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Monday, August 31, 2009

ZDNET Reports California's Open source Textbook Falls Flat: Not Sure if I Agree



Interesting article from ZDNET on the Open Source Initiative in California:


First, it’s interesting to note that it’s nonprofits, not the textbook giants, who are producing the best books. The state looked at 16 titles and found that 10 of them met 90% of the state standards. Only four met 100% — and three of them were produced by the nonprofit CK-12 Foundation. CK-12’s other books all scored at least 94%.

By contrast, Pearson Education’s Biology text scored a lousy 42 percent. On the other hand, Wiki-oriented groups like Curriki didn’t even come close to meeting the California standards; obviously they weren’t writing to the standards.

There are so many standards!  I have to wonder if somehow we should consider writing open standards of some kinds - to me the multitude of standards for so many states are also a hindrance.  Just because California rejected it doesn't mean that some of the texts aren't good ones.  If California is the only one asking this, do we risk all open source textbooks to just be written to California standards?  What if those standards stink?  (I don't know, just saying what if?")

Open source textbooks should be considered just rolled into the maternity ward and I don't know that these rejections can be considered the nail in the coffin for these little infants of the education industry.  I guess perhaps textbook companies hesitate to throw a lot of resources here because... well, they are textbook companies.

Still turning over this whole movement in my own mind to consider the thoughts on this.  Have tested curriki and am concerned about the fact that I write lesson plans so differently than most - would the sharing of the content I create (mostly for students) and absence of documentation to be delivered primarily to administration to hurt those plans in the rating services?  Shall I just keep sharing in the places I'm sharing.  I don't know - but still thinking about what it all means.

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TweetScraping: @ivread - the new way to track books you've read on Twitter



I've not ever accepted advertisers on my blog - Google Adsense just doesn't give me control. I have however, used Amazon Affiliate program, just because I share so many books and although it isn't enough to cover the costs I have with the various cool cat teacher websites I have, it still is a little bit.

Well, recently Amazon has made it very clear that they weren't going to accept tweets as generating affiliate income.  Which was a bummer, although I didn't do it intentionally, when Kindle 2  came out, I tweeted it and had gotten about $80 in income showing in the affiliate account with amazon - but it came out that Amazon doesn't count tweets - so, easy come, easy go and they took it out of my affiliate income.  That is NOT why I do cool Cat Teacher, anyway.

But when I saw I'vread on TechCrunch this Sunday, I was intrigued.  This newly launched website gives you two useful features:

1)  Tweet:  any book you've read @ivread and a review 

and

it will make a page automatically to track the books you've read via Twitter.  As much as I love Goodreads, I don't really have time to get over there like I should.  I can just write a tweet @ivread with the book name in it and it will keep up with what books I've read.

And that, will be enough for most people and really, if this was the only feature, I love it because it gives an easy way to track my reading list - just for reference.

However, if you do happen to have an Amazon affiliate program ID, you can also harness the tweets you give to go to your affiliate program. (you can also use an affiliate program to support your favorite nonprofit!)

2) Tweet @ivread AFFILIATE  youramazonid

and then it will edit the Amazon ID on your I'vread page to be yours - if anyone looks at your books, you'll receive commission.  (I did this tonight and lo and behold, it actually worked!)

Again, this isn't a huge amount and probably won't be for me, anyway.  However, it is a model that I think we'll continue to see as people figure out how to make money off of their tweets.

Twitter Harvesting
The ability to harvest our tweets to create meaning - sort of a tweetscrape or tweetharvest to extract meaning and lists of this type is very useful.

Who would have thought there would be such a use when Twitter was invented, but now my mind is going in all sorts of directions - even some sort of cool automated scrape of class data (which you can easily set up with a twitter search.)  The mail problem with some things is that tags can be used by anyone -- for example, after I followed #necc for a while someone told me to take off the hashtag for my tweetdeck search and I did - well, who knew so many people cannot spell "neck" and I got all sorts of things I didn't want AND items I did.  I think that people will continue to refine ways to scrape our tweets for meaning in ways that will add value and this is just one example.

