Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hard Questions for Tough Times

On March 12, 2008, Eliot Laurence Spitzer resigned his position as governor of the State of New York and was replaced by Lieutenant Governor David Paterson.

Paterson inherited a state economy that has been characterized by budget director Laura L. Anglin as "officially in recession." The governor is seeking a hiring freeze and hopes to reduce state agency spending by an additional 7%. State legislators will be asked to return to the Capitol from their summer recess to consider what and how much to cut from budget allocations. Governor Paterson said school aid and other funding areas "highly protected" by the Legislature will be considered.

Politicians and advocacy groups are already girding for battle. And the public is starting to weigh in.

Today's Albany Times-Union invited readers to "share your thoughts about Paterson’s address" in an online forum. The first response defended state workers and asked,
"Why not publish the teachers salaries and benefit packages, like they do for each union. Do the School employees (janitors, clerks, secretaries) pay for health insurance, dental, vision. If not, why."

Another asserted that
"State agencies have already had their budgets cut 3.35%. Can the rest of the massive spending programs such as education, housing, medicaid, etc.. been cut as well? The answer is NO! 90% of the massive state budget goes towards entitlement programs. It is time to tighten the belt in all areas of the state budget. NY State is in this mess because of the generous increases in these programs over the past five years."

How many citizens secretly - or overtly - agree with this viewpoint?
"It doesn’t matter what this guy says or does, the scumbag school teachers will still get there fat raises and free medical across the board while the rest of the free world has to work for a living and watch their taxes go up and up and up and up. Oh, it’s for the 'chilren'."

Much is made of the fact that the [New York] city and state teacher unions spend large sums of money lobbying for education legislation. Is this type of vying for political favors moral? expedient? a necessary evil?

What would you say to the taxpayer who seems to feel that teachers are being taken care of at the expense of those who have to "work for a living"? How would you convince them that it is, indeed, for the "chilren"?

"Education costs money, but then so does ignorance." -Sir Claus Moser

"Governor Paterson" by jcommaroto

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I get by with a little help from my friends

Thanks to a tip from Cathy Nelson, I've added Subscription Link buttons to my blog.
By clicking on the appropriate you can make sure that you see both postings and comments in your feed reader of choice.

It's enough to make a lady smile.

Image generated by Cameroid

Visit to Yaddo: A Different Perspective

Today, I'm concluding my mini-series on the Gardens of Yaddo, that I began here, and continued here. My daughter, who accompanies me on many of my local Journeys, has agreed to let me include some of the commentary and photos from her private Flickr set.

Where I tend to focus on "pretty" pictures, she looks for the odd angle or the imperfect but interesting detail. Her narrative contains many imaginative elements:

"One purple flower made me think of Queen Elizabeth I; the blossom grew out from its leaf in a way that reminded me of Gloriana's crowned head framed by a ruff."
"There's lots in literature about magic doors and gardens- in Alice, in the Secret Garden- so we took our time admiring the Gate and ironwork before passing through to the Garden."

While I spent a considerable amount of time trying to capture the beauty of the roses, my daughter turned her artist's sensibilities towards the sculptures:

"I was more excited to visit the statuary than the roses. Brookgreen Gardens...and the Nina Winkel Gallery, hidden away in the Arts building at Plattsburgh, are two of my favorite places in the world. At Brookgreen, especially, my eyes refocused permanently, and now, when I see a figurative sculpture, especially one that has been placed outside, I like to look at it till it's alive. For me, Outside is the only gallery that can truly complement sculpture, or at least in the way I appreciate it."

And when I was patiently waiting for the "perfect shot" of the marble figures, she happily incorporated nature into her compositions:

"Autumn had a bug on her foot and a spider nestled into her sheaves of wheat. Winter, who carried pinecones, had a complex look on her face- hidden thoughts, sleeping dreams. Spring was my favorite, with cheeks that looked rosy despite being marble, and flowers spilling all around. Summer had a mischievous grin and carried grapes."

