Friday, April 10, 2015

Aarghs for the day

  • In one class, we've been reading a novel in which a game -- let's say parcheesi -- is mentioned with some frequency. Characters play parcheesi, they talk about parcheesi, they fall in love over parcheesi, they work out animosities over parcheesi, they get themselves in various sorts of trouble betting over parcheesi games, etc., etc., etc.  I just discovered that one of the students in the class has no idea what parcheesi is, and has not bothered to google it.  
  • In another class, a student who had, as far as I could tell, been happily (if somewhat slowly) pursuing a nice focused investigation of a particular hamster-nest weaving technique has now announced that she finds her present subject "distressing," and wants to investigate hamster locomotion devices.  All of them, apparently. Attempts to encourage her to narrow her focus to wheels or balls, let alone gearing mechanisms for wheels, have so far been unsuccessful.  And yes, I'll be running whatever she eventually hands me through a plagiarism checker (assuming she hands me anything that resembles a response to the assignment; it's actually pretty well-tailored to avoid students' using pre-existing papers -- their own or others' -- and I'd be surprised if she can find anything even half-responsive to the assignment on her new, very broad topic (though I wouldn't be at all surprised if she can find a pre-existing "research paper" on the topic, which is, of course, why I'm suspicious)).
  • I still need to finish my taxes. Every year, I tell myself I'll do them in January, but by the time all the necessary documents are available, I'm knee-deep in schoolwork, and then it's April (and I'm chin-deep in schoolwork). 


  1. Before I had even finished your first paragraph I had opened a new tab and googled "parcheesi." I've always heard of the game but never actually figured out what it was, but SHEESH, seriously? A whole book and they couldn't be bothered to find out the significance of the game?

  2. It's a stretch, but from the description above, parcheesi might be kind of a MacGuffin. The main point of the game is that it is something around which the characters have an excuse to organize; the details of it are unimportant except insofar as they might foster specific kinds of interaction.

    I employ a MacGuffin in real life: American football. I know just a few of the rules and can't be bothered to look up the rest, because they are unimportant to how football is used in the story of my life. Football is an excuse to get together with other people and drink and laugh and talk about stuff and occasionally look at the people moving on the field.

    Back to the student. Without prior knowledge of parcheesi, how could the student know whether the specifics of parcheesi are unimportant unless zhe looked it up? So the student does not get a 'pass' here.

    I, along with my whole section of 9th-grade honors English, learned that lesson the hard way. As homework, we were to read and respond to a poem that included the word 'laity' among (of course) many others. The next day, the teacher asked, what does 'laity' mean? Nobody knew. He went mildly ballistic. Weren't we even curious what it meant?! It would have been so simple to have looked it up, and therefore be able to make an informed decision about how it related to everything else. So we learned to be curious and to look things up.

  3. I once taught "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" for a class on the 1920s and the most common question I got... "What does 'bob' mean" Ah, if only there was some device that allowed students to search databases from around the world to answer such questions instantly . It'd be even better if it were hand-held! I know, I know, that's crazy talk...

    1. Did you do the companion piece, "Bob Bernices His Hair"?

      The sad thing is, when students use their smart phones to "look up" things, it's often to go on Facebook or something and simply ask their similarly uninformed friends, as opposed to, oh I don't know, seeking out and reading some more authoritative source.

  4. "wants to investigate hamster locomotion devices"

    They're called "feet"

    "All of them, apparently"

    What - all four?

    "narrow her focus to wheels or balls"

    Actually, their balls don't touch the ground during locomotion.

    (you didn't think you could lob that one out there without someone taking the bait did you?)