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Starting from scratch

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When I was growing up, the goal with your records was to not scratch them. I learned how to hold the black orbs by the edges between my palms as soon as I started raiding my older brother’s Who collection. Billy Joel smiled at me from the Italian restaurant on the cover because I cleaned lint from the needle before I spun The Stranger. I might have worn a groove in Give Me Three Steps, but there was never an unwanted pop or hiss on either disc of my first double album, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gold & Platinum.

At some point along the way, the not scratching thing changed. I know it was well after MTV appeared, forcing its way into our TV diet alongside and eventually replacing half hour episodes of The Love Boat and Three’s Company. It was probably not too long after the time that my older sister started walking around reciting lyrics from “Rapper’s Delight,” like “Have you ever been over to a friend’s house to eat and the food just ain’t no good?/ The macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mush and the chicken tastes like wood...”. Whenever it actually happened, I remember the practice actually had an onomatopoetic word associated with it for about fifteen minutes: “wiki-wiki.”

Some musicologically astute reader out there may remember the tune in which this word first appeared, or even know whether it preceded or imitated the actual sound made by DJ’s half-wearing big head phones who flopped back and forth between records. In fact, I bet I could find more on this on Wikipedia. (But I’m getting ahead of myself.) Whatever its origins, the “wiki-wiki” sound, now called mixing and scratching, has come a long way. The once forbidden act of dragging a record needle across vinyl in the wrong direction is today ubiquitous in musical genres from hip hop to pop.

I offer this admittedly imperfect history of a particular sound as an example of how an aspect of technology, through culture, art, and big sisters, gets folded into the mainstream. And also, because the word “wiki” has been stuck in my head ever since last Tuesday, when I heard a presentation by NVWP tech guru and Woodbridge High School English teacher Eric Hoefler about “Web 2.0” and its applications in my classroom.

I know even less about the frontiers of today’s world wide web than I do about the history of DJ’ing, but for those as clueless as I was before Eric’s dynamic presentation (if you’re over 25 that means you), “Web 2.0” is a current philosophy about how the internet should be used that promotes collaboration, free sharing of ideas and “code,” and generally thumbs its nose at proprietary software peddled by blood-sucking corporate giants like Microsoft.

You may not know about the revolution, but by now you’ve probably heard of or looked something up on Wikipedia, an increasingly referenced online encyclopedia (at least by our students) and the largest wiki in the world. And by wiki I don’t mean the funny sound, I mean a collectively authored website. Eric told us some cool stuff about Wikipedia: a recent article in Nature says it’s more or less as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica; and, they did a study showing that “wrong information” put up on the more trafficked entries of Wikipedia lasts only about 5 minutes before someone out there in cyberspace corrects it. (By the way, here's Brittanica's snarky response and Nature's rebuttal.)

The rub? I want to make a wiki with my students this year to chronicle our canoe project. This may be as foolhardy as wanting to make the canoe itself, something else I know virtually nothing about. But since when has that stopped me. I already had the idea of a website to scrapbook the process. A wiki, a website we make as we go, is a better tool for the job. What makes me think we can pull it off? None of the kids I’ll be working with remember a time when records weren’t supposed to be scratched.

9 Comments

Foolhardy? I hope not. Ambitious? The kind we need more of, I think.

One place to get free wikis for education is PBwiki [http://pbwiki.com/] (look at http://pbwiki.com/edu/).

Good luck!

