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.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I am most thankful for my wonderful family and my challenging and engaging job. Technology has given us many gifts to be thankful for, too. What would we do without smart phones, digital cameras, email, and blogs?! Every day there's another wonderful tool being introduced or improved and these tools enrich our lives by bringing us closer, helping us understand one another, and giving us a means to help others.

This weekend I tried out a quiz-making tool at "" With any luck, I'll be able to embed my first project right here so you can try out my Thanksgiving Quiz. Enjoy! And, most of all, enjoy all the blessings around you, technological and otherwise.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cuddle Up With A Good Book?

It's been awhile since I posted something new and, rest assured I have been immersed in all things technological. But, I feel the need to stray a bit. A recent New Yorker article about the teen publishing industry has been resonating in my head, and not in a good way. Then I saw a USA Today report that told of a New England boarding school replacing its library with a "fully digital collection," including 65 Kindles that would circulate like books. The two articles collided in my brain and the resulting thoughts and concerns demanded this blog post!

Rebecca Mead's excellent article entitled, "The Gossip Mill," details the methods used by Alloy Entertainment's mostly successful publishing efforts, aimed at teens and tweens. The products can only loosely be called books, in my opinion. Rather, they are cobbled together (in the words of my dear friend Joan) from multiple ideas thrown around in large group meetings. The "author" of each title is dependent upon what many minds think will sell, might have a future life on TV or in the movies, and "kids want to read." This last requirement is like saying the U.S. Department of Agriculture should issue a Food Pyramid dominated by fast food fries and burgers because that's what kids want to eat. Okay, that's too extreme. After all, a company is allowed to make money on its products, even if the products aren't really good for the consumers. Reading a bad book isn't going to make anyone sick, is it? Well, I suppose a steady diet of horror books and sexy lit might confuse the moral and ethical real life behavior of a tween... That's what they want, so is that what they should be given?

Not in my opinion. I've seen too many elementary school aged children exhibiting advanced sophistication with diminished emotional maturity for handling it. Third graders sneaking into bathrooms to put on makeup; third and fourth graders talking seriously about boyfriends and dating; cyberbullies in fourth and fifth grade attacking vulnerable classmates thereby excluding them from the social world that none of them is really ready to inhabit. I wouldn't give these children a vampire book for tweens any more than I'd take them to an R-rated movie or feed them a steady diet of marshmallows. How did this world of Barbie dolls for pre-schoolers get started? Will it be possible to change this trend and let children experience childhood before becoming mini-adults?

The bottom line for Alloy, and other companies like them, is they make money from poorly constructed and conceived products if they create a bigger demand for them. It's much more difficult to write a good book for a ten-year-old than it is to take a teen romance, or better yet, a teen vampire love story and alter it for a ten-year-old reading level. It's NOT better for the reader, though. Alloy et al have not stopped writers from publishing some excellent books. School Library Journal reviews loads of them and libraries buy them. It's the job of responsible adults to make sure this literature is the mainstay of a child's diet, not just the snack.

Now let's cuddle up with an e-book! At the outset, let me say that I am a strong supporter of electronic books and readers, like the Kindle, for many purposes. My son uses his for commuting because he can take many books and documents with him, all in one small container that's easy to read. My father uses one because his arthritic hands don't allow him to hold large books but his mind wants to read them. (A Kindle enabled Dad to finish reading "Truman" even though he couldn't hold a 1,000 page book.) Travelers love e-book readers for obvious reasons. Packing a suitcase full of books is just not practical. I can't wait for one of these devices to have color on its "pages" so guidebooks and maps will look authentic! But it's hard to cuddle up with this technology. I still prefer the printed book if I'm getting comfy in a chair or reading in bed. Holding the last book in the Harry Potter series was difficult (it's large!) but there was a satisfaction in knowing that I got my copy the night it came out and I could suffer under the weight of it as Harry and friends were suffering under their terrible burdens. I enjoy seeing sets of books lined up on the shelf. I love thumbing through a bird identification guide and reading colorful picture books to my granchildren. E-books have their value and their place, but should a school library have ONLY e-readers because regular books cost more than electronic ones? Should children not learn the pleasure of cuddling up with a good book? I don't think so. The bottom line shouldn't be "What will it cost?" It should be "What is a book's value. What is the emotional or intellectual cost to the reader who can't recognize and find a good book to read?"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Great slideshow from Sacha Chua. Web 2.0 is actually here... to help!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Random Thoughts in the Moment Between Vacation and First Day of School

