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.

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")