Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The eReader

I think the trade book audience is the wrong audience for the eReader as reported in a recent New York Times article, "Turning Page, E-Books Start to Take Hold" by Brad Stone and Motoko Rich on December 24, 2008. The Kindle or similar kind of ebook reader should be designed for students of all grades in school and then it will make a major impact. Textbooks, the bread and butter for most publishers if not the sole money maker for some, are way too expensive and updated. Educational publishers are taking advantage of the audience and lots of graft money is used to secure book contracts in schools at the expense of the public. I'd like to see all the school texts made into ebooks and then provided to all students via the kindle type of machine.

I hate the weight of my son's knapsack. I hate picking it up. I hate imagining him carrying that bloody heavy sack around all day long. It is sinful and it makes me very very mad. Why does he have to carry these heavy tomes around all day long everyday? Wouldn't it be more logical to issue an eReader to all students and then let them download what they need to it? Of course it would be.

Trying to make an eReader for the trade publications is a waste of time. Trade books do not represent the volume that educational texts offer. The costs of these educational texts would be brought down if they were made electronic and that would certainly be better for the environment. Textbooks are not books we find on the collector's bookshelves and they do not grow in value over time as good trade books with first editions and other anomalies.

The NYTimes has some great letters today on this article.

One letter from a book collector, like me: "That means that for me, and I suspect for other collectors as well, the Kindle, which I own, and its cousins are perfect for today's disposable literature."

If a school district like NYC, a group of colleges like the Ivy League, CUNY, SUNY, or the University of California decided to provide texts on a eReader then we would begin to see a change to the good.

Ebooks are good for the environment, for our children carrying those weighty book bags, and costs to schools for books that take up space and end up in closets.

I believe and hope that something like the Blackberry of small device will develop the ebook technology and will eventually find its way into the commercial textbook market.

Many years ago I was given an ebook reader and loved it. It was stolen. Now I use my laptop as an ebook reader for what I can access. Another gadget is the downside, so once this ebook idea can be used effectively on existing technology or a new technology that can incorporate existing technology and add new ones then it will fly. However, if ebooks want to make an impact, go after the school textbook market and lighten up those obnoxiously heavy book sacks and high costs while helping the environment and making access more democratic.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion to 2008....

This morning I read an article about middle school choice in NYC published on December 25, 2008, "All’s Fair in the Middle School Scramble," by Elissa Gootman.

One image caught my eye, "there is a wave of panic among many parents of fifth graders facing the next step." The operative word is "panic." Parents expect chaos from their adolescents. This is an ideal point to embed technology into their academic part of their life. We know they enjoy a game and communications technological life, so why not an educational understanding and building an electronic portfolio. Use that "self" drive hormonal force inherent in our students to instill order through technology in schools. Using Technology has been a logistical nightmare in schools for many reasons. One reason is that the scholars spend too much time in the hallways.

Then I stumbled onto this image: "the pressure is more urgent because of a new retention policy that could hold back many failing eighth-graders, raising the frightening specter of hallways populated by bearded teenagers." The operative word here is "frightening." In school the scholars should go to a study area with a cluster of desks. Each desk has a computer, with a laptop or desktop, at which scholars seat themselves and begin their day by logging in to their account. This account has an accounting of where the scholar is in each part of the projects they are completing. Teachers are there electronically and in the flesh communicating with and helping the scholars create their day's study guide. Instead of the scholars moving from room to room, (a huge waste of time and a "frightening specter") they stay in their study area as teachers move from study group to study group alone and/or in collaboration with other teachers. The scholars will use their time researching, writing, and collaborating with peers to create a presentation for peer review. All of their work is being saved and archived for them to create a portfolio for assessment now and for their future teachers to use to continue their individual study and then for admission to future schools.

I know from my use with technology in schools that technology is a great cure of "panic" and "frightening specters." Where in schools do you see technology used well?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Use it or Lose it

Neologisms have always been a delight of mine. The number of new words added to our dictionaries is stunning. So when I was reading an article in the January 2009 issue of Realm Magazine, I was stunned to see that some English words become extinct by none use. The Collins Dictionary will subtract 24 words if they are not used. The article explains that if the word is used at least six times in the body of readings Collins uses, then the words will remain in the dictionary.

The following paragraph contains a dozen of these words on the list of extinction. See if you can identify those dozen words and can provide a definition for each of them. Next, you will want to use them in hopes of saving them from extinction.

When he walked out onto the stage to begin the evening's entertainment, I was searching for the word, when it came to me. He was such a fusby. Calling him anything else would have been an insult. He wasn't a munchkin or a leprechaun. He was a short, stout, squat man, he was a fusby. As I was reconciling this, my nostrils were olidly assaulted. The foul smelling recrement was a vaticinate of what was to come. The assaulting aroma was waste matter that leaked onto the stage when a sewage pipe burst. The niddering fusby slunk away and hid, cowered in the corner of the stage. He was a scoundrel. The fusby's griseous hair was well groomed. The grey streaks didn't reveal his true age. There was no way we could embrangle the nidderly griseous fusby with a brave man. He was a malison apparently. I was told that whenever this fusby appeared on stage something bad always happened. It was compossible to see why the audience villapended the fusby as we heard a skirring sound as he fled the stage. When we found him he was trying to wash the recrement from himself with an astergent soap and not a gentle one causing a tearing of skin from his arms. When we turned to go, we were on the street and the theater had collapsed behind us. Then just as suddenly I woke and realized that these words would soon be gone and only a memory, not real.

There are a few words on this list of extinction, I surprised to see there. As far as I'm concerned some of these will not be extinct as I plan on using them in spite of what Collins does.

Friday, December 19, 2008

When Graduates Return

It is that time of the year when recent graduates return to visit their old high school. It may be the first time they return home from college and one of the first places they visit is their former high school. I have always loved this ritual. The joy they have wearing the visitor's badge. It helps us to know they are only visiting when we see them walk into our class once again. This time with much more viv and vigor, cause they know they are just visiting, like landing on "Just Visiting" in Monopoly. There is a whole new attitude and aire about these former students of mine. What is always so refreshing is how they speak of how the class and school has prepared them for college. They speak about some of their new friends at college from other schools and how their friends seem unprepared. This always stuns me. On many occasions, which is always so cool, they actually interupt my class by saying hi to some friends and even telling my current scholars how importnat it is to do the work now and to listen to their teachers as they prepare for college. They reinforce what we say about what college will be like. Now we have former students returning to verify what we have said to disbelieving ears.

This is a major turning point in the year, as these former scholars speak to our current scholars and let them know that what we have said is true. Thet always begin by letting the scholars know that they too once sat in these seats and pooh poohed what was being told to them about college by us. Then when they got to college, they always say, "Wow, Mr?Ms/Mrs/Dr So and So was right." Now what adds credibility to their tales is they were once here and my scholars remember the returning scholars and remember them and their ways when they were students here. Their is a new aura about the returning scholars that gives them authority, credibity, and a glimpse at the future from their point of view and not the adults.