Whale Watching and Education

The boat navigates its way offshore, the captain judging the time between waves and the safest path for the passengers. The naturalist watches and listens for blows that announce the presence of whales. The whales seem oblivious of boat, captain, naturalist, and passengers. They are simply enjoying their journey: looking for tasty treats, slapping the water to communicate with each other, showing their flukes when they dive for distance. Occasionally a whale is curious about its fellow ocean travelers and will spy hop t o look at the boat. Sometimes the joy of life, the itch of barnacles, or the need to say something will inspire a whale to breach out of the water and crash back to the surface. As the first day of the new fall term quickly approaches, I hope the naturalist in me will foster my students' curiosity and communication skills, and will encourage that itch for learning so they delight in breaching the ocean of knowledge that awaits them.

Ferries vs. Bridges

When I drive over a bridge to get from Point A to Point B, I'm mostly concentrating on staying away from the edge, watching the other traffic carefully, and getting to the other side as soon as possible. Nothing joyful, or even very interesting, in the trip. Perhaps my passengers get more out of bridges than I do.

But, when a ferry is involved... It's all about the voyage. First you have to wait for the ferry. That gives you tim e to think about where you're coming from and where you're going. Then you have time on the ferry, even if it's only five or ten minutes, to observe the path you're taking along the way and anticipate your arrival on the other shore. There's a sense of accomplishment and an awareness of the route taken. That's not unlike a good teaching or learning experience. The journey is what's important. Understanding where you were at the outset and how you arrived at your destination, their connection, is more critical than Point A or Point B alone.
I like ferries. I enjoy ferries.

Friday, August 14, 2009

November in August

No, it wasn't some kind of Thanksgiving-in-the-summer holiday switch. It was a delightful opportunity to attend a NJ Department of Education session with Alan November, educational consultant and technology-in-education guru. The 5-hour sessions, titled "Creating 21st Century New Jersey Schools" have been given throughout the summer, either with Alan November or with Ian Jukes. They comprise Phase 1 (Awareness and Familiarization) of the restructuring, revision, and implementation of the state's Standards. The state's new Standards website will be unveiled at the NJEA Convention this fall, according to Janis Jensen, Director of the Office of Academic Standards. Here, now, are my notes (minus the humor, unfortunately) from the November session, with links supplied by me or by Alan November.

How does Google’s search engine work? The top hits become top hits for several reasons: many people have linked to them, and the key word is in the name of the URL.
e.g. key words: Alan November Should bring up Alan November’s “NovemberLearning” website as hit #1.

Google and AltaVista helpful ‘tricks’
site:(country code) will show only hits eminating from the specified country
link:(URL) will show who is linked to the specified URL
link:(URL) host:edu will show only the higher education links to that URL (other search terms, here, will reduce the number of results)
this will give you a listing of ALL the web pages hosted by, for example, NASA

Backchannel – working simultaneously online and live to have real-time conversations both places. e.g. – Twitter (Tweeting) while at a conference session, about the conference session.

Twitterfall – create a tag to do a Twitter search and Twitter will find all the Tweets with that tag and drop them on your screen.

Conversations we should have with our faculty:

  • What is the definition of a “lifelong learner?”
  • Who is best at being a lifelong learner?
  • What is the definition of being “literate” in a world where the Internet dominates what people read?
  • Who should own the learning? (students should be working harder than the teachers) (students should be asked to develop the best ways to teach difficult concepts
How do we assess technology projects to emphasize the process, not the product? What skills would you teach today that will outlast the technology?

When confronted with new technology, do you feel a loss? Make sure you ask yourself what the potential benefit of the new technology is.

Use the ‘Wayback Machine’ at to search for sites that have been removed but are archived. You can also use this tool to talk about ethics on the Internet and to show students that when you publish something on the Web, it can be there for eternity! Be careful what you post! Using, students can compare and contrast websites as they appear now and as they appeared on earlier dates. (For example, I compared today with the same URL in 2002. Quite a difference in web design and attractiveness.)