This is a very interesting model and not one I've seen before, so I thought it was worth sharing with you.  Bottom line - if you are a person people trust and stay honest, sometimes, when you share a product that you really like, there is a possibility for income.  I don't mind buying through the link on someone's blog if they are the reason I'm buying it.


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Daily Spotlight on Education 08/31/2009




Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Daily Spotlight on Education 08/28/2009



  • This is the curriki review system. I think I may need some help getting started. I guess my biggest struggle as I look at Curriki is that I do lesson plans an entirely different way than most of these I see here. The core of what I have is a note on my methodology but a lot of information to give to students. We spend much less time here documenting things to go to administration and more on creating really good material for students. I guess it makes me nervous thinking about submitting what I do because it will not be in the format that most teachers are used to having - it is going to take me a lot more work than I have time for to share what I'm doing now on binary numbers, for example.

    tags: education, binary, learning, curriki

  • Just received this in my inbox:

    "WASHINGTON DC (August 25th, 2009) - Curriki, the largest online community for creating and sharing open source K-12 curricula, was asked by the Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) to provide a continuity of learning plan for states, school districts, and individuals as part of a nationwide readiness initiative for a possible resurgence of the H1N1 virus.
    Curriki’s continuity of learning plan includes access to a free and open repository of teaching and learning resources built on an open platform that can be customized for individual states or school districts. Like an iTunes playlist, users of Curriki can create collections of free and open educational resources, along with repositories of other supplemental content. If a teacher prefers one lesson to another, he or she can easily swap content in or out to meet the individual needs of the students. States or school districts can take advantage of customized landing pages designed to provide specific information, news, resources, and links to their education stakeholders. Additionally, Curriki’s group function allow members of a district, school, or community to stay connected and privately share resources, communicate and post news and collaborate on projects from any location. "

    I think that perhaps online learning is about to completely boom largely as a result of the growing pandemic and the need for isolation and ongoing learning. Curriki has things together for this and I'm going to take a look at this for our school.

    tags: education, learning, h1n1, edu_trends


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Wheels Never Stop Turning: Inside the Mind of Lisa Parisi, Teacher Heroine and UDL Pro



Image of Lisa Parisi from TwitterImage of Lisa Parisi
I love Lisa Parisi and just think she is one of the best at what she does. (There are so many great teachers out there -- and yes, point to yourself!)  I particularly love what she does with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and learned so much from the portion of her session at NECC that I sat in on.

I was checking in on Lisa's Blog today and I saw a reflection from when she was on vacation in early August.  In her post My Vacation? words reminded me of me:

"And now I am settled down for the night. My husband and daughter are watching television. I was watching with them for a while but my mind was churning. You see, as much as I love this vacation, love summer, love hanging out with my family, I can't seem to stop thinking about school. So here I am editing wikis, planning projects, emailing collaborators. And I am wondering what is wrong with me. Why can't I just relax and do nothing?"

You know, my dear friend Lisa... it is because you love your students and you love teaching.  You embody and represent so many of us that long to get away from the school for the summer, only to spend our whole summer thinking about... yes, you guessed it,  school!

This is a calling and a passion and Lisa Parisi is one of those teachers who should be up in front encouraging and sharing with other teachers.  She isn't just good at what she does... she is amazing at what she does and has the test scores to prove it from students with demographics that would have many expecting her not to succeed.

Lisa is a hero of mine... I know I'm embarrassing her, but you know what Lisa.. you deserve it.  I hope you had a great vacation and hope you're getting ready to go.  And also, I hope that when the time comes, you'll help us create an elementary school Flat Classroom project that brings all of these amazing collaboration principles to an elementary level where kids can interact and work together one on one.

This world is full of amazing heroine's like Lisa and I hope that amidst all of this blogging and tweeting that we do about education that we'll all take the time to encourage our heroes!

For more information on UDL, see this great slideshow by Lisa Crockett






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Daily Spotlight on Education 08/27/2009




Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mr. Bariexca's Honors British Literature Wiki



Was totally intrigued by Mr. Bariexica's Honors British literature Wiki from Spring 2008. (He's northern hemisphere -- we need to stop using seasons and should rather use quarters, I think to bridge this hemisphere thing.)

