Thursday, December 24, 2009

Image of the Day

A & P Coffee, Santa Claus. 1958. 
From George Eastman House's Flickr Photostream.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I get a news alert daily that rounds up stories for me that mention Arne Duncan. I get preemptively irritated upon seeing it arrive in my mailbox. And for good reason.

For a guy who's spent, well, zero time as a student in a teacher ed program and zero time as a teacher - the amount of teacher bashing he engages in is mind-bogglingly amazing.

There's always a year's worth of irony in any given speech Duncan gives.
Now the fact is that states, districts, and the federal government are also culpable for the persistence of weak teacher preparation programs. Most states routinely approve teacher education programs, and licensing exams typically measure basic skills and subject matter knowledge with paper-and-pencil tests without any real-world assessment of classroom readiness.
Somehow he seems to miss the fact that these tests he's criticizing, these standardized tests, (that, I might add most of us taking them recognize as essentially meaningless) - are no different than the tests he loves so much for our students. And! The solution! Link up those student test scores to teacher ed programs! Except in this case, these tests are apparently not "paper-and-pencil tests," but "student achievement data."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Guided Math?

I'm having such an interesting experience in teaching math. My favorite things to teach are usually literacy and social studies but I'm actually really getting into math because it's such a challenge for me to break things down the right way for the kids and to figure out, when they're not getting it - why.

So October is fractions, decimals and probability in my school so I started with fractions. First day, parts of a whole - pizzas, naturally - went fine. Second day - parts of a set. We did an activity where everybody got up and we made fractions based on how many out of the class were wearing blue...and so on. I think the kids are getting it - I have them do a couple problems at the end of the lesson and turn them in so I can take a look. I did this because I found that questioning - which I was doing, to see how they were conceptualizing the numerator, denominator, and concept of a fraction in general - doesn't give me a good enough sense of what each individual is thinking - in a class of 30. It gets me part of the way, but not the whole way. So I take a look at the problems and while I think in general we've got it, I decide to give parts of a set another day.

I’m trying to come up with a way to see how they’re thinking individually, so I decide I’m going to have each of them design a worksheet on parts of a set. We discuss as a class how to do that and then they get started. My plan is to then pair them up, have them do each other’s and have them do some peer teaching – I’m going to make the pairs so that a strong student is with a weaker one. So I bring the worksheets home with me for the weekend – they’re not finished yet – and it’s SO interesting to look at them and see where they’re getting mixed up.

In the course of this, a new problem arises. How can I meet the needs of all these students who are in very different places in their understanding of fractions?

It occurred to me during the course of this lesson that we don’t have the strong instructional framework for teaching math that we do for literacy. While we have recommended best practices for teaching math, such as the use of manipulatives, writing and questioning to build students’ mathematical thinking, we are without the strong management structure we have for literacy – the reader’s workshop model which integrates whole class, individual and small or guided group work. I need a way to get time to meet with students individually or in small groups during math as we do in literacy.

So. “Guided math.”

I know what I want to address during “guided math,” and that each group’s instruction would depend on their needs. What I don’t know is what the rest of the class could be engaged in while I’m meeting with small groups of students. A worksheet would likely keep them quiet, but would they be actively learning? Manipulative work often becomes noisy and needed “refereeing.” I need a happy medium that used both my students’ and my time efficiently. Not only that, but I can’t spend much more time on parts of a set, as the district pacing guide requires that we get through all of fractions, decimals, and probability within the month. Not much room for error!

So that’s where I’m at. I’m turning this over in my head all weekend. I'm waiting for that stroke of genius to strike. ;)

Blog Changes.

I'm student teaching now. In an urban, "failing" elementary school. I have 30 students in the fourth grade. In a few weeks, I'll switch to kindergarten. Interesting experience, thus far.

Theory + Reality = Chaos.