AN: “We should globalize the curriculum.”

What about using a Ning environment for students, to create a social network for academic purposes. A Ning will give the students a place to socially interact on school topics and a place for them to “post their own stuff.”

On the BLC website there’s a link to their Ning

Use a search engine to look for “bogus websites” for use in teaching about reliability and the necessity of validating websites used for research. Here are some examples: (includes some things inappropriate for kids so check it first) be sure to click on Sir Francis Drake (John Cabot is quite amusing as well ☺)
Download lesson plans in the For Teachers section to help with a unit on finding reliable information and checking multiple sources.

You can use the Whois? website to find out who “owns” a particular website. This will often tell you how reliable the information on the site is.

Give students jobs – divide homework tasks, take notes, make tutorials with screencast sites/software like
Students should design the rubrics
Ask students to find examples of student work on a topic from places around the world rather than just the U.S. (in search engine, type key words and then “site:(countrycode)
Here's an example of students at work: Eric Marcos’ site where student tutorials are posted.

“Copyright is over as you and I know it.” Educators can now cite source materials for transformational use without fear of breaking copyright law. (see my earlier blog post about NJECC to find links to discussion of Copyright and Fair Use)
(Copyright laws were never intended to create absolute monopoly. Copyright law has been considered to create equilibrium between the rights of copyright owner to generate a profit for their work and the benefit to society of learning from and building upon their works. The traditional principles of copyright like the 'fair use' doctrine were developed towards this end. Ranjit Kumar Gulla)

Some brain research suggests that homework should become schoolwork because wrong answers on homework become reinforced when time passes between the doing of the work and receiving the corrections on the work. Therefore, homework should be done in school with immediate feedback from the teacher. Homework can be assigned for reading or watching of tutorials and background information as preparation.

We need real-time assessment in order to find out how effectively we are teaching. Alan November loves the "clickers" that starting to be used for polling students and gauging the percentage of people who understand at any given time. A teacher in his audience says she absolutely loves using individual student eraseable whiteboards (such as we use for math work).

Student Jobs:
1. tutorial designers – use screencast, podcast, video cams and post online and DVD
2. official scribes (student assigned daily to take the ‘official’ notes for the class on a Google Doc. Then the class looks at final result before it’s saved for everyone’s use.)
3. research team – use the Google customized search engine as well as looking for information sources around the world
4. collaboration coordinators – student team to establish and maintain working relationships with classrooms and experts worldwide.
5. contributing to society team – raising money to contribute to people in developing countries or other worthwhile organizations that better the lives of others
6. curriculum reviewers - team of students to record and post reviews of weekly work in the classroom (a la Bob Sprankle's class)

Every teacher should have a network of teachers from around the world, to support their work and to learn from.

AN: “Do we keep students within the structure we have or do we change the structure?”

I've added, below, a section of one of AN's articles that can be found at his website. I think the content of this section, about Professional Development, is significant and should be read by all teachers and administrators because it marks a big change from the way things have always been done. Here are Alan November's words:

I began to rethink my original assumptions about the quality of what I thought was a “successful” staff development experience. Rather than focus on the “drill,” technical skills for teachers, I began to think about the “picture on the wall” — students learning. What if the focus of technology training was to shift from how teachers acquire technical skills to how students learn with technology?

This shift in perspective would require a totally different approach to staff development design. Indeed, in this model, immediate facility with the technology would become secondary. Teaching teachers to observe how students learn and to reflect on the value of that kind of learning would become central. The only way to do this well is to involve students in the staff development model.

Each teacher brings two or three kids to the workshop. And, the role of the trainer shifts from training teachers how to use the “boxes” to teaching the students. While the students are learning in small groups, the teachers are asked to make careful observations about the impact that technology has on how students learn. The goal is no longer about technical mastery but about designing learning environments where technology could help children learn, regardless of whether the teacher actually acquired the technical skills.

