Sunday, June 5, 2011

Responsible Users

I am reading, this morning, a wonderful blog piece by John T. Spencer about social media. The upshot is that we get what we put into something like Facebook and it is capable of showing us the best and worst of human qualities (and everything in between) because it is a vessel WE fill. Of course, the blog is trying to uncover all the deep and wonderful exchanges between people, comments and conversations both personal and public about topics that range from philosophy to politics. I agree that these are evident in large quantity if a person looks for them and contributes to them.

The defense of Facebook and other social media comes about, in the blog I’ve been reading, because many people are accusing social media of being the cause of bullying, or furthering its harm. The arguments range from online conversations being more “public” and “shallow” than other interactions. The counter argument is that written notes and cafeteria bullying is just as hurtful and capable of doing damage, including starting rumors and making personal attacks. The cause of bullying, just as the cause of empathy and understanding, is human. We have the good, the bad, the shallow and the deep within us and we make the world around us what it is.

I have no problem with most of this discussion. I’ve argued for many years that it’s not the television nor the computer that’s at fault for some of the trash that people watch and use. The media are not the problem -- lack of adequate education from parents and teachers and friends causes poor judgement and thoughtlessness. Poor or non-existent character education, formal and familial, is more important than misjudging machines for our flaws. I still believe this, but it brings me to a larger concern.

What about gun violence? The argument of the gun lobby has always been that it’s not guns that hurt people; it’s people who hurt people. Banning guns doesn’t solve that problem, they say. I’ve never wanted to even think about that slant when I’m petitioning for better gun control laws. Now I’m forced to think about whether or not the same rationale should be applied to computers and televisions. Should we use the law to control what people see and use? Oh, wait. In television and movies we already do that! We have ratings in place, we outlawed particular commercials, and we limit viewing of some behaviors to specific hours on tv or to cable stations. As far as computer safety is concerned, there are some laws protecting copyright, financial privacy, and punishing hacking and piracy. Many universities have courses in media literacy; elementary, middle and high schools most often have classes in digital safety at the very least. Many states have begun to legislate against bullying, in all forms. Is any of that enough to stop a child or teen from writing a damaging message on paper or on a screen? Does any of that protect against a person opening a social media account under a false name and spreading rumors? What laws protect against an unstable person acquiring a weapon and using it against innocent bystanders?

So, should there be more regulation of social media to protect us from the poor judgement of others, often cloaked in anonymity? Do we need more and better education and can we provide that if we’re not using the media as a teaching tool? Does the use of the media contribute to the suicide rate and is it at all like careless gun use contributing to the murder rate? What is the role of the professional educator? of the parent? of a legislature? I don’t have answers and I welcome a discussion of your thoughts and ideas about these troubling issues.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Out of Sight, Not Out of "Mind"

So, here I am at the end of my fourth month of retirement and enjoying my free time, not stressing about incorporating technology into the daily lives of students. Oh, right, they're doing that without any help, and I'm still thinking about it, aren't I? Technology remains an integral part of my own life, whether it's my smart phone, or my Facebook account, or keeping up with people I respect on Twitter, or worrying about the blog posts I'm not posting. I'm finding that you can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can't remove her interest in what goes on there.
To keep up with technology in education, I'd like to recommend some of the most interesting and useful blogs that I enjoy reading every day. Many of these are well known to you, and for good reason. Others may be newer and for each one of them there are at least ten more out there not yet on my RSS feed. Here are some of my current favorites:

1. Free Technology for Teachers, Richard Byrne
A recent post contains 7 videos every teacher should see. I enjoyed all of them, even ones I've seen before. For fans of The Office, don't watch the last one until you've watched the first six!
Free Technology has inspiring suggestions almost every day and I wouldn't miss one.

