Thursday, February 24, 2011

Being Paperless Is Not Enough

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Your students turn in all of their work electronically. You grade everything on your Tablet PC. All of your lectures are supported by PowerPoints. You haven't been in the copy room in months. You are a completely paperless teacher.

So what?

As we've discussed on this blog since the very beginning, being paperless is not just a matter of using no paper. It's a matter of bringing the live and dynamic content of the world into your classroom in real time and connecting your student's voices to the conversation of the world.

It's not enough to be "paperless". You've got to be connected. The connection is the key.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Think Before You Post

By Steve Katz

I’m sure that many of you have already heard about Natalie Munroe, the Pennsylvania teacher who made some negative comments about here students on her personal blog. If not, I’ll give you some links so you can catch up on what has now become an international news story, and has Ms. Munroe preparing for a legal battle to be able to return to her job.

A few facts about the incident:

  • She says she was blogging for her friends & not a larger audience. (Seven people were following her blog.)
  • Her blog post that got her into trouble was posted over a year ago.
  • The posts in question did not name any students, and did not include her last name.
  • She has been suspended from her job.

There are a couple of points I’d like to make about what happened:

  • When you post something on the Internet it can be read by anyone with Internet access.
  • Even when content is removed from the Internet it is VERY likely that it has already been archived by Google and other search engines.
  • Regardless of what Munroe meant, people make their own interpretations.

What we can learn from this:

  • Regardless of whether or not this falls under free speech, Munroe’s is paying a high price for her comments.
  • Once you post something on the Internet you lose control of it.
  • What you post on the Internet probably won’t go away, even when you delete it.
  • Everything you do on the Internet contributes to your digital reputation.

Think before you post.


Munroe Defends Comments – CNN
ABC News Report
Munroe defends herself on her blog
Chris Lehmann’s Open Letter to Munroe – Make sure you read this.

According to The Style Manual...

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Just caught myself commenting on a student's blog to make sure to cite sources at the end of the post in APA format.

Which is fine. If it's APA format that I want the kid to learn.

But this is a blog post I'm grading. And so, I realize: oh, yeah... I'm using the internets!

And thus I amended my comment to read: "Please remember to link to your sources within your post".

Links make the Internet, well... the Internet. Links are the only thing that gives the Internet the right to be capitalized (well, that's my rationale; and, on a side note, the history of the capitalization of Internet is actually fairly interesting.)

And while as a history teacher, I'll continue to teach and expect the use of APA format and in-text citations in essays and research papers, when it comes to blog posts -- whether in the less formal ones or in totally straight-laced academic-tone posts -- I'm going to remember to teach linking as a fundamental part of writing.

Because you teach good networked writing by teaching the value of links... and the style that goes with it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coloring Books or Canvases?

by John T. Spencer

My son colored ten pages in his coloring book.  He improved in shading and in understanding the colors of shapes.  Beyond that, though, he didn't learn much.  It was a decent escape and a lot of fun, but it wasn't particularly creative.  Most of the deeper thinking had been manufactured in advance.

Yesterday he drew monsters: hairy monsters, angry monsters, lonely and misunderstood monsters.  Some had three eyes or four eyes and one had none eyes and had learned how to see by feeling the temperature of things around him.  The monsters had names and stories and occasionally a setting or two.  Mostly plot, though.  The monsters were actively engaged in creating and destroying and saving and losing.  Joel shifted from creative thought to analytical thought in a constant ebb and flow that simply doesn't happen on a coloring book.  

The monsters weren't as pretty as the coloring books.  I guess monsters aren't supposed to be pretty, so it's okay.  They were raw and honest and unfiltered.  The coloring book felt like Celine Dion.  The monsters felt like Iron and Wine.  

*       *       *
My friend Javi asked his class last year to brainstorm a list of social issues within the Maryvale community. Students began tracing their hands, drawing big bubbles and trying their best to remember how they were supposed to brainstorm.   A list would have worked well. What he didn't need was a bunch of hands or bunnies or boxes.  "They were recreating worksheets, John.  And that was the problem.  Teachers had heard about graphic organizers, so they started trying to find as many as possible and so many of them were simply worksheets.  Nothing that engages the learner in actually thinking.  The creative and critical thinking had been done for them."  