I think he's done a nice job of organizing.  Many teachers do take this approach -- one wiki for one course - however, I've found having a wiki for all of my classes and then archiving the old items and saving templates from the lesson plans to reuse for major items -- as well as let students see prior work of other students (which helps the learning curve considerably.)  (See my assignments from last week in Computer Science where I referred to work from prior years.)

I particularly like the outline on the side of Mr. Bariexica's class consisting of the introduction, the major content, and then the class notes.  The only suggestion I'd give on class notes is to have them write their class notes in a Google Doc and embed the class notes onto a wiki page - this would give you the best of both worlds - having it on the wiki for everyone to see, but allowing simultaneous editing.

Using Google Calendar with your wiki will help you immeasurably. Although there are other ways to do this, I embed each class calendar on the individual class pages but then also publish an overall schedule so elementary teachers can schedule when they wish to come in the computer lab.  Many teachers have content management systems and supposedly they have calendars in there as well.

The point here is though, that there are many ways that this can be done, but to have a consistent structure and stick with it so that students can be easily oriented to what they are doing in the space and the protocols and actions for working within your online classroom.





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Daily Spotlight on Education 08/26/2009




Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Message to Educators: I Believe in You, Be An Angel of Kindness



If I could sing you a song to start your year (or encourage you in the middle for those in the Southern Hemisphere) it would be this one:


Take these words and pull them into your life like the oxygen you breathe:

Lonely the path you have chosen
A restless road, no turning back
One day you will find your light again
Don't you know
Don't let go the chance
Follow your heart
Let your love lead through the darkness
Back to a place you once knew
I believe I believe I believe in you
Follow your dreams
Be yourself an angel of kindness
There's nothing that you cannot do
I believe I believe I believe in you

Tous sais tu t'en iras tous sais
Coeur ouvert à l'univère
Ou suis ta quête
Sans regarder derrière
N'attends pas
Que le jour se lève
Suis ton étoile
Va jusqu'où ton rêve t'emporte
Un jour tu le toucheras
Si tu crois
Si tu crois
Si tu crois en toi
Suis ta lumière
N'étint pas la flamme que tu portes
Au fond de toi souviens toi
Que je crois
Que je crois
Que je crois en toi

Someday I'll find you
Someday you'll find me too
And when I hold you close
I know that it's true
Follow your heart
Let your love lead through the darkness
Back to a place you once knew
I believe I believe I believe in you
Follow your dreams
Be yourself an angel of kindness
There's nothing that you cannot do
I believe I believe I believe in you
I believe I believe I believe in you
I believe I believe I believe in you...
 You might want to play the song as you read these words, as I wrote them while listening!


This Song is on my Ipod and I play it at the beginning of each day, sort of like an athlete gearing up for the big game.  My big game is any time I am ready to teach and my prayer is that I will be a person who blogs, speaks, and encourages others to follow their dreams, to BE YOURSELF AN ANGEL OF KINDNESS!


Perhaps the part that touches me the most is the beginning

"Loneliness is the path you have chosen..." 
for in teaching never are you more surrounded by other people and yet so alone.  Your classroom is your domain, your place and yet your place is a different role than the others in it.


I can teach my students so many things...
 

technology,
wikis,
blogging,
digital citizenship,
information literacy,
virtual worlds,


and yet,
if I do not teach them the reality of:

loving yourself,
your ability to accomplish great things,
the need for each of us to be an angel of kindness, and
to follow their dreams


then I'm wasting my time.

These are things which transcend learning and yet are enmeshed in the process of learning. But being this kind of teacher is not in the things that you think.
  • False praise is recognized by kids and makes it so they don't trust anything you say.  Your praise should be genuine and honest - everyone is not good at everything.  You should strive to be an encourager not one who spouts of false, impotent praise. Find what students are good at - that is what you encourage.  Encourage good behavior traits.  (Read my favorite parenting book of all time Have a New Kid by Friday: How to Change Your Child's Attitude, Behavior & Character in 5 Days - and yes, it works, and no it is not hype.)


