All Join Hands (kids sing)

I have mentioned before that I wrote a song called All Join Hands for the Christmas Pageant at our family church. This year, they decided to do something a bit different and they brought in someone from New York City who works with schools and organizations to develop original theater productions. Lloyd (the guy) worked with the kids, and then asked the entire Congregation to submit original songs and lyrics, which he took and wrote some songs for the Pageant, which had a theme of a “journey.”

In the Pageant, some folks with local connections but historical roles were sung about — including Sojourner Truth (the strong black woman who lived in a part of the town for some time); Lewis Tappan, who helped make sure the slaves from the Amistad ship had freedom after they landed in Connecticut; and Jonathan Edwards, famed leader of the religious revivalist movement who preached at the same church where we now go — and my song was sung towards the end of the Pageant. I had my father use my voice recorder to capture the songs, since I had been asked to play guitar on the songs. The song seemed to call for some sort of video, so I went and did that, too.

Here is my song, All Join Hands, with the kids chorus.

And here is the video:

Peace (in joining together),


When the Snowman Melts

In the days leading up to Christmas, we had substantial snow (and then, sleet, and then, rain) and the conditions were ripe for building a snowman. So, my youngest son and I went out and built a good-sized snowdude, put a baseball helmet on him and added a bucket for collecting snowball. I should have taken a picture right then and there, but I forgot. On day two, the weather turned warm and the snowman began to … droop.

Here are some pictures that are part of the PhotoFriday collective (you can join in, too).

Today … might be another rebuilding day.

Peace (in construction and deconstruction),

The Advertising Shift in Edublogs

I have long been a big fan of Edublogs for many reasons:

  • it provided me with my first free blogging platform,
  • the forums have been a great way to get help and resources,
  • James Farmer, who runs the network, has been incredibly responsive to any of my queries,
  • and the network of educators using blogs has continued to grow (the number hovers around 250,000 blogs on Edublogs).

Those facts continue to be the case, but I knew the idea of a cost-free, ad-free network could not last forever. After all, we can’t expect James to keep investing his own money just to keep our blogs alive and free. There was bound to be a time when change was to come.

So, the inevitable happened.

Edublogs is still “free” but now it comes with advertisements — keyword links in posts that bring the viewer to an advertisement. In the Edublog forums and through various networks, this has been met with a lot of criticism and complaints, and I can understand both sides of the issue here. Teachers don’t want to expose students to advertisements … period. I know I avoid it at all costs. Our kids are bombarded with commercial messages everywhere they go — embedded in movies, in games, on television, on the Net — and I don’t want to be part of that.

But James admits that he can’t afford to keep this blogging network afloat under the “free” model. It just doesn’t make sense. And he does offer a solution that costs a little bit of money.

First, the linked advertisements only show up the first time a person visits a blog. If you bookmark a blog, the second time you go there, the ads will not appear in your browser. This is designed to minimize the impact of the ads.

Second, if you become an Edublog Supporter (which I have been since it was first offered, as a token way to support the network), there are no ads in your blog at all, ever. The cost is $40 per year, up from the initial $25 per year. And, James has added the feature of allowing Supporters to create up to 30 blogs (say, for students) under one Supporter umbrella and you can turn off the ads on all of those blogs. (There is also the option of Edublog Campus, which allows you to create and run your own larger blogging network. We currently use this for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project).

James explains the moves in a recent post:

Is this ideal? Well, in a utopian world we’d like to give everyone, everything, entirely for free and without any ads! But that’d be a utopia… so, barring that, we hope to still provide great free blogs alongside an absolutely premium supporter service that is more than worth the price of a large coffee per month.

To coax people to become a Supporter, James has also curtailed some of the things he used to provide for free, including plug-ins, more upload space, Twitter tools, etc, and expanded them for Supporters.

Although I will continue with Edublogs, I think this change in the model for Edublogs will make me re-think how I do workshops with teachers who are trying to understand what blogging is all about. I have often used Edublog in sessions precisely because I could tell folks: this is free, this is ad-free, and it is simple to use. I can’t do that anymore, and that saddens me, to be honest. If you are a teacher looking to blog, you can become a Supporter with Edublogs, or you can explore other options, including running your own WordPress package on server space.  But, truly, how many teachers have that time and expertise to set up and host their own blogging network? There is also Blogger, also with ads, and other possibilities, too — many with limitations and drawbacks.

I don’t plan to pack up and move from this place, and I will continue to run this blog, the Electronic Pencil and a homework site that my teaching team uses for parents and students to access information and assignments. I am a supporter, even though I wish that Edublogs had not had to turn the corner into advertising. Isn’t there someone with a boatload of cash who can support a network of teachers exploring the wired world? (if so, please leave name and number where you can be reached).

