Tuesday, March 31, 2009

365 Project: March

Month three, ending with photo #90. I'm still trying to include a mix of personal and professional images, outdoor shots, and family moments.

Most viewed was The Mystery Tool, posted on March 29. Its solution, uploaded on March 31, will probably achieve similar numbers, as people continue to check for the name of this object.

My favorite was the Lamoka Point. Being able to hold a projectile point dating from 3500 - 2500 B.C. in my hand means touching history. I am in awe that such artifacts survive to tell their stories.

You can see a slideshow of the 31 March photos here or view all of my 2009 photos to date here.

The two groups to which I contribute are 365/2009 and 2009/365.

From the Heart

April is National Poetry Month, so I decided to try a creative writing assignment with my high school Current Events group.

After a discussion about the nature and characteristics of poetry, I asked students to compose a poem or song lyric dealing with one of the topics we've examined in class. Since this includes everything from the election to volunteerism to Michael Phelps to assorted teen issues, I was confident that there'd be enough choices to please everyone.

When I mentioned sharing their creations with others, perhaps publishing them in a leaflet, one boy put his head down and opted out. He said that if he had to use "school appropriate" language, he couldn't write what he felt and would be unable to talk about life as he sees it. A few others were uncomfortable with the idea of having administrators read their honest opinions about drug use and other controversial subjects.

At that point, I paused to consider the purpose of this exercise. This was neither an English Language Arts class nor a literary club. If I wanted authentic response, I would have to respect the writers' desire for confidentiality. I believe that students should have the right to decide how their original works are used. They would not be writing for me, the school, or the world at large: they would be writing for themselves.

We reached a compromise. Students could write "Private" on the assignment and I'd guarantee them that only I would read the poems. Each class member would receive a grade of 100% for participating.

My reluctant student composed a haunting lyric about loss and loneliness. The language was not obscene, just full of pain. I hope that some day he will share his words with others. For now, his cry from the heart is safe with me.

"self expression: heart-of-stone" by cauchisavona

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring is like a perhaps hand

"Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and from moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything." -e.e.cummings

"Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems." -Rainer Maria Rilke

*To see more spring photos, visit my Hovey Pond 3/28/09 set

Special Greetings for a Special Person

One of the first blogs I ever read was Joyce Valenza's NeverEndingSearch. Her school website provides valuable instructional resources; her wikis address hot topics like copyright/fair use, digital storytelling, and information fluency.

When I got the chance to attend one of Joyce's presentations in 2007, I was happy to discover that, in addition to being an accomplished writer, she is a dynamic, entertaining lecturer.

I received an unexpected invitation from Dr. Valenza to join a panel of librarians at NECC 2008

and plan to be on her team of volunteers at the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) conference in Charlotte, NC in November 2009.

I have learned so much from Joyce Valenza about the challenges and rewards of being a school librarian in the 21st century. It gives me great pleasure to send birthday greetings her way today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Collection of Books

On January 31, I blogged about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), due to become law on February 10, 2009. Congress subsequently postponed enactment until February 10, 2010. This legislation would have mandated testing of "all products intended primarily for children under 12," including books, to determine lead content.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has introduced an amendment to CPSIA, exempting "ordinary children's books" from the requirement, regardless of their publication date. He cites data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "that there is little risk to children from lead in ordinary books."

Previous proposals required tests for materials produced prior to 1985. For all practical purposes, this would have resulted in wholesale discarding of an enormous number of titles. School and public library collections for younger readers would have been decimated.

American Library Association President Jim Rettig stated in a press release that "Rep. Fortenberry’s bill corrects the CPSC’s misinterpretation that would deny our children access to books and limit their opportunities to learn."

"After all manner of professors have done their best for us, the place we are to get knowledge is in books. The true university of these days is a collection of books." -Thomas Carlyle

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." -Cicero

"I cannot live without books." -Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Very Current Events

Picture Date: March 23, 2009 19:55:58

This time it was Plurk that tipped me off - last night Ted Sakshaug (tsakshaug) and John Martin (EdVentures) both mentioned an erupting volcano in Alaska and provided some very useful links.

