Monday, December 31, 2007

Bigger and Better?

Although there are some obvious exceptions, bigger doesn't always mean better.

The more I work with computers in the classroom and incorporate technology in my own life, the more I get concerned about my own consumption habits but also about our consumption as a society. Consider the trend toward bigger TV's:

According the National Research Defense Council as told to The Christian Science Monitor, by 2009, when half of all new TV sales are expected to be extended- or high-definition digital sets with big screens, TV energy use will reach about 70 billion kilowatt-hours per year nationwide—about 50 percent higher than at present.

Big TV = Big Electric Bill : Robin Raskin : Yahoo! Tech

After watching cars get bulkier up to the gas shortages and oil embargo of the 1970's, and then witnessing our collective amnesia as we again bought larger and larger personal vehicles, culminating in the tank-like Hummer, I'm concerned with the proliferation of computers that require more energy. As a teacher I'm pretty sure that there will be more computers in classrooms next year than there were last year. And I don't see that trend changing. But what are institutions and businesses doing about this increase in comsumption. Is there much talk of conservation where you work?

Kudos to Tufts University in the late-1990's for at least trying to address the issue as an institution:

The average desktop computer uses about 120 Watts (the monitor uses 75 Watts, and the CPU uses 45 Watts.) Laptops use considerably less, around 30 Watts total. 4,300 Tufts-owned computers X 0.12 kW X 250 workdays X 8 hours = The university uses 1,032,000 kWh per year to run all of Tufts computers just during business hours.

This amounts to: 1,032,000 kWh X 11 cents = $113,500 per year in electricity costs. Greenhouse gas emissions for this electricity amount to: 1,032,000 kWh X 1.45 lbs of CO2 per kWh / 2,000 = 748 tons of CO2 per year. 100,000 - 500,000 trees are needed to offset these yearly emissions of CO2! (A tree absorbs between 3-15 lbs of CO2 per year.)

TCI Computers

Tufts has made it a point to raise awareness of their institutional energy consumption. There should be more of that happening, even from an economic standpoint, let alone an enviornmental one.

So one thing on my list of New Year's resolutions is to become more aware on a personal level about Energy Star ratings and the data behind them, on a professional level as a classroom teacher to think more about when and how to best use the computers available (and when to shut them off), and to raise awareness of my school's consumption habits as a whole.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

NCTE 2007

I'm doing a session at the National Council of Teachers of English in New York City on Sunday, 11/18. Here's a link to the presentation slides. and another link to additional resources mentioned at the presentation.

Since 1911, NCTE has worked to advance teaching, research, and student achievement in English language arts at all scholastic levels.

NCTE - about

Thursday, October 25, 2007

notebooks & blogs, part 1

I'm not in a one-to-one computer classroom, so my students don't always have access to Web 2.0 tools. This quarter I've had my students do both the traditional writer's notebook (pen on paper) and blogging when we can. As I have them write their reflections on the two different media, I'm interested in what kind of differences they see. My commentary can be heard by clicking "writer's notebook reflections" on the audio player on the lefthand side of this page or on my GCast channel. Photo by Rosalie Sloan.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

learning something new every day

It is nice to see someone be willing to end their show before it jumps the shark and begins losing its fans.

All blogs

I came across this on one of my student's posts today, so I asked him about it since I admit I've never heard the term "Jump the shark" before. This image and the accompanying article from Wikipedia enlightened me.

Evidently the phrase dates back to the '70s when The Fonz jumped a shark while waterskiing in an attempt to revive the show's ratings. Funny I'd never heard that before. I guess I would have been one of those viewers who had abandoned the show.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

one-to-one computing

I've been using laptops in my classroom at least once a week this year. I think they've been useful for the educational blogging we've been doing. But I came across this article about how one district in New York is getting rid of their laptops.
“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”

Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops - New York Times

It's always good to think about whether what we're doing in the classroom is actually helping our students learn. But upon closer examination, this reversal of the one-to-one computing trend may not be all that surprising. Here are a couple of reasons, (followed by excerpts from the same article cited above):

1. Whenever hardware is brought into the classroom without adequate training for the teachers, it flops.

Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums.
2. Therefore, introducing the technology isn't going to increase standardized test scores, which unfortunately is the litmus test.
Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards.
The pressures are real and there's a lot of money involved, so school communities should proceed with caution. Later in the article math teachers said that they prefer pencil & paper, and graphing calculators because those are more efficient tools. That makes perfect sense.

Laptops work in my classroom because they allow students to read online (with Google Reader), conduct inquiry, and then comment on their reading in blog posts that are properly cited. That then initiates a conversation with others who might be interested in their inquiry.

