Sunday, September 18, 2011


Full Disclosure: I attended a parochial grade school in the early 1980s. Our school still used spirit duplicators because they were still very cheap to operate. I'm not that old.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Podcast Interview and Odds & Ends

It's not every day two teachers who love typewriters get the chance to talk. I had the fortune to be interviewed for an upcoming episode of The Tightwad Teacher. This podcast focuses on how to cheaply integrate technology into a classroom setting. I was contacted by John, one of the hosts, who also has a fondness for typewriters. It was a really interesting conversation and as soon as the episode becomes available I'll post a link to it on the sidebar.

The CTP is slowly making typewriters a thing at Alhambra High School. The school library is now home to a working Royal FP in minty green. A few days ago the librarian, Tim, came to me and said that he had a typewriter that wasn't quite working. He asked me to take a look at it and after a few minutes oiling the Magic Margin (our namesake), cleaning the type, and winding a new ribbon, the Alhambra Library is rocketing strait into the retro future. Tim cleared a small place out on a built-in counter and there it sits, proudly, waiting for the type-clack of creative fingers. The CTP salutes Tim and his efforts!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Zephyr De Luxe

This pre-WWII ultra-portable is the newest acquisition for my personal collection.

Sure, it's missing the paper support with the De Luxe decal. Sure, the ribbon covers are  nowhere to be found. Sure, it was a little scratched up, but after new felt, a bit of cleaning, and bending the type into alignment it's a fun little typer.

The insides were quite clean and only needed sweeping out with a brush.

As with all old Coronas, the felt pads were gross and smelled like death's cologne.

The Zephyr has an interesting body shell. As you can see, it is one piece where the frame slides out the back. This makes for a terrible time when you want to take the frame out for cleaning or oiling. The upper row of keytops needs to be depressed while while you slide the frame out. It's very tricky and hardly for the ham-fisted among us. The Skyriter refines this by making the case much simpler to remove at the expense of the sophisticated Zephyr's lines.

While not the best typer (hollow sound often ghosting characters), the Zephyr/Skyriter line is becoming my favorite ultra-portable typewriter. They have a simple and charming nature about them. They tend to be fairly rugged and easy to work on. They are not nearly as foppish as the minty-green Rocket. Take that Hermes fans! They are honest typewriters. Really, you could consider them the Mickey Roony of typewriters; fun, a classic American, and small.

Separated at Birth

Monday, September 5, 2011

Computer Canard

My classroom technology set-up is pretty basic. I have an LCD projector, a computer (which works very nearly all the time), and speaker installed in the ceiling. Overall, it's fairly standard when it comes to technology in the classroom. Some classrooms have SmartBoards, but I am not one of the chosen. Anyway, I tend to shy away from slide-show presentations because I think they are boring. I do use them occasionally. Mostly, the projector is used to throw graphic organizers and other visuals on the screen. It serves the same function as an old overhead projector with acetate transparencies. I do have about 12 computers in my room, but they are used for my Yearbook and Newspaper classes and are not used by the lion's share of students who come through my door.

The technology has been...acceptable. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I have to spend 5 minutes fidgeting with some cable or settings while my students chat. Sometimes I want to punch Microsoft Windows 7 in the face. Teaching isn't a very easy job and when the tools on which you rely don't work properly it makes things all the more difficult. We do have boffins who are happy to come and fix things, but you can only contact them through our Brazil-like on-line help ticketing system. 

It's not a great situation, but things are starting to become much worse. Technology is creeping into the new Common Core standards for Language Arts and Mathematics. In addition to teaching critical thinking, language, grammar, literary analysis, I am supposed to teach basic computer literacy.

Computers and their applications are becoming the new silver-bullet in education. School districts like the Kyrene Elementary District-- a suburban school district outside Phoenix--  have invested heavily in one-to-one laptops, Smart Boards, and expensive educational software that would make the learning environment more valuable. You can read a really great article about it at this link. Policy-makers and reformers have a positive gut-reaction to computers. Everyone believes that they enhance learning environments. Computers are interactive and engaging. However, there has been no conclusive evidence that computers do what the reformers claim. Larry Cuban, Education Professor Emeritus at Stanford University has stated that there has been no evidence to support that huge investments in technology translate into higher student achievement. The idea that technology can fix what ails us is a canard continued by companies that have a vested interest in nation-wide educational technology integration.

La Belle Époque depiction of a school in the year 2000.

Do parents want their children to be taught with computers who feel nothing or by people who care? Is a school an information factory or are they places where we share our cultural values? Can technology ever be bad?

What absolutely must be done is technology needs to be evaluated based on its efficacy and not its modernity. That is where the CTP comes in. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with pen, paper, typewriters, conversations, and the mind. Replacing any of these things with a computer hurts far more than it can ever help.