Mad Skills

I greatly enjoyed this novel because it was suspense and teaches the reader a bit about science along the way. I think the character of Maddy Grant would make for a fine television show on the SyFy channel or any other looking for good programming. After a brain implant, Madeline Grant’s intelligence increases exponentially, making her into a female teen MacGyver .  She know deduces the truth about almost everything around her, but she comes to the disarming conclusion that the truth may not always set you free and knowing the truth may reduce your appreciation for the world around you.

As a former classroom teacher, I was very excited at the prospect of having this character inspire teens to explore science and I’m really hoping someone out there will see the sense of this. We’ve had Kyle XY after all, so why not a female version?

A recent report indicates that we need to encourage the study of science any way that we can.

Mad Skills @ Barnes & Noble

The Good Wife-Breaking Up

Alicia is asked to defend the son of an important client. Assistant D.A. and erstwhile Lockhart & Gardner employee Cary Agos suggest that the son, Jonathan, and his girlfriend, Alexis are initially thought to be witnesses to a sale by the associate of a known drug lord.  It becomes readily apparent that Mr. Agos has something else up his sleeve and accuses the pair of murdering a pharmacist.

Neither young Jonathan, nor his girlfriend, Alexis, will turn on the other when offered deals of leniency in exchange for testifying against one another. Jonathan falsely confesses to all in order to spare his pregnant girlfriend time in prison. Alicia watches their final tearful conversation as the law officers carry him away for processing.

Later, Alicia tries to comfort her gay brother after his break-up. They briefly discuss the nature of love, and Alicia states that sometimes the heart needs steering.

We can’t help but wonder whether Alicia envies the love of the young couple and contemplates whether Peter would sacrifice the way Alexis did.

The dark sides of both Cary – and – Blake Calamar are on display this episode. Cary lured Jonathan and Alexis to the D.A.’s office under false pretenses. He’s the oiliest of snake-oil salesmen in this episode. Blake threatening a female witness and tipping her out of her chair to make a point was likewise unsettling. Kalinda’s romantic options don’t seem much better this season than last.

The confrontation between Will & Diane at the end of the episode was riveting. Will called Diane on her plans to start up her own firm, and Diane asked whether Alicia told him her plans, to which Will replied that he hadn’t realized Alicia knew about Diane’s plans. Will storms out of the office after threatening to have guards posted outside her office if she returns and calling an meeting with the equity partners.

We can only hope that they realize that they’re stronger together than apart.

Zap2it Summary

Season of the Witch-Film Review

OK. I already know that most critics hated this movie. I went to see it because I’m a sucker for occult horror films – witches, werewolves, vampires, demons, et cetera. This movie should have been released near Halloween, and might have drawn more sympathy from viewers and critics if it had.

The obvious flaws of this film are the miscasting of Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage as 14th Century crusaders charged with delivering a village girl to a monastery, where she’s to be placed on trial for witchcraft. Yes. I know Mr. Perlman did a good job with Hellboy and Mr. Cage with Sorceror’s Apprentice, but both were set in modern times and these two guys strutting machismo  and fliply bantering 21st Century style just doesn’t quite it in the 14th Century. It’s a departure from the obligatory British-accented costumed adventure, but here’s a time when actors with Shakespearean training and sufficient gravitas might have helped to elevate the material a bit.

A less obvious flaw was the lack of friction between their characters, Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) when the psychological weaknesses of various characters were being explored during the supposed witch’s brief escape and the band’s sojourn through the forest- conveniently named Wormwood.  If there was ever a time to develop tension between this pair, and have the accused witch pit one against the other; that was the (missed) opportunity.

Also less obvious are the ways the film touches, perhaps too lightly, upon feministic ideas about power and condemnation by male authority. Superior physical strength has long been cited as a reason why men should have a dominant position over women, but our accused witch has physical strength far greater than her stature would suggest and nearly kills several males who try to subdue and entrap her. Her ability to see clearly into the secret fears and misgivings of the men around her also mark her a threat – particularly in the eyes of the male-dominated church. The ultimate reveal towards the end of the film, that the accused witch is really a demonically possessed person is an interesting twist, and raises questions about innocence and the lengths one should go to save the innocent.

