Sunday, September 30, 2007

Breaking News

"News is any new information or information on current events which is relayed by print, broadcast, Internet, or word of mouth to a third party or mass audience." -Wikipedia

In Friday's Current Events class, the students listed some significant social or political issues presently in the news.

Using our local paper as a quick reference resource, I pointed out two stories of which they were unaware: the crisis in Myanmar and New York State Governor Spitzer's proposal to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Although they were sympathetic to the plight of the protesters in Myanmar (and appalled that the government could halt Internet access), their interest was really stirred by the licensing issue.

Discussion was lively and a bit heated. Their anger was not directed at each other, but rather at a governor they unanimously agreed was doing something very wrong. This story may be useful in coming months, when we discuss the obligation of a citizen to be well-informed and to vote based on the record of candidates.

As we start to dig a bit deeper into current issues, I hope many such "conversations" take place about real events in the real world and how they affect even our small corner of the U.S.

"Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?" - E. C. Bentley

"News is the first rough draft of history." - Philip L. Graham

Another Voice: The Obligation of Schooling

"The secret in education lies in respecting the student." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

In early September, Patrick Higgins asked, "What is the Obligation of Schooling?"

I posed his question to my Current Events class and shared their responses in a previous post.

This morning I happened upon the "official" blog of New York City students and found a thoughtful reflection on this same question.

Our young people are expressing their opinions. We just need to listen.

"Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion." -Allan Bloom

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Mellow Time

"Autumn’s the mellow time." -William Allingham, The Winter Pear

"I trust in Nature for the stable laws Of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant And Autumn garner to the end of time." -Robert Browning, A Soul’s Tragedy

" When summer gathers up her robes of glory, and like a dream of beauty glides away." -Sarah Helen Power Whitman

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Welcome to a Student Blogger

On Saturday, I visited a local balloon festival, not to watch hot air balloons ascend, but to view an art exhibit featuring one of our students. By the time I arrived at the event, all of Dan's paintings had been sold; I was lucky there were a few prints left to purchase!

Dan recently obtained his junior license and piloted the "Strawberry" balloon this year. And today, while in the LMC, he signed up for his first blog.

I hope he will share with us some of his passion for art and ballooning as he explores the joys of blogging.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Obligation of Schooling

On September 14, Patrick Higgins wondered "What is the duty of a school in the life and development of a person? "

My Current Events students (grades 9 -12) came up with these answers:

"It should be safe. The school shouldn't let any serious thing just go by. Kids should feel safe when they're somewhere they are forced to be. If people say they will bring guns to school and shoot someone, something should be done about it. Bullying should also be handled harshly."

"The obligation is to get us to learn. The purpose is to get us ready for the world."

"My opinion is that the obligation of schooling is to prepare us for life and the job. It should be more than just lecture and homework. We should learn about life skills and job skills through trial and error, by actually doing things. But we must be well-rounded people. So we should have to learn about Shakespeare and historical things."

"I think it's something everyone needs. Without it [education] we can't get jobs. How to add, subtract, multiply and divide, read and write - that's all anyone needs to do. I think school should let us wear what we want, say what we want, and we might want to come put up with it."

"We have to get up way too early. We have to stay here way too long."

"The purpose of education is to make the world a better and smarter place for the future. For example, there will be more advances in many fields in the future if education keeps advancing. 13 years of schooling should be educational. But it should also be fun for the students so they keep interest. If they keep interest, the more they'll pay attention and learn. The more they learn, the smarter they'll be."

"To me, the purpose of education is to prepare young adults for their futures. Education also gives students an excellent advantage in career opportunities. I think that for a student to be able to learn properly, there should be something fun involved, or something for the student to strive for. If there is no goal for a student to look forward to, they will be much less likely to want to learn."

"I think that school is good the way it is now: a 6 hour day, 40 minute periods. Lunch should be longer, but everything else is good. Students should learn about important stuff that they would actually use in life."

