Thursday, April 30, 2009

365 Project: April

It's been two weeks since I last posted here. Though I haven't been blogging, I have been walking, thinking, connecting (via Twitter and Plurk, as dmcordell) and, always, taking photographs.

Most viewed image was my husband's Steampunk Radio fantasy machine.

The largest number of comments were generated by Spiral.

Personal favorite? A collage, Blue, presenting some of nature's variations on my favorite color.

You can see a slideshow of the 30 April 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.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shiny Things

The district in which I work has plans to install SMART Boards (interactive whiteboards or IWBs) in each classroom by the next school year. A few chosen teachers were assigned portable or stationary units in September and are currently using them for instruction.

For a small rural district, these units represent a significant monetary commitment, in both initial outlay and maintenance costs. Some of the first Smart Boards were obtained through grant money; the others will probably be funded by the New York State EXCEL aid program.

Are IWBs worth the investment?

A 2007 study from the University of London listed some negatives:
  • Sometimes teachers focused more on the new technology than on what pupils should be learning.
  • The focus on interactivity as a technical process can lead to some relatively mundane activities being over-valued. Such an emphasis on interactivity was particularly prevalent in classes with lower-ability students.
  • In lower-ability groups it could actually slow the pace of whole class learning as individual pupils took turns at the board.
The most troubling criticism was that"only around 1 in 15 of the teachers studied had received any form of training or professional development in the use of the technology which is considered by commentators as a key factor in the deployment of anything intended to impact teaching and learning." -Wikipedia entry on IWBs.

Another study, from the DCSF Primary Schools Whiteboard Expansion project (PSWE), found that "average and high attaining boys and girls who had been taught extensively with the interactive whiteboard" made consistent gains in math, science and English. It was noted, however, that "the more experience the teacher has of using the interactive whiteboard, the greater the likelihood of positive attainment gains for pupils."

Scott Meech asked on Classroom 2.0 "Are "Interactive White Boards" transformative to your teaching and/or classroom? We are looking for feedback on whether they are worth the money. Do you really get your bang for your buck?" The discussion on his blog has been lively and thought-provoking.

I have seen IWBs used successfully in high school math classes. I've also seen them used as screens for movies.

Are IWBs worth their steep price tag, or are they "shiny things" that look impressive but fail to deliver on their promise?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Intersection of Science and Romance

"Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual craftpersons into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical 'steampunk' style..." -Wikipedia

While skimming Google Reader feeds, I often stumble across interesting oddities that fall outside my normal range of interest. Boing Boing's occasional posts on Steampunk would fit into this category. Crafted of copper, brass, and polished wood, the fantastic pseud0-Victorian mechanisms featured there are intriguing works of art.

My husband is an artist with a scientific mind. He decided to use his model steam engine as the basis of a steampunk-esque vignette. To see his notes and explanation of "The (patented) T. Cordell Model 'A' Steam-driven Amplitude Modulated Transistor Radio" visit his photo in my Flickr photostream.

Today is an especially appropriate one for discussing inventions, since it is the birth date of Leonardo da Vinci. Though da Vinci pre-dated the Victorian era by 400 years or so, his lively mind and nimble fingers could easily have created steampunk masterpieces.

In a school setting, a steampunk unit might incorporate elements of technology, science, social studies (Victorian society), and literature (Jules Verne, H.G. Wells as well as modern genre authors).

The Steampunk Workshop describes steampunk as "Goth, Punk, Geek, and Maker Culture whipped into a delicious melange with a healthy seasoning of political and environmental activism. It's the intersection of science and romance, it's sustainable rebellion."

To learn more:
  • view a critically-acclaimed video
  • read an article about the aesthetic of the craft
  • browse SteamPunk Magazine
  • take a look at examples of this marvelous art form (scroll down to enjoy a hilarious Steampunk Star Trek photo set)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Transitions and Transformations

I applied for Social Security benefits a few days ago and will retire from my position as a K-12 teacher/librarian in June.

The world has changed a lot since the day I made my grand entrance, and I fully expect this evolution/revolution to continue.

Retirement has taken on a new meaning in modern times. For many, it is more a re-invention of self than a retreat to home and hobbies. Many people use this opportunity to examine their personal history, searching for the spark that inspired them, hoping to build on the meaningful elements in years of living and learning.

In the best case scenario, this process results in a post-retirement commitment that has purpose and focus. Volunteerism is one possibility, consultant work another.

The gift we receive upon retirement is Time. Time to travel, time to learn, time to share with loved ones, and time to make a difference in the world. How to maximize this gift is a momentous question.

What shall I become?

"P1190004" by tanakawho

Sunday, April 5, 2009


When my husband began researching cougars for an art project, he went directly to Google. He expected to find this:

Maybe a few of these:

And perhaps some:

What he didn't expect to see was:

Evidently "cougar" can also be defined as "a woman 40 years of age or older who exclusively pursues very young men." To commemorate Barbie's landmark birthday this year, a video entitled "Barbie at 50: Cougar Barbie" popped up on YouTube showing the birthday girl partying with men young enough to be her sons. (The link is below - may be considered offensive by some, so use discretion when viewing.)

While my husband and I laughed at the fruits of his research, this experience did reinforce some key concepts relevant to student internet use:
  • seemingly innocent search terms can lead to unanticipated results
  • not all search engines are created equal
  • for younger students, pre-selected websites may be the best choice
  • adult supervision and monitoring is key
In our district, elementary classes are told not to use Google. Instead, the district website has links to Clusty and Ask which both cluster results. In this case, a student searching for information on cougar, the animal, could quickly identify appropriate pages. Additional, less desirable results might appear, but they would be grouped under a different category.

Another approach is to cooperatively plan research units with the school's library media specialist, who can help teachers locate websites and databases appropriate for their grade level. All sites should be tested prior to student use, just to be sure that there are no unwelcome surprises.

Even on the "safest" sites, inappropriate content may appear. This doesn't mean that children should be barred from the riches of the Internet. It just reminds us that students need to learn how to safely navigate in cyberspace, and we need to be there to guide them.

"Cougar" by dracobotanicus
"1970 Mercury Cougar" by dave_7
"Prince George Cougars" by iwona_kellie
"Barbie at 50: Cougar Barbie" on YouTube
"Cougar Niece" by Mo ToMo

Saturday, April 4, 2009

For Chase

One of my online friends, Caroline O'Bannon, recently took her son Chase to the doctor because she was afraid that he might have been infected with Lyme Disease. The diagnosis: leukemia.

13-year-old Chase is currently undergoing treatment; his strong spirit and impish sense of humor are evident in the updates and photos that his mom has been sharing with us on Plurk and a CarePages site.

Caroline lives in Georgia. Another member of our PLN (Personal/professional Learning Network), Dan Gross, is a Boy Scout leader in Wisconsin. He has begun a project to collect shoulder patches for Chase, and his twin brother William, which is described in a Google Document. Since Chase will be unable to actively participate in scouting at this time, Dan is hoping to keep him connected with his peers through this activity.

Pictured above is the shoulder patch worn by scouts in my area of upstate New York. When I went to the local Boy Scout store and explained why I wanted the patches, the retired gentleman who volunteers there insisted on donating them and added an additional patch, commemorating the 2005 movie, Down and Derby. He said to tell Chase that an "old scout will be remembering you in his prayers."

Please consider joining this project. It is not a scam, just a community effort to show support for an incredible young teen.