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A concerned member of the human race

Friday, November 7, 2014

"I'm Givin' Her All She's Got, Captain!"

When I was asked last June to set some goals for this year, I said the first thing that came to mind.  I might do better by the technology.  I use my SMART board every day.  I incorporate short videos and images, occasionally even ones with animation.

Sewing Together a Lesson on the Industrial Revolution.  Hint:  Keep Your Fingers a Safe Distance From the Presser Foot and Moving Parts!
Yet, I felt I could do better somehow.  As technology is always improving, it is almost certain that the majority of us will never be up to date.  

Shortly after making my decision, however, I realized the faux pas in my goal setting.  Although I am not the biggest wizard of tech. in the building, I do pretty well.  It is not so much that I fail by the tech as that the tech fails by me.

Take the other day, for example.  I like to do a lesson on the benefits and drawbacks of factory production as part of a unit on the Industrial Revolution.  We begin by assessing the beneficial impact of machinery in our lives.  Then, as a segue into the discussion of its drawbacks, I love to show the clip entitled "Breakdown" from Chaplin's "Modern Times."  

Usually only one student in a hundred has seen the film, but most everyone has heard of Chaplin.  I, of course, chime in that the Little Tramp was one of the three founders of United Artists, a handsome gentleman and a genius of unequaled proportions who used humor to effectively address some of the worst problems of his day, including the rise of Hitler.  For good measure, I throw in his musical genius, his felicity for composition, his one-of-a-kind left-handed violin and his crazy stunts.

Back to my point.  The tech worked fine in my first-period classroom of the day.  But the later periods found me setting up early in my third room of the day.  The DVD would not play.  My computer recognized the film in the D drive, but when it came to playing it, it was a no go.  

Knowing the clip would be inaccessible on Youtube--which is blocked by the NYC DoE, frustrating teachers in countless ways, and knowing that it was too late to convert it at home to an acceptable format, I sought it out at an alternate site which I had used in years past.  I found the site now blocked, too.  Foiled yet again!  Chaplin was ruled too "Tasteless."

Then, out of nowhere, there came a knock at the door.  Had my two former students been sent by a higher power to help me?  Probably not.  They had a free period and stopped by to say, "hello."  They were working for the yearbook, trying to hunt down the last few elusive teachers for a photo shoot.  We discussed volleyball.  I had watched their game a few weeks back.  They sadly lamented the end of the volleyball season and they lamented having to leave the school because of an annoying thing called graduation.

Rather than fuss with switching several cords and plugs on a second laptop I had carried into the room, I put my problem before my former students.  They professed no special knowledge of computers.  Yet, they went to it.  After retrying standard procedures, one of the girls ejected the DVD and started blowing vigorously on it.  I knew she was trying to clean it, but the whole thing seemed so humorous to me, perhaps a clip in a yet unwritten Chaplin film!

I shutter now to think that I laughed.  She replaced the DVD, pushed all the same icons again and lo and behold made it play.  Who would have imagined that the solution could have proven so simple?  Not me, at least not on that day!  I thanked the girls with obvious gratitude.  I was able to show the clip to my last two periods.  And, as I peered around the dark room those last two periods, I could still clearly see the smiles on the students' faces and hear their snickers and laughter.  Twenty-first century high-school students can be a hard audience to please at times.  Who would imagine that a largely silent, black-and-white film could accomplish the same?  Me.  That speaks to the genius of Chaplin!

So, whereas I postulated back in June that I might try to incorporate more technology into my lessons, I'm pretty sure I might better have settled upon incorporating more tech-troubleshooting skills into my repertoire as my goal for the year.  I do not fail by the technology nearly so much as it fails by me.  Thank goodness for students.  They are always willing to rush in where the less brave might fear to tread.  And for those who want more from me, I have but one thing to say, "I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain!"


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