Sunday, September 29, 2013

Aloha Plate Wins the Great Food Truck Race

An exciting and fitting end to the latest season of the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. The boys from Hawaii - Aloha Plate - were the frontrunners for most of the season, so it was only fitting that they should square off against the St. Louisians, TikkaTikkaTaco.  Either team was deserving of the win, and I was not surprised to see the Philly boys go out in the "surprise elimination." They Sambonis are a great group of young men, and they will certainly be successful if they ever do secure their own food truck. But it's nothing compared to the culinary - and cultural - magic worked by the Hawaiian boys on a weekly basis. Their ability to attract and draw an Aloha Crowd in city after city was inspiring, and these young men deserve a business to continue selling great food and spreading the Aloha Spirit. In fact, the finale episode featured footage of the crowds holding a luau and singing Hawaiian songs in front of the truck - and even stopping sales for a few minutes to hold hands and sing a spiritual Hawaiian folk song. It was truly cool and inspiring to see, and it's no wonder these guys are going to be so successful running a food truck. Of course, hats off to the men from St. Louis who hung around for seven weeks, with first place always just out of reach.  Kudos to the Food Network for another great season. This is one of their more entertaining contests, offering great insight into a culinary phenomenon, and borrowing a bit from another great reality show, The Amazing Race.

Amazing Race Returns for Season 23

The longest running and most successful of reality TV shows, The Amazing Race on CBS, returned tonight with contestants setting off from an old western movie set in LA for a "race around the world." Host Phil Keoghan introduced the contestants and sent them off to Chile for the first round.

In terms of contestants, I am impressed with the married ER doctors to begin. And they should have been the big winners this week, had they not broken the cardinal rule of The Amazing Race - always read the clues. Thus, they incurred a 30-minute penalty, which cost them first place and two express passes. It was a pretty big mistake. And I was a little disappointed in "the exes" coming in first. As a viewer I am never a fan of the couples that bitch and nitpick each other week after week.  The NFL players seem to be pretty strong contestants, no pun intended, and the "Afghan-imals" will be amusing, though their schtick may get as annoying as the Sri Lankan twins last season. Not surprised to see the father-daughter team go out early. Those age-difference teams rarely have the stamina to go all the way, though there have been some great families and endearing attempts over the years. The theater actors surprised me with a strong finish, though the physical fitness of one of them leaves me in doubt of their ability to stick around. And the oil rig boys from Nebraska are just not worldly enough to navigate the challenges of foreign travel I fear.  Overall, it looks like a pretty interesting crew, and I'm excited again for a new season and the race to the finish line and "one million dollars."

In a side note, I was a little disappointed to see the Race taking off from Los Angeles again.  Certainly, it's mostly a challenge to predict destination city. However, I would be as interested in the Race choosing a different starting point. The time they left from that beautiful estate on the East Coast was truly memorable, and the producers should consider mixing it up.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Four-Day School Week

Years ago I was on an alternative scheduling committee for the school where I was teaching, as the school considered changes - to block or modified block or an eight period day or a hybrid - as a way of improving instruction. That was, at least in theory, the only reason for investigating such change - to improve instruction. While no changes were ever made after no evidence could be found for a worthwhile change, I proposed a radical idea - the Four-Day School Week.

While it was a new idea to me, I've learned that many school districts actually function on a four-day week for primarily financial reasons. In fact, as many as 40% of school districts in Colorado only go to school Monday to Thursday. These are almost exclusively mountain and rural districts for which the logistics and savings of not opening the school five days just make sense. However, my four-day week was actually grounded in the idea of college scheduling. Variable schedules for better efficiency. And with a greater emphasis on skills and job training these day, a four-day week would allow - at least at the high school level - greater opportunity for interning and work-study.

