Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Howliday!

“By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.” -William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Enjoy some images of Halloween in the north country, as students and staff get into the Spirit of things...

...and pumpkins meet their inevitable fate

“From ghosties and ghoulies, And long-leggety beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord deliver us.”
-Old Scottish Prayer

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Kids We Have

“Our task is to provide an education for the kind of kids we have… Not the kind of kids we used to have… Or want to have… Or the kids that exist in our dreams.” Mary Kay Utech

In his Keynote address to the K-12 Online Conference, David Warlick
alluded to teaching "the kids we have rather than the kids we'd like to have".

To do this, I've had to take a step backwards.

Fresh from a summer of self-directed professional development, I offered the students in my Current Events class an enticing (I thought) array of options for required projects. Don't know how to produce a podcast? No problem, we'll master it together. Visual learner? Let's experiment with movies and slide shows, prior experience not necessary. I let them view student-generated content from all over the world so that they were aware of the possibilities.

To a man, they chose PowerPoint.

I've learned quite a bit about our student population through questioning and observing. Many carry cellphones ("banned" during school hours), and own MP3 players, video game systems, etc. Because of the rural location, most families only have dial-up internet service. PowerPoint is something that students routinely use in other classes. It is definitely within their comfort zone.

These are the kids we have.

So I'm working with it. We've watched examples of "old style" bulleted presentations and dynamic SlideShare shows. We've discussed the importance of photos, charts and maps that complement the commentary. There is a PowerPoint checklist and a performance rubric.

Once the class is successful within these parameters, I'll loosen the restrictions and give them more creative freedom. I want them to realize that comfort zones can be cells and being uncomfortable might be very empowering.

"Of course we all have our limits, but how can you find your boundaries unless you explore as far and as wide as you possibly can? I would rather fail in an attempt at something new and uncharted than safely succeed in a repeat of something I have done." -A. E. Hotchner

Friday, October 26, 2007

Their Most Serious Actions

"For truly it is to be noted, that children's plays are not sports, and should be deemed as their most serious actions." Montaigne

Our high school soccer team won a sweet victory today. On a crisp autumn afternoon, under sunny skies, they took their first match on the road to a possible sectional title.

Since the game was played at home, teachers were allowed to bring their classes outside to watch the action. First graders cheered for the players and for the "manager", who is one of their classmates. Middle school students threw grass at each other and lazed in the warm sun. High school seniors sat in the bleachers for one last time. Members of the community came to shout encouragement and reminisce about their own days of glory.

The players exemplified all that we could wish for in sports, school, and life: focus, enthusiasm, cooperation, the will to succeed.

All in all, a most wonderful end to the week.

“I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”
- Mia Hamm

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chickens and Eggs

"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"-Ancient causality dilemma

In the spirit of enhancing education through technology, our district has purchased four mobile SMART Boards and installed an additional two units in designated classrooms. Some teachers were chosen to attend day long training sessions; the rest of us had a quick overview during a recent Superintendent's Day.

It looks like a cool interactive instructional tool, but at around $3,000 a unit, these boards represent a significant investment for a small school district. We've been told that teachers who use the Boards are the most likely candidates for receiving a permanent classroom SMART Board when funds become available. And therein lies the rub.

Following the directions of our trainer, I downloaded some of the SMART software on my home computer. The activities I've begun creating, a current events review set and a presidential campaign page with candidate links, could be used in class with the help of an LCD projector and attached computer keyboard. That would, of course, negate the cool interactivity factor that is the main selling point of the SMART Boards, but I'd still end up with some very useful instructional aids. There is a permanent projector in the tech lab where I do my teaching, so having the appropriate hardware available would not be a problem.

Now consider the realities of most of our K-12 classrooms. Only a few have already had SMART Boards or LCD projectors installed. A teacher who wanted to try out this new technology would have to download an activity from the SB files or create a new activity, find time to give it a test run, sign up for the SB, move the SB and the LCD cart to their classroom, position it, and begin teaching (if all of the equipment is connected properly, something which was not explained in any detail during the mini workshop). Obviously to make this worthwhile, a number of the day's lessons would have to be planned around the SMART Board.

Bottom line: the tool (SMART Board) would be driving the content (lessons).

A better test of the SB's power to engage students in learning might be to provide the tool as part of a classroom learning environment - or studio, as Clarence Fisher would probably describe it. Then the teacher could use the Board when appropriate, while continuing to incorporate other tools and techniques depending on the desired learning outcome.

