Sunday, May 25, 2008

Be Happy

If you cringe at mushy, philosophical mumbo jumbo, you might want to skip this post. 
As I walked around my neighborhood tonight, following my 4 year old on his two-wheeler noticing the vibrant purple-pink of the bougainvillea and the sweet scent of the jasmine, appreciating the fact that it was still quite light out at 7:30 pm, savoring a Sunday night before a Monday holiday with less than two weeks left until summer vacation..the line that kept repeating in my head was this one:
Happiness is not having what you want; it's wanting what you have.
Wanting more, having goals, desiring...that is good and important. It is the place from which all creative energy flows. But taking time to really appreciate all that you have, that is heaven on earth. 
Another line I read years ago in a book really struck me. I've long forgotten the book (I do recall it was a Robert Anton Wilson book) but the line, I think it was the last line in the book, was "Positive energy is as real as gravity."
I love that. 
Now, what place does this have on EdTech Workshop? Have I lost my vision, my focus? Apparently I have, if only for a moment. I know there are those who hate this type of talk. How can you waste space writing about happiness and positive energy when there is so much suffering in the world?
How can you not?
For those of you who have taken the time to read this and any of my humble thoughts here on my blog, thank you. 

and thank you, Randy Son of Robert, for sharing your lovely image on creative commons

Books Around the World Meme

Silvia Tolisano is always one to challenge me in the best of ways! She devised a meme challenging readers to look at the books we are reading, see if we tend to favor certain locales and then expand our horizons. Since reading is a type of travel, it is the next best thing to being able to visit or live in different worlds. I have always been an avid reader, although I have a bit of a problem remembering details of the books I've read.
Here are the details of the meme. You can join by being tagged or you can tag yourself.
  • Create a Google Map and add a bookmark with the title and author of a book you have read with a setting in another country of the world.
  • Look through Book Around the World recommendations or on other Google Maps created by participants in this meme/challenge.
  • Pick at least three books for your summer reading list that have a setting in a country you have not read another book about.
  • Enjoy expanding your horizon!

Step 1: Create a google map. I decided to put a few recent reads on my google map. I noticed that my book settings seemed to favor North America and Asia lately. I tried to take a minute and think of books I have read from each continent. I can not think of a book I have read from Antarctica. The closest I could think of was Mr. Popper's Penguins. Other than that, I have "visited" the other six continents through reading. Countries, however, are a different story. Luckily, I already had a few books on my "plan to read" shelf that also fit the challenge.

View Larger Map
Here are my three books:
1. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Bosnia and Herzogovnia
2. Shadow of the Wind by Carols Ruiz Zafon, Spain
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Germany

Now I know I am favoring Europe here...what can I say? These are three books I have really wanted to read anyway (have Shadow of the Wind sitting on my night table) and all happen to be listed on the Book Around the World site.

Thanks, Silvia, for always keeping me on my toes! I am tagging: Kim Glasgal, Ken Allan (Ken, something tells me you are a reader-hope you are up for a new challenge since the comment challenge is almost over) and.....who else out there would like to participate?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Learn Globally, Teach Locally

Learn Globally, Teach Locally - for now, this is what I do. 
My learning sphere is becoming wider and more global. I am communicating about subjects of interest to me, with people who have shared interests, and I may never meet those people face to face. 
However, my work as a teacher (or instructional coach, mentor, whatever you like to call it) is decidedly local. I work in a building with people I see almost every day. I have a different vision than most of them, a vision that has been strengthened, challenged, deepened and in some sense formulated, based on my tech-enhanced, global access to other teachers. It is the network I turn to for help and ideas, for support and understanding. It is the network that keeps me going. 
When, on a day to day basis, very few people in your local environment understand you, what a blessing it is to be connected to people you admire, who have a similar outlook or vision. If not for this outlet things would certainly be different. 
1. I would be teaching in isolation. I would not have access to the ideas and projects that benefit my students on a daily basis. 
2. It would be harder to fight the good fight. I don't tend to be the strongest person. I question myself all the time. 
3. I might be writing my next blog post from a padded cell.
4. I don't think I would push myself as hard as I do. 

