Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back

It was a very good year.

In case you're wondering:
January: New MacBook
February: Daughter & her husband with their new Scion xB
March: Elementary students enjoy books in the LMC
April: Forsythia in bloom
May: Tim & I at a wedding on Dunham's Bay, Lake George, NY
June: En plein air painting in our backyard
July: Tim's pictures on display at the Remington Museum, Odgensburg, NY
August: Morning workout at Saratoga Racetrack
September: The family (except for SIL, who had to work) enjoys Tim's retirement cruise
October: View of Lake George from Prospect Mountain
November: Riding a school bus on a field trip to Warrensburg, NY
December: Mom and her new afghan
Center: NECC Librarians' Panel, San Antonio

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Celebration 2008

It's a mixed bag of photos, from Scott's TV appearance to Mom's afghan to Sean's Slinky. A patchwork of memories, fun and good cheer, the best kind of holiday celebration.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Seven Things You Don't Need to Know about Me

Liz B. Davis tagged me for this meme. It gave me an excuse to stroll down Memory Lane and pull out random facts about my life:

1. I can’t whistle, except by inhaling; I can only snap the fingers on my left hand.

2. I was a Camp Fire Girl (before the organization became co-ed).

3. I love to travel, have seen “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” but my favorite city is still London.

4. During summer study at Oxford University, I had a small part in a production of King Lear.

5. Although I started college as a Math major, I graduated as an English major.

6. I have climbed Mt. Marcy, New York's highest point.

7. The first time I visited Yankee Stadium was to attend a Mass celebrated by Pope Paul VI.

In keeping with my "no stress now that the holidays are almost over" policy, I'm not tagging anyone specifically. This is a fun exercise, though, so I'd encourage anyone who has a few spare minutes to play along and give us a behind-the-scenes look at your life.

"Rearview Mirror" by cammyrw

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Greetings

"Bringing Home the Christmas Tree" by Tim Cordell

Stars over snow,
And in the west a planet
Swinging below a star -
Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far -
It never will be far
-Sara Teasdale

May you find many lovely things in your life! Have a peaceful and joyous holiday.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Life is One Big Top Ten (2008)

I've been tagged by my good friend, and fellow teacher/librarian, Cathy Nelson, for a meme. Paul C. invites bloggers to write a Top Ten list for 2008 on a topic of their choice. He plans to collect the lists later for our instruction and edification.

A news article that popped up recently in my Google Reader quotes Florida State Senator, Ronda Storms, who "railed against the book-cataloging system during a budget hearing on state library aid, calling the Dewey Decimal System 'anachronistic,' costly and just plain frustrating."

Here is my response to such blasphemy:

Top Ten Reasons not to abandon the Dewey Decimal System

1. The Dewey Decimal System is the norm in most U.S. elementary and secondary schools. Students who learn to navigate the system can apply this knowledge when searching for materials in their local public libraries, which also use the DDS.

2. Melvil Dewey designed the system to be very flexible. Categories that didn’t exist in the late 19th century – computers, space exploration, nanotechnology – can be accommodated by the infinitely expandable decimals.

3. Although the Dewey Decimal System is copyrighted, libraries do not have to pay to use it. Melvil made his personal fortune through selling library furniture.

4. Library staff members quickly become familiar with the ten categories and can point patrons to relevant shelves. The same can not be said of the Library of Congress System, which is complex and less user-friendly.

5. The Dewey numbers always follow in sequence. No matter how large a collection becomes, items are arranged in order, not tied to a physical location.

6. Dewey numbers are not just for books. Video tapes, DVDs, magazines, hardware, software, etc. can easily be assigned Dewey categories.

7. Since the DDS uses numbers, it is not tied to a particular language. Any patron familiar with Arabic numerals can locate materials.

8. Without the DDS, each library would have to create its own system. Interlibrary loans and union catalogs would be difficult, if not impossible.

9. The OCLC, which holds the copyright on the Dewey Decimal System, maintains a database for cataloging and searching purposes and "integrates updates to the DDC almost as soon as they happen through quarterly, electronic updates to WebDewey and Abridged WebDewey."

10. Melvil Dewey was one of the founders of the American Library Association. He elevated librarianship to professional status.

If anyone else would like to contribute a Top Ten list, please be sure to do so and link back to Paul.

"Seattle Public Library - book spiral" by Padraic

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow Day!

