Blog Response #5 - Alex Brenner


I wish I could quit you!

In one of those weird, fortuitous reading coincidences, I read the following articles back to back:

On, Why Quitting is Good For You, and on, Please Cast Ryan Gosling as Me.

They got me thinking: When do we (teachers) quit? This question has two meanings: (1) When do we quit the profession, and (2) When do we "quit" students?

I remember as I was finishing up my teacher preparation program, one of the instructors said, "When you're done, you'll know it. Don't stay just to stay." I think her point was that when you are "done" with teaching (i.e., you are burned out), you are not doing anyone any favors by staying. You are making matters worse for yourself, your students, and your colleagues.

As I am on leave from classroom teacher to pursue my Ph.D. in English Education full-time, I wonder if I "quit" teaching. I certainly wasn't done with the profession (although schools and school systems is another story), but I felt that I needed an intellectual challenge that classroom teaching just wasn't providing. I'm much happier and fulfilled being a student again and my work has me thinking about classroom practice regularly and I will be doing my research in classrooms. But, did I quit?

This is related to the second meaning of the question: When do we make the decision that we've done all we can with a particular student and the situation is out of our hands? I remember the last time I was challenged by this several years ago. I had an advisee who was a genuinely nice kid. He started off the year strong and unafraid of asking for help (thank goodness, as he was grade levels behind). A teenage boy openly asking for the teacher's help on something academic was not common in many of the classrooms I taught it, so I was thrilled he was so gung-ho.

That stopped though when his chronic absentee problem came back to life. When I called home to his mother, she seemed concerned but resigned to the fact that she had no control over him. I remember one exchange where she said that he was bigger than her and she couldn't make him do anything. I replied, "Well, he's not bigger than me. I can come over if you want." She didn't take that well and it was clear that she was using his size advantage as an excuse. I don't think she cared.

That didn't stop me. I went to the guidance counselor who called his probation officer (oh ... didn't know about that) and I was filled in on the long-standing problems that had been plaguing this student. It was clear quickly that his problems were bigger than me. But, I still didn't give up (plucky, ain't I?), but to no avail. Several months later, I did give up. The problem was so much bigger than me. Every time he did show up I showed him I was happy that he was there and I was ready to help him. The next day (or, frankly, on several occasions later that morning) he was missing again. Everyone - the principal, AP, guidance counselor, ACS, parole officer, mother, brother, aunt, uncle - had been informed, yet somehow he never got better.

It was a sad situation, for sure, and the decision to "quit" him was difficult. I don't like to say "quit" because I never stop believing that a student can do it, but sometimes we just have to prioritize.



Mr. Fredrick,

    Like many of your other comments, I also am an education major, still studying to become a teacher. I know I still have a ways to go, but your article got me thinking, especially the question "When do teachers quit?" I get the same impression as your friend that when you are burned out and not doing anyone any favors by sticking around, you will know it. Then once you've realized that as a teacher, you've quit working then its time to actually quit working. In your case, I feel that you haven't quit working, you've merely just taken a break; your coach put you on the bench to get a breather and then you'll go back out stronger in the second half.

    The second question, is a more depressing, but I do feel that you were accurate in asking "When do we quit on a student?" because as disheartening as it may be, at some point, students will be out of your control, and you can't help them. Some students just can flat out no longer be helped by you, no matter what you do. In the instance of your case of the absentee student, there was nothing that you could have done to improve his attendance. Contrary to your opinion though, I don't think you quit on him. Every time that he came, you still helped him even knowing that he probably wouldn't show the next day. In that case, he quit on you. So in response to "When do you quit on a student?" the only answer I find suitable is that you can quit on a student, when you're going to quit on all of them by quitting the profession. Alex


Alex Brenner- Blog Response #4



Information Freeloaders?

Is there a "proper" balance that can be struck in our classrooms between the amount of information that students access or use compared to the amount that they create? While this will be different for each of our students, are some of them "information freeloaders?"

I've been wondering this while watching the students in my class have much greater access to their learning networks. As they are able to spend more time online and have more success accessing information and people, I am wondering about the amount that they are giving back or contributing. My ten Asus eee pcs are busy constantly throughout the day. They are plugged into a massive power bar on the side counter of my classroom and they come and go throughout the day. Kids will take them first thing in the morning to write a blog post or read through their iGoogle accounts. They will use them for accessing a short story online when they leave their copy at home. Spending time with a set of discussion questions I've designed for the students will see them scrambling to Google docs to take some notes to share with the people in their groups. Researching a TED Talks type of issue sees them head back to the computers again to send out email, watch YouTube videos for research or put together a presentation. So the computers come and go across tables throughout the classroom across the day. Each time returning to the counter where they can be plugged in again so no one ends up with a machine that is not charged up.