I'm not against graphic organizers.  However, the litmus test of a graphic organizer should be:
  • Does it provoke students to think deeper about the subject?
  • Does it enable students to organize their own thoughts without having to learn a new structure?
If the answer is no to either question, I won't use the graphic organizer in my class. 

Sometimes I think the most hyped-up technology seems to be a computerized version of a coloring book.   Xtranormal videos are neat, but sock puppet theater might actually provoke deeper thought.  Wordle has its place, but asking students to analyze word count on a spreadsheet might force them to be a little more analytical. Prezis can be pretty, but if there aren't the right inquiry questions, it simply becomes an online version of a poster board.  It's not that any of those tools are inherently bad.  However, they often fail to lead to learning, because the the program has already done the thinking for the students.  

Sometimes a shared document, a podcast, a from-scratch video (using cameras) might look a little less flashy, but they empower students to take ownership of their own learning.  Something as uncool as a spreadsheet can be powerful, because it reduces the time spent on rote skills and allows students to analyze data.  A concept map might not buzz and beep and talk to the students, but it mirrors the way we make mental connections. 

Ultimately, the question guiding all technology integration should be, "How does this change the way students think?"

If the organizing and creating are all prefabricated, it's a worksheet and a coloring book - sometimes a very slick version, but still a coloring book.  If, however, the medium allows students to think deeper about life than it's worth using.

John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink.  He recently finished two books, Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and Drawn Into Danger, a fictional memoir of a superhero. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We need more "junk" in the classroom

by Mike Kaechele

We have mid-winter break this weekend so my family went over to Detroit and visited the Henry Ford Museum. Although I have lived in Michigan my whole life somehow I had never been there before. It is a huge place that emphasizes American advances in technology. Much of the technology is of the transportation variety with large exhibits of planes, trains, and automobiles but they also show changes in farm equipment, homes, furniture, culture, and huge steam engines. The subject matter is vast from science and technology to civil rights, American history, architecture, culture, and art. The technology really tells the story of the culture and history of America and the world.

My kids enjoyed looking at the thousands of items, but their favorite parts by far were the interactive parts. They ran to climb into any exhibit that they could.
Listening and sitting in same bus seat as Rosa Parks

They generated electricity.

They loved making these simple crayon rubs of exhibits.

They even enjoyed playing in an empty shack representing George Washington Carver's childhood home. We  spent the longest time playing with K'Nex and drawing.

We built cars to go down bumpy ramps. After an hour we had to force the kids to go on to see the rest of the museum.

The temporary exhibit was on George Washington Carver. He was an amazing artist, philosopher, scientist, and educator. I was struck by how his holistic ideas of crop rotation and using natural remedies are just now being implemented and appreciated. He was a man before his time in so many aspects. His school was a working school that required students to be in the fields and woods exploring nature. They discovered by doing not by lectures in a classroom.

That is when it hit me. We don't need any new type of education. We need to use hands-on, problem-solving, student centered learning that has been around for over a hundred years. Museums are not divided by core subjects but are integrated by topics such as transportation or culture. Most of all, learning needs to be interactive. Reading good books counts as interactive too. Textbooks, not so much. The internet and online tools are just another development in hands-on learning.

Our classrooms should look more like museums with interesting things to touch, smell, taste, build, break, and play with. I think that is why students like science with aquariums filled with interesting creatures, birds nest, pine cones, etc. All classrooms should be filled with objects that cause students to ask what is this? What is it for? There is good pedagogy to be found in the design and items in a kindergarten classroom. That is why students love to use computers. They are hands-on too.

