Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Well, I'd hoped to pen a new boast this year, one that glorified the defeat of the N1H1 virus, but since I'm still trying to get caught up on all of my required paperwork, I'll have to settle for a reprint of last year's ditty.

Here it is, for those of you who need to see a sample. As always, I can't wait to hear what you will write: I am always amazed and gratified by your work...

The Battle with Phoenix

1. Hail, harriers, followers of Mercury and Nike!
2. I am Laura, daughter of two, sister of four, wife of one, aunt to many.

3. On this historic day I stand amidst legions
4. All engaged in the same battle,
5. But each of us fighting our own epic struggle
6. Against the paved-concrete current.

7. Gallons of body-salt glistened in anticipation of this day,
8. Sunrise and sunset, the solitary observers of
9. Measured footfalls across many miles.
10. Distance, speed, tempo, hills, cross, rest:
11. These weapons stockpiled and stored.

12. Other days, other challengers,
13. Rose against me:
14. Orlando, Dallas, Memphis, Chicago, Las Vegas.
15. Worthy competitors were they all,
16. But none so daunting as to stop
17. The flight of fleet feet traveling afar,
18. Across 26.2 miles of hills and flatlands alike.

19. Legendary Phoenix, time and time again you rise from the ashes
20. Immemorial, invincible and immortal.
21. But the race that bears your name will fall
22. To my strength, to my skill, to my persistence,
23. Step by step by step.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How much punishment can you take?

Don't you love it when you finally figure something out? When the light comes on and suddenly you understand? Eureka! Hopefully, some of that is beginning to happen with Crime and Punishment. Hopefully, the pages of dense text that you dutifully trudged through over the summer are beginning to open before your eyes, revealing what they may have formerly concealed.

And have you noticed that each time you pick up the book, each time you engage in discussion, each time you read a piece of criticism or hear a classmate report on their own, that your own understanding grows? During our discussion today, I almost felt the tiny folds of my cerebellum expanding, making room for new ideas and justifying them among the old.

So, what is it that you are beginning to understand about the novel? What are your epiphanies, your ah-ha! moments, what light have you seen? Please respond with specific references to the class discussion, arguments presented, textual evidence, your own opinions, etc. I'll do the same, that is, after I finish grading those last 10 college essays. (Yup, I'm still working on those...)
As always, I wait with great anticipation...

Oh, and don't forget your first name, last initial, and period number!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Epiphanies, Part II -

Throughout your mind map presentations today, my ears and brain fought to keep pace with each other, one intent on taking in new ideas and the other trying to organize them in accordance with those already crowded in the folds of my cerebellum.

One idea mentioned that really caught my attention was the alter ego, a second personality that exists within one self. Most typically this might be associated with the doppelganger, ala Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, but I don't think it has to be that obvious. Instead, on a more subtle level, consider the Revered Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth: both have outward personas that they willingly reveal to the public, but both have a hidden personality as well.

Well, maybe this applies more to Chillingworth than it does Dimmesdale. Chillingworth clearly hides his malice and desire for vengeance from the people of Boston: for all appearances he is the kindly although misshapen doctor who tends to the ailing health of their beloved reverend. Other than to Hester, his true intentions are never revealed.

You know, the more I consider it, I think that Dimmesdale escapes this condemnation: although he has a secret, no other heart drives his actions; in fact, it is his weighty conscience that punishes him inwardly and at the same time demands his outward humility. He even goes so far as to admit his sinful nature on the pulpit, something that Chillingworth never does. Furthermore, if what he says is to be believed, he resists admitting his sin because of the detrimental effect it might have on the faith of his parishioners, not because he fears any repercussions for himself.

As for Hester, I'm uncertain. Does she have an alter ego? She seems so stoic throughout her ordeal, stiff backed and unyielding against Puritan judgment. But then again, when she removes her cap in the safety of the forest she is flooded with softness and femininity. I'll have to think about this some more...

As always, I'm curious to hear what you are discovering. Write on, my friends!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Oh, so that's what he meant...

Don't you love it when you finally figure something out? When the light comes on and suddenly you understand? Eureka!

Hopefully, some of that is beginning to happen with The Scarlet Letter. Hopefully, the pages of dense text that you dutifully trugded through over the summer are beginning to open before your eyes, to reveal what they may have formerly concealed. Hopefully, connections are being made and synapses are firing and the light is coming on and... Eureka! Now I see!

And you know what is especially neat? No matter how many times I read The Scarlet Letter, each reading offers something new. Case in point, I was thinking about the mind map that we constructed on the chalkboard (remember that great tangle of ideas??): we discussed the role of human behavior, the motivation behind different character's actions. Dimmesdale's guilt and Chillingworth's vengeance were obvious to us as a class, but it later dawned on me that we hadn't discussed Hester's motivation in any great detail. Certainly, it is more complex than one word can express: understanding Hester's motivation requires a full appreciation of all the roles she fulfills in the story and all of the obligations implicit within them. Best known as the town adultress, certainly she would have acted in response to that label, but think about all of the other functions, labels, or roles she fulfilled: estranged wife, mother, secret lover, etc. How did these roles shape her actions? I hadn't really considered that before... huh! Curious, isn't it?