We did agree in our preference for the informal,
less constrained aspects of the gardens:

"I'm not one much for roses, or formal gardens in general. The arranged flowers were pretty, but I found myself more interested in the beetles and bugs and koi fish then the roses. Those poor koi fish- they live in a fountain in the center of the garden, and got so excited when they saw my shadow that I apologized for not having any food. At one point the biggest milky fish and the biggest red fish hopped up at the same time and kissed on the lips. My first ever pets were two goldfish; they were named Diana and Charles, because they looked like they were kissing sometimes, and the big fairytale royal wedding of their namesakes had just taken place, in 1981."

Her description of "nature's barflies" make me laugh, though I don't
share her enthusiasm for photographing tiny "beasties":

"I spent a lot of time looking at the rugarosa roses- they were crawling with beetles and bees, inchworms and other beasties. The roses almost seemed treacherous, as though the insects couldn't unstick themselves- or maybe they didn't want to. Nature's barflies, closing time at dusk instead of dawn. One big bumblebee in a rose was buzzing loud and frantic; I couldn't figure if it was anger or pollen euphoria."

In the end, we both agreed that the Rock Garden was our favorite:

"Of course I liked this sort of garden more, less obvious artifice to the art. Me and Diane looked at the fountain shooting from a dome of rocks in a pool. She saw a stump that could serve as a fairy house, which made me think of the terrain in little-folk terms: valleys and desserts and forests, the fountain an impossible mountain in a lake. I liked the fuzzy purple flowers that grew with the ferns around the pool."

I've enjoyed reading her commentary, seeing the gardens with other

Her vision in not my vision, but that's why our shared expeditions are
so special.

Visit to Yaddo: A Different Perspective

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Visit to Yaddo - Part 2

In addition to the formal Rose Garden, Yaddo has an informal Rock Garden. Mossy rocks, tumbling streams, and a fanciful geyser-like fountain create a mini-Eden.

Here a visitor can wander and dream and forget, for a time, the frantic world that exists beyond the garden gates.

You can also view these photos as a Flickr slideshow here

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Visit to Yaddo - Part 1

Today my daughter and I visited the Gardens at Yaddo, a grand home that has been preserved as a working artists' community.

Yaddo was owned by Spencer Trask, a New York City financier and Katrina Nichols Trask, his wife, a published poet. Legend has it that the name "Yaddo" was suggested by four-year-old Christina Trask's charming mis-pronunciation of the work "shadow."

When all four of the Trask children died within a one-year span, possibly during a diphtheria epidemic, the heartbroken parents decided to form what became the Corporation of Yaddo, endowed in perpetuity to serve as a creative retreat for artists.

The buildings and cottages on the estate are only rarely opened to the public, in order to maintain "uninterrupted time to work, good working conditions, and a supportive community" for the residents.

Visitors are welcome to stroll the gardens, however, and enjoy the serene beauty of its flowers and fountains.

The Rose Garden is based on Italian classical gardens that the Trasks had seen in their travels abroad. There are four statues representing the Four Seasons, and a statue of a youth, "Christalan" which serves as a "memorial to the children of this house." Christalan represents youth, chivalry, and victory over mortality.

On the marble balcony, there is a sundial inscribed with a poem composed by Henry VanDyke, a friend of the Trasks:
"Hours fly, flowers die, New days, New ways pass by, Love stays."

To see some of the roses in the garden, please click below and visit my Flickr set The Rose Garden at Yaddo

Friday, July 25, 2008

So Are the Ants

"It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?" -Henry David Thoreau

Seeking to revise his district's guidelines for student research papers, Patrick Higgins asked a series of questions today on Twitter. His search for curricular relevance led to some reflective thinking on my part.

Patrick began by wondering, "Should we be teaching our students the Dewey Decimal System?"

As a School Library Media Specialist, I deal with this system daily in my professional life. Dewey numbers are standard in most K-12 and public libraries. There are, however, other ways to categorize and arrange material, including the Library of Congress classifications that students will encounter in research and academic libraries.

