Disney’s Prop Culture Gave Me the Feels

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Disney Plus recently released an original series called Prop Culture. In this show, the host visits iconic props from seminal, sometimes historic, Disney movies.

My family and I watched the first episode this evening, which focused on Mary Poppins. I’ll be honest with you–I’m not a fan of the original Mary Poppins. I somehow missed it in childhood and, though I’ve seen it since, it just doesn’t do much for me. (Interestingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Poppins Returns.)

So, even with that being said, this first episode about moved me to tears on at least five different occasions. (It wasn’t just me, by the way. My wife admitted as much, too.) I won’t spoil it for you, but the host doesn’t just visit iconic props, he visits iconic people relating to those props. In the case of Mary Poppins, some of these people haven’t seen these props since 1964. To see their faces light up, to see the raw emotion on their faces at the sight of the prop … it was quite moving. For many of them, Mary Poppins was their crowning achievement (and what an achievement it was!). To see that brief return to greatness, that moment of glory–incredible stuff. Keep in mind, I have no emotional attachment to the film and I literally didn’t know anyone the host visited. It was simply a visceral experience to behold.

Of course, the whole thing celebrates Disney and idolizes Uncle Walt. I can’t deny it’s an advertisement for everything Disney. But, hey, I figure if you’ve got Disney Plus you’re already among the faithful. There’s no denying that Disney deserves every ounce of fandom they’ve garnered, and these props truly are a part of cinematic history.

If you love movies, movie history, movie props, or if you simply love seeing pure joy on people’s faces, Prop Culture is a must-watch.

Upload – A Few Initial Thoughts About The Amazon Original Series

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Generally speaking, I tend to like Amazon Original content. When I saw a new series debut created by the man who brought us The Office, I had to give it a chance.

I am currently three episodes in, and I really like Upload.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Upload takes place in 2033. It’s a very recognizable world, but it’s also got some technical upgrades we might expect such as constant drone traffic, self-driving cars, and rating systems for basically everything. One major advancement, however, is the ability to have your consciousness uploaded into a virtual reality program upon death. As the slogan says, “Live your best digital afterlife.” Unfortunately, there are degrees as to the quality of the digital afterlife, and those variances are determined by how much you are willing to pay.

Our main character is Nathan Brown, played by Robbie Amell. Nathan is a young, handsome, charismatic software developer who finds himself uploaded to the digital afterlife. His personal assistant is Nora Antony, played by Andy Allo. Nora is basically a customer service agent tasked with making sure residents in her company’s afterlife program are well attended.

So far–like I said, I’m only three episodes in–Nathan and Nora have developed an unlikely friendship, and they both have begun to suspect that Nathan really and truly doesn’t belong in the digital afterlife.

Which brings us to something I greatly admire about Upload. It defies any labels regarding genre. It has comedic moments, to be sure, but it’s also pretty evocative in terms of science fiction. It’s taking a grounded, realistic approach in many ways as to what our technology will probably bring us in 13 years. Furthermore, a true mystery is in development pertaining to Nathan’s death. Comedy, realistic sci-fi, mystery? Perfect!

I’ve written about Robbie Amell before, but Andy Allo is new to me. Both of these actors shine in Upload. They are charming, beautiful, yet also strangely relatable. Allo pulls off the “common person” role convincingly despite her star quality, and Amell utilizes an early Tom Cruise level of lovable cockiness that is undeniable.

I’m not sure this show is for everyone, but it definitely appeals to my tastes. Though the first episode is about an hour, most of the subsequent episodes are only about 30 minutes, so I believe it would be well worth your time to give it a try.

Let me know what you think of it.

What the NBA G League Means For Businesses and Colleges

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The NBA’s G League is kind of a like a minor league for the NBA. Players in the G League are considered professionals, and they are paid. However, something very interesting has happened over the last several weeks. Top college prospects are electing to enter the G League rather than going to college for a year before entering the NBA draft.

Up until now, it was common for elite high school  basketball players to go to a top-tier basketball school for one year. In doing so, they raised their own stock and gained a national spotlight, but they also made a lot of other people very, very rich while not being allowed to legally earn a cent for themselves.

Jalen Green, who is largely considered to be the best of the best among high school seniors, is reported to earn $500,000 his first year in the G League. After that first year, he’ll be allowed to enter the NBA draft for, presumably, quite a bit more.

You probably have an opinion about the basketball angle of all this, but that’s not really what I want to talk to you about. No, I want to talk about why kids bother going to college at all.