So, how about you? What are you beginning to realize about The Scarlet Letter? I am anxious to read your responses...
Mrs. K.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thoughts on College Admissions - Class of 2010

Hello, and welcome to my blog! We'll use this forum throughout the year as a way to encourage discussion between all students, leaving behind the boundaries and borders of the traditional classroom. It doesn't matter which period you are in or who you sit next to: hopefully this blog will bring together students from a variety of different periods, background experiences, personalities, thought processes, etc.

For our first post, I'll ask you to read at least two of the following articles regarding the college essay. Choose any two from the list provided, then respond with your insights, observations, comments, etc. Try to move beyond simple responses like, "I knew that" or "I didn't know that." Instead, reflect on your own experiences and expectations as a student readying for college admissions. What insights do these readings offer on the development of those essays?

Please refer by title to the articles that you read and use direct quotations where appropriate.Each person is required to post an individual response, but feel free to comment upon the observations and insights of your classmates, as well. Oh, please include your first name and last initial as well as period number in your post. I look forward to reading your responses...

The Links

Blurring the Line Between a College Application and a Slick Sales Pitch

Getting In Gets Harder: The children of the baby boomers are flooding colleges with applications, making the process more competitive than ever.

Colleges, Awash in Applications, Turning Away Even Top Students

Writing the Essay: Solid Advice From an Expert - UVA

Holding College Chiefs to Their Words

The Perfect Essay
Eight secrets to crafting a memorable personal statement.

The College Essay: Expert Advice

Tip Sheet: An Admissions Dean Offers Advice on Writing a College Essay

Admissions Essay Ordeal: The Young Examined Life

College essays: Nerve-racking search for just the right words

Making a hard-life story open a door to college

Controversy over College Essay Sites

College Admissions ... A little guidance

U.Va. Office of Admission EssaysAdvice from an expert - The Boston Globe

College applications can be too good - The Boston Globe

How much do college admissions essays matter - USATODAY.com

Teacher Says College Admissions Essays (washingtonpost.com) (2)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thing 11.5 What do you mean the Ipod is dead? I just got one!

Fresh from the Yahoo! Homepage this morning is the following headline: "The Ipod is dead. Long live the Ipod!" . It seems that even the Ipod, icon for the millennium, is now passe, at least in its most traditional form. The article discusses the metamorphosis of the device and makes predictions of what it will become, ending with these words, "However Apple answers that question, what's clear is that traditional versions of the device are a thing of the past—and future iterations will have a long and vibrant future."

Although the author of the article intended that statement for the Ipod only, I think it has fair application to teachers, too: traditional teaching, in theory and practice, is as outmoded as the first generation of Ipods introduced in 2001. Consider the following quote taken from the article, but with educational terms replacing the language of technology: "The teacher as many of us have known it is on the wane and giving way to a more feature-rich educator that in time will bear little resemblance to the traditional models." Like the first generation of portable music devices, teachers are evolving, growing sleeker, more efficient, more capable.

In the name of a well-considered argument I must acknowledge that those terms don't apply to all teachers: there are plenty of nay-sayers out there, resisting every advance of the 21st century, those who believe that technology is just some passing fad that will go away with due time. We'll see which passes away more quickly: technology or those who doubt it.

And I'm not suggesting that I am on the cutting edge when it comes to technological advances: it does take the Library2play summer programs to keep me current. Okay, current might be stretching the term a bit: case in point, my favorite discovery of the summer was Facebook. Anyone under the age of 30 is either laughing hysterically or rolling their eyes at this point, but really, until this summer I didn't understand the impact of the social network. And I have to admit, I am still hesitant about FB protocol - some of the possible FB fun seems to presume goodwill on the part of your friends, seems a bit intrusive, but I guess I will get over that...

My personal skepticism will have to take a back seat to possibility. And that is my lifelong learning goal, really: to embrace progress rather than adhere rigidly to the past. Ask the dinosaurs how well it worked for them!

Change is never easy, even for those of us who willingly face it. It has been a great relief to have my sister and a few friends along on this summer's journey. I think we were encouraged by each other's successes. And, when certain "things" proved difficult, we were usually able to help each other along. Either that or commiserate with each other...

And we were lucky to have some young'uns along with us, as well. My niece, in preparation for teaching career, is completing the original library2play class. Her enthusiasm for teaching and technology alike has been a breath of fresh air! Anyone out there want to give her a job? See Notes from a Texas Treehouse for further details.

