My Name’s Mario and I am a Movie Snob

15 Aug

Let me explain.

Over the past eight years, I have begun to dislike movies. I am not drawn to big box office flicks and special effects. In fact, I would rather just wait for NetFlix before watching most movies. I only get interested when some type of human quality is the focus. Movies that stand-out to me are Sling Blade and The Shawshank Redemption. Don’t get me wrong; I love Star Wars and Star Trek too. But, more for a different reason.

When George Lucas created Star Wars, the times had never seen anything like it. Star Wars and Star Trek literally started a genre of movies. But, as time has gone by, I don’t like that genre anymore. Movie makers go out of their way to show a special effects or eye candy whether the story needs it or not. For instance, in the newest rendition of War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise is driving away in a mini-van. In the background, we see a needless shot of a bridge being blown up. In Iron Man, we see countless scenes of watch Tony Stark fly through the skies. Now, why does this bother me?

Well, it bothers me because I know movie makers can do any special effect they need. So, special effects are now common place and “easy.” There’s no new genre of movies being created here. Don’t try to wow me with special effects. I don’t have to have a needless explosion or body being blown apart just so movie makers can say: “I made that!”

This forces me to look for story: human sacrifice, great adversity. Now, when you pull special effects out of the equation, do the big blockbusters still hold water? I’d sadly answer “no.” Movies like Avatar have a nice story, but the story is nothing new. Sure Avatar looks beautiful and there are special effects, but seriously what is new about this movie? What did James Cameron show us about character and suffering we haven’t seen before? Did he even tell the story in a different way? The same themes have been told is countless movies.

But, there is another aspect of this we need to address. Earlier I mentioned Star Wars and Star Trek really started a new genre. I still believe that to be true. But, lets dig deeper. If Avatar had been created in the late seventies, I believe it may be THE movie others are measured by. I don’t mean the special effects would have been just like they are today, but that they would be breakthrough technology. The story would be amazing. The times would have been so different and this story would have an amazing impact.

Let’s look at this another way. If Star Wars was created now, would I like it? Probably not. Blasphemy, you say? Imagine my disgust at the beginning of the movie as the star destroyer goes on forever. Yes, it would have been more beautiful, but come on!! Special effects just to show special effects?! Terrible movie if it had been done today. The story is really nothing new either, but back in the late 70s. This story adding the special effects made it amazing. But, these days I don’t believe special effects can turn a normal story about a boy who eventually saves the world amazing. It’s just same old same old.

So, what makes a good movie then, snob?

Well, this is a hard question to answer. But, I am entertained by movies and stories which emphasize the characters and their social dilemmas. I am interested in acting and I often compare what my reaction would have been to the actor’s.

Special effects have no bearing to whether a movie is great or normal. But, special effects can make a movie bad. Over the top special effects just for the sake of doing it makes a movie terrible to me.

Lastly, the story. I don’t enjoy watching the same story over and over again. In Avatar’s case, you can watch Disney renditions of this theme or even try FernGully: The Last Rainforest. If you’re not fond of cartoons, 1990’s Dances with Wolves will sufficiently tell you the same story. That’s why I don’t like Avatar as a product of today’s movies (Or Iron Man, War of the Worlds, the X-Men Trilogy).

Am I being picky?  Yes, I am a movie snob.


Technology Proficiency: AISD’s Black Eye

30 Jun

My son, Miles, is seven years old. I always marvel at how he can use our computers. He is able to navigate websites and use the computer. Rarely, does he ask for help. The fact is this does not surprise me. My wife and I made a point to let him use the computer to use learning websites since he was three or four. Now that he has been learning to read and write, he is typing website addresses and writing us notes in word processing programs. This semester I have explored if this was normal and if our schools foster this behavior.

School districts throughout the United States spend large amounts of money on technology. The U.S. spends over $66 billion every ten years (Lei 455). China spends almost $13.2 billion per year (Lei 455). Classroom technology is a big business. But, are we really getting our money’s worth? In Austin Independent School District (AISD), the answer is a resounding no. Austin Independent School District’s elementary schools fail miserably at teaching students basic technology related skills. Our schools have a responsibility to prepare the workforce of America (Okojie). Technology is “ubiquitous in our lives” and people are using it for many different tasks (Mouza 514). Schools need to pay less attention to what technology is in the classroom and more attention on how it is actually used.

