The Empty (for now) Classroom

bitstrip classroom empty
I’m starting to do some culling of our online spaces, making room for this year’s students while putting student accounts from last year out to pasture. In Bitstrips, a fantastic webcomic site that is easy to use, I created a new class but I am on the only person in it. My avatar sure seems lonely, doesn’t it? Don’t worry. In the first days of school, one of our activities is going into Bitstrips to create avatars and filling up the classroom spaces with students. It’s going to get crowded in here soon enough.

Peace (in the empty space),
Kevin

 

The Language and Comfort of Software Commands

I finally got around to upgrading my Mac to Mountain Lion, and while the transition was conveniently seamless (after hours of downloading), the one thing I noticed was the loss of the “save as” command in applications drop down menu of actions. Which is odd. It has been replaced by “duplicate” but that is not quite the same thing, is it? “Save as” allows you to save a version in process of something; “Duplicate” means you make a copy. There’s a nuanced difference. I started to scour the web to figure out if others were missing “save as” as well, and boy, they sure are. Loads of complaints. (Actually, the ability to “save as” was left off Lion completely, it seems, and was returned to Mountain Lion, but only as keystroke shortcuts, not as a drop down option. Eh, why not?)

Which had me thinking a bit about how accustomed we get to the set up and language of computer programs created by others, from some different time. My guess is that the “save as” idea stems from Microsoft (but I could be wrong about that), and maybe Apple sees “duplicate” as more valuable, and adds a little Apple tweak to the language that confronts us when we write and create on our computers. I don’t know, but I know I get used to doing things a certain way and get flustered when I can’t do it that way anymore. I can adapt, for sure. But it takes time to learn those adaptations and that work moves me out of my surface comfort zone with technology.

For those who are already a little leery of computers (and there are plenty in my teaching profession, believe me), a simple change like getting rid of “save as” and replacing it with “duplicate” that may seem insignificant to some programmers is actually part of the larger interface that stymies others. I thought Apple would be the company to understand that, and an easy solution would be to add in a “save as” along with “duplicate” so that the user has options. (I have tried to set up my own keyboard commands in order to get that “save as” functionality back, but I don’t think it has quite the same effect and hasn’t really worked for me.)

Peace (and save it as ease),
Kevin

 

Video Share: Design Thinking and Education

This an interesting view of a teacher reflecting on how design ideas can reshape learning experiences for students. While the video does not go into too many specifics, it is clear she and her colleagues and the school are undergoing inquiry to couple design ideas with education. I’m curious to know more about what that means, and how a school begins.

I was intrigued by this description at the Design Thinking for Educators site:

(Design is) involves storytelling, sorting and condensing thoughts, until a compelling point of view and clear direction for ideation emerge.

(The video was shared by VideoAmy over at Edutopia. See her entire playlist around design ideas in education for more information – you can also view the IDEO site, which is a design consultant that produced the video. They have a whole section on education).

Why Design Thinking? from Design Thinking for Educators on Vimeo.

It’s interesting because a recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine is themed around design, and the legacy of Steve Jobs at Apple. The idea of simplicity, but not simple, is what is intriguing, I think, and how to make the form of something match it function without interfering with the function. In education, this raises questions about the roles of the classroom, the layout of the classroom and school, the experiences of students in a given day, and all the ways that we interact with other adults and with students.
Peace (in the design),
Kevin

Responding to an Inquiry Look at my Blog

This is kind of interesting. I saw a tweet from a friend, Lacy, that I had “joined them” as a mentor text. Nice! And I didn’t even know I was there! But it was pretty cool to see chart paper notes from the session (not quite sure what the session was) as viewer/reader/participant commented about what they were seeing at my blog (as they think about their own blogs — that seems to be the activity).

I decided to take the image of the chart paper notes, and use Thinglink to add some response notes back to them. One of the elements of online tools is this ever-decreasing space between writers and readers, and back again. And I appreciated how this group’s reflections helped me see my blog from another angle.

Peace (off the poster),
Kevin

 

Video Playlist: Recommended Books


A recent writing prompt at our iAnthology writing space asked us to recommend books to read. I grabbed as many titles that had book trailers as I could find, and shared out this playlist. Maybe you will get inspired to read one of these, too.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Weeding and Planting of Ideas

(This is part of the Slice of Life weekly writing at Two Writing Teachers)

I suppose my slice is similar to just about every teacher who is slicing this week, or last week, or next week … depending on when your school year begins (or has begun). I’m feeling the summer fading and my anxiety about starting the year beginning to creep into the back of head (you know, that place that keeps you up at night?). Along with leading various professional development sessions (which invades that same part of the head), I am thinking about my curriculum, and doing some weeding and planting.

One way I do that is by visiting my website where I showcase the curriculum for my sixth graders. This allows me to revisit the previous year and start thinking: does this belong? How about this? As a result, I have solidified my decision to toss out our month-long puppet unit (a difficult decision) in favor of our video game design project, adding in a digital citizenship unit, began thinking of how to teach more informational text in conjunction with our novels, and tinkered here and there with various things.