Once I changed perspectives from technical training to student learning, the results of follow up were much more effective. They really had to be. Once you excite the students about the technology and formally legitimize the notion that students can learn about computers before the teacher, then the staff development experience builds more capacity for follow up. As soon as teachers are free from worrying about the technical details, their minds are more available to think creatively about what their students could achieve. And, chances are the teams of students did acquire the technical skills. Now the students are in a formally sanctioned position to provide technical support back in the classroom.

There are many reasons to move to a student centered model of staff development in technology:

* We probably do not want to reinforce the old model of the teacher learning something first and returning to class as the expert. Especially, when kids learn this stuff so fast or already know it. We need to do everything we can to honor the knowledge and wisdom of children.
* Sometimes, some teachers will make decisions that what they are learning is too difficult and students could not possibly use the technology. If kids are in the room doing “it,” these premature judgments never occur.
* Respond to the need of technical support in the classroom by building capacity within a team of teacher(s) and students to help each other after the training ends. It is also possible to build a level of excitement and expectation on the part of the students that lends energy to follow up.
* Move from a focus of training – how does the thing work — to a higher order skill of reflective practice: how do students learn? What challenges can we give students that we would never give before? How can teachers work together while teaching? How can we help students with their questions and their frustrations? At the core of good teaching is the quality of the relationship between teachers and students. This kind of learning environment provides teachers with the opportunity to reflect on how students learn together.
* Honor the knowledge and wisdom of teachers: After the students have acquired mastery – and they will – allow the students to say goodbye, and ask the teachers to share their observations of how students learned. In this way, teachers can add the value of their wisdom to the quality of the workshop.
* Collegiality: Challenge teachers during the debriefing to co-design activities for their students. Sometimes, if network infrastructure is available, teachers will design assignments that are shared between classrooms; such as students designing math challenges for one another or teachers sharing the assessment of students from another class.
* Not to be underestimated, it tends to be more professionally fulfilling to focus on the primary business of how to help kids learn rather than how to make the computers work.

The actual design of the staff development model includes four phases:

* Learn how students learn: Teachers are asked to watch how students make use of the technology with each other. Where are they struggling? Where are they delighted? Are they using their imagination – asking “what if” questions? Which students are taking the lead? Are the girls as involved as the boys? The purpose of this phase is for teachers to observe how students learn.
* Engage with students: Observation is not enough. After the students acquire facility, the role of the teacher is to ask the students to explain what they are doing with the computer. Through dialogue with the kids, teachers can deepen their understanding of what kids think they have learned. Then it becomes natural for the students to teach the teacher what they have learned.
* Reflective collegiality: After the students leave, this is valuable time for teachers to reflect together about their observations and ideas for follow up. It would not be unusual for teachers to plan activities together, especially if there is a network that encourages teachers to share student work.
* Continued dialogue: If the network is built into the reflection, the workshop is building capacity for teachers to continue the dialogue online.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The "Endless" Days of Summer

July flew by and left its heat and humidity (and probably, rain) for August to endure. August arrived, steamy and dragging along her guilt trip. Half the summer is gone and the truth is that it isn’t ENDLESS!

Technology has been insistently tapping on my conscience but the beach has a louder knock. I have to admit that I’ve been reading about Twitter, or thinking about Twitter, more than actually signing into Twitter. The teaching and technology blogs look interesting but I’ve been able to resist their allure in favor of catching up on back issues of the New Yorker and reading the novels that were piled up on my end table. (I highly recommend Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.)

In an effort to jump-start my academic activities and raise my interest level for all things educational, I have to give great thanks to Richard Byrne and his Free Technology for Teachers blog. His resources appear as endless as the summer seemed to be. I recommend regular reading of Free Technology for Teachers and clicking through to as many of Byrne’s links as your brain can stand! Checking out his resources should take me most of the next two weeks, as good a way to integrate work back into my summer fantasy world as can be found.