Fabulous missive...you know, I remember "Rapper's Delight" well, having studied/drank/cavorted at St. John's University from 79 to 84. At the time, I was a reclamation project from a "lost year" at Shippensburg State College (PA). Got to SJU via an old acquaintance of my mom's from nursing school, whose husband started the athletic admin. pgm there. At the end of 4 years, I still needed 30 credits, accrued 12 in the spring of '83, then quit. Delivered beds on Long Island to some homes that resemble those found on the Sopranos, if you catch my drift. With 18 credits to go, I ran into Bernie Beglane (the aforementioned AAD director). "What the hell are you doing?" he exclaimed. "Er, uh, I ran out of money," was my lame reply. So, with tail betwixt my legs I paid him a visit. "Look, kid, I've got something with the Yankees." Hmm, I thought, that would get me the needed credits, but Steinbrenner's a despot. So, desperation won out over logic. The following January I stood before the mirror and shaved my considerable beard and moustache. Next day, I donned my only suit and took a bus and 3 subways to the big ball orchard in da Bronx. I still remember stepping into the elevator and wishing there were some way to reverse its upward path. The "interview" lasted maybe 15 minutes. They seemed pleased with my milquetoast replies to their equally bland questions. Turns out, it was contract day, January 20th, the date all minor league contracts had to be postmarked for mailing to some 175 players. Hey, they asked, could you stick around? Sure, I thought, I loved being at the park. They had me stuff envelopes, type contracts and cover letters. It was fun, but I should have realised right then & there that these guys were not what you'd call "together". Eventually, my work ethic and desire to shed my former hippie skin earned me the privilege of a full-time position, as an assistant to the V.P. of Baseball Operations. Not bad, huh? Except my salary was $12,000. My dad said, "Don't take it!" (he was a RedSox fan, but also a realist). I took it. Because of Steinbrenner's penchant for firing everyone and anyone, I had the opportunity to work with Murray Cook, Clyde King, Woody Woodward, Lou Piniella, Bob Quinn, Syd Thrift, Harding Peterson, and Gene Michael. In 8 years I had 8 general managers, not to mention other "flavours of the month" who didn't wear the title, but were de facto G.M.'s for short periods. Point is, my time there taught me that every "teacher" has his or her own approach, and, in baseball at least, they rarely considered the skills of their charges, instead following a path that often left a lot of carnage. Now that I'm entering my 5th year of full-time teaching (I returned to college at age 40 after catching the bug while running a c.b.o. in Harlem), I cull tidbits from those folks when presenting my lessons. Intellectualism from Cook (he taught me the word perspicacity), wisdom and kindness from King (his wife befriended Rachel Robinson when none of the other wives would dare be caught with the only black wife in baseball), preparedness from Woodward (he had a masters in ed. from Florida State), humour and an awareness of how anger can ruin good work from Piniella (he once cleared his entire desk with one mighty sweep of his arm), determination and invulnerability from Quinn (he never played in the bigs and his father and grandfather were big names in the game), a "mad scientist" approach from Thrift, who knew how many times a ball rotated on its way to the plate, depending on the type of pitch, and, oddly, from Peterson, that you have to do what you believe in, if you know in your heart that it's the right thing, you've gotta stand up and fight for it. Finally, from Michael: tact. He explained to me that I was a little too sure of myself for some people and that referencing the works of Hunter S. Thompson and William Blake left a lot of baseball people dumbfounded. These days, I think of Elvis Costello's "Accidents will Happen" when a beaker gets dropped. I use yoga breathing techniques to prevent a Piniella-style blowup, I dig up old backpacks for my poorer students (a nod to King's gentility), and I plod along at odd hours in homage to Quinn. I'm still pretty unorganised, so Woodward's influence was greater when I was at his side. I have somehow managed to allow my students to shoot errant rockets into the adjacent National Guard parking lot, where they came to rest just yards from a tank. Thrift would be proud. I use Vygotsky's approach of keeping the dialogue stimulating, and, if they get up on their mental tip-toes, they can fathom some of my new multi-syllabic words like Unalakleet (a town in Alaska) or intrepid instead of fearless. Peterson had a weird diet in an attempt to stave off the effects of his 7th decade. These days, I lead the lunch room in healthy food stuffs, and my students know how to read nutrition labels (beware the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup!). And, from my greatest teacher, Bobby Hofman (our Minor League Director), I learned the Wil Rogers maxim (applied to education): I've never met a student who I haven't found a way to...love.

Hello Emmet,

Check out WikiIndex to see what is out there in terms of wiki!

Best, Mark

This comment is a little late, I guess (2 weeks ago? 3 weeks?) Anyway, with vacations, teachers should take some time off....

Wiki-ing your project sounds like a wonderful way to chronicle your canoe project. But why forgoe the scrapbook? Different people learn in different ways. I much prefer looking at a piece of paper instead of the computer screen. You could even merge the two - bring pages into the scrapbook once they are finalized by the wiki.

Wiki-ing is a new term to me. Of course I've heard of Wikipedia (not that I go there too often), but hadn't really grasped all that could be done.

Kudos!

(Plus - check out the guidelines. Even if you're using this as an accomp for entry 4, you may be able to bring it into one of the other entry's lessons/student works.)

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