My Classroom

I was tagged by Maria for a meme about the layout of my working space, meaning my teaching space. So here goes:

My classroom is the old computer lab, before everything but the outlets got ripped out when our technology budget was cut to nil and we needed classroom space. So I got moved one year into the room with the noisy server and air conditioning (the only room in the building that is nice in the hot summer months). The layout is tricky because the server is in a closet that we have to keep out of reach from curious children. I have managed to keep a long desk in the back of the room, which is helpful for laptop work, and in the center of the room is where the student desks are located, in different arrangements at different times of the year. My desk is off to the back corner, and it is a place I only rarely am at. It’s mostly a repository of “stuff” and I am not stuff!

But, hey, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? (I used Gliffy to create this)

Now, who to tag? How about Gail, Eric, Susan and David.

Peace (with teaching space),

Student Survey

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The introduction to our Making Connections Weblog project (through the National Writing Project) involves an entrance survey, just to gather some data about student perceptions and use of technology. My students took the survey the other day (online, through Survey Monkey) and it is quite interesting to see the results.

Some observations:

  • Almost 80 percent of my students say they are on the computer more than two hours every day (that’s a lot of time — too much time, if you ask me — they should be outside, playing football or tag or something)
  • Almost 60 percent say they regularly use Instant Messaging to communicate with friends (and we often see the results of this IM in the morning, with hurt feelings and rumors run amok)
  • 50 percent said they enjoy writing (whoo-hooo) and almost 20 percent said they love to write (double whoo-hooo). Four percent said they don’t like to write at all (boo-hoo)
  • 78 percent said they think they write better on computer than on paper (interesting and not sure how to interpret that, although we talked about it in class)
  • 86 percent that schools SHOULD teach how to appropriately use technology to communicate with others.

All in all, interesting, and it will be even more interesting to compile the data from all six school districts involved in our project. I’ll share that out when it comes together (now I need to learn Excel)

Peace (choose A, B, or C),

OnPoEvMo: Sleepwalker — February 2007

I was thinking deep about one of my students — a boy whose past is written all over his face every single day and he is one of those students who doesn’t care about school, doesn’t try to make any effort, and doesn’t connect with other people on any emotional level. He worries me to no end.

So I wrote a poem about him for my OnePoemEveryMonthforaYear project, just to try to get at my own understanding of who he is and what he is going through.


Listen to the poem

You sit —
hands on the fidget —
your mind a million miles away,
writing — the last thing you want to be doing
and you listen to the voice but don’t react.
There is no one in the room but you, and your thoughts.
You move forward — trudging up from slumber, a silent sleepwalker of life —
waiting for something or someone that you are certain will never come:
a hero, a savior,
a messenger whom you wouldn’t recognize anyway because heroes have knocked before
and then disappeared before you could even answer them
— that’s how far away you are —
and there you are, staring vacantly at the open door, open into the wildness of your heart;
the wilderness; the place where you again wonder why it is that you are here
and worrying about nothing more than survival.
Sleepwalker, you move among us but are not of us.
The wound lies so deep, so far down,
that the tenderness that comes of kindness is like the painful knife of the past.
You reject it all just for the sake of protection,
and in doing so,
your slumber grows deeper and deeper until you are nothing more than just a shadow cast upon the wall.
Awaken, sleepwalker, and let us see you.
Awaken, sleepwalker, awake!

Peace (with patience and understanding),

The Reflective Teacher

Can I point you to the Reflective Teacher?

At this site, there is much to enjoy but I particularly like two features:

I’ve added both haikus and some sentences, and it is just a nice and easy way to write, reflect and add to the discussion of other teachers. Plus, boiling things down to a single thought — no fluff — is tricky.

Take a visit and leave a sentence.

Peace (with brevity),

Cue Black Sabbath Music

This is from a fun quiz site that asks a series of javascript questions and the results place you as a superhero. According to the site, I am …. Iron Man!

You are Iron Man

Iron Man
The Flash
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
Inventor. Businessman. Genius.

But that’s not all. I also am a villain (aren’t we all?)

You are Magneto

Lex Luthor
Dr. Doom
Mr. Freeze
The Joker
Dark Phoenix
Poison Ivy
Green Goblin
You fear the persecution of those that are different or underprivileged so much that you are willing to fight and hurt others for your cause.

Click here to take the “Favorite Superhero Movie” Poll

Peace (with power),

When to Wall off the Garden

My National Writing Project colleague, Eric, has been thinking and reflecting upon when and how to protect students when they are writing on-line, which is something I do all the time, particularly with the launch of our big (six schools, 15 teachers, more than 200 students, and four Weblogs) project called Making Connections.

