Friday, March 30, 2007


There's no television here at the homestead. Now, I'm fine with that. Still, to get a quick fix, I started watching clips of The Daily Show. Now, don't get me wrong, I watch other shows and get my news from other sources. Still, I like to laugh. The movie above ties nicely to Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone which I finished last night.

I found the book compelling and difficult to tear myself away from when other tasks required my attention. I think more to its credit was the fact that I also had to make a conscious decision to pick the book back up again after I'd been away from it for any time. Once, as I was sitting down to begin a new chapter, I actually said aloud to myself, "All right, I'm going to enter this world again."

It speaks to Beah's translation of the pain and inhuman acts he and other boy soldiers in Sierra Leon suffered during that country's civil war. To pick up the book was to admit you were entering a world no one in reality would choose.

Interestingly, Michael Vasquez and Elizabeth Rubin have been writing back and forth on the book over at Slate. Their conversation has planted some interesting thoughts. I'm not sure what they'll grow to become. Still, they germinate. I'm not sure where all of this is going except to say that I feel the need to do more, to educate more, to do more.

Karl Fisch posted today about the birth of a plan to move his Did You Know? presentation from viral pacivity to something that got the ball rolling toward moving the conversation of School 2.0 from minority to majority and perhaps to something beyond simply a conversation about pockets of success.

I'm all for it. Beyond that, though, is Karl's post about how to effectively roll out the soon-to-be polished version of the presentation. It's a planned convergence - consumers using producer tactics (let's all acknowledge my active processing of Henry Jenkins and move on).

My thinking then becomes intertwined. While I agree the conversation about how learning and educating should be changing, more important global applications of these tactics are waiting in the wings. Imagine a similar approach to the one Karl suggests - only it's applied to poverty or Darfur or hunger or joblessness.

How do you motivate? A stake, right? The thing is, there is everyday folk do have a stake in solving these problems, but they don't have an urgency behind them. Imagine the Gates Foundation opening a challenge to the globe where they placed all of the important data and resources about a given global or national crisis on a page or wiki or whatever and then facilitated an open forum engaging experts and invested amatuers in solving the problem.

Think of the educational implications of such a challenge. A civics class selects a chunk of data and works collaboratively to analyze and contribute to the cause, an English class utilizes the information to write to governments and other non-civilian change catalysts urging their investigation or - better yet - asking what they can do to help.

Am I thinking too big? Have I said too much? I should pull back? Someone tell me they can see the vision.

More later.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Week to Learn

I finished Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture while up in Chicago, and my brain is still cataloging the information. As usual, I read the book with pen in hand. The margins are full of notes and brackets. Lines and passages are underlined. Good stuff.

The biggest praise I have for the book is the fact I've had the chance to reference it in conversation at least 5 times since Gmail - Inboxfinishing it two days ago. It's not that all of Jenkins' ideas are necesarily unique. I found myself dazing through a few passages containing thoughts and notions with which I am already familiar or putting into practice. No, what struck me about the book was the way it, itself, acted a conduit for convergence of the ideas and examples Jenkins writes about.

In reading about the interweaving of storylines across media in the Matrix universe, I found myself hopping online mid-paragraph to download referenced movies and read more about storylines that had been missed. I couldn't even read the book in isolation. Were it an e-Book on a PDA or the like, I would have been set.

One downfall of the tome is it's lack of or passing attention paid to Myspace, Youtube and Wikipedia. This is not to mention RSS feeds and Skype. Were these tools not as priminant when Jenkins was writing in '05-'06? The other possibility, of course, is that Jenkins chose not to include them for fear that they might overload what is a user-friendly introduction to the ideas of convergence and web 2.0.

Whatever the reason, Convergence Culture is a worthwhile read I'm sure to be talking and posting about for quite some time. I should give a shout out of thanks to Will Richardson for mentioning this book over the summer at the Building Learning Communities '06 conference. It's been on my shelf since I got back to Sarasota from Boston (I think I ordered it on Amazon just after his break-out session), but I haven't had a chance to sit down and read until spring break.

I'm working on A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah now. Wow, compelling reading. Truly. I heard about the book when Beah was on The Daily Show. Unfortunately, Beah's account closely mirrors Dave Eggers' fictionalized refugee of one of the Lot Boys of Sudan in What is the What? I say unfortunately because it shows how such similar atrocities took place while the world stood watching. I'm not claiming to have any solution or to know what we could have done, but something. Something. All right.