So, I'm changing the blog up a bit. I'll be writing about my experiences, or policy decisions being made, or problems I'm having, or whatever strikes my fancy.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pedagogy vs. Content

Something I've noticed as I've progressed through graduate study is a difference between secondary teachers and elementary teachers. This observation is by no means statistically sound, or drawn from a necessarily representative sample, but here it is, nonetheless. When asked why they went into teaching, elementary teachers responses often revolve around themes of loving teaching, children, learning. Secondary teachers often revolve around a love of whatever subject they are teaching.

Not that this is necessarily related, but I also am of the belief that secondary schools are the most in need of change.

So I suppose it's not terribly surprising that the Indiana Superintendent, a former science teacher himself, is of the view that content is more important than pedagogy. Nevermind that the research shows he's terribly wrong. But I can, and I bet most people can, remember teachers who loved teaching, and those who only loved their subjects. Which ones were intriguing, fascinating, enthralling? And which were insufferable bores?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Image of the Day: Summer Vacation

From Flickr User Monroe Dragonfly.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

In discussions of merit pay, teacher quality and assessment, I generally ask those I'm arguing with this question: Think of your Great Teachers - those handful of teachers who really made a difference, the ones you can usually count on one hand. What made them so great? Can you even explain it fully? And if you can, how do you quantify that on a massive scale?

I gave a presentation on this topic about a week ago or so to one of my graduate classes. To get started, the class brainstormed what makes a good teacher. On the various lists, composed by pre-service teachers and veteran teachers, elementary and secondary teachers, were characteristics like honesty, hopefulness, dedication, intelligence, patience, and so on. Things like "knowledgeable, engaging and inquisitive, aware of student knowledge, interests & abilities." I should add that nowhere did anyone mention "raises student test scores."

On the flip side, it's a tad difficult to decide what we want from teachers when we don't all agree on the purpose of education. Is it to impart content knowledge? Build character? Nourish development? Nurture lifelong learners? Inevitably, at the end of these types of lists, I say, "All of the above."

So I find myself irked when Cowboy Duncan comes along to vilify the teachers unions for opposing merit pay. Yes, yes, we know. Teachers unions are destroying education. Protecting the "status quo." Mmmhmm. Now, I don't exempt the unions from criticism. But it's been what, half a year now? And we keep hearing the same story. Merit pay good. Teacher unions bad. He pats himself on the back for the Chicago Teacher Performance Pay Plan. One good thing about that plan: it incorporates peer reviews, from what I've read. How they do it, I'm not entirely sure. Bad thing: it's centered around test gains.

So how about this, Arne. Instead of repeating yourself ad nauseum, tell me what this merit plan looks like in your mind. The research is out there. The problems with value-added models of teacher assessment (using gains in student test scores) are well-documented. Viable alternatives are also well-documented. What do you see as the purpose of teacher assessment? Is it only as a means to determine pay? Or tenure? Quality teacher assessments actually lead to better teachers. In the meantime, until we get some details, I'm not all that thrilled about the idea of merit pay either. (Don't get me wrong. I'd love to make more money. And I think I'll be a pretty good teacher. But in terms of the grand scheme of things, I remain unconvinced it's a good idea.)

From the article:
Duncan pointedly advocated using student test score data to assess teacher effectiveness. "It's time we all admit that just as our testing system is deeply flawed, so is our teacher evaluation system."
Am I the only one who laughed out loud at that? So the answer to this is to use our deeply flawed testing system to fix our deeply flawed evaluation system?

I finished Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year yesterday. One entry in particular struck me, for it highlighted the utter absurdity of this system.
"At this point Rowisha turned around and started pounding B.B. with both fists until he fell to the floor, right there in the hall. It reminded me of when Twanette was beaten in front of me....B.B. shrived and whined. She screamed about his behavior and gang involvement and how she's-not-even-going-to-think-about-it-I'll-just-have-your-ass-hauled-into-juvenile-next-time-you-do-any-such-bullshit. I pulled her off B.B. She stormed off, disappearing around a corner. B.B. was hysterical, so I picked him up and hugged him and kissed him on the forehead and stroked the top of his head and told him it was going to be alright. Then Rowisha came back and hollered, "Don't baby this son of a bitch, his stupid ass doesn't deserve it, " and punched him once more. I still tried to help him get it together. In ten minutes he was going to have the Iowa Standardized Test of Basic Skills administered to him."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Image of the Day: Summer Vacation

From Flickr user madmetal.