If anyone needs a bit more inspiration, even after viewing FTFT’s short videos on “Why we teach” and Wh
en I Become a Teacher,” please take the time to listen to “Educating Esmé: A Teacher’s Diary,” aired by NPR's Hearing Voices and read by Esmé Codell herself. (The full length audio is here.) Her experiences are not like most of mine in 20+ years in education, but her heart and mind are exactly those of the teacher in all of us. You will cry and laugh and remember just why being a teacher was the best career choice you could ever have made.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The End-of-Year Nervous Almost-Breakdown

Yes, there are only days left in the school year. But… wait… the work isn’t finished yet! There are podcasts left to record, spreadsheet games not fully calculated, films to view and winners to award, feature articles whose columns aren’t edited, astronomy calendars to collate, “100”s charts to color, animation projects without end, NJ charts and tables to print, and 500 grades to finalize. School cannot possibly be over so soon. I’m not ready!

For weeks I’ve been in the midst of writing two blog posts but not feeling inspired enough to finish them. It seems that technology cannot come to the rescue. It cannot save itself. The Tweet Deck is constantly announcing, with its subtle, bird-like call, so many interesting meetings, conferences, websites, book talks. I should be reading all the tweets and visiting all the sites. My uniquely designed Internet reader presents me with about 18 blogs and RSS feeds, each demanding my attention to important news items, technology gadgets, teacher techniques and resources, sports articles, and other items of both personal and professional interest. How can I resist their allure? I can’t!

So, the grades are emailed, the podcasts are posted, the calendars are complete. There aren’t enough recess periods left in the week to squeeze all the frantic students into the Lab to finish their projects. They will trickle in and out of my room to type a little, print a lot. It happens every year. And the last day will come, whether they are finished with the work or not.

The contents of my desktop (the wooden one, not virtual) will be dumped into a crate and stored. The documents folders of the 27 computers will be dumped onto a firewire drive for next year or posterity. The incoming supplies for the fall will be catalogued and shoved into closets. The shelves will be covered and everyone will go home, even if there’s work still to be done.

Maybe I’ll finish writing those blog posts this summer. Or maybe the Tweets and blogs will be too tantalizing to resist. If I were a swimmer I’d be gasping for breath, tired of treading water and afraid I won’t come up for air. But I’m a teacher, so I’ll sit on the beach with dozens of issues of technology magazines that demand reading. I’ll clip articles and jot down lesson ideas. I’ll get excited by new ideas, new software, and activities for my 500 students in the fall. I’ll start planning how to bite off more than I can chew so next year, come the end of June, I can use this blog post again ☺

Sunday, April 26, 2009

To Facebook, or not to Facebook; that is the question…

Social networking sites have been a source of debate for several years. First is the topic of safety. Will young people meet up with strangers intending harm? Will bullies abuse others via such sites, emails, and text messages? There is no doubt that some Internet users have alter egos, pretend they are other than themselves, and have ill intentions. Caution should always be used when confronted by a stranger, both online and off. I think everyone would agree that those under the age of 18 should be protected by limitation of their access to risky sites and chat rooms. But, if it is true that on the Internet “no one knows you are a dog,” can risks be entirely eliminated? Probably not. Education is one of the best answers we have for Internet ignorance. Teach people responsible use, online common sense, and best practices for Web activities. Teach them early, reinforce often. Then there’s a chance to limit the dangers by preparing the vulnerable. This task falls to both the teaching and parent professions.

Next is the possibility of ruining your job opportunities as prospective employers peruse social networking sites to gain an inside look at possible hires. People over the age of 18 have posted controversial photos and ill-advised comments. Employers quickly eliminate such candidates from their lists. First amendment rights aside, a job seeker should use discretion in keeping a private life as private as possible.

Now an entire profession is being singled out for social networking cautionary tales. (For the sake of the "debate," read an NEA article on the benefits of using social network sites.) The teaching community, the same group of people that should be entrusted with half of the responsibility I mentioned above, has demonstrated some of its own foolishness, naivety, and ignorance. The NEA has published an article called “The Whole World (Wide Web) is Watching; Cautionary tales from the ‘what-were-you-thinking’ department.” Cases of foolish, and sometimes reckless, teachers from across the country have come to public attention. (Disturbingly, reporters from one local newspaper actually sought Facebook profiles of teachers working in a particular district. They wanted to expose the less discreet employees to their administrators!) See the articles in the Washington Post, eSchool News, and the News & Observer. Perhaps it’s risqué photos, or derogatory comments about a school system, or even online friendships with students. All these can land you in the unemployment line. If what you do online interferes with the integrity and functioning of your school or district, the first amendment will not help you keep your job.