I liked what Eric wrote and so I don’t think he will mind if I share it here:

High Level of Safety

  • Completely “walled garden” where all student interaction is monitored, occurs on a school-affiliated website, and is not open to the public.
  • Any podcasts, videos, or images are also hosted only on this site and require approval before uploading.
  • A single class blog, forum, and wiki, all linked to a student account and inaccessible by any public visitors.
  • Students are not encouraged to read blogs, keep an aggregator, or access/use sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, Google Docs, and the like.

Medium Level of Safety

  • All interaction is monitored, occurs on a school-affiliated website or service designed for educational purposes (elggspaces, learnerblogs, ClassBlogmeiter, etc.), and some sections are open to public viewing, but not interaction (no way for visitors to leave comments, etc.)
  • Students create and upload podcasts, videos, and images to the school site, but prior approval is not required and can be viewed by the public.
  • Class blog and individual student blogs, forums, and wikis are all linked to a student account and are accessible by public visitors, but no interaction is permitted.
  • Students read blogs selected by the teacher and learn to find and cite resources through Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, and the like.

Low Level of Safety

  • All interaction is monitored, but may occur mainly or exclusively on open-source services (though likely those designed for educational purposes). All sections are public and open to interaction.
  • Students create and upload podcasts, videos, and images to open-source services and link or embed them in their own blogs, wiki, or forum.
  • Class blog and individual student blogs, forums, and wikis that students modify and determine access levels on a post-by-post/page-by-page basis.
  • Students read blogs selected by the teacher, as well as those related to their interests and research. Students also access and use services such as Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, Google Docs, and the like.

I find it helpful to first consider what are the aims of the project and then what level of security do you need. Our Making Connections project is completely sealed off from the public, primarily because of the large number of students but also because teachers felt they had a better chance of getting administrative support that way.

Still, part of what we are doing with our project is teaching Internet safety and even with the “virtual garden” walled off, we stress that students should not give out personal information and remind them that these protocols are something they should also be following in their lives outside of school (You should have seen the faces on some of my students when I talked about tracing IM messages, email and how every computer has a distinct IP address).

Peace (with information),

Slings and Arrows

My wife and I just finished up the first season of a show out of Canada called Slings and Arrows, which centers on an imaginary theater that has traditionally performed Shakespeare but has become mired in commercialism and internal strife. It’s a comedy, but with serious undertones about the state of Art these days.

(The show’s tagline: “The real show is backstage”)

Characters include:

  • The longtime director who has stopped expected big things from the plays and dies in the first episode, only to return as a ghost to haunt the troupe and demand that his skull be used in Hamlet on stage.
  • The former stage star, who is certifiably crazy (really), but who comes back to the theater to direct Hamlet with a Hollywood movie star who has never done theater before as the main man with the haunted vision.
  • The aging starlet who was the former star’s lover but slept with the now-dead director just when things were getting good, and now has a thing for very young men, and whose life only revolves around the power of being on stage.

If you like Shakepeare and if you like the HBO-styled dramas (think Six Feet Under), then check out this show. We rented it through NetFlix.

Peace (in the lights),

35 Tech Tips from TechnoSpud

I got home from school yesterday and found a new book waiting for me — it’s called 35 Tech Tips for Teachers and it is written by an old friend (we met through GlobalSchoolNet last year) Jennifer Wagner of Technospud. Jennnifer does some wonderful collaboration projects for teachers across the disciplines and is always sharing what she has learned with a larger audience (like me).

The booklet, which is published by Lulu, is a nice guide to using technology for learning in the classroom, ranging from introducing spreadsheet to using Powerpoint to creating vector letters in Paint Shop to beginning HTML coding. The lessons are simple to understand and are all connected to the National Educational Technology Standards for Students. She also offers to email out additional templates for some of the lessons.

Somewhere, I think I read that the proceeds from the book will help offset some of the costs of running her collaborative projects.

Peace (with teaching tips),

P.B. Kerr writes back (I think)

I had just finished reading aloud the third book in the Children of the Lamp series by PB Kerr (about two twin djinn children coming of age in a magical world of luck and mischief) called The Cobra King of Kathmandu when my two sons and I saw the web address for PB Kerr and a note that said you could write him an email. My sons and I looked at each other and decided to give it a try.

book cover of   The Cobra King of Kathmandu    (Children of the Lamp, book 3)  by  P B Kerr
This is what I wrote (I have edited out my kids’ names here):

Hello Mr. Kerr

My young sons and I just finished reading the third Children of the Lamp book and we loved it!

