August 24, 2007

Fresh Faces?

School has started once again and too early this year as well. My school district has moved to a modified traditional calendar: mid August start, a full week off at Thanksgiving, three weeks off at Christmas, and two weeks off at Easter. Sweet. The most surprising part was that while the teachers weren’t too crazy about starting in August, the students were stoked. The last week and a half has gone about as good as any start of the year I have ever had. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, we all remember how unbearably bored we’d get towards the end of August when we were young. Now, just as the little darlings are driving their parents completely insane, they get to go back to school.

By far the best parts of the fresh school year are the fresh student faces that I get to meet. I’ve already shared my feelings about the 1:35 teacher to student ratio. Teachers who do not appreciate the benefits that the students bring to their lives personally truly do not appreciate teaching 100%. I get excited at the beginning of the year because I know that my life will be greatly enhanced by the relationships that I will form with my students. Friendships that will extend through the year, through the students’ term in high school, and into life beyond. I regularly hear from and meet with alumni whom I have taught in high school. It is an awesome gift to know that a life is positively changed through the experiences and opportunities for learning and success provided in my classroom.

I know that some teachers like to keep their emotional and personal distance from their students for “professional” reasons. With all the news about inappropriate teacher/student relations, it’s easy to get freaked out and worried about being accused of some unthinkable act, or wrongly sued for misconduct. Clearly we teachers need to be hyper-aware of our surroundings and our environments at all times. But I have to tell you, had the teachers in my younger days who were instrumental in changing my life for the better decided that they were unwilling to share their lives and their stories with their students, I would have never chosen to become a teacher and would most certainly be a very, very different person today.

Those teachers knew what it was like to participate in and contribute to the formative years of a child. They knew the personal benefits and the enriching experiences that only teachers are allowed to enjoy. They know, like we know, that teaching a child to discover who they are and what they can do is by far the most thrilling experience in life. More thrilling then jumping out of a moving airplane, riding the tallest rollercoaster, or swimming in a frenzied pool of hungry sharks; all three of which we do everyday in our classrooms anyway.

Some more fresh faces on campus this year are the new teachers added to the staff over the summer. It’s a huge group this year of over 20. But the best part for me is that three of the new hires are my teacher credential students. It was a proud pre-service day for me when I sat in our auditorium and heard the names called and watched as these three young teachers stood in front of the veteran body to be introduced. The idea that three of my own protégés would now be teaching along side of me is not just rewarding, it’s amazing. I’m so excited to see them succeed in their classrooms and adventure out solo into the educational wild lands. And even more exciting is the knowledge that the students of our campus will have the opportunity to learn from these three who bring fresh ideas, fresh energy, and a fresh attitude to our beloved profession. Awesome.

The new generation of teacher comes to campus better prepared, better educated, and with a clearer direction then any of their predecessors. While we vets complain about the inconveniences of standards, NCLB, CAHSEE, API, and AYP, the new teachers have never known teaching without them. Plus, they are standing on the shoulders of giants, gleaning all that they can from not just their teacher credential program, but also their student teaching experiences and their personal classroom experiences as students. Teaching just keeps getting better and better and it’s the students who benefit.

I met up with a not-so-fresh faced colleague on the way to the parking lot this afternoon. We exchanged niceties. She told me that at the onset of her 4th year of teaching she wasn’t sure if she wanted to continue in the classroom. (Sound familiar? That’s what I said.) I admitted that I didn’t even decide that I wanted to be a teacher until closer to the end of my fifth year, about the time I had to renew my credential. The first five years are tough, there is no doubt. So if you see a struggling face as you are walking towards the parking lot at your school, stop and give them a stroke or two. Tell them that they are doing a great job and huge service to the world. Tell them that the students need them and that it will get better, because it always does.

As I look around at the beginning of the school year there seem to be fresh faces everywhere. I’m a fresh face this year as well. Not on my own campus, but at The Apple, a website for teachers. Check it out at Over the summer I was approached through an email (that I thought at first was SPAM) and asked to be a featured author. After checking out the site I consented. They’ve posted a bunch of my previous essays and some curriculum. From what I’ve seen so far, the editors have done a terrific job of collecting and providing useful content and giving teachers both a helpful and fun place to hang-out and meet some fresh faces.