Returning graduates are the best source of inspiration for our current scholars. I love it when they return, especially when I hear about how they are doing and what they have to impart on my current scholars. Alumni/ae are so important.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Using the Cell Phone as a Learning Tool in Schools

By Elise Degrass, Guest Writer

Unwanted ringtones are an increasingly common occurrence in classrooms, from the elementary to the University level. Rather than viewing cell phones as a distraction to the learning environment, however, a growing number of educators are harnessing the power of smart phones to improve both in-classroom and home learning experiences.

With advanced new features in smart phones, cell phones are becoming an extension of traditional computers; their portability provides advantages in decentralized learning environments. While teachers have to be mindful that these privileges are not abused for distractive, social purposes, a number of smart phone features provide a means to enhance the learning curriculum.

One of the most useful features of cell phones is their ability to provide instantaneous feedback to teachers in large classrooms. Rather than trying to be impartial by calling upon students in turn, teachers can poll the entire class with services such as Notify You. For example, if a teacher wants to inquire whether students enjoyed reading a particular novel, he or she can poll that entire class at once; this can improve both the frequency and reliability of feedback, as many students would otherwise be reticent to give feedback that is seen by their peers. Additionally, teachers could provide instant, short pop-quizzes on covered material to keep students on their toes, and can get feedback on future scheduling ideas without taking up valuable classroom time.

One of the greatest areas of potential for technology in the classroom is by providing rich, multimedia sources that can enhance visual presentation of learning material. Rather than displaying videos or images for passive viewing by a classroom, teachers can point students to a given website where they can interact with the material in more meaningful ways. For example, a learning module about World War 2 might have the students do a small research project by reviewing the resources on a site such as Wikipedia – linking web-based learning to classroom assignments will ensure that students remain on task and constantly improving their research skills, as well as their specific knowledge on a given topic. Chances are that most students won't use their knowledge about the Asian-Pacific War Theater during their careers, but they will, most certainly, benefit from the research techniques they master; the ability to improve learning outside of the classroom is among the most prominent benefits of using cell phones in the classroom.

Just as cell phones can bring history to life, they can also connect students to on-going news stories. Services such as Rocketron provide real-time news feeds in a variety of areas, which can help teachers link curriculum to developing events. For science teachers, connecting curriculum to everyday life can be a challenge; allowing students to hear technology headlines and challenging them to connect the latest updates to chemistry, mathematics and biology can truly help bring the classroom to life. Cell phones can open learning environments to rich sources of real-time knowledge that can bridge the gap between the classroom and the larger outside world.

Elise Degrass is freelance writer, who is currently writing about cell phones. She can be reached via email as

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Going Green

Visiting Strawberry Fields every Dec 8 is so very bittersweet. It reminds me of a tragic and useless death. It reminds me of our brotherhood. I always get to sing my music with like minded people. I leave renewed. Again thank you John.

I am thinking of having my scholars work on a research project that draws in an old Eldridge Cleaver quote: "You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem" and joins the new change voice of Obama, sparked by coaxing from Thomas Friedman in a missive to Generation X. I will then have them reside on DOT Earth of the NYTimes. I am concerned about this generation. The candidacy of Obama woke them up. Now that we have their attention, I hope we can actually realize a dream. The dream right now is the environment and what we must do to preserve it so we can survive as a species. I'm not concerned with saving the Earth, the Earth will do just fine with or without us. It is about our survival and we seem to be pretty callous and ignorant of what we must do. This is why I have been doing more and more "green" assignments and will be doing more.

I have been reflecting on my own "greenness." I remember visiting my grandparents as a boy and how thier lives were so environmentally sound. My grandma reused paper towels. She recycled food scraps into her compost, feed the birds and other critters. She separated her garbage. She had wet stuff, paper which my grandfather burned every night while enjoying one of his rare Luckies. She had a bin for cans, which she flattened and one for glass. It made little sense to me at that point in my young life. Then we hit the 70's and we got a global reaction to the cost of petro fuels. I was then living in the far north of NY with a young family. I remembered my grandparents and found myself imitating much of what I learned. We recycled the food stuffs. I carted crates of cans and bottles to the dump. I bought a machine to roll my junk mail into logs. I heated our house by wood burned in three wood stoves strategically placed around the house. I used a large wood furnace in the greenhouse to grow all year long. In the ninties, I made another stab at the environment with a paper I wrote in graduate school on the Green History of the World. So here we are once agin in 2008 with Al Gore leading the way. "Green" Consciousness is starting to stick with colleges and communities being more serious and actually doing things to be more "green." Now I want to take another run at this generation and their "green" consciousness. Over the summer I had some luck. One student bought a book bag that had solar cells on it for recharging cell phones and the like. He has since shown me more gadgets he owns and has even recruited another student who subscribes to the greenier life. It is after all more for them than it is for me. Those are always the toughest lessons to teach and to learn.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Busy Week

As we move into December, life has gotten very hectic. The weekend before Thanksgiving and a few hours into the next, I laid a hardwood floor in our main living area, 300 square feet.

After dining with my daughter and her beau on Monday, we carried a 10 foot plus tree home. I set that up the next day in our backyard with 5 strands of colored lights. It preceded and outdoes the tree three blocks away at a center called Rockefeller.

All week I have been helping a colleague begin her class on Blogs: Wellness Works Best. I'm blown away by what she and the class have accomplished. Take a look and write to her and her scholars.

After school I will be visiting Strawberry Fields in Central Park to lay onto the star as a tribute to John Lennon, my traditional white rose wrapped in a paper holding list of names of people who want me to add their names to this tribute. I was outside the Dakota the night Lennon was felled. I have revisited the site every Dec 8 since. It is Monday and about as cold as it was that fateful night.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Today is World Aids Day. I am one of those victims who lost both of his parents to this plague. My dad passed in 1993 and my mom in 1996. I miss them both.

Don't be a victim of AIDS.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm Thankful

Today is a day we pause to consider those things for which we are thankful. I'm thankful I'm not a burden on my family or friends. I'm thankful for my good health. I'm thankful for my family and loved ones. Heather is a good woman, tolerant and supportive. I'm thankful to have a good job I like and a home that is safe and comfortable. I am so proud of my children and thankful for them.

I am not thankful for politicians, bankers, and greedy selfish people who are ruining the planet and a way of life that makes living in it difficult. I am not thankful for the condition of the world and for the plight of millions of people who are not helped or provided the basics to live a quality life.

I would be thankful if the people of the world were more thoughtful about others and about the way in which we treat each other and live.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


What is the purpose of grades? For whom do we use grades? What do grades mean?

Grades are supposed to provide the teacher and the scholar with an accounting of what the scholar has achieved in the class. How this has been achieved is totally arbitrary and usually solely in the hands of the teacher. Sometimes the scholars has input, but usually. How a teacher arrives at a grade is voodoo as far as I'm concerned. Sure some rubrics may be involved or some other standard devised by the teacher. But generally speaking it is one way: teacher to scholar. So when a scholar asks, "What grade did you give me?" to the teacher, the scholar is correct, but the teacher invariably responds, "What grade did you earn?" The scholar is correct, it is the grade given by the teacher, whether earned or not. Grades can be rewards or punitive. Again I have seen them used in a punitive way and lower than deserved so the scholar has room to grow. Too often I have seen those incentive grades turn into discouraging grades.

