about four feet in diameter, and was a fire pit many moons ago and the previous owner, detailed maintenance man that I’m finding out he was, never decided to fix when a new pit was constructed elsewhere. Austin was pretty stoked to be able to water the patch with our new hose and his yellow ‘telescope’ (straight water nozzle.)

I feel almost accomplished this weekend. Almost. I did wind up wasting over five hours watching part of a Gilmore Girls marathon. Oh well. There’s still a ton more to do, and I need to seed and fertilize the lawn before the world orbits much farther. Of course, I also need to properly water the whole lawn with the great sprinkler system I have, but first I need to be able to power on the most likely illegal well, and that will require a hundred feet or more of 220 extension cord. At least then I’ll be watering my lawn with free well water rather than paying for city water.

Today after work I hope to get home and plant a little Green Ash sapling Michelle brought home from an environmental fair. And more raking, that way by the time the weekend rolls around, I can water and mow and seed and fertilize and be all set. Of course, weather could stop me, since we’re due to have some thunderstorms this afternoon.


Like Cousins…

It seems that my goofy cat Tyrone has managed to follow directly in the footsteps of his cousin, Buster. This is an amazing thing, considering Buster lives way out in the California mountains.

Last night, just as it started to rain, my kitten brought in a little toy from the great outdoors. Well, he thought it was a toy. Michelle had just come home, and I had Austin in the tub, so I went out to the garage to bring Tyrone in for the night. As soon as I got into the garage, I hear this sad little squeaking/squealing, and a small brown creature being follow by a slightly larger straight black cat.

At first, I could not recognize the little thing Tyrone was chasing/playing with. It darted back under the car, and then under the couch we still have in the garage. Oh, speaking of which, if anyone in the Twin Cities area is looking for a perfectly good recliner couch, let me know and it’s all yours.

Tyrone quickly followed it under the couch, and the little thing ran out to the back wall. It was a little baby rabbit. Slightly smaller than a gopher, and luckily completely unharmed. Where it came from, I have no idea. We just have lots more animals like that even in the suburbs here than I had growing up in Central California.

So I managed to eventually corner Tyrone and lock him down in the basement so I could retrieve the rabbit. It was still hiding back under the couch, and so I opened the back door to the garage, lifted part of the couch (it’s incredibly heavy; stupid recliners) and it scurried out into the rainy night.

I tell you, though, it was a ridiculously cute little thing, and I’m glad Michelle never saw any more of Tyrone going after it. It’s a little easier for her to handle making sure Austin doesn’t drink the bath water than Tyrone torturing a baby bunny.

So yes, I feel Tyrone has finally lived up to his feline stature, which was long overdue. He got pretty freaked out by the wind and refused to go outside earlier that day. But at least like his cousin Buster, Tyrone knows how to properly hunt.



Spring is here, a Spuh-ring is here!
Life is Skittles and life is beer!
I think the loveliest time of the year is the Spring,
I do. Don’t you? ‘Course you do.

But there’s one thing that makes Spring complete for me,
And makes every Sunday a treat for me…

All the world seems in tune
On a spring afternoon
When we’re poisoning pigeons in the park.

Every Sunday you’ll see
My sweetheart and me
As we poison the pigeons in the park.

Life’s been going pretty swell out here, though rather tiring. On Tuesday evening was the final band concert of the year, which included the jazz band I’ve been teaching since January. We performed some prelude music while the giant seventh grade band assembled itself on stage. It went over well, and we got lots of nice compliments from those in attendance. I was really proud of the kids and the work they did, despite having nearly half the jazz band drop out for lack of interest (once a week is rough for some kids to justify, after all.)

It was not the first time I’ve directed a group before an audience, but it was the first with jazz. It was easy this time around, because we were just background music, nothing to be the center of attention. I don’t know if I showed it at all, but I was a little on edge, just because it was jazz. But hey, it went well. I survived. No reason I won’t the next time. First DL is over.

There are other wonderful things going on in my life. Austin has been beyond good the past few weeks. He loves the switch of me taking him to school in the morning and Michelle picking him up. He’s been getting himself dressed and his manners would do his Great Grandma Mary proud. And, now this will impress everyone who’s been to our house, there have been no toys placed on the Naughty Shelf for some time now. It’s amazing. I tell you, I’m done raising him. Anything else I do will be more harm than good.

Michelle is still getting up at five am and enjoying her hefty commute to work, where she can listen to music or podcasts and read. Mass transit does equal joy. In fact, I’m a little envious. But then again, I get to blog during my downtime at work. She loves being a cubicle warrior (and loves that I call her that). One thing you’ll know around here is that employees at Target Corporate love their jobs and the company itself. I was talking to her last night, and apparently what Coca-Cola is to some people, what with the collectibles and paraphernalia and whatnot, Target will be for her. And you know what? I can accept that, as I have been informed.

I seem to have a hold on my own life, no?



There are still high-quality, non-violent games being made. Civilization is my computer game of choice for all-time. Of course, Chess is the greatest of games, but at least the Civ series combines the strategy of chess with historical development and world conquest. I dig Axis & Allies as well, and I think you would too. Right, Jaime?