  • Hold Accountable. Be Fair.  We all long for this.Teachers who just want to be friends with their students are very likely the foes of tomorrow.  It is not popular that my students have to work bell to bell or that I don't teach any "crip classes" (just ask my Current Events students who are groaning about this,) however, the fact that my classroom is a safe place where I hold kids accountable for their actions and that I treat all kids equally in terms of not playing "favorites" with behavior means that they can relax and know that I am dependable.  Moody, inconsistent teachers cause students to feel like they are on quicksand, never knowing whether Jeckyll or Hyde will show up to teach that day.

    Additionally, employees who consistently break rules and underperform and are not held accountable by their supervisors is a killer of performance and teamwork in any organization. (Read Influencer: The Power to Change Anything)


  • Expect Excellence - I expect the best of my students and I get it.  When I started here 8 years a go, I told my headmaster that it was my goal to build one of the best technology programs in the world. Whose measuring?  Well, just me.  But it is still a question I ask myself:  am I creating world class students.  I look at them and SEE the best students in the world.  It is not false delusion, I believe it with everything I am.  I know it in my heart.  I breathe it out and into their psyche with how I treat them and what I say.  EVERYONE wants to be believed in.  EVERYONE.  And you'll see the kids will rise to the expectation. 

    Realistically, are they going to have the best test scores in the world?  I don't know, but are they going to be steered to the best life uniquely suited to them and their purpose in this world - my goal is to get them in that direction. WE will use 100% of the time I have with them to help them reach their best (and teach the content I have as well.)  (A great "old" book that I love is from the excellence guru Tom Peters In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (Collins Business Essentials).  Excellence is truly a habit.)


  • Look every child in the eye every day as they enter the classroom.  If I have one rule, one goal - this is it.  The days I make sure to stand at the door and greet them by name and look them in the eye are the days of ultimate breakthrough.  Always. 

    Don't believe me?  Well, tomorrow, whether you're a teacher or in any profession, intentionally look each person in the eye when you first meet them, (when they are usually unguarded.) If they are tired, worried, upset, sick - you'll see it written in their eyes and facial expression.  (For more on reading body language, check out this cool new book that comes highly recommended by School Library Journal What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People)

  • Don't whine.
    "You kids never listen."  "I just said that."  These are things that weaken your position.  What is your problem?  Be positive, work to have change and if you're going to complain do it with an adult, you're undermining your own ability to influence your class for positive change.  We all have these days and it is usually when we're tired, emotional, or just worn out.  Watch for them and watch what you say.  My worst days of teaching are when I'm like this.  (If classroom Management is your issue and you do have these problems - one of my all time favorite books is Fred Jones Tools for Teaching: Discipline, Instruction, Motivation  there are solutions for this sort of thing!)

These are just some of the things from my own classroom, certainly not a comprehensive list, but there is a point to this. You CAN do anything you dream of, but we don't always have the knowledge to do it in our dreams.

We are all influenced by two things and two things only:  what we read (see/hear), and the people we meet.  That is pretty much it.

And any time in my life when I want to change -- when I want to pursue that lonely road of teaching or authorship or speaking - I spend a lot of time on my knees in prayer but also a lot of time reading and talking to people who are experts in the field.

With the Average American reading less than one book a year, is there any wondering why so many average people are out there?  If you want to improve yourself, if you want to be better - go on a quest for your holy Grail -- move ahead.

I read once (cannot remember where) that moving towards goals are kind of like firing a guided missle - until that thing is fired, it cannot triangulate on its objective.  You've got to pull out and move ahead towards your goal and make adjustments as you go.

Be the angel of kindness.  Be the one who believes in kids and helps them.

And if there is an obstacle standing in your way:

Whatever it is, move ahead - work to be that person you want to be. Stop whining and get up off that chair.  We are in a quest to do and be.

Now, back to this video, did you watch it?  Aren't they beautiful? Don't they sound beautiful?  These are an amazing five singers but it took more than a beautiful voice to make each of them and they are the product of many different people who have given them advice, helped them, promoted them and yes... taught them.

Such excellence requires a lifetime of dedication and commitment.

