Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Jimmy Chan"

I first met Jimmy in a colleague's tenth grade Health class. One of the key tricks in her toolbox is using fictional situations to help students get over the embarrassing parts of her course to move right to thinking through what to do in some tough situations. Jimmy and George and Gloria and Eugene (and a few others) regularly turned up in her class as students who were encountering a typical teenage difficulty. Class discussions focused on giving advice to these "extra" members of class.

Jimmy first showed up in one of my classes when I was stuck for a way to explain the word "taboo" to a class of ninth-graders. "...So there's this kid named Jimmy, and he comes to class naked. That would be 'taboo'. Not to mention instant suspension." Somehow Jimmy often returned our class, albeit still invisible, and still nude. Mostly he came up in those moments when students toss out anything they can think of to avoid the day's lesson. "Mr P, when did you first meet Jimmy? Doesn't he EVER wear clothes? Why are you friends with a naked kid? Isn't that breaking some law?"

Then, at my new school, working with middle schoolers, something changed. Jimmy took on a new life, one that did not focus on a lack of clothing: he became a fully fledged imaginary friend. He grew a last name - Chan - AND a full Chinese name. He's written sample essays for my English classes, but he's still most prominent in lessons on health and relationships in Moral Education. I found out from my students that he has a girlfriend, Gloria Ng. They met outside of a school bathroom. She smokes, but he's a star athlete and doesn't touch cigarettes. He stands up against bullies, but once got a beating for his efforts.

Some of the students here still believe my initial introduction, that he's actually a student at my old school. Jimmy has even been seen a few times, and one day when the students were socializing in my room during a recess they drew his image. Apparently, he looks a lot like the demon from "Death Note".

What's the educational insight from Jimmy Chan? Damned if I can connect him to anything I ever learned in teacher training, or read about on somebody's blog. And I don't think that any of the teacher appraisal systems I've seen have a category on "Makes Up Good Stories" or "Has Extensive Set of Imaginary Colleagues". But despite all that, I think that my ability to bring a class of students with me on an imaginary tale is one tiny part of what makes me effective in the classroom.

Telling stories is all about manipulating the mental space of the classroom. If you can take the kids with you on an imaginary journey to meet this guy named Jimmy, if kids ask you about him in the halls, if they become invested enough in this imaginary friend to draw him on the board during their free time, then something has happened. The collective group becomes willing to try new things in lessons. You gain more power when you ask a class "close your eyes and imagine you're in Feudal Europe." (Post on my four-hour simulation of feudalism coming next...)

So next time you finish a lesson five minutes too soon, introduce your class to a Jimmy Chan. Give them a few broad brushstrokes, let them flesh your friend out. Don't worry - while he is an extra student, he won't add to your marking load...and you just might find that he helps your class learn a few unexpected lessons along the way.

Annual Report, 2007

Here's my entry to Dan's design contest: 2007 as viewed through the lens of television.

And here are some thoughts about making these images...

The idea came together when I was miles above the earth somewhere over Siberia. Even though I was seriously sleep-deprived, it instantly made me smile. My graphics don't really pack a whole lot of information into them, but they do tell two different stories - my physical journeys, and my television consumption from the year - and I'm pleased with that.

It was pretty clear to me as I conceived of the theme that I don't have the design skills necessary to make this set of images as sharp as I would wish. I think if I had more data / time / skillz I could have pulled more information into the arc of my story. Knowing that wouldn't happen, I focused on communicating the core storyline. I kept my fingers crossed that my design wouldn't look like something a middle schooler would make, and I think I did manage to do that..barely.

But man, I would love to know how to do something like the first graphic by Mr K; it took me forever on Excel to get the color bands inside the television the appropriate respective size. And what a crappy looking TV...mebbe I should've taken a photo and edited it? What's salving my ego is that I know I've got a clever storyline, something completely different to the other entries.

Well, thanks for another thought-provoking competition, Dan!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Caution: Post May Contain Resolution-Type Substances

Well, I'm back in HK. And guess it's appropriate to post some type of New Year's Resolution-ish wouldn't have been right to have any resolution-type thoughts while I was still in the US of A, on holiday.

Had a fun return if you enjoy not sleeping for about 48 hours and after all that getting home to find that the door to your flat is stuck and won't open. It took an hour for me to find someone to help. The locksmith showed up, busted out some WD-40, and presto! I was home, how anticlimactic.

Slept about 10 hours, through the night, a good sign that my TradeMarked FailSafe Jet-Lag Solution will work. (It's simple - just switch your sleep cycle to the new time zone starting 24 hours before you fly). Woke up and went for a run - how's that for a good start to the new year? During said run, at 8am on a Sunday morning, I had to dodge bazillions of pedestrians, people walking in droves to the HK Stadium. How's that for a welcome back to HK?

I came back and drafted out a nice long to-do list. Four different categories: Pleasure, Pain, Work, and Shopping. I think it'd be a good thing to do, to keep up with those different lists and try to monitor how much I do on each one.

Priority Items for the week:
Work: Mark Papers; Prepare students for Semester Exam
Pleasure: Complete an entry to Dan Meyer's latest design contest.
Pain: Run/Swim twice more this week, Stay Away From Cigarettes
Shopping: Get some double-A batteries. I'm all out!

I'll be back up in the next week or so to share that entry to the design contest. It's grabbed my brain by the horns and won't let go!