"The purpose of education is so that when we get out into the real world we can make smart and well-educated choices. Like when you go to choose your career or when you go to vote, you can make a smart, educated decision."

"The purpose of school is to get us ready for a job. We will get a better job. We will also get paid more. The job [employer] would not be worried about finding people right for the job. The week should end Thursday. We should have more hours only if you get to learn what you want. You should learn what you want."

"The purpose of education is to teach children all the things they will be needing to know in their adult lives. Most students are benefiting from education even if it's only basic things, but it will give them knowledge to interact with the work field. The job of teachers is to teach students basic knowledge that maybe one day will expand into something great. Educational gaming should be used in education because most of America's kids are into video games. It would draw them into education (slowly). They'll think of it as a game, but the benefits are that they will be learning at the same time as having fun."

A safe environment, job-related skills, a bit of culture, a lot of fun: that's what students want. Can we meet "our" goals while respecting their desires?

"Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself."John Dewey

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Of Cabbages and Kings

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax --
Of cabbages and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings."
-Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel

A few weeks ago, Eric Turner, of Secondhand Thoughts, did me the very great honor of recognizing my blog as one of his Wednesday Websites. I apologize for not responding earlier; the idea that people read and appreciate my writing is very empowering.

Eric is a "40 year old retired soldier, full-time student, future history teacher, father of four, and husband of one" - obviously a very busy man, yet he makes the time to recognize the efforts of fellow bloggers. He also encourages his subscribers to visit and comment on the Wednesday Websites, a generous gesture and one that models good cyber manners.

So I'm happy to return the favor: please visit Secondhand Thoughts and give Eric a listen. He is a thoughtful and articulate man and deserving of your attention.

*How could I have forgotten to mention the fact that Eric uses Dewey numbers on his blog!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Here Be Dragons

"'Here be dragons' is a phrase used by ancient cartographers to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the infrequent medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in blank areas of maps." -Wikipedia

There is currently a case in the news which reminds us that we still sail uncharted seas when considering the ethical use of material, in this case photographs, found on the Internet. Vicki Davis noted that copyright laws and personal privacy issues are cited in the lawsuit and intends to use the story in classroom discussions of cyber ethics and digital citizenship.

Obviously, commercial use of Creative Common photos is a hot topic in Flickr. One discussion group member there provided a link to an Australian lawyer's interpretation of that country's street photography regulations (although the girl is American, Virgin Mobile is using the photo in an ad campaign in Australia). It would appear that "until the law changes, consent for general child photography remains purely an ethical and moral issue, not a legal one."

John Pederson posted a statement from Joi Ito, Chair of Creative Commons, which is named in the lawsuit along with Virgin. Ito reminds us that "Creative Commons is about copyright and NOT about privacy or other non-copyright issues. Just because something is licensed under a Creative Commons license, it DOESN’T mean that you can do anything you want with it."

Obviously, there are moral issues aplenty in our brave new cyber universe. Here be dragons indeed.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Parents' Night

"Productive collaborations between family and school, therefore, will demand that parents and teachers recognize the critical importance of each other’s participation in the life of the child." -Sara Lawrence Lightfoot

Dan Meyer discussed "Back to School Night 2007" on his blog today. As a K-12 teacher/librarian, I participated in two of these rites of autumn this week.

I still remember how stressful it was for me, as a parent, attending Open House for my own son and daughter. A lot of information is thrown at people who may not fully understand standards and curriculum but do care very deeply about how such issues affect their children.

Among the handouts in my district was a brochure with FAQs about policies and procedures and a listing of all staff members' school email addresses and voicemail numbers. After a brief welcoming speech by the appropriate principal, parents dispersed to meet teachers and (for MS/HS) follow their child's schedule. The event ended with cookies, punch, and informal chats in the cafeteria.

If Parents' Night fosters a feeling of collaboration between teacher and parents, it's an evening well spent.