Grades are used to help the teacher show the administration and colleagues something about their class. Do low grades show a tough teacher? Do high grades show a soft teacher? Some determine the quality of a teacher based on the grades that teacher gives. Listening to teachers speak about their grades is horrifying sometimes as they find ways to justify failing a scholar or even giving a lower grade than deserved to serve as incentive.

What grades mean is elusive to me. I do know that one thing they do is make the scholars react in a corresponding way to the grade. I don't really believe lower grades or failing grades inspire the scholar i a positive way. The affect of grades has a direct reaction on the scholars behavior and performance.

A number of years ago I read The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander, and Benjamin Zander. A chapter written by Benjamin spoke about a class of inspired and accomplished musicians was not really going well because the scholars would not experiment or take a chance because they were afraid of jeopardizing their GPA. So he decided to give all of his scholars an "A." Immediately he saw them experiment, take chances, and otherwise soar beyond their wildest dreams. This inspired me to try this with my "grade grubbing" scholars. I told them they would all be getting a 90 at the end of the semester. Only one scholar in in three classes of 30 students each did nothing. He paid for that mistake as hs academic career continued. For those scholars use to 90 did better as we negotiated for a higher grade. The key was in the other scholars and how those used to failing or "just" 70's did far better than they had expected. In all cases, but that one, the scholars rose above their level of expectation.

Recently a colleague spoke about how the scholars responded favorably to a computer generated grader of essays. She commented on how the grades may have been liberal. The positive aspect was how scholars who were not doing well responded and worked to raise their scores. She attributed it to the liberal minded scores to the scholars too used to low or failing grades. She was elated for them and finally made a connection. She converted. Another colleague was concerned about his "grade inflation." In a department of six members his grades were higher than theirs and there seemed to be some concern. What concern, I wondered. His scholars were working well, were improving, had good attendance, and were graduating at the end of the school year.

So the question is aren't we trying to show the scholars the path to success and to make success part of their culture, their life, their modus operandi? Of course it. So why fail them. Isn't their failure our failure in some way? yes, it is. I want my scholars to succeed and I have to help them understand that. One of my scholars remarked in her essay that the idea of being the 90 should transfer to the other parts of our life. Exactly!
Mr. Nellen believes that we all are capable of earning this "true 90". Let's prove that we can do it. Then we can use this attitude in all of our other classes to earn a 90 in those subjects. Eventually, ALL of us will have a "90" average. Hope we never give up on this "90"!!
So maybe you want to consider revising grade strategies to provide the scholars a more positive attitude.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How far have we come with Technology?

I've been engaged in a conversation with some colleagues about the use of technology in our schools. I argue we have not come very far since the 90's. I would even argue that we have lost ground. Some will argue the reason is that schools don't have the tech support they need to keep the machines operating. They add that schools don't have the funds to keep up with all the updates. Finally, that schools don't provide enough professional development.

I will accept that these may be valid reasons but they don't head the list of why we are not using technology in our schools effectively to prepare our scholars for the 21st Century. I would argue that technology lags behind all the other industries in America because of NCLB, the filters, and new teachers are not bringing it to their new classrooms with them as tools they have learned from college.

NCLB has rewritten education to be more quantitative. We now rely more on tests that provide us numbers and some schema provided by the test maker that gives us some gobbledygook about the student based on numbers. The test is not provided to the teacher nor is it created in collaboration with the teacher. Teachers don't see the answer key nor the scholar's test. All the teachers get is some confusing form that needs translation and tells us very little. We have heard about how schools have canceled recess for more test prep time. We have heard about how some schools have canceled the arts like music and art for more test prep time. We have heard how more and more students are being kept back because schools fear those scholars will bring down the school average. We are sacrificing our scholars for a school's reputation. Are they aware of the damage holding a student back at such a young age is? Of course not or they don't care. Administrators in schools are knowingly doing the wrong thing to keep their jobs and that is quite frankly immoral and unethical. These tests have taken precedence over the more wholesome ways of teaching based on research from the likes of Howard Gardner, Grant Wiggins, and many others. There is no research informing us that the tests are beneficial to learning. Politicians have ignored the research to line the pockets of their friends the test makers. We all have stories that could be told about the negative effects of NCLB on education. Few of us can speak to the positive effects. So why do we still have it? Why do politicians like Teddy Kennedy and George W Bush praise NCLB. Because it lines their pockets.

Another reason technology has not progressed too far is that the filters imposed on public schools filters out more good than bad. Teachers are unable to get to many worthy websites because someone, not associated with the school has deemed them unworthy. Who are these keepers of the filters? What irks me is that the scholars have access to proxies that let them bypass the school's filter and get to the normally blocked sites. I have heard it said by those maintaining the filters that if teachers let them know which sites to unblock, they could have access. Some of those hoops are harder to jump through than imagined. Now if a teacher were to use one of the proxies to access a blocked site, that teacher would probably be taken out of the classroom. The result is that teachers don't have access to many of the neat social networking tools the scholars may be using and to introduce them to other very worthy sites. It isn't surprising we are so far behind the rest of the world in educational terms and in other ways. Employers also suffer because our scholars are not learning the skills of the 21st Century to function in the 21st Century as productive citizens. They are learning about these technology tools outside of school and the result is self evident. Could our current financial problems be blamed on our lack of technology use in schools? It sure can be, especially since so many jobs have been taken overseas to more qualified workers. Business is clamoring for better workers and we give them great test takers and unqualified workers. We are shooting ourselves in the foot because of the filter.

Finally, a third major factor that speaks to our lack of effective technology use in schools is that our schools of education are not training our future teachers how to use these tools as teachers. They may use them as students, but that does not teach them how to use them as teachers. I have heard that these new teachers are spending lots of time learning about theory. Fine, but how about their practice. Are they creating webpages for their scholars? Are they creating Blogs for the classes they teach? Are they creating a Moodle for their class? No is the resounding sad response. Theory and practice must work together.

We have fallen into the trap that all technology finds itself, a glorified toy, an expensive useless toy taking up space in our schools. In fact the technology has become a pariah. Teachers have told me they won't use the technology because the students spend more time on the wrong sites than do their work. It is about knowing how to teach in a computer lab that we don't learn in a college or on the job. As I have said before we teach the way we were taught.

Take a look around. How much technology do you have in your school? How is it being used? Does it work? How many teachers use technology in your school in their classes? Is their use innovative and more than a gloried blackboard? How has technology grown or not grown in your school since 1990? 2000? Take your own survey and I believe much of what I say will be borne out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I have been discussing the concept of "choice" with my scholars. They are making choices everyday. Making good choices has not always been one of their strengths. They all understood that some choices they made in the recent past got them to our school. We are not a school choice option in the scheme of choosing high schools in NYC. We are a transfer school, a last chance school. Some choices have landed them in jail or pregnant or homeless. They know about bad choices at an early age. Unfortunately, some choices end in death, as my daughter experienced yesterday at her school. We have already lost two students this year. So when I do this lesson on choice, they bring too much prior knowledge to the table. Now we are concerned with developing good choices.

I use a short story and a poem to wrestle with the concept of choice in class. The short story is "Dead End" by Rudolfo Anaya. The poem is Robert Frost's 1916 classic, "The Road Not Taken." The short story lesson involves a student in high school who has to make a number of choices involving sex, drugs, and school work. In addition, the student makes a promise to a mother who recently died. These are common choices for all of us, not just my scholars. They like the story, they write well about Maria, the student who has to make choices in "Dead End." As many of my scholars point out, knowing what the right choice is and acting on it are two different things. We know smoking is bad and yet we see lots of people smoking. We know what the right choice is, yet we make the wrong one too often.

