Going Off The Grid


The last blog post I composed was August 20, 2009. That was the day I fell off the grid. I fell far; I fell fast. And soon I was trying to find my personal learning network and wondering where everyone went. The party was over and I was back at work, teaching, grading, designing, engaging and performing several other topical buzzwords used in current edu-speak. I was no longer mentioned in Tweets and my direct messages were simply tumbleweeds drifting by in the wind. My comments and blog readership began to fade and I was no longer engaging in a community that had given me so much and inspired me to transform the way I teach in the 21st century.


Since I have last posted a lot has happened. William Safire passed away. He enjoyed buzzwords and was a columnist I looked forward to reading every Sunday in the Times. I grew half a beard a few times; thinking the exotic look of a beard would inspire me to write again. The Phillies lost the word series and all the while I was an inactive member of the personal learning network (PLN) I tried to promote so strongly in my previous posts.

I created the one comment a day project ning only to fall behind in my duties as chief executive commentator. I wrote the introduction to my book that I am attempting to write, only to stuff my edits in a drawer for that rainy day off that never came. I’ve continued to read blogs and visit TweetDeck occasionally to see what all my Tweeps are up to. It seems like they are having fun; it seems like they are really engaged in stimulating discussions about Web 2.0 in the classroom and redesigning 21st curriculum to meet the needs of the 21st century student.

So what happened? How does one fall off the grid so quickly?

I’m a teacher.

I teach, therefore my time is limited. My time is precious. I teach high school English by day and English composition by night at a local college. In between I browse hundreds of essays and paragraphs for run-ons, fragments and my all time favorite, dangling modifiers.

My free time is spent coming down from the day and relaxing with a cup of tea and some light harmonies. Going to bed at 9 pm seems practical, my DVR is overloaded and my Netflix canceled. I know! This is how I came to fall off the grid.


These are my challenges and this is where I came to fall off the grid.

So now what?

I’m using this blog post as my springboard back on to the grid. I want to tweet again! I want to get excited about 2.0 or maybe 3.0 learning. I want to revive the one comment a day project and make t-shirts! I want to write my book on web 2.0 curriculum and I want to collaborate with my Personal learning network! I want to transform my school into an environment where technology and education skip hand in hand down the hall. I want my students to read on level and I want to rediscover the power of my personal learning community!

This is me coming back to the party, head slightly down, but ready for acceptance back into the great collaborative environment of learners, educators and thinkers that became more than a tiny square icon, but inspiring voices in the world of education and beyond. I want to be there again, I want to collaborate and I want to plug back in to my Personal Learning Network.


25 Free Technology Tools for Teachers

Finding free technology tools and teaching aids is a great way for teachers to engage students in learning while keeping their class within budget. The Internet has tons of hi-tech resources for teachers of language arts, history, math, science, art, and music. Here are 25 tools and sites to explore before the beginning of the new school year:

Language Arts

Cast UDL Book BuilderThe Cast UDL Book Builder makes it easier for teachers to build reading skills in students. The site provides tools to create, read, and share digital books.

Shmoop – Shmoop is a unique study guide site designed to help students appreciate and understand literature, history, and poetry. This site is a way for older students to hone and improve literary analysis and writing skills.

Academic Skill Builders – This site is loaded with free online video games for learning language arts, vocabulary, and mathematics. The goal of Academic Skill Builders is to make classroom learning as effective as possible.

TumbleBook LibraryThis reading site can be used with interactive whiteboards in the elementary classroom. TumbleBook resources include a collection of free animated books.

VisualWords – This online graphic dictionary is a great literary tool for building K-12 vocabulary and language comprehension. With VisualWords, students can see an illustration of how words relate to one another through word webs.

History

DoHistory – DoHistory provides an interactive way for students to understand the skills and techniques needed for interpreting history. This site, which can be used on interactive whiteboards, is based on the 200 year old diary of Martha Ballard.

Race for the Superbomb – Complete with a teacher’s guide, PBS’ Race for the Superbomb takes an in-depth look into the creation and use of nuclear weapons. Throughout this virtual experience, teachers will find films, timelines, maps, and special features.

History Podcast Network – The History Podcast Network offers links to a wide variety of historybased podcasts. Teachers can use the site to find podcasts on the military, U.S. history, British history, periods in history, and much more.

History Classroom – The History Classroom from History.com offers a wide variety of interactive games, learning materials, and tools that teachers can use in the classroom to create a fun, engaging history experience. Resources include study guides, videos and speeches, and lesson plans.

Library of Congress – The Library of Congress offers media-rich tools and interactive opportunities that teachers can use in the exploration of history. This site also features activities, lesson plans, and themed resources.

Math and Science

The Blobz Guide To Electric Circuits – This interactive guide teaches groups of students about the intricate networks of circuits. The Blobz guide is a good interactive teaching aid for math and science classes.

Volcano Explorer – The Discovery Channel‘s Volcano Explorer can be used to teach students about volcanoes. With this interactive exploration, students will get an up-close look at this beautiful yet deadly force of nature.

OceanNow – This interactive expedition into the ocean is a wonderful teaching aid for exploring the science of nature. OceanNow allows you to view video, track maps, and get instant updates.