Now, obviously, college is the only path for many professions–teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

However, quite a few of us land jobs that have virtually nothing to do with our degrees–it’s just the fact that we have a degree that allow us to obtain a job.

According to The Street, who got their information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American makes an annual income of around $48,672. The average annual college tuition is somewhere around $15,000. Keep in mind, that’s just the tuition. If you need room and board, that’s another $10,000. In other words, an average American can expect to pay somewhere around $100,000 total for an average public university’s undergraduate degree.

I teach at a local high school, and the idea of paying $100,000 for college is a crippling one, especially if a student has no idea what they want to do with their lives. Most of my students just want to live comfortably. Most want to earn a decent living. Taking on $100,000 worth of debt, plus interest, to earn somewhere around $50,000 a year doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them.

If given the choice, I think most would opt for the Jalen Green route. Go right into the work force with the opportunity to earn lots more while learning valuable skills.

Frankly, I’m surprised corporations don’t offer their own in-house universities. Almost all of the large corporations have some kind of a learning and development department, and almost all of them offer ongoing training for certificates and advancements. Imagine if a corporation hired an eighteen-year-old at an entry-level position, then offered free courses specific to that corporation’s field of interest that the new employee could take at their own pace. After so many hours, the employee would have the equivalent of a college degree, and they could then use that degree to go find other jobs in the same field (if they chose to do so). Consequently, I’m guessing most would stay with the corporation that groomed them.

I’m going to be honest with you–I paid for a lot of classes at college that had no bearing on my career as a teacher nor did they particularly interest me. (Geology comes immediately to mind. My apologies to all of the geologists out there.)

I personally believe in the power of education. I also appreciate that college is intended for the student to receive a well-rounded education on a variety of topics. I know that education is the path to greater success and ultimately provides an easier life for nearly everyone. However, I also admit that college has become far too expensive for the average American, and that college is not particularly appealing to the average American because much of it seems unnecessary.

Education and college should not have to be one and the same when it comes to a high school graduate’s earning potential.

So why aren’t corporations following the NBA’s model? Why aren’t they creating their own “G League?” And if they do, what will be the colleges’ response?

 

Netflix’s Unorthodox – A Few Thoughts

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Have you heard of Netflix’s Unorthodox? I hand’t, either. One of my wife’s friends recommended it to her. Even though it didn’t look like my thing at all, I decided to give it a try with her.

Let me tell you, this show is captivating.

At just four episodes averaging about fifty minutes apiece, Unorthodox is not a huge time investment, and it helps that each episode flies by.

The story focuses upon a young woman living in an ultra-conservative Hasidic community in New York. After a year of repressed marriage, she flees to Germany. However, her community is not willing to let her go freely, and they pursue her across the world.

Based on a true story, Unorthodox is brilliant due to the incredible acting, costumes, props, and editing. Of course, its main achievement is that it offers a glimpse into something I really haven’t seen depicted on screen much–ultra-conservative Hasidic Jews. It was like entering another world.

Unorthodox bounces around in time quite a bit, and at just the right moments. This kind of editing keeps the viewer enthralled as the story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion. There are plenty of surprises, and more thrills than I ever would have guessed.

My only complaint is that while in Germany, our main character befriends a group of students that are just a touch too perfect. Each one fits a certain demographic, which results in them feeling very forced upon the viewer. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them all, but I knew they were fashioned for me to like them.

I absolutely recommend Unorthodox no matter what your taste. It will grab your interest and hold onto it until the very last second.

Visit Monica Estabrook’s Virtual Exhibition “mother•land”

I hope you will take a moment to visit Monica Estabrook’s virtual exhibition entitled “mother•land” by clicking HERE.

Monica Estabrook is an art teacher at Bloomington High School. I’ve known her as a coworker and friend for several years and appreciate her unyielding passion to create art even as she excels at teaching and raising children.

Many weeks ago, Monica invited my Creative Writing students to participate in an art show (“mother•land”) she had scheduled to appear at Heartland Community College. My students were both very excited by the prospect and also genuinely touched that Monica would share the spotlight with them. If you know Monica, however, this generosity would come as no surprise.

The plan was for my students to recite their poems on the opening night of Monica’s exhibition.

As you have probably guessed, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. However, the artistic spirit cannot be stopped, nor should it. Monica and Danell Dvorak, the HCC Art Gallery Coordinator, quickly developed a “plan b.”