By the time I arrived at school this morning, I had already constructed a lesson plan that included:
Our local newspaper included a small article about the volcanic activity at Mount Redoubt, but there were none of the valuable resources that my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network) shared. When I thanked Ted and John, someone else saw my message and was grateful when I passed along the links.

I've had similar experiences on Twitter, learning about earthquakes, fires, and extreme weather in all parts of the world via my web of friends and virtual colleagues.

Plurk, Twitter, and other social networking sites are just beginning to demonstrate their value as educational tools. Though some users choose to focus on trifles and trivialities, that's only one aspect of the endless stream of messages. There is gold among the dross.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting Physical

There was an item in the news this morning describing fishing as a dying art. Sportsmen are worried that today's children are so involved in motorized and digital activities that they lack the time or motivation for a lazy day along the banks of a pond or stream.

I work in a rural district, where families routinely take their children out of school for annual hunting trips. But even in farm country, the lure of dirt bikes, snowmobiles, and the universal computer games, frequently replace real life outdoor activities.

My own married children offset their Wii time with bike rides, hikes, and camping trips. Younger generations don't seem to seek the same balance. Once organized sports are over for the season, many students migrate to the computer or TV.

Does gaming, even a Wii fit workout, provide the same benefits as a walk in the woods?

"Pretend Fishing" by ml_diva
"tex playing video games" by RebeccaPollard
"wonder of nature" by JonF119

Monday, March 16, 2009


Our two copies of the local paper weren't in my mailbox Monday morning, and the high school secretary wasn't sure why.

A message from another librarian explained the situation:

Okay, I know someone will bring this up.
The Newspspaper is not delivering to schools today because the publisher believes a story on the front page is "inappropriate for schools"?!
I think a response is called for.

The responses from the LMS in our BOCES were variations on this reply:
I believe we should all email The Publisher and let him know that since we pay for the newspaper it is our right and responsibility to do the censoring.

I wrote:
Mr. P,

Please deliver our copies of the Post Star. I will advise our administrators and staff about the questionable photo and let them decide who should have access.

The Publisher's first reply:
"...I didn’t decide that the article wasn’t appropriate for school use – I decided that a photo could be objectionable to some parents. Our plan was to call the schools and ask if you would like them delivered after you had a chance to see the photo. If we had just sent them out and they were passed around without proper notice we would have been accused of being insensitive. Please remember that papers are delivered to elementary schools as well..."

Please note none of the librarians or schools ever received a phone call.

Second, more extended, response from the Publisher:

This will serve as my answer to the many questions on why The Newspaper wasn’t immediately delivered to your school today.

In working on the series about one of our servicemen that died, after injuries sustained while serving his country, we were given a photo of the young man badly burned. We questioned the reaction of readers but decided that it was relevant to the story and the family had supplied the photo, giving permission to print it. Since we didn’t have a lot of time between the decision to print the photo and the delivery of your papers we felt that we should “hold back” the papers to be sure you knew what was printed, giving you the appropriate time to make the decision about distribution in your schools. We should give you 24 hours notice to decide on how you want to handle these matters in your individual classrooms or libraries – we were not able to do this and this is why the decision was made.

There was never any effort to censor or thought that you couldn’t make the proper decision. We understand that you are well-educated adults but we would have been seen as negligent if we just sent them out. I have no doubt that you would have made the right call for your students – if we had given you the proper notice. I wasn’t making the decision for you; I was giving you some time to deal with it on your own. I understand how busy you must be in the morning and I didn’t want this to get missed in the rush.

Some of you have suggested that we should have attached a flyer to the bundle to explain. Flyers fall off of bundles every day and I didn’t want to take the chance that this could happen with such an important message.

I appreciate those of you with professional messages, asking for your papers. Your understanding is appreciated.

Perhaps you’re not used to seeing media trying to show sensitivity to an issue but that’s all I was trying to do. If you believe there was another motive, I’m sorry. We like to put out more newspapers each day, not less.

I apologize for the disruption to your day.

