Thursday, July 31, 2008


I tried something interesting today. Our diversity director sent out two different articles written about the the U.S. House of Representatives issuing an apology for slavery and for Jim Crow. His point was that the two articles were quite different. I had heard about Wordle, which makes the images based on the frequency with which words appear in the article. So, I made images of the two articles. The first article was written by Darryl Fears and appeared in the Washington Post. Here's the Wordle for that article.

The second article was written by Jim Abrams for the Associated Press and distributed widely. Here's the Wordle for it.

I left out the headlines for both because those are seldom written by the journalists who write the articles.
Discussion fodder in conjunction with reading the articles? I think so.

Wouldn't it be interesting to have students create something similar with two pieces, either historical, literary, or current?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Teachers as Learners

I wrote recently about building an interactive whiteboard using a wiimote and wondering what to do with it. What I didn't write about though, was the process. It was fun--I made a couple of trips to Radio Shack, dismantled several defenseless pens and flashlights, used a soldering iron for the first time in years, and shrank insulation using my hairdryer. I have made three pens now, each one a little better than the previous one. A couple of teachers at school made them too. Clay Burell recently tweeted that he is going to build one using a Korean wiimote. Cool.

Why did I enjoy the process so much? Because it was hands on learning. It reminded me of how the kids respond to the Lego Mindstorms Robots when we first pull them out. I felt something similar when I built my own worm bin (vermiculture!) following directions I found on YouTube. More power tools!

How often do teachers get to engage in hands on learning? Not often enough according to Bill Ferriter in his depressingly insightful post about adult learning in schools. Ferriter quotes Richard Elmore saying that "the brutal irony of our present circumstance is that schools are hostile and inhospitable places for learning." He doesn't end his post without offering an antidote though, a very do-able assignment asking leaders (administrators, or teacher-leaders) to teach teachers how to use an RSS.
This is one of the fabulous Commoncraft videos, I like the one on social networking too.

Next year, our "improvement of instruction" focus is going to be 21st Century Learners, with learners defined as teachers and students. To help our faculty engage as learners, we're going to offer a variety of activities, one of which is going to be "build your own interactive whiteboard." I hope it goes over well. I'd love more ideas for hands-on learning topics for teachers. I wonder if some of them would like to build a worm bin???

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I've been in the garden lately. . .

This summer has been textbook in terms of renewal for me. After the students left school, I spent a little time getting everything finished up, played with my wiimote, and attempted to tidy up a bit. Since then, I've been in the backyard with my children, vacationed at the beach, and returned to the backyard. In an effort to improve our family's carbon footprint, I put up a clothesline and have found that the change of pace that brings to the day amazingly therapeutic. No longer do we have laundry day. Instead, we do one or two loads (very weather dependent) over the course of a day. Hanging the laundry outside and taking it down is actually a pleasure, my children help a little and play a lot and I love the peace of listening to them as I'm engaged in the rhythm of the clothesline. We just got a bill, and in less than a month, we'd reduced our kilowatt hours over the same time last year by just over 100! I'm no Doug Fine, but it's a start.

So what does this have to do with literacy and technology? Hmmm--I've been doing some reading. I just finished Girls Like Us a very big book about three singer-songwriters of the 60's/70's. Reading it led me to break out Carole King's Tapestry and teach my children to enjoy singing along and dancing around the living room. Of course, I've been reading children's books aloud by the dozen each day too.

While I didn't go "off-grid" except at the beach, I did back way off. The blogs I read (and commented on, thanks Kim Cofino) the most were gardening blogs. I've struggled with some rabbits and squirrels who seem to think my garden is their personal salad bowl. This may have something to do with our yard being the only one without a resident dog or cat, but it has gotten really annoying. We seem to have found a way to keep them eating only a small share with the combination of a fence, dried fox urine (really!), and creative trellising.

The end result of all this backyard time was that by the time I was due to head for the airport to catch a flight to Memphis and the Laptop Institute at Lausanne, I was having trouble remembering exactly what it is that I do professionally. However, seeing old friends at the opening and talking with some fascinating new (to me) folks at dinner the first night, I felt myself begin to shift. This is really a fantastic conference and I'm so impressed with Stewart Crais who directs it. Everything was of high quality and the vendor presence is very low-key. This is a conference driven by philosophical exchanges among educators about the power of technology to empower students and inspire teachers. I'd like to write more about it soon. I've written a new (and huge) "to do" list that excites me rather than fills me with dread.

So here's my question: What does renewal look like for you?