"Parents do not give up their children to strangers lightly. They wait in uncertain anticipation for an expression of awareness and interest in their children that is as genuine as their own. They are subject to ambivalent feelings of trust and competitiveness toward a teacher their child loves and to feelings of resentment and anger when their child suffers at her hands. They place high hopes in their children and struggle with themselves to cope with their children’s failures." -Dorothy H. Cohen

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Scenes from a Life

Chris Betcher posted a comment about the limited educational value, high coolness factor, of Animoto. Since I'm still in adjustment mode at school, I thought I'd "cheat" a bit and share a slice of my life as a K-12 Teacher/Librarian for my posting today.

Wednesday and Thursday evening are Parent Nights in MS/HS and Elementary School, respectively. Perhaps I should bring my camera...

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Bookshelf

"I cannot live without books." -Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1815

Carolyn Foote reminded me that I hadn't yet responded to Ethan Bodnar's open invitation to share a photo of a personal bookshelf.

That meant that I had to first decide which bookshelf to photograph: the revolving end table housing old favorites like Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy; the small case holding historical mysteries that I just may read again; my collection of children's books; the basket holding my emergency stash of paperbacks (if I ever finish reading all my titles, will life as I know it cease!???).

I finally settled on one shelf in my little den, since it holds some books I haven't yet gotten to: mermaids and Jimmy Buffet in honor of Key West, some history to keep me honest, a few tech titles, a dash of kiddy lit, and "Stardust" (to compare with the movie - one of the few Gaiman stories I haven't read yet).

My house is still in an interesting state, my blogging is woefully behind (I apologize to Eric at Secondhand Thoughts and promise that he's next in the queue)...but I couldn't resist a literary exercise.

I love my computer, but oh, those books!

"Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill."
-Barbara Tuchman

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Perfect Storm

"The phrase perfect storm refers to the simultaneous occurrence of events which, taken individually, would be far less powerful than the result of their chance combination. Such occurrences are rare by their very nature, so that even a slight change in any one event contributing to the perfect storm would lessen its overall impact." -Wikipedia

  1. School begins
  2. Only daughter gets married
  3. Housework remains least favorite task
This weekend is for catch-up in the personal sector. Educational postings on hold for a day or so. Visits to lifehack and zen habits may be in order so that I can "Ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm." -Joseph Addison

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Our World Changed Forever"

When my students walked into Current Events class today, I asked them to respond to a headline from yesterday's Times Union. The oldest young man in the group was in sixth grade in 2001; the youngest, only a third grader.

I vividly remember the events of September 11. As a high school teacher, I spent the day with our older students, watching in horror as the tragedy unfolded.

At first, my kids had trouble with the assignment, insisting that even a short paragraph was impossible. But I reminded them how our world has changed as a direct result of that Day. One boy intends to enlist in the Navy - serving in a time of war, not peace. Some of the students have taken family vacations in Canada or flown on commercial flights: I explained what travel was like before the Patriot Act.

Rather than using a quotation from a "famous person", I'm concluding with comments from today's class.

Our world has changed. More people have died since then, not only from the dust and debris, but because of the war it [September 11] sparked.

Yeah, I think it changed our world...A good thing is that our country is more alert to things like that now.

It made a huge change to the world. Members of many people's families were killed. We all know that when family members get killed, it affects a lot of people. Those towers were...a symbol for our country...I would love to join the navy and get back at [the terrorists]... seems that no one can trust anyone any more due to the 9/11 attack...the wars overseas seem to be out of control. It's like it will never end.

This was a very sad day in America's history...Our country realized that it was not 'bullet-proof'. Many restrictions were put on daily life in the U.S.A. The terrorist attack on the country has changed us.

It was a really shocking thing that happened. The world has changed because security has stepped up a lot...We have also been in war for a long time and the country has to pay for it, so we have to waste money on equipment for that stuff [war materials].

I believe that 9/11 did change our world. I think it was a horrible event. The way we reacted was stupid...Now, 6 years later, we are still there and taking and losing life. It is time to change and to stand up against political evil and save our world.