As we prepared to study the poem, I started with a graphic organizer project to have the scholars create a visual representation of "choice." We got stuff like "going to school," going to work," "having a baby," "selling drugs." The concept was solid, so we were ready for the poem lesson. I started with a Wordle representation of the poem. Wordle accepts text and converts it into a visual representation highlighting the key words and providing a picture of the text. We use that to understand some of the key words before we even hear the poem.

Once we discussed the key words,"diverged" was major and key to our understanding as we then listened to a rendition of Frost reading his poem, followed by two volunteers from LibriVox. The scholars had some questions they needed to address as they listened to the poem read four times. Finally, I showed them the poem and I read it one more time before they began their writing assignment about choice as understood from the short story, the poem, and their own life.

They all chose to do the assignment. I'm glad I chose to do this assignment and to speak about choice with the scholars as we are at a crucial juncture of their academic career. They have chosen to be here and to complete high school. We all know how hard that choice has been to keep. They expressed that making the right choice in the beginning is easier than not making the right choice and having to suffer the consequences of the bad choices or wasting time from time lost when a bad choice is made. lesson learned the hard way in some cases. These scholars are the survivors.

Hoping your choices are all good ones.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Proud Papa

I spoke about the history of teachers in my family awhile ago. Parents are their children's greatest advocates and supporters. So when someone else speaks well of our children, we parents beam brightly.

My second child, Caitlin, who teaches history at the NYC public school, Validus Prep Academy in the Bronx, conducted a mock election at her school. The mock election was covered by MSNBC and in the UFT's newspaper New York Teacher. Caitlin is in her second year of teaching and has worked very hard. She wakes up very early and commutes almost two hours by public transportation to get to work. She spent the summer preparing with her colleagues by going on a school sponsored professional development retreat. She doesn't seem to be exhibiting a sophomore slump. What amazes me the most is how well she put this whole project together in her school with her colleagues and only in her second year.

Parents often brag about their children, but when someone else does it, we are affirmed. Thank you Caitlin.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Living Documents

The scholars are creating living documents when they create webpages, revisit them, and edit them. Unlike the days of paper or notebooks on which authors/scholars wrote, the webpages they create rarely leave a paper trail, unless the user does something to make this happen. The user could archive hir work on a regular basis, like at the end of every month. By doing this each scholar would be recording a record of hir work over a period of time. This becomes an excellent way a school could document the progress of each scholar. The problem with webpages is that the current page has overwritten the old one and a record of the old one might not exist, except through the WayBack machine. That is not always reliable, archived on a regular basis, or guarenteed to be archived. In order for the scholar's webpages to be used for usable documentation of the scholar's work, a procedure for archiving the work on a monthly basis should be instituted.

One way I have done it was when I maintained my own server. At the end of each month, the scholars would create a new directory like 103108 to represent Oct 31, 2008. They would then copy the contents of their working directory into the new directory. Then at the end of November we would do it again and continue this process to the end of the year. We would have a monthly record or benchmark of each scholar's work throughout the year. This became a good tool to use in assessment and in evaluating what the scholar did and plan next steps.

Schools could institute this quite easily if the school has a central server and each scholar has an account. The contents of their folders could be archived on a monthly basis and then used at those crucial times when assessment was done, at conferences , and in end of year portfolio sessions. Having documents that represent the academic progress of each scholar would provide great fodder for those of us arguing for some, maybe 50% of scholar's assessment be done via a portfolio, while the other 50% be done by those tests we now give that represent 100% of a scholar's achievement.

I know I learn nothing from those tests the scholars take. They don't inform my instruction since all I get as a result is some number that needs translation and explanation. I still don't learn any specific needs of the scholar that informs her education. On the other hand, by looking at a scholar's webpage, I learn a great deal about that student and learn what hir specific needs are and what hir strengths are.

Our scholars are in need of better assessment tools then those currently being used as prescribed by NCLB. Yes, we need to assess our scholars, but why do we have to use these tests that do not provide the necessary information teachers need in the classroom for their scholars. When we have documents to observe, we have better tools for assessment. The reason I love the webpage so much is that the work is public, available to the scholar, the teacher, the parents, the administration anytime, anywhere for assessment of the scholar and of the class. These living documents become useful for the next teachers, for employers, for college admissions, and for the scholar hirself.

This is how we should be assessing our scholars, not with tests made by for profit companies, graded by them and then destroyed. I am not happy with the current state of affairs as created by NCLB. The idea may be worthy, but its execution is horrendous and useless. It has dumbed down education in America. I hope we see some serious revision in the educational practices in America in the next four years and that it involves technology in a huge way. That is the most important change we have to see.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves

Congratulations, Senator Obama. Your victory sends a very clear message to the children of America, about the future of each and every American child. Every child knows s/he can grow up and be whatever s/he wants to be. Thank you. You have many problems to solve and much to do. Education is of course an important issue as so many of your other plans depend on the education and capabilities of the American people, You have our support and have been given a clear mandate to change what is broken and education is broken.

During the campaign, the Senator said:
"Business leaders are intensifying their call for schools to retool their curriculum. A new report makes a strong economic case for why students must learn key 21st-century skills. And Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has highlighted an education plan that addresses the need to meet rising global challenges."

"While technology has transformed just about every aspect of our lives--from the way we travel, to the way we communicate, to the way we look after our health--one of the places where we've failed to seize its full potential is in the classroom," he said in a speech earlier this year. He has proposed creating a $500 million matching Technology Investment Fund that would build on existing federal ed-tech programs to help ensure that technology is fully integrated throughout U.S. schools. "
These are just two of the many quotes made by President elect Obama about education and technology education in particular during his campaign. Great ideas. Business is always clamoring for better workers. In the last couple of decades of the 20th Century, we heard lots of noise about preparing our students to be 21st Century savvy. We haven't done it. In fact technology use in schools has waned from those early halcyon days of computing. The government got involved and we all know what happens, then. Things come to a screeching halt and even regress as technology use in schools has. We are in the 21st Century and no one in government has a clue about education let alone using technology in education for the 21st Century.

The main problem and stumbling block to realizing these ideas is that we do not have leaders who understand how technology works in education. If we did, we would be using technology beautifully right now. We don't and obviously they don't have a clue, because technology is not being used well in our schools. Just the other day a teacher brought a high school class into the lab to create a document using a popular software. He was amazed at how little they knew about this program and couldn't complete the project because they couldn't use one of the most basic and simplest of software. Yet these very students are brilliant with MySpace, facebook, and finding those sneaker sites on the Internet. Schools have not learned how to teach students to use the tools of the technology that will advance them in the world because they have been weighed down with silly and useless programs that are bereft of technology. Children today are preparing for tests not in using technology correctly for better learning.