College is not for everyone.

Louisiana is on its way to approving a new curricular track for high school students, a bill intended to stem the high dropout rate in the state. Critics say the bill lowers standards in the state at a time when we are trying to "raise them."

“They don’t see any relevance in reading Beowulf and Chaucer and trigonometry,” state Sen. Bob Kostelka, a Republican sponsor, said of those students.

My brother went to college for two years, mostly because that was "what he was supposed to do," found it wasn't for him, and left. It weighs on him still, because we live in a society that looks down on people who don't get that piece of paper. It's the same mentality that has resulted in him thinking he's not all that smart, which is, of course, ridiculous.

I'm a big proponent of Howard Gardner's retooling of the notion of intelligence, which has been, and mostly still is - especially in schools - centered on linguistic and mathematical intelligence. Gardner broadened that to musical smarts, spatial smarts, naturalistic smarts, and so on.

So my brother, like many kids who didn't excel in math (which is really a reflection of the terrible way in which math is taught - fodder for a whole other post), or even in reading - has come out of school and gone into life with the pervasive sense that he "wasn't good at school," and therefore, not that smart. Myself, I did well in math and literacy, and had a very different experience.

But he can build things. Beautiful things. I remember he designed and built this beautiful shelf when he was in high school. I could never do that. He can look at things and see how they fit - spatial intelligence - a skill which I am sorely lacking. He's brilliant about nature, can identify nearly, if not every, bug in the backyard, leaving me asking him, "How the hell did you know that?" He's the one who taught me which side of the trees moss grows on, how to use it for navigation, how fossils form, and more. I wonder sometimes what a different curricular track, like the one in LA, would have done for him. Not that he's not doing well - he is. But for kids like him. Who really need school not to be so centered on math and literacy - or at least need to learn them in the context of pursuing their own interests, loves, and talents. Ironically, the one story he really loved in all of high school English was Beowulf.

Do we really want everyone in the nation to go to college? Nevermind that I don't really believe that college is job preparation, at least not for the vast majority of programs of study.

We continue to build up this sense that college is the only path, yet we really need people, at least economically speaking, to pursue other paths.

From NYTimes:
If the goal is to earn a living, then, maybe it isn’t really true that 18-year-olds need to be imparted with a sense of panic about getting into college (though they certainly need to learn). Some people are hustled off to college, then to the cubicle, against their own inclinations and natural bents, when they would rather be learning to build things or fix things. One shop teacher suggested to me that “in schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.
The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid.

Definitely not stupid work. Did I mention he's also a whiz with cars? I can barely change my oil. But I did good on those ol' reading and math tests!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Work Harder.

I do love when journalists who apparently know little to nothing about education and have little inclination to remedy that weigh in on the ails of the educational system in this country.  

In this charming article from The Economist, we hear again what is fast becoming a tedious argument.

Kids must work harder.  Longer.  Faster.  

The opener:
AMERICANS like to think of themselves as martyrs to work. They delight in telling stories about their punishing hours, snatched holidays and ever-intrusive BlackBerrys. At this time of the year they marvel at the laziness of their European cousins, particularly the French. Did you know that the French take the whole of August off to recover from their 35-hour work weeks? Have you heard that they are so addicted to their holidays that they leave the sick to die and the dead to moulder?