I used to think I was staying away from Facebook or MySpace because there were tales of students posing as teachers, setting up nasty, phony pages under teachers’ names. Who would want to deal with that?! Now I choose to find other ways of connecting with people in my profession and other options for students to collaborate online. Facebook will wait for me, if it’s worth waiting for. The other options still require a lot of common sense and caution, but Web 2.0 offers too many exciting and creative opportunities for teachers and students; I can’t wait on the sidelines. For those who use Facebook, et al, the challenge is to be vigilant - with your own pages as well as those of your friends. Keep everything private that should be private. Teach yourself to be a wise web user before you teach others.

“It is the unknown that excites the ardor of scholars, who, in the known alone, would shrivel up with boredom.” Wallace Stevens, poet (1879-1955) So embrace new technologies, but do it with a bit of sense. “The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you've lost it.” Unknown author

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jane Austin vs. the Vampires...

Driving this morning to a doctor appointment I was listening to NPR on the radio. There was, what seemed to be, such an odd piece that left me yelling at the void inside the car. (I believe it was a replay of an interview from March 29.) Writers taking the text of Jane Austen's novels and dropping horror scenes within the story line! They call this a mashup... but I call it obscene. The author, Seth Grahame-Smith, was speaking to a reporter about how the use of Pride and Prejudice combined with vampires or zombies would enrich the lives of both horror fans and Austen's loyal readers. Nonsense! The horror genre may be entertaining and even worthy in its own right. But butchering Jane Austen will no more make a zombie love Mr. Darcy than make Elizabeth fall madly in love with Dracula. In my opinion, the writer (or writers) of such books are using well written prose that's in the public domain as a cheap way to enhance their own talents and SELL, SELL, SELL. There is a large audience, especially among young people, for vampire stories and the like. Grahame-Smith's books are already being produced into movies. He can't really expect us to believe that it's to broaden our interest in other literary genres!

Novels like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice are timeless classics because of their fundamentally captivating stories and beautifully written words. While I actually do like reading about vampires and thoroughly enjoyed all of Anne Rice's vampire novels, I do not appreciate mixing, or mashing-up, the two. I am more interested in preserving the past's perfection
than helping today's young people enjoy an Austenesque zombie encounter. If you want to help young readers broaden their consumption, rent a movie rendition. Colin Firth will either make them want to read Austen or at least expose them to her words. Watch Shakespeare on stage or in a movie, but please don't ever think you can mashup Lady Macbeth Confronts Dr. Frankenstein!

Picture from Evert A. Duyckinick, Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America (New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873)

I've strayed a bit from the technology theme of this blog, so I thought I'd add this survey you can take from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Answer the questions and find out what type of technology user you are:
Technology User Types

Then take a look at these videos (they're not brand new, but we're still wrestling with their concepts in the classroom):

A Vision of K-12 Students Today
Since the embedded video seems to be problematic, you can view this video here:

Did You Know? (animation version)
Sorry, the embedded video seems to have a problem embedding itself, so you can view this video here:

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tweets and Other Forms of Written Communication

I just "found" a great link on Twitter... from an educational "tweeter" that I follow. It's on Laura Walker's blog and it's called "Nine great reasons why teachers should use Twitter." My favorite line is a quote from someone Walker follows: "Following smart people on Twitter is like a mental shot of expresso [sic]." How fabulous it is to learn what interesting people are doing around the world at any given moment! Subtract the minutiae of an everyday life and sift the gold nuggets that can potentially enrich you, professionally and personally.

A friend tweeted her "Twitter profile's worth" which was several hundred dollars. I think mine is less than $10. Could be that I spend much more time reading tweets than writing them. Could also be that I follow fewer people than she does, and, consequently, fewer follow me back. I don't think I have more time (than writing this paragraph) to ponder my lack of Twitter worth. But I'm sure it will nag at me deep in the recesses of my mind...