I like working locally and being part of a community. I still believe in the value of face to face time in education. I even like the building ;) But I love the opportunities available to me to connect outside of this place. I love to bring those opportunities to students. I think that, for now, I have the best of both worlds, or rather, the best of this world.

image credit: NASA, earth.jpg. Pics4Learning. 19 May 2008.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Andrea's Not-so-Random Thoughts of the Week

• About the firefox/safari situation. Lo and behold, it's not just a habit to use safari. I actually prefer it to the point that I would rather use safari than have my comments picked up by cocomment. I hate the tabs in firefox and try as I might, I can not get them to go away. I am sure that I could figure it out with a little more searching, but it shouldn't be this difficult. I've restarted firefox, restarted my computer, chosen windows over tabs in my preferences, cleared my cache. I was reading the blogs in safari and then when I was ready to comment, switching over to firefox so that I could get my comments picked up by cocomment, but I've decided that it isn't worth the trouble. Guess who will not be winning any prizes in the comment challenge?!

• To "borrow" the name of a great blog: Learning IS Messy!!!!!!! Practice and theory are different, and this blog is written (by Brian Crosby) from a place of pure practice, which I highly appreciate. The phrase "learning is messy" has penetrated my soul and freed me in a way, from worrying when things seem to be getting a little out of control. It is amazing, the power of a single phrase, my new mantra. 
I am working with our 5th grade class on an absolutely amazing project. The project was started by Brian and Lisa Parisi (and possibly one more teacher? I apologize if I missed someone.) I had read about the project from following Lisa on twitter and when I saw her tweet that she wanted to include more classes in the project, I jumped on it. 
The project is a collaborative writing project using google docs and skype to write stories based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. We are working with a 4th grade class in New York. So many things are happening around this: kids are really communicating with their partners and learning the give and take that comes with collaboration, the kids are excited about writing, the classroom  teacher is excited about the way we are integrating the technology to give the project more depth and the kids more motivation than could be done otherwise, the kids are frustrated when their partners can't get online, we've had to deal with communication meltdowns (minor) and a fire drill in the middle of a session that didn't end up happening anyway. And through it all, I've sustained myself with these words: "Learning is Messy". When the students complain to me about some little thing that's not working I tell them "Learning is Messy." I've explained to them that we are forging new ground with this project, that this is new for me as well as for them, that based on what we learn this time we will do it differently next time. It is such an example of real learning for them, and I see it sinking in. It also helps me let things be what they are and not feel that I have to judge the process all the time. So, I really want to thank Brian for getting into my head with that mantra.

• An exciting thing that happened this week: My students won first prize in both categories (primary and secondary) in the Tech4Learning Spring Contest. I absolutely love tech4learning's software, and they have great contests where they spark students' imaginations with an open-ended, creative challenge. What a great feeling it was for me to see my students' faces when they found out they won. 

• Another very cool thing that happened: My teen angels chapter presented about Internet Safety to two 4th grade classes at a local public school. They have presented to our PTA, as well as our 4th and 5th grades, but this was their first time presenting at another school. They were truly awesome! The students in the audience seemed so genuinely interested and asked a lot of good questions. It was a very proud moment for me. 
It also helped me see how very well my school is doing with technology integration. Often I find myself feeling frustrated. Things aren't moving quickly enough for me; I always feel like we are behind the curve. So it was a bit of a wake-up to see what was happening or rather what was NOT happening with technology at the other school we visited. I asked the students if they used the Internet often at school, and they said all they use computers for at school is Accelerated Reader. Outside their classroom, on the wall, I saw that they, too, had written stories based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Their stories were very nice, but I couldn't help to think of my students using the google docs to write the stories collaboratively. My students will also publish their stories on a wiki where other students in the project have published their Harris Burdick stories. In my mind, there is just no comparison. The activity that integrates technology seems so much richer in its potential for learning and personal growth. 