More later.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

The Benefits of Lost Luggage

So, the guy who processed my claim of lost luggage after my 3-legged journey home last night told me Chicago (where I'd just been) was a mess after three days of poor visibility and subsequent delays.

Turns out that translates to mean, "Your bag's with thousands of others and we're not sure when we're going to get it all sorted out."

As I was heading to my mom's, I wasn't worried. I've remnants of clothes from as far back as high school stocked away in my closet. Nothing I ever planned to wear again, but no polyester leisure suits either.

The interesting part, the part that truly signals my nerd-dom is that I have been in my Christmas PJs the entire day. They were the first things I found when I opened the closet door and they suited me just fine. They also put me in the mindset to stay in bed and read all day - ALL DAY.

It's been wonderful. As predicted, I finished The New Brain on my second flight and am not mid-way through Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture. Interesting stuff, I'm bracketing, underlining and annotating my way through it. I'll have a more thoughtful post when I finish it tomorrow.

This is really not a thinking type post, but I didn't want to get out of the habit. Now the world knows my luggage's lost. Finally, empathy.

More later.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Thinking in Charlotte

I've just touched down, completing leg 1 of 3 necessary to get me to my final spring break destination. The time on the plane from SRQ to Charlotte was spent re-immersing myself in The New Brain by Richard Restak. Nevermind the fact that I first started the book two years ago which likely means it's no longer the new brain. (Brain fashions are so hard to follow, and I've never been very trendy.

I picked up the book after attending a professional development seminar offered by the district. The focus was on occupational therapy and incorporating brain science into pedagogy and classroom environment. It was one of those awakenings in teaching where I was struck by how little of what we do as teachers has to do with what scientists tell us about how the brain works.

A piece of the book talks about ADD and ADHD. Restak contends that we should stop looking at ADD and ADHD as disorders and begin thinking about them as new adaptive ways of brain functioning. While I can get on board with the thinking, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with referring to AD and ADH.

Restak also talks about the fallacy of multi-tasking. I know this isn't new stuff at this point and that our brains are truly switching quickly between tasks. I get that. What Restak writes that interests me is the decline in efficiancy when the brain is asked to switch between these multiple tasks. We're doing more, but not necessarily doing better. I've about 60 pages to go. I'm hoping to be on my next book by the end of leg 2. This is what spring break is all about...for teachers.

More later.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring Break

The bell ringing at the end of the day today marked the beginning of our spring break. I've got travel plans as usual and will board a plane tomorrow afternoon to start a much-needed vacation.
Still, I'll miss my kids and my colleagues. I feel like I'm in a good place right now. As I last posted, that doesn't happen much this time of year. It's that golden quarter where you get to be a real teacher and not have to worry about whether or not what you're teaching is preparing your students for a standardized test.
In fact, the social action unit I started this past week is one I'm convinced is preparing my students for a more important test - when faced with a chance to act on a social issue about which they feel strongly, will they participate?
First period was interesting today.
A reporter came to speak with 6 of my kids who have been participating in a pilot young screenwriters program through the Sarasota Film Festival. Beginning in January, these students have shown up Tuesday and Thursdays after school and crafted their ideas in to real and true screenplays.
What's funny is the fact this group does not follow the traditional 20%/80% rule where 20% of your students account for 80% of your school organization membership. This is a cross of students with stories to tell.
Screenplays complete and the festival fast approaching, these students will soon be recognized for their work.
Today was a taste of that. They sat in my classroom and were asked questions about their creative process and whether or not they wanted to write another screenplay. The thing is - in the course of participating in this program - three of them have decided to write books. One of them has decided he would like to produce his screenplay as well as star in it.
It's a connection that could not have been made in a traditional test-prep classroom. No 5-paragraph essay would fit these students' visions. They worked without complaint, some taking their journals home to sculpt their ideas on their own time.
This is the spirit of learning I hope to foster and cultivate in all of my students in the Golden Quarter. I feel we're well on our way.
Any week where you get to begin to explain communism to 8th graders, examine the meaning, causes and effects of bigotry, and hear students point out the much stronger case for non-violent vs. violent social action, it's a good week to be a teacher.
More later.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Traditionally, I'll get to the start of the fourth quarter and begin counting the days until summer vacation. It's the nature of the beast. After preparing for and completing FCAT testing, we are truly on the downward slope of the year. The students sense it and largely shut down.