For you to  follow your dreams and be yourself an angel of kindness" you've got to pursue it in ways that WORK.   
Most people don't fail for lack of effort but lack of appropriate engagement:  engagement with the sources of information and expertise that they need to thrive and succeed, engagement with a decision to move ahead, engagement to realize that things don't happen overnight and that divas aren't born, they are developed.

Listen to this song again and know this... I believe in you.  Believe in yourself.

There is nothing that you cannot do -- now, go out there and do it!





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Daily Spotlight on Education 08/25/2009



  • Educational Foundations, Associations and Think Tanks on Twitter.

    tags: education, twitter

  • The Flat Classroom group for ASB unplugged - if you are interested in participating in the conference in February Face to Face or Virtually. It will be so exciting!

    tags: education, flatclassroom, flatclassroomproject, flatclassroomconference

  • This is going to be a phenomenal workshop in Mumbai this upcoming February and Julie Lindsay and I are running a Flat Classroom mini-conference at this (the second of its kind - last year we were in Qatar.) With amazing educators like Doug Johnson, Scott McLeod, Bernajean Porter (helping w/ Flat Classroom miniconference) and also the wonderful students it will be great. We will have a few scholarships for students available this year, so go ahead and look at this and contact us at flatclassroom@gmail.com if you are interested in bringing students (4 per school is typically the limit.)

    tags: flatclassroom, education, learning, web2

  • Excellent article from Scholastic Administrator Magazine that pulls from a wide variety of sources including Peggy Sheehy, Jim Gates, several college professors, and current research. (oh, and yes, I have a little in there also.) This is a good one to facilitate discussions about reaching today's students as it is backed up by a variety of sources.

    tags: education, research


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Touching the Surface of Teaching with Microsoft Surface



This summer, Julie Lindsay and I enjoyed playing with and reflecting on Microsoft Surface.  See for yourself and share your thoughts:



There are many reasons I love such tactile-intensive devices including the fact that they have the possibility to 'cross the midline' something particularly important for younger kids.  This video is about 1/3 looking at surface and 2/3rds a video blog from me sharing the positives and negatives of surface computing and a challenge to those developing surface devices.




©
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Daily Spotlight on Education 08/24/2009




Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shall We Dance?



image of home "Where the hell is matt"Image via Wikipedia
I find the traveling, dancing self described "deadbeat" from Connecticut, Matt, and now spokesperson for Stride gum to be a fascinating study of both personal brand and social media.






Particularly of most interest is this part of his bio:

"Matt was a very poor student and never went to college. When he got older, he was pleased to discover that no one actually cares. Matt doesn't want to imply that college is bad or anything. He's just saying is all. There's other ways to fill your head.
Matt is left-handed."

Matt may have been a poor student, but he's a social media genius, creating a viral frenzy about himself and the product he represents.

I'm not saying we should encourage kids to be like Matt... or should we?

I'm saddened that Matt saw himself as a poor student, that no one looked at him and saw the genius lying underneath - I mean anyone who can get a gum company to send you on a world tour can't be feebleminded!

Understanding social media is as much a part of life as understanding public speaking, writing on paper AND blogging online as well was editing a wiki, or working with your avatar in a virtual world.  These are permanent parts of our lives and the sooner we just accept it and get on with using the things that can help us teach better:  the better off we'll be and the less disenfranchised our kids will be as well.

Perhaps the part I like best is seeing all of the people around the world just dancing from the fish to the African tribesmen:  just fascinating.

And if you watch the lectures he gave about himself, he's quite well versed.  Somehow, Matt has not only traveled the world, but it looks like he's found an education somewhere along the way.

Lecture Series from 2006




I particularly love how he talks here about what he does in foreign countries.


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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Daily Spotlight on Education 08/22/2009



  • This wiki presentation from k12 online a few years back is still current and on this page you'll find a low res and high res video as well as a notebook to use when you watch the video, a wiki grading rubric and a chart about the components of an effective Web 2 classroom.

    I just emailed it to another person - when people say they are starting wikis, I always send this out.

    tags: education, wiki, learning, bestpractices


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Daily Spotlight on Education 08/21/2009



  • Just got an email from this:

    "The Wonder Rotunda launched this month. You might call it a 'virtual world's fair!'
    This site is a virtual educational theme park designed to get kids thinking
    about the planet, what they're interested in and passionate about.