Technology is just one more toy added to the many technologies in schools that have been used badly and have become toys. We have not had proper or correct leadership from the government or from schools of education on the correct use of technology in our schools. At issue is that we are looking at the use of technology from our own perspective. That means we are relying on looking at education through a lens of how we were taught and that won't work. The teachers in this country who use technology well, were not students in a technology class when they were young. They thought outside the box, shed the trappings of technophobia, and discovered a way to make technology useful and helpful in the education of our 21st Century scholars. We need people with the vision to use the technology in the first place to be present when officials begin to figure out how to use technology effectively. Otherwise these new officials will simply be spinning their wheels and trying to reinvent something that already exists without success because they will be using the wrong caliper. The problem is they wouldn't recognize a successful technology program if it bit them on the thumb.

I would suggest that this Internet savvy president do some searching on his own and see who exactly is doing anything productively in their classrooms with technology. I am amazed still when I read articles like Richardson's and even those in educational journals about how ignorant everyone is about successful use of technology in schools. The reason for this ignorance is that they are still using assessment tools of the past and non technology ways to teach to assess teaching with technology. We have a wrong criteria and maybe we should think of apples and oranges. Pre technology teaching would be the apples, while the new way of using technology is the oranges. We can't compare apples and oranges. If change is going to happen we must change the way we assess education, we must change the way we use technology, and maybe we should change schools and let technology be free to let teachers who understand technology show us. If we want change, people should accept that technology is here and we should learn how to use it correctly.

Free my technology now. Many of the other Bloggers linked from here, know how to use technology and they have links on their blogs and webpages to other teachers who know how to use technology. Social networking, something that is blocked in schools. Yet these are not the people being asked or looked at to help change education. I still see and hear the old guard, who never got technology then and certainly don't get it now, giving advice. Education still ain't of the people, for the people, by the people. Sorry Professors Dewey and Freire.

Education is the last place change occurs. Consider that a teacher from the 1890's could walk into most schools today and teach. No other profession can say that about someone from the 1890's walking into their profession and functioning. We are stuck in this quicksand because politicians, not pedagogues, are making educational decisions. It is similar to accountants making medical decisions. So I HOPE we have CHANGE that I can believe in. Get the pedagogues involved in the conversations, Mr President.

Now President Obama is the time to show us, to roll up the ole sleeves and to get busy, and please stop telling me. We are well aware of what you say you will do, the future of which you have so eloquently spoken about is here, it is called the present. The time for talk is over cause now is the time for that action about which you have spoken. Please show me, show us. We are hungry for a change, we voted. Are you up to it? Can you deliver? I hope so. We all hope so. Good luck and keep education in the forefront of all change and it will happen. Change always starts with education.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Social Networking Deferred

I am enjoying a piece by Will Richardson in the November Educational Leadership called "Footprints in the Digital Age." I am enjoying it because he is writing about a situation that should most certainly be occurring. I am enjoying it because I agree, then I wake up and smell the coffee. He is speaking correctly about how the children are using the web 2.0 tools to connect with their friends and the world. They are using blogs, wikis, youtube, my space, facebook, flickr, and so many more web 2.0 tools. Then I suddenly came out of my haze and asked, "Where is this happening, Will"? At home where children either have geeky parents or have access and are figuring it out themselves. Once again children are learning about something on their own, from friends, or from a small handful of knowledgeable parents who are even allowed in to help children on computers. Let me ask how many of us learned about sex from our parents? I think the same can be said for computing. The children,, as Richardson and others point out are learning about computing out of school and not under the supervision of adults. Thus the concern Richardson raises early in the article about controlling how we are "Googled." I like his metaphor of the bus. The children are in the front on this technology bus, while the adults are in the back holding on for dear life. I agree that we need to have some kind of supervision in an educational environment for their safety and learning how to use these tools correctly. Problem is that

So much about what Richardson says is inspiring and yet as a teacher in a public school in NYC, I find what he suggests we do with web 2.0 tools impossible because of the filters. When I try to access a fantastic YouTube video, I can't because of the filter. So I have to take the URL submit it to Zamzar and have it convert to a file I can read in class. Time delay. One of the benefits of the Internet in my early days of usage was that filters didn't exist, so anytime, anywhere education worked then, but not today, because of the filter. Laura is very lucky to be learning with her mother's guidance. I think that is rare, very very rare. Children are not being guided by their parents, let alone from their teachers in their schools.

As I reread Richardson's article, I realized he was unaware of the filter or not familiar with public schools or lives in a very privileged community. Whenever a teacher in a NYC school tries to access, let alone use a web 2.0 tool, the teacher is greeted with a page declaring this page is not allowed in a NYC school. Other pages, like Facebook, are considered "social networking" and are constantly blocked. Now one might suggest the teacher get these pages unblocked. The procedure in NYC is cumbersome and difficult which means teachers rarely do it. Also once a page has been unblocked, it could get blocked soon as the blocked pages is reloaded.

In school, I find the children use proxies obtained from nefarious sites to get to their my space and facebook pages. Teachers can't use these proxies otherwise the teacher would be looking for a new job. I have always agreed with what Richardson writes about. My problem is the folks who oversee our filters and control our Internet access do not understand what Richardson writes let alone agree with it.

There are many teachers I know who have been well aware of the power of technology, have tried to employ the technology, only to find their efforts thwarted by filters and poor administration. Technology needs to be unharnessed to be effective in schools. It must be allowed to run with the guidance of experienced teachers, trusted pedagogues. Again when the authorities assess schools they continue to use tools that we used when they were students. We can't continue to teach and assess the way we were taught. I have been teaching in a computer room since 1983. I was never taught with this kind of technology in my classes when I was a student in the 50's and 60's. Empowering the scholars is what CyberEnglish is all about. Those of us who utilize the tenets of CyberEnglish agree wholeheartedly with Richardson. Our only caveat would be the reality of the state of technology in our schools today is not near what Richardson speaks about. Of course, I concur with what he has said. I don't know anyone who would disagree. Where is this happening? Since the article was published in a magazine for school administrators, I would love to know how we get this kind of access in our schools? Richardson's examples seemed to be out of school, not in a school, so how is this going to help us? Are we still trying to inspire administrators to the use of technology in classrooms, when they themselves are bereft of real pedagogical knowledge of the use of technology in the classrooms, let alone web 2.0 tools. I'd like them to name a couple of web 2.0 tools. As I said, I have been enjoying this article, thanks.

PS: I have been spending the last month negotiating with Rosetta Stone and our own technology department to get the online program, Rosetta Stone to work in my classroom. We can't get the update to download because of the filters and the tech folks at the NYCDOE and at Rosetta Stone haven't been able to solve the problem. I'm talking about a very powerful educational tool unable to get into the classrooms because of a filter and yet my students can get to their myspace and facebook pages.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Finally. The day
before the last wakeup of
08 Elections.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"whatcha goin' 2 b 4 HaLLoWeeN, duDE?"

I heard this first asked by one young man of another on October 11. It made me pause as I reflected on this question once I got home after a lovely bike ride.

What does our Halloween costume say about us?

Dressing up as any of the current Presidential or VP candidates is scary for most of us, depending upon our bent. The masks of the current occupants of the WH may not be in vogue this year. We are moving on to the next pairs to express our fear and horror. Trying to remain as politically neutral as possible, I've decided to dress in an even more scary costume, dude, as a HOBO.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Site of the Week

eSchool News provides interesting sites of the week. Very useful websites for teachers and students will be found at this site.

