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.