So, whether we are oldies trying to stay young or youngies just doing what comes naturally, things are looking up. The Ipod isn't dead, it is just changing with the times. And so are we...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Digital Citizenship - Am I boring you?

My father, in paradoxical effort to amuse/annoy my mother, used to stick his finger in her ear and ask, "Am I boring you?" Chances were that, yes, he was, but not necessarily because of the offending finger intrusion. He was and remains a very predictable man, routined in more ways than I can even describe, and I'm sure he thought his little prank a way to both acknowledge and combat such a routined existence. And dang it if I haven't become very much like him. Don't you hate when you become like your parents - aaargh! Anyway, imagine my delight when in response to my earlier post, my sister expressed surprise that I wrote about Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) instead of the likelier topic for an English teacher, choosing reliable sources. At first I was happy to have surprised her, but then I worried that "surprise" might have been code for "What a boring post!"

So here I am to defend a potentially boring topic. Let me start by acknowledging the importance of choosing reliable sources, and I can see using GoView as a way of leading students through a discussion of choosing and critically examining sources for reliability, quality, etc. Really, I think that is a neat idea and am anxious to try it. You see, despite my resistance to Second Life, I am in full favor of using technology for both content and delivery.

The problem is, though, that if for some reason kids have restricted access to technology because they have violated some part of the dreaded and possibly boring AUP - and they do, as we are reminded by SBISD students own sabotage of Wikipedia - then by the logical consequence of the AUP they are limited from full participation in the educational process.

If we really believe that technology is a fundamental part of the modern educational process, then learners must be allowed access to it. Punishing a student for misusing technology by removing his/her license to use it is as flawed as punishing for misbehavior in math class by taking away his textbook! Another blogger who wrote that technology is a privilege, not a right, but really, after all that we have learned over the last two summers, can we really fall back on that too-easy response to student misconduct?

It seems that if we are going to teach students to "act with respect to technology," that we have to begin with a basic belief that technology is fundamental to modern education, that it is a means of accessing content and a means of delivery, that everyone must have access to it, and that there are certain standards - behavioral, ethical, etc - that support said access. Maybe to reduce this idea to the AUP is too pat. Maybe what we're really facing is another type of character education. Or maybe it is part of the character education that is already ongoing in so many of our schools. Here's how we behave at home, at school, in the community, in cyberspace...

Well, there you go: my explanation. Am I boring you?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thing 10 - Digital Citizenship and Pie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky: that's me! Well, actually it is the name I am holding in reservation for my bakery, the one that I will open some years in the future when I've retired from teaching. I also like A Slice of Heaven, but it doesn't work as well in this particular blog post about digital citizenship. Oh, and Pie in the Sky does? Well, yes Virginia, it does. And how, pray tell? Well, because my response to the problems of digital citizenship, especially the Acceptable Use Policy may seem a tad idealistic. So, if you all will join hands, we'll sing a few lines of Kumbaya, and then I'll elaborate.

I'm sure that in all of the links and blogs about DC, it seems odd that I should fix on the AUP, but it seems like it may be the vital link in the relationship between the user and technology. If your school is anything like mine, the AUP is distributed within the first few days of school, along with the reams of other paperwork that must be signed: the clinic card, the emergency information card, the directory form, etc. It is just one sheet of paper that kids carry home in their first day folder, just another form that parents and students mindlessly sign and return. Check. Done. Right-o.

However, if we really expect students to become responsible digital citizens, if they are going to "act with respect to technology," then we're going to have to make the AUP an important document based on a shared educational philosophy that promotes technology as an integral part of both curriculum and delivery. As it stands now, it seems that most AUPs are just a bulleted list of do's and don't's that students agree to follow. Unless, that is, they can figure out how to get around the rules and restrictions.

Because, let's face it folks, that is what kids do: they spend countless hours calculating the best way to circumnavigate what authority figures want them to do. I'm not being negative, just realistic. I did it, you did it, (or at least we thought about it. Maybe we weren't the type to actually break the rules, but we could have if we wanted to. Or were brave enough to. Or didn't fear getting caught...) since the beginning of time kids have resisted authority measures. It is a normal part of adolescence.

So, ok, what does this mean for the fate of the AUP? It means that it must be a shared document, constructed and agreed upon by students, faculty, and administration alike. Ownership, by-in, whatever jargon you care to apply here will work. It would have to begin with a philosophy statement about the role of technology in modern education. Can you imagine what it would include? I have some ideas but would be curious to read your thoughts, too. Anyway, once a foundation was in place, then practices, limitations, even rules and consequences would follow in natural order. Kids might be willing to follow the AUP because they had a hand in its construction. What do you think? Too pie-in-the sky? I look forward to your responses.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Voyeurism of Trash Day

My sister called me yesterday evening and read aloud a snippet of our assigned beach novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (For those of you wondering, neither of these practices - assigning a beach novel or reading aloud over the telephone - is considered unusual behavior in our family. Let it go and move on... )

Here is what she read, the words of a character I have yet to meet, Juliet: "I don't consider myself a real peeper - they go in for bedrooms, but it's families in sitting rooms or kitchens that thrill me. I can imagine their entire lives from a glimpse of bookshelves, or desks, or lit candles, or bright sofa cushions" (Shaffer and Barrows 14).