NumberNut – NumberNut is a free elementary math teaching aid. NumberNut covers everything from shapes and colors to ratios and money math.

Mathgrad This site is a free mathematics podcast that teachers can use as part of their curriculum. Mathgrad offers practical mathematic information in terms that everyday people can understand.

Art and Music

Renaissance ConnectionThe Renaissance Connection can be used to teach students about Renaissance art history. This site connects students with the past through in-depth looks at artworks, innovations, and other visual learning tools.

Artopia – Artopia is a comprehensive art experience for middle school children. This site allows students to examine and learn about styles, principles, and processes in dance, media arts, music, painting, sculpture, and theatre. Teachers can also find a how to guide for incorporating Artopia into their classroom.

ArtsEdge – This interactive website provides teachers with tools and technology for exploring and understanding art. Throughout ArtsEdge, teachers will find resources for teaching, connecting, and exploring several different art forms.

Essentials of Music – This site for music teachers provides materials on eras of music, composers, and a glossary with examples. By using this excellent teaching aid, teachers can provide a vast amount of information on composers and eras through MP3 formatted examples.

ArtPad – ArtPad is a creative and mess-free way for students to express their creative side. Once students are done creating art, the works can be printed or emailed.

Miscellaneous

GeoEdu – GeoEdu is a free game and interactive atlas for learning worldwide geography. This software is designed for teaching children of all ages.

PlanetInAction.comThis site offers a 360 degree virtual tour of historical and geographical sites. PlanetInAction.com is an interactive alternative to images in books or slide shows.

BrainPop – BrainPop is a fun teaching aid for all subjects. This interactive site uses games and activities to engage students in subjects ranging from art to social studies.

ARKive – This site allows students to explore life on earth through videos, images, and facts. ARKive offers an extensive collection on thousands of species around the world.

The Periodic Table of VideosThe Periodic Table of Videos is a nice teaching aid for illustrating the periodic table. This site utilizes webcast for a visual demonstration of each element.

Guest post from education writer Karen Schweitzer. Karen is the About.com Guide to Business School. She also writes for OnlineCollege.org, an online college resource.

Your Technology Magna Carta


It is the first day of class, students arrive and technology is present. Your students salivate at the idea of using a laptop, a smart board and a digital camera. They become attentive and are leaning in on your every word, hoping the next sentence is, “You may now get your laptops!” Students rush the COW and in the matter of minutes there is a dropped laptop, a ‘Z’ key missing and an entire laptop has mysteriously gone off the grid.

WHAT…JUST…HAPPENED!

It’s easy, you allowed students to use technology without a technology magna carta. Along with your classroom management rules, that you designed somewhere in your student teaching practicum, the technology classroom rules are just as critical. Here are a few ideas that you can incorporate on the first day of class. Not the second day, or the day after you find broke laptops, but the FIRST DAY OF CLASS!

Laptops = Responsibility

When you give each student their laptop for the year, make sure they are all numbered. Before you allow any of your students to get their grimy paws on a computer, give them a number. As soon as you get your class lists, give each student a number that corresponds with a laptop. The first time you use the laptops take the entire class back to the COW (or where ever you house your computers) and explain to them the procedures for holding, walking with and what to do when they get to their desk. Also, explain that you MUST plug in your laptop when you put it back and if you are a neat freak like me, make sure they are all facing in the same direction. When your students return to their seats, call their names out one by one and allow them to go get their laptop. Monitor their retrieval and have students point out any flaws. Finally, remind students this routine must take place daily or laptop usage will be suspended or revoked. Also remind them that any damage to the computer will come back to them.

Smart Board is NOT a White Board

If you have a smart board mounted in your room or even if you have one stationed somewhere in your room, make sure you keep it clean! Keep all dry erase markers away from it and if you use a special stylus pointer, make sure you keep it in your desk or somewhere safe.

If you are going to be absent and your smart board will be in your room, make sure you have specific substitute plans. The worst experience I have had with this is a colleague in my department getting told that his sub wrote the entire days plan on the smart board. Even worse, the sub used a sharpie marker because she could not find a dry erase marker. It was an awful cleanup! From that day forward our technology czar gave every smart board user a sign to display when we were absent. The sign said:

THIS IS A SMART BOARD

IT IS VERY EXPENSIVE

DO NOT WRITE ON THIS BOARD

Cameras and Video Equipment

Time management! If you give students a camera to use for a project, make sure you include a column in the rubric that accounts for time. I have observed teachers using camera and video equipment for a lesson and just allowing students to run off with the equipment and take two to three weeks to shoot and edit a video. Ummm…no.

Have students sign out this equipment as well, monitor their time and enforce this rule! Don’t allow them to go over the time and make sure you keep consistent with this.

Acceptable Browsing

This rule should be primarily enforced by your network administrator, however, there are loopholes. Students are more technology advanced than most of us. When you say no facebook, no chatting and no non-academic browsing to a student, they think, “ha, I can get around this.” And they can! How? It’s called a proxy server. If this is an unfamiliar term to you, click the link and read. This proxy server allows students to access most sites that a schools network has blocked. I caught many students using facebook and various chat applications throughout the class. This needs to be a zero tolerance policy. Obviously you cannot see the screens for all of your students (until I patent the double sided laptop screen), but when you do catch them quickly minimizing a window containing facebook, enforce your policy and send them back to the 20th century classroom. Give them a pencil and paper and require them to complete the same project with tools of days gone by.