When I read the paper at home that morning, before leaving for school, I was saddened by the photo, did not linger on the disturbing image, did not even notice that the young man was naked except for a towel across his lap. The picture was located on page 4 of the first section; other, less sensational, photos of the soldier were printed on the front page.

I had copied my correspondence with the publisher to our principals and superintendent. Once the newspapers were finally delivered to the school, I showed these administrators the picture in question. We all agreed to make the issue available in the library. There were no comments from the staff members and high school students who read it.

How would this episode have been handled in your district, your BOCES? Did the publisher overstep his authority? Did the librarians overreact?

Who should judge what is appropriate for educational use?

"Blindfold game 1" by Lee Carson

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Pair of Twitter Tools

After seeing them mentioned a few times on Twitter, I decided to explore two new visualization tools.

Ever wonder, "Who do you talk to most often on Twitter? Who are your closest friends? What does your social network look like?" Then give Top Twitter Friends a try. Once you share your Twitter name, the site starts to construct a web of relationships (for various reasons, this process might take a while; I took a picture after my own "graph" was 88% complete). One sidebar lists the people with whom you have the most interactive relationships, the other suggests those you might want to begin following.

Portwiture "grabs photography from Flickr that matches the content of your most recent Twitter updates. The result is a serendipitous visual representation of your Twitter profile." Options include changing the number of most commonly-used words, sorting by relevance or other restrictions, and limiting photos to a specific Flickr account.

Although at least half of my Tweets are education- or technology-related, I have been dreaming out loud about vacations and the ocean lately. Portwiture highlighted the words, "sea, work, photo, wish, break" in my collage. The resulting mashup may not be too useful, but it is striking indeed.

And despite my repetition of the word, there is room in my life for much more than work.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Adventures in Art

Original sculpture "Politeness Counts" by Jonathan Seliger. 2004 (Auto body enamel on aluminum)

Last April, I featured a guest posting, Fly on Your Heavy Feet. The author, my older child and only daughter, does not have a public blog but continues to entertain and enlighten family and friends via her private Flickr account. She and I periodically share adventures, and this weekend we spent some time at the Tang, on the Skidmore College campus. With permission, I'm sharing her description of our visit to this gallery.

We were greeted outside the entryway by an enormous paper bag! ("Politeness Counts" by Jonathan Seliger) The draw for me and Mom had been William Blake's illustrations, on loan from the Special Collections of the library, but along our way to Blake we were knocked out/intrigued by Oliver Herring's Me Us Them exhibit and the Tim Rollins and KOS retrospective.

The first works we encountered in Oliver Herring's exhibit were knitted sculptures ("Queensize Bed with Coat") and wall hangings (“An Age for Hands”) made of shiny mylar. My eyes feasted, mom's fingers itched to touch - she being an accomplished knitter, me being a crow who likes shiny things, we had an equal, but right differently informed, appreciation of the art! There was a video piece on multiple TVs ("Little Dances of Misfortunes") - I saw passing moments of abstract art, wild shapes created from the play of green light on people moving and at rest - but liked the tinkling music best of all.

The rest of Herring's works sprung from photography. Me and Mom are both compulsive picture takers so we loved this. Herring made still images live, to me, by rearranging, embellishing and, most revelatory for me and Ladybird, bringing photos to the third dimension. So there were pictures painted over with vines, leaves and flowers; sets where a photo has an absence, like a cut-out eye, the eye reappearing pasted-over a different picture; photos where the careful use of cutting created designs from the absence, around the pic's subject.

But it was the photo sculptures which were undeniably our favorites. Taking untold amounts of cut-up photos, crafted onto a frame and sheets of styrofoam, Herring made life-size sculptures of a woman (”Gloria”), an eagle, and a naked man (made twice, facing himself). I have no idea how much planning and work this must be, because they were all wonderfully proportionate, and grew more beautiful under a hard stare, when you'd think they'd get more eerie and disjointed. Little details, like bits of picture of hair actually curling out from the head, or a necklace flat on the neck in one section of photo cut out and drawn from the body at another angle- done so seamlessly I didn't notice till Diane pointed it out - just filled me with a quiet amazement. I looked into the naked man's eyes for a while. I always think, when seeing figurative sculpture, that the people are a moment away from drawing in a breath - I guess a lot like thinking your dolls walk and talk when you're not looking, in childhood - so this combination of photography and sculpture was fascinating to take in.