I have a few artifacts in my classroom that students are always interested in. I think I have a new goal to find some more. So what is the strangest thing that you have in your classroom to inspire curiosity?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

How Social Media Changed My Novel

what was once a solitary work became collective

I've written a few non-fiction teacher works before, but only recently did I take up the challenge of writing novel.  I'm in the editing phase now and I've noticed a few things about social media and this process.  These are a few random, scattered thoughts about how social media has changed what I had once seen as a solitary effort in writing a novel:

The Benefits
  1. Twitter has helped me learn to use language more sparingly.  Something about the brevity of the medium has pushed me away from meandering too far.  The bizarre thing is that I'm actually more astute at using better vocabulary, because Twitter is closer to poetry than prose. 
  2. I found my voice in writing blogs.  Something about the daily feedback from readers helped me figure out how to say what I want to say in a way that is distinctly me.  Fortunately for me, my blog has never been intensely popular and has grown slowly over the years, allowing me to take risks and experiment along the way.
  3. I have a built-in "audience" from my PLN (my blog and Twitter followers) who have a sense of what I will write before I put it on paper.   
  4. When I've needed advice on book covers, I've had an instant pool of comments and questions, if a few people in particular helping me to refine my ideas. 
  5. I've had help in writing my content.  For example, I posted the first three chapters and within one night I had six people offering feedback.  They all shared a similar perspective and honestly it saved my novel.  A few times I've actually tweeted a line from the book and watched the response.  The last line of the book was one such tweet. 
The Drawbacks
  1. I struggled at first with the narrative format, partially because people lose patience fast on blogs while they want to build anticipation with a story.  Even in the editing phase, I'm trying to figure this out.  
  2. Although blogs allowed me to find my voice, they have also unintentionally led me to a place where I'm either a commentator or expert.  Figuring out how to tell the story rather than comment on it has been a challenge due to social media.  
  3. Social media (and Twitter in particular) tends to be focussed on innovation.  Often, this pushes us toward the pursuit of novelty.  Writing an enduring story that is not bound to the current context proved harder than I thought.  
  4. Sometimes I had to avoid the feedback of readers (including one who warned me that kids don't like a story that sounds dark) and trust my classroom experience instead.  
  5. Twitter can be distracting.  There were times I had an idea for the novel and instead I chose Twitter.  My mentor once gave me the advice, "We must seize the moment of excited curiosity for the acquisition of wisdom."  In other words, if I put off an idea until another day, I lose the beauty of the moment and struggle to put it on paper. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Unfettered by Stuff - or "Why I don't lug stuff home every night"

By David Andrade

It always amazes me at the amount of stuff some teachers seem to carry home every night and back into school the next day. They also are amazed at the fact that 95% of the time, I'm not carrying anything either way (except maybe my lunch). Two teachers asked me about this the other day and were shocked at why I don't have to carry things home to work on. I decided I'd also share that explanation here.

Most of what teachers are carrying with them is their grade book, lesson plan book, student work to grade, lesson resources, textbooks, and the like. I've been able to escape all of that because of my use of technology. Technology has saved me from carrying lots of things around (which is good since I have two herniated discs in my back - too many years as a paramedic). It's also part of my quest for going paperless, which is only hampered by student computer access.

Here's my list of tools, resources, and reasons why I don't have to carry stuff back and forth between home and school:

1. I teach science and use project based learning - there isn't much paper work for me to grade from my students. The only thing they don't do electronically is their problem sets and those I check in class. Their tests are paper based, but I correct those after school before going home. In rare occasions, tests are what I would be carrying home to finish grading. The lab reports, online work, and projects are all written up electronically and send to me either by email, DropItToMe or through another system. I can access this work anywhere, including on my smartphone, to review, grade and give feedback.

2. I don't use a textbook with the class, instead using online resources - I use digital resources with the class -Google Docs, Discovery Education, web sites, and class blogs. I have access to all of my lesson resources online. I do have some textbooks that I use for reference, but I have electronic versions, which have the textbook and all instructor resources in PDF form (thanks Glencoe and Holt!). I also have a hard copy of multiple physics textbooks at home that I can access if need be.

3. Cloud based computing and file storage - All of my resources are electronic. If they weren't created electronically, or available electronically, I scan them and save them as PDF files. I use Dropbox, Sugarsync, and Zumodrive to have all of my files and resources available to me at school, at home, via smartphone, or from any computer. I can grade work and give feedback, check and take notes, work on lesson plans, and much more from anywhere.