I don't feel that it's necessary for anyone to memorize Dewey numbers. Traditional and online catalogs provide the "address" of a book; all students need to understand is how to interpret the information to find what they are seeking.

The key concept is organization: how are things ordered for ease of access?

When asked to design their own grouping method, students in my classes have come up with some interesting suggestions:
  • by color
  • by size
  • by number of words
  • by weight
  • by gender of the author
  • by smell or taste (!)
Some of the children described a system that resembled the tagging now being used to sort and locate all sorts of resources. Others fantasized about having a device that could track and locate a book electronically, making shelf arrangement irrelevant. Our hand-held inventory wand could easily be adapted for this purpose.

Knowing the reason for the Dewey Decimal System is the key concept; the numbers themselves are only symbols.

Patrick next asked, "Should we be teaching them how to manually prepare a works cited page?"

This question was debated by some of the classroom teachers and librarians from our regional BOCES. The majority of us felt that using a tool like Citation Machine
is perfectly appropriate. Few adults remember the finer points of citation formatting; why agonize over something that can be done better online?

I posed a question of my own, "Will it still be a research PAPER or will there be a choice of outcomes: e.g. Senior Projects like these?" to which Patrick responded, "This is for English classes: very traditional situation. Paper, undoubtedly."

Senior Projects are usually built over the entire four years of high school. They might begin with a research paper, then expand to encompass some type of culminating physical project and a presentation.

These projects embody the spirit of Inquiry-based Learning, a constructivist philosophy "driven more by a learner's questions than by a teacher's lessons." This approach allows students to become experts in their chosen topic, giving them a positive motivation for pursuing knowledge that is relevant to them.

Patrick ended by asking for more information about Zotero, "
a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources." Obviously, he is still exploring, weighing his options, searching for the best possible tools and most relevant content.

I hope that he shares his final product with us. In the meantime, I've benefited immensely from using his questions to examine my own professional practice.

"When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die." -Lillian Smith

"Ant at Work" by DavidDennis

Monday, July 21, 2008

Both are Transformed

"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances. If there is any reaction, both are transformed." -Carl Jung

I meant to write a well-reasoned, yet passionate counterpoint to Graham Wegner's posting about the "point" of online social interaction.

By citing "leading experts" on cyberspace, and quoting scholarly studies, I had planned to explain my intensely emotional response to meeting some of my virtual friends face to face in San Antonio.

But I'm tired, my summer schedule has been at least as hectic as my school schedule. So I'll settle for a personal response.

My online connections are invaluable for extending my professional knowledge. I'm able to access a rich assortment of resources; there is help available if I run into difficulties; sympathy and encouragement are only a keyboard away.

I want more.

I want to see and hear and interact with a person, in real time, in physical proximity. I want to observe expressions and body language, to share a hug and a joke. I want to follow a conversational thread where ever it might lead, and make startling discoveries or not.

I want to made the virtual "real".

My online, real time friend, Terry Shay, blogged about Friends today. His wife remarked that he really didn't know me, but she's wrong. We know each other very well because of conversations and interactions in cyber space.

I have close friends now who are scattered around the globe. I firmly believe that one day I will meet many of them face to face. That doesn't negate the value of online collaboration and social networking. It enhances it immeasurably.

"There is an electricity about a friendship relationship. We are both more relaxed and more sensitive, more creative and more reflective, more energetic and more casual, more excited and more serene. It is as though when we come in contact with our friend we enter into a different environment.” Andrew M. Greeley

"Net Surfers don’t ride alone." -Smith and Kollock, Communities in Cyberspace

"spark" by Burning Image

Sunday, July 13, 2008


"The writing was washed from parchment or vellum using milk and oat bran. With the passing of time, the faint remains of the former writing would reappear enough so that scholars can discern the text (called the scriptio inferior, the "underwriting") and decipher it." -Wikipedia

A palimpsest is a manuscript page that has been written on, scraped off, and used again. Where faint markings were once laboriously deciphered by scholars, modern science has devised techniques that make previously “lost” text more easily accessible to the trained reader.

