Hanging out at Kirby’s Lane

I had the good fortune to be asked by blogger Kirby Larsen to “sit” for an interview about my work around teaching video game design in the classroom. Kirby runs a regular feature at her blog in which she features teachers, so I was honored that I was asked. I didn’t realize that I was going to travel down memory lane to my childhood for the first part, but that was fun, and it got me remembering my own sixth grade teacher, Mr. Dudak, again.

Head over to Kirby’s Lane to check out the interview

And thanks to Kirby for thinking of me!

Peace (in the blogging connections),
Kevin

 

Educator Portfolios, Student Work and Privacy Concerns

Like many school districts out there, we are in the midst of changing the ways us teachers are evaluated by our administrators. For us, this is not a huge shift, as we began a semblance of this new model a few years back — we set goals, have discussions with our principal, await a series of quick classroom visits, self-evaluate on a rubric, and have another discussion with our administrator, who evaluates us along numerous lines. One of the main changes is how we collect and share our “evidence of practice” with our principal, as our new system requires us to construct a portfolio of our work as teachers complete with student samples.

Our principal is moving us into digital collections, so that he and we can have access to a digital file of the evidence. Ideally, it will save us paper and time, and make shared access quick for both of us. Our district is moving into Evernote, the sharing site, as a way to make this happen in a logical, coherent way. I am all for it.

Except …

I keep raising the idea of privacy. While our Evernote spaces will be private (accessible only by the teacher and the evaluating administrator), I keep wondering: will it always be private? Who owns the content once we upload it into Evernote? It is Evernote or is it us? This is not a diss to Evernote but a real concern when it comes to not just our own work but also our students’ work. While Evernote is independent now, you can be sure it is on someone’s radar: Google, Facebook, Pearson. Someone is no doubt taking notice of how Evernote is being used more and more by schools. So, I keep wondering, what happens to student work if Evernote does get bought out?

We don’t know.

And I think we should.

Or at the very least, we need to have a school district policy about how to format materials for Evernote (no names of students, no images of students, no videos of students) so that if the unknown becomes reality (if Evernote is bought out by a company whose policies are not in tune with our own), we have some safeguards in place. My principal “heard me” and made some phone calls, and has our district technology coordinator on the issue, as we try to sort this all out before the digital portfolio idea takes hold.

How does your district deal with this issue?

Peace (in the privacy),
Kevin

 

 

Technology Boxed Me In

I’ve written about this a few times here and there, and to be honest, I am having trouble finding the right way to explain what I mean. So, bear with me here. I love using technology for creative projects. I think the digital tools that I find and play with have pushed my writing and creating in new directions. But, every now and then, I run into a wall and realize: as much as technology helps me to push boundaries, it is also limiting what I am doing. Even as I think technology is opening doors, it is also closing them. Partly this is due to the limitations of the technology I happen to be using. Partly it is my own inability to push around those limitations or abandon a project midstream when it isn’t working for me.

Let me give you an example.

I play saxophone in a rock and roll band — Duke Rushmore — and I am one of the songwriters. We’re just now moving more into original material, which I am happy about, and I have been sharing some songs with the band, and thinking of how to get back into songwriting with more energy than I have in the past few years. (I sort of took a step back). The other day, on the way home from the grocery story, a melody line and the first two lines of a song came into my head. I spent the entire car trip, working mentally on the song, “hearing” it as a soul/pop groove with a chorus all ready to go. I came home, passed the bags of food to my wife, and ran upstairs.

Unfortunately, my guitar was out of tune and a string had snapped, so I booted up a music loop program that I like to use, and began the task of “writing” the song on the computer. What happened was this: the song completely changed as a result of using the loops, and when I was done and could take a breath, I realized that not only was the song not right for the band, I had also completely lost the thread of the original groove as a result using the prefab loops. The technology had reshaped my song, and the original idea had not only been supplanted, but it disappeared completely. And oddly enough, I only realized this when I was almost done with the writing.

It was frustrating, to say the least, and I blame myself, not the technology. But the technology had a role, right? It brought to my mind the thinking of Kevin Kelly in his book, What Technology Wants, and how technology seems to be shaping our thinking more than we are shaping our technology. My songwriting experience here is a clear example for me. It’s not the first time I have come out of a project and thought, my vision was not realized — either because of the limitations of the technology or my inability to wrest control of the technology to meet my own creative needs.

I’m not sure if that makes sense or not, but it is something I struggle with. The songwriting process that I described above is just one example, although it is very concrete to me. The song that I ended up with was very different from the song I wanted to write (and heard in my head), and that is because I allowed the technology to shape the process instead of my ideas.

Peace (in the thinking),
Kevin

PS — I am still thinking about what to do with the song, but here it is:

 

Connected Learning: A Flexible Approach

I’m still learning about what Connected Learning might mean. This interview with Mimi Ito is helpful.

A new report shows how the Connected Learning approach — meeting kids needs on an individual level by tapping into a wide array of potential resources — showcases the problems facing our educational system, and proposes some ways to improve it.
Peace (in the learning, myself),
Kevin

Two Views of Writing: Woody Allen and John McPhee

Check out this view of Woody Allen, old-school writer.