4. Cloud based apps - I rarely use computer based software anymore. I do have desktop versions of many things at home, but at school I use mostly web based apps. I use Evernote, Google DocsBlogger, Google Sites, Gmail, TweetDeck and more to do my work. I can access my files and do my work anywhere, from any computer or smartphoneEvernote has my lesson plans, web clippings, notes from meetings, notes and ideas for lessons, reference information from school, and more. I scan in memos and documents and store many of them in Evernote for easy access and searching. I even take pictures of posters, notes on white boards, and such and upload the photo into Evernote for storage, accessibility, and searching.

5. Smartphone - I have a Palm (now HP) Pre+ smartphone. I love it. The calendar and contacts automatically sync with my Google Calendar and Contacts so I'm always updated. I can go online to any website for access to my data or to search the web. I have access to all three of my email accounts. Apps let me get tons of things done: Dropbox, Twitter, Google, Evernote, DocsToGo, and much more all allow me to do with my smartphone what I do with a computer. This means I don't need a notebook, date book, lesson planner, or grade book. Since all of those things are online, I can access them through apps on my smartphone or through a website. I can access student info, take notes in meetings, look up my schedule, answer a student question via email, and so much more. All with a device that fits in my pocket.

So, everything I use is available online, anywhere I go. 90% of student work is done and submitted electronically. All my resources are electronic and available to me anytime. Instead of carrying pounds of notes, books and student work with me, I carry a 138.5 gram (4.89 oz ) smartphone and let the internet carry everything else.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Digital Textbook Should be More Than A Textbook

By Steve Katz
The other place I blog.

My students have digital textbooks for several of their classes, including my social studies class. These texts are basically pdf files of the book, with a much more confusing navigation. I'm not a big fan of textbooks, and we rarely use them in class. I prefer to have my students doing their own research, or creating a product, rather than reading a textbook.

Today I asked them what they think a digital text should include. These were some of their ideas:
  • Video
  • Links to sources (My students want the author's sources so they can check the reliability of the textbook, or do further investigation.)
  • Activities they can download
  • Intuitive navigation (like a web page)
  • Loads quickly
  • Customizable fonts
  • Adjustable page size
  • Colorful
  • Searchable
  • Links to sites of experts on the topic
  • Question and answer section where they can post and respond
  • Live chat with other students and recognized experts
  • Rollover of terms to see the definition
  • Linked table of contents
  • Printable pages
  • Voice controls (They are 7th graders.)
These ideas would make the text more of an interactive web site than a text book.
Note to publishers: That is a good thing.

Welcome to Cairo

Reader Bellafiore comments:

The revolution has begun in Wisconsin. Teachers are fighting back at the cutbacks and political situation right now. See this article for details on what is happening right now. Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental in getting the word out to educators to fight for our rights. The teachers union has organized polls and communications on Facebook which have allowed not just teachers but all citizen of WI to weigh in. This is an instance where the social media has helped mobilize a movement against the governor and for teacher rights. One of my favorite signs in Madison, WI rally was one that said: Welcome to Cairo!

From Egypt To The Classroom. When Is Our Revolution?

by Steven W. Anderson

It has been an interesting past few weeks around the world. First the govenerment in Tunisia was brought down. Then a similar situation in Egypt. And now people are taking to the streets in Bahrain, Iran and other places. For whatever the reason the people in these countries were upset with their government and protest to the point where they brought down governments, some that had been in place for 30+ years.

Now, I am not a political expert. I don't know each situation and why the people where unhappy. I have some knowledge but I don't want to speculate. But I do know that there is one common thread in each of these situations that is worth taking a look at.

Social Media

On Sunday 60 Minutes profiled the man credited with starting the revolution in Egypt. Wael Ghorim works for Google and started a Facebook page for Egyptians to post their experiences with police. And it is from that Facebook page and from Twitter posts organize protests that topiled a government. It was a great interview and you can watch it below.

The events in Tunisia, Iran, Bahrain, and other places and trace their beginnings to the use of social media by the residents in those countries. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites allowed residents to organize in non-traditional ways to get their message out. Many of the governments don't know how to handle these new voices, so they knee-jerk react, send out the military to quiet the crowds. But they just get louder and louder and larger and larger. And in the case of Egypt and Iran, they attempted to keep control by shutting down Internet traffic for several days.