•In case you should think I am bragging, I feel compelled to include some negatives from my week. I had some students violate the school's AUP in a pretty blatant way. I came into school to work on my day off because we had a session scheduled with our collaborative writing partners and got yelled at by an irate parent. She was upset because her child's consequence for his actions was to be denied use of the school's network. She didn't seem upset by what he did, only by the fact that he might miss out on something. The worst part was that I felt unsupported by my administration who had decided the consequence in the first place. 
Learning is messy, right?
Lesson learned for me is that when I write the AUP for next year, I need to be more specific in describing the consequences. 

•Another frustration was that my assistant and I worked hard to come up with a survey for the teachers about the SMARTboards - how are they being used, what they need in order to use them better, that type of thing. It was neat because we used google spreadsheet and forms, first time I have used it, and what a great tool. We sent it to 10 people and have received two back. I would blame it on total apathy from the staff, but I am not completely sure if it is that or a problem using email to send and complete the form. 

I hope everyone had a great week!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Going back to Day 14. Readers...I need you!

Today's comment challenge task is to catch up on a task (or tasks?) you've missed. One task really appealed to me: turn your blog over to your readers and let them post through comments. Sounded so easy....until I tried to think of the question I wanted to use to spark the comments. 

The first question that came to my mind was asked on this blog
Another question I thought about was asked on this blog. 

My question relates to yesterday's news regarding the issue of Internet Safety. Here's a kwout from CNN.

What do you think of this landmark case? Do you think that they will be able to get a conviction? Do you think the fact that the mother was indicted will make other people think twice before using the Internet to harass and bully others? Do you believe, as some say, that what Lori Drew did was within her first amendment right to freedom of speech and cannot be considered a crime? What are your thoughts? I am very interested to hear from you.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

And the award goes to...

Day 15 of comment08. Today's task is to give an award. I love it! Fantastic blogger, Scott McLeod made this nice badge, too.

I have to say, I love all my commenters. I am simply delighted that anyone reads my blog at all. As I said recently, comments are the icing on the cake.
So, if you've taken the time to comment on my blog, please know that I appreciate it. I hope that I've responded back to you either here or there or somewhere.

And now....the 2008 EdTechWorkshop Fantastic Commenter award goes to....Blogger in Middle Earth, Ken Allan! Ken, please grab the badge and display it proudly on your blog!

Since beginning the comment challenge Ken has stopped by my blog to comment on a regular basis. He has also said some nice things about me, like calling me positive and sensible. And he sprinkles his comments with Maori phrases. But none of these really explain why I've awarded Ken the commenter award, although they are all a part of it.
How do I explain?
I feel like through his comments, I've actually started an exchange of ideas with someone who lives in New Zealand- the other side of the world. Never before have I met anyone from New Zealand. I know that we are roughly 12 hours apart, and a few times now, I have felt a sort of time-rhythm as I write something at night, and in the morning when I wake up there is a comment from Ken. In fact, I am writing this at 9:30 pm. I bet that when I wake up in the morning, Ken will have visited, and I hope that this post brings a smile to his morning.
It is almost like sharing a cup of tea. Only through writing. Asynchronously. It is amazing to me. And, blogging has brought this forth.
An interesting note is that Ken started his comment08 journey as a commenter without a blog, and it was the comment challenge that inspired his blog.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Comment Challenge - Catching Up

I've fallen a bit behind on completing the daily tasks for the comment challenge, so I'm going to attempt to play catch up.

Day 9: Should we be commenting on blogs?
I'm not just being lazy with this answer, but really, what comes to mind is "Whatever."
Maybe it's just my mood today, but sometimes I read the blogs that go back and forth over this and that, and I feel like I'm watching a ping pong match. It's ok; I like watching it. I enjoy following the different trains of thought. But I just can't muster all that much emotion for whether or not someone wants to enable comments on their blog. Isn't that the joy of blogging? It's YOUR blog. You get to decide where it's hosted, what it looks like, what you'll write about, how often you'll write, etc. etc. You get to decide if you want comments and once you get comments, if you want to respond within the comments, on the other person's blog, in another post, an email, or not at all. For me, this is one of the things I enjoy about this form of communication. It's very fluid and really, there are no rules.