In August as school was beginning for us, they offered up a great site to help teachers manage the new web 2.0 tools. Coghead is devoted to assisting the classroom teacher and student achieve success inexpensively and universally. Curriki has been around awhile and has redesigned itself to be more user friendly. An old familiar browser from Norway called Opera has redesigned itself to be more educational friendly. These are just a few of their offerings.

Resources for teachers that include PBS, The National Science Foundation, Teachers on Indian reservations, and a Blog to help teach writing to sites for students seeking college information and opportunities for young women.

These weekly sites are always useful and provide great resources and starting points for teachers as they add or continue to rely on technology in their classrooms.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Define Excellence

I love reading texts that begin by deconstructing a common, everyday word, one that may drop from the sky for Groucho. Thomas Armstrong explored the word "genius" in his Awakening Genius. That has become a unit I teach titled, "I am." Today I stumbled upon another text that deconstructs a common everyday word in Educational Leadership. "Excellence for All" by Robert J. Sternberg caught my eye for two reasons. The title intrigued me and then the author. I know Sternberg's work well. I have been a long time fan of his work. I have used it when I have taught teachers. I am very mindful of his work when I prepare my own classes. The triarchic theory of intelligence morphed into successful intelligence and was followed by Assessing What Matters. Sternberg has informed my practice for many years, so when I saw this new one I was as excited as when a new novel from TC Boyle emerges.

Immediately I was drawn in as I read the questions that challenged us to define "excellence." It is important, he suggests so that we know how to achieve excellence. It is important because we are about to embark upon a journey. Four scenarios are provided that give context to help us define excellence. Accepting the 3 R's, reading 'riting, and 'rithmatic; Sternberg adds three new companions: reasoning, resilience, and responsibility. He wants to change schools from being test preparation centers by concentrating on how we define excellence in our school so we can draw the excellence out of our scholars. Teaching excellence. First we must define excellence, then we can achieve excellence in our classes and schools.Second we must have the resources available to achieve this excellence. Finally we must have the pedagogical wherewithall to walk the talk.

These three neophytes, reasoning, resilience, and responsibility, are naturals. Each scholar must justify and explain whats/he is doing on hir webpage. What is the reason for its existence? Resiliency is perfect. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game. No excuses! Take responsibility for yourself and the results of your actions.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Peer Writing Conference

A colleague was sharing with us a class activity he does with his classes. It involves peer review and is done in groups. He is preparing them for the NYState English regents. He has taken the convoluted rubrics created by the state and has made them more user friendly.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Great Preidential Education Debate

So how many people saw this debate? How many people knew it was happening? Can you name who the two debaters were? Where was the debate? Who moderated the educational debate? When was the great educational debate?

These are important questions. Questions are are always important. The answers are even more important. Education is not on the presidential radar nor is it on the nation's radar. Well, I assume it is not on the nation's radar, because none of the major news media covered it let alone mention it. So the media has told us what we need to know. Education is not important in this presidential contest.

I have watched it twice. Not impressed with what I heard. Both have supported NCLB. I heard lots of lofty ideas like looking to other countries, considering portfolios, and the like. Let us not forget that the state's determine the educational policy for that state, NOT the US government. The US government is there to support, not to dictate as it has done with technology filters and NCLB. I still believe the essence of CyberEnglish is something to consider in revitalizing education. I did hear both debaters argue for the qualities CyberEnglish has in their suggestions on ways to improve education in this country.

I'd love to see major changes in education, but I won't hold my breath.

Oh if you missed this debate, try going here to view it or read the written transcript.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Some Short Stories

I have a core of short stories I use in CyberEnglish. They are good stories for my scholars. Some of them are autobiographies, some are biographies, and some are just good fiction. Each use a plethora of literary tools. All of the stories provide the scholars with great stories of conflicts and problems with satisfying resolutions. They are good text to self stories about perseverance, problem solving, and reader identification with the characters in each story.

The scholars do some research before reading each story. In the cases of the autobiographies, the scholars are aware of who Richard Wright, Daniel K Inouye, and Matthew Henson are before reading. This research provides excellent context for the story they are about to read. The research they do for the biographies of George Washington Carver and Nathan Hale helps the scholars appreciate the small piece of this person's life they are about to read. The fictional pieces provide a good introduction to different neighborhoods.

I selected these short stories many years ago. As I was beginning to work with technology and before scanners were available, I had the scholars type the stories so I would have them digitized. With the digitized stories I was able to use three computer programs to provide the scholars with a series of reading exercises. The first computer program would present the story in a colorful way. The program allowed the scholars to play with the text and color presentation and to even have the program pace the reading. Once the reading was complete the scholar moved on to a program that worked as a study guide. The scholars would be given short excerpts from the story and then asked questions about the passage. The questions would be the same type of questions I'd ask in class. In this way of presenting the stories, all of the scholars did the work, not just a few as in a typical class. In addition each scholar could work at hir own pace. The third program quizzed the scholars. The neat features of this program was that I could create 20 questions and use 10 or any number of questions. No two scholars got the same quiz since each question is randomized and the answers are scrambled. The scholars move through these three programs at their own pace and repeat them as they desire. The programs record what the scholar does so I can conference with each scholar with this data. Once they have completed these three programs they write an essay.

I have used these stories as the core for CyberEnglish.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The State of The Class

We have approached the final day of grades for the first marking period and the scramble and panic has not set in. That is because the scholars have paced themselves. I'm finding attendance slowly improving in a school where attendance is poor. I keep reminding myself exactly who the scholars are in this school. Our school is called a transfer school. I don't really know what it means except that our scholars never chose to be here. Their circumstances dictated it. They dropped out, they fell behind in another school, they went to jail, they got pregnant and so on. Their living conditions are another matter. Not to give excuses, but to provide some context for the joy I am feeling for these scholars. They are in many cases, coming to school regularly and completing their work. In fact, they have gained an attitude of caring about the work and coming in during lunch and even doing some work at home. I have had scholars say, that a book they read for me was the first book they actually read. The school provides that kind of caring and nurturing. I have spoken about it before and am amazed at the dedication, the professionalism, and the compassion of this staff. All staffs I have worked on or have been consultation with have these qualities, but in this kind of school those characteristics are the cornerstone for the success. It is not in a few staff members, it is in all of them and that is remarkable.

So, as I reflect on the class to this point, I'm happy and impressed with their work. They have made webpages using HTML on Geocities. They have started their I am a genius file, have done a quote file, and have conquered the famed Hypertext Haiku assignment. I'm jazzed about what has happened in this class and I hope they are too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quiz Apps

Online quiz and puzzle, and game oriented programs have permeated the Internet for years with programs like Quia. Today two new programs have caught the eye of many teachers at all levels of learning and in all disciplines. They are Quizlet and Study Stack.

Quizlet is a neat web based program that allows you to make flashcards for those activities in your class where flashcards are essential. The program works in stages: familiarize, learn, test. If you aren't ready to make your own, you can use anyone of the hundreds of quizzes already created by other teachers. Once you make your own, they will be available for others. What is so wonderful about this site is that we see diffeent ways to teach and learn the material.