Any of this sound familiar?

Leadership is afraid of a new medium and how powerful it is. So they put up blocks, downplay it's effectiveness, and bury their heads in the proverbial sand.

When is our revolution in education when it comes to Social Media and the use of these tools in the classroom? Think about how powerful it could be if students in a high school social studies class in Nebraska could look at the Facebook page started by Wael. But, they can't because the district feels Facebook is a time suck, provides no educational value and they block it.

Or what about being able to look at the Tweets organizing the protests and have a discussion about why the people in these places feel the way they do and how their situations compare to those locally and nationally.

Those of us who know the power of Social Media and the value it can provide to learning are, sometimes, seen in the same way as many of the organizers of these revolutions. We are disruptive. We want to destroy the current system. Really? We just want change. We understand how these tools can be used to enhance, change and ultimately make learning better for students.

Maybe it is wrong of me to compare these events in these countries where many of the citizens have been mistreated for many, many years. But again, isn't the same true for our kids? Sitting in rows, drill and kill, teaching in isolation. Maybe that is mistreatment....

What do you think? When is our education revolution? Are their parallels? Or are the situations different? Leave some comments below.

Resources to Replace Textbooks - or how I teach physics without a textbook

"Beyond Textbooks" is a well used mantra by educational technology companies and districts who are moving away from traditional print textbooks to digital media and resources.

I don't use a textbook with my Physics classes for many reasons: the textbooks are old and outdated (but in good physical condition), the textbooks are hard to read, they are heavy, and they don't have any way to get help or expand on the material.

I use a variety of materials with my Physics classes in place of the textbooks. I use Blogger and Google Sites to create a class blog and class website. The blog is where I post assignments, information, reminders, and more and the site has links, downloads, and other information. For class materials that replace a textbook, I use:

  1. Handouts with summary of concept, example problems, and problem sets for students to complete. These go into their notebooks for them to keep.They are also available on the class website in case anyone forgets or loses theirs. 
  2. Physics Classroom - this is an excellent resource for physics students. It has topic explanations, demonstrations and animations, multimedia movies, example problems and more. 
  3. Online resources from different publishers. Many textbook publishers allow free access to their online materials. My students use the Glencoe Physics site to do practice tests. The site automatically grades them and sends me the student's score. There are also other textbook sites that have resources and links. 
  4. PhET Physics Simulations - this site is hosted by the University of Colorado at Boulder. The site has animations and virtual labs for physics, chemistry, earth science, biology, and math. There are even lesson plans and assignments with most of the simulations, created by teachers. 
  5. Online and downloadable, free Physics "textbooks" - I give my students links to three free physics "textbooks" - The Physics Study GuideMotion Mountain Free Downloadable Physics Textbook, and FHSST Physics online physics textbook. These are free, accessible from anywhere, and are well written with examples, links, and good explanations of concepts. 
  6. Physics Central - great site with lesson resources, physics in action, physics in everyday life, and much more. 
  7. Discovery Education - I use a variety of Discovery Education resources with my physics classes. Some of the videos on DE Streaming are excellent. They are not long (average 25 min) and explain concepts very well. I also use some other DE resources as projects and research with my students. Discovery Education News, Science of Everyday Life, and Science Fair Central are some of the ones I use. 
  8. Multimedia Science School - this is software our district purchased a few years ago that has multimedia lesson in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The guided lessons include videos, animations, virtual labs and more and are a great resource for science teachers. 
  9. For my AP Physics class, I also use Learn AP Physics which has videos, lectures, example problems, study tips, and problem solving tips. 
  10. Projects and Labs - I do a lot of projects and labs with my students. The resources listed above, along with Google, give them access to information and assistance on topics. They also interact with me via email and the class blog. The projects and labs we do are where they get to apply their conceptual knowledge and learn even more about a topic. 
I have no need for a physics textbook because of all of these resources. I must also point out that I have 7 student computers in my room, so I don't need to worry about scheduling in the computer lab or signing out the laptop cart. 