    On Wonder Rotunda, kids can do everything from zipline through a tropical
    rainforest, steer a submarine through the human digestive system, dive the Great
    Barrier Reef or operate a smoothie stand! Jam packed with 13 'game shows,' there
    is never a dull moment - yet they are learning and exploring every step of the
    way.

    And it features NO ads or social chat rooms. All fun and educational.
    Created by a D.C. dad who was inspired by the 1964-65 N.Y. World's Fair and
    wanted to recreate that experience in a new, fun online experience.
    A one year pass to Wonder Rotunda is $45!"

    I think we'll continue to see more of this sort of site - at least I hope so. I do like the video on the homepage.

    tags: education, learning, tool

  • Virtual field trips and videos are on this website which guarantees that videos are "kid friendly educational videos." May be worth using if youtube is blocked.

    tags: education, video, web2, all_teachers

  • Another game for states and capitals review.

    tags: history, tool, web2, education


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

We need BRICKS and CLICKS!



A new study came out stating that online students in college and continuing ed programs score in the 59th percentile versus classroom students in the 50th percentile.  The conclusion stated in the article, Study Finds Online Students Outperform Classroom Counterparts, says:

"The study, conducted between 1996 and 2008, focused primarily on college and continuing education programs. The New York Times reports that online students ranked in the 59th percentile -- markedly higher than the 50th percentile score achieved by those in the classroom. The study's leader, Barbara Means, said that online learning "actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.""

Hold on a moment.  Two years a go we had three students enroll in Georgia Virtual High School -- two of the three dropped the course and went back to the classroom because they said they couldn't learn in that environment which was primarily text based.

The student who stayed was the valedictorian, who says she learns heavily by text.  I would have to argue that students who CHOSE online learning and continue in it have two things in common: 
  1. They are OK with using that environment and 
  2. They have the equipment and internet to access the environment.
My sister is an online professor for a major art college and she's quite good at it, but she also has talked about other professors who don't engage with students and they struggle and some students who just learn better in the classroom.  Some don't have the motivation to engage online and DON'T.

I think that what this says is that the TYPE Of student who is attracted to online learning tends to be a better student than those who are in the classroom. 

It makes me very nervous to see such blanket statements that many will not delve deeper into before saying "OK, we can improve student achievement by putting everyone online." 

To me, online schools should augment the traditional schoolhouse and we should evolve to some sort of hybrid model that takes the best of both worlds -- we shouldn't have to choose between bricks or clicks but have BRICKS and CLICKs.

There are instances where entirely online may make sense for a child, but on the whole, I think that the best of both worlds would involve some sort of hybrid.

To me, one of the comments on the New York Times article tells a lot about the growth of online schools:

"For K-12, online classes may translate to more face-to-face instruction. We pulled our son out of a useless junior high, let him play guitar and video games at home all day, and used an online charter school to teach him ourselves at night. The online curriuculum was definitely superior to what the local school offered, and the 1:1 instruction was very efficient. After one semester, he’s ahead of all his old classmates, rather than failing, and he’s enjoying life. Most people probably can’t arrange their lives to do this, but it sure can work when it works."

 HE improved because of improved curriculum, increased involvement of parents.  Now, what could he have done if he was in a good school, face to face, let me ask you.  Is it good for him to be at home playing video games all day unsupervised?  In this situation, he may have improved but could he have improved more?

Online education growing due to the inadequacy of face to face schooling is a poor excuse for growth, although certainly, this is a reality.

The comments of the New York Times Article are certainly worth reading as they provide insight into this firestorm of discussion.

I still have to wonder about the need for both bricks and clicks in an effective school:  providing the social interaction, the face to face of a good school, and the differentiation that can happen in a good classroom as well as online spaces that truly reflect global engagement and involvement.  There are such great things to be gained from both environments:  shouldn't we pursue the development of the ideal f2f and online environment?