This is a much more natural and realistic use of technology. A resource in basic abundance instead of in shortage.

As I watch the kids in my class use this resource, I notice that their use is changing. Even though I've had many of these kids for almost two full school years (I teach a combined grade 7/8 class so the kids are stuck with me for two years), I am noticing things about them that I've never had the opportunity to see before. I'm noticing which kids are using the machines on an ongoing basis for what tasks. I'm seeing which kids are tied to the web and make use of it effectively. I'm learning more about their literacy skills.

But I'm also noticing a split in my students. While many of them are taking the opportunity to have a larger digital presence and are writing more, sharing their creations more with the world and are leaving more comments for others, some of them are turning into information freeloaders. While I'd never use this term with them, the habits a few of them are developing (demonstrating?) seem to be just that. They are not taking the opportunity to become more involved with participatory culture, they are instead spending far more time reading and taking the information left by others without giving back on their own.

This leads me to wonder about the digital profiles of students. Do we have information freeloaders and information artists in our classrooms that we don't often get to see because they do not have natural access in most educational spaces? Do kids naturally gravitate one way or the other on their own? Should we force them into new profiles if they are not comfortable in these spaces? Is this a function of being literate in new ways?

Something new that I need to be watching how it develops over time.



Mr. Fischerman,

    I firmly believe that the internet is one of the greatest innovations of all time. While you may see these students as mere "information freeloaders" I see them as artists. These students are doing as much, if not more work than the other students in your class. They may or may not have done additional research, but they're able to create their papers from others critiques and suggestions. That is a skill that some great writers have struggled with, being able to refine their own paper using others ideas. These students are merely able to accept the help being given to them. These students are not freeloaders, they still have to sift through all the information given through them and pick apart what they want to use and where to fit it in, in their own masterpiece. If the students are just dumping quotes into their paper, that's another story, but if they are taking the time to accommodate suggestions, that is a very good skill that I believe shows that they can take into account other's ideas and fit it in with their own, which shows that they are very diligent writers.

Alex Brenner


Blog Response #3 - Alex Brenner


OS and Education

I've always worked in a Windows based environment as a teacher. While I made the switch a few years ago to a Mac for use in my classroom, the machines that my students have always had access to have been Windows based.

Then the ten Asus eee pcs showed up in my classroom. 1/2 are Linux Xandros, the standard operating system that comes pre-installed on these machines. The other 1/2 have had Windows XP put on them by central office staff who want me to compare the two for stability, technical issues, etc. But what I'm finding is not a difference in these things, but instead, a difference in the philosophy of learning and teaching that they promote. The message these two systems sends to kids is different.

Windows machines are a default. Most everyone has one and most everyone knows there way around one. They are efficient, easy to use, and give people all of the tools they need to accomplish many digital tasks. But the eee pc stripped down interface leads straight to the web.

This picture shows the way around one of the tabs that make up an eee pc desktop. The web icon leads straight to firefox and the others are obvious. Built in direct connections to Skype, to Wikipedia, Google Docs and iGoogle send you to your accounts in these places. Of course Windows machines can do all of these things as well, but having these icons there as soon as you turn the computer on screams for collaboration. These computers have almost no harddrive space so most everything needs to be saved elsewhere, but having these icons to remind you to head to the web solves that problem. Insert your SD card into the built in slot and head to flickr for your stills and YouTube for your video files and these problems are looked after as well.

So this leads me to ask this question: does the OS you use in your classroom effect the philosophy of learning?

Macs come with tools built in that promote creativity: iMovie, iPhoto, GarageBand, etc. Having these tools built into your machine ensures that you will at least play with them and get a feel for some of the possibilities. If we are having trouble with things like camera drivers and creating mp3 files on the school's computers, I will let my students use my MacBook Pro. Drag and drop creation and intuitive use allow even people who have no Mac experience to figure things out pretty quickly. Macs are about being creative, about content production.

The Linux OS on the eee pcs is about collaboration. They promote heading online to accomplish and share the tasks that you need. The OS being Linux is free as are all of the other applications installed on the machine. From the pre- installed Open Office to the webcam, these machines are about community built knowledge and collaboration. What does this mean for our classrooms? What effect does a different OS have on the philosophy of teaching and learning in classrooms? Having this version of Linux is about collaboration. Having a Mac is about being creative and a multimedia content producer. What about Windows? What message of learning does this dominant OS send to our students? Will changing the OS change the things that happen in a classroom?