2. Angela Maiers
Angela Maiers is a well-known speaker and consultant and she covers lots
of issues, including the uses of web technologies in education. I found particular interest in her recent conversation about Grant Wiggins' proposal to ban fiction from literature classes in favor of more non-fiction. You can read Angela's response and others' who read Wiggins' blog. Fascinating and provocative.

3. Teach Paperless, Shelly Blake-Plock
Recent post about how "teachers shouldn't be guide
s; they should be travel agents" was very interesting. Blake-Plock is a teacher, a writer, and a musician to name a few occupations. He has discussed the need for and uses of homework, when to use paper in a paperless classroom and many other challenging ideas.

4. Upside Down Education, Amanda Dykes
This one's new for me and I find it more philosophical than other blogs. I enjoyed Dykes' recent conversation about the now ubiquitous interactive white boards in classrooms. Other recent topics of interest were "Do you share?" and "What's Your Empowering Word?"

5. Langwitches Blog, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
The author of this blog has international credentials and includes, among her interests, global learning connections and digital story telling. Recent blog entries include: using social bookmarking in schools, Richard Byrne's Super Book of Web Tools for Educators (to which Tolisano is a contributor), and "What do you have to lose?" (about sharing yo
ur writing with others).

6. dangerously! irrelevant, Scott McLeod
The author is on
e of the creators of the original Did You Know? (Shift Happens) videos and is an expert on technology leadership in education. The Anti-Creativity Checklist and Athletics or Laptops are recent entries to this blog.

7. Not So Distant Future, Carolyn Foote

The author is a librarian in Austin Texas and her blog talks about issues concerning libraries, technology, and schools. A recent blog entry is about why teachers should be Time magazine's "Person of the Year." She has also discussed Kindles, and the shifting paradigm for libraries and librarians. Foote also links to a great list of other blogs to explore.

There are other blogs (my goodness, how many?!) to explore and I'll share them as my year goes along. I hope other people will share their favorites with me, too.

Keeping my mind on technology,

(Cartoon originally seen on "Innoblog"
Other graphics from and

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At the Crossroads: Searching the Internet

Selective searching... Is it a good thing? As the school year unfolds, many students will be learning how to use search engines more effectively and many teachers will be guiding their classes toward child-safe resources and even specific websites. I've always followed this technique as a path to wiser, more purposeful, Internet use. A recent radio report on religious search engines (covered on Yahoo News and other online news outlets, as well as Toronto's Star) made me think about this form of filtering the Web.

Jeannette DeMain, in her blog on September 21st at, crystallized what my mind has been playing with since I heard the item on NPR. She remarks that
the so-called moral search engines filter out views in opposition to those held by each of the religious groups affiliated with them. Therefore the user is isolated from diversity of ideas and opinion, with little need for original thought. The Internet is supposed to broaden our horizons, helping us to understand the similarities AND differences of people all over the world. Ms. DeMain's "Moral Search Engines - A Squeaky Clean Internet Experience!" is so well written that I'm annoyed with myself for waiting so long to write my own post. I recommend her column, if you have confidence in your own higher order thinking skills!

It's easy enough for any adult to find Internet news reportage from like-minded people. Sad as I think it is, people can certainly choose to read only the opinions and "facts" set out by conservatives, liberals, specific ethnic, gender, and religious groups.
If we do not look or listen to what others think, though, we will have a very narrow view of the world. If we do not challenge anything that's presented to us, on the Internet or in other media, there is little hope for better understanding and peace.

Use of moral search engines seems to not only "protect" specific groups from particular points of view, it shows little trust in the ability of individuals to think, make good choices, make mistakes, and to learn. I think I'm still in favor of guided searches for younger children as they navigate through Internet crossroads. They need to learn about proper choices and how to find accurate information on the Web. Adults, though, need to take the informational reins into their own hands. A well-educated grownup should be able to stay on the horse, or at least figure out how to get back into the saddle to get where she needs to go.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What's It All About?