Looking for Blake, we stumbled (down the rabbit hole) into the Tim Rollins and KOS (Kids of Survival) retrospective. Passing a table scattered with tasty books- Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, Kafka - seeing paintings of Frankenstein and Moby Dick, we quickly realized that all of the works were inspired by classic lit, and most used actual book pages as their canvas.
"In August 1981, Tim Rollins, then twenty-six years old, was recruited by George Gallego, principal of Intermediate School 52 in the South Bronx, to develop a curriculum that incorporated art-making with reading and writing lessons for students who had been classified as academically or emotionally 'at risk.' Together, Rollins and his students developed a collaborative strategy that combined lessons in reading and writing with the production of works of art. In a process they call 'jammin,' Rollins or one of the students reads aloud from the selected text while the other members draw and relate the stories to their own experiences. Their signature style was born as Rollins and K.O.S. began producing works of art on the pages of these books cut out and laid in a grid on canvas. Rollins and K.O.S. have produced paintings, prints, photographs, and sculpture based on literary texts such as Franz Kafka’s Amerika, Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and musical scores, including The Creation by Franz Joseph Haydn. In 1985, they adopted the name 'Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival.'' -Tang calendar

In a little offshoot of a room, I was faced with a blank canvas and logs scattered on the floor. Just when my mind was about to shut itself against the impenetrability of this, I looked down at a log near my foot and saw eyes staring up at me. I was in love. While I read the sign and realized I'd just met Pinocchio, my mother walked towards the big blank canvas and told me I should, too. A few steps closer... and there was Alice! Somewhere, somehow, between the pages of Alice in Wonderland forming the background, and the gleaming white paint of the foreground, the artist had hidden Carrol's sketch of Alice, from the handwritten version of the story he first gave to Alice Pleasance Liddell. And I almost missed it by not seeking, by being closed minded!

Other then those two, which I loved with the religious-zest that sometimes comes upon me, there was a piece with ribbons, based on "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" I liked. I would've looked at that and others, like Midsummer Night's Dream, the Holy Bible tower and works sprung from Homer, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, if there hadn't been a particularly enthusiastic student docent expounding on everything to a tour group, at a volume so high I couldn't think straight to experience anything!

Me and Mom found quiet, and Blake, finally, in a little side hallway near the entrance, representing the Marriage of Heaven and Hell exhibition. I can't look at anything Blake without thinking of two things: the tree of angels he saw when he was a young boy,
"bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars"
and lines from Mary Oliver's poem The Swan,
"…Said Mrs Blake of the poet: /I miss my husband’s company/ He is so often in paradise."
Mom, while a student in London, saw the originals of Blake's art at the Tate. In the Tang we viewed prints from rare books, as opposed to actual woodcuts or sketches. The KOS take on Blake's poem The Sick Rose, from Songs of Experience, lined a wall facing a small book of his poems in a case. The KOS paintings were all little watercolors, reminding me of the insides of geodes Mom and I saw at Natural Stone Bridge and Caves last summer. We both enjoyed the way Blake made his Satan snake (just like Indiana, Mom, usually, hates snakes); thought the D'aulaires must have been very inspired by him, as his God and Job look a lot like their Zeus; saw illustrations from Night Thoughts, a book I'd just seen mentioned as reading material of Emily Dickinson's father, in the bio of her (My Wars are Laid Away in Books by Alfred Habegger) I began after me and Mom saw Belle of Amherst a few weeks ago, at the Charles R Wood Theater of Downtown GF, motherland!