These are four simple ways to protect your equipment and maintain an efficient working environment in your classroom. With great power, comes great responsibility. Make sure your students understand this power and respect the classroom tools.

Create An Online Resource Library; Enjoy A Butterfinger

In years past, we all used to browse through endless web pages, bookmark the ones we liked and then scroll down a long list trying to locate that “great site we found but cannot remember what it was about”. Sometimes, if we found a site that had a dancing hamster, we would bookmark and e-mail it to friends and relatives. In my district, there is always the one teacher who loves to send out a mass e-mail that is simply a link to a great site that he or she found. It is a kind thought, but working on a PC at school gives me reservations about clicking. What if I click and instead of a great new blog I get dancing hamster ninja porn and all of my districts computers are infected right before final grades are due!!!!
Wanna get away…

No, this is not an ad or link to an even cheaper Southwest Airlines flight, but a new way of organizing your web content. It’s simply called Diigo. Yes, another quirky web 2.0 tool name that will have all your colleagues asking, “Diigo, who? Diigo, what?” What is a good blog without a little Jay-Z humor!

Diigo is a very easy to use site that allows users to bookmark a site, define the site and then categorically organize your sites. The web interface allows you to tag all of your websites you save and access them easily by each tag. You can also create groups and add friends to share in all of your bookmarks. When you add a colleague you both will be able to share and exchange bookmarks.

Creating a Diigo group is a great way to organize your department this fall. Before you get into all the chaos of the school year, e-mail your department colleagues a link to a Diigo group. Tell them that this year you want to create an online resource library for links and blogs that fit your discipline. For those who say, “Now what? Something else to sign up for and receive junk mail” bribe them with candy. I usually go with Butterfinger, but also provide moist towelets, because no one wants a sticky keyboard!

Once you have them hooked, branch out and look into creating cross-curricular groups! Create a digital bridge with language arts and history; math and science. With Diigo, users have the ability to create wonderful learning communities and collaborate with each other. Building an online resource library should be on the “To Do” list of ever teacher this summer!

As always, I look forward to hearing your feedback and how you have created your online resource library. If you want to see one in action, feel free to join my Diigo group at http://groups.diigo.com/groups/the-one-comment-a-day-project. We are building an online resource library for web 2.0 blogs that focus on education. It is an extension of my last post, The One Comment A Day Project. Please join and expand the learning possibilities!

The One Comment A Day Project

After my last post on discovering your Personal Learner’s Network (PLN), I had a brief epiphany. This vision came in from simply adding a comment to a bloggers post that happens to reside in my PLN. I read the post, processed the information and responded constructively. Simple. Painless. Helpful.

At this point I thought, wouldn’t it be great if everyone in my PLN did this at least once a day. Yes, it would!

So here is my idea…

I’m calling it the “One Comment A Day Project”. This project will help promote educational collaboration throughout the blogosphere and promote and stimulate educational dialogue. All you have to do is pick one blog a day (you can obviously choose to read more) and leave a positive, insightful comment for the blogger. That’s it! One comment a day and you can change the blogging landscape and make a blogger smile.

Here is the process.

1. Read a blog

2. Post a comment that is insightful and constructive.

3. Tweet a link to the blog and your comment. Use the hash tag #OneComment

EXAMPLE: I just read a great piece on iTeach blog, check it out! #OneComment

4. Bookmark the blog and return to it another time.

It is just that easy! This Project will help create a positive forum for all who blog and comment. There are so many good educational blogs out there and I look forward to hearing your feedback and engaging in your comments!

The second phase of this project will be a featured blog a week project. This forum will review and promote one educational blog per week. It will also try and introduce new edu-blogs into the learning community. I will be setting up a Ning for this venture. The sole purpose of both ventures is to promote learning and create an engaging dialogue between so many great academic minds. The twitter hash tag for this will be #1Newblog

Please send me your thoughts, suggestions and feedback on both new ventures!I would also like to put together a small team to help with this venture due to the time consuming nature of the project. If you would like to help your fellow bloggers and be an integral part of this venture, please contact me at onecommentproject@gmail.com

I have also set up a separate twitter account for this second phase. It will be @1commentproject. Please follow it for blog updates and blog promotions. When we spread the word about great blogs, we all shine!

I would be looking for help with the following:

1. Finding new blogs

2. Posting Reviews of Blogs

3. Archiving a Blog roll on the Ning

4. Monitoring the Ning

I am very passionate about this project and am putting a lot of time and energy behind it. My belief is that we can all learn from each other and have endless technologies to help us collaborate! I really hope to see my PLN jump on board with me and help promote the edu-blogging community!

One Comment Project T-shirts, beach towels and pillow cases to follow!

Discover your Personal Learner’s Network (PLN)

One of the best things I did last school year was create and enhance my Personal Learner’s Network or PLN (as we, “in the know” say). At first, all the different networks and abundance of information that was coming my way overwhelmed me. In one week I joined several Nings, set up a twitter account, set up my iGoogle page and subscribed to several blogs and wikis. The week after, I was swamped with so much new information that I could hardly find anytime to read it all. Information overload!