Obviously, buying one SMART Board per classroom is not in our immediate future. It might be possible, though to set up a model studio, with SMART Board, student computers, listening centers, white board, tables and desks, etc. and let teachers "test drive" it for a day or a week or longer. Feedback from such a model classroom would provide valuable information which could then be used when promoting the acquisition of further Boards, assuming that evaluations from teachers and students were positive.

Which comes first: the tool or the content? Create a need or fill a need?

"First the stalk -- then the roots. First the need -- then the means to satisfy that need. First the nucleus -- then the elements needed for its growth." -Robert Collier

"Chickens and Eggs" by ashe-villain

My Voice

In celebration of my 100th posting, I decided to share a photo and a quote:

"I found you could raise your voice and talk out loud in the world." -John J McCloy

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Nothing Gold Can Stay

"Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."
-Robert Frost

Friday, October 19, 2007

An Occasion for Reflection

“Leisure is not tied to work the way that recreation is—leisure is self-contained. The root of the word is the Latin 'licere' which means 'to be permitted,' suggesting that leisure is about freedom. But freedom for what? According to Chesterton’s cheerful view, leisure was above all an opportunity to do nothing. When he said 'doing nothing,' however, he was describing not emptiness but an occasion for reflection and contemplation, a chance to look inward rather than outward.”-Witold Rybczynski

A number of bloggers have been apologizing lately for infrequent or abbreviated postings. Dan Meyer has a laundry list of future topics but can't get to them right now (he is quick to assert that his love of blogging is still intact, in stark contrast to the unsettling comments by Will Richardson which seemed to indicate that, since "blogging is work these days", Will might be moving in the direction of more personalized communication venues, like Skype). Christian Long is seriously involved in family and career at the moment, but relies on cyber colleagues to keep his "radar tuned in." In Tim Stahmer's case, a scarcity of postings is "completely due to an overload of work."

Are apologies or clarifications necessary? Perhaps. A blog is more than a news article or casual "conversation". Bloggers speak directly to their audience, sharing their convictions, emotions, hopes and dreams. Personal relationships are established between people who might, probably won't, meet face to face yet who have connected in a very real sense. The more prominent the blogger, the more the audience becomes attached to, and reliant upon, his/her communications. An abrupt cessation of blogging might be seen as a betrayal of sorts.

Yet the blogger has the right to a balanced life, a time for professional and personal growth: the leisure to investigate, reflect, create.

Blogging is not a job. It's a medium of creative expression, an avocation.

"Some will not recognize the truthfulness of my mirror. Let them remember that I am not here to reflect the surface ... but must penetrate inside. My mirror probes down to the heart. I write words on the forehead and around the corners of the mouth. My human faces are truer than the real ones."-Paul Klee

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Clash Day

"The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom."-Lady Bird Johnson

Today was "Clash Day", part of Spirit Week at school. Students - and some teachers - wore wacky, mis-matched clothing combos in wild patterns and colors. It is harmless fun and results in a lot of good-natured banter, even from those who choose not to participate.

Today my Reader feeds contained posts by:
  • David Hoff: "Senate aides last night circulated a discussion draft of sections of NCLB. The draft addresses issues that aren't controversial, avoiding topics such accountability and teacher pay."
  • Annoyed Librarian: "I'm not saying many, and perhaps even most, librarians aren't dedicated to library users. I'm saying it's time librarians stopped claiming that user satisfaction is all they're interested in, or pretending that public library service is somehow more noble than going out to work for the Man. If librarians were interested only in user satisfaction, they wouldn't complain about library outsourcing in such a knee-jerk manner."
  • Library Thing Blog: "In defending Linden I want to make it clear that I am not a high-volume user of Second Life. I visit about once a week, usually for something like the BookMooch/LibraryThing meet-up... Until now, I enjoyed the site, but I wasn't passionate about it.Now, Doughty Lindens, I am on your side!"
  • LifeHack: "While it makes good sense to teach your children to be aware of themselves and their surroundings in the company of strangers, the feverish panic that breaks out every year in the weeks before Halloween is way out of proportion to the actual threat posed to your children."
  • Christopher D. Sessums: "While I regularly use both a PC and a Mac, the Mac generally makes me happier."
  • Karin Chenoweth: "Hardly anyone ever talks about it, but the thing about schools is that most of them are incredibly sloppy, organizationally speaking."
  • Clarence Fisher:"There are enough tools and filters available to track kids online and ensure they are "safely" closed off from being able to make meaningful connections and become digital citizens. Instead, this is about teachers and students being able to develop profiles of their learning online."
In my connected world, there are always new concepts to ponder, old beliefs to question, people with whom to begin or continue a dialog.

Color, pattern, clash and compromise: I love this environment!

"Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict."- Saul Alinsky

Sunday, October 14, 2007


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

In a recent post, Stephanie Sandifer
challenged bloggers to ask themselves:

What? (…is going on with our work, with our blogging, with our exploration… OR …new tools are we discovering, playing with, trying to find classroom uses for?)

So What? (Who cares? Why is this important? Why is this not important? What does it matter? Will it ever matter?)

Now What? (What do we do NEXT? What kind of gameplan do we need? Do we need a game plan? Do we collaborate, start over from scratch, quit doing whatever we are doing altogether, or disappear somewhere deep in Second Life? Seriously — WHAT NOW?)

Here is my response:

I'm becoming more comfortable with Twitter, was a bit intimidated by the rapid pace of the Fireside Chat (but plan to dive headfirst in to the K12 Online Conference offerings), have experimented with ToonDoo, Animoto, Voki, wikis and nings. Can't live without Google Docs and Google Reader, TinyURl, Flickr, and my own two blogs (Journeys and A Hundred Echoes). Most of the above are blocked where I teach, but, depending on the circumstances, I am able to have the IT unblock them for class use. I try out tools I see mentioned in the blogs I read, with varying levels of success.

So What?
Ah, there's the rub! I care very deeply about my responsibilities as a Teacher/Librarian. The kids in my district live a relatively sheltered life (due to location, not income levels) and I want to broaden their horizons. I spend my free time blogging and attempting to keep current on emerging technologies; if I'm no expert, at least I'm aware of the possibilities.

Our administrators and BOE support the concept of preparing our students for the 21st century world that they'll inhabit, but theory has not yet translated into practice. Professional development is still a top down model with isolated training and little follow-up. Most of the teachers are struggling to meet mandates and prepare classes for standardized testing and show no interest in the new skills I'd like to share with them. Tech resources are unreliable and spread too thin. I do what I can on a student by student basis, but we're failing these kids as a group.

I learn because I love to; I'll continue in this mode into retirement and beyond.

Now What?
My Currents Events class only has nine students, but as we get rolling on some tech-enhanced projects, we may be able to generate some positive buzz and create a demand for similar courses next year.

I've been seeking out teachers for some impromptu collaborative planning, trying to expand my boundaries beyond the library's physical space. There are one or two teachers who are at least open to suggestion as far as technology goes. If I can show them tools to make their life easier and their classes more interesting, I may be able to make a few converts.

I'm getting close to retirement. I hope to expand my part-time online job and maybe even return to my school as a consultant or volunteer. I don't think I'll ever stop blogging, since it links me to a community much richer and more diverse than any other professional group I've encountered. I want to learn and share what I've learned. I want to explore and experiment and have fun doing it.

Thanks to Patrick Higgins for pointing me to Stephanie's posting.

"The real object of education is to have a man in the condition of continually asking questions."
-Mandell Creighton

"Puzzle BomBoy" by Zedwee

Thursday, October 11, 2007


"When I grip the wheel too tight, I find I lose control."-Steve Rapson

For all my fine talk of "student voice" and being partners in learning, I realized the other day that I'm still in pretty tight control of my high school class. As the teacher, I certainly should set some parameters (not walls!), but there is room for student input and a bit of shared decision-making.

Once I'm sure the kids are clear on information literacy basics like website evaluation and source citation, I'll let them work on mini-research projects - alone or in small groups, their choice - as practice for a larger project later in the school year. They will need to choose a current events issue to focus on, but the shape their project takes will be up for discussion.

I've already told the group that they'll be helping me to master the fine art of podcasting. I bought a relatively inexpensive MP3 player specifically for the Current Events class and would be willing to let students borrow it for project use. Other techtools will be introduced, as appropriate.

Today, I turned over my digital camera to some of them during our class. Their shots weren't very different from the ones I usually take (except, of course, that now I'm also in the picture) but I'm hoping that they'll get more creative as we go on.

Not a radical instructional strategy but, hey, it's a start!

"If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough."- Mario Andretti

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Only Connect

"Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only
Edward M. Forster

In his blog today, Will Richardson admitted that he rarely reads his aggregator any more, is considering giving up blogging in favor of Skyping, and wonders at the new direction personal PD seems to be taking.

All of this bothered me on several levels:
  • my Reader feeds are my first, best, venue for PD, alerting me to new technologies and best practices in the classroom
  • blogging helps me to focus my thoughts, explore new concepts, and creatively express myself
  • by reading and commenting on other blogs, I form connections and interact with colleagues around the world
  • recognized educational leaders and authors are accessible via blogs
  • Skype and Twitter are not well suited to my own learning style, which tends to be more reflective than reactive
Non-stop traveling and an exhausting lecture schedule has probably taken its toll. With a core group of stimulating and supportive friends, Mr. Richardson must feel no lack of connection.

