There’s a ROCKAFIRE EXPLOSION of Technology In and Out of the Classroom

Gone are the days of the SPEAK-N-SPELL and the quirky Furby! (I always used to lock mine in the closet. Is there something hugely morbid about that or what!) I recall, vaguely, the boxy Apple computers in the corner of my middle school classroom in Tecumseh, MI. I also recall selling my wife’s boxy Apple computer for $20 at a Garage Sale to a guy who wanted to make a fish tank out of it. (I can’t make stuff up like this.) I currently utilize a MACBOOK PRO, a Gateway Tablet PC Laptop, GarageBand, iMovie, Blog Sites, Wiki Pages, Podcasting and many other updated “Tomorrowland” technologies in my classroom today! Aren’t I up-to-date?! I’m also building a rocket ship in my garage. It’s called Thor, and someday we’ll see the moon!

My wife, who incidentally is working toward her Doctorate, (I’m still convinced she married me because she felt sorry for me. She volunteers at the SPCA too) has completed her research review on Globalization and how secondary education must embrace the philosophy of generating a better global learner within every student. It’s called “No Teacher Left Behind.” She’s brilliant.

Faith Lutheran High School continues to execute a one-to-one initiative, where every student will be supplied with their own wireless laptop instead of a backpack full of books and a note from their chiropractor. The entire campus is wireless. We offer streaming videos of weekly chapel services and desire to change is firmly implemented by the administration. It’s a refreshing, exciting, hard-working environment. Gone are the days when Lauren Engalls was kept after class to bang erasers together after wiping the slate board clean.

Look at how jealous Mary is. She's like "That darn Laura. Even though she has buck teeth and breath that smells like vittles...shucks, I wish I could have the aisle seat just once."

Look at how jealous Mary is. She's like, "Look at that stupid Laura. Even though she has buck teeth and her breath smells like vittles, shucks! I wish I could have the aisle seat just once. It's enough to make one go blind."

(Side note: Anyone else think Doc Baker was also the town “dealer?” Anyone?)

That ain't

It may look like a full house...but them ain't cards. Uh-uh. Thems tiny envelopes of nose powder!

Sorry about that…back to the topic.

Kicking or screaming…we’re looking at a new tomorrow. A different tomorrow. One that allows students to collaborate WITH teachers instead of being TALKED AT by teachers. (Thank you Chelsea for teaching me how to turn off my bloody screen saver!) Instead of the wig-clipped Eagle, Robin and Sparrow reading groups, we’re mending our wings and flying through lessons on embedding produced videos to share with collaboration teams in foreign countries. (But, we’ll still give you a detention if you don’t have a hall pass….irony?)

It’s all new! It’s all exciting! But….is it really? I don’t think so. Progression in any technological medium doesn’t wait for permission. You blink and you’re suddenly surrounded. Embracing this “new-math-like” way of teaching is sometimes fiercely rejected. (Usually by teachers who have found a nice rut. Aren’t teachers suppose to want to be forever learners?) “What happened to good ‘ol recycled, perforated paper (with reinforced holes so that it doesn’t tear out of your binder) and mechanical pencils?”

I had a student ask me the other day if they could just write their script in “text” format. I’m not kidding. I was kinda taken for a second….then I said yes….just to see what it would be like. I was curious! After the first sentence, I reneged and said no. This was his actual sentence: “1: ok, lets go2the stor thn! hrry ^ wll u?”

Yikes. I asked the student to please write is out “normally.” (Which I felt funny saying.) He really struggled. I’d hate to be this student’s English teacher! But, that kinda shows you what we’re looking at. Instead of wedgies in the bathroom, we have cyber bullying (it’s real! It was on Dr. Phil)…students are asking one another out to Homecoming via text message. On mandatory dress days at our school (we have a dress code), each class sends out mass texts asking everyone in their class to wear the same color polo so that when they sit as a class, they all look alike. A phone call to my Grandmother is feeling like an old school smoke signal nowadays!

Let’s go off topic for a second.

I was surfing the web last night and came across Showbiz Pizza Place. First and foremost, if you don’t know what Showbiz is…you’ll be uninterested in this part. Scroll down. For those of us fortunate enough to know the wonder and sometimes creepiness of this amazing, over-the-top family pizza joint…read on. You’ve heard of Chuck E. Cheese, no doubt? The two companies merged at some point…but Showbiz was the first and it was freakin’ awesome. I would even go as far as to say that Showbiz is probably the very first thing to open my eyes to theatrics. That, and the double-cheese pizza was WAY nummy.

I totally

I totally owned the Rockafire Explosion album.

