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."