For this type of learning, one-to-one computing isn't the best tool, it's the only tool.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Social Networking in the classroom

Teachers can introduce social networking and educational blogging into the classroom, but will our students ever value it?
“They’re using social networking sites like crazy, but they don’t necessarily think those have a place in the classroom,” said Gail Salaway, one of the primary authors and a fellow at ECAR.

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed :: Students' 'Evolving' Use of Technology

It does give me pause. Part of me thinks it's a turf war of sorts. Some members of the milennial generation are possessive of their MySpace/Facebook territory. Once, when my students were talking about an adult's MySpace profile, some of them questioned whether adults had any place in that social network. So another part of me thinks that the thinking cited above comes from a limited view of social networking and its implications. Social networks already are proliferating in the adult world - by April 2007 there were already 10 million LinkedIn users.

In my opinion, not only to social networks have a place in today's classroom, they're soon to become commonplace.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Information Reputation

A lot of people have problems citing Wikipedia as a source for academic research. A UC Santa Cruz professor has developed software that flags questionable entries. The idea is that the source of the most reliable information on Wikipedia doesn't need to be edited. So if those trustworthy sources can be identified, then users would know if the information can be trusted:
"The idea is very simple," de Alfaro said. "If your contribution lasts, you gain reputation. If your contribution is reverted [to the previous version], your reputation falls."

UC Santa Cruz - Press Release

I don't know if this software will stick, but I think the idea has implications for educational blogging. For instance in the future more news will be user generated, so the question will be whether our information is trustworthy. One litmus test will be our information reputation. If one blogger has a history of only making social posts on MySpace and another has a history of posts filled with associative links to reliable sources, who will you trust?

If you haven't already, it's time to start thinking about the information trail you're leaving behind.

Friday, August 31, 2007

What's a good educational blog post?

In my collaboration with the teachers on Youth Voices, we've found that students' posts were often more compelling when they "introduced, inserted, and interpreted" quotations from other sources, especially blogs and news sources that their students found by searching Google Blog Search and Google News.

Here are some examples from last semester of Youth Voices bloggers using published voices from blogs and news items in their own blog posts. As you read them think about the qualities that make a good educational blog post:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

blog prep

This week I introduced students to readers and exploring RSS. The teachers I collaborate with at YouthVoices have set up a wiki about using Google Reader in the classroom. The document gives the students a good start to getting relevant research. On the first day they got used to the reader, subscribed to some bundles, and began managing their subscriptions.

On the second day I showed how we can subscribe to various feeds from our local papers, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. Both sites differed significantly, and what students soon see is that if they're going to subscribe to the information they want, they're going to have to learn to look for it.

And that's also true of navigating the different deep web databases. The information is there, and half the struggle is getting there.

Monday, August 27, 2007

spelunking the deep web

There's been a lively discussion for the past couple of weeks on Teachers Teaching Teachers on whether the locked databases that our public libraries have access to are worth the trouble. Paul Allison does a nice analysis of the results of his search:
For me, databases start with three strikes against them: * they aren't easy to access * sources from them can't be collected in an RSS reader (EBSCOhost seems to be an interesting exception, but how do you become a member of EBSCO?) * links to sources found in a database won't work for the general reader.

Weblogs & Wikis & Feeds, Oh My!

Those a three big drawbacks to using these "deep web" resources. Maybe I've been reading too much Orwell, but what if in the future all knowledge is owned, and the only way to locate it is to learn how to navigate the labyrinthine ways of these independent databases. Take public records for instance: if we're to be citizens in a participatory democracy, we've got to teach and learn ways to get to this information (and I don't think it's readily available via a Google search). Lifehacker has a post about finding public records online.
You can use the web to find lots of things: information, videos, books, music, games, and yes, even public records. While our most private information can (usually) not be found online, you can track down items like birth certificates, marriage and divorce information, obituaries and licenses on the web. Keep reading to learn where to find public records online.

Technophilia: Where to find public records online - Lifehacker

I'm thinking that even though deep web resources can't be linked to, they can at least be excerpted from for now. And I'm also thinking that researching via RSS isn't enough, even though it may not be worth the effort.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Watch your (voucher) language!

If the choice of words is any indication, they may have a point. Voucher supporters, including many lawmakers, favor words that carry strong emotions in conservative Utah - such as "government schools," "unions" and "education bureaucracy" - when criticizing public schools and the board.

Salt Lake Tribune - As debate rages, Ed panel chief stands firm against private school vouchers

If the polls are any indication, however, vouchers in Utah are headed for defeat (45% of voters are "very likely" to vote against vouchers while only 12% are "very likely" to vote for them, according to a July 9 KSL-Deseret Morning News survey).