When you visit the link, you’ll be able to view each of Monica’s photographs individually, and you’ll also be able to view a “walk-through” video as well. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find both text and audio versions of my students’ poems. They were tasked with recording themselves reading their poetry and submitting those audio files to Monica. Due to various circumstances, not all were able to participate, but those poems available are magnificent.

The pandemic has caused great tragedies, bitter disappointments, and mild inconveniences. I can only imagine how upsetting it must be to have an exhibition overshadowed and drastically altered due to the outbreak. But, if you know Monica, you won’t be shocked to learn that she took it all in stride, overcame the difficulties, and even found a new, creative way for her art and my students’ poems to shine.

Show this indomitable spirit your appreciation and visit her art show at this link: https://www.heartland.edu/artGallery/motherlandExhibit%20.html

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We Love Brave Kids Art Club

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My friend, Jude Landry, recently made me aware of a YouTube channel called Brave Kids Art Club. We tried it out today, and as you can see from the pictures above, it was a huge hit!

Brad Woodard is a professional illustrator, and in these 15 to 20 minute videos he walks kids through a step-by-step process for drawing all kinds of different animals. We started with the video focusing upon an elephant. However, we see he’s already done videos for a wolf, a llama, a sea otter, a crab, a tiger, an owl–it goes on and on. Furthermore, it appears that he’s uploading these lessons daily.

Though we’ve only done one video so far, what I like best about Woodard is that he’s very friendly, fun to listen to, concise, and deliberate. Even though he’s taking the kids through a drawing line by line, he doesn’t waste a single second. While his tone is light and fun, he clearly knows what he’s saying and where he wants to go with the drawing. I also appreciate that he’s teaching the kids to draw all kinds of different animals in a manner that isn’t tied to any kind of copyrighted material or style.

My kids are 11 and 8, and they had no trouble following along. Like I said, there’s no downtime with these short videos, so the kids are busy keeping up the entire time. My kids love art, but our schedules are also very full with their remote learning and our working remotely. This video series fits our currently lifestyle perfectly.

Thanks to Brad Woodard for providing these lessons, and thanks to Jude Landry for bringing Brave Kids Art Club to my attention!

You can visit Brave Kids Art Club at YouTube by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGpVxd8Y5ge2UYmvt7ketEQ/videos

Working Hard, Or Hardly Working? My Answer Is … Yes?

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The other day someone asked me if I’m working more or less than I did before the COVID-19 outbreak. I thought about it for a few moments, and I found that I could only logically answer “less.”

As a teacher, I spent about eight and a half hours at work every day before the pandemic. That doesn’t include any assessing, lesson planning, or prep work I did at home.

Now, with my wife working in the house as well, and two children under twelve years of age trying to learn remotely, I cannot honestly say I’m working eight and a half hours every day at my job.

I can’t.

It’s impossible.

There are far too many interruptions, distractions, and general necessities that come with a family spending all day together, every day.

However, even though I’m working less hours, I honestly feel like I’m working harder than ever before.

There is no routine now–not like there is when I’m at work during an average school day. As a result, I do a little work, we make lunch. I do a little work, I go outside and watch my kids as they play. I do a little work, we help our kids with their lessons. I do a little work, we make dinner. Do you see the pattern? The pattern is that there is no pattern. As hard as we try to establish a routine, it’s impossible due to the nature of our jobs and the circumstances.

Ultimately, there is no work “shut-off.” I’m thinking about work all the time. I’m at least reading–if not answering–emails at all hours of the day. It used to be that when I walked out of my place of work at the end of the day, that was it–the end of the work day. That mindset no longer exists.

I’m thankful that I work for a very humane district. They are stressing the importance of both physical and mental health, not just for the students, but for the employees as well. They have made it very clear to put health before work, which I greatly appreciate. However, teachers are self-motivated people who thrive on routine-oriented, multifaceted tasks. We like spinning a thousand plates at once, but we also like clearly established patterns.

I’m sure you’re probably in a similar circumstance–we all are. This is hard. It’s hard on kids, it’s hard on adults, it’s hard on everyone.

Are You Checking Your Child’s Grades?

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Whether COVID-19 has sent your life into utter chaos or perhaps simply a bit of disarray, chances are you’re forgetting to check on your child’s grades. I urge you to do so regularly.

Most school districts have an online grade book that allows family access. I’m sure your elementary and middle school teachers have communicated with you how to take a look at your student’s assessments, but if not, get in touch and ask. It is absolutely your right to keep up with your child’s grades.