So, is email dead? I don't really think so. It's so much more satisfying than a text message because you're allowed (perhaps expected) to use proper spelling and grammar and complete sentences. Yet, IMing, Tweeting, text messaging from a phone -- all of these do teach a person to be more concise and get to the point. Guess I'll cut this post short, then. One more advantage an email or hand written note has over shorter forms of communication is that there's room to express some emotion, to explain your feelings and thoughts. Try that in a 140 character Tweet!

Last item concerns the invention of what sounds like new vocabulary. I'm not too fond of some "new" words. Here are a couple:
1. Incentivize. The online Merrian-Webster dictionary does have a definition so maybe this one's not even new. But why can't you just say "create an incentive?"
2. Strategery. This word supposedly began with its usage on a Saturday Night Live sketch in 2000. It was a mockery of our former president's misuse of language. And, it sounds like it too. So I bristle when someone on the radio uses this word as a legitimate noun in weighty discussions of policy and politics. First use: funny. Continued use: not so much.

Looking for you on Twitter!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Starting from "Scratch"

On the day after the NJECC conference I participated in a full day workshop on Creating Games from Scratch. Scratch is a free, downloadable programming language, similar in many ways to LOGO which we use through MicroWorlds software in the Lab. Scratch was designed at MIT. According to the official web site (

“Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.”

As the workshop progressed it became apparent to all the participants that we had to do a lot of problem solving in order to achieve success at each small level of our projects. I was thankful that I had a LOGO background because it helped with the logical thinking and de-bugging process.

As in MicroWorlds, Scratch can use a figure (a sprite) to animate your project (like the “turtle” in LOGO). Also like MicroWorlds, on other levels of gaming knowledge and ability, projects may be entirely mathematical or language oriented with no visible sprite. We looked at samples of projects that mimicked Pacman, animated soccer games, produced fancy artistic versions of the project-maker's name, and coordinated music with sprite animation. There were also more serious "games:" one that recreated a calculator, one that told you what day of the week you were born on simply by knowing your date of birth, some that informed about holidays, taught lessons about animals, and provided an animated demonstration of the Rubik's cube.

If you'd like to read more about Scratch and someone else's opinion of its value, click here. The One Laptop Per Child computers have Scratch built into them so students around the world are bound to be sharing their projects and building valuable skills for their future working lives.

Whatever type of project a student uses, directly connected to the curriculum or directly parallel to her interests, there's no doubt in my mind that Scratch is a valuable tool students of any age can enjoy. And, after this workshop my brain really hurt!! I hope I have some free time to continue with my project on my own. Scratch certainly gave me an itch for programming!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day at NJECC

There was some wearing of the green today in honor of the holiday, but mostly NJECC's annual conference was a celebration of "Tools and Techniques for Change." Who better as a keynote speaker than Ian Jukes, self proclaimed educational evangelist! Not only did Mr. Jukes give a rousing keynote address but he also presided over a large audience for several hours in the afternoon. His focus was on changing education from a system based on TTWWADI (that's the way we always did it) to one that prepares students for their future rather than our past. Today's students are digital natives. Their brains work differently than those of past generations, mostly by virtue of the barrage of visual media youth are exposed to and choose to use. Digital natives think differently; they think graphically. Did you know that the United States has the shortest school day as well as the shortest school year of any nation with a compulsory education system? As Mr. Jukes pointed out: We're still giving children several months off so they can help with the agricultural harvest of a century ago! In the afternoon session Mr. Jukes was very animated, though admittedly quite exhausted, as he gave example after example of ways in which our current educational programs need overhaul. He continually repeated (and had us repeat) eight key points:
1. Catch up and embrace the digital
2. Teach the whole new mind
3. Literacy isn’t enough; Focus on fluency
4. We need to shift our instructional approach
5, Let students access information creatively via means found in their native environment
6. Let students collaborate
7. Students should be able to create products that reflect content and process
8. Re-evaluate evaluation

Check out Dale's Cone of Learning for a real eye opener!

Another provocative session was titled "Yes You Can! Conquering Copyright Confusion." Kristin Hokanson (Media Education Lab, Temple University) shared lots of information about Fair Use and the best practices for preparing students for media use, both inside and outside the classroom. The purpose of copyright is "to promote creativity, innovation, and the spread of knowledge." Many of us have based our understanding of copyright and fair use on negotiated agreements between media companies and educational groups. The agreements give the appearance of being the law, but they are not. Check out the Media Education Lab's website!