Don't you just love that? So evocative, it immediately brought to mind several other intimate scenes. Remember at the end of The Great Gatsby when Nick watches Daisy and Tom eating cold chicken and drinking beer, trying to regain some control, some sense of equilibrium in their desperately shallow lives? Or in Angela's Ashes when young Frankie runs through the nighttime streets, desperate to find lemonade for his sick mother? Remember how he ran through the streets, past the homes of those who lived in relative luxury compared to his own dismal circumstances? The yellow light poured out of the windows, illuminating the charmed lives within: Ach, aye, poor Frankie! Or in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, (the movie), how the director Richard Brooks shot so many of the scenes from the wide veranda, through the great shuttered doors and into the true ugliness that lay at the family's core? Oh, what a window reveals!

I was reminded of this idea - intimate revelation - again this morning. In many of the neighborhoods through which I ran, it was Trash Day. Moving along at my stately pace amid city-approved receptacles and recycling containers, boxes and bags and other makeshift containers, I found myself privy to the details of strangers' lives. I didn't have to creep up a lawn or tiptoe through a dark alley to know what was going on within these homes: their trash made clear the stories of their lives.

Take age and station of life, for example: rites of passage litter the sidewalks - the "It's a Boy!" stork once displayed in the lawn now finds itself head first in the dumpster. Tiny newborn diaper boxes give way to bulkier "crawlers" and "walkers", baby formula gives way to nuggets, convenience foods, and fast-food sacks.

It is simply amazing how much trash growing families generate, especially in contrast to the single and empty-nesters; their status is made obvious by their unusually small amounts of refuse. A single plastic grocery bag with handles tied together sits lonely at the edge of their drives.

You don't need to rifle through someone's refuse for an old bank statement to know how some people spend their money, saving a few cents by buying Beer-30 or Natural Light instead of a more costly brand.; others, though, still have room for luxury items like a new electric toothbrush. You learn who acts on impulse or is lured in by fads; the Shamwow box and empty Acai juice bottles proudly poking their heads out of overstuffed cans. Some people buy generic cranberry juice; others still pay more for Ocean's Spray. You know who has a cat, dog, ferret; you remember that the charm of a fish tank quickly gives way to stink and noise.

Who is timely and who the procrastinator? Next to Ned Neatnick's line of carefully secured bags is his neighbor's long-forgotten Christmas tree, hidden behind the tool shed and finally dragged to the curve in late June.

Do these innocents realize what they leave open to the public eye? Do they know that someone is scrutinizing the remains of their day, creating something out of seemingly nothing? Maybe I'm making too much out of the trash -- taking recycling to a ridiculous new height. Maybe, looking back, all of the examples of windows that I gave earlier in this post were just fiction, that all that was revealed was the writer's own sense of fiction and fantasy. Maybe that's all that was reflected here, but I doubt it. Life has a funny way of making itself clear...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Was July 9 really the last time I posted???

Yup, I guess it was. When I haven't written in a while, I find a list a good way to get the old juices flowing again. So, here you have it:

Things I have done since July 9, in semi-chronological order:
1. Saw my 98 year-old friend through a four-day stint in the hospital. Favorite quote: "And then they stuck that catheter in me: that was no picnic, let me tell you!" (Please note the use of stint in the line above. Stint, not stench. That part came later...)
2. Came into close contact with some 98 year-old body parts that left me laughing, crying, and gagging all at the same time.
3. Was surprised to see a large group interested in taking a summer membership class at my church.
4. Met more than one cruel person anxious to remind me that "summer is almost over" and/or "school starts soon!" Sadists. For those of you who are not teachers, do not fall for the misconception that good teachers are the ones anxious to return to work. More than likely the good ones are those just beginning to recover from the previous year. I'm just saying...
5. Saw a number of movies in a number of venues: theater, on-demand, HBO/Encore, and red box: Public Enemies, Paul Blart Mall Cop, He's Not That In To You, Run Fatboy, Run, Enchanted, A Time to Kill, just to name a few. Any excuse to eat popcorn, really...
6. Taught a Friday/Saturday New Member Class at my church.
7. Missed my sister as she lay on her sickbed. (Far less romantic than my visions of breaking her out of a Louisiana casino's stronghold.)
8. Baked two cakes and two batches of lemon squares. (Dirtied just about every dish in my kitchen, ran the dishwasher about a thousand times, got hot/frustrated/cranky in 1000 degree heat).
9. Declared kitchen closed until after beach vacation.
10. Discovered that a shopping cart offers surprising speed and stabililty to an otherwise tottery older woman.
11. Sat through two committee meetings.
12. Heard two really good sermons.
13. Discovered that watching someone else sing can melt your heart.
14. Spent some time on Facebook. Still new to this and afraid of breaking protocol.
15. Held a tiny baby. (Everyone should do this on a regular basis)
16. Took my cat to the vet. There is a reason this only happens on an "as needed" basis. Coach is surprisingly agile for a fat boy.
17. Enjoyed the sound of distant thunder, the crack of lightning, the promise of rain, the satisfaction of fat rain drops hitting the pavement.
18. Almost stepped on a snake in park; was threatened with fangs and all!
19. Talked to several long-distance friends.
20. Ironed clothes. (Ill-advised on a hot Saturday morning)
21. Attended one funeral.
22. Rediscovered the joys of jello.
23. Finished one book; started and rejected another - Coastliners; started and am limping through another - The Bookseller of Khabul; issued a call for suggestions from my friends; made a disappointing trip to Katy Bargain Books - overrated; bought a couple of new titles but am still uninspired.
24. Bought anniversary tickets to Cirque du Soleil.
25. Got haircut. (A little too short, but it will grow)
26. Colored hair. (Light ash brown)
27. Cleaned. Daily. How.does.my.house.get.so.dirty?

Ok - the brain is working now, the juices are a-flowing. Thanks for indulging me. Look for my post on digital citizenship soon...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thing 10 - Reflections on a morning's run

8:17; Thursday, July 9.

I'm just in from an early morning run before the day heats up to its projected 106 degrees.

A variety of running paths at my disposal, this morning's route led me through the wilds of George Bush Park. The wilds exist between the freeway and another major thoroughfare? Yes, to a small degree. While only three miles across ( at least on this extension of the trail), the park is home to woodland, wetland, and grassland alike. Though just a few hundred feet away from civilization, one can't help but be awed by this little haven.

On this morning's trek alone, I was greeted by the songbirds already busy with the day's work, saw a small deer bound across the trail ahead of me, discovered a nutria or other varmint gliding along with the current of the bayou, and watched some pike-like fish making a meal of unsuspecting bait fish. I heard hoots and howls of every order, small splashes of water, the rustling of light (very light) winds through the trees.

Occasionally a cyclist or two would whizz past me, heads tucked down and legs pumping, inspired no doubt by Mr. Armstrong's gains in the Tour de France. Others , though, adopted a more stately pace, allowing me to hear snippets of their conversations: "So, when they say 'the eagle flies on Friday night' they are talking about a paycheck?"

But mainly it was just me and my thoughts alone on the trail, trying to make peace with each other. You see, I'd been up since the wee hours of the dawn trying to compose this post about Second Life, and I still hadn't come up with anything satisfactory. I hesitated to express my real opinions, fearing that I might seem unduly prejudiced or jaded or antiquated in my notions about social order.

And I still hesitate to do so, but I will say this: I think of all that I experienced this morning in a 50 minute run -- all of it was real. Everything I saw, heard, and smelled occurred naturally, without the halting and exaggerated effect created in cyberspace. My eyes blinked naturally in their protective fashion, my arms swung easily at my side. My head always turned the direction I intended it to and never once did my body continue to move forward while my face was turned 180 degrees in opposition. Sounds and sights came as they should, moving in and out of perspective with the appropriate speed or distance. Footfalls sounded like footfalls, tires turned on gravel with a certain crunching that only real force can create. Humans and animals alike moved with the grace and symmetry that only the living can appreciate, and none of them were marked by oddly angular features.

As for that other world, the Second Life world, my time there was marked only by anxiety, frustration, and a loss of equilibrium. Maybe with enough practice I could get comfortable there, but do I really want to? Is that really how I want to spend my time, even in the name of education - a seemingly noble pursuit? I don't think so. I have bigger work to do, and it rests firmly on this side of the keyboard.

And so, since I haven't quoted Thoreau this year, let me conclude with his wisdom:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. ( from "Life in the Woods --Where I Lived, and What I Lived For")

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Birds and the Bees!