There is an element of exaggeration in this, of course, and not just about French burial habits; studies show that Americans are less Stakhanovite than they think. Still, the average American gets only four weeks of paid leave a year compared with seven for the French and eight for the Germans. In Paris many shops simply close down for August; in Washington, where the weather is sweltering, they remain open, some for 24 hours a day.
Perhaps we run in different circles, but generally when vacation time/maternity leave/paid time off in international contexts comes up in my circles, we lament not the laziness of the French but the insane frenzy of life here.  A year maternity leave.  Paid maternity leave!   Yes, those crazy French.

Anyway, the article then goes into how the only place Americans are lazy is in childhood, how children should instead be working 40+ hour weeks, 52 weeks a year.  And longer if necessary!  Damnit we'll work them to the bone till they learn!!!  Nevermind that there are things outside of school worth learning.  It's not the system that might need rethought, it's these damn kids today.  They just don't work hard enough.  Let's give them another 57 worksheets.

Hat tip to Wonkette, who nailed it.

Image of the Day

From Wikimedia Commons' Featured Images.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Image of the Day

Photo from Mountains in the Sea 2004. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Les Watling, Chief Scientist, University of Maine.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Search 3.0"

The much talked about new search engine, WolframAlpha, went live this weekend.  It's worth a look.  It's a different type of searching, the details of which I won't bother with here as you can read about them all over the web. 

Anyway, it's definitely useful in the classroom, in research, and when you're looking for a straight answer.  It's best for cold hard facts, so getting used to the types of search queries that work might take a bit.  It's a little more picky about search terms.  After you've tried out a few searches, check out the examples of searches that work well on WA - there's a visual gallery as well as examples by topic.  

Google is set to launch the Labs version of Google Squared later this month.  Similar yet different, the release is likely timed to steal some of the thunder of WA, which was getting much hype as the latest Google-Killer (right).  Guess that's the beauty of competition working for us, eh?  Anyway, two new tools for the kit.  Great for students and research uses as we don't have to weed through all the junk results Google can sometimes spit out.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Image of the Day

From Flickr User Arno & Louise. (Creative Commons Licensed.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Memo to The Economist.

"IT IS hard to find anybody with a bad word to say about Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s young education secretary."

Look harder.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where This is Going...

Obviously, this blog started as a class assignment and grew into something else.  I think I'm going to broaden the focus beyond educational technology into the bigger world of education - so that I can touch on all my interests in education - technology, literature, history, etc - but especially educational policy. Then I won't wonder how many non-ed-tech posts I can get away with on a blog with this title. 

So.  Those changes to come.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Image of the Day

"Artist's View of Exoplanet Orbiting the Star HD 189733." Image from ESA, NASA, M. Kornmesser (ESA/Hubble), and STScI.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Image of the Day

Sonke Johnson, Operation Deep Scope 2005 Expedition: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Image of the Day

Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Problem with National Standards.

Duncan wants national curricular standards, to avoid the patchwork of state and local standards schools work on now.  Theoretically, I think this is a good idea.  Practically, it gets a lot tricker.  

Because everyone wants a piece of the pie.  Article in HuffPo proposes "national ecological literacy standards."  I don't particularly oppose this idea, but look: how many different areas of learning can we get into here?  Theoretically, I think kids should learn about reading and writing and American history and world history and world religions and anthropology and sociology and technology and math and ecology and biology and...

You see where I'm going with this.  

This has always been the problem with focusing on content in the curriculum.  Again, I'm not saying the goal of education isn't partly for kids to learn the content.  But a lot of it has to be skills.  Because...simply...we can't cover it all.  Humanly impossible.  

E.D. Hirsch, proponent of cultural literacy, has long been an advocate of the content-specific curriculum.  Skills are learned in the process, but he has laid out, in much of his Core Knowledge curriculum, the content knowledge he thinks is essential for students to learn - the theory behind this being that students and people in general need a certain level of common knowledge to communicate, read, grow.  Like a foundation.  Which, again, theoretically - I agree with.  