For all the people who attended Lori's and my session on Web 2.0 Tools you can use in your classroom, you can access our presentation below. We'd really appreciate it if you'd also take a few minutes to fill out a survey about Web 2.0 Tools. Thanks so much!

Monday, March 16, 2009

NJECC 2009

Getting ready for the annual conference sponsored by NJECC. We're putting the finishing touches on our presentation, for which we'll provide links on both Lori's and my blogs. I've been realizing, as the day goes by, that motherhood prepares one fairly well for a life of multi-tasking. There were classes without break today, students needing assistance to hook up LCD and speaker systems, students recording podcasts, keyboarding assessments, word search printing problems, default printer settings that were mixed up, no toilet paper in the staff bathroom, first graders doing research, and lots more. This presentation had to take a back seat to everything else today.

Second thing I've noticed is that it's comforting to know so few people ever read my blog that I don't have to worry about posting so frequently :-) Well, I'm sure there will be lots to discuss after the conference, with its variety of speakers and sessions and a workshop to follow on Wednesday. I'm looking forward to it all.

If you attended our NJECC "Web 2.0 in My Classroom" session, please click here to fill out the Post Presentation Wrap-Up Survey

Click here to email me for a .pdf of the "Web 2.0 in My Classroom... Tomorrow!" Presentation

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Week Begins

So, when Monday begins the way mine did, you kind of wonder if you're being presented with an omen. On my way to work I stopped at the bank to deposit a check for my condo association (one of the joys of being treasurer), only to find that there were no deposit envelopes. A ten minute detour that resulted in nothing except a rescheduled bank visit. Back into the car, plugged the iPod into the sound system and five minutes into a classic Satellite Sisters podcast, the iPod screen goes gray, the sound stops, and I couldn't revive it with my free hand. This can't be good! Rummaging around in the console "junk drawer" with my right hand, I located the iPod charger. At the stop light I performed the emergency restart on the now-plugged-in iPod and it came back to life. I was so relieved that I began to relax again. After all, there were two presentations to deliver today.

The omen didn't amount to anything after all and I'm quite relieved about that! The fifth grade class seemed to enjoy my PowerPoint about whales around the world and sharing their own stories of close encounters with marine mammals. The discussion with faculty about Google docs, wikis, and blogs was fine, although a number of people found it easier to joke about Web 2.0 than to embrace it. They'll see... it soon will be impossible to ignore online collaboration. I'm off to compose an email invitation for everyone on the staff to set up gmail accounts as a group activity. Once they do it'll be easy to plunge right in -- I'm determined to make believers of them!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Channel Thirteen Celebration of Teaching and Learning

Here it is, Sunday night, and the to-do list for school isn't getting any smaller. Two presentations, one for students and one for faculty, and a day of classes to plan. I spent Saturday in NYC at the Channel 13 Celebration of Teaching & Learning. What an inspiring group of speakers were at the conference!

Keynote: Temple Grandin, to talk about her autism and the best ways to teach and reach students with autism. "Teach to their strengths" instead of "pounding away at the deficits." Another great quote, "I am what I do more than what I feel." Dr. Grandin is an inspiration because of her achievements and also because she makes difficult topics more easily understood, in her writing and her oral presentations.

Closing speaker: Alan Alda. He's just filled with amusing anecdotes from his own life, his work, and from his new series on PBS that will air in the fall - "The Human Spark." The clips he brought were excellent; promises to be a terrific series. Think about this: What does make us human?

Some of the other sessions I attended were about Darwin (Olivia Judson) and Google Apps for Sharing Best Practices. The teachers and administrators from various NYC schools in the Empowerment program were very impressive. Their descriptions of collaborative work ought to have been heard by Congressional leaders and parents so they'd know how important the public school systems in this country really are.

Last, but not least, let me mention The Electric Company... The "new" Electric Company. My two children were raised by Children's Television Workshop and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Well, those TV shows definitely helped. Sesame Street, TEC and Mr. Rogers reinforced thinking skills, literacy skills, respect and good manners. I'm looking forward to hearing about the part TEC plays in my grandsons' lives!