I found the conversation and new information about education very positive, but at the same time I wanted it to be centralized so I could filter what I wanted and reap the benefits of stimulating content. I also discovered that my PLN was much better than any Professional Development my school had provided in the past few years. I was now privy to a plethora of engaging conversations and progressively helpful content in my field. I was learning at my own pace and not sequestered to an auditorium on a bright summer day. Like the Verizon commercials, my network was ubiquitous.


Since starting my PLN I have weeded out the junk and managed to stay current with educational trends. I have a constant flow of information that appeals to my educational palate arriving on my screen daily. I have met and regularly correspond with many new educators, innovators and bloggers that are always willing to share and listen. In short, this is what every educator wants his or her school to be, a constant flow of information and collaboration. However, this is not the case in most districts.


By now you are bursting at the seams, you want to get started and begin developing your own PLN. Here are five things I would recommend to start your PLN before the beginning of the next school year.


1. Join the Classroom 2.0 Ning


This was my first step in developing my PLN and joining a Ning is simple an easy. But first, you might be asking, “what did he just say? A ning? Sounds like a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference!” A Ning is an online platform for people to create their own social networks. A ning is basically your own personal facebook page tailored around a specific subject. You only have to provide basic information when setting up your Ning profile and in minutes you can be communicating and collaborating with thousands of like minded educators.

The Web 2.0 Classroom Ning allows members to share links, events, blogs and topic discussions. Members can also e-mail and chat with each other through the Ning website. As a Ning member, you will have your own personal page where other members can leave comments, add you as a colleague and can see your action log – basically shows anything you have posted or commented on throughout the Ning.

The Ning is a great start to develop your PLN and will have you collaborating and communicating with educators from all over the world in minutes.


You can access the Classroom 2.0 Ning at http://www.classroom20.com/ and you can access and start your own Ning at www.ning.com. You can also read an earlier blog post of mine that focused on setting up a Ning in your school district.


2. Join Twitter


At first I was hesitant about twitter and didn’t really buy into its intrusive nature, however, I have grown to really appreciate this platform. Twitter allows you to maintain a constant stream of information coming to you throughout your day at a rate of 140 characters per tweet or CPT. As a Tweep (a person who tweets), you can follow whom you want and block those you don’t want.


As a member of twitter I can keep up with colleagues in my PLN on a daily basis. I can read articles they post and respond to them privately or via the main feed. With twitter, I suggest finding a few good people to follow initially and then slowly expand your radius, as you get more comfortable with tweeting. Twitter also allows you to post photos, videos and links.


What I have gained most from twitter is the ability to access articles and information that I may have never seen. I have been turned on to new bloggers and many good books that have surfaced in tweets. Like any network, you have to weed out the material you want and not get overwhelmed by the one tweep who will post 300 tweets a day. There are also several desktop platforms that you can utilize to filter and showcase your twitter feed. The one I recommend using is TweetDeck. It can be used on any OS and its user interface is simple and user friendly.


Finally, Twitter employs a unique language. At times, this can be intimidating to most newbies, but fear not, there are plenty of twitter guides out there that are free and online. Three Twitter aids I recommend for the twitter newbie


A) Twittonary


Twittonary is a database of all the words utilized in the twitter lexicon. You can type in a word or simply select a letter and begin studying up for your Twit-cabulary Quiz this Friday!


B) Watch this Common Craft video


C) Watch this Great Slide show


Please feel free to follow me on twitter @andycinek and happy tweeting!


3. Read and Comment on Blogs


I have been turned on to many great blogs as a result of the previous two items listed above. As a blogger, I put a lot of time into my posts and try and promote an atmosphere of collaboration and communication. I never blog for the stats, but simply, to share information in my field without any concern for fame or fortune (Although if Scorsese ever returns my calls, we might be talking iTeach: The Movie!). Therefore, when I read other blogs I want to spend a few moments to take in the content, process it, and provide the author with my feedback. Leaving comments on others blogs is also a great way to get your own blog noticed. Again, not for the fame and fortune, but for the exchange of ideas and opinions.


Each week, dedicate yourself to reading several blogs and leave a constructive comment on one of those blogs each day. If you want to leave more than one, good for you! However, if you choose one a day to comment on, you will truly be sharing in the learning community and you may meet some new colleagues for your PLN!


4. Become Familiar with iGoogle and Google Reader


iGoogle is a great start for organizing your PLN. If you want to really filter your content, iGoogle is the place to start. iGoogle lets you create a personalized homepage that contains a Google search box at the top, and your choice of any number of gadgets below. Gadgets come in lots of different forms and provide access to activities and information from all across the web, without ever having to leave your iGoogle page. Here are some things you can do with gadgets:


* View your latest Gmail messages

* Read headlines from Google News and other top news sources

* Check out weather forecasts, stock quotes, and movie show times

* Store bookmarks for quick access to your favorite sites from any computer

* Design your own gadget. ***


***Courtesy of http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=20324

Google reader is another application that you can access directly from your iGoogle start page. Google Reader is Web-based aggregator, capable of reading Atom and RSS feeds online or offline. It allows you to take all the blogs you subscribe to or authors you enjoy reading and access them all in one place. Google reader has become one of my best friends and definitely beats book marking all of the blogs and authors you read. Google reader can also be accessed on most new smart phones. The iPhone has a great interface for iGoogle and Google Reader as well as the Android.