As I was watching it, I was reminded of an article I had just read in The New Yorker by John McPhee, who writes about how he writes in a piece called “Structure.” (I think it is part of the paid archive now, so may want to go to your local library — you still have one, right? — to check it out). McPhee brings us right into his whole planning and writing of longer non-fiction pieces, showing off visual structures of his content. You can see charts, and maps, and visual puzzles that form the backbone of his pieces. His larger message is try to move away from chronological sequencing, and instead, find new ways to structure content in a piece of writing. But that requires considerable thinking, planning … and an understanding of structure.

The connection to Woody Allen is McPhee’s memories of using large notecards and scissors and other tools to begin the planning, until he discovered the personal computer, and had another professor create some programs that replicated what he was doing with paper planning on the computer. So the second half of the article showcases what happens when ideas move from tangible notecards to a specific software text editor that can sort ideas, too.

I found it fascinating, in part because I often struggle with the idea of structure in larger pieces. I have never been able to find a good system for visualizing where I am going with a longer piece, and often resort to the old “this is the first thing …. this is the last thing” approach and McPhee’s illustrations were illuminating in many ways if only to remind me that there are many ways to write a piece, and perhaps digital tools — with their flexibility of replication and movement — might make some of that thinking easier. Or not. Maybe too many choices is just as difficult as too few.

Peace (in the text),
Kevin

A Reader’s Lament: The Digital Devours Newsweek

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(or listen here)

So long, Newsweek. I’m going to miss you.

Like many (but not nearly enough, apparently), I have been following with some amount of trepidation the new year because I knew that Newsweek‘s print self was coming to an end. And so it has. The last issue of Newsweek arrived the other day, and all the adults in our house huddled around it to see what the end of the magazine would look like. Sure, the venerable and scrappy magazine is now headed online and there are hopes by its owners and top editors (including Tina Brown) that Newsweek will survive and maybe even thrive as an entire digital magazine.

But, well, I don’t know. It’s sad to see print fade away like this. I’ve looked forward to every Tuesday for decades because that was the day when Newsweek and The New Yorker would arrive together in my mail. Sometimes, if there was  a delay, it would be on Wednesday. Beyond that, and I would get frustrated. Where is my Newsweek? I’d ask my wife, as if she were hiding it somewhere. At school, I get Time magazine, but it isn’t the same. There was always something about the writing and the layout, and yet, it must be more than that. I suspect it has to do with the emotional resonance that a magazine can bring.

And I’m not sure a digital magazine can replicate that experience. It can certainly bring other things to the table — embedded media, direct links to other content, etc. But the arrival of a notice in my email inbox just does not compare to the arrival of the magazine in the mailbox at the end of our driveway. For me, magazines hold such promise — I am always curious about what stories lay beyond the cover story. What unexpected nugget will I discover just by flipping through the pages. What will I learn today? It’s the same feeling I get with the morning newspaper, and one I don’t ever get from reading news online. It’s the “old guard” in me, I suspect, who remembers the black inked fingers from delivering newspapers as a child and the late nights pounding out stories on deadline during my tenure as a journalist. I don’t get those same feelings from digital content.

It’s not like I ever relied on Newsweek for breaking news, either. But I did rely on it to help me make sense of the world, and to put the breaking news in perspective. In this day and age of flash news and headlines driving everything, I always appreciated the chance to dive into a longer piece that required me to think, analyze, reflect. Newsweek consistently brought me new perspectives on world events.

I don’t blame Newsweek for taking the plunge away from print and into the digital. It’s been on life support for a few years and it comes as no surprise that they had to do something. I don’t anticipate the magazine surviving, though, even with Brown at the helm. There’s just too much information clutter out there. Newsweek has offered to extend subscriptions to its digital edition, and I did sign up and added it to my wife’s iPad, but I am not at a place where I spent a lot of time reading magazines on the screen. In fact, the iPad often sits buried in a drawer, so it’s not like our regular reading device. I like to hold the news in my hands, leave a magazine open on the couch as I get a snack or rush to get my son to a sports game, return hours later to keep reading or find something new because the dog has turned the page with his tail, wander over to my wife or kids with an article I think might interest them, put it in the magazine pile and rediscover the issue weeks later. Those days, alas, are now gone.

So long, Newsweek. It’s been great to read you. I’m going to miss you.

Peace (in the news),
Kevin

 

Holiday Greetings

Whatever your beliefs, I hope you find peace and happiness today, and every day. Thanks for stopping by.
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Peace (in the unwrapped box),
Kevin

 

Thank You for the Edublog Nomination

This is a little late in coming (sorry) but I’d like to thanks the friends and folks who had taken the time to nominate my blog for the Edublogs Awards (Teacher blog category) this year. I always appreciate that folks hang out with me here and read what I share, and offer up comments and criticism,, and then some of you go the extra mile with that kind of nomination … it is very humbling. That I didn’t win is beside the point in my mind (which meanders anyway). Thank you. Thank you so much.

Peace (with appreciation),
Kevin