Austin Independent School District serves 86,000 students (Austin Independent School District). All schools in Austin Independent School District produce a “Campus Technology Plan.” This plan outlines the level of technology the school has and what improvements they intend to make. In addition to this plan, elementary and middle schools subject fifth and eighth graders to a Technology Literacy Assessment. The outcome of this assessment is included in the technology plan. The report outcome lists the date of assessment, number of students tested, average scale score, and percentage of students meeting the proficiency standard. In short, Austin Independent School District elementary schools are terrible at ensuring students meet the technology proficiency.

Austin Independent School District’s elementary schools score terribly on the technology proficiency. Twenty-three of forty-five elementary schools score below fifty percent of students tested meeting the technology proficiency standard (Austin Independent School District). When students leave elementary school, they do not have basic technology related skills.

The description of the problem starts with teachers. Before graduating, teachers do not learn ways of integrating technology into lesson plans. Emphasis is placed more on mastering hardware and software functions (Brown). This ensures teachers do not enter the workforce with any skills with respect to technology integration. Teachers sometimes use computers as a treat or reward for good work (Graham). This idea leads to the next part of the problem. The quantity of time spent using technology is not as important as the quality of time spent (Lei). But, technology integration does not stop there. Technology integration plays a part in most aspects of the school system from curriculum, teaching strategies, professional development and many more areas (Eteokleous-Grigoriou). Technology must be thought about at the start of curriculum planning to ensure proper integration. Using computers without plans or objectives “is of little intrinsic value” (Lavin 3).

Technology can have a positive effect on most subject areas. With proper integration, “computers improve student proficiency in mathematics” (Ozel). Ozel also mentions many positive effects “include improved attitudes toward learning, increased student achievement and conceptual understanding, and engagement with mathematics.” If technology is used correctly, important development experiences are not taken away. Technology can add support to a child’s unique needs while embracing their achievements (Mouza 514). In general, Lavin’s study suggest adding technology will have a “positive impact” on student behavior and perceptions of the teacher and materials being presented (7). Quality of technology use is key to technology integration and improving technology proficiency (Lei 468).

Another aspect of the problem revolves around the maintenance of the equipment. Technical issues must be resolved in a timely manner. If not, teachers may be forced to abandon integration efforts (Ozel). Also, teachers do not have adequate access to technology specialists (Sanders). Technology specialists provide key professional development through group and individual training which focuses on technology integration (Ozel). The problem has many parts and each must be addressed.

Teaching our children to be productive in our technology rich society is important. All of society will benefit from improving our students ability to use technology. I have chosen to use Utilitarianism as the moral or ethical framework associated with this issue. We, as a society, provide education to our children in an effort to provide the greatest happiness. When we leave gaps in their education, we are causing the opposite. This is wrong. Literate no longer means being able to read and write. The twenty-first century literate must also be able to upload, chat, save, blog, and share (Mullen). Our students are leaving school with no to low technology skills. Students are hard-pressed to find worthwhile jobs which do not include working with technology. We have seen many jobs becoming more dumb because our students lack the faculty to use a cash register. McDonald’s is the best example of this. Their cash registers have pictures of their offerings to ensure workers can use their equipment. The greater good is served by improving technology proficiency. I plan to use this theory to illustrate why we, as a community, are better served by solving this problem.

I believe technology should be part of every child’s education. My solution is to increase elementary student’s ability to use technology while achieving other academic goals. To accomplish this, I have prepared five steps. First, schools must not just increase time students use technology per week, they must increase the quality of use with computers. Technology integration must not be a piecemeal approach which takes into account only parts of systems and some groups of stakeholders (Eteokleous-Grigoriou). We must not “ignore the quality of technology use” and focus on how technology is actually used (Lei).

Next, Austin Independent School District must standardize what technology should be in every Austin Independent School District classroom. Austin Independent School District currently has a “dream list” for what every classroom should have, but implementation has been spread throughout the district (Sanders). I believe Austin Independent School District should focus on poor performing schools first and outfit the whole school properly. Standardization helps companies manage maintenance fees. During purchase, volume discounts can help reduce costs. I recognize this step cannot be done across the entire district, but classrooms at individual schools should be the same. Technology inclined teachers can then help others because they have the same equipment and the same needs further reducing support costs. This steps allows the next step to work smoothly.