5. Attend a Conference

Attending a conference can not only bolster your PLN but also bring it to life. At times I feel like I know all these people whom I correspond with daily via twitter, nings, blogs, etc., but never really meet them. Attending a conference allows the little square photo icon to come to life. Plus, attending a conference will bring to life many of the discussions and conversations you have on a daily basis.

One way of keeping up with your PLN conference schedule is to create a google calendar with several members of your PLN. All users can share this calendar and when someone adds a conference to this calendar it will show up. I currently share a conference calendar with a colleague of mine and an esteemed member of my PLN. Her name is Donelle O’Brien and you should leave this blog and begin reading hers at http://lifelonglearning20.edublogs.org/

I hope this helps and will give you something to experiment with before you get back to school and are too overwhelmed with texts, schedule changes and parent teacher conferences. I hope to see you in my PLN in the near future!

My Line

Today I stood in line. I arrived at the Suburban Square Apple store and waited for the latest incarnation of the iPhone; the iPhone 3GS. When I arrived, the line was still short and the sun was still slowly rising over the horizon. Most people were having their morning coffee and waking up to their alarms; I was in line at the Apple store. Despite the absurd nature of standing in line at the crack of dawn to acquire a phone that is fairly similar to my previous version, I managed to have a very rewarding experience.

I met a programmer who just designed his first App. The app was a piece of toast in which you could incorporate pictures (It spawned from those people who see the Virgin Mary or her son, Jesus in their toast). Weird right? However, we are also privy to an app that plays fart noises, so this was keeping with the creativity of applications. We shared a good conversation about technology and what was to come for our kids someday. And in the future would there be lines?

I met a father of two who was leaving for vacation to Cape Cod later that evening. He was an Apple store employee as well. He showed me his cool screen cover that was made from moon rock and space plastic designed by NASA. I was impressed. We complained about AT&T, but were hopeful that we would be able to tether and send MMS by September. He was also a line veteran. About a year ago, he stood in line with his kids for a particular video game at midnight. The kids did not like the game.

I met a graphic designer who did not join our conversation until about 6:30 am. He was listening to a podcast and was content with not talking. The earplugs soon came out and he asked us if he was in the correct line. He had pre-registered, so he was in the proper line with us. We talked about the awful driving in Boston and Italy. I only had experiences in Boston, but left my ears open to hear about Italy as well. We also conversed about hacking the iPhone to allow tethering and MMS, however, our programmer friend said no and we pretty much agreed.

At 7:01 am I was hit with a flying Tasty Cake treat. The Apple store crew surfaced from their aesthetically modern cavern and presented the crowd with water and Tasty Cake treats. This made me happy. They returned to the store and the line began to move. The anticipation and excitement had limited the conversation with my line friends to only a few short sentence bursts.

“Think it will take long.”

“What are you doing with the old phone?”

“Want the second half of my Tasty Cake?”

“I can’t believe I was hit with a Tasty Cake!”

It was my turn and as I walked through the doors some of the Apple crewmembers began clapping. I smiled and began to get set up for my new gadget by a guy named Sean. When I gave Sean my e-mail (imagine1980@me.com) he asked if I was a John Lennon fan. I confirmed my fandom and he told me he was writing a book and that one of his characters was based on John Lennon. We traded e-mails and he is sending me the first few pages of his novel. I proceeded to the genius bar, was plugged in and set up in a little under ten minutes. I left the store and shot my first video. It was fun!

After all that you must be wondering what the big deal is. Why did I waste my time? Why not just wait? However, something struck me today as I was standing in line and no, I don’t mean the Tasty Cake.

As I was standing there waiting for the latest must have technological gadget, I experienced a truly vintage moment: the simple nature of human interaction.

As an educator this is my daily routine. I stand in front of students and speak and they listen. On the other hand, I am also trying to find ways to advance technology in the classroom while maintaining the rigor and engagement of my content. And despite all of our advances in technology, programs and applications, it all comes back to human interaction. It is the pulse of life and it slowly being veiled by devices and computer screens. How many of your friends are just still square photo icons? I have many and they talk to me daily.

The time I spent standing in the line was more rewarding than seeing my iPhone 3GS turn on for the first time or even taking my first video. The conversation I encountered was bigger than “copy, cut & paste” or any new application that I could download later today. This is why I stood in line and this is why we need to always remember that despite our advances in technology, the root of it all is one on one human interaction. No machine or application can take its place.

You may not agree with this sentiment and the compass application may be the best part of your day, but take a moment to reflect on your line or any line you have ever been a part of. And next fall when you are pushing all this new technology forward in your classroom, take a minute and put the laptops to sleep, get back to the basics and have a conversation with your students. It will be the best lesson you give all year.

My Graduation Speech: One year later

A year ago toady I was the faculty speaker at commencement for the class of 2008. It was a hot summer evening that drew an immense crowd to the attention of the 50-yard line at Springfield High School. I was very nervous. It was the largest audience I ever had at my attention. My parents were there as well. It was the second time they had the opportunity to hear me speak at a high school graduation. The first time was when I presented the class gift as the class of ’98 class treasurer. We presented a tree. I think it has since died.