9/11 will make our world different for a long time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Who Am I?

"Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle." - Lewis Carroll

Our Current Events class has grown to nine students, although the two female members were absent this Monday. Some of the participants chose to "link" their puzzle pieces when they checked in, a hopeful sign, I believe.

Our Essential Questions had to do with self-knowledge: "Who am I?", "What is my learning style", "What are the traits of a successful learner?". A few written activities and some related discussion focused on recognizing and understanding personal learning styles. Once each student returns a signed AUP, we can start some online collaboration and blogging. Until that happens, I try to show them at least a few tools and applications during our class period. I'm betting that the "bells and whistles" will pique their interest and help nurture their interest in the content matter.

One class each of grades 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 had scheduled library time today. The emphasis this year in elementary language arts is on "genres", a subject near and dear to a librarian's heart. By pointing out examples of genres - categories, arrangements - in everyday life, I was able to stimulate, I hope, some critical thinking. Parents who take their children to the grocery store may be in for a surprise when the little ones start discussing the "fruit and vegetable", "frozen food", "dairy", "housewares", and other genres. Maybe the Genre Game could replace license plate spotting as a sport on long car trips!

The school year is beginning to take shape, although the new six-day cycle in the Elementary wing makes getting into a routine more difficult. We have moved from flexible scheduling back to stricter timetables. On the positive side, this means that I get to interact with the younger students weekly. The negative side is that I will not be free to collaborate with teachers from other grade levels on most days. I understand the reasoning behind the switch, but it does limit my availability at "time of need". I remain ruthlessly optimistic that all things will eventually work out.

"Whoever I am, or whatever I am doing, some kind of excellence is within my reach." - John Gardner

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Four Weddings

"Immature love says: I love you because I need you. Mature love says: I need you because I love you." - Erich Fromm

Edna & Lou
June 22, 1946

Diane & Tim
September 1, 1973

Jackie & Scott
June 18, 2005

Ellen & Sean
September 8, 2007

Thursday, September 6, 2007

One Foot in Each World

"Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself." -John Dewey

As a K-12 Librarian, I operate on many different levels. The opening of school after summer vacation tends to be both exhilarating (the kids are back!) and confusing (how can the LMC staff fit in lunches when the MS/HS is on an A/B two-day schedule and the Elementary School now follows a six-day rotation?!!) Add to that the excitement of an impending wedding (my daughter's...on Saturday!) and it makes for quite a roller coaster ride as the new school year begins.

All things considered, everything went well today. A Kindergarten and a First Grade class each came for a first visit, and their behavior was excellent for such little guys. We talked about manners, in general, and library manners, in particular, with some appropriate tips from Clifford the Big Red Dog, Mr. Wiggles the Bookworm and Rosie, a small creature trying to learn Monster Manners.

I met the eight brave souls who signed up for my newly-created Current Events class - the number may increase as schedules are ironed out, but I hope that the group remains small. Their initial task was to follow the directions I posted and write their name on a puzzle piece, then attach it to the whiteboard. I was deliberately vague about details and later pointed out to them that no one had chosen to connect their piece with anyone else's; I told them that collaboration is going to be a key component of the course and that we will be combining in a number of different ways for projects. For the rest of the class, I took them on a virtual tour of the tech tools and websites I've been collecting all summer. Only one student knew what a blog was, and seemed excited about using one in school. None of them were familiar with RSS feeds, wikis, flickr, tagging, etc. It should be fun exploring together. I did specify that the tools would be secondary to the content, but we'll get into that more later. The fact that I was able to show them two YouTube clips ("Miss Teen South Carolina"made them laugh and "The Perceptive Pixel" puzzled and intrigued them) means that our network will support most of the resources I want to utilize. Next week, we'll slow down a bit and discuss how we'll use all of these cool "toys" to learn more about the world. Exciting times, if I can just keep it all together and focused (although we didn't access their student sites, I did mention Jo, in Australia, and Clay and Anthony, in Korea, to start my students thinking globally).

