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, François 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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What our eyes behold

"What our eyes behold may well be the text of life but one’s meditations on the text and the disclosures of these meditations are no less a part of the structure of reality." -Wallace Stevens

Tracings on a rock wall: ammonites,
swimmers in a lost ocean.
Unexpected beauty
bursting from a stony canvas.
Art for those with eyes to see.

"I have eyes to see now what I have never seen before." -Written in the late 1870s by a correspondence student of Ellen H. Richards. The student was learning through the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, which had been founded in 1873.

See other ammonites on my Flickr set, Fossils

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Float Like a Butterfly

"A million butterflies rose up from South America, All together, and flew in a gold storm toward Spain..."
-Winfield Townley Scott

One of our second grade teachers asked me to find some internet resources for an instructional unit on Monarch Butterflies.

It's the type of request that I love, a first step on the path to collaborative projects, or so I hope. At any rate, I'm happy to share some of the sites that I discovered, for anyone who is interested.

Life Cycle of a Butterfly (WebQuest)

Butterflies & Bugs
(online activities)

Butterflies North (Canada) and South (Peru)

The Children's Butterfly Site (Montana State University)

Online Guide to Butterflies

Butterfly Habitats (the Field Museum, Chicago)

Discovering Butterflies (WebQuest)

Journey North: Monarch Migration
(with updated maps)

Zoom Butterfly
(interactive online activity)

Butterfly and Moth Printouts (Enchanted Learning)

Where Do Butterflies Come From? (craft project)

Monarch Butterfly Thematic Resource Unit

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." -Richard Buckminster Fuller

"Just like the butterfly, I too will awaken in my own time." -Deborah Chaskin

"Monarch" by jenn_jenn

Monday, September 15, 2008

Promises to Keep

While visiting my Dad during his last illness, I happened to mention that one of my favorite desserts was "invented" in a local hotel but I had not yet gotten there to sample their version. He made me promise that I'd visit the establishment and indulge in a special treat. "Don't miss opportunities," he said, "or you'll regret it."

That was five years ago.

Last year, my daughter got married and asked me to stand beside her, as her "Mom of Honor." As a thank you gift, she presented me with a beautifully decorated box containing a hand-made (by her) necklace, a book of wildflowers, and a gift certificate to the Cambridge Hotel.

On Saturday, my husband and I traveled to Cambridge for lunch. I enjoyed my apple pie a la mode, and as I ate it, I remembered my father's advice and my daughter's love.

Sweet, indeed.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Tie That Binds

“One can be a brother only in something. Where there is no tie that binds men, men are not united but merely lined up.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Over the last year or so, I have constructed an amazingly diverse network of online acquaintances, colleagues and friends.

We have shared doubts, frustrations, fears and hopes about our professional and personal lives.

Via messages on Twitter and Plurk, we've learned of occasions both joyful (promotions, graduations, marriages, pregnancies) and sorrowful (unemployment, natural disaster, death).

Last night, people investigated what seemed like a cry for help, not resting until it was determined that a curious child had accidentally hit an emergency button on a cellphone.

This morning, my daughter sent me the link to a New York Times article about a blogger who was seriously injured in a plane crash. Her virtual friends have rallied to raise funds for a woman who entertained and inspired them, not because she is "perfect" but because "she chose to focus on the beauty" in life.

Social networking is a powerful tool. Think of how you use it to expand and enrich your life. Could you ever be comfortable walking away from this tie that binds?

"Circle of Friends" by Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha

Saturday, September 6, 2008


“There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.” - Pablo Picasso

I met an old friend today, an avid collector of cameras, magic lanterns, zoetropes, and other antique devices. After laughing about our different perspectives on technology, I offered to share some sites that might help him add interest to the presentations he gives at local schools and colleges.

If anyone would like to add to this list, I'm sure that he would be grateful - as would all of us who labor to escape the bulleted agonies of death by PowerPoint.

