Teaching: How Buffy Made Me a Better Teacher

We are taking the week to prepare for the start of the school year (Thursday!), so we are reposting some of our older blogs.  


With the announcement that Sarah Michelle Gellar will be attending Star Wars Celebration, I’ve been thinking more about the show lately.  It also helps that it’s been in entertainment news lately because it has reached its 20th anniversary.

When I first watched the show, during the original run, I just watched it for the drama and humor.  Both were top notch, even if the special effects sometimes were not up to their level.  It wasn’t until the second time I watched it, that I realized the brilliance of Joss Whedon.  It amazes me that he wasn’t a high school teacher  (his mother was, though).  He captures high school perfectly.

By this, I mean he captures all the horrors of high school.  “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” showcased a girl (Clea DuVall) that just wasn’t noticed in high school.  When I watched around 2010 it reminded me of what that feeling felt like.  It reminded me that I need to reach every student, not just the attentive and the troublemakers. “I, Robot…You, Jane” was well ahead of its time with it’s stories of making friends on the Internet. At the time of the writing, only real nerds did this kind of stuff, but it still resonates today. “The Pack” might be a little too on the nose with it’s group bullying storyline.  I mean that as a compliment. “Earshot” looks at a student who reaches the point where he wants to commit suicide.

The brilliance of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that you can watch it from both sides.  When you are younger, you see it through the eyes of the Scooby Gang.  When you are older, Giles, Joyce, and Angel are you window into this world.  When we met Anthony Head, I thanked him for making me a better teacher.  The show not only gives you a viewpoint to the life of teenagers, but it is written in a way that builds empathy for them.  This is the mistake most shows about that age group make…they divide us from the people.  Most teenage shows have the older people be obstacles or people that don’t have a clue.  Not here.  Giles and Joyce are responsible adults who truly care about those in their charge.  They don’t always understand everything, but they always try. Through them, we become protective of the Scooby Gang.  Because of them, I have become more empathetic to my students’ issues.

Angel even furthers this.  He is perpetually young, but he is the oldest soul on the show.  And because he has a soul, he sees the tragedy in almost every situation mainly because he has seen every situation many times. As a teacher, you often just repeat years.  The students change, but the problems don’t.  Too often, you see students make mistakes before they make them.  This can be as simple as putting off homework or as complicated as choosing the right college/vocation.  We treat high school students as kids because they are, but at the same time, we ask them to decide their future.  The future is always the biggest and baddest big bad.

I know I won’t have time to tell Ms. Gellar all of this.  I am fully expecting to be so star struck that I’ll be surprised if I can utter actual words.  But I had to thank her, and the cast, and Mr. Whedon in some form.  So I choose this one.



Reading: Kickstarter Finds – Alternative Periodic Table

We often search Kickstarter for interesting items such as games, films, and albums.  We recently came across the Alternative Periodic Table.  The graphic artist, Matt Baker, takes a pattern that is found in the atoms of the elements.  He also avoids the jumps that occur in the regular periodic table.  In the artists’ words “my alternative periodic table is designed to simply emphasize the way in which atoms are “built” (specifically, how electrons group together into shells and subshells).”


Here are the specs on the table:

  • Size: 24 x 36″ (61 x 91 cm); comes rolled in a thick poly bag. Frame not included.
  • Paper: 80 lb glossy cover stock (difficult to tear)
  • Print-process: Eco-friendly UV inks; carbon neutral plant
  • Delivery target: Early March
  • Price: $25 Cdn / $19 US (Includes free shipping to US or Canada)

This is would be a great chart to have in an educational setting or in a budding scientist’s room.  A great project would be having students explain the differences from this table and the traditional periodic table.  Mr. Baker makes wall charts for a living and you can find more of them at usefulcharts.com.



Teaching: Using Spotify in the Classroom

One of my favorite things to do is to soundtrack my reading.  For example, when reading a biography of Truman, I would listen to popular music from whatever time the chapter was set.  If it is a fiction book, I try to figure out what music matches the mood.  I know this is a nerdy thing to do, but check out the subtitle of this blog.

This led me to thinking of how use Spotify in the classroom.  I teach Computer Science so that practically limits me to Kraftwerk and one Flight of the Concords song.  However, I have certifications in English and Social Studies and this is where Spotify can truly enhance a classroom.

Continue reading

Traveling and Teaching

Cristina and I are both teachers. I teach Digital Graphics and Web Design to seniors and juniors while Cristina teaches World Geography to freshmen. We are lucky in that travel allows us both to be better at our jobs.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

The Colosseum, or the Coliseum

The Colosseum, or the Coliseum as Wikipedia puts it.

Since I teach Photoshop, all the pictures we take on our travels can be used in my classroom. For not having any formal training, Cristina has a good eye for composition…better than I do. Her pictures allow me to discuss the rule of thirds and the golden ratio. I show them the camera we use and then discuss the types of camera out there including cell phone cameras. The London rain allows me to show them how to color correct. Now, I could do this with pictures I Google gank. However, that’s stealing. Inevitably, the questions go beyond the subject of my class.  They start asking about history, art, architecture, economics, and world geography.

The Westerkerk in Amsterdam

The Westerkerk in Amsterdam

Confettie in Sulmona

Confetti in Sulmona

The Champs-Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe

The Champs-Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe with the Louvre in the Distance

For Cristina, it’s easy to make the connection between our favorite hobby and her job. Instead of pulling off pictures off the internet for her PowerPoints, she just needs to look on her external hard drive. The difference it makes to her kids is amazing. Their eyes light up and then ask, “Did you really go there?”  Students suddenly become aware of how big, and small, the world is. They realize, some for the first time, that someday they may get to go to these places. For them, they are now one degree of separation from Paris, Prague, or the Panama Canal.

Europe Collage Created by a Student

Europe Collage Created by a Student

Now, does anyone know if we can write off our trips on our taxes?

Festing: TribeCon 2011

On the eve of last year’s Voodoo Fest, I attend TribeCon at the festival site.  TribeCon is the official interactive conference of the Voodoo Experience.  If you read the website, it wanted it’s attendees to be “inspired by the creative process of the best people in culinary, music, art and drink and make New Orleans culture your muse.”  Pretty lofty expectations.

TribeCon 2011

TribeCon 2011

They were met. Continue reading