Day 10: Do a Comment Audit on your own Blog
1. You sound like a press release.
I doubt this. I write in the first person. I reflect on my teaching practice, share lessons, occasionally share a cool site or resource that I've discovered. No press release here.
2. You sound like an infomercial.
What would I be selling?
3. You sound like a know-it-all.
I sure hope not. I don't feel like a know-it-all.
4. You haven't showed them how.
I don't feel that it is that difficult to leave a comment. ??
5. You haven't created the right atmosphere.
I don't know. The atmosphere....???
I started out just to write and share things I was doing/learning. The comments and interaction has been like icing on the cake. I have made some good work connections and at least one real life friend through my blogging experience. I'd love to have lots of readers like some blogs do and lots of comments, because, so far, it's all been pretty positive. But it is what it is. I don't have tons of time to devote to blogging, so I have to do the best I can. I do make a pretty conscious effort to respond to comments either here or by visiting the commenter's blog. Do I need to decorate nicer? Have a little party? Light some candles and play some mood music?
6. You just don't seem that into it.
I am into it! I am!!! I really hope my passion for what I do shows in my writing.

So, why aren't more people commenting on my blog?
All I can think of is that the things I post about are just not the kinds of posts that inspire much discussion. I've had the most comments on my posts about comment08. Usually I post about a lesson I want to share or some thoughts about something that's happening at work. I get the occasional "thanks for sharing this" type of comment. The blogs I read that get a lot of comments are usually deeper or more controversial or witty. I don't really post in order to inspire comments. I just post. But I do really appreciate the comments. I think the feedback can get kind of addicting, and at times, I've read great blogs and thought, "Why do I even try?" But, I have to remind myself not to compare my blog to others. There is space for all of us here on the web. We all have something to say.

Going to stop here. I know I still have a few more days of catch up...please feel free to comment!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Heart Teachers

This is a first for me -two blog posts in one day. Well, well. 
Ever since my recent post about lame excuses I've been feeling the need to clarify. One thing that never fails to rankle me is reading/hearing/otherwise being exposed to comments that generalize about teachers and, after throwing them into one big group, bash them. 
Teacher bashing is ubiquitous. I am overly sensitive to it, so maybe I notice it where someone else wouldn't, but trust me, it is almost considered acceptable, at least in the United States, to talk about teachers as if they are less than other professionals. 

So it bothered me to think that my post could add fuel to that fire. Often when I read or hear talk of how "schools are this" or "teachers are that" I am quick to jump in and point out the fact that one can't generalize about an entire profession made up of millions of people. Each school, each classroom, each teacher is different. I have long believed that part of the problem is that because most people have had personal experience with schools as students, they feel qualified to judge and think they know what it is to be an educator. Not so. And, of course, many people believe that "anyone can teach" or (and this one is the WORST) "those who can do, those who can't..." I invite whoever believes those things to go ahead and try it out.

Yesterday was National Teacher Appreciation Day or some such obscure holiday. Yesterday was also "contract signing for next year day" at the private school where I work. Ah, the irony. Yes, I got a raise...a raise infinitely smaller than the increase in gas prices. What % of nothing does it take to actually equal something?

But alas, this is not a post to whine and cry about how hard I work and how little I am paid. That's common knowledge, right? I must deserve to make so little money because I am__________ (choose as many as apply) noble, stupid, unable to get a real job, so lucky to have my summers off.

Why do I even care what people think of teachers? Why is it so important to me to elevate the status of the teaching profession? Maybe there are a lot of "lame excuse-making teachers" who just got into teaching to boss around smaller, younger people and take summer vacations. 
But that's not what I see. 
I guess I have been lucky to know teachers who are highly educated, deeply caring, well read, professional, resourceful and committed to a profession that allows them to make a difference in the world.

Yes, I would like to see more innovation and less excuses. But it goes both ways.  As teachers, we need to have high expectations for our students so that they will rise to meet them. As a society, we need to have high regard for teachers so that we teachers will hold ourselves and our profession in high regard. I'm not making excuses for the excuse-makers, but when people are exposed time and again to negative expectations and hearing how the best and brightest leave teaching because they can do better...well, what can we expect?