But take a look at what he specifies as what should be included.  See anything missing?  I do.  Lots.  So how do you decide?  How do you determine what's important and what's not? (I have thoughts on the answer to that question.  But I'll refrain for now.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Image of the Day

"Star Cluster NGC 2074 in the Large Magellanic Cloud." Image from NASA, ESA, and M. Livio (STScI).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why CEOs Shouldn't Run Education.

It almost pains me now to read interviews from Arne Duncan.  Seriously, I cringe at generally somewhere around the second sentence.  If not earlier.

So not all that surprising from the latest.  But one part jumped out at me in particular.
In response to the question, "Regular folks don't get the distinction between certified teachers and  qualified teachers - why the teachers' union wouldn't let Einstein teach physics to high school students because he wasn't certified," Duncan responded, "Isn't all that matters that our children learn?  That teachers give students knowledge?[emphasis mine]"

A couple of things that made my blood boil here.  One, the question is a total red herring.  (For many reasons.)  Two, the answer reflects a complete lack of understanding about how children learn and what makes a great [i.e. "qualified"] teacher.  As it happens, I just finished reading a study, Effects of Teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching on Student Achievement from Hill, Rowan & Ball that shows that the most significant predictor of student achievement isn't teacher's knowledge of mathematical content, but their knowledge of the pedagogy of teaching math - as they put it, "mathematical knowledge for teaching."  In other words, we have to know not just what we're going to teach, but how to do it.  

Which brings me to my next point.  "...teachers give students knowledge..."  Mr. Duncan.  Tabula Rasa is so 17th century.

Perhaps it's not all that surprising that Duncan likens education to Pavlovian experiments.  Students = Dogs?  Sure.  Why not.

I Hate Internet Explorer.

It totally destroys my web design.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Image of the Day

Finger coral reef in the lagoon at Kure Atoll State Wildlife Refuge in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.
Photo by Claire Fackler, National Marine Sanctuaries Media Library.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Image of the Day

"Hubble Snaps a Splendid Planetary Nebula." From NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Only on a Mac

Lately, I've been thinking I'd like to teach fifth grade.  This is a big change from my 20-some-year-long ambition of being a kindergarten teacher.  I like the content better - you can do more.  (But I'd be happy anywhere.)

There are a couple things in the Connecticut curriculum for fifth grade that I haven't been all that excited about teaching.  

Exhibit A, "Energy Transfer and Transformations," ...sound is a form of energy that is produced by the vibration of objects and is transmitted by the vibration of air and objects...

I've never been able to think of ways that were really exciting or cool to teach this.  

Image of the Day

Switching it up a little today.  Played around with Photoshop to do this one.  

Photographs, clockwise from top right: Point-source water pollution, Unknown location
National Park Service, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore from
EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office; Dredge Discharge Pipe from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; An oiled swan, one of many wildlife victims of the April 7th oil spill in Swanson Creek. Image by Mary Hollinger, from NOAA's Photo Library; Junk cars in Illinois River, Peoria, Illinois, Image by Romy Myszka of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service from EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office; and Hole in the Ozone Layer Over Antarctica, Image by NASA, from the GRIN database

And the quote?  From T.S. Eliot's Little Gidding...
I left out the last line of the stanza on purpose. 

What I Don't Like about PBWiki

Anyone who has ever edited a Wiki on Wikipedia has had to learn "Wiki-code."  Not html, not WYSIWYG, it's is own...thing.  

So PB Wiki is better for use in classrooms because it does use WYSIWYG. (Among other reasons.)

But is it really all that difficult to allow more than one contributor to edit a page at the same time?  The very nature of collaborative writing and Wiki's sort of demands it, no?  

But no.  Only one person at a time.  Nevermind that I can be in the middle of writing something only to find out that someone has "stolen the lock" from me and that I can no longer save my entry.  

I fail to see the point of that feature.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Image of the Day

Niagara Falls, circa 1853-1860. 
From the Library of Congress, America's First Look into the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864 Collection.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


7 days a week?  Lunacy.

Image of the Day

Image from NASA's GRIN (Great Images in NASA) database.