The third step is to ensure teachers are given ample opportunity to increase their learning of technology and how to integrate it. Teachers must also be involved in the selection of software which allows for active learning and exploration (Mouza 515). Computers can be used meaningfully only if teachers are well prepared and select software specific to the way children learn (Mouza 515). After they have learned, teachers must be able to actually implement use in their classrooms. The next step is the technology facilitator.

Particularly for people seeking to integrate classroom technology, high-quality professional development “is central to any education effort” (Martin 53). Technology facilitators must spend time with every teacher to ensure they have the knowledge to use their technology. Immediate access to a technology facilitator is crucial. Teachers must have someone they can rely on and trust to help them. Facilitators can help make sure technology is considered during lesson planning as objectives, methods, and assessment is identified (Okojie). To accomplish this, schools should have a full-time facilitator on campus.

The last part of my solution comes from an idea I got from Jose Sanchez, a technology coordinator from Trujillo Bilingual Elementary School in Chicago. Sanchez’s idea is not to leave the parents out; help parents too. Parents play an integral part in a student’s education. Essentially, if parents cannot use technology, they will not encourage students or be able to help them. In fact, some parents might not even know or understand what technology can do to help. Another point mentioned is parents are sometimes afraid of technology. Sanchez eliminated this fear by offering a comfortable avenue for parents to learn computer skills by forming a computer course for parents (Chen 233). Parents who take this class are asked to volunteer at the school using their new skills to help teachers. This arrangement is a beneficial relationship for both the school and parent. One more note about this last step, Sanchez reported parents asking questions of teachers relating to technology and how their class was using it (Chen 234). Teachers and parents talking about student learning is always a good thing. Over time, this program can change the climate of involvement and success of parents and students. I believe my solution also matches what the US Department of Education emphasizes as the three prerequisites to integrate technology: access to technology; adequate training for teachers in the use of and implementation of technology into their lesson plans; timely access to technology support (USEd).

The implementation plan for this solution is easy to follow. First, AISD must create a committee of teachers of each grade level. This committee will work on proposing rules and offering suggestions for each step of the process. At each stage, the committees must provide input. Next, Austin Independent School District will mandate a specific amount of time students should use technology. The time cannot be a reward or without specific lesson plan goals. Thirdly, classroom standardization will be addressed. The committee should be able to provide in-depth data on what each grade-level needs. Then, technology facilitators must be hired and trained. Next, mandatory training will be developed and provided for all teachers. Facilitators will begin working directly with teachers to help them find ways to use and integrate technology into their lesson plans. Lastly, lab environments will be identified regionally where a parent computer class can be held.

The costs to implement this plan is the main part of the opposition. Austin Independent School District is currently under tremendous financial strain and recently declared a financial emergency. Austin Independent School District has reduced the technology maintenance department by sixty-six percent. The Education Technology department has been completely closed down. That department was tasked with providing training for the district’s teachers. Even so, I will outline costs related to this implementation and a way to reduce them. A technology facilitator’s salary averages around $55,000 (Sanders). Computers cost around $500 each. A four-to-one student to computer ratio seems ideal. The software costs are hard to nail down because there are so many applications out there. But, there are many free options which have proven to be hard to beat. Training materials for teachers can be developed in house and costs can be saved.

I gathered the costs related to implementation by first asking what the average salary of Austin Independent School District’s current technology facilitators are. Next, I spent some time on the Dell’s website determining what computers cost. While training materials and software may increase costs, there are volume licensing discounts to help. With forty-five elementary schools, the cost for technology facilitators is in excess of $2.4 million per year. With Austin Independent School District’s budget crunch, it is obvious I will have to find another way to fund this solution.