Summer is half over; I'm newly retired but still dreaming about schools. A friend, five years into her retirement, told me these dreams will probably continue for awhile. I'm sure she's right because she knows a lot of things. Recently, she shared an experience with me that was not only awesome but also exemplifies exactly why we went into the teaching profession. What happened to, or for, her makes me so proud of my friend (let's call her Jane) and of all the good teachers I have known!

Jane worked in an economically depressed urban area for almost four decades. She loved her students and often confided her concerns to me. Students had emotional problems, uninvolved parents, poor nutrition, lagging skills. The school had security issues, overcrowded classrooms, lacked supplies, and even had some burnt out teachers. Not Jane. She seemed to work harder to compensate for all the deficiencies around her. She got more degrees, matured, and continued to love her students and give them the best educational and experiential foundation she could provide. Jane prepared her classes for field trips, photographed their school adventures, amassed collections of ideas and activities, and shared her love and knowledge before gifting her students to their next teacher.

Over the years, Jane saw many programs come and go in her urban school system. Some were good and some were... not. She went "with the flow" but fought for the things she knew were most important for her students. After decades of hard work and emotion, Jane thought it was time to retire from her profession. She was proud of the work she'd done, the things she'd accomplished, and her school was sad to see her go. Jane's story doesn't sound so unusual, does it? She's a true and dedicated professional. Most of us who are or were teachers probably recognize something of ourselves in Jane.

Now, enter the awesome magic that all of us wish for and only some of us actually experience. A group of Jane's students found each other on Facebook. Let's hear it for social media! Their class was one in the early years of Jane's career but their love of that time together and Jane's impact on their lives was never forgotten. Using Facebook, these students arranged a reunion. Several of them called Jane to make sure she welcomed the idea. Of course she did! After crying over their touching memories they decided on a date. There were young (?) men and women at the reunion. (Jane remarked that they were all older now than she was when she taught them!) Their own careers and lives had taken diverse paths, from the military to plumbing, but they all shared a love for Jane and for their time in her classroom. Some of their classmates took wrong turns and were remembered with sadness. But this core of people were changed by their teacher. They were changed by her love for them and her love for teaching them. They reveled in the photograph album Jane had preserved from so long ago. They even took photos of the photos so they could keep their remembrances alive and vivid. Jane made a difference in their lives and now they were making a difference in hers.

For every Jane in education there are many more of us who won't experience a fond reunion with students. Deep in our hearts, though, we must know that we touched many lives in good ways and we are remembered fondly for doing so. Let's all celebrate the "Jane Moment," students and teachers alike. It's what teaching is all about.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

End Of An Era

Wow! I can't believe I haven't been opinionated since last December! That's not entirely true, but I surely let work and family situations get in the way of writing. And now we're at the end of another school year, a very poignant period for me. This is the last June of my teaching career.

For 25 and a half years, most of it spent in a computer lab, I have watched kindergarten students grow up and their tech skills develop from grade to grade. From Atari to Apple IIgs to colorful iMac to elegant Intel iMac, our computers have grown up as well! I still remember early years when first graders lined up with sentence strips so we could demonstrate how the "delete" key works!
Children definitely come to school with many more technology skills in the 21st century! Our first Apple, the only one we had, was connected to a telephone modem and we "chatted" with other schools by text only. We even "met" Rosa Parks! It was an old fashioned system for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How amazing it is to have Skype, Twitter, and blogs at our fingertips in 2010!

In my present day computer lab I have a shelf filled with digital cameras that have come and gone as the technology changed. I like to think my own skills and understanding of technology tools have evolved over the past quarter century, rather than going extinct along with those cameras. I know so much more about how children learn; I've lived through so many curriculum revisions! There are endless lists of projects and activities; some of those were one-hit wonders and some have become perennial favorites. The workshops and conferences probably number well over a hundred. I've attended, I've presented, I've evaluated, I've received professional development credits. More importantly, I've been inspired and rejuvenated. I can't say enough about a good conference! The colleagues have come and gone. A few have been with me all along, but not many. The younger teachers are poised to assume responsibility for maintaining the school's balance of friendship and academics. They are a wonderful group of teachers and administrators and I'll miss them as they continue the adventure that is education.