"A 'snow day' a day in which school classes are canceled or delayed due to snow, heavy ice, or low temperatures." -Wikipedia

The call came at 5:45 a.m.: because of an overnight snowfall and the possibility of icy roads and power outages, school has been canceled today. Snow Day!

What is it about these unplanned but highly anticipated holidays that causes such joy? There is a delicious sense of freedom, endless possibilities, time enough to complete all sorts of tasks...or not.

If nothing is "accomplished" but refreshing the spirit, isn't that a fine and rare thing, complete in and of itself?

“I love snow, and all the forms
Of the radiant frost…” -Percy Bysshe Shelley

At least, on Snow Days I do.

You can see my Snow Day flickr set here

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Others

"Commandment Number One of any truly civilized society is this: Let people be different." - David Grayson

My husband, an artist and musician, is left-handed. When he was in school in the 1950s and '60s, some teachers tried to "make him" right-handed. It didn't work.

Throughout history, society has had varying degrees of tolerance for nonconformity. Suspected witches and heretics were executed by being burned at the stake, hung, pressed or drowned as recently as the late 18th century.

Beatniks and hippies, Goths and Punks have all suffered some form of ridicule or discrimination. Time magazine reported on "a wave of shocking attacks and threats against emo youth culture" in Mexico, having "less to do with music than with the country's violent intolerance."

Most U.S. school districts try to accommodate teen individuality in matters of hair, makeup and clothing, as long as the styles don't distract others from learning.

Individuality in terms of curriculum and assessment, however, is another matter entirely.

A previous posting here, Today, My Job Was to Listen, prompted Paul Bogush to comment, "I wonder what the ratio is of minutes of teacher talk vs. student talk in classrooms." When he asked this question on Plurk, estimates ranged from 4:1 to 10:1, teacher talking time to student talking time. This impromptu poll would seem to suggest that traditional delivery of standardized content is still the norm in many classrooms.

Not all who are differently-abled have an IEP. Do you believe that our educational culture could be/should be more inclusive?

Are we reaching the Others?

"All eyes see a different world. All minds live in a different world. Why do we feel the need to force someone to see and live our way? When we do this, we lose sight of our world."
- Bobby Lambert

"Black sheep. Do u also feel different?" by pasotraspaso

Friday, December 5, 2008

CyberSmart! Africa

"What is it that binds all people together? What do kids in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, have in common with kids from M'bour, Senegal, Africa? Through digital storytelling we can discover those connections and forge new, valuable relationships that were never before possible." -Jeremy Teicher, Film Director/Project Manager, CyberSmart! Africa

CyberSmart! Education offers facilitated online professional development, a free K-12 Student Curriculum, and a downloadable Educator's Toolbar. Their newest venture is CyberSmart! Africa.

"CyberSmart! Africa began in 2007 as a personal initiative of Jim Teicher, CEO and cofounder of CyberSmart! Education. After visiting Ecole Sinthiou Mbadane 1, a rural school in Senegal off the electric grid, Jim worked to establish ties that would support the students.

This CyberSmart! Africa project enables teachers and students in
rural Senegal to share their personal stories with the rest of the world, revealing the common bonds that connect people across all cultures. The stories will be posted on the web site along with questions for discussion, which will extend into the iEARN and ePals online communities."

The students of Ecole Sinthiou Mbadane 1 "look forward to communicating and learning with a global, connected community of learners." Their video clips will give classes in other countries a unique glimpse into a very different culture.

Through these digital storytelling and laptop initiatives, CyberSmart! Africa hopes to encourage collaboration among students and support efforts to prepare students of many nations to meet the challenges of this century.

Worthy goals, fascinating project.

Photos courtesy of CyberSmart! Africa. All rights reserved.

Full disclosure: I am a part-time employee of CyberSmart! Education in addition to my full-time position as a K-12 teacher/librarian.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wordle Meme

TJ Shay just tagged me for a Meme. Participants are required to create a Wordle using their blog and/or account.

There were some technical issues on my end, so Terry was kind enough to plug my blog address into the proper box on the Wordle site, then email me the result, shown above.

Taken out of context, some of the words might give a slightly skewed impression of the "mission" of my blog: Salvation and Army appeared in my posting on that worthy organization; "Angels" refers to the tragic fire at Our Lady of the Angels School, which I remembered here.

My affiliation with CyberSmart! and preoccupation with "students" "school" "Internet" "sites" are evident.

Yet, since the majority of my postings center on education, I decided to produce an additional, more focused Wordle, shown below. I highlighted two groupings of words which I found significant, the "society/success" grouping and the "students" cluster. Due to firewall issues at school, I was only able to copy and edit a thumbnail version. You can link to the original here.

The postings used to create this second Wordle were:

Memes are meant to be shared, so I'm inviting any who visit here to try their hand at creating a Wordle. It's a handy tool for both analysis and creative endeavors.

Wordle images created at Images of Wordles are licensed .

Monday, December 1, 2008


"In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it." -Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I talk about "connections" all the time, but sometimes our intertwinings and interactions truly amaze me.

A few years ago, I was able to take an online professional development workshop run by CyberSmart! As I've mentioned before, I felt so empowered by this experience that I hung around (virtually, of course), explored a bit, asked questions, and eventually became a facilitator for the company.

An RSS feed on one of the CyberSmart! sites inspired me to set up my own Google Reader account, then try my hand at blogging. I now also interact on social networking sites like Twitter and Plurk.

Through Twitter, I met Australian teacher Jo McLeay. Aware of my affiliation with CyberSmart! Jo pointed me to the Seedlings podcasts on Bit by Bit. During the November 20 podcast, Bob Sprankle gave the free CyberSmart! K-12 Student Curriculum a very positive review.

I commented:

I enjoyed hearing your comments re. CyberSmart! on your last podcast.

I started out as a participant in one of the CyberSmart! professional development workshops, and now work as a facilitator for the company, in addition to my duties as a K-12 teacher/librarian.

The updated and expanded free CyberSmart! curriculum addresses such key issues as good digital citizenship and cybersafety. We are particularly proud of the cyber bullying package and the resources it contains for teachers, students, and parents.

The educator’s toolbar features lots of pre-screened links of professional interest.

CyberSmart’s homepage is located at

and Bob responded:
Thanks for stopping by and your comments, Diane! CyberSmart is amazing!

Now another connection has been made. Wonder where this might lead!

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." -John Muir

"Facebook Connections" by Elliott P

Our Lady of the Angels

On December 1, 1958, students at Our Lady of the Angels School heard a fire alarm ring. Just hours later, the brick schoolhouse was a smoldering ruin. 92 students and 3 nuns lost their lives in a blaze fueled by varnished wooden floors and asphalt tile. The single fire escape was locked, the school alarm was not connected to the Chicago Fire Department's system.

I was in elementary school in upstate New York at the time this tragedy occurred. The news photos and eye-witness accounts were heartbreaking; many children, myself included, had nightmares about burning buildings and death by fire for months afterward.

The nation responded by reforming school building and safety codes. My own district began holding fire drills with grim regularity.

Today's students benefit from the standards established after the tragedy at Our Lady of the Angels School. It is a sad legacy from the children and teachers who died a half century ago.

Fire at "Our Lady of the Angels" from School Fires
"fire escape" by scott witt

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Privilege

"No one has ever become poor by giving." -Anne Frank

I've been seeing them for a few weeks now, the Salvation Army volunteers. Unfailingly polite, they stand outside in fair weather and foul, ringing their handbells, hoping to fill the red kettles that hold shoppers' cash contributions.

My mother, a World War II veteran who served in England and France, said that the Salvation Army was the organization quickest to provide services, supplies, and comfort to soldiers far from home. In fact, the Salvation Army was one of six civilian agencies that collaborated in the creation of the USO (United Service Organizations) in 1941.

Our family always donated serviceable clothing and unwanted furniture to the Salvation Army. My daughter and I browsed their Thrift Shops in search of discarded treasures and vintage accessories.

This holiday season is going to be a difficult one for many families. The Salvation Army, along with other local and national organizations, is trying to help people survive in troubled times.

Please share what you can with the non-profit group of your choice, in the true spirit of the holiday season.

Smile at the bell-ringer, and thank him or her for working in the service of others.

"Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege." -John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

“Frank, a Salvation Army bell-ringer” by ragesoss

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Beyond the Wall

"The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers." -FCC CIPA Consumer Factsheet

Parents, educators, the government: all wish to ensure that the world is made as safe as possible for our children.

Computers with internet access have become commonplace in schools and homes. With this increase in opportunity for connectivity has come a parallel increase in concern about the perceived dangers of cyberspace for minors. Legislation requiring the blocking of sites deemed inappropriate through the filtering of school district networks was intended to provide protection for students and peace of mind for their parents.

Unfortunately, this approach hasn't worked well for a number of reasons:
  • no filter can catch every objectionable site, therefore relying on filters generates a false sense of security
  • filters block many valuable resources. For example, a science class researching viruses would find any sites mentioning "sexually transmitted diseases" inaccessible, including sites maintained by the Federal government
  • it is possible to get around filters by using proxy sites. Many students have become adept at circumventing the safeguards put in place to protect them
  • while teachers may request that certain sites be unblocked for classroom use, the process can be frustrating and discourage technology use
But the biggest argument against depending on filters as the primary means of protection is that many students spend time outside of school on computers, unsupervised or inadequately supervised. Without instruction in safe use and good digital citizenship, children and teens leave themselves open to danger, though perhaps not the dangers that many adults fear.

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center Fact Sheet

A growing number of people are promoting Internet safety education in an effort to help keep youngsters safe from Internet sex offenders. But some of the information in their lectures, pamphlets, videos, and web sites does not reflect what researchers have learned about the important features of these crimes.

There is a widely quoted statistic (from the 2005 University of New Hampshire Youth Internet Safety study) that 1 in 7 youth are threatened by "online predators." In fact,

  • These solicitations did not necessarily come from "online predators". They were all unwanted online requests to youth to talk about sex, answer personal questions about sex or do something sexual. But many could have been from other youth. In most cases, youth did not actually know the ages of solicitors. When they believed they knew, they said about half were other youth.
  • These solicitations were not necessarily devious or intended to lure. Most were limited to brief online comments or questions in chatrooms or instant messages. Many were simply rude, vulgar comments...
  • Most recipients did not view the solicitations as serious or threatening. Two-thirds were not frightened or upset by what happened.
  • Almost all youth handled unwanted solicitations easily and effectively. Most reacted by blocking or ignoring solicitors, leaving sites, or telling solicitors to stop.

A more immediate danger, one which is estimated to affect as many as 43% of our students, is cyber bullying. Unlike face-to-face bullying, the online version can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Harassers, emboldened by electronic anonymity, can choose to prolong and extend their activities, drawing in others and leaving the chosen target with no safe haven.

The United States Congress has recently acted to bring CIPA into line with current research regarding student online safety:
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) are extremely pleased that on September 30 [2008] Congress passed, as part of S. 1492, an update to the Children's Internet Protection Act which requires schools participating in the E-Rate program to educate students regarding appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room sites and about cyberbullying. ISTE and CoSN have advocated for this approach for many years and we are pleased that Congress has now ratified our position. Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students.

"Education, not mandatory blocking and filtering, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students."

We need to teach our children how to recognize danger, make good choices, and behave responsibly online. Beyond the wall lies the future.

"Beyond the wall" by Guiseppe Bognanni

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Through a Forest Wilderness

"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness."
- John Muir

On a drizzly November morning, my daughter, daughter-in-law, and I joined a few other hardy souls (and two dogs) on a hike along some of the trails in Moreau Lake State Park.

It was quiet in the forest; the only wildlife we observed was a tiny chickadee and an obviously annoyed flying squirrel whose rest we must have disturbed. Dave, our knowledgeable young guide, pointed out the surprisingly abundant plant life tucked in among the autumn leaves.

Eagles, osprey, beaver, deer and other inhabitants of the area were not visible. The well-trained dogs accompanying our group were quiet, with no gray squirrels to tempt them into disobedience.

The fungi Dave displayed to us were lovely, incredibly varied in size, shape and color.

A carefully hidden geocache provided a bit of man-made whimsy, its artful case carved from a beaver-gnawed branch.

Our two-hour hike extended into three hours, but no one objected. It was a wonderfully calming and peaceful interlude in our busy lives.

My complete photoset is available here.
Read my daughter-in-law's more extensive account here

"In Wildness is the preservation of the World" -Henry David Thoreau

Friday, November 14, 2008

Today, My Job Was to Listen

“Adolescents sometimes say...'My friends listen to me, but my parents only hear me talk.' Often they are right. Familiarity breeds inattention.”
-Laurence Steinberg, U.S. professor of psychology

Dr. Steinberg's words might equally be applied to teachers. We hear our students' voices, but do we ever stop to consider what they are saying?

Today, my job was to listen.

Our Current Events class is made up of teens in grades 9-12. Since the juniors were taking a test today, I gave the remaining 7 students time to finish up assignments, discuss upcoming projects, and just socialize.

One boy started complaining that he wished he were part of our in-house GED program rather than taking regular classes. A few of his friends jumped in to tell him that the course is a lot of work, the exam is difficult, and he'd be crazy not to just stick out school for a few more years. They discussed it for a while, and I believe - I hope - they convinced him to stay put and try to make it work.

None of these young men have been particularly successful academically. They are they same group who shared their anger about a NHS speech that seemed (in their eyes) to disparage them.

Today they used their leadership qualities to help a friend who's in danger of making a bad decision. It was a teachable moment, but I was not the teacher, my students were.

It was one of the best days I've had all year.

"One who cares is one who listens." -Richard Clarke

"listen to me..." by keela84

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thanks and Praise, For our Days: Veterans Day

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 19 September 2004

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. -John McCrae


Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,
'Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh. -Author Unknown

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

"Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing." -Archibald Macleish

Yesterday, our Middle and High School students indicated their choice for the next president of the United States. Although the votes won't count in national election tallies, these young citizens have spent a lot of time discussing the candidates and examining the issues that will affect their futures.

Today, Election Day, spontaneous conversations took place in study halls and corridors, as the students expressed their opinions to classmates and teachers. One young man told me that he liked Sarah Palin's position on the environment; another said he felt that the country needed a change, so he supported Obama.

Even the elementary students knew that something important was happening. Most of the little ones knew the names of the presidential candidates, some were planning to go into the voting booths with their parents.

The results of the upper level voting were: Obama 136, McCain 96. But the real winners were the students, who learned valuable lessons about the democratic process.

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves—and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Saturday, November 1, 2008


"There are high spots in all of our lives and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else. I don't care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause." -George M. Adams

Rather than respond to individual comments about Success, I've decided to offer my opinion in a separate posting.

Some of you have defended the National Honor Society and my district's decision to recognize new inductees in a high school assembly. Others question the venue but not the underlying concept of rewarding academic achievement. My students did a fair job of presenting both sides of the argument when expressing their feelings on the matter in our Current Events class.

How do I feel about the NHS?

  • Nominees are evaluated on character and leadership as well as grades.
  • National Honor Society members perform a number of school and community service activities.
  • Inductees gain personal satisfaction from public acknowledgement.
  • Scholarship is emphasized and praised.

  • Teachers who review the applications for membership may not know enough about students' personal lives to judge them fairly in all categories.
  • Grades measure only a particular type of success in school.
  • The Society is exclusionary by nature.
  • The assembly was more divisive than inspiring.

This last point is the crux of the matter for me. The assembly speakers could have praised new NHS members as academic leaders, then gone on to challenge the rest of the student body to discover their own potential for leadership.

Making good grades the sole criteria for success means that some students feel they have already been labeled as failures. And this might well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Success is the maximum utilization of the ability that you have." -Zig Ziglar

"DSC_0498.jpeg" by alessandra

Friday, October 31, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

"From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!" -Traditional Scottish Prayer

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


"Successful people are not superhuman. Success does not require a super-intellect. Nor is there anything mystical about success. And success isn't based on luck. Successful people are just ordinary folks who have developed belief in themselves and what they do." -David J. Schwartz

Last Friday, our high school held its annual induction ceremony for the National Honor Society. I was unable to attend, due to scheduling conflicts. Immediately after the assembly ended, though, I heard a first-hand account of the event from some very agitated teenagers.

Evidently, an administrator had pointed proudly to the new NHS members on the stage and said to the audience, "They are the future, the future leaders" (numerous sources have confirmed that this is an accurate quote). This left many of the unchosen ones feeling angry and insulted.

Rather than try to gloss over this situation, I asked that my students voice their criticisms, anonymously, in a Word Document, which I promised to share with the principal. Those who were inducted (4 of the 15 class members) added their opinions, once they returned from a celebratory reception.

  • National Honor Society is good because it looks good on a college application and we get recognized for our hard work.
  • I think that the assembly was a thanks that we worked hard and wanted a brighter future.
  • I feel that the National Honor Society is good because it recognized people for good work and their accomplishments. It is also a great contributor to getting into colleges.
  • The positive aspects of National Honor Society are that they are noticing the most accomplished students. It helps people get into colleges and be noticed for their excellence. Other students don't like it because they are not being noticed. It is their fault they did not work hard to accomplish this task. We worked hard to accomplish this and that is why we are being noticed. The National Honor Society is a good thing for our students.

  • I think the assembly was ridiculous because...a few people should have not been up there and a few people from the audience should have been chosen. The Assembly made me very mad because it made me feel not welcomed and not appreciated by this school. [the administrator] said these people are the future, well, what am I, nothing in the future because I was not on the National Honor Society?
  • I don't believe that the Honor Society is the only future. We are the future too. It makes other people feel bad and stupid. Everybody has the same potential. It makes us feel dumb and it's unfair and people are inconsiderate of us.
  • I think it is ******* *** to say that only the people on stage are the future when they're not only the future but it's everybody else too. I think it is just to make those certain people feel good and everybody else like retarded. And it always doesn't depend on your grades and it doesn't depend on your school, it depends on how you are, not just in school. All the students that struggle in classes don't have the same treatment as the people that are good with subjects. Some people just have problems learning. School isn't always the most important thing, you always don't need school. I can get by without school. You give me a hammer and tape measure and I can build about anything and make more money than half the people that went to college and have a great life and get by with no problem. Certain people have certain traits and are good at things.
  • I feel that students should have to go to the National Honor Society so we can support our fellow students. I DO NOT think that [the administrators] should be saying "THEY ARE THE FUTURE..." And what are we supposed to be, scum and low lives? It feels like we are NOTHING, and they are everything. Rachel's Challenge says that everyone is worth something!!! They should have recognized us as well!!!! I think the students should also vote on who should be in NHS!!!! It is SOOOOOOO wrong!
  • I don't like the fact that we all had to go to that *** assembly for all the stupid preps that already think they're better than everybody...and think that they're the best. I think I'm a good leader and I pretty much just got told that I was nothing and that I should pretty much just die. Most of the people that just got called up on that stage are nothing more than I am. It ****** me off that they just got special recognition for stupid **** like school. Outside of school, I do anything I can to help and I don't get recognized for any of it.
  • The assembly: I believe it was sort of unnecessary to have it displayed in front of the entire high school. The leadership and character and all these things...they exclude people and these people in front of us a whole are considered the only ones who possess these characteristics. Why can't we have an assembly with only parents and those who are being honored? The speech said "They are the future leaders." What about the rest of us???? I'm a B student, I work extremely hard for the grades that I do have and I do not get recognized, just because I'm weak in some areas. I work just as hard if not harder than those on that very stage. I just think it makes some kids feel bad about themselves and it's not needed.

  • I really don't care. It will get me out of class.
  • It doesn't really matter to me, but I don't think it should be up to the teachers to pick who has good character because they don't know what those kids do on the weekend...Going to school is not for me. I'd rather work any day of the week and earn an honest living.
  • I don't really care.

The passion and maturity of these responses impressed me. My students appreciated having the chance to make their voices heard, and I appreciated their candor and eloquence.

What are your thoughts on the National Honor Society and awards assemblies? These young adults would like to know.

"Success is not a doorway, it's a staircase." -Dottie Walters

"Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.” -Denis Waitley

"Staircase" by 96dpi

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ants and Bees

I had intended to blog about The Ant and the Grasshopper, one of Aesop's fables. People in my area of upstate New York are busy getting ready for winter's challenges, and I could draw a number of educational parallels regarding preparation, collaboration, and gathering resources.

But a search for suitable quotes resulted in a slight change of focus.

Philosopher Francis Bacon explained different scientific approaches by comparing the ant, the spider, and the bee:

“Those who have handled sciences have either been men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes the middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy.”

Aesop's imprudent grasshopper idled away his summer and learned from the industrious ant that "It is best to prepare for the days of necessity."

Bacon, however, found the ants, who "collect and use" less admirable than a bee, which "gathers its material...but transforms and digests it by a power of its own."

The transformative power of the web depends on more than just the tools it provides. It requires planning, creativity, flexibility, and a willingness to continuously monitor and adjust expectations.

The 21st century requires bees, not ants.

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

"Ant on Birch" by E.B. White
All other photos by dmcordell

Monday, October 13, 2008

Politics in the Classroom

"Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark all is deluge." -Horace Mann

The upcoming U.S. presidential election presents a quandary for teachers: how can we interest our students in the democratic process without abusing our position of authority? When does influence mutate into indoctrination?

As a K-12 teacher/librarian, I've been fielding questions from students of all ages who are naturally curious about the November election. During library classes, I share both non-fiction and fiction books about voting, elections, and the presidency. The younger grades enjoy stories like Doreen Cronin's Duck for President , Marc Brown's Arthur Meets the President, and Kay Winters' My Teacher for President.

With older elementary students, I've been using Grace for President, by Kelly Dipucchio, to spark discussions about the right to vote, women & minorities as candidates, and the electoral college.

When students ask for whom I'm voting, I talk about the responsibility of good citizens to study key issues before making such an important choice. If they push for an answer, I respond that I'm leaning towards Senator Obama but that the adults in their household might have reached a different decision. Informal polls show that the families in our district seem to be evenly divided between the main parties.

In my high school Current Events class, we've been examining candidates' position statements and viewing video clips of the presidential and vice-presidential debates. None of these students are old enough to vote this year, but I remind them that the policies of our next president will affect their lives for years to come. I want them to care about the democratic process, perhaps engage in conversations with their parents about the economy, the environment, social security, health care, and the war in Iraq.

It's a delicate balancing act, educating, without unduly influencing, young minds. I am personally horrified by the Palin candidacy, insulted that Senator McCain apparently thought that I would vote for a woman, any woman, without regard to her suitability for office, but I don't feel that it would be appropriate for me to make a strong statement to that effect in my professional role as a teacher.

The future is in the hands of our students. Their choices will determine whether and how our nation will survive and prosper.

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." -George Jean Nathan

"Fourth of July parade" by cyanocorax

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Brisbins of Saratoga County

On Saturday, my husband and I drove past a tiny, enclosed burial ground and stopped for a closer look. I took a few photos, then decided to try a quick Google search of the family name, Brisbin, later that evening.

The wealth of information that I discovered was amazing:
  • New York Gravestones provided an easy-to-read "translation" of inscriptions on the worn headstones.
  • The Town of Northumberland traced the family's history back to 1765, when 18-year-old James Brisbin arrived in upstate New York from his native Scotland. "He settled 1 1/2 miles westerly of Fort Miller, towards Bacon Hill a hamlet in Northumberland that became the hub of activity with the Hudson River nearby."

  • By 1789, a mature (and, presumably prosperous) Brisbin was elected an elder of the Reformed (Dutch) Church of Saratoga, according to the 1878 History of Saratoga County, New York, by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester.

  • A descendant of the Brisbins noted on her genealogy site that the family name probably "stems from the Scottish name, Brisbane" and adds,
    "There is speculation, as yet unconfirmed, that the Brisbins immigrating to New York were soldiers during the French and Indian war, which ended in 1763. They liked what they saw in the territory and decided to return with their families. Since our family appears on the records of Saratoga Co., NY for the first time about 1765, this seems to add credence to this theory. There is also some speculation that the Brisbin soldiers may have been part of Abercrombie's troop in the French and Indian War, which were known to have been in Saratoga County. From this point on, there are documented records on the Brisbin family, both in America and in Canada."
  • "The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne and The Expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger," by William L. Stone (Albany, NY, Joel Munsell, 1877) mentions the Brisbin property during the time of the American Revolution.
    "As a specimen, the farm of James Brisbin had sufficient wheat and cattle to have paid the purchase price, but it was all taken and consumed by Burgoyne's army without compensation, notwithstanding the fair promises made in his proclamation of July 10, before stated. We should except a single cow, which escaped from her captors, returned home and was afterwards secreted and saved. After the surrender, the farmers gradually returned to their rural homes, erected new log houses, and began again to till the soil. But little progress, however, was made, until the close of the war, as this valley lay in the track of the Indians and Tories, who had fled to Canada, and made repeated raids into this county."
  • A similar genealogy page, that of the McGregors, mentions two sons of James Brisbin.
    "The first settlement of what is now the town of Wilton, but then and long before known as Palmertown, was begun by two brothers, William and Samuel Brisbin, as early as the year 1764. These two brothers were the sons by his first wife of James Brisbin, who came over from the north of Ireland, and became the first settler of what is now the town of Northumberland, in the year 1765. The two brothers, William and Samuel Brisbin, made their first attempt at settlement on the south branch of the Snoek Kill, in what afterwards became the Laing neighborhood. One and perhaps both of them had been soldiers under Abercrombie and Amherst in the last French war, and the year after peace was concluded they began the early settlement of the old wilderness they had so often traversed while on the war-path. They made clearings, built a sawmill, and cut roads on to their lands. When the war of the Revolution came on they abandoned their little settlement."
    One of the McGregor daughters later married into the Brisbin family. [There were many "James Brisbins" in the family. The father of William and Samuel might be the father or uncle of the James Brisbin who died in 1835 and is buried in the family plot.]

  • Another local family was the Slocums. In "A Short History of the Slocums..." by Charles Elihu Slocum, we learn that Sarah Slocum married James Brisbin. These are the James, Jr. and his wife, Sally, who share a headstone and a final resting place. Other Slocums also intermarried with the Brisbins. When his father, Giles Slocum, died in 1814, James Slocum went to live with his maternal grandfather, James Brisbin, "near Schuylerville, Saratoga County, New York."

Every town and village has at least one cemetery within its boundaries. The educational possibilities are endless. Students might
  • research prominent local names
  • map an entire burying ground
  • undertake a cemetery restoration project under the guidance of adult professionals
  • place names copied from headstones on a timeline
  • write original stories or poems about the people buried in the cemetery
  • search for information about an individual, then present a scene from his/her life (in period garb)
  • recreate significant events from the history of their county or state, as seen through the eyes of actual residents
It is people that create history, and projects that emphasize human connections can be satisfying, enlightening...and fun!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Bricolage: "make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are to hand (regardless of their original purpose)." -Wikipedia

There was an article in our morning newspaper about a local man who recycles seemingly useless and unrelated bits of "junk" into eclectic dioramas that "pay homage to the craft form popularized in elementary school social studies projects and book reports." Artist Charles Steckler considers these pieces "kind of like poetry in a sense. Poetry has an open form. It has potential for many interpretations," he said. "It's the visual equivalent to poetry. People can find many meanings in them."

When I did a bit of research on the title of his exhibition, "Bricoleur/Bricolage," I found a fascinating collection of variations on the theme.

In music, bricolage refers to the use of found objects as instruments, including Irish spoons & bones, Trinidadian steel drums, comb & paper kazoos, and the incredible vegetable orchestra featured on YouTube. The emphasis is on imaginative use of unlikely items to create tunes - many of the musicians are self-taught and experimentation is the norm.

Steckler's dioramas, and the colorful taxi dashboard pictured above, are examples of bricolage in the visual arts. Improvisation personifies bricolage in the performing arts.

Science and technology frequently borrow words, like dryad, Beowulf, and Goldilocks, from art and literature.

In biology, Fran├žois Jacob used the term bricolage to "contrast real biology with the false impression of nature as an engineer," emphasizing the impromptu "tinkering" that he felt really took place in evolution by trial and error as opposed to intelligent design.

Information technology stresses the need for bricolage-like freedom to develop in a non-linear, innovative manner. The Bricolage Content Management System is "an open-source enterprise-class content management system, [that] greatly simplifies the complex tasks of creating, managing, and publishing the vast libraries of content essential to any organization."

Can education benefit from the bricolage approach?

Constructivism is a philosophy of learning advocating the building of understanding as an active process initiated and directed by the learner. Some educators question the value of discovery-based instruction for "novices" who might lack the background knowledge or motivation necessary to acquire understanding.

When standardized testing and state-mandated curricula guide the educational system, is there room for exploration and innovation? Is there a place for bricolage in the classroom beyond the dioramas of our elementary days?

"Awesome taxi dashboard, Singapore" by gruntzooki

Paul Newman: In His Own Words

On acting and life:
"Study your craft and know who you are and what's special about you. Find out what everyone does on a film set, ask questions and listen. Make sure you live life, which means don't do things where you court celebrity, and give something positive back to our society." -Paul Newman, advice to a young actor

On being in the food business:
"When I realized I was going to have to be a whore, to put my face on the label, I decided that the only way I could do it was to give away all the money we make. Over the years, that ethical stance has given us a 30 per cent boost. One in three customers buys my products because all the profits go to good causes and the rest buy the stuff because it is good."

"Once you've seen your face on a bottle of salad dressing. it's hard to take yourself seriously."

*Double H Ranch is our local Hole in the Wall Camp

On judging a person:
"A man can only be judged by his actions, and not by his good intentions or his beliefs."

His legacy:

"I'd like to be remembered as a guy who tried - who tried to be part of his times, tried to help people communicate with one another, tried to find some decency in his own life, tried to extend himself as a human being. Someone who isn't complacent, who doesn't cop out."

Paul Leonard Newman (January 26, 1925 – September 26, 2008)

"Image: Paul newman from exodus trailer2.jpeg" from Wikipedia Commons

"Newman's Own organics" from Newman's Own website

"Hole in the Wall Camps logo" and "Double H Ranch logo" from the Hole in the Wall Camps website