StudyStack is a a very cool and versatile web based program. The material available on this site is phenomenal. It provides access to all disciplines at all levels. It goes beyond flashcards by providing games like hangman, crossword puzzles, matching games. From a pure edcuational perspective, study sheets and more are provided for the young scholar to learn those difficult things we need to memorize. This site is very comprehensive.

The good news about both these sites is that they are free.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Today, I'd like to speak about discovery, self discovery.

Ken Macrorie's I-Search is an inquiry-based research project for scholars. The I-Search actively engages scholars to ask questions and then do the research to answer the questions.

The following sentence starters are just possible suggestions to stimulate your writing. Your introduction should be an attention grabber and reflect your personal interest. The body paragraphs should provide your audience the information, knowledge and findings that you want to share and inform them about your subject. The conclusion should be the summary of information that you knew and learned about the subject.

1. I always wanted to know more about...

2. This is my opportunity to learn...

3. My family (mother, father, sister, brother, grandmother, etc) always said...

4. I wonder what it would be like to live in...

5. I always wanted to be a ...

6. When I was a small child I always wanted to go to...
_________college/university... study...

7. I want to know what scholarships or grants are available to help me attend college/business school/specialty programs.

8. I want to do community service by my community.

9. I want to know more about global warming.

10. I want to get involved in...

11. I want to know how_________is made.

12. I want to know more about ____________________in our (American) system.
(welfare/politics/homeless programs/etc.)

13. My biggest dream is to ...

14. I want to be___________________ in a__________________
(director/supervisor/owner/etc.) (spa/restaurant/club/etc.)

15. I want to be more technological savvy because...

16. When I was a small child I always wanted to...

17. I want to know what makes...

18. I want to do...

19. I want to know more about...

20. I want to get involved in...

21. What is...?

22. Where is...?

23. Who were the main...?

24. Why did...?

25. How would you show...?

26. Which one...?

28. How would you describe...?

29. How would you explain...?

30. What is the difference between...?

31. What would happen if...?

32. Determine what could have caused...

33. How would you make use of...?

34. Illustrate a way to...

35. Discuss the pros and cons of...

36. What is the significance of...?

37. How would you verify...?

38. What would you conclude about...?

39. What is the most important...?

40. What changes would you make to...?

Friday, October 10, 2008


Quantagories are puzzles. The puzzle begins with a number that is associated with a concept, actual fact, common knowledge as expressed in the capital letters (user has to use the letters for the words) and words that follow the number. They are fun and provide another way to tap our mental agility. For example consider:
26 L of the A
You have to find what the capital letters are!
26 Letters of the Alphabet!

Okay your turn, have fun.

24 H in a D
100 DC in which WB
7 D of the W
88 K on a P
7 W of the W
12 S of the Z
66 B of the B
52 C in a P (WJ)
13 S in the USF
18 H on a G C
39 B of the O T
5 T on a F
90 D in a R A
3 B M (S H T R)
32 is the T in D F at which W F
9 I in a BBG

3 W on a T
100 C in a D
11 P in a F (S) T
12 M in a Y
8 T on an O
29 D in F in a L Y
27 B in the N T
365 D in a Y
13 L in a B D
52 W in a Y
9 L of a C
60 M in an H
23 P of C in the H B
64 S on a C B
9 P in S A
6 B to an O in C
1000 Y in a M
3 G in a HT
8 L on a S
1001 AN
57 HV
52 C in a D
8 S on a SS
1 W on a U

525600 M in a Y
8 P in a G
100 C in a E
200 D for PG in M
7 C of the R
9 P in the SS
1000 W that a P is W
4 S (W S S A)
40 D and N of the GF
4 and 20 BBB in a P
15 M on a D M C

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

CyberSchool Update

CyberSchool is doing just what it is supposed to do. The room is filled with new scholars. We get new scholars every week, sometimes a new scholar each day of the week. Just last week eight new scholars walked into CyberSchool. Then there are scholars who need partial credits to graduate in January. All of these scholars are working in different disciplines. When anyone walks in, s/he always comments on the tone of the room and the scholarly activity. The scholars are in control of their own learning while I merely observe, intervene, and encourage.

For those who need math we have five CD's that take them through a comprehensive set of readings and exercises in Algebra I & II, Geometry, Trig, and Calculus. I also have webquests that ask them to research the History of Algebra and Geometry as well as webquests guiding them through useful applications of math in everyday life.

For Spanish we use Rosetta Stone and some webquests designed to have them research Spanish speaking countries and to plan trips to Spanish speaking countries.

In the histories I have many webquests that provide specific projects about specific time periods in history. For those who have to take the regents, I have them use past exams and then use the Internet to research each question so that they get them all correct.

In science I have a great alternative energy project as well as specific projects for the different sciences.

In English they do CyberEnglish.

I have webquests for art, music, and health as well.

The room is a beehive of activity. I'm conferencing with all of them. The key is that we are using the Internet for individualized instruction. CyberSchool is serving many functions: slowly transitioning the new students into school before they join their regular classes at the cycle break, providing curriculum for those who need partial credits to graduate, and to provide individualized instruction when necessary. It is a great release for the scholars and the school. It prevents drop outs, it encourages scholars to return to school, and it assists in keeping students on target to graduate. It caters a bit to the scholar, but then this is the scholar who needs some catering to and has slipped through the cracks in other schools, but not this one. CyberSchool is the beginning of reentering school or the last stop before graduating. CyberSchool is our safety net, it is an academic safety net that provides positive successful experiences. Behind all of this activity, chatter, clicking of keys are the melodies of the classics like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and American jazz. The music sets a tone, provides the cadence, and raises the level of scholarship a level. One student who came in for his period commented on how peaceful it was in here.

Scholars are constantly coming in to ask about CyberSchool. They need to speak with their advisers and determine if they need partial credits so they can graduate sooner than later. In some cases scholars have left us and then have returned. CyberSchool is used to acclimate them to the school and a place for them to show that they are ready to return. It is almost like sending an athlete to the minors before they return to the majors.

CyberSchool has its ups and downs in attendance. At the beginning of the cycle, the room almost empty, except for those collecting partial credits. As the cycle moves towards the end the room slowly fills up with the new scholars waiting till the new cycle begins. We have three cycles each of the two semesters. I must say it is gratifying seeing those new scholars alter on in their classes as they come to the computer lab with their new classes. In is a real thrill seeing those beaming faces of the CyberSchool scholars on graduation day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Regulate Banks Not Schools

It is amazing how far behind Internet use we are in education. There was a time when computer technology in education was leading the way in technology use in this country and the world. Teachers were unfettered and were doing some phenomenal things with technology in education. Dewey, Gardner, Papert, Freire were being realized magnificently. We were utilizing programs that provided individualized instruction, we were on the bleeding edge of early Internet use as we had our scholars producing webpages, publishing their scholarship online, interacting with scholars all over the world. There was renewed excitement in education and everyone was excited and enthusiastic about education.

Then the rest of the world found the lure of the Internet and suddenly we had a dot com boom and it sucked the life out of the Internet. Suddenly the Internet became a consumer's delight and educational uses diminished and began to wane. To add insult to injury the US government stepped in and began rash regulations adding irrational filters and then created NCLB. Suddenly the educational technology boom was a bust.