Virtual Schools?

So, I hadn't even heard of this.  There's a charter school in Chicago, the "Chicago Virtual Charter School," that is literally entirely web-based.  

The article is rather glowing, but I have to say, my first reaction is quite mixed.  On the one hand, it's a pretty incredible use of technology.  On the other hand, I have a not-so-glowing gut reaction to it.  

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Free Stuff.

Who doesn't love free documentaries

New Life. is finally up.  I've been waiting for this one.

Terms of use allow for printing single copies for personal, noncommercial use.  Presumably that includes educational purposes, yes?  Can you tell I love copyright law?  

It would have been really incredible if they had licensed everything under a Creative Commons license. ;)

Line in the Sand.

There's just something that pains me about seeing the word "literature" just below a photograph of a hand held computer/screen.

"It tells us that printed books, the most important artifacts of human civilization, are going to join newspapers and magazines on the road to obsolescence."  

Please no.  Call me a Luddite if you must.  But I refuse to give up my dusty shelves overflowing with books.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Image of the Day

From Flickr User gautamnguitar, Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Image of the Day

Pacific Ring of Fire 2004 Expedition. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Bob Embley, NOAA PMEL, Chief Scientist.

Friday, March 27, 2009

2 + 2 = 5

An article on how technology can not just impede on education, but bring it to a full stop.  

Kids still need to learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and so on - BEFORE they pick up the calculators!  If we start giving them calculators from age 5 on, they're not doing anything but going through the motions - learning which buttons to push.  There's no active construction of mathematical knowledge going on there.  We all should know that: I purposely use calculators because it makes my life easier.  And I pay for it too - after years of having technology do it for me?  I'm a lot slower at simple mathematical operations than I used to be.  

Imagine if this was the only way we ever had done math: how would we ever continue to advance mathematical knowledge?  

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Image of the Day: Signs of Spring

Image by Flickr User Muffet, Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Image of the Day

Kelley Elliot, Hidden Ocean 2005 Expedition: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

Expect the Unexpected.

Oy!  My little one's been sick and I've gotten buried under work as a result.  Thinking I'm finally making my way out.  

Lots to talk about!  Education speeches, some stories from local schools, and more.  Hoping to get up and running again this week.  Thanks for sticking around!

In the meantime...Twitter.  I tried to get into it but it's not catching on for me just yet.  Not sure why yet.  Lack of a functional cell phone?  Too time consuming?  Maybe just because I'm long-winded and 140 characters is awfully constricting.  But some interesting uses of it nonetheless: Job searching. Police keeping people updated on local crimes.  And the coolest: Getting a peek inside brain surgery.  

Friday, March 20, 2009

Image of the Day

"San Diego County Wildfires."  From Flickr User slworking2. (Creative Commons Licensed.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Image of the Day

Image from Ailsa Craig. CC Attribution 2.0 License.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Image of the Day

Anacapa Island Lighthouse. Photo by Robert Schwemmer, National Marine Sanctuaries Media Library. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Image of the Day

Swimsuit layout from the 1932 Ladies' Home Journal. 
From the George Eastman House's Photostream on the Commons.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Image of the Day

Image from the Biblioteca de Arte-Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian's photostream on Flickr Commons. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Image of the Day

Refugee Camp in Chad. Photo by Flickr User mknobil. (Creative Commons Licensed.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Image of the Day

K.D. Swan, from USDA's Forest Service Photos Historic Photos Collection. Logging Truck, August '47. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Image of the Day

From Flickr User Kingfal.  (Creative Commons Licensed.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Image of the Day

"Echoes of History." From Flickr User Rickydavid. (Creative Commons Licensed.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kids Today.

Image of the Day

"Dawn on Robben Island looking towards Cape Town." From Flickr User Paul Watson. (Creative Commons Licensed.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Image of the Day

The West Fjords in northwestern Iceland.
  Image courtesy of USGS National Center for EROS and NASA Landsat Project Science Office.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Image of the Day

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Catherine Thompson

Friday, March 6, 2009

Virtual Language Learning.