Most high school students know how to check their grades using an online grade book, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. I suspect many high school students are checking out or in denial. They need your support right now, and that support will probably feel like nagging. Most adults have felt like shutting down and hiding under the sheets at some point during all of this. Teenagers feel that way, too, but they may not have the capacity to actually get over that feeling. They need you cheering them on, urging them on, or nagging them–whatever works.

Most districts have adopted a “do no harm” policy. This basically means that schools are focused on improving each and every student’s grade. If your student is currently failing, most teachers will be very accommodating with helping that student improve. It could be in the form of making up missing work, doing work over again, or perhaps even excusing some work and treating it as a “no count.”

Whatever the case may be, it starts with you checking in. I know life might be crazy for you right now. I know it seems like you might not have time to do that. I know it seems like it’s the students’ responsibility to keep up with their grades, or the teachers’ responsibility to notify you of failing grades, but it’s yours as well.

The schools want your child to succeed, the teachers want your child to succeed, your child wants to succeed, and you want your child to succeed. Let’s all work together to make sure that success is achieved.

One Month Later …

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I took this picture of my classroom on March 16th, which was a Monday. I didn’t have any students that day–they had already been told to stay home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I spent the day in an empty classroom. It became obvious that we would not be back for a while, so as I walked out of the room at the end of the work day, it dawned on me to take a picture and commemorate the moment. I suspected we wouldn’t be back for several weeks.

I literally took this picture before I closed my classroom door, and, as of today, that was one month ago.

One month.

I have to admit, that’s pretty surreal.

While I’m fortunate enough to still be in contact with my students via technology, it’s very, very odd not to share the classroom space with them any longer. I spent roughly eight and a half hours a day in this room every weekday. I spent more waking hours in this room throughout the week than I did in my own home.

When a teacher leaves for the summer, the mind is mentally prepared to step away for some much needed restoration. However, I don’t think any of us were ready for the emotional ramifications of this unexpected quarantine. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our students. Most of us didn’t realize the significance of the moment when we said goodbye to our coworkers. Furthermore, I’m not sure any of us were ready to partially relinquish our professional identities on March 16th.

We’re still working. We’re still in contact with our students. We’re still encouraging learning. None of it feels the same, though. My identity as a teacher relied on having students physically in front of me. I liked making them laugh and seeing them smile. It was important to me to make a positive impact on a daily basis, no matter how small.

I miss my classroom space, but I miss having that space filled by my students even more.

One month … and counting.

 

 

 

Picard – A Few Thoughts

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While I admit that I am first and foremost a Star Wars guy, I would be lying if I said I didn’t love Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember watching quite a bit of TNG while in high school late at night when there was nothing else on. All of the characters were great, but no one can deny that Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard is what made that show so accessible to the mainstream audience.

When I heard that Patrick Stewart planned to return to the character in a new series written by my favorite author, Michael Chabon, I got very, very excited. But, then I read that the series would be exclusive to the streaming service called CBS All Access. Because this was not a free service, and because I’m already paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, I refused to spend money on yet another service basically just for one show.

However, last week something wonderful happened. CBS All Access offered a free 30 day trial. 30 days? Even I could get a ten episode series watched in 30 days! I signed up immediately through an Amazon Prime Video/CBS All Access channel.

Last night I finished Picard, and, in my opinion … it wasn’t great.

This could be a case of me just not being Trekkie enough, but I found most of the episodes slow, uneventful, and full of far too much exposition.

Granted, our primary actor is currently 79 years old, so he’s not going to be quite as active as he once was, but that’s no excuse for the show using all of the other actors to explain things, talk about what happened in the past, and describe scientific processes. There’s an old writing adage: “show, don’t tell.” In a visual medium, you would expect this to be especially true. Picard is a lot of characters standing around talking to each other.

However, there are many, many positives. The special effects are incredible–this is Star Trek in all its glory. There are also many satisfying cameos for Star Trek fans of all stripes. The acting, overall, is very well done, too. The plot is thoughtful, complex, and could have been captivating if the creators had bad been more successful with the pacing per episode. Finally, the tenth episode was mesmerizing because it was fast and full of action, utilized interesting battles, executed quick dialogue, and simply had a certain “attitude” that the other episodes lacked. And, of course, Patrick Steward is legendary. Even at 79, he is a force to be reckoned with–his vigor at such an age is astonishing.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I recommend Picard to the casual fan. It simply moved at too slow of a pace to keep my attention attention.