Those of us on the fringe, newcomers to 2.0 and beyond, appreciate the chance to interact with key players in educational technology and the new literacies. Post once a week or once a month, if you must. But please don't leave us behind.

"We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as courses, and they come back to us as effects."- Herman Melville

Photo from Sketchzilla

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


"Good conversation has an edge: it opens your eyes to something, quickens your ears." -James Hillman

My Current Events class is still in low gear, waiting for our blog to be enabled (we have gotten administrative approval, so progress is being made!).

Inspired by David Warlick's Keynote for the K12 Online Conference 2007, I started some informal conversations with students today about their understanding, and every day use, of technology.

One senior told me that he wants to major in psychology in college and has some programming experience. He's quite adept at data manipulation but only has a vague idea of what "tagging", online collaboration, and wikis are all about.

A second, younger (Grade 8) student was doing some research for a career report on designing video games. He was initially puzzled when I asked him if he knew what "Second Life" is. He recovered quickly, though, and compared it to various Sim games he had played. Then, he took the discussion to a higher level by offering the opinion that businesses would really benefit by holding conferences in Second Life rather than in the "real" world. "You could save a lot of money on airfare to Japan and China!" he decided. You could indeed.

I'm going to keep my eye on that gentleman! He definitely has Flat World potential.

"What students lack in school is an intellectual relationship or conversation with the teacher.
-William Glasser

Photo by spies and spying

Monday, October 8, 2007


"When they enter the classroom, we chop their tentacles off." David Warlick, K12 Online Conference 2007

It's an image I can't get out of my mind: school personnel ruthlessly hacking tentacles off the torsos of hapless students.

The sci-fi films of my adolescence featured monster squid with powerful suckers and deadly teeth. But some plants and mammals also have an "elongated flexible unsegmented extension".

The broader meaning of the word refers to "the ability to grasp or stretch." So by removing, "chopping off", students' "tentacles", we are restricting their reach, limiting their ability to stretch and grow.

“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” -Robert Browning

Photo by Dawdles

Playing with Boundaries

Participate in the free K12 Online Conference
The K12 Online 2007 Conference, "Playing with Boundaries", begins today with David Warlick's pre-conference Keynote.

This will be the first time I've "attended" this event, and I'm sure that it will be an engaging, challenging, and stimulating experience.

Set aside some time to visit the site and take measure of your own boundaries.

"Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers." -Unknown

"I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries, shutting out and shutting in, separating inside from outside: I have drawn no lines:" -Archie Randolph Ammons, Corsons Inlet

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Hundred Echoes

"When there is an original sound in the world, it makes a hundred echoes." -John A. Shedd

The following was the first posting
on my new blog. Please stop in and visit, if you have the chance.

"Pourquoi? Pourquoi pas?"

When I was in college, I went to a screening of the French classic, "A Man and a Woman". During the film's most famous conversation, one of the characters asked "Why?"; "Why not?" replied the other.

Clay Burell directed me to Quotiki, a site for saving and searching quotations, but my efforts to contribute have been largely ignored or rejected. So I decided to start another blog solely as a repository for the quotes that are now clogging my document files. Why not?

The title and tag will indicate the theme. If Clay, or anyone else, can explain how to widgetize my offerings, I'd be happy to do so.

Until then, this blog will have to serve.

"Our necessities are few, but our wants are endless." -George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, October 6, 2007

In October

"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October." -Nathaniel Hawthorne

Autumn has been a disappointment this year. Drought conditions and unseasonably warm temperatures have resulted in a very muted palette rather than incandescent splendor. On a pleasant ramble today through the Hudson valley region, my husband and I did manage to find some seasonal images. And the warm sunshine was rather nice...

"Corn and grain, corn and grain,

All that falls shall rise again."
- Wiccan Harvest Chant

View as a slideshow at flickr

In the Purple of Emperors

“He wrapped himself in quotations- as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”-Rudyard Kipling

I have no gift for clever or pithy sayings but appreciate that aptitude in others. Therefore, I use my skill at online research to locate appropriate quotes for my blog postings.

Clay Burell has suggested that I archive my collection of famous sayings on quotiki. Unfortunately, none of my submissions are showing up on the site yet. So for the time being, Journeys will have to serve as my quotation cache.

Literary luminaries seem to be divided on the question of citing other authors. Anatole France advised, “When a thing has been said and well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it.” Samuel Johnson firmly believed that “Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language.” Pierre Bayle flatly stated, “There is not less wit nor less invention in applying rightly a thought one finds in a book, than in being the first author of that thought.”