It’s Fer Me Ma…

It seems, my dear readers out there in Radioland, I might become a columnist. Of course, it’s just to answer my parents. Here’s what my mom sent me the other day:

Did you catch OpEd piece on Thurs. 12 A14–The Rebirth of Civility? Here’s hoping that the internet blogging can help up us bring civility so that freedom of expression means more than just being able to say whatever you want, without having to be obnoxious just to be heard. If the shouters could only learn that by being civil they might actually be listened to, not just heard. I loved the one quote–“Free speech is enhance by civility.”

And of course that brings us the the radio personality. It looks like the Web Sites and Bloggers had a lot do with him getting canned. What do you think of that kind of revolution. You have always said that the Web would be the forum of our future. Interesting proof of its power, if indeed that is what made the networks act.

I read the column as well (once she mentioned it). And there was a little buzz around the blogosphere (still for lack of a better word) as well. There has actually been a rough reaction to the idea of making a written ‘Code of Conduct’, which is understandable. The internet is a true haven for free speech and is populist by nature. We of this realm prefer to keep things as libertarian as possible, and any attempts to directly govern, well, any of it, is fought tooth and nail.

I definitely fall into this camp, on the principle of free speech. Having a dictated regulation, even if in good spirit, creates restriction in what people say, and so the essence of being able to speak one’s mind is lost. We should all viscously defend against any path towards an Orwellian Nightmare.

However, as I have mentioned before, humans are naturally social creatures, and we do not live in this world alone. Our interactions define our very lives. So, while external regulations on speech should be fought against, reasonable internal regulations are a necessity. And there is a natural regulation as well. Anyone may speak however they wish, but they certainly must be prepared for the repercussions thereof (hence Imus.)

If one wishes their voice to be not only heard, but listened to and possibly even heeded, those words cannot offend those listening. As a regular reader of blogs and message boards, I regularly come across those one-lined, misspelled, oft profane sorts of retorts that do not amount to anything. They are merely pests, much like flies, that may momentarily take your focus, but do nothing to change the actual debate taking place. And in this realm of written words on the internet, it becomes an easy habit to simply ignore them.

So essentially, if you want to be heard, you have to be pleasant and respectful. Of course it also helps to also speak and write well. Even when being utterly opposed for a multitude of reasons to another person’s position, that minimum requirement of civility (for that’s the magic word here) has to be there for a debate to even take place. The opinion column points this out, just as rules of the road mean everyone actually gets to travel with reasonable ease, even with following rules. Daniel Henniger, who wrote the opinion, brings up how regardless of situation, Congress members must refer to each other by the gentleman or -woman. I think an even more pointed example, considering how tame and toothless Congress often appears to be, would be the British House of Commons. They can spew utter vile at one another, but always with rules according to manners and how to address one another. It’s amazing to watch; check out Prime Minister’s Questions time (something I think we should have here.)

Bottom line, the natural forces of balance that rule us all do still apply to the cyber world as well. If you open up a debate, one has to be prepared for the dissenters and the flies buzzing around occasionally. However, only those who reply in respect and with dignity will be heard and be considered as having any clout. And should someone say something totally out of line, they will most certainly hear about it.

This brings us to Imus getting fired from the radio (for now, radio’s hurting for personalities. Also on that note, I am an inexperienced fool who barely keeps abreast of facts in this world, and am up for hire.) Rather than sending letters to the station, it is email. Instead of spreading rumor and bad news to those within earshot, it can spread faster over much greater distances in the blogging realm (I like this term better). The cry rang out, and the people were heard. Vox Populi, Vox Dei. (“The Voice of the People is the Voice of God.”) Instead of protesting in the streets, people (relatively) directly voice their opinions in the blogging realm.

Most things on human interaction still seem to return to that ancient golden rule. Probably because it’s such a reasonable idea.

The Worst…

The horror which befell Virginia Tech yesterday is of an unspeakable nature.

There is a feeling of inescapability to it, I think. There is so much else going on right now in the world, and in my own life, but for the life of me I can’t stop wishing there was something I could do to help or comfort those more directly affected by it. However, I can’t help but feel affected by it as well. It all could have happened at my Alma Mater just as easily as anywhere else.

I am reminded of how I felt when listening to the radio about the bombings in the London Underground two summers ago. I was just out there, living, traveling in those tubes. I had been to Kings Cross Station numerous times, and passed it so many more. I have for London, as I have for being a university student, a distinct familiarity with being in that place. I was just there. I cannot escape the feeling that I could have been there and want to be there because it feels as though my friends could be there.

All this writing does very little. There are no words that befit such a pointless, painful loss of life. A lack of words is not discomforting, though. There is a comfort to silence. Silence creates a somber space for the mind to unravel its twisting thoughts or wrap them in a warm cocoon. In silence, you can have a friend put an arm around your shoulder, and that will be all that is needed. I take comfort in the fact those poor souls still reeling from all that has happened have that out there for them.

An event like this displaces the soul from the normal progress of time. To the affected soul, time can slip by without a notice or slow down into agonizing micro-moments that never seem to pass. Eventually, the soul will recover, and the mind will be able to perceive the world as it is once more. Hence the adage, “Time heals all wounds.” It is a simple truth, and the affected will settle back in the world in their own time.

Those lost are at peace now. It is their friends and families that must now cope. For the rest of us, the time is not to debate, to speculate, or to even speak. The time for all that will come eventually. For now, let us just pay our respects with our silence.