What to do with "saved time"?

I was watching the movie "Before Sunrise" yesterday and the character played by Ethan Hawke says:
There’s always people talking about how great technology is and how it saves all this time but what good is saved time if nobody uses it?  If it just turns into more busy work?  You never hear anyone say “well, with the time I’ve saved with my word processor I’m going to go to a Zen monastery and hang out”

Nothing more to say here really, it just made me think.

I think this movie and the sequel "Before Sunset" are really excellent.  Watch "Before Sunset" first. then watch "Before Sunrise".  I think it works better that way.

Fear Change!

I know that President-elect Obama is promising change but what if I don't want to?  What if I think everything is fine and dandy.  Thankfully, Steve over at LifeHack is here to help with his timely post on "5 Ways to Avoid Change"  Personally, I've been a lifelong fan of point #2: Set your expectations low!

Remember we are all in this together.

No Blackberry for Obama

According to this story from Lifehacker, President-elect Obama will have to give up his trusty blackberry (a tech-savvy president, cool). Apparently this is due to security concerns.  However, my favorite part of this story is this:
President George W. Bush has gone without email for eight years

... finally, a reason to actually WANT to be president... although the Storm looks pretty cool.

Sorry Mr. Obama, no Storm for you. Sorry Mr. Obama, no Storm for you.

Obama's Cabinet

obama cabinet
click the image to launch the interactive thingy

Saw this on Yahoo! today and was pretty impressed with it.  It is just a simple "click on each logo to see Obama's possible nominees for these really important jobs" thing, but it was easy to use and (hopefully) accurate.  You should care who president-elect Obama tabs for these positions.  Interestingly, I did not see Linda Darling-Hammond's name up for secretary of education... my pal thedeputyhead and I were just talking the other day how neat that might be...

"Simple is Good"

I'm lucky enough to live near Washington, D.C. where we get all sorts of wonderful exhibits that come through our plentiful museums.  This summer* I went to see a really amazing one about Jim Henson (yes, the Muppets guy) called "Jim Henson's Fantastic World".  I knew it was going to be good when I saw the sign above the entrance:

simple is good

What I came away with was that Jim Henson was an extremely talented and creative soul who lived his life through storytelling and storymaking.  His legacy is one filled with joy; I mean real joy.  You could see this happiness on the faces of the people in the exhibit (especially, the 30-40 something adults who grew up with The Muppet Show).

At some point, the educator in me started to wonder, "how would a young Jim Henson have done in today's NCLB classroom?"

It got me thinking, what are we doing to foster creativity (by students AND teachers) in our schools?  Can you successfully learn (or teach) math, science, languages, history through activities that employ a healthy amount of the spirit of creativity?  I think so.  In fact, I sincerely believe that the use of technology tools can really facilitate the creative processes in students (and teachers).  The challenge is to break down the barriers (both real and perceived) that are preventing us from taking the risks to teach by blending technology and creativity into our teaching.

So, channel the spirit of Jim Henson and create a little puppet theatre in your classroom and let your students make some puppets, write a script designed to teach other students all about Mitosis (or plate tectonics, or the electoral college, or conjugating Spanish verbs...) and perform it to the class.  Go ahead and take a video about it, put it on your blog and share it.  I'm sure the results will be wonderful and the learning that will happen around such a simple project will amaze you. Take a risk, it does not need to be fancy or polished, remember, "simple is good".

Make sure to "prime the creative pump" by watching some of The Muppet Show prior to doing this activity with your students.  This will give them a glimpse into the genius of the man and, who knows, might launch one of them into a similar direction.

I'll leave you with this final quote from Jim Henson that I found in a book in the museum bookstore.  By random happenstance this was the first page I turned to.  Thank god for mobile phone cameras...

henson quote.jpg

* I've been thinking about this blog post for some time now :-)

School Tech Security... Bane or Benefit?


Two things about this post:

  1. It is participatory (please comment.  Do you have similar issues?)

  2. It is a bit of a rant*

I'm frustrated.  Lately it seems that I've been running into a wall when I try to do (what I think are) fun and creative activities that are using a variety of technology initiatives.  The wall is called security.  Here are a few examples:

  • This summer I taught a unit on digital storytelling.  My students really created some wonderful final products.  We went through the whole process (scripts, storyboards and all).  When we were finished I uploaded them to vimeo... which is filtered by our system (natch).  Kind of took a bit o' wind out of the sails of my students.  Of course, they viewed them at home and no permanent damage done... other than the fact that I could not have students view each other's videos when we were in school so we could critique, discuss and otherwise utilize (and learn from) their hard work. Thanks security.

  • I really am encouraging my staff members to get comfortable using school laptops instead of their familiar and comfortable desktops (for a variety of reasons).  The only problem is that our school's wireless security is so strict that it requires them to have two different logins (one for home/one for school) and they need to tweak a couple of settings prior to getting it to work out of school (every time!).  Frankly, a few of the teachers don't think it is worth the trouble (i.e. they think laptops are complicated and now I have even more work to do).  Thanks security.

  • USB thumb drives are great, students can transport their work around and have access to it from just about anywhere... except at my school.  You see, our security software does not allow students to install drivers on school computers.  So, not all USB drives work for students unless the teacher logs in first, installs the particular drivers, then the student can use the drive... on that one computer (helpful).  Thanks, security.

  • Honestly, I could go on... but I won't.  Now these are all fairly minor and we have created work a rounds for many of the issues.  But it still frustrates me.  Technology should be seamless and invisible (or at least we should strive for that).  Otherwise it has the appearance of being difficult to, more trouble than it is worth and not useful.  With that reputation, we can almost guarantee that it won't get used.