My students work on the projects and labs in groups and except for the Multimedia Science School software, have access to all of these resources at home. I've even had students access some of the resources on their smartphones while working on a project or lab, which I think it awesome.

These resources are free (except for MSS and DE Streaming), accessible from anywhere, constantly updated, interactive, multimedia, and explain the concepts very well. Why do I need 150 copies of a textbook, at $100 each, that will be outdated before they get to me, can get damaged or lost, can't update, and have no links or activities?

These kinds of resources exist for all subjects and grade levels, not just high school science. There are a million different resources to use in your classroom besides a textbook. 

What resources do you use in place of, or in addition to, textbooks?

Cross posted at Educational Technology Guy and via Twitter

David Andrade is a Physics Teacher and Educational Technology Specialist in Connecticut. He is the author of the Educational Technology Guy blog, where he reviews free educational technology resources for teachers, discusses ways to use technology to improve teaching and learning, and discusses other issues in education. 
He is also a professional development trainer and presenter at conferences, helping educators learn new and innovative ways to educate students. He is also a Discovery Education STAR Educator and member of the CT DEN Leadership Council.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of his employer.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rebooting Valentines Day

by Mike Kaechele

In the U.S. (everywhere?) tomorrow is commonly celebrated as Valentines Day. Not sure how an honoring of saints who were martyred got transformed into a holiday celebrating love but I'm sure that Hershey's, Hallmark, and florists were involved. Like all most holidays the emphasis is on buying something and food/candy. I am sure some economist can tell us how much Valentines Day means to the economy.

Tonight I came across another "holiday" happening tomorrow: Generosity Day. The idea comes from Sasha Dichter who is Director of Business Development at Acumen Fund, a global non-profit venture fund that invests in enterprises that fight poverty in the developing world. He spent a month being generous and saying "yes" to everyone who asked of him-beggars, email, or friends raising money. The point was made in the comments that when we are logical and try to analyze the validity or worthiness of our donation that we loose the emotional part of our brain. 

So Sasha and some other bloggers are proclaiming tomorrow Generosity Day and challenging us all to say "yes" to everyone for one day no matter what. You can participate and spread the word via blogs or Twitter with the hashtag #generosityday

I'm in. So do you want to join? We know Valentines Day will be trending tomorrow. Let's see if we can make this trend too and be generous for one day. Who knows maybe we won't want to stop.

I'm going to share this with my students tomorrow. I will invite them to participate too. How about your students?

Friday, February 11, 2011

What We Are Doing Today in Class

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Our AP Euro class is currently discussing the French Revolution. And, of course, a topic of interest has been similarities and dis-similarities to what has been happening in Egypt since Jan 25.

Below is a brief outline of what we're doing in class today. We would love readers to leave comments and questions for us to think about and discuss. We'd also love to talk to people on the ground in Egypt about what they are experiencing right now. Please get in touch @TeachPaperless on Twitter.


We are going to be looking for similarities and dis-similarities between the French Revolution and the current revolution in Egypt.

French Revolution // Egyptian Revolution


1. Compare / Contrast Louis XVI and Mubarak.
2. In each case, WHY were the people protesting? (Cite primary sources).
3. What role did women play?
4. What concerns are their about the current situation in Egypt? How might they relate to the days following the fall of Louis XVI?
5. How did/are people express(ing) their views?
6. Are the current protests violent?
7. What do people on the ground in Cairo think is going to happen now? (Directly contact reporters and bloggers in Egypt via Twitter during this class period).
8. Based on your study of the French Revolution and your current observations of the situation in Egypt, what do you think are possible outcomes? How are the possible outcomes in Egypt alike or different with outcomes in France -- both in the short and long term.


Sources on French Revolution

Sources on Egypt

Al Jazeera

New York Times




Twitter Search

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

More Perspective

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Today at beginning of class...

Student 1: "Where can I find a picture of the baseball field?"
Student 2: "Google."
Student 3: "Look: here it is on a Google Map."
Student 2: "What did people do before Google?"
Student 3: "Yahoo."
Student 4 (completely with not a trace of irony or sarcasm): "What's Yahoo?"