This year, something different is happening. I'm actually dreading the end of school.

Ms. Jacks and I just broke up a planning session in which we put together the first days of a unit on social action that will hopefully push our students to research, invest in, and push for change on a social issue of their choosing. Jacks teaches in across town in a traditional middle school. The collaboration resulted in the discovery of a United Streaming video that will work wonders for introducing the contemporary history of social change.

Better still is the utilization of a wiki to plan out the unit so that we have a living document built to utilize next year no matter where either of us is teaching. We found it helpful in giving us both a place where we can keep, manipulate and communicate information while maintaining transparency.

Also in the domain of things that make me proud and excited to be a part of Phoenix is the work our 9th-grade reading teachers are doing to incorporate reading instruction into their classrooms. I set them up with a wiki on the topic so that they would be using it from the get go. Their updates and additions are impressive. Again, it's not the technology as much as the collaboration, transparency and creativity the technology has inspired. I also get the sense that these teachers are excited about using these new tools/tactics to inform learning in their rooms. I can't help thinking how much I would have loved to be in every classroom of Phoenix when I was growing up.

One more subject area here and then I'll get back to reading. Mr. Timmons e-mailed me last night to let me know he had started his own blog. I cannot communicate how impressed I am. Timmons had been holding out because he "had nothing to say." His first post relays what changed his mind. At the beginning of the year, one member of the faculty at Phoenix had a blog. Now, we're at 6!

This is to say nothing of the growth we've been experiencing over on my class blog. It's admittedly babystepping, but we're moving. With several student posts and two podcasts, we've got a presence. The presence was made all the more exciting when my students started noticing comments from Paul Wilkinson of New Zealand. Suddenly, what they have to say can be heard. I know the excitement in that feeling.

More later.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

The Big Push

So, Jack's comments got me thinking (as the inevitably do):

You know what's weird? We (Zac, Jack, Edna, and soon many others at Phoenix)are communicating more/better through blogging than we have all year -- even though it takes about 20 seconds for me to go to your room. And now we have "others" that are part of Phoenix -- like Paul in New Zealand. Anyway, that's my 2 cents worth for this morning.

What is it about blogging that has brought together people who work less than a football field away? The initial answer is the shiny newness of it all. Who doesn't like newness?

Then I start to think about what it does for my students, it gives them a place to publish. Thank you to Will Richardson for putting that into context for me. Though it sounds silly, I think it's true. We're communicating better because the conversation has the potential to be a conversation amongst everyone in the world.

The drive to have the conversation comes from two things:

  1. The hunger for conversation above the 8th-grade level.
  2. The need to reach outside 100+ years of isolationist teaching.

Let me add one more...

      3. It's fun to learn and feel yourselves grow.

I don't remember where I read it, though I'm sure I've got it bookmarked somewhere, but a novel idea I ran across somewhere was the idea of asking kids "How does your teacher learn best?" for a final exam. It's easy to forget that we do learn.

More later.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Exactly what I needed

You should have seen her face. I kid you not, it was the kid-at-Christmas face. Five educators on staff at Phoenix now have their own blogs. Up from one (this one) last year, we're moving on up.

Today, after school, I went down to Mr. Francis' room to try out the birthday present that's been begging to be used since last week. It was to be a trial podcast recording where I interviewed Mr. Francis about his new world of technology.

What a beautiful surprise to walk through the door and catch him sitting aside Ms. Holliman leading her through the sign-up process for her own blog.

I sat down and watched and started recording (unfortunately the mic. was on mute, so the entire 19 minutes of brilliance were lost).

Then, she clicked "Publish Blog" and I wish I had my camera with me. Truly, it was an amazing face.

I've wanted this since last year's NGT training and Alan November's BLC06. The obvious possibilities for a school of our size and technological inventory to really empower our students with Web 2.0 are limitless. We just needed one person to get it started.

For the longest time, I thought it was Principal Cantees. I should have known better. Didn't Doug Reeves teach me anything? It's the job of a Jill (I think that's me. It could be Jack) to start the change in a school.