Peace (brought to you by the makers of dogtrax),

Lending Small, Acting Big, Learning Lessons

For the past year or so, I have heard about the Kiva organization and was interested, but I never took the plunge. It took a humorous piece in Time Magazine by Joel Stein to finally convince me to check out Kiva, which is a micro-lending organization that pools donations from web-based users to help strugging and emerging small business owners from the developing world. It works in increments of $25, so I lend out $25 and that is added to your $25 and so on. Then, the small business buys some equipment or expands its retail line or territory, pays back its loan and my $25 can get re-invested in some other business. (See a comic about Kiva and the way it works with other small lending agencies)

I love this concept, so I have put in a stake into a couple of businesses.

Then, this week, I found a post by Bud Hunt, who was following the trail of Karl Fisch, who has created a group within Kiva for educators and urges the concept of “Paying it Forward.” This is what Bud wrote:

Today, Karl Fisch posted a message on his blog inviting members of his PLN (Personal Learning Network) to join Team Shift Happens and contribute however much possible to Kiva. Kiva is different than other charities in that it is a micro-lending website. People, like you and I, can loan money ($25 and up) directly to individual entrepeneurs in the developing world.

On Karl’s suggestion, I’ve donated $25 to an entrepreneur and I also purchased two $25 gift certificates that I have emailed to two members of my PLN. I’m asking them to do the same as I did:

  1. Log in to Kiva.
  2. Join Team Shift Happens (click on Community and search keyword, “shift”)
  3. Choose the entrepreneur to whom they will loan the value of the gift certificate.
  4. Then consider doing the same thing I did – purchase two $25 gift certificates and email them to two members of their PLN with the same request to “pay it forward.”
  • Make a $25 loan yourself, or
  • Do what I did; make a $25 loan, then purchase two $25 gift certificates and email them to folks you know and ask them to do the same, and/or

So, I did join the Shift Happens team and I did add two loans to the group, and I will be sending forward a gift certificate or two to some friends in my network, with hopes that they might do the same. It’s a great way to give, and follow the impact of your giving (Kiva gives you updates on the status of the loan and project).

But, I have a group of students working on a Teach the Teachers Day at our school (set for Dec. 23) and they want it as a fundraising activity (it costs a dollar for a student to teach a lesson in class). I mentioned Kiva to them as a possible place for the funds raised by the Teach the Teachers Day, and they were very excited about the concept. So, my intention is to give the students complete responsibility for choosing the business and investing fundraising money and following the progress of the loan. I think it will be a great lesson in financing, collaborative efforts and social responsibility.

Peace (in small but powerful doses),

Two Cool Things

Here are two neat things that I found this morning in my RSS reader.

First, I went to a site called Create Your Own Snowflake. I know. A waste of time. But a fun waste of time and something that kids might get into. You create the snowflake by clicking in the circle and it makes symmetrical patterns. Nice enough. But here is the thing that was fun: you can then put the snowflake into motion in either 2D or 3D (which is very cool).

(go to Build a Snowflake)

Next, this video from the Google Docs Weblog (which you should put into your reader if you use Google applications at all) is just an amazing thing to watch, as some Google-ites collaborate in a Google Spreadsheet on the creation of a holiday picture. I was fascinated by the movement and wondered: how could we replicate this somehow? (pushing that to the back of my mind for now)


Peace (in sharing),

Edublog Awards … and me

There is considerable debate in the blogosphere about the value of any online awards system and I can see both sides of the coin. It is strange to narrow a vision to just a few sites in a sea of millions, and yet, I find that award systems allow me to discover many new places that become valuable parts of my network. If someone has taken the time to nominate a site, it must have some value.

I say this because the finalists for the Edublog Awards for 2008 have been announced, and so I went there, searching for some new RSS feeds. I am always looking for new voices and new resources.

And, there, in the category of Best Teacher Blog was my own Kevin’s Meandering Mind. I want to thank any and all of you who may have submitted this site forward to the nominating committee. I am honored to think that there are folks who find what I sprawl on about useful.

Again, thank you.

Peace (in recognition),

What Writing Means … to me

One of the workshops I attended at the National Writing Project’s annual meeting in San Antonio was about a new venture called the National Conversation on Writing. A group of mostly college professors is trying to change perceptions of writing in the public mind and one of their ideas to collect vignettes from people about what writing means to them. In particular, they would like to have a collection of short videos, in which teachers and students and others talk about writing.
I decided to give it a go, sort of as a rough draft approach, and recorded some of my own thoughts.

What about you? What does writing mean to you?
Peace (in reflection),

Digging Into Google Sites

Maybe I am just lazy, but I am liking how easy it is to create websites with Google Sites. They really get the simplicity down for users. And my list of sites keeps growing, as I added a place for all of my book and graphic novels reviews that run elsewhere first but needed a home under one roof. I have used Google Page Creator, but that seems more and more clunky and I think Google is phasing it out (although I may be wrong about that).

Want to see some of the Google Sites I have created?

And here are a few that I have created for my classroom or with students in other programs:

So, why does Google do it? Their philosophy, from what I have read, is that the more people who are online, the more people who may click on their advertising links in their Google Search, and the more money they get. I understand all that and I can live with that, as long as my sites don’t become home to a barrage of advertising.

Do you use Google Sites? (And see her for information from Google on using its tools for the classroom)

Peace (in building footprints),