Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back, Looking Forward

"New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights." -Hamilton Wright Mabie

During the past decade, we've had two college graduations (four, if you count our children's spouses), two weddings, two retirements, and a 35th anniversary. One very sad note was losing my dad to cancer. But he's still with us in so many ways.

In my professional life, I
  • transitioned from full-time employment to semi-retirement (I miss the students and my colleagues, but oh, the joy of a self-scripted schedule!)
  • went to my first NECC (San Antonio), AASL conference (Charlotte), and EduCon (Philadelphia)
  • began blogging, tweeting, plurking, and interacting on Facebook (as @dmcordell)
  • took my first online workshop and began a wonderful relationship with the CyberSmart! Education Company
  • met some of my PLN in Real Life (the connections were immediate and immensely satisfying)
  • discovered a new hobby/passion in photography

I have high expectations for 2010 and wish all of you a very Happy New Year!

Looking Back, Looking Forward created on Animoto

"cinderella" by twenty_questions

Monday, December 28, 2009

O Selfless Saviors

#567; O Selfless Saviors

I bookmarked this cartoon in November, then became sidetracked by other things and never got around to the posting I had envisioned.

Since 1983, Joel Best has been tracking reports and complaints about contaminated candies given to trick-or-treaters. Best, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, assures concerned parents that "Tainted Halloween candy is a contemporary legend, spread by word of mouth, with little to support it."

Why bring this up in December, long after costumes have been packed away and pumpkins relegated to the trash heap?

While Halloween is a once-a-year occurrence, children and teens can access the Internet daily. Alarmed by news reports of online predators, unsure of how to navigate an unfamiliar digital landscape, parents and, in many cases, school districts, turn to heavy filtering as a protective measure for students.

What do adults fear? In the Final Report: Friendship section of the Digital Youth Project, lead author danah boyd spells it out:

"The same 'stranger danger' rhetoric and 'terror talk' that limit youth from interacting with strangers in unmediated public spaces (Levine 2002; Valentine 2004) have also taken hold online. There are school assemblies dedicated to online dangers, primarily the possibility of sexual predators. Mainstream media, law enforcement, teachers, and parents reinforce the message that interacting with strangers online is risky. While the percentage of teens who have experienced unwanted sexual solicitations has declined through the years (Wolak, Mitchell, and Finkelhor 2006), the fear that youth—and especially girls—are at risk has increased (Cassell and Cramer 2007; Marwick 2008). At a deeper level, the public myths about online 'predators' do not reflect the actual realities of sexual solicitation and risky online behavior (Wolak et al. 2008). Not only do unfounded fears limit teenagers unnecessarily, they also obscure preventable problematic behavior (Valentine 2004)."

To some, the solution rests, ironically, in reliance on technology.

Enhancing Child Safety (released by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States) has this to say regarding filtering and monitoring software:

"The Task Force remains optimistic about the development of technologies to enhance protections for minors online and to support institutions and individuals involved in protecting minors, but cautions against overreliance on technology in isolation or on a single technological approach. Technology can play a helpful role, but there is no one technological solution or specific combination of technological solutions to the problem of online safety for minors. Instead, a combination of technologies, in concert with parental oversight, education, social services, law enforcement, and sound policies by social network sites and service providers may assist in addressing specific problems that minors face online. All stakeholders must continue to work in a cooperative and collaborative manner, sharing information and ideas to achieve the common goal of making the Internet as safe as possible for minors." -Final Report, Executive Summary

Rather than "paranoia-inducing hypervigilance," our children need instruction, guided practice, supervision, and open lines of communication when engaging in online activities.

"After all, children are our future," and technology is part of their future.

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

Related posts:

Al Upton & Jabiz Raisdana:
A Heavy Armor (March 14, 2008)
Listen (March 20, 2008)
A Confederacy of Dunces (March 27, 2008)
Spindles (April 5, 2008)

Filtering & censorship:
A Question of Censorship (October 3, 2007)
Only Those Places (January 18, 2008)
Unsuited to Age Group (February 17, 2008)
The Loftiest of Cowardice (September 27, 2009)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Old Friends

"The first time I read an excellent work, it is to me just as if I gained a new friend;
and when I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting of an old one." -Sir James Goldsmith

A few years ago, I proctored a New York State English exam that incorporated the text of Richard Wilbur's The Reader in one of the questions.

In this poem, Wilbur describes the experiences of a young woman who is "going back, these days, to the great stories That charmed her younger mind"

She sees their first and final selves at once,
As a god might to whom all time is now...
But the true wonder of it is that she,
For all that she may know of consequences,
Still turns enchanted to the next bright page
Like some Natasha in the ballroom door—
Caught in the flow of things wherever bound,
The blind delight of being, ready still
To enter life on life and see them through.