One thing that came up in our never-to-be-heard podcast was the initial fear of the technology when Ms. Dunda and I integrated a blog into some Back-to-School training we did at the start of the year. Ms. Holliman admitted it was technology and "that meant it was going to be difficult to use." This is from the same woman who told me today that she planned on posting once a day but probably more.

We then talked about the parallels for these educators in learning these new tools as our "striving learners" encounter new vocabulary or ways of thinking, they experience the same trepidation many educators feel when beginning to work with technology. Oddly, many educators turn away from the challenge with the excuse of "too much to do," but accept no excuses from their students.

Miguel Guhlin posted today on administrative challenges and hypocrisy. I'm pretty sure many educators' refusal to adapt to new technologies falls nicely into that category.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Forbidden Word

My last post garnered a comment from Paul Wilkinson in New Zealand. That led to me poking around his blog and learning about the work he's doing in his classroom. Great stuff.

One of Paul's posts led me back to David Warlick and post Paul commented on.

I've been thinking lately about an idea that was touched on in my pre-service teacher training at University - authentic assessment. The idea was coming back into its own when I heard about it and is batted around edublogs quite often, but I want to incorporate it into my classroom as much as possible.

In it's more academic form, what Warlick describes as "Passion-Based Learning" is differentiated instruction. The difference would be that DI focuses on learning gaps and meeting learners' achievement needs while the new PBL would focus on engagement, getting students wanting to learn and share and create and all of those wonderful verbs that don't pop up enough in federal, state and county standards.

Looking at my students now, it's undeniably difficult to put together a lesson that will engage Demond who loves football, Coty who is a tagger (graffiti artist), Elsie who is a writer, Missy who is a gymnast, etc. By engage, I'm not talking, simply getting them to pay attention, but getting them to care, to see school as relevant not to the futures they haven't quite gotten into focus yet, but relevant to those activities they feel they're suffering through the school day to get to.

I need to focus on formulating learning plans that will offer this type of passion-based engagement and still allow for DI. Thoughts?

More later.

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I made the mistake tonight of watching one of the Netflix movies that's been sitting on the coffee table for a number of weeks just waiting for me.

It was an episode of PBS' Frontline titled "Ghosts of Rwanda." I put it in my cue a while ago when I realized I knew very little about what had happened there in the mid-90s. Friends were telling me I should see the film Hotel Rwanda, but I wanted a more historical perspective first.

I want to yell at people. I want to yell at myself, go to work for the Red Cross, write letters to world leaders, go back to college and ger a higher degree so I can do something, write letters of apology to those Rwandans who lost their families, anything - anything.

My frustration is compounded by the fact I've been making my way through What is the What? in my free time. Dave Eggers' fictionalized biography of a Sudanese refugee is further opening my eyes to the atrocities still living in the world.

How easy it would be to simply not act. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Thank you, Edmund Burke.

And so, I turn to what I can do as an educator. What can I do as an educator? Nowhere in my standards does it say I'm to bring these issues to my students. They appear nowhere on standardized tests.

They never have. The Rwandan Genocide was taking place while I was in high school. Hundreds of thousands were being murdered while the world did nothing and not one of my teachers mentioned it in class. It wasn't on the radar.

The devil's advocate in my mind argues it would have made no difference, that I could have done nothing and likely would have done nothing. Perhaps not. But in the age of information, how is it that this information failed to affect impact me? I know I'm asking numerous rhetorical questions here. It's just the place my brain is in.

I find it odd that we speak so frequently about globalization, but mention it almost solely in reference to the developed world. I've heard and read numerous reasons why educators need to pony up because we're preparing our students to fight for jobs in a global workplace. I see this need an understand the factors at play.

That cannot be the only effect globalization has on education. It cannot simply be about preparing my students to exist in a marketplace. Enough about jobs in a global workplace, I need to prepare my students to fight for all lives in a global community.

More later.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

NGT Time

One of the initiatives started by Superintendent Norris three years ago was the NeXt Generation Teaching program.

The idea is to identify those competencies, tools and tactics essential for effective teaching of and in the next generation.

The program was piloted with a small group of high school teachers just a bit over two years ago. Among other things those of us in the pilot attended three weeks of additional summer training and logged up to 90 hours of additional training and implimentation time throughout each of the last two school years.