So I came across this article this morning, describing the need for a higher level of support for immigrants and ELLs, and wondered how technology could aid this process.

I had a friend, back in college, who came over from China.  When he got here, he didn't speak any English at all.  He learned, quickly, from TV, video games, and his friends here.  (Which made for a really interesting lexicon, I might add.)  Another friend of mine, from Puerto Rico, credited much of his success in learning English to TV.  

It seems technology already plays a large role in this process, but what could our newer, advanced technologies do?  

I began to wonder about virtual worlds - if language could be learned through this.  I took over six years of French.  My proficiency in the language is limited to somewhere around "Where is the library?" and "J'ai oublié (I have forgotten)."  Learning a language in a classroom, for less than an hour a day or even less, is a terrible way to learn a language.  Immersion in the language, the culture, seems the obvious way to learn a second language.  We can't do that in the real world, but what about in the virtual one?

I found some sites on the idea.

Most of them differed slightly from what I had imagined, until I found this - a program that's been used in the military.

So, it's out there.  Can we get it into the mainstream?  Is it already there and I'm missing something?  Let me know.

Pause. Rewind. Play. Repeat.

A new study out showed improved outcomes for students who listened to audio recordings of lectures (via ITunes U) versus their traditional counterparts.  

Interesting stuff.  While I generally think lectures should be avoided at the elementary level (and elsewhere, but that's a different story), this research has some useful applications for teaching at the elementary level.  

New concepts explained by the teacher, class discussions, interview sessions, and more could all be recorded and broadcast through various online programs, allowing students (and families!) to go back and listen, re-listen to either the whole thing or parts that interest them.  We could use this for students who have been absent from class or for students who need the extra time going over it one more time, but this allows them to focus on the parts they choose.

Fodder for thought.

Image of the Day

Earth's City Lights.
Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dive In.

Ok, so bear with me.  All this stuff is well-connected and making sense in my head, but I can already tell it's going to be hard to translate that to the written word.

So, I finished Born Digital from John Palfrey and Urs Gasser.  Lots of good stuff in there, some of which I may write about later, but one thing that struck me was their description of how "digital natives" gather information on the web.  A multistep process:

1. Grazing
2. The "deep dive."
3. The feedback loop - blog posts, vlogs, online commenting, passing along through email, etc.  An interaction with the information. 

I found this to be quite accurate, personally.  The one thing I've noticed though, in my experience in both work and school, is the wide variance between where one person's 'grazing' ends and their "deep dive" begins.  Usually, my grazing is looking about Wikis and Google results, so that by the time I get to my "deep dive," I have an extensive enough background on a topic to know how and what to search for in the deeper parts of the Web.  I'm also fortunate to have several resources at my disposal, including my membership and the university's library databases (which I plan to keep by staying in school forever).  

So thinking about that "deep net," the area often left unexplored, I stumbled across last week's NY Times article on the "deep Web" and the new technologies popping up around the idea, which led me to more reading on the idea of Web 3.0 and the "semantic web."  

A lot of the articles (including the Wiki) on the idea of the semantic web are too jargon-y for my tastes, but the best understanding I have of the concept is a shift toward making computers more..., well, human - in the sense that the computers will begin to make meaning out of all this information.  (Although I should point out that it seems there are as many different definitions of Web 3.0 as articles on the subject.)  Some say it will be similar to a personal assistant, learning your interests/dislikes/likes/hobbies/etc and assessing and providing information based on that. A more dynamic way of surfing the net.  

It seems to me that much of this is likely to be deeply connected to Web 2.0, with sites like Twine - which work through a combination of human and artificial intelligence. Which, I have to admit, seems pretty cool after watching Iron Man last night and watching him talk to all his computers.  ;)

Image of the Day

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Memory Lane...

