Nana Has Wrinkles

Learning, laughing and loving in a world that tells it like it is.
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Elliot

June15

Elliot is one month old today. The transformation from day one to day 31 is incredible to witness first hand. She’s now more awake and alert. She knows how to hang in there, let the occasional discomfort that overtakes her pass and settle herself back to sleep. And today, I swear, she smiled at me. She eats like a champ, passes gas every chance she gets and spits up with the best of them. Miss Elliot, I’m smitten forevermore.

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Just a little tiny tirade

February16

 Social media is the new black, isn’t it? Even those who onced looked down their noses at these new forms of communication or perhaps harbored a fear of the unknown now embrace the power of this medium. Revolutions are started and overnight marketing sensations begin with one little Tweet or post on Facebook.

School districts wrestle with the impact of social media that comes along with open, BYOD policies. Several years ago, the school at which I taught stopped trying to ban cell phone use during the school day. I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it made to do hall duty and not have to nag at cell phone users to put away their devices. Casual hallway interactions with students became about 100% more positive. For the most part, students embrace the rule that it is okay to use their phones in the hallways, at lunch or during study periods, but not during a class. It is an authentic lesson taught and learned.

Many technology directors mourn the good old days when they had control over “the network.” Back then, they dictated  content on every machine in a bulding, adding software via a CD, entering a registration code and creating a school-wide standard. Now, many educators use Twitter and other web-based social media sites to communicate with students and parents, as well as for their own personalized professional development.. However, these sites are often blocked at school by the almighty filter.

Here is what I don’t understand–why is the filter used for a second grade classroom the same used for a tenth grade classroom? Should one size fit all? Why should a teacher have to ask permission to access any website on his or her computer? This happens all the time.

The filtering effort is obviously an attempt to keep students “safe” online.  The hazards of social media sites loom large. However, students are walking into classrooms with more computing power on their phones than an entire hallway of classrooms had only a few years ago. Isn’t this the ultimate teachable moment? Shouldn’t we teach teenagers to be both responsible and appropriate consumers and producers of digital infomation? Instead, we hide them behind a filter. What sense does that make when the filter can be  easily skirted by smartphones that reside in the majority of student backpacks?

 

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Pining for Time to Pin

February14

In mid-March of 2011, I heard about an awesome new social site called Pinterest. After attempting to sign-up, I was informed that the site was in private beta and not open to new users. I begged and groveled. Ben Silberman, the creator of Pinterest, sent an email thanking me for my interest and giving me log-in information. To say I was impressed was an understatement.

Pinterest allows users to create boards (think bulletin boards) on which to “pin” (save) photographs, gift ideas, craft projects, interesting book titles, professional web materials and anything on the internet that one wishes to save in an organized manner. You can follow your friends or create new virtual friends to follow and share boards and pins with all of them. It immediately sucked me in, and I knew I was in trouble from a time consumption standpoint. I dumped my boards and ignored it for months, but recently returned. My, how it’s grown! You can see from the screenshot that I now only have two boards, but there could easily be a hundred.

I see interesting applications for educators. The impact on students who need both visual and auditory input could be significant. Collections of period photographs, newsreel clips, newspaper archives, or music clips from a specific era would add to a deeper understanding of new concepts in both social studies and English classes. Poetry from a variety of genres could be pinned to several different boards for comparison and analysis. The possibilities are endless. However, there is a lot of junk out there, and not all boards are appropriate for student use. Until a filter of some sort is available, I’m not sure I’d attempt to use this site with students, which is a shame, as Pinterest is trendy, hip and fun.

If you start to play around with Pinterest, be sure to Link with Love. Give credit where credit is due and add a link on your board that refers back to the original creator of the work you are pinning. As Pinterest grows, theft of art, photography, design, and original thought has grown, as well. Kal Barteski, a wonderful artist whose work has been stolen and sold by others, has spearheaded on online campaign to encourage proper attribution of original work. This organization deserves the support of all internet users.

LINKwithlove

It’s a double edged sword, this Pinterest. There are so many beautiful things online. Photography, typography, craft projects, words, books, creative food ideas, and interior design sites are great fun to look at and mark for further study. However, when I keep all of these resources in one place, they nag at me. They make me feel as though I need to do something significant with them. Maybe enjoying them is significant enough.

