The Screeching Owl

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm

Posted by David Fisher on 9th December 2010

From discovery.com/mythbusters

President Mythbuster.  That was the title used my Mythbusters this past Wednesday for their show which included a visit, albeit very brief, from President Obama.  The myth to be busted involved Archimedes Ray, or using the energy of the sun to potentially create some kind of light beam that could protect the planet and its inhabitants.  That’s the very short, and possibly a bit off base, summary of the show.

As I’m not an expert on how often the President appears on regularly scheduled television shows, save for late night talk shows, I though it very impressive that he appeared here.  I have heard that President Obama is a fan of Mythbusters, and like all of us who are fans of our shows, had the opportunity to meet the stars.  What I think is even more impressive was the reason that he appeared.  Reports indicated that the President’s appearance was meant to spur students to take a hard look at the sciences as potential areas of study or careers.  A very clever move, I might add.

I, too, have to admit that I really love this show!  The myths that are examined on a weekly basis really make me go hmmmm.  After all, where do they come up with this stuff?  Mentos and diet Coke, remote controlled buses and boats, explosives, crashes, robotics, lasers, travel to exotic places, pranks, and many more ‘experiments’ allow the viewing public to engage in scientific discovery.

As a kid, would you ever imagine that a teacher would assign a ‘reality show episode’ as homework?  Yeah, I didn’t think so…but in years’ past, I have.  Why, you may ask?  We truly are a media driven society.  If you’re reading this, you’ve just helped to prove my point.  We know there are lots of programs that just aren’t the time it takes to watch them, not that I’m being critical of any.  But, having an opportunity to watch a program where the introduction of each section starts with the preparation of an experiment through the scientific method really demonstrates that there is something worthwhile on television.  As each segment progresses, so does the the experiment, culminating with whether the myth is busted, confirmed, or plausible.  Sounds like a conclusion to me!

Science is filled with lots of things that make you go hmmm.  If it takes a television show that the President watches to engage our kids in saying hmmm at one thing or another, so what.  It just goes to prove that there’s more than one way to prove to our kids why science is important.

Let’s just hope they don’t try any of this at home.  We’re what you call experts!

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Write of Way, or is it Weigh, or is it Whey

Posted by David Fisher on 17th November 2010

Ah, the power of the written word.  The craft of the writer.  The search for the perfect word.

These were common phrases used by my writing, English, and humanities teachers in high school.  To each teacher, these phrases, or just one of them, had a specific, almost magical, meaning.  Day in and day out the phrases were pounded into my head and the heads of my classmates for one specific purpose.  That purpose, simply stated, was to make us writers.

Then I met Mr. Duke Schirmer.  If his last name sounds familiar to any of you musicians out there, his family is the Schirmer music family.  You probably used one of several music education and instrument education score books as a child.  This Mr. Schirmer wasn’t from the music side of the family; rather, he was from the writing side of the family.

Let me paint a picture of Duke, as we were allowed to call him in tenth grade.  He wore chinos, as they were called back then, a white t-shirt, and work boots every day.  Thick black-framed glasses hung on his nose and he was either chugging coffee when we came into the classroom or airing it our from his in between class smoke break.  It was not uncommon to have all the windows open during class, even in the middle of winter.  Eclectic, eccentric, and sometimes downright weird was Duke, but we loved him anyway.

Duke taught one class at Mamaroneck High School, Creative Writing.  Every, and I mean every, student had to pass through his hallowed doorway to graduate.  Jocks next to nerds, cheerleaders next to actors, tough guys next to wimps, it didn’t matter the group you were a part of because for one semester you were part of his group.

Duke was really the one who taught me to write.  Yes, many other teachers taught the methodology, grammar, word selection, formatting, and all of that other mundane boring stuff.  But Duke really stretched us to our limits.  Paired up with someone who would be your polar opposite, Duke had us write free-form poetry on chart paper while sprawled all over the hallway outside of his classroom.  Express yourself, he told us.  Use any word you want, he told us.  Don’t be afraid to open up, he told us.

Then, after eight of the 16 weeks, write an essay that will assign yourself your grade and justify it using examples of your work as support, he told us.  Imagine that as a sophomore in high school, being given the opportunity to grade yourself and all I had to do was write an essay justifying why I deserved an ‘A’.  As I wasn’t the first to finish, I was able to take advantage of the first few students’ experiences with Duke and their justification essays, as they were known.  I wish I could write what was said, or at least paraphrase it, but the four-letter word count was so high that this blog would lose its family friendly status.  This was the lesson that Duke had planned all along.  We never knew it until that fateful day when grades had to be done.

The message, as I’m sure you’re wondering, was this: A writer’s job is to talk to his/her audience and make sure that the intended message is complete, clear, and free of, how shall I say this politely, manure.  The writer must, as Duke told us, create an environment in which the words can come alive.  The words are the actors, the writer their director.  The writer doesn’t make the writer, the words make the writer.  Use them the wrong way and the writer will never be forgiven.  A pretty strong message for a high school sophomore to manage.

I still think about Duke when I write.  I’d like to think that he’s still in that same smoke-filled, coffee smelling classroom, handing out sheets of chart paper to students and having them lie all over the hallway.  I know he’s not, though.

He lives on through all of the students he touched over the many years he taught at Mamaroneck.  He lives through me.

The perfect word, it may never come.  The perfect message through the perfect use of words, done.

Thanks, Duke!

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Read What You Love, Love What You Read

Posted by David Fisher on 10th October 2010

Over the course of the years that I’ve been teaching, students often ask if I read.  Yes, I tell them.  My answer is usually followed by one of a couple of other questions.  The first one is generally why; the second one has most recently been what.  What, as in, what do you read and not the sarcastic what?  What’s your favorite book, genre, author, story, etc?  Inquiring minds…

Let’s start with the why.  Well, why not?  Reading is a skill, and like any other skill that one has acquired over many years of education and training, it too needs to be continually practiced in order for it to stay sharp and fresh.  In addition to all of the reasons that we, teachers, give our students about the importance of being life-long readers, I choose to read instead of doing other things.  Life isn’t always a planned event, so finding a few extra minutes to read, wherever those minutes come from and wherever the reading location (I’m not going to say anymore about that one…) reading is a stress-relieving event for me.  I do have to admit, though, that I really do like to read on the couch knowing that Zorro, our greyhound, will always climb up next to me, drop his head on my leg, and stay there for as long I am reading.  I also read to show Zoe, my daughter, that even adults find time to enjoy the written word.  Family reading time has now become part of our weekend time together, and will shortly be part of our nightly routine.

Why I read is directly connected to the title of this post.  How so?  I read what I love and I love what I read.  The time that I find to read has to be filled with any text that will keep me engaged for whatever time that is.  I’ll catch up on the news by reading the paper online.  I’ll keep up with the world of business with any one of the several business magazines we get at home.  Mindless reading, that is reading that doesn’t require me to have to piece anything together, always goes to something like People; after all, everyone wants to know about the latest celebrity divorce, reality show cast, and new movie releases.

What I really love to read is political thrillers.  Give me a book by David Baldacci or Brad Thor and I’m a happy camper!  Why (here I go again)?  Simple answer: Because I can.  I can get hooked on the plot, get angry at the characters, get excited or nervous depending what is happening in the plot, and I can forget about the rest of the world for as long I have to turn the pages.  This is what I love to read!

Now it’s your turn.  Do you read what you love?  Do you love what you read?

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