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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Catfight of Epic Proportions

            It started with a beauty pageant. One day, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite got into a rather vocal discussion about who was the most beautiful. Unable to resolve this pressing issue, they went to Zeus and asked him to decide who was the most beautiful.
            Now Zeus often isn’t given a lot of credit. He’s seen as the god who just goes out to schtup mortals; however, on this occasion he paused and looked around. The contest was between Hera, his wife; Athena, his daughter; and Aphrodite, his adopted daughter. Under thes circumstances, he decided, most wisely, that he wasn’t the man for the job—really, what man would actually go through with that, knowing the headaches it would later cause? Instead, he sent them off to a guy named Paris, claiming Paris had sound judgement.
            Zeus is a smart cookie.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Peer Feedback

            A few weeks back a former student of mine came in needing help. As she had spent most of the semester wisely seeking my help when she had my class, I had no problem with this. I knew that she would take the counsel seriously and use it. She was struggling with the next class, but she mentioned something of note, which I won’t get perfectly accurate here: “I learned a long time ago that in peer review they just tell you what you want to hear.”
            I’ve struggled with the concept of peer review in the classroom for this very reason. Students are ill-equipped to criticize one another’s work for a variety of reasons that range from simply not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings (or the reciprocal of having their own feelings hurt) all the way to not having any expert knowledge to make a comment on writing.
            I’ve more or less eliminated peer review from my courses. I feel that before they can be competent to evaluate writing skills they must first develop a critical eye. I know this process can be instructive, but I’ve yet to see dividends.
            The same holds true for writers. It’s important that writers receive feedback from other writers. Writers know their trade, know pitfalls and what to look for in writing. Family and friends can help some, obviously, but nothing beats feedback from someone with that critical eye. I’m fine with family and friends telling me they like what I’m writing, but I love when writers dig in let me have it with both barrels. When they hack me to pieces on a scene, I know I need to make improvements. I also know that the scenes they didn’t hit with a meat cleaver are also good.

Friday, February 22, 2013

F3 Graveyard

            Battlefields in space are nothing like those planetside. Planetside, everything is nice and grounded. Gravity keeps things in place, minimizes the effect. Sure, the landscape gets pretty torn up, but enough time passes and that’s all erased by weather.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


            I’m a big believer in feedback. My students are never at a lack of feedback in their writing. I believe in lots of practice for analytical writing, and on all of these assignments (which many students complain there are too many) I provide lots of ink for their consideration. Of necessity, there is more critical (not negative) feedback than positive. I do mark where I think they’ve done well, but what they truly need is to know where they need to make improvements.
            I just wish more of them would actually use the feedback. Many, many students when they receive an assignment back, skip straight to the grade, never to look back over my other comments.
It’s a frustrating state of affairs, and I wonder, quite often, why I bother with so much work when it’s unappreciated.
And then I wonder if there’s a better way. Is there a way to get students to look and acknowledge the feedback as opposed to the grade? Is there a way to make my grading quicker without compromising the level of feedback I give them?
I’m still searching.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Interactive Fiction

            I’m one of those people that shouts at a book when a character does something stupid or ignores the vital clue. I will smack the page with a “No, you idiot, the lamp. Look at the lamp. Don’t waste time with the knife.”
            This sometimes gets awkward when I say it at the TV or in the movie theater.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

F3 Sightseeing

            Never had a charting mission been more pleasurable. On the other side of a dense nebula, the star system was invisible to telescopes. Gravity scans had revealed a lot of mass in the system, but no one had gotten close enough, from any direction, to see the system.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


            I’ve been noticing a lack of fundamental skills in the classroom, lately, which, if I were teaching elementary school, wouldn’t be much of a problem. As I’m in a college classroom, it’s a big problem.
            I really wonder what’s going on in the public education system when basic tenents of vocabulary and language are not taught. The holes in my students’ knowledge are, frankly, baffling.
            And I can’t blame the students. They’ve graduated the system without anyone informing them of their lack. Many students come in knowing that there should be very few grammar errors in their writing, but no one ever told them just how many errors they truly had.
            And, of course, as I write this I minded that the same can hold true for writers with a professional aim. How many of us actually know our strengths and weaknesses? How many of us know our fundamentals? Do we truly know, or do we just assume we know?