Recently, I was reflecting on what I said to the class of 2008. Was it relevant to their lives? Did it make an impact? Or was it simply a subtle message mixed with some funny stories? I hope it was all three. If you are out there and you heard it last spring, let me know, I would love to hear what my speech meant to you. Or if you missed it, I would love to hear what you have to say as well.

Good evening Dr. N., Members of the School Board, Administration, Faculty, Parents, Family members and the Springfield Township High School Class of Two Thousand and Eight. Welcome.

I am honored to be here speaking to you today. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Chris S., Ken R., Barry W., Eric G. and the Dali Lama, I can’t help but wonder how I stumbled into this elite company. Who will ever forget the Dali Lama’s speech in ‘86? What a speech I mean really, to be in the company of Mr. R. and his holiness the Dali Lama, you must be doing something right. And let’s not forget Mr. G’s eloquent Beatles metaphors, Mr. W’s resounding “Ooo-Rah!” and Mr. S’s little blue suitcase. These are the moments you will remember. The little moments that tend to get overshadowed by the chaos and hustle of daily life.

When I first heard rumors that I would be speaking at graduation circulating through the halls of Springfield Township High School, I sort of brushed it off thinking that it would never happen or that my students were just plotting an elaborate joke. Then I won. I won a contest I never entered. That never happens! I’ve won one contest in my life and it involved naming a rabbit at a local department store. The rabbit had two black spots over his eyes so I went with, “The Lone Ranger”. That’s not even a good name. Most likely I was the only entrant in the contest.

Nadine Sheahan came into my room and asked me if I would like to speak at graduation and that it was not mandatory, but that I did win a majority of the popular vote. Unfortunately I did not win the majority of delegates needed to secure the nomination…Whoops. Wrong tangent. I smiled and said I would speak. Playing it off like a cool cucumber. Then she left and I realized that I had to write something. I had to write something good. I had to write something memorable. And according to feedback from most students I had to be funny.

So here is my story to you…

In April of 1990 – while most of you were still writing about your first days on earth in your super small baby journal – I was getting prepared for my tenth birthday party. I was all set to have my birthday party at a near by amusement park; my party and my friends. However this was not the case. My mother informed me that I would be having a combined birthday party with my cousin and our celebration would take place at the local skating rink. To most kids at this age, this would be an upgrade in parties, however, for my disproportionate, husky frame, this was a nightmare.

I arrived at my party to see all of my friends intertwined with my cousin’s friends skating around to the hottest pop music of the time, which most likely is now 80% of ring tones on all of your cell phones. Once I wedged my tree trunk ankles into the little boots on wheels, I decided to stand up as if I was taking my first steps as a child. For most of the party I became a fixture on the ledge that enclosed the skating area. Until, I decided to leave my comfort zone. I decided to release my grip on the ledge and push myself out on to the floor. Eureka! I was skating!

Then I decided to get greedy with my skating and move my left leg. My leg went out and never came back causing me to spread eagle in the middle of the rink. My husky size acid wash jeans ripped right down the backside exposing my superman under-roo’s as my body fell to the left. There I was, a giant heap of child lying on the ground, with my jeans ripped down the back.

The moral of the story is that sometimes in life we are forced to leave the ledge and skate outside our comfort zones; the places that are familiar and safe to us. Some of you will never live in Springfield for twelve months out of the year again. Eventually your parents will turn your room into a guest room or that extra work space they always wanted. The comforts will continue to become increasingly unfamiliar. However, you will find new comforts. You will embrace new friends, new rooms and new opportunities. Leave your comfort zone and embrace the time away. Learn from your new comforts and know you can always come home, even though the artist formerly known as your bedroom may look like a newly renovated condo in Ocean City, New Jersey.

I don’t need to stand up here and tell you that life is full of uncertainties that we all must deal with whether we want to or not. How you deal with these uncertainties is how you build character and establish new opportunities that will lead to life experiences. Some of you will eventually encounter the skating party and figure out how to adjust in an uncomfortable setting. And even though you fall several times at your skating party, get back up and try again. Know that it is okay to fail. Getting it right the first time is not always going to happen. Through failure we gain life lessons that translate into opportunities which yield life experience.

When I left high school I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re in high school it is very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I imagine everybody here knows exactly the number of credits they needed to graduate, how many Newsweek articles you had to read for Dr. D., how many minutes you had to speak for Mr. Mac’s Senior Seminar and what tie Mr. E would be wearing on the third Thursday of every month. But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here, especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

High School is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is defined in a myriad of ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong.

I will leave you with one final story.

In high school, I had the same English teacher for junior and senior year. Her name was Miss Stellfox and she governed the class room with graceful authority. When she walked into the room everyone would know what to do. She spoke softly, but engaged each student with clarified wisdom. It wasn’t until my junior year that I really appreciated language arts.

After my high school graduation I had my picture taken with Miss Stellfox and I still have it perched on my desk. Most of you ask why I don’t have any other pictures on my desk but the one of her and I. The answer is simple. She challenged me to do something different with my life. She challenged me to see the world through a different lens and convey what I witnessed to others. She dared me to visit another country and experience the beauty of immersing myself in another culture. I vowed to head her advice.