Fear of scholars accessing inappropriate sites led to rampant inappropriate use of the filter without considered what the teachers needed or using education to make it work. Instead of using these "learning moments"; schools wasted them and went into Internet lock down. The problem was the scholars still had unfettered access from home where no one supervised them and bad things happened. Schools were no longer able to provide instruction in how to use the Internet correctly and wisely.

The other death knell for Internet use in schools was NCLB. Suddenly schools stepped backwards and went to teaching to the test. Multiple choice tests became all the rage and inventive uses of the Internet that reinvigorated education were lost.

I just wonder if the government had used the amount of regulation on the financial markets as they did with education, we might not have the financial problems we are experiencing now. The financial markets should have had the regulations education had and education should have had the non regulation the financial markets have enjoyed.

I still see the value of the Internet in schools and so do others. Someone has to advocate for the scholars since the US government has abandoned them. When we can see what the scholars are doing via their webpages is all we need for assessment, accountability, and regulation. The tests as mandated by NCLB tell us nothing and do not inform instruction and do not include the teachers who need to know. Tests are made by outsiders, graded by outsiders and then destroyed. We just get numbers that tell us nothing. Now compared this to using Internet based webfolios of the scholars' work and everyone who matters and cares has access to the work and that work is used to inform instruction. We have learned that when something is public, that is all the regulation we need. We know that NCLB has not succeeded. We know that making the scholars' work public does work to engage the scolar and to show the rest of the world what is happening in each scholar's learning.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I have heard it said, written, exclaimed that the Internet is making us dumber. I disagree. The Internet provides us access to answers. Before the net we had to access books. Who had books?

Yahoo, Alta Vista, Google, Wikipedia and all the digital primary sources accessible by so many. As we review the history of access to knowledge, those in power usually belittled the new form of presenting information to the people. They questioned its reliability, its credibility, its very existence. Certainly I am reminded of Franklin's advice: "Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see." Each seeker of truth needs to investigate for hirself. We have learned that prior knowledge may be incorrect since we were not in possession of all of the facts. We have seen how multiple camera angles at a sporting event assists us in seeing the right calls being made. We have learned by listening to various points of view on a subject we can understand something more deeply.

It has been said the knowledge is power. So it stands to reason that those in power are not apt to distribute that knowledge to those who might question authority and the possessors of power or who even want to wrest that power away. The use of the Internet is a power struggle and we see it in schools every day from the filters and who controls those filters to actual use of the computers in schools.

The growth of fact checkers on line has grown and now it is asked who is checking the fact checkers. During this presidential election, we are seeing sites like Snopes and FactChecker emerge as the great arbitrators of truths and lies. The next line of defense is now an industry checking on these sites for bias and accuracy.

I wonder how Franklin would react to the Internet.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Zamzar is on by toolbar. Zamzar is on my browser startup page. Zamzar is on my teaching webpages. Zamzar is that important.

If you know about Zamzar, you know what I am saying. If you don't, pray, let me speak. Zamzar is a website that I can go to and request that they convert some digital file I cannot access or run into a digital format I can run. For instance, I want to convert a pdf file into a word processing program. I ask zamzar to convert said pdf file to said word processing program and bingo, it is done. It is free, it is quick, and it is reliable. Zamzar will also convert that word processing file into a pdf. Think about all the pdf files you wanted to alter. Now you can.

Think about all the times a scholar, a colleague, a digital buddy sent you a file you couldn't open because you didn't have the right program to open said file? Yes, Zamzar can convert all of those files for you and your scholars. So when a scholar brings in a word processing program file I can't open, I send it to Zamzar. Presto, I now have a copy we can read. Our scholars are creating video and audio files. Conversion of these files to other formats is important. Consider the amount of money you can save by not having to buy software.

Me and lots of other teachers wish we could access YouTube because of the treasures found there. Alas, YouTube is blocked. So when I discovered I could give Zamzar a URL to convert, I was able to convert a YouTube page to a mov file for Quicktime. When I received the mov file, I uploaded it to our school server and discovered I could run the video clip in school. Further, I could upload a YouTube URL from school to Zamzar and receive a file I can use in school. This is beautiful. Now I am building a digital library thanks to Zamzar.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Aussies are Coming

Actually they are here. The Aussies have been involved with Professional Development in New York City schools for a decade. I have worked with some fine individuals over the years in some of the schools I have worked in. Last year we were introduced to a book innovative teachers' companion. This book is a very useful spiral publication that serves as a teacher planner, resource book, and professional learning tool.

The design is brilliant. A clear plastic cover front and back protects the book. The spiral makes it easy to fold over the pages. Useful pages in the beginning for lists, calendars, and planning. We first have a yearly planner, followed by a monthly planner. A few pages of important charts like weights and measures and temperature conversion charts. Differentiated charts precede the weekly planner. The weekly planner has a topic of pedagogical import that is practiced for a few weeks. Then another neat pedagogical strategy is presented and so on throughout the year. The importance of this we have found is that those topics become the basis of our own in house professional learning sessions. Since all teachers are using the planner, we are all seeing the weekly topics and are employing them and seeing how we already use them. As we gather the data, we now have substance for our own professional learning as a school.

The first strategy is "Classroom Management." The first page provides a process and then each of days that follow have an variation or asks a question to reinforce the initial strategy. After the first week another strategy is introduced and so on throughout the year.

By viewing the Table of Contents, we find that Bloom is used, several types of maps and charts are introduced, the Habits of Mind, Gardner, and brain resources are all topics throughout the year.

One of our English teachers gave us a short presentation on "Brain Compatible Learning: Emotional Rooms." She first explained about how she uses the room designations of Red, Blue, Orange, and Green to help define certain behaviors in class. When the scholars are aware of the mood of the room, they can be more effective in achieving the desired effect. We spent lots of time last year on brain research, so this application was perfect and fit right in seamlessly.

In the back of the book, lots and lots of various types of forms and charts exist. This is a great tool for all teachers of all grade levels and at all levels. It has helped our staff find a central point around which to engage ourselves as teachers during professional development because we all bring something to the table.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

In either 1974, 75, or 76, I was fortunate to see Paul Newman race his 33car at Limerock, Connecticut. Here are some pictures of that event. Thank you Paul for what you have given us.

I love the above picture with all the images of the Newman lifestyle.

Giving someone hell I'm sure.

Can you hear him laughing? I can.

His crew.

Friday, September 26, 2008


I have recently been introduced to a cool tool called Wordle. This is a great tool for teachers. What the program does is to accept text we put into it and the program represents it in a graphical way with the key words bigger than the others. It is a word diagram that let's us see the submitted text in a different way. The key words or the most used words are bigger than others. What this does is to provide the reader with a new perspective on the work.

For example I submitted "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. The result was amazing and very telling.

I took an Op-ed by David Brooks and submitted it. Once you look at it you will immediately know the main points of the Op-ed.

Teachers have taken scholar work and submitted it with phenomenal results. The visual presentation of text usually presented in paragraph form provides the writer and reader with another perspective. As teachers we want our scholars to discover the main ideas or keywords of a passage and now a tool like Wordle helps us.

When introducing a text, perhaps a Wordle presentation may be a good way to present the text before we present it in its traditional way. The scholars will see the key words and have some clues about the text before they actually read it.

Take a passage from Shakespeare and see what happens. This tool will help you in class, try it.

What about a politcal speech?