Monday, February 07, 2011

Recovering Voice

by John T. Spencer

A professor once told me that true authors need to learn French and cultivate a taste for Bordeaux and Rachmananav. He said that anyone who wants to know the cost of a word should buy a good fountain pen and a Moleskin and think twice before scribbling out a few lines on a cheap notebook.  I watched students nod their heads.

The cost of words.  Ask a kid who has been called "an illegal anchor baby" about the cost of words.

So, I bought myself a six pack of Widmer, spent a day speaking in Pig Latin and played the Greatest Hits of The Band. I decided that the apostles Paul and Simon were right in the notion that the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls and that much of academia is designed not to cultivate a love of language, but a dissection of it.

In other words, I learned to hate words. I learned to be ashamed of my voice and to play pretend with my vocabulary. I learned to like, you know, try and avoid big words and stuff. Then I learned to wear the heavy academic jargon like a necklace before the elite crowd, only to wonder if they could recognize it was gaudy costume jewelry from a kid playing make-believe.

I didn't recover my voice until I began teaching. I found it impossible to play pretend around a group of people who only cared about whether I cared about them and I cared about the subject. I couldn't be the teacher who pretended to know (or care to know) about the slang and they weren't impressed with a word like "pulchritudinous."

I began to ask them to find their own voice that had been silenced in a sea of worksheets. I found that their voices were often rougher than I'd imagined, shaped by more pain than I've experienced and filled with a strength that I hadn't seen. I found that their voices weren't always expressed in written format and that some of the most powerful messages required a canvas or a podcast or a dance or a skit.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Recovering Context

by John T. Spencer

I don't understand the freedom movements in Egypt.  I'm watching it closely, but I'm watching it in the way that one watches a sporting event.  Even the violent clashes feel more like a movie when I'm holding fresh sourdough bread and sipping french press coffee.  With the soft buzz of my Macbook humming along, I can view the events as isolated events.  I can miss the context.  I can fail to recognize the power of place and space and time.  

I want my students to know about this as it happens.  However, I also want them to see the context.  Ideally, we could interview someone in Egypt and we could read a few novels from an Egyptian perspective.  We wouldn't be experts, per se, but at least we would delve into the power of place and how it shapes people.  

*     *     *

It's a mid-December and I'm swimming through my Twitter stream, attempting to find a friend.  According to the list, I have well over a thousand "followers," but I'm exceedingly lonely.  Christy is having a coffee with a  friend and the kids are already in bed.  What I really need is a one-on-one pint, but it's too late to call a friend.  

I attempt to engage in a conversation, but it quickly becomes a crowded echo chamber.  I've found four people spread throughout the world who all believe pretty much the same thing I do - or at least they do with regards to teaching.  For all the talk of technology and diversity, I've found myself honing in on homogenization in ideology.

Within this digital solitude, I yearn for something longer than a tweet.  So, I begin a book.  It's a vague idea hashed out on a twenty mile run, but now it's taking form.  The first ten pages are a mess, but I'm changed. I'm thinking now about character and setting and recovering context.  (Incidentally, the book is a fictional superhero memoir that will be out in ebook form within the next couple of days)

It starts a process of recovering context.  I begin to read more books and fewer blogs.  I limit my musical selection to two albums per month (this month's pick is the latest from Iron and Wine along with Natalie Merchant's Tigerlily), because I had become so dependent on music-out-of-context playlists.  I call a few old friends and start meeting up each week, because unlike my Twitter friends, these guys know my story and my mannerisms and we don't limit ourselves to 140 characters. Lately I've started talking to neighbors and listening to their stories.

It's why I still won't get a cell phone, even if it's a smart phone and the world's collective knowledge is at my finger tips.

I don't need the whole world in my hands.

*      *      * 

The mainstream media has largely ignored the trial of Shawna Forde, a Minuteman terrorist, who shot down a man for being Latino and then reloaded the gun in front of a young girl and shot her point-blank in the head.

"I guess it's not as big a deal if it's not in a Tucson grocery store and if the girl isn't white and if nobody in Congress is shot," one of my students writes.

"Why aren't people connecting the dots?  Why don't they see how this violence is the same mindset as Sheriff Joe and his goons who threw my neighbor out of her car and then deported her husband?"