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Monday, August 17, 2009

Focus on the Flame



Candle wick burning.Image via Wikipedia
It is 12:56 am and I'm about to go to bed.  We started school last Thursday and as you can guess, I'm not only in the throes of getting my students started but with one in elementary, one in middle school, and one in high school this year:  I'm in the throes of helping my kids get a good start to the school year.

With things so busy, it can be hard to focus, so I've got a little trick going that has helped me at home.  My daughter's JV cheerleading squad sold candles this year, and so I got stuck with about 10 candles of various colors - I usually feel guilty about burning candles, but I decided: what the heck, I'll go ahead.


A Candle for Each Area of Focus
So, I've designated each candle for something.  My favorite candle is purple and I have it by the easy chair in the den -- when I'm doing my Bible study I burn it.  Each candle means something:  green when working on my finances, a pink one when doing things to take care of the family, White Tea for planning Flat Classroom, and a purple one for doing things that are creative and a beautiful Amber candle for when I'm taking "me" time to focus on beauty!

Now, how would this help me focus?  Well, I'm petrified of leaving a candle burning without supervision -- I have cats and kids and those and candles don't mix well.  So, I light the candle to keep me where I need to be until the job is done.

Focus on the Flame
You see, right now, my problem is not knowing what to do - it is sticking with a job long enough until it is DONE.  It is not getting distracted and FOCUSING on what it is important to get done.  I was just feeling very ADHD-ish for a while there and this helps me focus.  You know the thing about unpleasant tasks in particular, is that we put them off or get distracted by other things - sort of a form of procrastination (we all see it a lot on Twitter ;-) Hey, I do it myself!)

But in the busy times of starting school in the Northern Hemisphere, we can be like a truck stuck in the mud - just spinning wheels and making smoke but not going anywhere.

The risk for me as a Mom right now is not focusing on my children.  I have to keep my eyes on them and I'll tell you this - I'd drop blogging, teaching, Flat Classroom - anything in a heartbeat if my children needed me.  They are the reason I don't travel a lot and they are the reason I quit a six figure job 13 years a go - I love them and they need me.

I read once that kids need their parents at four critical times of day: early morning, after school, dinner, and bedtime.  I'm the communicator in the family, so it is important that I tuck them in:  they tell me things then that I'd never hear otherwise.  They talk to me.  They unload.  Eating dinner as a family is a struggle but it is worth it, both for our waistlines and our mental health.

This is a tough place to live and my own children suffer from the distraction I often feel myself.  So, I also struggle with how I am to teach them to focus - to get things done and to do them well.


Are you focusing and getting the most important things done?
So, teachers, parents, educators, administrators -- let me ask you -- are you able to focus on what is important?  If you aren't, what can you do to focus?

In the Franklin-Covey planning course, they teach clearly that urgency does not equal importance and this is so true.

Burned Candles Gave Me Insight Where I Was Spending My Time
As a side effect of this candle: focus on the flame thing I've started doing, at the end of the week, I could see that I was imbalanced and not spending enough time on my kids -- how?  Well, one candle was burnt a lot more than the others.  (I'm not telling.)  It showed imbalance.  And then, I also realized that I wasn't taking enough time to take care of myself (no suprise there) as my amber candle wasn't burned much.

Even if I don't do this forever, to me, focusing on the flame is a great activity to do every so often just to help myself see a visual of where I'm spending my time (and it is also cool that the house smells so good!)

So, I'm dying to know: do you have any tricks to help you focus. (I'm especially interested in those that I can use at school, since I don't want to use candles in my classroom!)

Are you focusing on what is truly important to you or are you living life under the tyranny of the urgent.  Life might need to be snatched by the nape of the neck and refocused - it is your life, after all, who is running it?  (I'm talking as much to myself as I am to you!)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Daily Spotlight on Education 08/16/2009



  • Make a custom chore chart for your kids. I love the FlyLady routines (from the book Sink Reflections) for keeping the house clean and having the kids with routines is important. I used this for my 8 year old's routines and put it in a sheet protector to be wiped off at the end of each week.

    tags: education, timemanagement, organization


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Daily Spotlight on Education 08/15/2009



  • If your school doesn't have the health department to come in and brief your teachers - you are not only risking health but also something like this.