Now I may be rambling at this point so let me ask a few questions: Is security a learning speedbump for you all out there?  Is it really a necessary evil precaution?  Also, I'm sure that security has some good points too, refresh my memory on those, please.

* And I'm not a security expert so I could be totally wrong and misguided.  I promise I'll do a bit of side research to learn a bit more about the topic :-)


And still surreal to me.

It is nice to see that Obama and McCain will appear together at Ground Zero. I also came across this on Yahoo! News:

Barack Obama and John McCain, the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, respectively, will appear together at ground zero in New York on Thursday to honor the memory of those who died. The campaigns agreed to halt television advertising critical of each other for the day.

Of course, I was thinking, shouldn't they halt their negative ads every day and instead focus on their own messages and ideas? But, I guess mudslinging is what seems to work (unfortunately).

Report Cards... for the Teacher

I came across a blog post the other day that discussed the possibility of having an annual report card for school teachers.

I’ve given some thought to the notion of report cards for teachers. The school board and superintendent along with the teachers union can work together on the design. One important function of the report card would be to communicate the “teacher’s results” to the public (that is once we determine what the results should look like and from what they should be derived!)

Now I'm not a fan of report cards for students for a variety of reasons so I will remain very skeptical about report cards for teachers. Now, this being said, the issues I have with report cards are that a) they don't tell you very much; b) they don't accurately assess ability; and c) people tend to "fixate" on them even though they are not helpful (a) and not accurate (b).

I guess I'm not sure to what problem a "teacher report card" is the solution. Is it to hold "bad" teachers accountable (good luck defining a "bad" teacher)? Is it to help the teacher to identify areas of need (according to whom)? Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. I'm all for helping ALL teachers become better at his or her craft, I just don't think this would be a logical way to go about doing it.

Taking a class

I just signed up for a summer class. It think it is really important that educators (teachers, et. al) have the opportunity to be a student as often as possible. The shift in perspective (from teacher to student) allows you to reflect about someone else's teaching (the good and the not so good), as well as get the opportunity to (possibly) struggle as a learner. Take note of the strategies that you use to overcome any learning difficulties and share these with your students and colleagues when you get a chance. Remember, the class you take does not have to be professional development, take a photography class, learn a language, whatever. Just remember to reflect.

View of the world

Ok, I was on Fujistu's website today and it asked me to click on my "region of the world" in order to provide me with the proper service. Without looking I moved my mouse over to the left side of the globe and... WHERE WAS THE USA? Well, someone moved it to *gasp* the other side of the world.

I guess it is important to note that other places might want to put themselves front and center. An important reminder for me, I thought I would share.

Spring... a time to try something new?

Sophia's flowers

I really love the Spring. Today, Spring was busting out in a big way. Spring represents a great time to turn over a new teaching leaf as well. Maybe you've been incubating a new idea for a while? Maybe you just need a change? I encourage you to take a chance. Try something new... something risky where you might actually fail. Who knows, you might just learn a new thing or two.

Email server down

Today our email server went down and it took most of the day to get it back up and running. While our division tech guys worked hard to get it back to life, I enjoyed a highly productive, email-free day! It is funny, some people were a bit stressed out not to have email and others really appreciated the day "offline". It is important to realize that while email (and other tech) has the potential to make our lives more productive, efficient, entertained, etc. they can also be a major source of stress. Do yourself a favor and feel free to leave the tech off for a day or more. Read a book, watch a DVD (not counting that as tech), go for a walk, social network at Starbucks.

... and before you try to catch me on the hypocrisy of blogging that people should take a "tech day off", consider this my own personal sacrifice for your overall well being :-)

Too connected?

I was talking with The Deputy Head the other day about feeling overwhelmed by connectivity. Between email, blogs, twitter, pownce, IM, SMS, phone calls, books suggestions, article recommendations and personal interactions I'm feeling a bit out of control. Today, I cam across this blog entry from U Tech Tips and it really put things into perspective. I'm in stage 3, moving into stage 4... how about you?

Google: No kids allowed!

Google logo

So, Digg had this one the other day and it is pretty funny. It goes like this...

Google's terms of service, while ignored by the vast majority of users, contain a pretty shocking clause: Under 18s are not permitted to use any of Googles Web properties. Thats right, kids--no search, YouTube, Gmail, news, or images.

Now, of course, we know that this is just the standard CYA stuff but it brings up a good point. Nobody reads the terms of service. Not me, not you, not anybody (well, somebody did since they caught this one). Not really too newsworthy, just interesting. Read the whole story here at cnet: and thanks Jesse for the tip.

Its time for TED

So, regular readers will know I have a bit of a thing for TED. Well, TED2008 is finally here (*polite clap*). It looks like it should be pretty good. I'll try to follow along as much as I can.

This year we will be asking "The Big Questions": Who are we? What is our place in the universe? Is beauty truth? Will evil prevail? How do we create? And more. Questions that hopefully will be answered by the speakers:

TED logo

What is the purpose of school?

One room schoolhouse

Ponder this question: What is the purpose of school? Do you have a working definition? Can you be a teacher and not have an answer? If you ask ten people this question I would imagine you would get ten answers - even if all ten of the respondents are working in the same school. Is it academically healthy to have so many different opinions about the purpose of school? Is having a stated purpose of school enough? Is it possible to work in a school or school district that might have a different opinion? Should a staff actively discuss this question and share their philosophy? I think all teachers should think about this because the answer should be what drives your pedagogy and teaching beliefs.

Further reading:
Wikipedia entry on school
One Teacher's View
Warrawong Public Schools Purpose Statement (Australia)
One Definition