The idea, sort of, was that this initial group would be "NeXt Generation Certified" by the end of the training. The difficulty was that the certification process had not really been dealt with. It was a bit of a "we'll get to that when it comes up."

Well, it's come up, and 40 teachers want to know the next steps.

While the program has had it's stumbles, no part of NGT training has failed to be thought-provoking and enriching. I'm a better teacher for taking part in the program and could walk away happy at this moment. That would, of course, go against the goal of having every teacher in the county working toward NGT certification - a certification that, heretofore, does not exist.

As is the way in education and old-school corporate America, a committee has been formed. Luckily, it's a committee of people who can work well together and can challenge resepectfully.

After our first meeting we'd actually made progress. It's sometimes a shocking thing to see beaurocracy moving forward.

The process isn't complete, but it's given me cause to create my first wiki. The committee members are all aware of the document and will hopefully tweak and tune it so that we can iron out details at our next meeting. Thus far, I'm the only one to have made any changes, but I'm hoping the others will hop online in the next few days.

More later.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

It's about ideas

Boy, have I been reading lately. There's so much going on out there that I can't seem to focus any kind of critical thinking for too long. I suppose this is an attempt to get some focused thought out on what's been bumping around my brain for the past few weeks.

First, Miguel Guhlin posted an interesting thought on the job of education and the type of product we tend to manufacture. I use those words because it seems as though that is the way the thinking is turning. Many posts I've read as of late are concerned with the outputs of education - as we all should be.
Before getting to Guhlin, David Warlick commented briefly on NCLB, and had this to say:
...I believe that No Child Left Behind has done far more harm to education in the U.S. than good. It is an industrial age solution to an information age problem. But NCLB is correct in that schools, teachers, and students must be accountable to their communities.
Warlick's is a thought I'm running into more and more frequently. It fits nicely with Guhlin's post:

To teach real life problem-solving in schools would result in children becoming aware that their work in school lacks authenticity, only brainwashes them to trust authority without question, make them dependent on consolidated, controlled media sources that filter the news, even censor it if you believe some alternative sources to protect the ruling elite, and serve as the lower caste of people who must do the menial jobs. The creative class of people--those who populate our private and charter schools--also are indoctrinated in specific dogmas and ideologies, allowed freedom on a rope only after, like baby elephants whipped since childhood, restricted by a heavy chain, achieve freedom of movement, but not of mind.
Decidedly, Phoenix is part of the former system. This is not say I haven't any experience in the latter. Being able to recognize both models and identify their products leads to a better understanding of the problem. It is a problem.
The roots of many of my students' problems with education can be found not in inability to do work but in unwillingness to play the game.
I was luck when growing up to have teachers in a small rural school who could press against the rules in order to find ways to educate that met students' wants, needs and (I hesitate to suggest a link between education and this last one) passions. My English teachers knew what they were talking about and made their classes maleable for those of us who had an interest in words and their role in shaping society.
Equally available to me, but something I chose not to avail myself of was a top-notch agri-science program. I could be certain that the students in my English class who did not find the same artful beauty in the words we read would be enriched by...whatever it was that happened in the ag classes. Because each of us had a place where we could do the learning that interested us most, we were more willing to do the learning that interested us least.
Without any outlet, I would be extremely weary of letting anything in. My students have, by and large, lacked an outlet.
While my class may not be the outlet of choice, I'm working to do all I can to help them align themselves with whatever they need to unstop their creative impulses.
This isn't an argument of tools; it is an argument of ideas. I don't think a blog, wiki, podcast or laptop is required for a student to find the best opportunity for developing passion. It is about ideas. I remember when those were things we were encouraged to have and investigate.
More later.

Hungry for morsels

After what I imagine to be one of the longest brainstorming session ever (he created the thing last Fall) Principal Cantees has made his first blog post. I even got a shout out. I've been on him for the last few weeks to post again and comment on the blogs of others. His worry is that he doesn't have anything to say, that he wants what he writes to be important.
Ironically, it's one of the problems I've seen over and over again with my beginning writers. They're so worried that their first drafts won't be Pulitzer-worthy that they never get anything on the page or screen.
Luckily, I think Principal Cantees is starting to come around to the idea that it's about the conversation that comes after the posting - the one that refines your thinking and makes you do more of it - that counts more than the original post.
I suppose we'll have to wait and see if post #2 is still months in the making.
More later.