Well, for those of you who have wondered just what your baby might look like, take a look at the Routan Babymaker 300, brought to you by the fine folks over at Volkswagen. Just enter a picture of the mother, a picture of the father, and voila: a baby is born! This is our firstborn, affectionately known as Kip. He's cute, isn't he? You'll see that he has my nose and Joe's hairline...I'd really hoped for a girl, so I'm going to go back and try again. (I know it is risky at my advanced age, but what the heck. Let's see, when they graduate from high school I'll be what? 60? That's not so bad...) Why don't you try to make a baby of your own? I never dreamed it would be so easy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thing 9: The Sippy-Cup Conundrum

Anyone who has ever had children or, as I, spent innumerable hours with those of the toddler set knows the sippy-cup paradox: one lid does not fit all. Although those cheerfully adorned little plastic tumblers appear similar, there is no shared design which allows the sleepy mother or frantic babysitter to apply a Gerber lid to a Playtex bottle or vice-versa. The lids and stoppers do not, under any set of circumstances, applied force, or gentle pleadings, fit the other cups. The Playtex? No. Avent? Nope. First years? Not on your life. Each brand's cup and lid is uniquely (diabolically?) designed to work only in harmony with the other.

But (and there is always a big but out there, isn't there folks??), but, someone could make a killing by inventing just such an object: the universal sippy-cup lid! One that crosses the engineered boundaries of design, the "uni-lid" would provide a user-friendly solution to the wrong lid conundrum. Oh, but this is just pie-in-the-sky musing, isn't it? I mean, who would create one product just to solve the problems created by the limitations of others?

Well, slideshare would, and slideboom and authorstream and 280 slides, as well. You see, those bright young minds in the ever-advancing world of technology have recognized the untapped bounty created by competing applications. Can't open power point? Can't get googledocs to download? Need to send a slideshow to your compatriate presenting in Kuala Lampur but your e-mail can't handle the bulky file? These online collaborative tools provide the solution! And that, my friends, is really cool, not to mention smart, forward thinking, and profitable.

So, those of you looking to make your millions, get started on the uni-lid right away: I formally cede all intellectual rights I might have to the idea. There's definitely a need, definitely a market, and definitely a model for you to follow...

Good luck and God speed!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thing 8 - If Everything in Life were this Simple...


Thanks for your patience, my friends, as I worked through this particular "thing." Actually, this particular assignment was not that taxing; in fact, it was pretty simple. Now don't get all excited about my end product: it is pretty ragged around the edges, but talk about user-friendly! The whole process from downloading the software to publishing the screencast was remarkably... pleasant! There were no quirks or hitches or glitches or jumbles that might otherwise entrap and discourage the gentle user. (Unlike Promethean's Activboard software...Yes, I'm still caught up in that quagmire!)

You know, that last comment should be taken out of parentheses; quite to the opposite, it should probably be in bold print. You see, my dealings with the Promethean pits of hell have quite colored any other technological adventures that I have undertaken this week. I sat through six hours of activboard training, thinking that I knew what was going on, and then once on my own - poof! - anything that I might have learned was rendered useless by what I forgot, and there is no one to help me. Yes, there are links a-plenty, and videos galore, and templates that can be downloaded, but none of them are really that helpful, nor do they directly answer the questions that I have, and they are slow and cause your computer to freeze, and I want to have all of my school stuff done by July 1 so that I can spend the remaining summer months school free, and...

...big pause for breath... and that is why I was so impressed with the screenshot software offered by Wink. It was welcoming to the new user, easy to install, simple to operate, and immediately gratifying in outcome. Promethean, eat your heart out!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thing #7 - Video Heaven

Abandon hope all ye who enter here...

After a harrowing afternoon trying to escape Promethean's own special circle of hell where those sinners who have naively ignored the ever-growing, ever-changing demands of technology are punished by making the same stupid errors over and over again, never able to progress beyond page one of their five-page flipchart, it is nice to sit down to something manageable.

Ironically, earlier this week I felt frustrated by what I considered video overkill, but the fact that I can access, embed, upload, and even create if necessary videos of all sorts -- this, my friends, is like drinking the sweet nectar of the gods...

To leave behind the infernal Promethean software and all of its related pitfalls and seek safe harbor in the safety of PBS's video archives, better yet to invoke my muse, Bill Moyer, and to watch some lively, intelligent men discussing poetry -- pure manna, my friends.

I was delighted to find two videos in particular: one, an interview with actor John Lithgow, details the actor's fondness for poetry; the other, featuring the Dodge Poetry Festival, suggests that poetry is not just appreciated by classically trained actors and other odd sorts but an art form appreciated by the common man.

If you have time and are so inclined, if your heart is weary and your brain addled, a little poetry might just soothe your soul... Ironically, just one click away!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thing 6 - Apps in a snap!

I can’t really think of a way to start this post. Answering the assigned question about I-phone and I-touch apps in the classroom seems like the obvious choice, but through the hard work of the featured blog posts and websites, the question has already been answered!

To me, the bigger question will be whether the educational establishment will ever embrace mobile technology in the classroom. The administrative offices and classrooms of so many schools are still reigned over by people of a certain age and mindset, people who see technology as a novelty instead of a significant icon of the new millennium. As quoted in one of our suggested readings, E.D. Hirsch of cultural literacy fame refers to mobile devices as “technological gadgets.” To refer to emerging technology in such minimizing terms shows a lack of understanding of its true weight and importance in our modern culture. At the risk of repeating myself, I will say again that technology is not going away. Period. You can deny it, resist it, declaim it, decry it, ignore it, bemoan and bewail it, but it is (and I repeat) not going away.