Monday, February 11, 2013


            I’m blocked. Have been pretty much since NaNoWriMo. My December and January have been pretty hectic with teaching requirements, and I’ve just had a general malaise towards writing. I think it’s my current WIP. Trying to push through it isn’t working. My next scene just feels monumental, and I want to nail it. Of course, I don’t know all the specifics in it, either. Otherwise it will feel rushed.
            I think I’m going to take a short break from the monumental, and do something a little more low-key. Something with the Storm Riders sounds fun.

Friday, February 8, 2013

F3 Finding a Client

            I spun in a circle with eyes closed. When my spin stopped, I started walking, still with eyes closed. Only on my third step did I open them. I was walking straight towards the wall of a building, going across the street at an angle. I fully intended to keep walking until I either hit the wall or something moved me away.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Class Is a Novel, not an Anthology

            I’m pretty weird when it comes to my classes. I don’t view it in sections, modules, or any other kind of subdivision. To me, a course is not something with bits and pieces that can be swapped out. It is an entire entity constructed for a purpose.
            I know there are some instructors out there who view their courses in the same way, or, as I want to connect this to writing, as a short story anthology. The instructor picks out each story they want to use, and can even change their minds later during the course. The stories (modules) they choose don’t have to have any relation to one another. One part has no bearing on the other part.
            To continue the story idea, all the stories could even have the same author, and the same characters, but are still separate stories. It won’t have a bearing on any other story module in the class.
            I tend to think of my classes as a novel. It is one large entity, where everything that happens in it is aimed at moving the whole novel forward. Everything works together towards that point.
            I think classes should be designed like a novel. Every piece of instruction should be focused on that overarching goal. Each piece of subplot and conflict will eventually be resolved in the climax.
            A side effect of this type of design is the student investment. It takes more to invest in a novel with a long, complicated plot rather than a short story. This is something that can’t simply be picked up for a week and then disregarded as you move on to another story. This takes real investment in time, energy, and mental effort. It’s a long haul marathon instead of a series of sprints.
            Consequently, students who aren’t willing to make such an investment won’t make it to the end, but those who do often get more out of the class than if it were an anthology.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Content vs. Skill

            A class, as my friend Roy says, is content-based or skill-based. Essentially the focus is either on transmitting specific information related to a subject to students, or in aiding students in the acquisition of a skill.
            Some classes inherently lean more one direction than another. Many of the sciences, for instance, focus on the specialized information that students need to know about the discipline.
            However, I believe that there are too many who focus on the content rather than the skills. There is always some content instruction. There must be. However, the skills are far more important, especially in an age of the internet.
            As my favorite professor (and the man whom I’ve patterned my teaching after) said, “There will never be a time when you are without the text.” That was back in the fledgling days of the internet, as well. Now, with access to all of the information on mobile phones, his words are more true than ever.
            While the English Composition courses I teach are fundamentally skill-based (at least in my world-view) the mythology class I teach could lend itself highly to content-based knowledge. In fact, when I took the course, that’s how it was taught: memorization and quickly surveying a new continent every other week. I barely had a chance do more than spin around before the next scantron was in front of my face.
            And I felt cheated.
            I didn’t really learn much. I learned as much about mythology from that course as I would have looking at Wikipedia pages.
            So when I started teaching mythology, it was not an exercise in memorization. I’ve shifted the class to skill acquisition. I teach students how to look at mythology. I want them to be able to crack it open and pull out everything that’s inside of it (and there is quite a bit). I want them to know what to do when they read a myth, and how to recognize the value and the culture of the people who wrote it. When students pass my mythology class, I’m confident that they will be able to apply this skills to other myths.
            It’s time we stop treating education as the equivalent of looking something up in an encyclopedia, and focus on the skills necessary to utilize the knowledge.

Friday, February 1, 2013

F3 Magtubes

            One of the only advantages of Core systems was the presence of Magtubes. Parked in an orbit of 500 miles from most planets and a 100 miles long itself, Magtubes provided a quick way to accelerate a ship in a star system. The combination of electromagnetic and gravnet could accelerate a modest-sized ship towing up to three cargo pods to .2c by the end of the tube, shaving hours, even days off of system travel. Some tubes were designated strictly for cargo pods, allowing them to be slung directly at capturing tubes part of orbital stations.
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