Death by PowerPoint - and how to avoid it (Kapterev)

Avoiding Death by PowerPoint (Kapp)

10-20-30 Presentation Rule

Pecha Kucha (Baron)

PowerPoint Reform: a first chapter

Sweet stuff about PowerPoint (O’Connell)

PowerPoint: Do No Harm (Meyer)

Helpful tips for PowerPoint authors (Fryer)

The Presentation File != The Presentation (and 3D Foolishness)

"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

"mmlog" by fdecomite

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Classroom Rules Part 2

In a previous posting, I previewed a SlideShare presentation that I had assembled for my Current Events class.

Today, students watched the show and wrote down the classroom rules that they thought I was trying to convey. Their often creative interpretations reminded me that what is "obvious" to an adult might suggest a totally different meaning to a teen.

Image #1My rule: Pay attention
Their take:
Pay attention
Listen to others when they are speaking
Don't speak out of turn

Image #2
My rule: Respect your teacher
Their take:
Listen to the teacher
No yelling - pay attention
Be nice
Be respectful
This is a good class
Listen, raise your hand, pay attention
Be quiet and pay attention
Follow the rules

Image #3
My rule: Respect your school/classroom
Their take:
Don't make messes
Keep class clean
Clean up
Don't litter

Image #4
My rule: Contribute to group work - collaborate
Their take:
Work together
Help each other

Image #5
My rule: Bullying will not be tolerated
Their take:
Don't ridicule others
Be caring
Don't pick on people
Don't laugh at others
People you are mean to are like you

Image #6
My rule: Be on time for class
Their take:
Use time wisely
Don't be late
Buy a watch
Don't waste time
Time is in your hands

Image #7
My rule: Come with the tools you need to work
Their take:
Come prepared
Have utensils
Be prepared - bring materials
Have pens or pencil

Image #8
My rule: Complete your work
Their take:
Finish all work
Work hard
Get your work done
Don't cheat
Don't copy work
No note passing

Image #9
My rule: Respect yourself (by doing your best)
Their take:
Be nice
Peacocks are beautiful (Beauty is feather deep)
Be beautiful
Stand out in a good way
Stand up, look beautiful
Express yourself

Image #10
My rule: Have fun
Their take:
Keep clean
Enjoy yourself
Have fun and be clean
Clean up
Be sure to bathe

Which of their responses caught your eye or made you think?

All image citations found on Slide 12

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Seekers

In 1968, I spent an unforgettable summer studying at Oxford. It was the first time I had ever traveled to Europe, and I made the most of it: attending classes at the University, hopping the train to London for shopping, galleries & the theater, exploring Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges, Cologne, Trier. It was quite an adventure for a relatively sheltered, small town girl.

Our seminar was entitled "Uses of Imagery" and it included lectures on 17th and 18th century English Verse and an in-depth study of King Lear. We were registered as temporary readers at the Bodleian Library and had tutorials with our course instructors.

While cleaning out a storage loft this weekend, I discovered my notebook, still legible after 40 years. What caught my eye was not the pages of neatly written lecture summaries, but rather the poem I had composed to describe my fellow students. Where they are now, I wonder, and how have their lives played out?

The Seekers


Memories of Indiana
Served with tea and scones.
Upon arrival home - Chicago


Roman ruins
And Wren churches
But not people


Of the secret rebellion:
"You are not our dream."


Plantation daughter
Charmingly ignorant
Amazed by the existence
Of other traditions


The future teacher
Awaits a chance
To remember.


The world through
A wine bottle


Could not ease
The pain
Of questions
Left unanswered


Can money
Buy understanding?


Some desire darkness
And in
Not being tragic,

I wonder what they wrote about me?

"Oxford panorama" by Olly Boyo

Classroom Rules

Item: Like many educators/business people I'm bored and turned off by "traditional" PowerPoint.

Item: My students love making PowerPoint presentations and feel comfortable with this tool.

Item: Staff members are expected to discuss classroom rules at the beginning of the new school year.

Solution: I'll try to show students a different way of conveying information by creating a virtually text-free (except for the first and last slide) SlideShare show.

Classroom Rules
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

*I'll give you a few days to mull this over, then share my interpretation and that of my students.