I proposed an extended day for Monday-Thursday, and Friday would be an "office hours" day. Clubs and activities could meet on Friday, and sports could offer extended practices. Many meetings such as 504s and IEPs could be conducted on these days, so as not to disrupt classes. And additional staff meetings and professional development could happen as well. Obviously, the plan for office hours and supplemental classes is the heart of the idea to increase student achievement.  The most important aspect is the idea of supplemental learning and academic support opportunities. A chance to "catch up" one day a week could do wonders for student achievement.  And, now it seems the plan is being tested.  The 500-student WACO school district in Iowa plans to shift to a four-day week.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Great Food Truck Race - Finale 2013

So, Tyler and the folk at Food Network surprised us in the second-to-last episode of the Great Food Truck Race. It's now a two-part finale with a "surprise elimination" along the way. That is, at least for this year, a really nice twist, as any one of these teams deserves to win, though my favorites in order are: Aloha Plate, TikkaTaco, Philly's Finest Sambonis. The Philly boys are actually lucky to still be in it, and if they'd gone out over the inability to sell the Ditka sausages, it would't haven been terrible. This episode featured a great cameo appearance from Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanual, and the Chicago-style pizza challenge was a treat. Personally, I think $1000 bucks for the till was a bit much - but the Hawaiian boys closed that advantage pretty quickly.  On to Maryland.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Blogging's Been Light

For those checking in and wondering where the content is, I apologize for the lack of updates.  In a new role at work with responsibilities that have been cutting into blogging time. Now, with a day of professional development presentations behind me, there should be some time to organize a better system to my days which allows the creation and posting of content.  Some things that have been on my mind and radar, which should have received coverage are:

The exit of the SlideShow truck on the Great Food Truck Race. Sorry I haven't offered any commentary - though I will quickly note that I like all the teams and am sad to see any lose out at this point.

The question of whether youth football should be ended because of concerns about concussions.

Diane Ravitch's astute and thoughtful challenges to current education reform - especially the data-less implementation of Common Core standards, standardized test, charter schools, and vouchers.

Louis CK's excellent rant on cell phones and why he won't give his kids one.

And, because you want to hear the song after Louis' mention of it, here's Springteen's Jungleland.

Stay with me - there will be more to come.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bowled and Beautiful Exit the Great Food Truck Race

With nothing but skilled and engaging competitors left on the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race hosted by Tyler Florence, it was bound to be a tough loss for one of the teams. The two teams most likely to fall behind were the ladies from Bowled and Beautiful and Philly's Finest Sambonis. While both these teams were tops in weeks past, it seems they are running out of ways to stay competitive. This week the time ran out for the lovely ladies of Bowled and Beautiful - three single moms with a great concept and hearts of gold. Tyler was certainly troubled by having to take their keys, and a part of me hopes some millionaire investor who is watching the show decides to contact these moms and fund their truck out of the goodness of his heart. Who knows - maybe a millionaire chef like Tyler will decide to do that. In fact, that's how I feel about all these trucks at this point. I hope someone watching decides to take a chance on all these people - because they all seem deserving of a shot at their own food truck. I wonder if that has ever happened before. The Hawaiian boys from the Aloha Plate continue to master the challenges of the Great Food Truck Race, and I am certainly hoping they win. Something as challenging as butchering a buffalo was nothing but fun for these guys - and from the size of their winning margins, I have to say those must be some pretty tasty lettuce wraps. Everything about these guys seems to be a winning formula, and I am pulling for them. However, the St. Louisans from TikkaTikkaTaco also impress me.  And the chefs from the Slide Show definitely deserve a truck. With these great trucks - all manned by seemingly really good people - each week will definitely be a tough challenge for Tyler to send them home.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to Fix Public Education - Self-directed Learning Centers

So, the problem with education is that young people are not invested in what they're being asked - or "forced" - to learn. If kids could just study what they want to study, then schools would be utopian laboratories of intellectual engagement. Just turn the kids loose to pursue their own natural interests and curiosities, and they will respond with enthusiastic learning.



The lack of engagement in their own learning is certainly at the heart of academic stagnation for millions of young people in this country. And, there's no doubt that people learn more easily when they are engaged and interested in the material. The child-centered approach to education, which is the foundation of Waldorf schools and the Montessori model, is nothing new in the education debate. However, the logistics of adapting that model to large systems is problematic at best.

Peter Gray, an educational researcher at Boston College, thinks we can change that. In several online essays and a new book, Gray argues "Schools Don't Have to Fail." The foundation of his argument - and his new book "Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self Reliant, and Better Prepared for Life"  - is that children will learn if they are allowed to choose their own course of study and basically follow their passion and their own creativity. And, there is certainly a lot of evidence and support to the idea that children are "naturally designed to learn."  That is the basis of much of the work of Sir Ken Robinson and his "creativity movement."