Yes, I know that there are many procedural issues that have to be resolved before this type of handheld technology can be seamlessly integrated into our classrooms – consider the battles that many districts wage with cell phones alone – but we have to quit considering these applications as the wave of the future and relegating them to mere frivolity.

If our goal is to meet our students where they are, to engage with them, to connect with them on a level that they know and understand, then we’re going to have to put the chalk down and begin scrolling from one screen to the next…

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thing 5 - Twitter!

June 20, 2009:

5:00 a.m. – I’m up finishing the end of Meredith Forester’s Diary of an Ordinary Woman. Dang it – just as the title states: ordinary! Not to mention long...

7:00 – Going out for a run, hoping to beat some of the Houston heat and humidity.

7:50 – Post-run report: five miles, five snakes, one turtle, one rabbit, a gazillion cyclists…

8:45 – Hazel and Joey are here: Everyone should have a lovely British lady for a neighbor.

10:00 – At La Centerra Farmers’ Market – hot pavement is bad for business!

11:00 – What farmers’ market lacks, Campbell’s soup will provide. Mmm, mmm, good!

12:00 –Sobering news is only one phone call away.

2:00 – Happy Anniversary, George and Theda!

4:30 - Distress call from Marjorie: needs groceries and prescriptions.

5:30 – At the grocery store again. Cantaloupes look nice, but two dollars apiece? Is this Kroger or Whole Foods???

7:00 – Nice to cook dinner for someone who really loves to eat!

7:45 – Trying to watch movie with Joe while blogging, but find I can’t multitask. Blog is better than movie…

7:52 – Movie is boring; Joe and Coach have both fallen asleep.

8:00 – Trying to compose some sort of response about Facebook and Twitter. Can’t figure out why people would want to read about the minutia of my life.

8:15 - Still thinking… 8:30 - Still thinking… 8:45 - Still thinking…

9:00 Just remembered that I spent 7 days reading every excruciating detail of Millicent King’s life. Maybe someone might be interested in the details of my life.

9:01 – Begin mock twit (twitt?)

9:37 – Realize that there might be something to this Twitter stuff…

10:00 - Realize that I have spent far too much time on this post! I must rescind my comments about the length of Forester's work. Some lives will require 385 pages; others, hourly updates.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thing 3 – Skype

An unfortunate name, don’t you agree? I wonder how some advertising/marketing guru let that one slip by… , but already I digress.

On to the point, if there is something I have learned about technology over the last few years, it is that avoiding it will not make things better: one, whatever the application, it is not going away; in fact, it will only be replaced by something more sophisticated and multifunctional, and two, there will come a time when you will be so behind the times that it becomes difficult to catch up. This seems like the perfect place for some axiomatic reminder about the inevitable, but sadly all that comes to mind is Ross Perot’s ill-conceived comment about Texas weather. So, lacking a pithy quote, perhaps an object lesson is more appropriate. Why learn to Skype?

Let me offer in the form of an analogy, my experiences with the MP3 player.: growing up in the era of the Sony Walkman (purchased at Houston Jewelers for nearly 100 dollars in 1984), the concept of portable music was not entirely unheard of, but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the MP3 player, mainly the idea of purchasing and downloading music. So I just skipped it, moved on, didn’t concern my pretty little head about it until about three years ago. For those of you needing a history lesson, the iPod was launched in 2001, leaving me roughly 5 years behind the times.

How far behind the times? Well, the MP3 player I purchased at Costco (watch out, I feel another digression coming… I love Costco…) only came with operating instructions, no instructions for downloading music! Of course, my students reassured me that it was easy, all I had to do was “blah, blah” – they might as well spoken Greek.

I suffered through hours of seat time in front of my computer, desperately trying to get the stupid music downloaded before admitting utter defeat, asking for help from anyone who could offer some, and then resorting to Google. And do you know from whence the rescue came? Who offered technology help for the weak, the tired, and the huddled masses? WALMART.COM!!!

Now you can take that anyway you like, but I’ll just say this: when you have to rely on the home of “rollback prices” for your technology savvy, well, that’s pretty sad!

So I’m going to learn to Skype now, no matter all of the unknowns, the difficulties, the distractions. I’m not going back to Walmart!

Thing #4 - My first upload!