In the next few months I'll have to come up with a new name for this blog. I'm sure I'll still be "Mad About Technology" and I'll probably do some sort of teaching in less formal settings. You can't change a person's interests or talents overnight, and I'm not sure I want to change mine. New opportunities are welcome, but for now I'll hold onto the skills and lessons I've learned in the last 25 years and see how they can be put to use in my changed world. Maybe I can learn a few more as I forge ahead.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I just came from the movie theatre, having experienced "Precious." This film, based on the book "Push" by Sapphire, is devastating yet inspirational. It is hard to believe that anyone who lived through the physical and emotional torture of the heroine could survive, let alone flourish.

Precious Jones endures verbal and physical abuse yet has the courage to keep searching for herself. And she finds, within, a young woman of strength, a loving mother, a literate person, and happiness. Education and learning are the keys to unlocking her future and sealing away as much of her past as is humanly possible. As a teacher, Sapphire's story shows us the importance of an individual in changing the world. The teacher believes in her student and continually supports her efforts, often providing spiritual and physical shelter while pushing Precious to higher levels of achievement. It is the support of her individual teacher that helps Precious to learn to love herself and keep expecting more of herself. It is Precious' individual strength that pushes her to learn how to read, to love and raise her two children, to become a part of the society that shunned her but now must appreciate her gifts and her worth.

This time of year people look for or remember miracles. We search for meaning in our lives and new ways to move forward for the next year. We make resolutions that we hope will improve our own lives and the circumstances that surround others. I think it is the best time to remember the importance of the individual. One individual can make a difference; imagine what many individuals can do!

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

Friday, December 11, 2009

21st Century Tools.. for Everyone?

This isn't about equity of access to technology. Not that equity isn't a very important issue, because it is. Rather, this post is about whether or not everyone should be using current technologies in their daily life. I love getting new ideas from Tweets. It's enjoyable to keep this online journal called my blog, even if I'm the only one who reads it. Living day to day without access to Google or another good search engine is torture. Contributing to other people's wikis and blogs is something I don't think twice about and I do it almost daily. Creating wikis and blogs for my students seems essential. I'm envious of my own kids' smart phones and look forward to getting one. Google docs and sites have saved my life! I'm a member of professional Nings and understand how valuable it is to collaborate. This year my school has begun video conferencing and it's very exciting to plan virtual field trips to museums, zoos, and other classrooms.

All that being said, I do see friends and colleagues who are afraid of this maze of tools. They are truly afraid they'll get lost in the middle and not be able to find what they value in their lives in the process of "upgrading" how they live. There is a hesitancy that is more than just fear of learning new technologies or a time management concern. There is an overarching question: "Do I really need to ... (fill in the blank with a Web 2.0 tool or tech toy)? What's wrong with the way I do things now?"

My first impulse is always to steer people in the direction of a technology device or web application that can open their world. Sometimes their response is skepticism rather than welcoming the exposure. I've heard people say they are perfectly happy keeping their ideas and notes on paper; why use a blog or a wiki? I've heard that email is fine for keeping in touch; why would they want to join a Ning or open a Twitter account? I can counter with something about expanding their community and reaching more people, or allowing lots of individuals to comment and share ideas simultaneously. But, there are email groups and 'reply to all' does work. What is it that makes a Wiki better than that?

I am still in a cellphone world without texting. Most people under 25 would tell me that email is too old fashioned. Texting is essential to them. Yet I am resistant. Am I afraid to get into the maze, too? I'm blaming it on the cost, for now. I think I'll have to do a little more soul searching before I recommend the next technology tool to anyone else!

P.S. - Great blog post on social media burnout and how to avoid it.