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

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.