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First Year Teachers

January26

I have a soft spot in my heart for brand new teachers. It’s such a wild ride, that first year. Here are a few things that must be addressed just in the first month:

• remember names, faces and teaching assignments of the department and school staff, as well as that of the central office administration

• become familiar with building layout, schedules and daily procedures

• conquer the fine art of loading and unjamming the variety of printers used in each office

• decipher the power structure and politics underlying each staff

• begin to understand the culture of the building and community

•  master technological expectations, including ActiveBoard or SmartBoard use, digital record keeping, website maintenance and management of blast emails to parents

• figure out where to get paper clips

Add to that the expectation to master the state curriculum, local standards and create engaging lesson plans with authentic assessments, and it’s enough to bury even the savviest educator.

I’ve recently heard several stories of first year teachers being criticized to the point of losing all of the confidence with which they started the school year. Rather than working with, or even acknowledging, the good aspects of what is being done in the classroom, teachers are criticized for everything they are doing poorly. These hard-working young professionals are being held to high standards, as well they should. However, if they treated students in their classrooms the way they have been treated, I know they would be disciplined by their principals.

Education is under fire these days from all fronts. We do not need to be turning on each other. We need to nurture new teachers in word and in deed. They are eager, they are the future of the profession, and it would serve everyone well to treat them with the respect they deserve. If you hired them, you should support them.

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If Only

July4

For the past two weeks, the yard has been littered with dozens of broken twigs with leaves still attached. As we have had some crazy cool summer storms blow through town lately, it was assumed that this was just residual storm damage.

The back story: In Missouri, we spent about three weeks in June listening to the deafening screech of the 13 year cicadas. They were very loud, drowning out the noise of a lawn mower at their worst. They smelled horrid as they decomposed, and they were crunchy ugly. But now, I get it, and I sort of admire their collective effort because it’s brilliant!

 

 

Looking closely at the end of the twig, you can see how the cicada gnawed the wood just enough to weaken the branch, so it will fall to the ground. See those tracks on the side of the twig? That’s where the cicada eggs are deposited. “Female cicadas literally saw Y-shaped slits in pencil-size branches of trees and shrubs and lay as many as 600 eggs, 20 to 25 in each incision, weakening and even killing the ends of branches.” (http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2011/jun/05/the-cicadas-summertime-symphony-is-worth-enjoying) When the twig is sufficiently dried out or a strong enough wind comes along, the little branch falls to the ground, the eggs hatch and burrow into the ground where they will feed off of tree roots for the next 13 years or so. Is that not the most heroic effort to preserve a species?

Had we known, dear cicadas, we would have appreciated you more.

 

 

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Isn’t it Obvious?

June14

Brian Williams’ stock has been raised in my mind. I mourned the retirement of Tom Brokaw, the humble, self-effacing everyman. Brian Williams looked far too hairsprayed and polished for me. However, Brian does a great job of humanizing his newscasts with humor and humility, the two characteristics I admire most from people in the limelight. NBC has wisely caught on to the fact that when they put him in the field, Brian shines. He is a solid reporter and a man with a soft heart–the perfect combination for those of us  here in the midwest.

On tonight’s NBC Nightly News, Mr. Williams commented on a story about high school students who don’t know rudimentary facts about American history. With great indignation, he declared that students spend huge amounts of time on reading and math as compared to the time they spend on American History.

Guess what, Brian? At this point in time, most states don’t test American History, but they all test reading and math. Shouldn’t Education Nation understand that where high stakes tests lie, so too lies the double whammy of time and money? Therein rests one of the greatest frustrations of accountability testing. Being forced to focus on making the cut, beating out neighboring districts and racing to the top isn’t what is best for kids. Something has to give, and unfortunately instructional time in science, social studies, fine arts, foreign language instruction and other important academic endeavors are put on the back burner in the name of test prep.

You’re a good man, Brian, but next time look at the big picture.

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The Velcro Schema Theory

February27

A friend recently reminded me of a very significant “aha” moment I experienced about five years ago. I noticed that when the friends of my children came home from college for a visit and I had my teaching supplies strewn all over the kitchen table, the kids would dive for many of the texts on the table and exclaim something akin to, “OH! I read this sophomore year in Mrs. Mench’s class. I LOVE this book.” After a while I would bait them, eager to see if this reaction would hold true. It did–sometimes even accompanied with closed eyes and the book held tightly in their hands. Many, many teachers were mentioned by name.  Not once did anyone say, “Oh, the character development in this book is so unique!” or “The themes contained within this book were extremely significant to my development as a person!”