On our way out we stopped to see if they had a catalog of Oliver Herring's exhibit; they didn't, but the lady told us that next week he was staging a participatory work of art in Saratoga, which we could sign up for if we wanted: TASK, an improv piece. The artist has said in an interview that TASK pieces, are
"...almost a game—a reality game. I set up basic rules, such as 'don't leave the parameters of the stage.' I provide a bunch of props. In the case of TASK, I write a bunch of simple tasks in order to get the performance going. Each one goes in an envelope and is put in a task pool, and the performance starts with each participant taking an envelope, opening it, and trying to fulfill that task. Once they’re done, they each write a new task, put it back in the task pool, grab a new task, and go on with business. After the first five or ten minutes, the performance is entirely self-perpetuating. You don’t know what’s going to happen. The rules that I start with are not binding. Anybody could just walk out, or break the rules. But that never really happens. I’m always surprised that there’s no real anarchy—only staged anarchy."
I was intrigued, but since it's an investment of at least 8 hour's time decided not to apply! On the way to the car I had that fun perception of everything as art - garbage on the melting snow, puddles, shouting rugby players. Art, art that engages, art that turns you off, what is it all really but looking and seeing whatever is appearing before you? And by seeing it from the eyes of your own little world, making it something more - art?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Oh, the Stuff You Would Learn!

“Young cat, if you keep your eyes open enough, oh, the stuff you would learn! The most wonderful stuff!” -Dr. Seuss

The National Education Association (NEA) has designated March 2 “Read Across America Day" in honor of Theodor Seuss Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

Schools, libraries, bookstores, and art galleries celebrate the birthday of the man who drew and rhymed his way through more than 60 popular children's books.

Although he began his career as an advertising illustrator and political cartoonist, Dr. Seuss is best known for creating such unforgettable characters as The Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, and wily Mr. Grinch.

Geisel maintained "there's an inherent moral in any story." Some of the issues he addressed were environmentalism (The Lorax), the arms race (Butter Battle Book), and anti-materialism (How the Grinch Stole Christmas).

Theodor Geisel died in 1991, and among his papers were notes and sketches for a book about a schoolteacher named Miss Bonkers. Poet Jack Prelutsky and illustrator Lane Smith were recruited to finish the work, which was finally published in 1998.

In Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! We are introduced to a school that
"...looks like any other school
But we suspect it's not.
I think we're
learning lots of things
Not taught at other schools.
Our teachers are
They make up their own rules."

Everyone appears to be happy and engaged, except for the principal, Mr. Lowe:
"He is the very saddest man
That any of us know."

What is the cause of the principal's distress? Why standardized testing, of course! If the Diffendoofer students fail to do well on a "special test," their school will be shut down and the pupils will be sent to "Dreary Flobbertown" where "they dress in just one style" and "they never dance."

As the children start to worry, Miss Bonkers reassures them that all will be well because
"You've learned the things you need
To pass that test and many more -
I'm certain you'll succeed...
And something else that matters more -
We've taught you how to think."

Despite the fact that there were questions about "other things we'd never seen or heard," the students use their critical thinking skills to answer them "enjoying every word."

Seuss and his posthumous collaborators provide us with the requisite happy ending. I'm not sure that the outcome would be the same in our district, state, country, where passing tests typically involves more fact recall than creative thought. Diffendoofer represents unschooliness at its finest.

Perhaps if Dr. Seuss were still alive, he would be serving as a spokesperson for educational reform. And then maybe more children would be able to shout "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!"

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Dr. Seuss

"The Cat in the Hat" by dmcordell

Sunday, March 1, 2009

365 Project: February

Month two is complete; with March, comes photo #60. Rather than running out of subjects, I'm finding it difficult to select a single picture each day.

I continue to raise my eyes, examine more closely, choose different perspectives, consider parts as well as the whole. There are a lot of life lessons being learned via my little digital camera!

The photo that received the most views and comments in February was Digging Out:

My personal favorite was The Gallery, because it captures my two children as they examine their father's paintings in a local art exhibition (and the Alamo painting was created for me, as a memento of our trip to NECC in San Antonio):

You can see a slideshow of the 28 February photos here or view all of my 2009 photos to date here.

The two groups to which I contribute are 365/2009 and 2009/365.