Hodgsonwriting website

What I have added early in the year is an I Search research project, so that I can teach some basic skills around research, sources and critiquing websites. These skills were lacking last year, and I normally don’t get to it until the end of the year, which now seems pretty silly since they need to know how to do those things early. Duh.

So, you can see what runs through my head in the middle of night ….

Peace (in the slice),
Kevin

 

Noticing the Good about Common Core

CommonCore Pros from Amherst

I had the pleasure of leading a three hour workshop session yesterday around technology and the Common Core, and we began the day by talking about and examining some of the shifts of the Common Core, which is the heart of our new Massachusetts ELA Curriculum Frameworks. (The technology part of our workshop was mostly about digital storytelling, and how to expand the traditional definition of digital storytelling to fit a number of objectives across the content areas, such as explaining concepts in math and science, exploring archived materials in history, and more)

The participants did a bit of writing beforehand about what they knew about the Common Core, and this word cloud represents their thoughts about the pros, or positives, that they see in the new standards. We didn’t do the cons but we did talk about the things that worries them. In workshops, I try hard to remain neutral, and open, and let participants express their own views. I know, as a presenter, I must come across sometimes as an advocate of Common Core, but I am not necessarily that way. I can see the good, but I also have my own concerns, too.

By the way, the hands-on work around digital storytelling flowed from some discussions around the Common Core’s standards related to media literacy, using the Internet for research and publication, collaboration and synthesizing ideas, all using student voice and stance. When you think about it, digital storytelling as a concept has a lot of potential for learning in the new standards, but you have to revamp the traditional definition of personal narrative into something larger, I think.

While I did not have time to share this with the session yesterday, I did use it when I was at the school earlier in the spring. Here, I was trying to make connect connections between technology and the new standards.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

Having Some Fun with Duke Rushmore

The other day, the drummer in our band — Duke Rushmore — posted this picture at our website.

the colonel

We all had a good laugh at those huge drum sticks. And then I remembered this tiny toy saxophone that I had in our basement, so I dug it up and added this image to our website.

Kevin Little Sax

If you are in Western Massachusetts this coming weekend, our band is playing at the Three County Fair on Saturday afternoon. (We either start at 2 or 2:30 p.m.). Come say hello and maybe dance your shoes off before heading off to see the racing pigs, the demolition derby or scarfing down a pirogi.

 

Three County Fair Flyer

Peace (in the music),
Kevin

 

My First Book Trailer: Homer P. Figg


I’m leading a workshop this morning around Common Core and Digital Storytelling, and how technology can be used in the classroom. This is a hands-on session, and I want participants to be making digital stories. It occurred to me that using digital storytelling ideas to create book trailers is a valuable activity (and one that I have watched others in my Nerdy Book Club circle doing).

So, here is a sample that I created for our summer reading novel, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. I did this one in iMovie, but our session is on PCs, so I will be doing a second version as a tutorial using Photostory3.

Peace (in the trailer)
Kevin

 

Book Review: Team Geek

I’m not a programmer, or coder, and I have never worked on a software developer team, so I am not sure exactly what spurred me on to pick up Team Geek by Brian Fitzpatric and Ben Collins-Sussman. Both of them work at Google, and I had heard a bit about this book through one channel or another, and it piqued my interest. I’m glad I got it and read it.

While ostensibly about the ways that a team of software programmers can work together, and avoid chaos and friction as much as possible, the book’s larger theme of how people can come together, learn from each other, respect each other’s expertise and work on larger ideas in collaboration with each other really resonated with me in these days of Personal Learning Communities and Communities of Practice and whatever other term is popping around the educational circles these days.

With great humor and lively writing (ie, humans are “giant intermittent bugs” of code), Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman put a premium on four main traits of a group that can work together:

  • Humility
  • Respect
  • Trust

In their view, a solid team and its leaders keeps these three ideals intact at all times. It’s simple, but powerful. We need humility to admit that we don’t know everything and are always in search of better information that someone else might have. We need to respect the interests and expertise of our colleagues, even when their interests might not jive with our own. And we need to trust that together, we can do a better job than if either of us were alone, and we need to believe that the team has our best interests at heart. If that isn’t applicable to the ways that teachers and educators come together to plan curriculum or talk about students or shift into big changes (Common Core, anyone?), then I don’t know what is.

At the end, the writers admit that while they were writing about software teams, they really weren’t writing just about software teams. “Our stories are essentially about the art of maintaining a healthy, functional community — any community … Humans are tricky to deal with no matter what the context, and software development has the same community-health issues as any other group endeavor.” (158)

So do educational groups.

Peace (in the code of HRT),
Kevin

PS — here is one of the videos they did for Google about programming with humans in mind. It will give you a taste of their humor.