As an English teacher I'm particularly interested in the language employed. In UnSpun, Jackson & Jamieson do a good job of illustrating that whatever side "frames the issue, claims the issue." In my opinion the pro-voucher folks are doing a much better job on the language front than in the polls. Take the ballot language for instance. Those opposed to vouchers take nearly 250 words to make their point, and I think the first-time reader will have to slog through these facts:
  • Reasonable Choices Are Available Utah already offers many good choices through "open enrollment" and charter schools. Taxpayers can't fund every choice.
  • Proposed Voucher Laws are Inadequate Even with last-minute legislative "patch work," voucher laws authorize schools with too little oversight, no real coursework or attendance requirements, lax standards for teachers and minimal accountability to taxpayers. Risk of inadequate and unstable schools is high.
  • Whom Would Vouchers Help? Probably not the disadvantaged. Even with vouchers, parents with a modest income couldn't afford to send their children to good private schools.
  • Is There "Additional Money" For Public Schools? No. For five years, transferring students would be double funded by taxpayers - in the private schools and the public schools they left behind. Thereafter, public school funding would be cut to reflect lost enrollment.
  • Would Vouchers Prevent Tax Increases? Unlikely. Subsidizing students now privately funded creates a projected deficit of almost a half billion dollars. These dollars would come from other worthy projects like health care, public safety and roads. If we have extra taxpayer money, it would be better spent reducing class sizes and improving Utah's public schools.
  • "Bureaucrats and Liberals"? Who are they? Not the 29,000 dedicated, caring and underpaid teachers in our neighborhood schools; also not Utah's commonsense conservative citizens who oppose another entitlement program. The real "bureaucrats and liberals" are the subsidy advocates and out-of-state voucher pushers looking for Utah to save their faltering national movement. VOTE NO ON VOUCHERS

Yikes! I read that and feel like I've been flogged. Contrast it with the 75-word pro-voucher language penned by Rep. Steve Urquhart:

It's simple. A vote for vouchers is a vote to improve education. If you vote "Yes,"
  • school funding will improve
  • children's options and opportunities will increase
  • academic achievement will go up
  • parents will gain a stronger voice within the system.
Why is there such a fuss over 0.0025% of the education budget? Because some people think the status quo is good enough. Let's do better. Vote FOR Vouchers to improve education.

All I can say is, Mr. Urquhart must have had an effecitve English teacher.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation, part 2

Here's a link to a short audio contemplation about rain and world peace.

And here's the view out the back of my sister's cabin later that morning. You can hear some sandhill cranes in the background.

Murals in Northern Ireland

I've been involved with the Ulster Project a peace program that brings together Northern Irish teens, for a number of years now. And though we'd like to believe things are getting better, that the Troubles are easing, this post from Liam Moore shows that positive change is happening, as can be seen in Belfast's graffiti.
Iconic soccer figures such as George Best and Samuel English now grace some of the walls too. Belfast residents now prefer looking up to a different kind of hero than the paramilitary fighters of the past. A new generation is emerging, growing up in less dangerous times

Web Urbanist » Beyond The Troubles: Murals of Belfast, Northern Ireland

If the trend that Moore describes continues, it brings up an interesting question for our group – one that resurfaced with the Good Friday agreement – namely, what if the Ulster Project isn't necessary any more? It's an interesting dilemma. If the Troubles go away, programs like the Ulster Project aren't needed anymore.

It seems strange to say, but that really would be good news!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Online research

More reasons to incorporate applications like Google Reader into our curriculum....

The Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy reports
that although teens spend a lot of time online, they don't spend much of that time following the daily news closely.
Teens get more news from cable news programs than from newspapers or even from the internet, according to the report, yet they watch these programs infrequently compared with older Americans. Teens spend a lot of time online, but not necessarily getting news. About a fifth of teens and young adults cited the internet as their main source for news. The report also suggests that teenagers prefer soft news over hard news, or feature stories to breaking coverage.

Poynter Online

What I did on my summer vacation, part 1

Pig Races in Bear Creek, Montana.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blogging and researching inquiry

Paul Allison has been doing some thinking about how to use Google Reader in the classroom. There was a Teachers Teaching Teachers podcast about blogging and research this past May, and there's a podcast about RSS scheduled for edtechtalk for this week.

Last year I had success getting students oriented to and enthused about Google Reader; that's the easy part. But this year I'd like to have students use this tool even better, and that means having them research things that matter. Paul has started a wiki about orienting students to Reader more efficiently this year. I like how he frames the next step:
How can we organize this in a curriculum for students? What comes first? How do we do this while also helping students start with their own questions and experiences?