In this digital age, it is impossible to permanently erase words and images once they are made public. Blog postings and websites can be removed by their authors, but traces remain that can be retrieved by skillful searchers.

We warn our students that their online identity is a composite of everything they write or upload online. But do we really understand this ourselves? Most of us know about Googling names to gather information on individuals. How many people, though, are aware of Wayback Machine, which can find old websites, or earlier versions of existing websites?

Times change and tools evolve to meet the challenge of those changes. Human nature remains the same. Clay Burell reminded us of the need for diplomacy. If a plea for common decency doesn't impress you, consider this: nothing ever really disappears in cyberspace. It may be hidden or difficult to track, but it is still there somewhere. And there are those who can locate it.

Just so you know.

"A word once uttered can never be recalled." -Horace

Image: Georgian paliphsestV-VI cc.jpg from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 11, 2008

Where in the World? Part 2

I decided to create a companion mosaic to display after the Animoto clip has played. This would allow for discussion of the visual clues to the geographic area that's being spotlighted.

There are infinite variations on the Where in the World? theme. For example, individual students or teams could brainstorm significant landmarks, products, topological features, etc. of a city, state, province, country, continent, or biome, locate appropriate pictures, then challenge their classmates to identify what's being described. A similar project might involve finding images of the 7 wonders of the ancient or modern world.

Partner projects, like Where in Time ? or Where in History? would utilize photos and illustrations of primary source artifacts, buildings, and reenacters.

Upload some vacation photos and give it a try - then use your product to model the activity for a class. And, please, share your masterpieces with the rest of us!

Where in the World?

Since I hope to incorporate "geography literacy" in my Current Events class next year, I decided to make some Animoto clips featuring different parts of the world.

My first one was inspired by NECC. Can you guess Where in the World it is from the images? If anyone else would like to spotlight a city or country via Animoto, Voicethread, or any other tool, please send a link and help me build a data bank.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


My daughter and I set off on an impromptu adventure yesterday, a road trip through rural Washington County, NY.

The big white church caught our eye first.

Across the street was Bethany Cemetery, Truthville, NY.

My initial thought was to take a few pictures of some graves, presumably of veterans, which were decked out in patriotic colors for the Fourth of July. But it didn't take long for my interest to broaden.

The shared headstone of Cora and Harold Douglas celebrates their long life together: "Whither thou goest I will go". Little Tanya Susan Cain was only on this earth for two days; a tiny lamb graces her resting place.

The older stones bore their own truths. Most of the women were either "the daughter of" or "the wife of" someone, having surrendered a part of their identity to their male relatives.

Many females died in their late teens or early twenties. Did childbirth carry them off at so young an age?

What tragic chain of events claimed the life of Eliza Corbin "who was drowned at Whitehall Landing, July 26, 1825, aged 18 years & 8 months, leaving a sorrowful husband & many weeping friends."

Sally Baker's large stone is elaborately decorated. Does her anchor symbolize faith, or was her husband or a family member involved with ships or the Navy?

Jeremiah Brownell was born in 1731 or 1732. Did he bear arms in the French & Indian War, then pick up his musket again in middle age to join the Colonials in their fight for independence? Was he a Loyalist? Or did he arrive in upstate New York after the battles were done?

What manner of person was Chapin, whose irregular rock bears a single name, with no other information?

The little cemetery at Truthville reminded me of Spoon River Anthology. Edgar Lee Masters recreated an entire community by sharing narratives of the departed residents of a fictitious town.

We can only guess at "truths" of Truthville. These crumbling inscriptions give no sense of the fire and passion of the people who once bore these names. Perhaps that is exactly what they would have wished.

"Truthville" set on Flickr


People are beginning to reflect on their NECC experiences. For me, there were three distinct but interconnected components.

Workshops and presentations were the marquee attraction. Internationally-known speakers, emerging Voices, and classroom innovators were all well represented. They shared information, explored core concepts, and provided valuable resources. As the member of a Librarians' panel myself, I was able to experience the positive energy such opportunities generated.