During this holiday season, enjoy your new books, but also take the time to revisit some old favorites. Read them with fresh eyes, share them with others. While searching for meaning, you are searching for self.

"A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age,
as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight." -Robertson Davies

"I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves." -E. M. Forster

"What's a book? Everything or nothing. The eye that sees it all." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Reading Giovanni Battista Niccolini, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)" by takomabibelot

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Holiday greetings from our family to you and your loved ones!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lessons Learned on a Winter Walk

There is a small park, not far from our home, where I love to wander with my camera.

In the summer, there are people strolling, eating lunch, reading, walking their dogs, fishing, and supervising children at play.

Today, I had the park to myself.

These are some of the thoughts I had, while enjoying a peaceful break from holiday preparations:

It's sometimes easier to strike out on a new path than to follow an old one.

Everything that passed this way has left a mark, although these signs can be difficult to interpret.

Still water freezes into static sheets; where there's a running stream, the ice dances on, and interacts with, the water.

With so much of the color gone from the landscape, it is easier to find beauty in unexpected places.

Each season carries within it the seed of the next.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." -John Muir

See other photos at Winter Walk at Hovey Pond Park

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Holiday Reading

Inspired by a Tweet from Leslie Edwards, Cathy Nelson blogged her holiday reading list.

As a (sort of) retired lady, I'm not under the time constraints faced by working teacher-librarians. I can, and do, read as the mood strikes me. Since I access and process so much information daily via the internet, my recreational reading tends to be fiction.

In addition to a little holiday book collection that I revisit each year,

I have in my stack:

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Death narrates this tale of Liesel Meminger, a child who learns to steal books because she finds comfort in words during the horrors of World War II.

Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

Despite her untimely death, Bibi Chen "joins" her friends on a trip to China and Burma.

The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith

In addition to the popular No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency stories, Smith is the author of this series featuring Scottish philosopher (and sometimes detective) Isabel Dalhousie.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Rumor has it that Santa is going to bring me this steampunk adventure set in an alternative world on the cusp of WWI.

Anyone else care to share their stack?

"To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful,
ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry." -Gaston Bachelard

"Christmas Books" by dmcordell

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cameras and Carrots

"Learning is not a spectator sport." - Anonymous

Today in my Google Reader, I found a number of thought-provoking posts. Among them were two written by Teacher Librarians who never fail to inspire and motive me, virtual colleagues and real-life friends.

In If you give a kid a camera..., Joyce Valenza uses author Laura Numeroff's popular series of picture books as the template for a discussion of how to nurture student creativity by providing access to storytelling tools.

Buffy Hamilton reflects On Carrot Dangling and Collaboration, as she advocates for a more integrated library/classroom program.

Joyce's tech toys serve the same purpose as Buffy's carrots: they draw learners into the library. Not the library as "place," but the library as information hub, creative workshop, collaborative staging area. The library with or without walls, the librarian as facilitator and guide for students, teachers, administrators.

Cameras and carrots, creating and collaborating.

"SDC13063 copy" by hideyourarms/bigguybigcity/3367397250/

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Alice Project

"This experience truly was a growing process and the deeper I went, the harder it was, but the more I learned." -Sylvia Atsaves

Teacher Christian Long "challenged 57 students to analyze Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — via their copies of The Annotated Alice — by publishing their questions & reflections in real-time on a very global scale. All student progress was transparently shared with anyone who visited project blogs."

The Alice Project site spells out the specifics of this assignment - vision, expectations, rules and grading - and provids links to the student blogs. More than 35 educators, from around the world, volunteered to be the "jurors" who would evaluate contributions.

Although not officially involved in the Alice Project, I read and responded to some of the blogs and followed Christian's comments about the undertaking on Twitter.

Here are just a few of the bloggers' comments and insights:

Alex C.
"Oh whoa, this is what blogging feels like. This is so exciting."
"I have read a book that I have never read before. It surprised, intrigued, and confused me."

Hagen F.
"Society keeps us in check, but fear drives us to push away the new, odd ideas. Alice herself rejects the smoking caterpillar because she does not know about him. The caterpillar is odd and unknown, and in a different way, she is afraid of him."

Erin M.
"The whole point of Alice’s Adventure is to discover who she is. Often as human being we struggle with our own identity because of the pressure to live up to other peoples standards. Alice did not know who she was."

Miles W.
"The final instance of Alice growing was in jury room. This was another growth, but there was something different about this one… Alice grew this time, but it was because she grew as a person too. Alice saw how irrational everyone in the courtroom was being and challenged them. She rose up (literally) to defeat the irrationality. By beating the King and Queen’s stupid rules and beliefs she became a stronger person."

Jenna K.
"I want to say that the March Hare and Mad Hatter are crazy, because that is what Carroll wants us to believe. But at the same time I want to say that they are not crazy, they just have a different mind-set than the rest of us. I mean what is so crazy about having a watch that only gives the day, and not the hour? That’s just like a calendar if you think about it."