Kids need to connect new knowledge to something already present in those very full and very active brains.  In my theoretical and untested hypothesis, those brains contain filing cabinets with the faces of many teachers on the front. Kids remember classrooms, the way a classroom smells, the soft classical music playing in the background, the way the light filters into a room during a certain time of day, and the classmates that surround them. They file all of those sensory experiences behind each teacher’s face on the filing cabinet drawer.

Teachers are the velcro to which new learning sticks. Carefully crafted lessons and adroitly led discussions combined with high expectations and a warm, respectful environment create fertile ground for new thinking. Years from now, they may not remember the names of each character in a book, but they will remember the pleasure of learning in that time and in that space. They will remember the significance of being connected to other learners, other humans, as well as the experience and power of creating new thought.  And all of it is neatly organized in that filing cabinet.

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Why I Love Twitter by @LindaReed

February24

Honestly and truly, I love to learn in a really nerdy, I can’t get enough new thinking into my brain, kind of way. Though I don’t consider myself to be very smart, I’ve always managed to find a way to hang out with the cool kids who are. That’s why I just can’t get enough Twitter.

My PLN (Personal/Professional Leaning Network) consists of people who really know their stuff and generously share it with the world. Not only do they find great articles and websites to explore, they create new material on a regular basis. Educators familiar with Blooms Taxonomy know that “Create” has recently been moved to the top of the pyramid of intellectual behavior. It used to be enough to “Evaluate,” but now you must do something that newly acquired intellectual motherlode. The internet provides the perfect milieu for sharing newly created knowledge.

This is the age of information overload, but I don’t have to read it all, analyze it all, evaluate it all or even create it all because my Twitter PLN works together to do all of that. If you think Twitter is about what you had for breakfast or where you can find really cool shoes are on sale, you are missing out on the power of the Twittersphere.

It’s easy to establish a Twitter network. Create a Twitter account–it only takes a few minutes and despite the burden of another user name and password,  it’s painless. Take the time to create a short bio and add a picture of yourself. Then use the search tool to find just a few people from your areas of influence you admire, and try to locate them on Twitter. Follow them. Once you do that, you see who they follow. Add those folks as people you follow, too. Talk to peers who are using Twitter and find out their user names. By following them you will have even more access to local folks to follow.

If I have shared a link with you over the past few years that made you see the world through a new lens, it most likely came from my Tweeps. If you’re eager for a place to start, you are welcome to follow me: @LindaReed (and yes, I did sign up for this service so long ago that my very common name was available as a username). I have had few Professional Development experiences (with the exception of the #Boothbay Harbor Literacy Retreat) that cause me to think as deeply as do my Tweeps. They are awesome and generous, and of course, smart.

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Standing In the Gap

February22

They just walked out. Today, legislators in a second state got up and walked out. What a poor example this sets for the children who are watching the situation play out. It’s never okay to abandon a responsibility, particularly a civic responsibility bestowed upon so very few citizens. Leadership happens when ordinary people take a seemingly impossible situation and find a way to solve a problem that no one else even dared to dream. It happens when you work behind the scenes to mediate with all parties involved and navigate new paths down which former adversaries can walk side by side. Democracy is messy work. Who is going to stand up, stretch out a hand to the other side and commit to finding a solution to these difficult problems? No one has come out ahead in this situation, especially not our children.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

February20

Nicholas Carr wrote an article in the Atlantic Magazine during the summer of 2008 which made the rounds in educational circles as we started school that fall.  “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” was the fuel for many  interesting discussions and speculation. This article is an underlying premise for Carr’s book, The Shallows, published this summer. Have you noticed that you have trouble reading for a sustained period of time at a very deep level? Do your eyes interact with text differently than they used to? I can answer yes to both of those questions and The Shallows helped me understand the change.

Though I can’t begin to even scrape the surface of the topics covered in this book, Carr touches on the malleable nature of the human brain and its ability to literally rewire itself after a series of surprisingly few repeated experiences. This is of great importance to teachers of course, as the brains of the young people before us each day in class are not the same brains we were teaching even five years ago. How are we to alter instruction to best meet the real and physical needs of today’s students? Is it important to shut down technology for certain parts of the day to assure that students are able to think deeply and enable their brains to retain that capacity?

This book is an interesting read for everyone, but crucial a one for those who work in education.

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