Not every author agreed with this philosophy. Dorothy L. Sayers' fictional detective, Lord Peter Whimsey, scornfully observed, “A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.” W. Somerset Maugham "compliments" a female acquaintance by commenting that “She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.” (I'm glad he's not around to read this blog!)

Ralph Waldo Emerson evidently couldn't decide whether or not he approved of this tendency to quote others. On the one hand, he warned writers, "I hate quotation. Tell me what you know." Yet he also said, "Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it."

Sophocles believed that “A short saying oft contains much wisdom.” My feelings exactly.

“The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages is preserved into perpetuity by a nation's proverbs, fables, folk sayings and quotations.”-William Feather

“I didn't really say everything I said.”
-Yogi Berra

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Question of Censorship

"The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion." -Henry Steele Commager

I find it both ironic and disturbing that even as the ALA conducts its yearly Banned Books Week promotion (September 29–October 6, 2007), there has been an increase in educational blogging about incidences of filtering and censorship in school districts.

Despite being caricatured as "
one-dimensional bookish-types", librarians are frequently on the front lines defending First Amendment rights and intellectual freedom. The American Library Association's "Freedom to Read" statement warns that "Most attempts at suppression rest on a denial of the fundamental premise of democracy: that the ordinary individual, by exercising critical judgment, will select the good and reject the bad."

Today, Tim Stahmer, in one of a series of posts on censorship, reminds us that "Schools are supposed to be institutions of learning where students gain the knowledge and skills needed to successfully live and work in the real world. And then we spend large amounts of time, effort, and money trying to block that real world from leaking through the electronic walls."

In other words, if teachers and librarians are not given the tools to provide instruction in the safe and ethical use of technology, how will our students evolve into effective collaborators, communicators, researchers, and critical thinkers?

Karl Fisch describes "two levels of override" which allow for some discretionary unblocking by his district's staff members. The trade off is that although teachers can gain access to "forbidden" sites like YouTube, students are no longer be able to "watch videos on their own, or find videos, or work on presentations that include videos, or upload their own videos."

Clay Burell takes filtering to its logical conclusion: if search engines permit students to click into pornography and other inappropriate data, then all search engines should be blocked.

Or, perhaps, all technology should be banned, blocked, filtered, suppressed, eradicated, wiped from human consciousness.

"We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still." -John Stuart Mill

"Fear of corrupting the mind of the younger generation is the loftiest of cowardice."
-Holbrook Jackson

"Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always be the last resort of the boob and the bigot." -Eugene Gladstone O'Neill

Illustration by Isaac Mao

It's Elementary

"If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men." - Maria Montessori

It was a busy day today, with our youngest grades coming to the LMC for some stories and a book exchange.

The little ones are still excited by their library visits. They enjoy both the "true stuff" and the "made up stuff". They can barely contain their comments during listening time. Many of them beg me to sit and read their chosen books to them; when I oblige, a few friends drift over to join our impromptu session.

There is an astonishing range of skills evident: a few barely know their alphabet while others are already reading three grade levels ahead. Their classroom teachers are challenged daily to keep each child involved and motivated.

While I love my time with the high school classes, it is satisfying to be one of the grown-ups who shares books with the littlest scholars.

"Children learn to read by being in the presence of boo
ks. The love of knowledge comes with reading and grows upon it." - Horace Mann

"All children’s books are about ideals. Adult fiction sets out to portray and then explain the world as it really is; books for children present it as it should be." -Humphrey Carpenter

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bloggers' Block

"Only a mediocre writer is always at his best." — W. Somerset Maugham

Today two of the bloggers on my Reader feed mentioned "bloggers' block", an inability to compose a post suitable for public view.

Jennifer, a graduate student in the masters of library science program at Southern Connecticut State University, is frustrated with school and looking for positive motivation and material beyond her present situation.

Cheryl, on the other hand, has a wealth of interesting experiences to draw upon for inspiration but has been busier doing things than blogging about them.

No author, amateur or professional, is exempt from the occasional "psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece".

American author Ernest Hemingway stated,
"There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges."

Some focus on beginnings: French playwright Molière confessed, "I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others."

While others think the finish is what counts:

Homer: "Marge, is this a happy ending or a sad ending?"
Marge: "It's an ending. That's enough." The Simpsons

Ideas may come slowly. Writer and adventurer Jack London warned, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan moaned that "Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life."

Is it worth the toil and trauma?

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." -Samuel Johnson

"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." -Chinese proverb