My questions: What can teachers do to elevate the teaching profession? What can other members of society do to elevate the teaching profession? Is this view of teachers unique to the United States? 

Day 7 of Comment08: Reflect on What You've Learned so Far

Oh good, a break from all this commenting to reflect ;)
Here is what I've learned so far:
I like blogging.
I like commenting.
I love when people comment on my blog.
People are smart and interesting and make me think about things in all kinds of different ways. Every new "voice" adds a new perspective.
I don't really have enough time to be a prolific blogger or commenter.
I should really take a minute to read my comment before I post it so that I don't have to feel annoyed after it is posted by all the times I said "interesting."
Out of seven tasks I completed all but one.
The one I did not complete was to comment on a post you disagree with.
I didn't find a post to disagree with yet.
I might do that task later or I might just skip it.
Disagreeing is not my favorite thing. I know it is a good thing to be able to express disagreement, but I feel that I get a lot of that in real life. I kind of enjoy the blogosphere for the homiphily...not sure I spelled that right, but I LIKE feeling a little warm and fuzzy about the blogosphere for now. I'm a newbie, ok??
The best thing about the comment challenge for me has been that I've gotten more comments on my blog than ever before, and I have discovered some new, fun blogs to add to my google reader.
That's all for now.
oh yeah, one more thing... it is easier for technorati to add my posts to the comment challenge if I say something like this:.....remember to label your posts comment08.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lame Excuses and Bad Habits

So, today's challenge for the 31 day challenge was to leave an open-ended question on a blog. Not too hard, but a little harder for me than the previous challenges. As I read the instructions I clicked to a blog I'd never been to before and read a post called The Top 100 Lamest Excuses for Not Innovating. This post hit a nerve, and commenter that I now am becoming, I dashed off a
"yes, I agree with you, great post" type of comment (which seems to be my standard). But there was no open-ended question in my comment. Then I jumped into my google reader and read this post, which was another post about the same post I had just read. Maybe it's the universe telling me it's time to confront this issue of lame excuses which has driven me crazy at work forever.
Obviously, it is not something unique to my particular school or even to the field of education.

So, I left my open-ended question on Britt's blog.
I know that it is part of human nature to resist change. I, myself, have a hard time with change. And yet, there is no stopping it. Why do you think so many teachers are so averse to innovation and change?

Now I want to try to answer my own question. It's a tough one. Mitch Ditkoff (from the first mentioned blog post) gives this technique for dealing:

1. Make a list of your three most bothersome excuses.

2. Turn each excuse into a powerful question, starting with the words "How can I?" or "How can we?" (For example, if your excuse is "That's R&D's job," you might ask "How can I make innovation my job?" or "How can I help my team take more responsibility for innovating?"

3. Brainstorm each question -- alone and with your team.

So, there is a potential answer to the question...but still, I am interested in the very open-ended question, "WHY?"
Creature of Habit
I guess I will look to myself first. It is kind of a silly example, but this firefox-safari thing comes to mind. I am in the habit of using safari as my browser. I have all my bookmarks set up just the way I like them. But, more and more, I am finding that things don't work as well in safari, and I need to switch over to firefox. It's not just cocomment, it's moodle, edline, a number of tools work best in firefox. And yet, creature of habit that I am, I open safari first, every time. So yesterday, I decided to remove safari from my dock (dock=the thing we use in mac osx to easily access applications). Do you know that I couldn't stand not having safari in my dock? I had to put it back!

We know all the sayings "creature of habit," "old habits die hard," etc. There is a lot to be learned from examining our habits and teaching ourselves to adopt new habits to help us make the kinds of changes we wish to make. It brings to mind a favorite quote that is on the top of my blog and on my wall in the computer lab at work.

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."

I see this at the core of the lame excuses: old habits and some laziness. The more you do it, the easier it is to learn, unlearn, relearn. It can almost become a habit in itself, and I think it is part of what using technology is doing for us as human beings.

So, why are teachers so stuck? Perhaps it is unfair for me to pick on teachers. I only know teachers. I have never really worked in any other type of organization. But, that said, it is sort of widely known that schools seem stuck in the industrial age. Why is that?