I corresponded regularly with Miss Stellfox while in college and after I graduated from college. She was always intrigued by the happenings in my life. The last time I spoke with her I was discussing my plans after graduate school. I was not sure if I wanted to get into teaching or take another path. This was the last time I would talk to Miss Stellfox.

In October of 2003, she was hit by car while crossing the street. It was a tragic event that happened to the wrong person, who was just beginning to enjoy her retired life. I never got to tell Miss Stellfox that I became an English teacher, but I know she is aware of my choice.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy, but simply, enjoy your days. Especially the days you are about to encounter. Enjoy a day that is completely spontaneous and unscripted. When the obvious choice is to drive; walk instead.

Try something you never thought you could accomplish. Yes, if you didn’t get it by now, this is the message I wanted you to soak up after I showed by Skydiving and bungee jumping videos on the first day of class.

Leave your comfort zone. Tomorrow you will all wake up and wonder what to do. There is no bell schedule tomorrow and no where to be. The summer will rapidly be eclipsed by the smell of fall and a new beginning will be under way.

And finally, call your parents. Call them frequently and listen to what they say. Treasure your time together and always answer their questions about technology with guided patience. Trust me, once you leave the house your parents’ tech support is basically gone. Most likely your first phone call from college will involve your parents asking how everything is going and then you will reciprocate the question. However, their answer will be something along the lines of your father hooked the television up to the typewriter but for some reason, he cannot access the inter-highway.

Enjoy this conversation. Enjoy the small things in life. Enjoy your days. And never throw your children a roller skating party.

Thank you


NOTE: Last names have been shortened to protect the innocent.

Year Round Learning 2.0

Part I: Year Round Learning 1.0

On Thursday, I was in Borders Book Store searching for a good read for my train ride to Boston. (SIDE NOTE PLUG: I went with Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages). I went upstairs to find my book and here is the sign I came across…

While this seems like a very efficient and kind offer from Borders Book Store, I was still troubled by this sign. Why? Let’s break it down.

1. The sign is directed at students. “Ask your teacher to email a copy to us” Really! I would love to live in a world where students flock to Borders Book Store, actually have the energy to go upstairs in a book store – send 8 text messages on the way up to the second floor – and get excited about a sign that asks them, the student, to address their teacher about sending them a summer reading list. I know that is a very cynical mind set, but I just don’t see #1 on this sign working.

2. The main problem I have with this though is not about student’s apathy, it is with the entire book exchange process. Last time I checked we were in some sort of an economic downturn. Families are cutting back on vacations, unnecessary expenditures, etc. That said, why doesn’t Borders offer a book exchange program for local schools? Here is my method:

1. Instead of having students provide their reading lists, every school district will e-mail borders a copy. Borders will then set up various kiosks for each local school.

2. Students who read the book last year will have the opportunity to return the book – if they so choose to do so – and get a credit for their next summer reading book.

EXAMPLE:

John is in 9th grade. Last year he read “Things Fall Apart” for his summer reading. This year he needs to read “A Brave New World”. He goes to Borders this year and returns “Things Fall Apart”. Borders gives John half of his money back for “Things Fall Apart”. John finds a used copy of “Brave New World” and buys it at half price.

Kate is going into 9th grade and needs to read “Things Fall Apart” This summer. She goes to Borders and finds a used copy for half price. On the inside cover is the name John.

With emerging technology on the verge of creating devices to replace books, bookstores need to adjust, and make it appealing and practical for students to come in and purchase a book. Promote the content, not the cover!

Part II: Year Round Learning 2.0

School districts need to rethink summer reading and ways to promote learning through the summer. As an English teacher I was always bothered that we were the only department giving out summer assignments. And I realize that it one of the primary components of the English classroom, but why limit reading to one discipline? I also understand that teachers and students need time to “recharge” from a long year, however, recharging, does not mean halting the learning process.

Students and teachers have the opportunity to communicate and learn throughout the summer months. This can be done through many different forums. The process doesn’t require much and should promote learning and engage students when they have plenty of time on their hands.

Here are ways to rethink and promote summer reading or simply “Year Round Learning 2.0”

1. Let’s have our students read a broad array of fiction and non fiction throughout the summer.

A. English – Read selected literature given by your teacher

B. History – Read Newsweek or Time every week and post on one article. Or better yet,read the newspaper!

C. Math – Utilize this great forum set up through Drexel University and post one or several math problems a week for your students to complete, post and discuss on the wiki.

D. Art – Go to this site (Every Photo Tells A Story Blog) every week and post a comment or set up your on blog/wiki like this and create a discussion forum where your students post an image and discuss it! Actually, this site can be used for creative writing as well and works well in many English classrooms. It is a great way to get your students free writing and into the composing groove.

E. Gym – Yes, gym! This marks the first time I am covering gym! Have your students not only exercising their mind, but dropping the remote or mouse and get outside to stay in shape throughout the summer! Show them how to use Run Keeper if they have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Or have them track their running throughout the summer by using Google Maps Pedometer.

2. Let’s get a GoodReads or Shelfari school account set up and make students accountable by requiring them to post once a week on the literature they are reading. Make this happen!!!