I was happy to receive a great suggestion from a classmate on how to solve the problem of cost. And, it reminded me of what graduating students did at Texas State Technical College (TSTC) when I graduated there. We could utilize area colleges like Austin Community College or even St. Edward’s University. Each have programs in computer maintenance and software support. Students at these institutions could benefit with having a student-technician component added to their program. This could be similar to student-teaching programs. Students are assigned to spend three hours per week at a designated school. Student-technicians could contact the Austin Independent School District technology support staff and work on issues. This program would supplement student learning and help Austin Independent School District desktop support. The student-technicians could spend time working with teachers to help with integration. I see this solution a way where everyone wins.

Measuring the success of this program can be done through the assessments already used at Austin Independent School District: Technology Proficiency Assessment, Standardized Test Scores. This program will be viewed as a success with two positive results. First, student technology proficiency assessment test scores will improve. Secondly, overall school ratings and TEA designations improve. Ultimately, students improve their learning. Although slight improvements will occur every year, I would expect the best improvements when kindergarteners graduate elementary school as fifth-graders having used the program throughout their elementary career.

Opposition to my solution comes first from the cost. I believe my student-technician option eliminates this opposition. While there may still be some issues related to ensuring student-technicians have access to actually work on the computers (e.g. passwords), I think they can be solved easily. More opposition comes from some teachers. There are teachers who would resist using technology. One often heard remark is that their system has always worked, why change it. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the US has fallen in world education rankings. The OECD “compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world.” The US is now ranked fourteenth in reading, seventeenth in science and twenty-fifth in mathematics (“US falls to average in education ranking”). Clearly, the system has not been working.

Another place of opposition was found while having a casual conversation about my solution. This person exclaimed: “What about middle school and high school students!” I realized I have done nothing to analyze what technology is being used or taught in upper levels of public education in Austin. The obvious reaction is this solution helps students enter middle school ready to use technology to complete the goals assigned to them. One of my interviewees stated some students get to high school without experience using computers to type papers or do research (Sanders). My solution helps solve this problem. In short, I believe elementary students leaving cannot complete middle school technology related tasks without substantial help. My solution brings students to the proper level ready to solve problems and excel.

In my interviews, I found out teachers are not mandated to use technology nor are they mandated to do any professional development specific to technology. This must be changed. If we are to improve and solve this problem, we must mandate and ensure technology integration and professional development are a priority. Teachers must accept and acquire new technology skills.

My completed research is based on peer-reviewed studies and articles. I used the St. Edward’s library website to search and find research. I have used statistical information about Austin Independent School District from their website. I also spent time interviewing two people who work in Austin Independent School District. One is a second grade teacher who is labeled as “good with technology” by their peers. The other person works in administration serving all teachers in Austin Independent School District. Both interviewees signed a consent form. A vast majority of resources I found strengthen the idea of technology being an avenue to increase student involvement, retention and overall student learning.

There are some steps needed to be done. I would like to find more statistical information regarding how much quality technology time is best for students. I feel the committee would probably debate this first. Providing them some guidance seems like a good idea. Also, an individual meeting with principals is needed. As these meetings happen, hopefully enthusiasm and positive reactions can garner a meeting with the superintendent. As those meetings are happening, meetings with local high education systems about student-technician programs. These “next steps” are a great way to get this program off the ground.

I will conclude this paper with a summary of what I have done and what still needs to be done. I believe schools can pay less attention to what technology is in the classroom and more attention on how it is actually used. I have added some statistics to help put the problem in perspective. The opposition was lengthened again. I believe I have been able to over come all the opposition. But, I believe there will be more identified. I have researched and documented scholarly support for the problem and its solution.

I have very little work left to do. I need to develop my slides for the symposium and practice. If I planned on trying to implement this solution, I would seek meetings with principals and begin the implementation plan. However, I do not plan on trying to implement this solution. I feel it is a worthy effort, but I intend to continue my studies in a master’s degree program. With family, school and work, I do not think I can provide this project the attention deserved.

I feel this project and class has given me an opportunity to improve my research and writing skills. I enjoyed the process and look forward to using these skills as I continue my education. I have always been taught education is important. However, I never listened. After leaving high school, I hurried to get an associate’s degree and find a job. While that choice garnered a good job and a nice life, my obsessive want to learn new things always seemed to keep my mind going. Eventually, I quit thinking about “the now” and started thinking about “the future.” My work often has me under desks, or up on a ladder juggling equipment and sweating profusely. I do enjoy the work, but I have begun questioning whether I would enjoy it in twenty years. In fact, I believe I would like to teach in twenty years. I need more education to be a professor or director. I went back to school. I am glad I did. I have enjoyed every class and found learning more, even about “hard” topics, is fun. My wife has always told me my brain is full of knowledge, but I do not have the degrees to prove it. I guess my continuing education will change this.