Here is what comes to mind: Fear. Lack of time. Lack of interest. Lack of passion for learning, improving their practice, trying new things (this is the one that bothers me most). Habit.

I have had an idea for professional development for next year that I hope will address a few of these concerns. I will blog about it as I go forward with it. The only thing that can not be addressed even with the best professional development is a lack of passion for being a learner. I wish people like that would go into some other profession.

image: "Question mark in Esbjerg" alexanderdrachmann's flickr May 4, 2008.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Comment Challenge Day 2 - and I've already messed up!

I always like to tell the kids I teach that I am a great mistake-maker! I want them to see that making mistakes isn't a bad fact it's a good thing as long as you learn from your mistakes (which I do try to do). 
So, it is in that spirit, that I report that I already seem to have lost track of what I am supposed to be doing with this comment challenge.
Today is day 2, and the activity for today was to comment on a "new" blog, meaning one where you haven't before left a comment. 
That part was super-easy, as I read many great blogs but rarely comment. I left a comment on Wesley Fryer's post about ideas for summer professional development. Then, after I left my comment I realized that I was in safari and my cocomment tracker is only in my firefox browser. And I even blogged about that yesterday!
oh well. 
Hopefully, I have learned from this little mistake and will remember to start tracking my comments. 
It's all part of the learning for me. 

And if you are part of The Comment Challenge remember to add the comment08 tag to your post. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Comment Challenge Day 1

Day 1: Do a Commenting Self-Audit
For this activity, do the following:
1. Answer the following questions:
•How often do you comment on other blogs during a typical week?
I don't really have a typical week as far as blogging. I am still getting into the habit of it. I find myself jumping around quite a bit, skimming posts and occasionally commenting. I may go weeks without leaving a single comment and other weeks I may leave several comments on many different blogs. Sometimes I read a really great post, or a post that really makes me think, and I want to say something, but I don't know what to write. Either I feel that I have nothing new to add or I feel too rushed to really put my thoughts into words properly. And so I don't comment at all. Sometimes I will share a post I really like in my google reader widget on my blog instead of leaving a comment at the blog. Sometimes I plan to go back and comment later, when I have more time, and of course, I get involved in something else, and I don't go back.
•Do you track your blog comments? How? What do you do with your tracking?
No, I do not track my comments. Well, for this challenge I just signed up for cocomment, so I guess I will begin tracking my comments. Although, I couldn't download the bookmark-thing in safari, which is the browser I normally use, so I am going to have to remember to use firefox as I read blogs from now on. If the blog has a choice to receive an email of follow-up comments, I do check that, but not all blogs offer that option. If I leave a comment on a blog that doesn't send follow-up emails, I do try to remember to go back to the blog to read follow-up comments, but sometimes I can't even recall where I left a comment.
Do you tend to comment at the same blogs or do you try to comment on at least one new blog per week?
There is nothing purposeful about the way I comment on blogs. Right now I subscribe to over 60 blogs in my google reader. Not that I read them all, but I do read at least a few posts each day. I probably do tend to repeat-comment on certain blogs because I feel that I have established some connection or previous communication with that blogger, and I feel like I am continuing a conversation.

2. Now review Gina Trapani's Guide to Blog Comments and ask yourself how well you're doing in each of the different areas. Are there any specific areas where you think you need to do some work? What do you want to do to address these issues?
Well, after reading this, I'm glad to say that I seem to be doing ok with following the rules. I would not leave an anonymous comment, be rude or a drunkard. I try to stay on topic and add to the conversation. And I am not a know-it-all. But, I often don't feel that I have anything new or interesting to add. I think that is one reason that I tend not to comment too much. Once in awhile, I even feel a little bit shy about my comment after I've left it.
So, that is the issue I need to address. If I'm going to be a blogger, I have to stop feeling self conscious and just put myself out there. One thing I am doing to address this is blogging in the first place. Another way I am going to try to address this is by doing this comment challenge.

This sentence has been added in an attempt to get technorati to pick up this post for comment08. If you are part of the 31 day comment challenge, tag your posts with comment08. And good luck!