3. Create a summer reading wiki for your class. Link it to Goodreads or Shelfari or simply use it to facilitate discussion over the summer. This makes that first day of class ice breaker seem very unnecessary.

Learning is ubiquitous and it should not just be limited to reading literature; it should be open to all disciplines. If we promote the idea of social networks and getting our students to be independent learners, we will have a much easier transition every September. The world is flat and therefore the classroom should be as well. As the “off – time” of the school year commences, let’s really use our time to promote these new technologies and create the year round classroom. It can happen, it will happen and we need it to happen now!

Discussion Forum: How are you getting your students ready for the summer? How do you plan on promoting “Year Round Learning 2.0”?

Too Much Text

Yesterday the New York Times released a piece titled, “Texting May Be Taking a Toll” written by Katie Hafner.

I pondered the title and noticed it was the New York Times’ most e-mailed story. Then I wondered, a toll on what? Is there some new texting tax?

Those were my initial questions. I read on and was blown away by some of the findings. In one case, a thirteen-year-old girl sent 14,528 text messages a month…A MONTH! Her story was featured in a California newspaper and her message frequency shot up to 24,000 due to her new fame. Ms. Hafner also covered issues with the toll texting can take on ones’ thumbs, anxiety and how it effects the classroom. Still in shock I read on and by the end of the article was troubled.

Is texting an addiction? Should the FDA get involved? What is the gateway drug for texting? Letter writing?

As someone who runs a blog designed to evoke collaboration and rapid communication, I find it troubling that there is text abuse happening. I try and promote the idea of good social networking and constant collaboration. In one of my more recent posts, I commented on how the founding theory behind facebook fell under the definition of a social network; the most recent incarnation, is not. Again, the ability to be in constant communication at any time anywhere is something very new to our culture. This craze only recently turned into a frenzy and has become commonplace in our daily lives.

It is hard not to find someone texting or on the phone. I think about this a lot when I am in an airport or a train station waiting by myself. When I look around I see phones aglow with tiny (sometimes large) thumbs pressing on a miniature keypad. What did we do before all of this? How did we ever survive? Well, we talked with strangers, we read a newspaper, and we daydreamed. The idea of wondering or pondering has gone away. Now we just know. We know what everyone is doing at all times of the day, whether it is through facebook, twitter or a simple text. But it is good to know. It is good to pop in on someone via a condensed message. It just needs parameters, especially with students.

So what do we do about this abuse of technology in our students’ lives and in our classrooms?

This is my plan of action if I ever catch a student texting in my classroom…

I notice a student texting

“What could you possibly be texting about in my class? I ask the other students to think quickly…What could “Student A” be texting about that is so important?

SILENCE

Students, who have the ability to send nearly 100 messages daily, fall silent when asked a simple question that evokes some minor creativity! (Confused? Watch Pink Floyd’s: Another Brick in the Wall)

I ramble off a quick-witted top five things “Student A” could be texting about…

1. Telling his agent he can’t do lunch in 13 minutes

2. Marcinek’s class is banal (teaching moment, define banal)

3. Wear R U? (see if they can understand grammatical flaw and explain)

4. U breathing?

5. LOL me LMNOP…Z

Students get a chuckle and the class continues. I make a brief request to silence all cell phones, pagers and typewriters. Again, a brief chuckle. Then I segue back to the lesson. We are discussing Lord of the Flies. What advice would you text to Piggy in Chapter 1? What would Piggy Text to his Auntie? What would Jack text to Ralph? Again, a teaching moment brought on by the abuse of technology. Taking the problem and converting it into a teaching moment works much better than wasting time trying to “catch” a student in the act, take their cell phone and then having to deal with over hyped mom or dad, who will most likely march into your room, pause to text something quick, and then ream you out for taking their son or daughters precious cell phone.

Texting is not going anywhere anytime soon. Schools can “crack down” and “police” it all they want, but it has become a fixture in our culture. It is excessive and being abused, however, it will fade eventually and there will be another form of technology to replace it one day. And most likely there will be studies conducted on it and we will all try and be better parents about it, but still use it ourselves. I can see it now…

New from Fruit Based Computer Company…

iThink (Only to be used with iFeeling and iCreate Applications)

iThink will think for you. It will read this writing for you. It will do your homework and get you an A+.

Features:

Fits comfortably in your brain

Can think better than you

Can read 100 words a minute

Will find you a job

It will solve your arguments and help you add friends to your iFriend Network

If texting has become such a major problem in the lives of students then we need to intervene now, even if it involves being the un-cool parent or the un-cool teacher. Treat excessive texting like you would an addiction. Don’t get your kids the unlimited text option and don’t abuse yourself. Remember those great PSAs where the kid learned how to smoke pot by watching his father? Yeah, if you are an excessive texting parent or an ETP, stop being a hypocrite and monitor your own texting before you crack down on the kids. Also, if you are a teacher, leave your phone hidden or out of view

from students. Don’t ever let your kids catch you on it or texting. It just sets a bad example and gives you no leverage when confronting them. Finally, get your kids a text plan that has a cap, make them pay for it and don’t bail them out. I can guarantee you the phone companies are not reading this article with a troubled face.