Scott M.
"And what has Alice taken from all this? We don’t know. All we see is her get up and run off to go get tea. Did she learn from it? Does she have more dreams like this one? Does she mature from her experiences?"

Still not convinced of the value of the Alice Project? I'm including Brendon O-L's most recent posting, in its entirety. After reading this, take a moment to reflect on what learning could and should be like for ALL of our students.

Today is the ‘official’ end to the Alice Project, but let’s face it this is not the end. This blog will continue on. All our thoughts and analysis about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are here for everyone to see. No one knows who will stumble upon this site in the future.

This was a very enjoyable experience that I will remember for years to come. We did more than anyone could imagine. We learned with little guidance from our teacher, Mr. Long. We posed our own questions and thought about them ourselves.

We fell down the rabbit hole and chased whatever rabbits we found. We were left to fend for ourselves over the course of this project. We learned how technology can be used to assist us in more ways than one. We learned to write alone and learned the value of feedback.

We found out what happens on the ‘twelfth day’ of school. We start teaching the teacher. We became independent minds with our own voice. Our minds were unleashed upon the wacky world called Wonderland. We were just as helpless as Alice when she first fell down the rabbit hole.

Eventually, we gained confidence and worked til we were at the point that we are at today. We met some wacky characters (aka our classmates) and even got into some intellectual arguments just as Alice did with Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, and the Queen.

This is more heartbreaking than you will ever know, but this is only the beginning.

Who knows what else we can do?

Original woodcuts by Sir John Tenniel. Public domain in the U.S.A.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I inserted myself into a very interesting conversation today on Twitter, drawn like a moth to the flame by this remark from @budtheteacher:

"Smackdowns" as tool showcases strike me as silly and odd. Am I the only person who feels that way?

Our conversation proceeded in this fashion:

@budtheteacher Is it the name or the concept that you don't like?

@dmcordell Both. The frenzy for tool oneupsmanship is troublesome, as is the idea of the smacking. Mostly the smacking, though.

@budtheteacher Well, it's really more like smacking cards down on the table. Offers a quick intro to sites, generates interest in tech.

@dmcordell Tool frenzy. Is that a good thing?

@budtheteacher I think of it more as raising awareness or suggesting possibilities.

@dmcordell - @budtheteacher Can't we redefine and repurpose words?

@dmcordell Of course. But I don't think the term is being repurposed. These things are generally competitive and they have winners.

@budtheteacher My experience is limited to the Joyce Valenza/Geek Squad SmackDowns. Everyone is a winner there, especially the audience.

And that's where the discussion ended, at least for now. From Bud's comments, I realized that we were talking about two different types of events. The only SmackDowns I've witnessed were chaired by Joyce Valenza, most recently at the AASL Rev Up Learning conference:

2.0 Learning Tools Smackdown

This interactive, energetic, sharing session will highlight the best new tools in a variety of categories. Members of a panel will share their top picks and invite audience members to contribute by coming to a central microphone. All ideas generated will be added to a session wiki and shared with the community.

Joyce Valenza, Librarian, Springfield Township HS Library, Rydal, PA
Robin Williams, Sun Microsystems

By and large, Teacher Librarians tend to emphasize gathering, sharing, and nurturing. Bud may have had a very different smack down experience, but when Joyce and the Geek Squad are facilitating, the only thing that gets "smacked" is ignorance.

Maybe we should rechristen these sessions Un-Smack downs!

"Someone here is losing..." by happyskrappy

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


“Wine is bottled poetry.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

A recent cover photograph on School Library Journal has attracted a number of comments because it portrays a group of librarians...seated at a bar...raising their glasses in a toast...presumably drinking (gasp!) alcohol.

While I agree that educators should be good role models, I fail to see why adults consuming a legal beverage in moderation deserve censure.

One of the most pleasant evenings I spent in Charlotte, N.C. for the AASL convention involved a visit to a wine bar. Our small, congenial group shared some exceptional food and drink while getting to know one another better. No one overindulged, nothing embarrassing or unprofessional happened. We talked and laughed and, yes, sipped wine. Lunch at a local fast food restaurant - pizza, salads, and Coca Cola - was also fun, but relaxing in an adult setting with adult beverages was a special treat.

Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are photographed at elegant events where alcohol is being served. When the President of the United States hosts a formal dinner, wine and champagne are in evidence.

Please read some of the comments shared on the School Library Journal site and then decide for yourself: Are teachers and librarians being held to a higher standard? Should they be?

“Moderation is the silken string running through the pearl chain of all virtues.” -Joseph Hall

A glass of wine - Rauðvínstár" by Onzth
"State Dining Room" Wikimedia Commons