Works Cited

“$20 billion.” Technology & Learning 28.1 (2007): 6. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web.
27 Feb. 2011.

Austin Independent School District. Home page. AISD, 2011. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.

Brown, Dina, and Mark Warschauer. “From the university to the elementary classroom: students’
experiences in learning to integrate technology in instruction.” Journal of Technology and
Teacher Education 14.3 (2006): 599+. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Apr. 2011.

Chen, Jie-Qi, and Warren Dym. “Using Computer Technology To Bridge School and
Community.” Phi Delta Kappan 85.3 (2003): 232-234. Academic Search Complete.
EBSCO. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.

Eteokleous-Grigoriou, Nikleia. “Instilling a new learning, work and communication culture
through systemically integrated technology in education.” Systems Research and
Behavioral Science
26.6 (2009): 707+. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Apr. 2011.

US falls to average in education ranking.” Google News. 7 Dec. 2010. Web. 1 May 2011.

REDACTED. Personal Interview. 22 Mar. 2011.

Lavin, Angeline M., Leon Korte, and Thomas L. Davies. “The impact of classroom technology
on student behavior.” Journal of Technology Research 2.(2010): 1-13. Academic Search
. EBSCO. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.

Lei, Jing. “Quantity versus quality: A new approach to examine the relationship between
technology use and student outcomes.” British Journal of Educational Technology 41.3
(2010): 455-472. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.

Martin, Wendy, et al. “Connecting instructional technology professional development to teacher
and student outcomes.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 43.1 (2010):
53+. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 Apr. 2011.

Mouza, Chrystalla. “Using Technology to Enhance Early Childhood Learning: The 100 Days of
School project.” Educational Research & Evaluation 11.6 (2005): 513-528. Academic
Search Complete
. EBSCO. Web. 13 Feb. 2011.

Mullen, Rebecca, and Linda Wedwick. “Avoiding the digital abyss: getting started in the
classroom with YouTube, digital stories, and blogs.” The Clearing House 82.2 (2008):
66+. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 Apr. 2011.

Nagel, David. “Classroom technology ‘Woefully inadequate,’ study finds.” T H E Journal
[Technological Horizons In Education] 35.7 (2008): 4. Academic OneFile. Web. 3 Apr.

Okojie, Mabel C.P.O., and Anthony Olinzock. “Developing a positive mind-set toward the use of
technology for classroom instruction.” International Journal of Instructional Media 33.1
(2006): 33+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.

Oppenheimer, Todd. The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom
and How Learning Can Be Saved.
New York: Random House, 2003. Print.

Owens, Aileen M. “Do your teachers need a personal trainer?” Learning & Leading with
36.8 (2009): 14+. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 Apr. 2011.

Ozel, Serkan, Zeynep Ebrar Yetkiner, and Robert M. Capraro. “Technology in K-12 mathematics
classrooms.” School Science and Mathematics 108.2 (2008): 80+. Academic OneFile.
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Penuel, William R. “Implementation and Effects Of One-to-One Computing Initiatives: A
Research Synthesis.” Journal of Research on Technology in Education 38.3 (2006): 329-
348. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

REDACTED. Personal Interview. 2 Mar. 2011.

U.S. Department of Education. Challenges and strategies in using technology to promote
education reform. USEd, n.d. Web. 2 Apr. 2011.

Other Links:


More stuff I like

15 Jun
  1. Color Schemer
    Allows you to pick a color and see a group of colors which compliment the selected color.
  2. FreeMind
    Excellent FREE mind mapper.
  3. HTTrack
    Can make a copy of any website to be browsed locally.
  4. HFS
    Lets you instantly create a web server to quickly share files.
  5. MoonEdit
    Lets multiple users edit text files at the same time.  Great for collaborative works.
  6. MailWasher
    Beat the spammers.
  7. Working Time Tracker
    Great for tracking time spent on projects for customers to ensure you bill them effectively.