Try to see it from a 6 year old’s perspective. Where else can you go to play Skee Ball, take a swim in the Ball Bin, spend copious amounts of money on “Dragon’s Lair,” stuff yourself silly with greasy pizza and watch a full-fledged, life-sized performance by a troupe of colorful animal caricatures bee-bopping to Elvis, The Doors, Michael Jackson and of course the Beatles…all animatronic. Sounds cheezy? Yeah, it was…but I won’t scrimp on my conversational flair here. You see, this was first class animatronics for the time. The only equal was like Disneyland stuff…and living in Michigan, that seemed like a universe away. (And, no offense to Jackson, MI, but I wasn’t necessarily raised in an entertainment mecca.)

My Grandma Ball was the first to bring me to Showbiz. I was literally in awe. Imagine a pre-Ritalin Erik (in the hay-day of mischief) walking into a loud, colorful playground. What’s more…I was given permission to be wild. I LOVED Showbiz. I also spent hours last night soaking up all the info on the web I could find on the place. I haven’t felt a surge of nostalgia like that in a long time. The best part of Showbiz WAS the animatronic show. They were called the ROCKAFIRE EXPLOSION!  Billy Bob, Fats the Gorilla, under appreciated Looney Bird, Duke and Earl and of course Mitzy Mozzerella. Dude….Mitzy. She was seriously….my first girlfriend. I was in love with her. Wonder Woman….step off! Daisy Duke….kiss my Rosco P. Coaltrain! No, no. MITZY….she was the coolest.

Every 15-minutes, the Showbiz gang would fire up and perform little skits, and sing songs, and thoroughly entertain. I wouldn’t even eat my pizza. I would just sit and watch. Front row baby. I had their albums, I collected the figurines, and I cried when my dog chewed my my Mitzy frisbee.

Well, Showbiz is all but gone now. I hear three Showbiz Pizza Places still exist. I also hear that nearly every set of animatronic characters (over 250 sets were made) have all been dismantled. Then I happened upon a site where this guy, from Alabama I think, bought one of the last existing sets. He worked on it, and kept it in pristine condition and now takes bids on his website from time-travellers like myself who want to see the Rockafire Explosion sing songs from today. The highest bidder wins and he programs the song into the show and posts the video on the net. Here’s one of them. (This is Usher’s “Love in the Club.” Hilarious.)

Or, how about SHAKIRA’S “Hips Don’t Lie.”

Kinda funny to look back on the whole thing now. (Especially because I think Mitzy has a lazy eye…am I right?) Back then these silly animatronic beings seemed like the closest thing to magic to me. And it was always right in front of me. I think as a kid I KNEW they weren’t real…and that they were mechanical. But, that’s why I was fascinated with them. I was hooked. But, now…looking at these YouTube videos of them rocking back and forth and rigidly gesturing and blinking, I think I wouldn’t be terribly impressed as a kid.

But, that’s where we’re at, I think. (And this is my sad attempt of bringing things around full circle.) I think God wants us to delight in past memories. I think God wants us to create anew, and expand our knowledge based on experiences from the past. I think He wants us to experience things that instill a sense of wonder in us. I believe that’s what makes us all such beautiful, colorful, creative beings. We have moments, memories, and goals that keep our minds and hearts active. God is there to tell us how we may be good on our journey.

Faith Lutheran’s technology initiative is a far cry from Mitzy Mozzerella. And while many years have past since I stepped foot in a Showbiz (I’m still King of the Ball Bin!) I will continue to look forward to working hard as a teacher in the technologically infused Education world. Students, kicking and screaming or not, will need me to be. The world is changing, and we all need to prepare to be global learners. I thank God I have people like my wife next to me on this journey so that I can rely on her intelligence as I get older, so that I can save space in my brain to store embedded memories of wonderful cheese-scented nuggests of nostalgia from the past as I look into the future.

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8 Responses to “There’s a ROCKAFIRE EXPLOSION of Technology In and Out of the Classroom”

  1. So I saw on Facebook that you had a blog, and I finally made it over to check it out. I love it! I was having kind of a rotten morning (long story), so I wandered over here as a distraction, and you made me both laugh out loud and feel inspired. Thanks, my friend. Glad we’ve reconnected in cyberspace.

    BTW, I only went to Showbiz Pizza once, and it was in Dallas, TX. But my 11th b-day party was at Major Magic’s in Toledo. So I totally get what you’re saying. And I’ll take you on in skee ball any day… 😉

  2. Keith Carson Says:

    I found your blog while looking for Showbiz Pizza info. I was the General Manager for the Jackson Mi. location for 2 years and I am glad you had great memories.

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