As a parent and educator, I firmly believe that Peter Gray and Ken Robinson are correct. However, as the pragmatic policy student, I have doubts about their theories. While we are naturally inclined to learn, we are also seemingly naturally inclined to waste hours, days, and years pursuing leisure instead. And that tendency is what leads so many astray. That is what requires a rigid requirement of some basics of education.

Friday, September 6, 2013


The importance of the arts in education should be indisputable, as the humanities were the heart of the classical education that gave our country its earliest great leaders. Yet many continue to approach education as simply a utilitarian exercise focused entirely on potential wages years down the road. This is naive, if not dangerous for a civilization.  A study by a professor at Duke University looking at the degree majors for leaders in 500 companies in Silicon Valley found forty percent were in math, science, or engineering, but 60% were in the arts and humanities

Thomas Pynchon's Take on 9/11

Thomas Pynchon continue to be the one contemporary writer who can scare even the most erudite English professor. Yet, for those willing to wade into the madness and chaos that is a Pynchon novel, the intellectual rewards can be staggering. Now, in the new novel Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon writes a detective novel - as much as his work can be considered via a genre - set against and written with Pynchon's uniquely focused lens on the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

No, You Still Can't Tip a Cow ... Really.

Though I've posted on this before, a recent article on Slate reiterated the hard truth, answering the question that refuses to die: "Is Cow Tipping Real".  The consensus from farmers and scientists and anyone not gullible enough to believe such nonsense is that, in spite all the "rural legends," you can't "tip a cow." Everyone seems to "know someone" who has done it. And, of course, if you could hold a cow's legs lightly in place and stabilize the body while you applied the appropriate force above the center of gravity to "tip a cow," you could do theoretically do it.  But no one has actually done this because it can't in any practical sense be done.  The legend goes that cows sleep deeply standing up and that kids "in the sticks" entertain themselves by getting drunk and then sneaking up on a cow and pushing it over. But this doesn't happen because - for all the reasons the links above provide - you can't tip a cow.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Great Food Truck Race 2013 - Frankenfoota Goes Home

OK, let's face it - they heated up store-bought hot dogs and put toppings on them. Not much impressive culinary talent there. Thus, after slipping by for a couple weeks Mirlinda, Dana, and Victoria - the New York girls competing as Frankenfoota - finally ran out of luck.

In the third episode of the Food Network's Fourth Great Food Truck Race, the contestants found themselves in Pocatella, Idaho serving up their food to people who know the potato well. To make it interesting, host Tyler Florence first limited them from any starch - including potatoes - and then turned the tables requiring them to dig up their own potatoes and feature them as the signature dish.  All teams responded well to these challenges, though some clearly adapt better than others.

Once again the Hawaiian guys from Aloha Plate continued to best the competition. After losing out to the Bowled and Beautiful girls for the second time on race to a prize of extra cash for the till, the Aloha Plate truck still pulled in a huge hall. The thing that makes me love and root for these guys so much is how genuine they are. The comments they make about their heritage - and grandpa teaching them that "fruit is found in the mound - you walk in the trough" - are quite endearing and impressive. They are linked to their food in a very special way, and I would love to see them take a food truck back to the islands.

The other teams are engaging as well, though I feel the Food Network is not giving enough press or air time to the Slide Show truck. These accomplished chefs with a great story - and seemingly tasty food - are a bit of an enigma to me. They regularly sit in the middle of the pack, but I'm not sure why. Perhaps they will make a run to the front, or be dismissed soon. Also, this episode offered some interesting twists, with two teams being fined for "selling out of bounds" which is new one on me, and the Philly boys surviving despite trashing a sign with their truck. Fortunately, they only had to pay a $500 deductible.

So, the girls head back to Brooklyn. And perhaps a hot dog cart will be a good place to start.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Why Was Tim Tebow Cut by the Patriots?

By now the news is out that Tim Tebow did not "make the cut" with the New England Patriots. Thus, Tom Brady's team becomes the third NFL team in eighteen months to "cut ties" with the media darling and NFL quarterback wannabe. There many theories about why New England signed Tebow in the first place - but there's not much doubt about why Tim Tebow will never be an NFL quarterback.