Another aspect of the conference is the Exhibition Hall, where vendors demonstrate products, answer questions, and conduct mini-workshops.

I found the official NECC program to be overwhelming, containing such an embarrassment of riches that I ended up only attending a few sessions. There was too much to take in, a sensory and cognitive overload. I'm hoping that many of the presentations have been captured on Ustream, so that I can explore at my leisure, a la K-12 Online.

The Exhibition Hall was similar in its excesses, but it seemed to focus primarily on things rather than thoughts. I dutifully sat through a few mini-workshops, but I was too keyed up to settle for long and ended up leaving many of the giveaways I received there in my hotel room. One quick sweep was enough to convince me that this was not a profitable space for me to spend much time exploring.

My favorite area was, as many of you might guess, the Bloggers' Cafe. Although a number of "getting to know you" chats took place, there was a rich and deep vein running through most of the conversations. People like Dean Shareski, Al Upton, Stephanie Sandifer, Dean Groom, Derrall Garrison, Vinnie Vrotny, and Jo McLeay stopped to say hello and stayed to explore such topics as internet/personal safety, student blogging, the power of f2f connecting, building student "excitement for learning" and teacher burnout.

Australian Dean Groom professed to be puzzled by the recurring "dream" motif in America. He prefers to focus on five achievable goals; when they're accomplished, he moves on to the next set.

Vinnie Vrotny told the story of his daughter's desire for a "fine dining" experience which led to a life lesson in gathering information.

Dean Shareski reminded me that our twitterverse comprises only a tiny percentage of the educational technology world, a fact that I need to keep in mind when interacting with other teachers and information technologists.

Stephanie Sandifer and I shared our distaste for the aggressive, intrusive tactics of some of the vendors.

Most fun for me, as a librarian and reader, was discussing literary genres - and favorite books - with Derrall Garrison.

Carolyn Foote demonstrated the features of her iPhone and Doug Johnson let us examine his Kindle. I reconnected with Joyce Valenza and met my dear friend Cathy Nelson for the first time in "real life."

I know that each of us took something home with us from NECC.

Which part of the troika appealed most to you? More importantly, how have you grown, how will your practices change, as a result of this extraordinary gathering?

"Troika" from Wikipedia

Friday, July 4, 2008

Yankee Doodle Dandy

I was born in Troy, NY, the home of Uncle Sam. But I'm not your typical Anglo-Saxon All-American girl.

While my husband's family has been around for many generations - we still have a ceremonial Civil War sword that one of his ancestors carried - my roots are not quite as deeply planted.

Mom's Irish and French Canadian relatives were already firmly established on American soil by the time Dad's Italian family arrived in the early 20th century.

Intelligent and hard-working, my father's parents bought property, ran a few businesses, and refused to let their children speak anything but English. Dad learned to read and write at an early age by studying with his mother. Grandma and Grandpa became naturalized Americans; their bright little son entered first grade at the age of four and remained an eager student for the rest of his life.

Both of my parents served in World War II. They lived the American Dream, and passed on their work ethic and moral code to their children and grandchildren.

The Fourth of July celebrates the proud history of this country and of the immigrants who infused their energy into the nation. America is not perfect, but it is my country, and I'm proud to be an American.

"Little Uncle Sam" by Phil Scoville
"Gerald Solomon National Cemetery"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Name Game

I'm still processing my NECC experiences. I've taken notes about some interesting conversations: there is fodder for at least a dozen postings on my little pad.

The best aspect of NECC for me has been, just as I anticipated, the opportunity to link names with faces, blogs, and Tweets. I've been able to connect with individuals, to examine concepts we hold in common, to expand understanding, to explore new trains of thought. It's random, unpredictable, magical.

Until I'm back home with "worlds enough and time" to do justice to this period of intense sharing and growth, I'll leave you with some images of what matters most to me - my PLN. People.

It's always about the people for me.

"I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people." -William Shakespeare