An old Newsweek article, from February 1995.  "The Internet? Bah!"
My favorite parts:
Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.
Tell it to the Rocky Mountain News.
What the Internet hucksters won't tell you is tht the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data.
One word: Tags.
Then there's cyberbusiness. We're promised instant catalog shopping--just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet--which there isn't--the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Good times.

Old Meets New.

I happen to love anthropology.  And technology.  And so stumbling across this was quite the fun find for me: Kansas State University has a digital ethnography project, headed by Dr. Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist interested in the intersection of new media and society.  Fun stuff.  

I came across it through this video, "An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube." (On YouTube, naturally.) It's long - almost an hour - but worth it.  (I've been watching it in bits and pieces all day.)  It's a presentation by Dr. Wesch at the Library of Congress in 2008.

It's fascinating to take a step back from technology for a second and think about what it all really means.  We often are so caught up in the what and how of it all that we fail to really think about one of the most interesting questions: "Why?" "What does it mean?"

It's really quite fascinating, the looks at the reflective nature of YouTube vlogs and the nature of the community and the authenticity/real/fake question and identity.

The last ten minutes (around the 46 minute mark) are incredibly powerful, the part on the den of thieves and copyright, Lessig's words on this age of prohibitions,  the human expression...

Image of the Day

The size of a baseball.  
Aggregate Hailstone - 6 centimeter radius.  NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).

It's All About...


Ancient Innovation.

Absolutely, entirely, mind-blowing.

Coming Attractions...


The speed of it all is...staggering.

Netbooks, Black Holes, and VHS.

I've complained before about the ill-designed school budgets, but looking around the Web these past couple days gives me some hope for the possibility of widespread integrated technology in even the poorest schools. 

Obviously, we're in the midst of a major economic crisis (words which don't seem sufficient descriptors), and it's hitting the schools.  But I tend to think of times like these as often being the springboards for innovation.  We have a chance here, through the combination of the recession [depression], the stimulus, and the moment in time we're living in, technologically speaking.

Netbooks.  Cloud computing.  Open source.  E-textbooks.  

It's a pretty exciting time.  I have a few thoughts, questions, and concerns.  

One, who are the major players in the Netbook market?  What are the operating systems?  Windows and Linux, yes?  Can we expect Mac to work on Netbooks, or do we expect them to stay in the high-end market?  

Two, I wonder about the level of resistance to this type of movement.  In the schools I've observed in and heard about, the level of Web confinement is extremely high - i.e. Web 2.0 is virtually barred.  

My last thought is the old traditionalist in me coming out.  

On 9/11, no one could get through on cell phones.  I was in college.  But everyone, everywhere on campus got the same message: "All circuits are busy."  And like most college kids, most (all?) of my friends were using their cell phones as their only phone.  I was the only one who had the old-fashioned phone line, having inherited my mother's skeptical trust of technology.  Anyway, I ended up being the messenger that day, using my good old-fashioned phone to get in touch with everyone's relatives, etc.  

I've suffered the agony of losing digital photos because your computer crashed in the middle of backing them up.  

And reading about the potential black hole of history created by an increasingly digital world hasn't helped lessen my skepticism.  

Sometimes, "forward movement" in technology is not always better.  I came to the conclusion yesterday that VHS is markedly better than DVDs.  Snowed in, we watched two movies yesterday.  Monsters, Inc, which I love.  Just bought it, maybe six months ago.  Parts of the movies just freeze, skip, and get stuck.  And yes, I'm nice to my DVDs.  Second movie?  The classic Ducktales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp.  The movie was made in 1990.  I suspect that's around the time we bought the VHS.  It still works.  Just fine.  No scratches.  No skipping.  19 years vs. 6 months.  Come on.  We can do better than that.  But I digress.

So.  Back to netbooks and web apps.  If everything we do is increasingly contained within the web, are we safer or more vulnerable to losing all our work, our data, our information?

**UPDATED: Missed this relevant piece.***