Elgg Plans » Using Google Reader

For me, there's a question I first have to ask myself: where does my own inquiry come from? The answer? My own inquiry comes from my identity. It's where these identities intersect that we find our inquiry. Here's a link to a Google Doc that explains my thinking on this. And here's a link to how this manifested itself on the "Using Google Reader" wiki.

Monday, July 09, 2007


I asked my seniors what medium made Shakespeare more understandable. Here's what they said.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

NCLB & authentic writing

The National Commission on Writing released Writing and School Reform a while ago outlining how authentic, personalized writing instruction can happen in today's standard-driven classrooms. If you haven't read it, it's worth reading now.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sunday, May 06, 2007

student work

Here's a link to some enhanced podcasts and videos that students did at Nancy Miller Day, an arts celebration day at Judge. Most of these students had never really used GarageBand for enhanced podcasts or shot much video, so what they did from start to finish in three hours shows what students can do with little time or guidance.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Wiki in the English class

Here's a short video about how I use wikispaces in my English classroom.

If you're not sure what a wiki is, here's a helpful resource.

Friday, March 02, 2007

are they really different?

I hear a lot about how today's students are so much different than preceding generations. For instance, I heard David Warlick speak this morning at the UCET conference. Among other things he said that kids today are more competitive, risk-taking, sociable and self-confident than the preceding generation. I've heard him, Marc Prensky and others say similar things, but I'm not completely convinced.

They often cite examples of kids who multitask as evidence of the trend, replete with pictures of a teen plugged into an iPod and a laptop, chatting and playing video games all at the same time. These kids are bored with school because teachers no longer know how to hold their attention, they say. But then I think about how bored I was through much of high school, and how I multitasked by listening to a transistor radio with one earpiece, how I daydreamed, wrote song lyrics in notebooks that my teachers never saw, how kids passed notes (a precursor of "chatting"), and I wonder – are today's kids really that different than kids were back in the day? Have the students changed or are they just using different tools?

I'm no technophobe and I understand that we need to change much of how we teach, so don't get me wrong. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what's said by Warlick, Prensky, et al. I'm just looking for some proof (not anecdotal evidence) that the students I teach now are that much different than when I started twenty-some years ago. Can anyone cite any research?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Voltaire's voice

This quote by Voltaire is a fine metaphor for the writing voice (sent to me by Marilyn Olander).

"L'écriture est la peinture de la voix; plus elle est ressemblante, meilleure elle est."
"Writing is the painting of the voice; the closer the resemblance, the better it is."

- from Voltaire's "Orthography," in his Philosophical Dictionary

Monday, February 19, 2007

finding your voice

I'm interested in how writers find their voice. Here's an excerpt from a Critique magazine interview with Peter Elbow that I just came across:

"I want to emphasize something enormously simple about voice that in a sense I've only figured out in the last few years. If there's one activity that I think is the most helpful thing about writing, apart from just writing and writing, it is reading your writing out loud and also reading the writing of others out loud. Saying the words in your voice, with your mouth: I think that's the most powerful way to help one’s writing and to help one’s voice."
— Peter Elbow

Sunday, February 18, 2007

dirty work

I just learned that teaching is the dirtiest job. The findings come from the Clorox Company. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Teachers’ phones, keyboards, and computer mice had the most germs.

  • Accountants' desks had the most germs of any desks sampled.

  • Lawyers had the least germy desks.

  • Publicists had the least germy phones.

  • Bankers had the least germy keyboards.

  • TV producers had the least germy computer mice.

    "Surfaces regularly used by teachers, accountants, and bankers harbored nearly two to 20 times more bacteria per square inch when compared to other professions," the report states.

    Sources: The Clorox Company, “Office Germs Research 2006 Results.” News release, The Clorox Company.
  • Monday, February 05, 2007

    educational blogging

    A lot of teachers are using blogging in their classrooms now. Here's a link to a useful Educause article advocating educational blogging. It's a little dated, but still valid.

    Then today I came across an article from the Jan. 30, 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education called Blog Overload. It's a good reminder not only about blogging, but about all writing. Good writing is purposeful and authentic.

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    AP audit

    The folks at College Board are conducting an audit to make sure that's what being labeled as AP in high schools meets their criteria. Here's a link to a Google Doc of my AP English Language and Composition curriculum. Feel free to give me any input.

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    Google Apps in my classroom

    A quick overview of some of the Google applications I've been using in my classroom this semester.