My students know this context.  They understand that the violence is part of a larger, scary movement of white supremacy in our state.  They understand it, because it's in their back yard.  Unlike the plastic faces that read the teleprompter, my students can see a bigger picture outside the hype of "late breaking news" (it's always late and always broken)  My students understand that life is less like a Twitter stream and more like a novel.  They get the notion that setting has a place and that there is something toxic happening in our own backyard.

I want my students to recognize that context matters. It's why we do the following:

  • Interview people in-depth who actually experienced the events rather than simply relying on a textbook
  • Search primary source documents 
  • Read novels, both as a class and as individuals
  • Take pictures and write poems about our city
  • Create documentaries about issues in our own backyard
  • Serve at the local food bank

I want my students to recover the notion of context.  I want them to see that people are shaped by our environments and I want them to be active in transforming their own environments.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Teach Autodidacticism

by Shelly Blake-Plock

"Sage on the Stage", "Guide on the Side", "Meddler in the Middle".

When it comes to teaching, they each have their time and place. There are times you will be the sage because you have to be. There will times you will be the guide because they need you to be. There will be times you will be the meddler because that's just a part of being a good teacher.

But these tags aren't enough.

At least in my experience, the majority of real learning doesn't happen just because a teacher is a sage, a guide, or a meddler. Rather, real learning only happens when the teacher and the learner are one and the same.

Real learning is only self-assessable. Real learning happens because it has to. Real learning has real consequences that have nothing to do with grades. Real learning happens when the teacher leaves the room and the school closes its doors for the day. Real learning happens when students learn to teach themselves.

And it happens all the time. And it's not graded by teachers. It's graded by life.

Teach your students to teach themselves. Teach autodidacticism. There is no better lesson.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Top 10 Resources for Students

Dave's Top 10 Lists
Student Resources

These are resources that I believe can assist students in their education. They are in no specific order of preference. Click on the links for more information about each one and it's use in education.

1. Evernote - take notes, collect web clippings, share notes with classmates, get organized.

2. Trackclass - is a great, free resource for students. The site allows students to track their classes and assignments, and even will send reminders (email or SMS) for upcoming assignment due dates and test dates. There is also a note taking utility so students can take notes on it if they have a computer in school.

3.Dweeber - is a homework collaboration site that also has tools to help students learn better. It is described as a homework social network. Students sign up, for free, and can add their friends, known as "dweebs" to their network. Students can work on homework together and help each other out. It even as a virtual whiteboard so that they can work together just as if they were in the same room.

4. Drobox - is a service that allows you to sync your files on your computer with their system as a backup. This also allows you to access the files anywhere. You can also sync the files across multiple computers. No need for USB drives anymore. 

5. Cybraryman  - Cybraryman has a great web site with tons of resources, sorted into different categories. The student section is excellent.

6. Digital Literacy - Our students live in a digital world and need digital literacy and how to be safe online.

7.  Google - Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Search, Tasks, iGoogle, Bookmarks, Reader, Google student blog, Blogger, Sites, Picasa - info, research, organizing, portfolios...

Google is an excellent resource for students. They can create and collaborate on projects using Docs, stay organized with Calendar and Tasks and iGoogle, save their Bookmarks, create a blog or website, upload and share photos, create e-portfolios, do research, and so much more.

8. OpenOffice and OpenOffice for Kids - OpenOffice is a free office suite that is a great alternative to Microsoft Office (and free!). LibreOffice is a new version that is being released by the same group that started OpenOffice. OpenOffice for Kids is a scaled down version targeted at kids, ages 7-12.

9. Smartphone Experts - More and more students use smartphone's these days. Smartphone Experts is a group of websites dedicated to smartphones. There are different sites for each smartphones, from Android to iPhone to Blackberry to HP/Palm webOS. They offer tips, reviews, app news, and much more, helping people to make the most of their smartphones. Since our students have these pocket computers, why not give them a resource to help them use them more effectively.

10.  Their teachers. Teachers are the single best resource for students. We can lead them to other resources like the ones above and we can help them use them. We also can help them understand and use those resources.

Share your favorite student resources with us.