Ch. (age 6) liked “the name of the book — it sounded cool”. Co. (age 9) “liked the whole book because it was exciting and mysterious.”

We are wondering if you are now writing the fourth book and what it will be about and what is will be called.

Ch. wanted to ask you if John and Phillipa’s mother will come back to them.

We also wonder if Dybukk will get a new friend.

And will John and Phillipa’s father get younger?

Do you think you will ever make a movie out of the books in the series? We were happy to hear that you might be writing at least six in the series.

If you have time, they would love to hear back from you. Meanwhile, we shall look through your website and Weblog.


Kevin H. and sons

This morning, we got the reply:

Dear Kevin,
Thanks for your email. And your very flattering comments about my books. I’m glad you liked them. I figure I must be getting something right, at last. Anyway, I have a lot of fun writing them, and it’s always gratifying to learn that a lot of people have had as much fun reading them. I’m sorry for not replying sooner, but I’ve been on holiday. And since my return I’ve had an epic amount of emails to answer. There will be at least 6 books, I hope, all of them featuring John and Philippa. Book 3 is out in the US now, and it’s called The Cobra King of Kathmandu. Book Four won’t be out until September in which all of your questions will be answered. There will be six books in total. Since you were kind enough to write, then I’m going to send you some signed bookplates. But you’ll need to send me your address. And your full name.
warmest regards
p.s. never forget, books are cool.

My sons were very excited (particularly about the idea of free gifts). Was it actually P.B. Kerr who wrote the email? (The middle section seems to formalized) If so, then he has connected with a small cadre of dedicated readers. And, I was happy to have had any response at all. You can’t beat his postscript.

And now we are in the midst of reading The Tale of the Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, about a mouse, a rat, the Princess Pea, a bowl of soup, a castle with a dark dungeon and the metaphor of light and darkness. We are totally engrossed in the story.

Peace (with read aloud stories),

PS — Kerr also has a blog: that I submitted a comment to but hasn’t yet appeared.

My Technology Autobiography

Yesterday, I posted some of the writing from teachers in a workshop that I was leading in which they were asked to create a short Technology Autobiography. So, of course, I had made my own too.

Here it is:

Listen to my Autobiography

It was the mid-1990s and I was standing in a third grade classroom when a shriek burst forth from one of the smallest girls in the room. She was standing by the only computer in the room, pointing to the small screen.
“It’s Mr. M.,” she called out, and students rushed forward to crowd around the computer. They jostled one another to get a better look. “He sent us mail.”
Mr. M. was a science teacher at the city’s middle school but he owned a house in Costa Rica, and on academic sabbatical, Mr. M. was doing research on the migration of Monarch butterflies. Before he left the country, however, he made contact with various elementary school teachers and students, and he regularly emailed them updates on his adventures and his research into the butterflies. Students used this information as data for their own understanding of science.
As a newspaper reporter covering education for a major newspaper in Western Massachusetts, I experienced one of those singular moments when the merging of technology and education suddenly seemed like a true possibility. The excitement generated by a few lines of text was undeniable and it was clear that technology had the capacity to break down geographic lines.
Suddenly, for these students, Costa Rica wasn’t so far away.
Since then, I have moved into teaching myself, and through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I have become a technology leader for teachers in our network. But it all began during my own Invitational Summer Institute, when I started using a Weblog to connect with other members of the institute and the e-Anthology to connect with teachers from across the country. There seemed to be power there in the connections being made between writers and readers, and I went back to my sixth grade classroom that fall with plans to launch a Weblog in the classroom.
Over the past three years, that site (called The Electronic Pencil) has grown by leaps and bounds and I am now leading a larger Weblog project for schools across Western Massachusetts called Making Connections as a way to help other teachers experience the same power of technology for their students.
Now I am blogging on a personal level, too, with this site and I have found that it has given me a different voice that allows me to move through my interests such as music, writing, poetry and curiosity. This year, I added podcasting and videocasting to the mix and found that the multi-media elements of this technology gives me avenues of expression that weren’t there before. I am not sure if technology is changing who I am as a writer, but it has certainly given me more creative outlets to explore and discover. And what I learn on my own, I bring back to my classroom and to our network of teachers in the Writing Project.
I am not sure what the future holds for technology and writing, but I am ready and willing to explore it all.

Peace (with reflection),