Although I always though the words "Hey, Mrs. K! I saw you on YouTube last night!" would mean that my checkered past had been exposed (just kidding - I wanted to see if you were paying attention!), I am now growing more and more convinced that video hosting sites are perfectly appropriate mediums for lessons and lectures. Missed class on Tuesday? You can watch a rerun of it on YouTube! Need to see how to solve that calculus problem again? Just search for Mr. X's lessons on teacher tube. Ok, maybe it is a bit ambitious, not to mention unrealistic, to think that any teacher would have a) the time, b) the resources, and c) the inclination to record and post lessons, but wouldn't it be nice? And isn't it something to try, at least once?

Yeah, yeah, I know that there are myriad reasons why it wouldn't, couldn't and shouldn't work, but after Activboard training, skyping, and posting videos all in one week, I feel like now is the time to begin considering, at least in some small part, how to begin using these resources.

And for those of you who remain skeptical, here is one of my favorite articles from last year's 23 Things initiative: "Is it ok for teachers to be technologically illiterate?" http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/ If our students are making videos, uploading them and viewing them with ease, isn't it incumbent upon us at the very least to understand the process and maybe even give it a good old try?

That said, does anyone know how to make a video?


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thing 2 - The blackbird is involved in what I know...

Though I loved making my book(r), getting my post published has proved quite an ordeal! After an immensely sweaty run this morning, I came in ready to crank out my response. Why the rush, you might ask? Well, certainly not in response to a time crunch, but instead in response to a brain crunch.

When I looked at the options for thing#2, I found myself a bit dismayed -- more image makers? really? Don't get me wrong: they are great fun, and I love anything that combines words, images, and creative license; however, I have wondered about the power of the image maker to do more than just illustrate, a low-level cognitive task. Could an image generator be used for something more critical?

I used Voki and wordle last summer (their vestiges can still be found in the borders of my page), so I decided to just plunge ahead with bookr. And, to test, the "critical" factor, I applied it to one of my year's most challenging lessons, an analysis of Wallace Steven's "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." (Can you hear my students groaning right now? Oh, but look: there are a few of them smiling -- they really did like this assignment!) Anyhoo, one of the ways that we approach this very complex poem is by drawing out each stanza, sketching the images and details, letting some of the pictures come forward while relegating others to the background, all in the effort of seeing what it is that Stevens emphasizes in each stanza.

You ought to hear the conversations that we have: "No, it shouldn't be the blackbird's whole body, just the head and eye against the white mountain so the contrast is really exaggerated." (I live for these days, by the way...) I digress again: my goal with bookr then was to try something more than a mere illustration but to achieve something more complex.

Fortunately, flickr has a wide stock of bird photos, so away I clicked, finding satisfaction with some of the stanzas but more often a disappointment with the produced effect. In most other flickr photos, the birds featured most prominently, although in Stevens' work the bird is often tangential to the subject of the stanza. That proved most difficult to capture. I longed to layer on image over another, to crop and cut and paste and combine, just as my students did with their own sketches.

Anyone who dabbles in the creative process knows that dissatisfaction often accompanies a finished product, so I wasn't too devastated that the result was less stellar than I had hoped. Content to call this thing done, I closed down for the night and planned to write my response this morning.

I wasn't sure what I was going to write, but I envisioned the words "cute, but not critical," featuring prominently in the response. Fortunately while running this morning, it occurred to me that though the outcome was superficial, the thinking that it inspired was indeed more complex. I was forced to admit that the definition my students most often give for imagery, " words used to create a picture in the reader's mind," is so poorly informed. You see, words are not intended as a poor substitute for pictures; indeed, just the opposite is true: pictures are a poor substitute for the words that inspire them, lacking the depth and subtlety that only words possess.

I wouldn't have realized this if I hadn't created my book, and that is critical enough for me!

Thing 1: Tenzing Norgay, ready for duty!

In case you missed the allusion,well-renowned sherpa Tenzing Norgay earned his fame by escorting Sir Edmund Hillary to the summit of Mount Everest. Ok - thanks for the bit of minutiae, you might be thinking. What, exactly, does this have to do with education in the 21st century.

Well, according to the folks over at Commoncraft (love those guys, by the way) one of the many roles of the millennial teacher (among the multitude of others) is the Network Sherpa. As the narrator rattled off the list of responsibilities of the teacher in the networked classroom -- learning architect, communication specialist, etc. -- the role of the sherpa really caught my ear.

Given greater thought, perhaps it was the mental image of the loyal Tenzing Norgay playing second fiddle to the virtuosity of Sir Edmund Hillary's glory? Humble, understated, dutiful... yes, I like it! Consider the following quotes by the two men: Hillary is reported to have said, "People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things"; Norgay, "If it is a shame to be the second man on Mount Everest, then I will have to live with this shame. "

That quote, in my eyes, captures the constantly evolving role of the teacher. No longer will we be considered the experts, instead we will be the guides, fearlessly leading our students toward the accomplishment of their own extraordinary things.

With that in mind, I'd better get started: I'm afraid that the ascent might be more difficult than I anticipated. As Hillary sagely advised, "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."