The scares are also relatively few and far between, and mostly predictable. It was scariest at the beginning when a priest condemns three women to die by hanging, and one refuses to stay dead.  Next scariest are when the CGI enhanced wolves attack.  (The extra large teeth and fierce snarls might have worked better had we learned that these weren’t ordinarily wolves, but werewolves instead).  We know right away that at least one of our intrepid band will be roadkill.

The depiction of the effects of the Black Plague on the human body are far more effective as giving the audience a genuinely creepy feeling, since human ailments never go out of fashion and still pack a punch in 2011.

Strengths of this film are Clair Foy as Anna, who is by turns ominous, slatternly and vulnerable and Stephen Campbell Moore, who as Debelzaq is believable as a put-upon cleric, trying to defend his faith and his life.

Overall, I’d have to rate this film a B- and say that it’s most suitable for genre fans who can’t get enough weirdness and witchcraft.

Learning in the High-Tech Era

Recently, there was a news report regarding the introduction of the iPod touch into third grade classrooms in Canby, Oregon. The article points out that, unlike many education officials who view digital devices as distractions to learning, the Canby School District has argued in favor of using such devices in an attempt to raise reading and mathematics test scores, citing how engaged the students are with the iPods.

One of my colleagues questioned whether or not the children of Canby are the neediest of children, arguing that  more affluent families could probably afford to buy their own iPods, expose their children to more things, and get higher scores anyway, regardless of iPod ownership.  She also questioned how the iPods would be safeguarded since young children have a tendency to lose and damage things easily. (Although Canby is not an affluent community per se, it is a middle class one, with distinct advantages over poverty stricken areas such as poorer sections of Bronx, NY or Chicago. Nor is it clear what policies are in place regarding students taking the iPods home or how they may or may not be used, who pays for lost, damaged, or stolen devices or whether such policies even exist).  Canby is also a community where 39% of the households have children, higher than the national average, so it’s easy to see why more taxpayers/citizens might favor spending their money this way.

Personally, I would like to see children develop problem-solving skills involving both low-tech tools such as pencil and paper, as well as high-tech tools such as the iPod touch, tablet or netbook computer. There’s at least one researcher who has found that low-tech classrooms may actually be better for mathematics instruction. We all know that devices and electricity can sometimes fail, that there are times/places when it’s unavailable, so over-reliance upon it should be avoided.  I think a happy medium between using low-tech and high-tech skills/knowledge needs to be sought.  It’s not clear to me whether or not the Canby students will be using the iPods all day long, or just during specific periods of reading or mathematics instruction.

There are several points that most critics seemed to have overlooked. These kids are being handed what many people consider a luxury item without having earned it in any way. They didn’t even have to be well-behaved to get them. Another point I’d like to make is that although the students of 2010/2011 may be excited about the iPod touch now, will they be as interested in them five years from now? Will schools have to buy the next big thing every six months to maintain student interest? Will this create a new kind of digital divide between students? Moreover, in an environment of holding teachers accountable for what is being learned in the classroom, how well can a single teacher monitor whether or not Johnny or Mary are really looking at the intended lesson every minute of the school day? The behavioral and sociological impacts of this school district’s decision will be far ranging and have yet to be determined.

The issue of how meaningful the test scores are themselves is certainly up for debate. Many students cram for exams the night before and pass tests, but are unable to recall the information they absorbed after the exam. Moreover, placing the ultimate authority of what should be taught in the hands of test company publishers, who may very well have had no direct interaction with your child or an individual classroom seems very troubling to me. Moreover, it’s unclear how students who rely almost exclusively upon an iPod or iPad for classwork would perform on a test which requires a paper and pencil and those which require written proof regarding how students arrived at their answers.

The iPad and the iPad touch are wonderful devices and may very well have a wide variety of educational applications, but does that mean that schools have to provide them and monitor their use instead of parents? Does the fact that a device is beneficial in various ways mean that we should adopt a one-size fits all approach to teaching and learning and use them with every child, regardless of individual needs,strengths, weaknesses, and/or interests?

Selecting school leaders who have actual experience in the classroom, as opposed to those from the publishing world such as Cathie Black, or others with political connections such as those whom Chris Christie would employ seems particularly important in the face of such sweeping educational decisions.

NY Time article on iPad use in schools

Canby, Oregon decides to use iPods in the schools