August 09, 2007

Manual Forward?

Every year I update the manual I write for the multimedia courses I teach in high school. I started writing my own curriculum because I couldn’t find any one textbook or resource that I liked. Instead, I scoured the web in search of the best projects, tutorials, and guides I could find, and wrote the ones I couldn’t find myself. I started with the production manual available online from NYU’s Tisch film school. What I ended up with is an excellent and thorough resource for any computer multimedia teacher to use in their classroom.

It’s important to note that the course I teach are NOT computer courses, they are UC approved Art and communication courses that use computers. I make the distinction because the focus of the manual is not the nuts and bolts of computer hardware and software, but rather it is focused on teaching high school students to improve their communication skills and take advantage of 21st. century communication technology. Sure, they can already use MySpace, program their iPods, and post their own movies on uTube, but this curriculum gives students a direction, background information, and teaches them the production process.

The assignments are all written to the Visual Performing Arts, Career Technical Education, and National Education Technology Standards. Most of the assignments are tried and tested, broken down into easily understandable steps. However this year I have added many new assignments to go with the new software, and I’m not quite sure how they will turn out. Therefore I am evoking the “beta” label (borrowing from computer geekdom). Since I use Macintosh computers, the manual is written specifically for those machines, and now for OS 10.4. But all of the assignments and steps could be adjusted for whatever software and hardware you have available.

Throughout the manual I give credit and web links to all the work I did not write myself. I have never published the manual as a professional work, nor have I ever charged anyone to use it, and many have. From other schools right here in California all the way to Israel, I have freely shared this resource with anyone interested. If you’d like to download it you can do so here. There is also a series of presentations and lecture notes, all free. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at

Every year I write a foreword to the manual. It’s the very last thing I do after I proof read and spell check. What follows now and for the rest of this blog entry is the foreword to this years manual update. It gives a general picture of what I experienced while preparing for this years update.

What a rush! This year’s manual update was completed in just four weeks, a new record. There are two reasons why the schedule was pushed up this year: first, school started two and half weeks earlier this year; second for the first time in seven years Room 1 has new computers. Unfortunately, the news about the new computers came exactly one month before school started, so I was unable to prepare much during the school year like I usually do.

The new computers are first generation Intel iMacs. We almost didn’t get Macintosh computers. The district has a Windows/Dell only policy that the Principal and I had to fight to get what I knew would be best for the students of Room 1. After two summer meetings that included presentations from Adobe and Apple, the district decided to grant my request, and we have new Macs. It’s a logical choice: Macintosh computers are widely used in the multimedia and entertainment industry and Apple now offers a certification program that we’d like to start offering the students of RHS.

This is the seventh version of the Multimedia Manual, but I am dubbing it version 8 beta. The beta status also comes as a result of the shorter writing time. I’m not sure that everything here in version seven is going to work! There are many new assignments, and many major changes. One major change is the exit of Adobe Photoshop and the entry of The Gimp. The change was made because Adobe does not write Photoshop Elements for the Intel Macs, and second because The Gimp is FREE! The Gimp is an open source application written with UNIX so it can be adjusted and molded to work with whatever environment one is comfortable with. So I was able to change all of the keyboard shortcuts and setup the palette layout to match Photoshop LE. The Gimp will also run on Windows and Linux so it’s a good choice for students who may not have a Macintosh computer at home.

The other very cool new additions to the manual include the opportunity to now use GarageBand and iDVD. GarageBand allows students to create their own music using a variety of loops. Now just about anyone can compose his or her own jingles, movie scores, and original compositions. GarageBand also allows students to create their own Podcasts, so I have added postcasting as a new focus. In addition, students may now create their own DVDs. Instead of only being able to distribute their work via a website (which is still included in the course work) students can now also create DVDs to take home and play on their televisions, or on their home computers.

This year will see a continued commitment to creating DVD documentaries for Redlands High School by the Digital Dogz. Last year we sold close to 150 Graduation DVDs making it even more successful than the Football DVD, and raising a significant amount of income for the Digital Dogz that we plan on putting to good use. The Friday Show will also return as a weekly positive reflection of life on campus.

New equipment, new software, and a new approach to teaching and learning multimedia; I’m looking forward to a very exciting and groundbreaking new year.