    The city of New York is being sued with a wrongful death suit for not addressing H1N1 in their school more proactively.
    Call your health department and get a 20 minute session on it - it should be free and you'll be responsibility. Do it because it is the right thing and not because you'll be sued (although that is a risk.)

    tags: education, h1n1, science, health

  • "The North Atlantic Ocean has spawned more hurricanes and tropical storms over the last decade than it has since a similarly stormy period 1,000 years ago, according to a new study."

    This article would be excellent for some discussions in science about climate change.

    tags: education, science


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Daily Spotlight on Education 08/14/2009




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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Constructing through Deconstructing: Using EMP to Understand the Digital Revolution



The first day of school was today and it was crazy for me -- as a teacher, 5 classes and 1 homeroom - with my IT hat - making sure all 100 computers and 3 servers were running, the new PowerLunch program went well and the upgraded gradebook to PowerTeacher was running smoothly.  Actually, it went very well (considering) today.

But, it was most exciting to me when I hit Computer Science first and second period. The first objective is to understand the digital revolution, and with some summer reading I had done this summer on EMP (electromagnetic pulse weapons and natural phenomenon) we started there.

If a nuclear device goes off in our upper atmosphere, the radiation that falls to earth will not kill us - instead it will knock out anything with a microprocessor.  It is pretty scary to think what could happen - but it hit me -- what better way to understand the impact of the digital revolution than to extricate everything digital from our lives to understand where an EMP would take us!

Now, the purpose here was not to cause fear (as I told my students) but to understand the digital revolution. It is also not to discuss the probability or viability of it even happening (there are many who feel that EMP's are very improbable and that the risks are overstated.) They've turned up all kinds of things affected by the digital revolution and had no idea!  I mean the obvious, cell phones, etc. but just how dependent we are on the microprocessor is blowing their minds!

The interesting thing for me is seeing how something can be taught by asking the OPPOSITE question -- they are agape at the digital revolution this way -- when last year, this topic met with a little bit of a yawn, like the digital revolution is old news for this generation.

Tomorrow, the students will tell their stories of a person and/or statistics about a society that is affected by an EMP.  Then, we will launch into a discussion about the digital revolution.

Also, as much as I love technology, as a farmgirl and practical sort of woman, I feel that it is important for my kids to know how to raise a garden, fish, and yes, hunt (although none of us really care for hunting, we make sure everyone knows how to do it - even my daughter.)  Being in the midst of an agrarian society, I see how much food is exported from this area, if refrigerators around this country went on a permanent hiatus, it would be pretty terrible (this is why my dad and many other farmers always state the importance of having food sources right here at home.)  While technology is great, we must always keep an eye out on the "what if" side of things and realize that it is better to plan ahead than to be sorry later.  Not panic, just plan.

The book, One Second After, tries to paint a picture of a post- EMP world, much like Alas, Babylon for schoolchildren of my generation.  And although most people agree that the picture painted in One Second After is extreme and that not as much failure would happen (not all electronic devices would fail and recent improvements in car shielding may actually mean that many more cars would work than earlier predicted), it is still a picture that I have in my mind of the dependence we have upon technology.

Approaching the digital revolution discussion by basically discussing a digital devolution created sparks and excitement on the first day.  It was also very interesting to see that two of my students used bing instead of Google and told me that they like it better (they saw the commercial.)  I am intrigued by that and will be talking to them more about it - looking into their minds is fascinating.

So, it has begun and the first day is always the toughest. 

On a personal note, I'm on week 4, day 1 of my Couch to 5K app and walked/ ran 3 1/4 miles today!  When I started 4 weeks a go, it was a mile and 1/4th -- what an improvement!  This great app on my itouch lets me be coached and listen to my music - I LOVE IT!  So, I do not wish for all this great technology to go anywhere any time soon - it has improved my life in so many ways, however, things taken for granted have a way of tapping us on the shoulder and taking vacations.

As a parent, I want my children to embrace and be fluent in technology but also, totally fluent on taking care of the basic needs of being human and perhaps this discussion is also causing my students to ponder this duality of ability and draw their own conclusions.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Daily Spotlight on Education 08/12/2009




Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.
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