I found your blog to be very interesting. While I am still an undergrad studying to become an educator, there is growing emphasis on us to learn how to incorporate technology into our classroom. Your article showed the strengths and weaknesses of each. I personally use a PC, but my roommate is Mac through and through and we actually frequently argue over which is better (nobody ever wins). I personally feel that PC's are the best for schools to use mainly because students are more familiar with them than Macs and Linux. However, as you presented, each has its individual strength. I guess as educators, it is our duty to know how to use each type of computer so we can adapt to the school's preference?



Blog Response #2 - Alex Brenner


Calculus: The Musical! If your high school or college teaches Calculus, then you need to book these guys.

Calculus: The Musical! is a comic "review" of the concepts and history of calculus. It was born as a teaching tool in Marc's classroom. He found that setting formulas and rules to music helped his students learn and retain tricky information. "Maxima" and "minima" is an abstract concept to a lot of us, but when sung as a rousing "Can-Can" chorus, it's fun and easy to remember! A blend of sketch comedy, musical theatre and classroom lecture, MATHEATRE has created a performance piece to show that although calculus is used in rocket science, isn't exactly rocket science.

I just watched their performance in our theatre and it was very well done. What I also like is that they also provide everything on their website, including lyrics and audio (mp3's), but I think it would be great if you purchased a CD to help support them. You should also check out their tour calendar, as some of the performances are open to the public, or, once again, book them. Come on, who wouldn't love these lyrics to L'Hopital (I have Calculus in the Heart) - sung to Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart:

L'Hôpital Every now and then I get a little bit of trouble when I'm taking a limit. L'Hôpital Every now and then I get a zero for the numerator and the denominator. L'Hôpital Every now and then I get a limit that's confusing in some kind of indeterminate form. L'Hôpital Every now and then I get a little bit terrified but then I think of all your advice. L'Hôpital Guillaume François Antoine Marquis de L'Hôpital Guillaume François Antoine Marquis de L'Hôp!

And that's just the first verse . . .


Mr. Karl Fisch,

      I am currently studying to become a high school mathematics teacher, and I found this to be very entertaining.  However, as much as it was fun to watch, I don't feel that it will be a very practical way to help students learn the material and context of calculus.  Don't get me wrong, the lyrics are direct and factual, but perhaps not the best medium for teaching advanced mathematics like calculus.  For instance, you I'm going to assume listen to music at least on occasion.  You may like a song, or even like the lyrics, but that doesn't mean that you necessarily agree or share the same feelings as the composer of the song.  While I think the music this group is making is great, and very informative, I think that, at most, it could be used as an attention getter or introduction to a lesson, and not replace lecturing, drill and practice, and board work.


Alex Brenner 



Blog Response 1 - Alex Brenner

  "Open Up the World of Learning to Everyone Who Wants to Learn"

From the New York Times:

Publish or perish has long been the burden of every aspiring university professor. But the question the Harvard faculty will decide on Tuesday is whether to publish - on the Web, at least - free.

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs.

Although the outcome of Tuesday's vote would apply only to Harvard's arts and sciences faculty, the impact, given the university's prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost.

"In place of a closed, privileged and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn," said Robert Darnton, director of the university library. "It will be a first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own university repository."

Under the proposal Harvard would deposit finished papers in an open-access repository run by the library that would instantly make them available on the Internet. Authors would still retain their copyright and could publish anywhere they pleased - including at a high-priced journal, if the journal would have them.

What distinguishes this plan from current practice, said Stuart Shieber, a professor of computer science who is sponsoring the faculty motion, is that it would create an "opt-out" system: an article would be included unless the author specifically requested it not be. Mr. Shieber was the chairman of a committee set up by Harvard's provost to investigate scholarly publishing; this proposal grew out of one of the recommendations, he said.

Interesting addition to The Cult of the Amateur arguments. At least one professor isn't buying some of those arguments:

Professor Shieber also doubts that free distribution would undermine the journal industry. "We don't know if that would happen," he said. "There is little evidence to support that it would." Nearly all scholarly articles on physics have been freely available on the Internet for more than a decade, he added, and physics journals continue to thrive.






Mr. Karl Fisch,

I agree with you that Harvard should pass this measure and research should be posted on the internet. Despite that the information will be free to anyone who accesses the website, I doubt this with have any negative affect on the journalism business. This argument is similar to the argument that Mp3's would undermine the CD business. Since CD's are still commonly purchased, I don't think that has happened yet. Also, I can't see putting a price on research like that. I feel that passing this measure would only increase interest in the arts and sciences at Harvard and draw more publicity to an already prestigious university.


Alex Brenner 

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