It should be quite a year!

"Education is not to reform students or amuse them or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think straight, if possible." -Robert M. Hutchins

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

School Safety

Today was our second day of staff meetings and workshops before school opens to students tomorrow morning. We spent our time preparing for events which we hope will never occur.

Michael Dorn, of Safe Havens International, gave an informative, sometimes impassioned and emotional, presentation on school safety. Staff members from two local school districts learned about monitoring students, creating a climate of respect, dealing with irate people, and other key safety practices. We were given concrete examples of how to assess warning signs to determine whether a situation was still in early stages or posed an imminent danger. Consistent behavior codes, firm but reasonable consequences, building security and visitor sign-in procedures were also reviewed.
The culminating session, entitled "Weakfish - Bullying Through the Eyes of a Child", left us horrified, shocked into silence. Bullying is something which does occur, every day, in every school. By creating a school environment not conducive to bullying, by assessing, supervising and intervening, teachers, administrators, and other staff members can "dramatically impact bullied children".

School should be a safe place. A child who is afraid cannot learn.

"Gun-Free" by Shilashon

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


"I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning." - Joseph Priestly

Students return to school in two days.

"A great source of calamity lies in regret and anticipation; therefore a person is wise who thinks of the present alone, regardless of the past or future." - Oliver Goldsmith

It is a chance for all of us to start over, begin again.

"Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight." - Benjamin Franklin

Their success is our success.

"Children are our link to future generations that we will never see." - Louise Hart

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day

"Labor Day differs in every essential way from the other holidays of the year in any country. All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man's prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor devoted to no man, living or dead, to no sect, race, or nation."
-Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." The holiday was originally celebrated with massive street parades of costumed workers proudly representing their trade unions. These peaceful demonstrations ended in community picnics punctuated by stirring political speeches. The parades have disappeared, but Labor Day addresses by leading union and government officials persist, disseminated via newspapers, radio, television and the Internet.

On Labor Day 2007, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao stated:

"America's workforce is the envy of the world!" but warned that “What our country does face is a ‘skills gap.’ In a worldwide economy, the competitive strength of America's workforce lies in its productivity, innovation, creativity and knowledge base. The majority of new jobs created over the next decade will require more skills, higher education and pay above average wages, so it is important to ensure that workers are able to get the education and training they need to access these growing opportunities.”

Chao quotes information found in America's Dynamic Workforce (August, 2007), a DOL special report which "presents an overview of current conditions and notable trends affecting the American labor market and economic activity". Chapter 4, "A Labor Force that Learns", outlines the past and future of the American workforce and, by extension, the necessary focus of our educational system:

"Sixty-five years ago only about one in twenty Americans ages 25 or older was a college graduate. Many jobs required no more than basic literacy and physical skills largely learned through experience. The change in the educational attainment of the labor force since the 1940s has been dramatic. The 21st century labor market seeks and rewards workers who can offer the educational foundation, technical skills and creative flexibility that employers need to compete and to adapt to changing needs successfully. Higher educational attainment contributes to a worker’s ability to efficiently absorb new knowledge and to learn new skills. Workers who can quickly move up the learning curve of a new job have a competitive advantage for economic success."

Our nineteenth and twentieth century agricultural/mining/manufacturing economy has evolved, and our ideas of education and learning need to reflect that evolution. Not all labor is physical in nature: our workforce must also be comfortable with critical thinking, collaboration and intellectual innovation.

"He who labors diligently need never despair; for all things are accomplished by diligence and labor."
Menander of Athens

"A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labor and there is invisible labor." - Victor Hugo

"Labor Day parade, Main St., Buffalo, N.Y." Photograph. Detroit Publishing Co. no. 012909.
ca. 1900. . American Memory. Library of Congress.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

10 slides representative of my summer activities: