Friday, February 29, 2008

Guerrilla Teaching

"Guerrilla warfare is the unconventional warfare and combat with which small group combatants use mobile combat a larger, less mobile formal army." -Wikipedia

It is an undeclared war, but battles are being waged daily. And just when you believe your side is winning...

Skirmish #1:
Jeff O'Hara zemote @ericolson Looking at: "TED | Talks | Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? (video)" (

dmcordell dmcordell @zemote Tried to open "Do Schools Kill Creativity" at school. Blocked by firewall. Does that answer the question?

Jeff O'Hara zemote @dmcordell I think you answered the question perfectly :)

Erica iteachcomputers @dmcordell - THAT is the definition of irony!

Skirmish #2:

dmcordell dmcordell @Digimom Very fluky firewall:kids can get to YouTube(I can get to Twitter/no gmail or Reader)but humor, incl some political cartoons,blocked.

Anna Adam Digimom @dmcordell HUMOR is blocked by your firewall? I would tell you that's hilarious but then you wouldn't be allowed to read this!

Talk about irony: after telling Digimom that YouTube was freely available, I went online to add a clip, that features Guy Kawasaki explaining his 10/20/30 PowerPoint Rule, to my Blackboard account. Without warning or explanation, YouTube is now blocked. Teachers in our district have no override privileges, so we must request that the IT unblock specific sites for specific dates and class periods. Assuming, of course, that he is in the building and available to assist us.

I found a university site that had the video embedded in a blog posting. Since the clip did not come directly from YouTube, it remained unblocked and available for use.

Therefore, I may be embedding video clips for instructional use in my blog. Like this sequence of self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh: totally school appropriate, unavailable because it's on YouTube.

I will never knowingly expose my students to inappropriate resources, but I WILL enrich their learning experiences whenever and however I can.

It's a battle many of us fight daily. Our small successes represent great victories for our students.

*Note: I had trouble embedding videos on blogger, so I've created a rough & ready site at Tumblr, Guerrilla Teaching Resources. It will do...for now.

Thanks to @
garageflowers for the suggestion!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Something of Value

"Value is what people are willing to pay for it." -John Naisbitt

Our elementary principal broke up a crime ring last week.

She happened upon some 2nd and 3rd grade students, participants in an after school activity, who were "stealing" from the library. The object of their villainy? Not books, but the old sign-out cards still found in some of the volumes.

A few years ago, we automated our library. Each book now has a barcode. Consequently, new books don't have pockets with cards to record borrowers. The now-obsolete orange and blue cards have been gradually discarded. But some remain, in the Books That Should Be Weeded, which haven't been checked out in years. These artifacts have somehow become an Object of Desire.

Administrative questioning revealed that the little darlings were not only pulling books off the shelves to search for remaining cards [no wonder our shelves have been such a mess lately!] but they have been trading and SELLING these bits of cardboard!

After delivering a stern lecture (while managing to somehow keep a straight face), the principal took the booty to her office. She shared the story with us the next morning.

The cards do hold a certain fascination. They retain the shaky signatures of students, some of whom graduated years ago, and bear dates ranging from the early '90s to the beginning of the millennium. Occasionally a child will spot an older sibling's name, or, more rarely, that of a parent.

I am now in possession of a few hundred of these relics. They have no extrinsic value, but they were something of value to the children who laboriously searched for them. Perhaps I'll distribute them for bookmarks or as rewards for good behavior. Our little society of students has found these cards to be desirable. I will deal with them in their own coin.

"Final Exam Flash Cards" by atlguitfiddle

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Twitter Poll for the Future Mr. & Mrs. Burell

Clay Burellkatb
"A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person." -Mignon McLaughlin

dmcordell dmcordell @cburell @katb @all Clay made remark about only getting married once. So Twitter poll: how long have you been married? In Sept 35 yrs.for us.

Ann Oro njtechteacher @dmcordell 20 years in September.

Penelope M peneli @dmcordell 1 year 9 months... 2 years end of May for us. but then we dated for 8 years first.

Damian Bariexca garageflowers @dmcordell We're the new kids on the marriage block: married 4 yrs, 3 mos.

Ethan Bodnar ethanbodnar @dmcordell zero

Peter Rock petrock @dmcordell RE: twitter poll on marriage - ~7.5 years.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love.” –Shakespeare

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

"School's over... but learning isn't"

Thanks to Christine Southard who tagged me for this "passion quilt" meme post.

The rules are simple.
1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about...and give your picture a short title.
3. Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt" and link back to this blog entry.
4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

My Picture

This is a picture of emptied lockers on the last day of school. I use it to symbolize the fact that formal classes have ended...but learning never stops.

My Passion
I am passionate about lifelong learning, for students of all ages.

You've been tagged:
I'm passing this meme onto five like-minded teachers and/or tech savvy librarians:

Cathy Nelson South Carolina teacher/librarian

Julie Lindsay Qatar Information technology

Kate Olson Wisconsin teacher

Doug Johnson Minnesota teacher/librarian

Judy O'Connell Australian teacher/librarian

"Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things."
-Denis Diderot

Thinking Blogger Award

"Thinking Machine 4" by tj.firer

Twitter has been a joy and a revelation for me. After initial resistance to what I felt might be yet another trendy online distraction, I cautiously ventured into the Twitterverse, and "stepped into the light."

I've found a supportive network of teachers, techies, and just plain interesting people from around the world. One of my new friends is Anne Mirtschin, a teacher at Hawkesdale P12 College, in Victoria, Australia.

"@murcha" uses the power of social networking to enhance and extend her students' learning. Her blog, On an e-journey with generation Y, was created as a journal to document this journey.

Anne has been kind enough to give me a Thinking Blogger award. I thank her for the honor and can honestly say that I have learned as much or more from her as she has from me. But isn't that the whole point of our brave new collaborative world?

About the award.

The participation rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to
this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative
silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).
In addition there is a note: “Please, remember to tag blogs with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all - blogs that really get you thinking! ”

So, for 5 blogs that make me think:

  • Students 2.0 Who is more important in the realm of education than the stakeholders, the students? This innovative cooperative blog lets us hear their voices and engage in a dialog about their concerns.
  • Beyond School Clay Burell leads the fight against "schooliness" by constantly challenging his students - and his readers - to seek creative ways to move education into the 21st century. He is currently based in Korea, but his beat is the world.
  • Not So Distant Future Carolyn Foote was one of my earliest online mentors. She exemplifies all the best qualities of a modern teacher/librarian.
  • Assorted Stuff Tim Stahmer, an Instructional Technology Specialist in Virginia, combines observations about the state of public education with "comments on instructional technology, blogging and the read-write web (aka Web 2.0), various forms of media, digital rights and fair use, a very small dab of politics, and the everyday oddities of life that pop up." He is always interesting, entertaining, and informative.
  • Tech Thoughts by Jen Jen Wagner offers practical advice on educational technology and invites teachers to participate in a variety of well-constructed, fun-to-do internet-based classroom projects. And her warm and friendly personality makes the digital world a much nicer place to visit!

Thank you, Anne, for sharing the award with me. It made a gloomy winter day a lot brighter!

"The world is round so that friendship may encircle it." -Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Great Expectations

"Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations." Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

To our parents and grandparents, the American Dream meant that, through hard work and a good education, young people could match and exceed the success of previous generations. Effort, determination and a college degree were seen as the keys to prosperity in adult life.

In some respects, the American Dream seems to have shrunk to an American Illusion.

A 2005 study published by the National Center for Education Statistics reported that
"more than two-thirds of students who were high school seniors in 2004 expected to complete a bachelor’s degree, and 35 percent planned to get a graduate or professional degree. But nearly two-thirds of the students who expected to get a four-year degree had not mastered intermediate level mathematics concepts as 12th graders, and nearly a third could not consistently solve simple problems based on low-level mathematical concepts."

In The Ambitious Generation: American's Teenagers, Motivated but Directionless, Schneider & Stevenson suggest that adolescents are extremely ambitious but "find it very difficult to fulfill their dreams." The authors believe one reason for this disconnect is that the transition to adulthood takes much longer, an "elongated transition" that postpones the onset of maturity, making decisions "overwhelming and less than meaningful" for high school students.

This is the illusion and the dilemma: students are desiring, expecting to be successful but are not emerging from formal schooling equipped with the skills to do so.

Arthus, in a posting on Students 2.0, flatly states that the current educational system is to blame, since
"every young child wants to grow up to be a successful citizen. Nobody is born hating learning—they grow to hate it through successively being treated as if they should hate it."
Rather than trying to "lock students into" learning, he wonders,
"What if ... schools taught students to make their own tools? If students are never taught to hate/fear learning, they will not shy away from learning opportunities."

Guest blogger Bill Farren, expresses similar sentiments on Beyond School:
"This made me reflect again on the current state of education: Why are we subjecting kids to an educational system that, for too many, dulls the senses, erodes natural curiosity, and forces kids to choose grades over learning, all in the quest for a high-paying job that will not necessarily make them happier or healthier? If someone wanted to create a system to reduce well-being for all, they need look no further than the current educational approach found in most schools."

Are student expectations unrealistic? Can the current educational system equip young people with critical skills necessary to be successful in our modern world? And what, after all, is success: how do we now define the American Dream?

I'd be interested in hearing your opinions.

"The quality of expectations determines the quality of our action." -Andre Godin

"Stairway" by Wolfgang Stoudt

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

As A Twig is Bent

"As a twig is bent the tree inclines." Virgil

Virgil's quote is very apt for students. It applies equally well to their teachers.

Few would argue that there needs to be some measure of technology embedded in our curriculum. Reports like Tough Choices or Tough Times, new standards from the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) and ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education), Thomas Friendman's best-seller, The World is Flat: all detail the types of literacies our students will need to survive and prosper in the 21st century.

The question remains, what needs to be taught, how will it be taught, and, most importantly of all, who will teach it?

We have a number of intelligent, energetic young teachers in our building, many of whom did their student teaching here. These new educators are interested in learning how to use technology tools to deliver content, but they didn't arrive with prior knowledge beyond how to access and use research sites online. Taught and mentored by older teachers who were not themselves fluent in the new literacies, many education majors are as much in need of instruction as their students.

Today, I looked at the courses required for an education major at SUNY Plattsburgh, the alma mater of many of our teachers. While graduates of the program are expected to "endeavor to practice effective pedagogy, reflect critically upon teaching and the learning process, and exemplify ethical, human and democratic principles within a complex, technological, global society" it is impossible to judge from the course descriptions exactly how, or even if, this goal is accomplished.

New teachers, trying to establish their careers, obtain tenure, pay off crushing student loans, and complete the NYS requirement for a graduate degree within a set number of years, have enough to do without learning new technologies they should have already mastered.

The tree can be bent crooked or bent straight. But either way:

"A twig is bent while it is green.” -Turkish Proverb

"Let's stop pretending" by streetoftrees

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Unsuited to Age Group

parent: a father or a mother; one who sires or gives birth to and/or nurtures and raises an offspring -Wikipedia

Each year the American Library Association compiles a list of the most frequently challenged books. A challenge is defined as a "formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness." And Tango Makes Three tops ALA's 2006 list for "homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group." The award-winning picture book, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, is based on the true story of two male penguins parenting an egg in the Central Park Zoo, New York City.

Loudoun County, VA recently joined the list of school districts that have pulled this book off library shelves, although copies are still available in the professional collection at 16 elementary buildings. In other states, the book has been moved from the Easy section to non-fiction or may only be checked out with parental permission.

A few of our teachers are doing research units on penguins. I've shown them "And Tango Makes Three" and explained why it is considered controversial in some districts. The book is shelved in our Easy Fiction section and will remain there unless and until it is formally challenged. No titles have been removed during my years as SLMS and I don't anticipate any great outcry over Tango.

We have many variations on the concept of family in our school, and I don't think the children will be shocked by the story of two loving penguins sharing parenthood. Envious, maybe, but not shocked.

"It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons." -Johann Schiller

"IMG_2610" by cyfer13

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

"I grew up a-dreamin' of bein' a cowboy, and lovin' the cowboy ways." -Willie Nelson, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

They were my childhood heroes, the gallant knights of the plains. Soft-spoken and well-mannered, they were slow to anger but always ready to defend the weak and the powerless. The code they followed was based on moral rectitude rather than the rule of law.

There was a nobility in their largely nomadic life. Wandering from place to place on horseback, the cowboy/heroes fought villains, rescued ladies in distress, and righted injustice.

In the early days of TV Westerns, the protagonists were invariably clean in thought, word, and deed, careful to avoid vices like smoking, drinking, and swearing. They rarely indulged in even a chaste kiss with a grateful lady. Their clothes were neat, their teeth gleamed, spurs shone silver in the sun.
Hopalong Cassidy was the original Man in Black, but we knew he was a "good guy" from the moment he began speaking. Singing cowboys like Gene Autry (an Army Air Corps colleague of my father's) introduced us to some of the traditional ballads of the open range.

There was a King of the Cowboys and Queen of the West. Sky King took to the air to track the bad guys. The Lone Ranger donned his mask; the Cisco Kid wore a sombrero. Straight shooting rancher Annie Oakley reminded girls that women could also be strong and independent.

The "cowboy virtues" were recreated in other times and places. Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Davy Crockett: all were cowboys in spirit if not in fact.

Their aim was true, their hearts were gold. They were loners with a mission. They were my earliest role models, those Western cowboys - and cowgirls - of the 1950s.

"I'm a roaming cowboy riding all day long,
Tumbleweeds around me sing their lonely song.
Nights underneath the prairie moon,
I ride along and sing this tune.

See them tumbling down
Pledging their love to the ground
Lonely but free I'll be found
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

Cares of the past are behind
Nowhere to go but I'll find
Just where the trail will wind
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

I know when night has gone
That a new world's born at dawn.

I'll keep rolling along
Deep in my heart is a song
Here on the range I belong
Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds." -Sons of the Pioneers, Tumbling Tumbleweeds

"William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy" Wikipedia

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Brass Ring

brass ring: An opportunity to achieve wealth or success; a prize or reward; a thing worth catching. The term comes from the practice of giving a free ride to the person who succeeded in snatching a ring out of a box while riding a merry-go-round. [Slang, late 1800s] -The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms

In this instance, the picture came before the concept. I knew that I wanted to discuss "reaching for the brass ring" but in what context? The answer came when I read Chris Lehmann's "What About the Other Days?"

Chris recounts a conversation about student assessment, in which he said
"I've come to realize that, as an educator, I am more interested in what kids can do as opposed to what they know."
When a colleague argued the importance of preparing young adults for high stakes tests like
"the SATs, the LSATs, the MCATs... serious tests and serious days that can forever alter the path of a person's life"
Chris countered with
"...those are three days in a person's life. What are we doing in our schools to prepare kids for the other 20,000 days of their lives?"

Comments have begun to appear on the site, and a discussion about the goal of education is starting to take shape.

Doug Johnson wonders
"Are some days more important than others?"
while Carolyn Foote gently reminds us that
"We need to teach students to think. That is what will prepare them for both those '3 days' and the other 20,000."
Don Lafferty suggests balance is necessary:
"Some combination of teaching to the test students methodologies for critical thinking is the best recipe for success in the current structure."

This conversation is just beginning. Why not stop by at Practical Theory and help construct an answer as to how we can best help our students grab the brass ring in life?

"Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in." -Abraham Lincoln

"Capturing the brass ring" by Woof Nanny

Thursday, February 14, 2008

C is for Cookie

"C is for cookie, it's good enough for me; oh cookie cookie cookie starts with C."Cookie Monster

Promised the boys (all 8 of them) in my Current Events class that I'd bake them a treat for our next class.

So tonight I got out my mother's yellow pyrex mixing bowl and whipped up a batch of chocolate chip delights.

And I travel back in time: to the 1950s (elementary school child in school uniform, stirring and sampling), 1960s (college student mixing up a potent aphrodisiac for a hungry suitor), 1980s (young mother with willing little helpers), 1990s (empty nester sending care packages to scattered progeny), then back to the present (teacher rewarding a gaggle of high school males).

Chocolate chip cookies, the premier American comfort food.

“Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.” -Barbara Jordan

"Sometimes me think what is love, and then me think love is what last cookie is for. Me give up the last cookie for you."Cookie Monster

"C is for Cookie" by AMagill

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And She Did

"Who will help me plant the seeds?" asked the Little Red Hen.
"Not I," said the Dog.
"Not I," said the Cat.
"Not I," said the Duck.
"Then I will do it myself!" said the Little Red Hen.
And she did.

A chance remark on Twitter a few nights ago elicited an interesting response. I commented that I would be telling my younger students the story of the Little Red Hen, one of my childhood favorites. Since the heroine of the tale ends up accomplishing all her goals on her own, I described her as a feminist.

Many of my PLN (Personal Learning Network: my online support system) instantly and emphatically agreed, saying that they remembered the story from their own childhood and were passing it on to their daughters.

One gets the impression that, while the Little Red Hen might welcome a partner, she's too busy to loll around waiting for a rooster in shining armor to solve her problems.

She knew she could do it herself. And she did.

“It’s important to remember that feminism is no longer a group of organizations or leaders. It’s the expectations that parents have for their daughters, and their sons, too. It’s the way we talk about and treat one another. It’s who makes the money and who makes the compromises and who makes the dinner. It’s a state of mind. It’s the way we live now.” -Anna Quindlen

"Poultry...!" by eye of einstein

The Greatest Refreshment in Life

"Love is the greatest refreshment in life." ~Pablo Picasso

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. Here, in words and images, is my Valentine...

to all my real life and online friends...

"The world is round so that friendship may encircle it." -Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

to my children...

"So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family." -Haniel Long

and, of course, to my husband...

" Loving is not just looking at each other, it's looking in the same direction." -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"The most beautiful view is the one I share with you." -Author Unknown

"Many are the starrs I see, but in my eye no starr like thee." -English saying used on poesy rings

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Extension of a Man's Hand

"A tool is but the extension of a man's hand, and a machine is but a complex tool. And he that invents a machine augments the power of a man and the well-being of mankind." -Henry Ward Beecher

English teacher Patrick Welsh has written a controversial editorial for the Washington Post which blames low staff morale and wasted class time on, of all things, too many "gizmos." The offending gadgets are LCD projectors, "exotic computer gadgets" (hand-held computers) and similar technology tools: items that most school districts would dearly love to possess.

Welsh bemoans the banishment of overhead projectors and suggests that the portable school pads are used solely by teachers who are "too lazy to write on the board." He assumes that Internet access is problematic and students are so bored that they play endless games on the laptops their district provides.

There is no simple answer to the issues that seem to be afflicting T.C. Williams High School. But there are a number of questions that might be raised:
  • what professional development was provided for staff members in preparation for moving into such a high-tech facility?
  • is there adequate technology support for hardware, software, and network issues?
  • do teachers have access to an educational technologist who will help them integrate technology into their curriculum?
  • are students so bored & disconnected because of network & filtering issues, because of poorly constructed lesson plans, or due to lack of necessary computer skills?
Tools change but the need to facilitate learning remains constant. It is possible to educate students without high-tech "gizmos" but when they are available, it is foolish and irresponsible not to utilize them.

Why don't the administration, faculty, and students in Alexandria realize this?

"We might hypothetically possess ourselves of every technological resource on the North American continent, but as long as our language is inadequate, our vision remains formless, our thinking and feeling are still running in the old cycles, our process may be revolutionary but not transformative." -Adrienne Rich

"Workbench" by russell.bride

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Electrifying Sign Language of Images

"Criticism has hugely overestimated the centrality of language to western culture. It has failed to see the electrifying sign language of images." -Camille Paglia

As a visual learner, I've always valued the clarity and immediacy of images. Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 Rule makes great sense to me:
“A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.”
Today I attended a workshop conducted by a very knowledgeable retired school superintendent. The audience, composed of administrators, teachers, and librarians, was pre-disposed to like this gentleman. The information he shared with us was valuable and timely. He used an overhead projector to share text, statements, and quotations. We were given a set of questions to answer, but there was little interaction, except for a few polite questions. Everyone learned a lot, but it seemed like a very long day and participants did not linger after filling out mandatory evaluation sheets.

It didn't have to be that way. A key topic the presenter discussed was having high school students complete culminating projects as a graduation requirement. One anecdote was about a boy who decided to build a boat. The story was interesting, but a vital element was missing: photographs of the student, the process, the finished vessel.

Another senior learned how to skydive. He took lessons at a local airfield, kept a detailed journal, and perform an actual jump in front of the project judges. Again, this was the perfect opportunity for a picture or even a video clip, but all we got were words.

Inspired by the "design evangelism" of Dan Meyer and Scott McLeod, English teacher Damian Bariexca transformed an informative but text heavy slideshow on medieval anti-Semitism into a stunning visual representation that is sure to draw students' attention.

French photographer Robert Doisneau said that
"Nowadays people's visual imagination is so much more sophisticated, so much more developed, particularly in young people, that now you can make an image which just slightly suggests something, they can make of it what they will."
and author/producer Peter Russell adds
"Information is recorded in vast interconnecting networks. Each idea or image has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of associations and is connected to numerous other points in the mental network."
By providing images to spark connections, we can extend and deepen understanding. We can create memorable pictures that linger in the mind long after a presentation is over.

“For such an advanced civilization as ours to be without images that are adequate to it is as serious a defect as being without memory.” -Werner Herzog

"medal for meddling" by gilesbooth
"kit parts" by dwstucke
"interior coated with epoxy" by dwstucke
"Skydiving 006" by wonderjunkie

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Science Fictional Way of Thinking

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.... This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.” -Isaac Asimov

In her blog, Musings - Just Learning, Sharon Peters commented:
"These are exciting times for educators. Never before have we had so many resources and applications available to us that are often free, easy to access and, most importantly, easy to use."

Her words both inspire and frustrate me.

Through my Google Reader and Twitterverse, I'm well aware of the powerful tools that are available to enhance learning. Clay Burell challenges his students at the 1:1 (one laptop per child) Korean International School to push their creative limits through innovative online projects. Across the world, in Texas, Carolyn Foote is encouraging students to explore new ways of manipulating and creating content with the information they gather. Mr. Mayo has "Exploded the Walls" of his classroom, using wikis, blogs, and videos to create a number of collaborative global projects.

Sometimes it is teachers' reluctance to embrace new technologies that impedes progress. Jen Wagner has been taking a "baby steps" approach as she introduces staff members to the wonders and possibilities of technology-enriched curriculum. New Jersey Tech Teacher, Ann Oro, acquaints new teachers with the "world of Internet collaboration." Her survey of class participants revealed that, although most had home computers with internet connections, the majority of the time they spent online was devoted to shopping or listening to music. Many had either "never heard of" or "heard of but never used" key tools like blogs, wikis, RSS Readers, social bookmarks and microblogging.

Clay and Carolyn, Jen and Ann, operate under the assumption that the tools they promote will be available to staff and students during the school day. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Joyce Valenza expresses frustration with
"arbitrary filtering of sites and tools, and then, specifically the national focus on AYP that moves so many educators away from what we know, and what experts and researchers tell us, good teaching looks like."
Pamela Carr cited lack of administrative support as one reason why her proposed technology workshops were rejected by a Faculty Council. She concludes by commenting:
"I can work night and day to educate the staff here about great ways to incorporate technology tools in their curriculum, but until I have like minded administrators, nothing will change."
When he requested suggestions for a column aimed at superintendents, Scott McLeod asked "What I should write about? What do you think superintendents need to know about technology?" Suggestions ranged from "update hardware more often" to "provide more and better professional development opportunities" to "model technology use yourself."

We are given a different perspective by the most involved stakeholder: a student. Teen-aged blogger Arthus advocates forming a "change alliance" between students and allies, who might be fellow students or teachers (or community members, parents, or Board of Education members - or even legislators?). Forming alliances, he feels, offers the potential to substantially increase influence and advocate for change. Arthus believes in "how very possible a meaningful and technological education is" and is willing to work to realize his vision.

Arthus was inspired by a conference at the SLA (Science Leadership Academy). There innovative principal Chris Lehmann has created a dynamic learning environment where the "core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes."

Quality of education should not depend on location or demographics. All of our children should have access to the tools and curriculum necessary for success. To achieve this, we need leaders on all levels who give evidence of a "science fictional way of thinking." It's not enough to react anymore. It's necessary to seek, to learn, to adjust, to innovate. Arthus deserves his "meaningful and technological education" just as much as the students in Philadelphia or Texas - or Korea - do. How can we make this happen?

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
-Eric Hoffer

“Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two.” -
Octavio Paz

"Bonkers Electroluminescent Clock" by zimpenfish

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Once Upon a Time Lasts Forever

"Joyous Space" by Orin Optiglot

“‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.” -Philip Pullman
(1996 Carnegie Medal acceptance speech)

Even though school has been in session now for more than 5 months, some of our youngest students are still finding it difficult to settle down in one spot and focus on a story. The colorful cushions we purchased to carve out a dedicated area for reading time have not been an unqualified success. There are moments when I feel like I'm trying to manage a wiggling tangle of puppies!

Yesterday, I decided to share with my younger grades a beautifully illustrated version of a classic fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. For contrast, I grabbed a shabby old copy by another author. The pictures in the second book were clumsy, at best, but they clearly showed all the basic elements of the story: characters, setting, plot, etc.

For all the glory of the new book, the students were most captivated by the older version, not because of any virtues of the volume itself, but because I used different voices and gestures to "tell" rather than "read" the story. Some of the children obviously had heard the tale before, but not all of them. They didn't care that my narrative had a few bumpy spots: for the length of that re-telling, the entire class was engaged, quiet, and as good as gold.

What lessons did I learn from my totally unanticipated success?
  • determine what your audience responds to and utilize it
  • don't assume that "new and improved" is necessarily better
  • children haven't changed and storytelling as an art retains its magic
  • step back from technology for a bit and remember the power of traditional "tools"
I'll be dusting off my flannelboard and browsing our collection for old favorites. The little ones have taught me well.

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” -Eudora Welty

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Growing Up Online: The Province of Teenagers

"The Internet and the digital world was something that belonged to adults, and now it's something that really is the province of teenagers. " - C.J. Pascoe, University of California, Berkeley's Digital Youth Research project.

Kim Cofino, Sean Sharp and others have done reflective posts about the PBS Presentation, "Growing Up Online". I finally had the chance to watch the program today and would like to share a few observations.

The Child Predator Fear is what haunts parents, yet a Department of Justice study seems to indicate that most solicitations that occur online are mild and quickly deleted by minor children. As Danah Boyd points out, teens in particular are more likely to indulge in risky behavior offline rather than through the Internet.

Who's in Charge Here? The program begins by mentioning that 90% of the teens in the spotlighted city of Morris City, NJ are online. There are glimpses of two computer-themed parties, with no adults in sight. Boys as young as 7 years old are shown accessing the Internet without direct supervision. One teen discusses how he switches to Brittanica online whenever he detects his parents' monitoring program and jokes about his mom's inability to use modern technology. A concerned parent places the family computer in the kitchen and is still unable to observe exactly what her son is doing.

Each of the preceding points would seem to indicate that:
  • parents need to understand technology to comprehend the dangers and possibilities it offers
  • schools should educate parents, as well as students, in cyber safety
  • filters are not the solution to keeping our children safe online
The Revolution in Classrooms must include more than cool tools. That earnest teacher who insists that children have to be "entertained" is wrong: students need to be engaged learners, not a passive audience. His statement that we should "accept plagiarism as reality" ignores the fact that a well-designed assignment, which requires critical thinking skills, cannot be copied. Rather than give up because she is not technologically adept, the English teacher needs to take charge of her own professional development and learn what she needs to know in order to be an effective 21st century educator.

Cyberbullying is a real and present danger. Teenage girls describe how online trash talking escalated into a physical confrontation at school (as one ruefully reflects, the fight is posted on YouTube and now "my college is going to see it"). An anguished father traces the path to suicide followed by his 15-year-old son. Although the teen was able to confront and overcome face to face bullies, cyberbullying left him no safe haven. He corresponded online with another victim and eventually took his own life. As the program points out, the computer and Internet didn't cause the young man's suicide but amplified his pain until he felt he had no other options.

Parry Aftab, Internet security expert and executive director of, warns that the Internet can function as a new weapon for bullies. She emphasizes the need to teach children "good manners online" so that they can learn how to live safely in the new society they now inhabit.

Trying on New Identities has always been part of the process of maturing. The difference for today's teens is that their experimentations are now displayed and stored online for a much wider audience than their real life circle of friends.

It's My Life. Throughout the program, teenagers are adamant about boundaries: they value their privacy and do not want parents invading what they consider their personal online space. One girl said she'd rather not use a computer at all in her home if it meant she would have to give parents access to her accounts.

FRONTLINE asks, "Just how radically is the Internet transforming the experience of childhood?" My response is that our students have become vulnerable in new ways. It's our responsibility as educators to work in partnership with parents to teach children and adolescents how to safely navigate the Internet. That's the only real protection they will have.

"ST/BORF" by ND. The Wonder Boy.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Passing Notes in Class: Rude or Required?

"What once were vices are manners now."Seneca

When I was a girl...passing notes or whispering while an instructor spoke was considered not only rude but also disrespectful. These days, such activity is encouraged, at least at many edtech conferences and workshops.

Of course, the best gatherings tend to eschew the terms "teacher" or "instructor" in favor of the more interactive/collaborative "facilitator" or even "co-learner".

The modern equivalent of note-passing might be backchanneling.

This term has wildly varying definitions. Merriam-Webster dates it to 1975: "a secret, unofficial, or irregular means of communication". Since the backchanneling I've observed is hardly secret and often quasi-official, other explanations seem in order.

Wikipedia supplies a number of variations. In telecommunications, backchannel "is typically a low-speed, or less-than-optimal, transmission channel in the opposite direction to the main channel." In business and medicine, it represents "inappropriate organizational practice that involves bypassing recognized or official communication processes." The linguistics version of backchanneling consists of "giving positive comments, such as 'uh-huh' or 'yes' to the other speaker, to encourage further talk or to confirm that one is listening."

But the definition which comes closest to what I've observed is the diplomacy model, "an unofficial channel of communication between states or other political entities used to supplement official channels."

At the recent EduCon, workshop leaders actively solicited input from both real life and virtual attendees. Participants could DM comments and questions (via Twitter), or take part in a backchannel chat set up on the conference site. This method of interaction required that someone monitor incoming messages and relay them to the speaker. Presenters frequently answered queries, clarified points or introduced new discussion threads based on the backchannel conversations. This interactivity served to enhance the experience rather than detract from it.

Backchannel still presents a few problems for me. I find myself unable to equitably divide my attention: either I engage in the chat or focus on the presenter. Competing text, images, and sound are also a challenge. Often, I make a conscious decision to follow the backchannel in real time, then go back to view the UStream of the session (which is usually, though not always, available later) without distraction.

A less frequently mentioned application of backchannel is as an alternative activity when one is forced to endure an uninspiring or irrelevant lecture [which is probably why we passed notes or whispered in class back in the olden days].

I'm beginning to understand the promise of backchannel. So my answer to
DinaE @dmcordell @techicebreaker @garageflowers ok-- now the moral question: is backchanneling rude? or useless? :) :)
is that backchanneling can be both mannerly and useful, depending on when and how it's employed.

To paraphrase John Holt,
"No use to shout at them to pay attention. If the situations, the materials, the problems before the group do not interest them, their attention will slip off to what does interest them, and no amount of exhortation of threats will bring it back."

"Passing Notes" by parislemon

The Infinite Variety of Agatized Dino Bone

Photo mosaic by oldbones

“The dinosaurs disappeared because they could not adapt to their changing environment. We shall disappear if we cannot adapt to an environment that now contains spaceships, computers — and thermonuclear weapons.”
Arthur C. Clarke

“It might be said that the human race is incapable of withstanding the drastic changes that are taking place in today’s world. For those changes have been so terrible, so far-reaching and, above all, so swift that they make those that caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs pale into insignificance. Man has not had time to adopt to the sudden and powerful changes that his technology and society have produced around him, and it might safely be said that many of today’s illnesses are the means used by the cosmos to eliminate this proud human race. Man is the only animal to have created his own environment. Ironically, he is also the only one to have thus created his own means of self-destruction.” -Ernesto Sábato

“What if...
You opened a book
About dinosaurs
And one stumbled out
And another and another
And more and more pour
Until the whole place
Is bumbling and rumbling
And groaning and moaning
And snoring and roaring
And dinosauring?

What if...
You tried to push them
Back inside
But, they kept tromping
Off the pages instead?
Would you close the covers?”
-Isabel Joshlin Glaser

"He who refuses to learn deserves extinction." -Rabbi Hillel

A Barge Made of Ice

"If you're on thin ice, you might as well dance." –Unknown

For the second time this week, my school district has closed because of icy roads and unsafe weather conditions. So before the power lines come down and my computer winks off, I'd like to share a few random thoughts inspired by ice.

"When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty." -Samuel Ullman

Lifelong learning is a necessary choice in the 21st century, where technology, education, business, and society are in a constant state of flux. New tools offer the unexpected option to interact as an equal with virtual colleagues from all demographics without encountering prejudgment based on age or appearance. Only the vigor of your words reflects your "age".

Last night Carolyn Foote, Clay Burell, and I exchanged lines from favorite poems via Twitter. Scott Schwister has invented a new poetic form, Twitku, to fit the compressed yet eloquent Twitter format.

Long before any of us were born, Samuel Ullman retired from a successful business career and reflected on a lifetime of fearless activism in his poem, "Youth". An early 20th century man with a 21st century mindset, Ullman inspired both General Douglas MacArthur, during WWII, and the Japanese citizens struggling to rebuild their lives and country after that same war:
"Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart a love of wonder;
the sweet amazement at the stars and starlike things and thoughts;
the undaunted challenge of events,
the unfailing childlike appetite for what comes next,
and the joy in the game of life.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt;
as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear,
as young as your hope, as old as your despair."

"When I go out on the ice, I just think about my skating. I forget it is a competition."
Katarina Witt

Although the drive to succeed is often a powerful motivator, the collaborative spirit is a vital component of the new millennium. A teacher in Maryland can set up an online resource for teachers, be actively promoted by a virtual colleague in another state and gather contributers from around the world. Information is freely shared, credit is given where due, and everyone benefits. A successful workshop or conference conducted by one member of the community is praised and endorsed by all. New voices are encouraged, invited to step into, even usurp, the spotlight. Everyone shares, everyone benefits. We are focused on the "ice" (educational outcome) rather than the competition.

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate -- that's my philosophy." -Thornton Wilder

Ice in its domesticated incarnation is ice cream. While it's impossible to live entirel
y in the moment, an occasional stop to smell the roses, or eat the ice cream, is not only permissable but mandatory for good mental health.

So today I will do a little work, enjoy some "fun books", catch up on Reader and Twitter, and eat some ice cream.

“We are afloat
On our dreams as on a barge made of ice,
Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight
That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams
As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.” -John Ashbery

"c-c-c-chilly" by time stands still