Sunday, May 24, 2009

New York Times Magazine: The Case for Working With Your Hands

In an excerpt from his upcoming book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, Matthew B. Crawford makes a very compelling case (I think) for bringing back shop class, and for us to consider the return of the value of manual trades. I particularly loved this paragraph:

"A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work."

Read on...

(photo by me)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's time voice mail threw in the towel. - By Farhad Manjoo (Slate)

Absolutely true! So long, voicemail! Finally someone addresses this outdated, awkward technology. Now if we could only get our school districts to adopt it!

read more | digg story

Monday, March 23, 2009

edmodo review, phase one

I can't remember how I found out about edmodo, the (relatively) new site that bills itself as "free private microblogging for educators", but as soon as I did, I immediately liked the idea of it. I mean, c'mon: "free", "private", and "microblogging" were qualities that appealed to me (ok, "microblogging" isn't a quality, but you get the idea I hope), and since I'm always looking for an alternative to my own school district's incredibly cumbersome CMS, I decided to give it a test run with a few of my classes.

I should point out that my students were already used to my insistence that they interface with a computer for their class work almost as much as with me: assignments were posted either on the class website or the class blog, assignments were completed and submitted via the computer, and class notes were hosted on the school server. Therefore, a transition to a slightly different portal was, I felt, not about to disturb their learning process tremendously. I chose the last few weeks of the fall semester to have my 12th graders sign up for edmodo (on a purely voluntary basis), and leave me feedback regarding the following: how easy/difficult it was to sign up, how easy/difficult it was to find messages from me, how easy/difficult it was to leave me a message (which they were obliged to do as part of their agreement to participate), and how they felt the entire experience was compared to the previous means in which content was delivered via the school website.

Another point that I need to make here is that, while edmodo bills itself as a "microblogging" site, it's really quite a bit more than that. Not only can you (or the students) post short messages, an instructor can embed videos and powerpoints (via zoho show or google docs), keep a class calendar, post announcements, links, and even send documents (and receive them) from students. It also looks like there are the beginnings of a gradekeeping system in its basic stages. A teacher can send a message to an entire class, or to just individual students. And, in case you were wondering, no---the students can't send each other private messages. get back to the trial period: the feedback from the students was very positive. About a third of my total students participated in the trial, and all of them reported that edmodo had an easy sign up process, and was very simple to use as a teacher-student communication tool. A few remarked that they liked it much better than the school site, which requires taking an extra set of steps for hosting images, videos or documents to their own server before you can post them on your site, plus requires a clumsy series of steps students must take to access info or data, typically resulting in an error message. I was convinced that the experiment was successful.

For the spring semester, I made a full formal transition to edmodo for three of my five classes, which appear as "groups" on edmodo (which I can view all at once, or filter by class). So far I have had no reported issues or problems, and have used the site to post class notes, links to interesting related sites, issue homework for students who were out on prolonged illnesses, and exchange messages with students who needed to miss class. To complete any one of these tasks, I don't need to complete more than two steps (aside from the main logon), which is probably one of my favorite characteristics of the site. Furthermore, one of edmodo's creators runs the support group (which you are automatically added to), and Jeff replies very promptly to any questions or requests for help or info. After all, edmodo was started by people who work in fields related to teaching and educational technology :)

Anyway, if you want to learn more about how edmodo works, check out the FAQ or just sign up (since it's so easy) and follow them on twitter (@edmodo). Edmodo is definitely a winner, and they've won over a very discriminating (and satisfied) "customer"!

***Author's note: a mere day after I posted this, Edmodo launched version 2.0! The login page is a little less "zen", but more descriptive; the improved layout works well for me (it displays my embeds better, for one thing), and I'm looking forward to trying out the new/upgraded features. All the more reason for you to check it out too!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Industry Makes Pitch That Smart Phones Belong In Classroom

New York Times: Industry Makes Pitch That Smart Phones Belong In Classroom

Industry Makes Pitch That Smart Phones Belong In Classroom

I remember when a conversation similar to this erupted about six or seven years ago with regard to having kids use PDA's (think "Palm Pilots") as an alternative to costlier laptops, and later the same discussion emerged regarding ipods; then again, few PDAs and mp3 players (at least back then) had the access cellphones have. What's your take on this?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Come visit my "creepy treehouse"!

An interesting article from the Chronicle of Higher Education likens professors use of social networking technologies to an invitation to a "creepy treehouse". The many references that are made to instructors "intruding" on student's "social space" (as if it's not our space, too) irk me a bit, but the article offers an interesting range of perspectives on the issue. Worth a read, as are the comments on the article!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

YouTube Now Mutes Videos With Unauthorized Copyrighted Music

YouTube Now Mutes Videos With Unauthorized Copyrighted Music

(from I uploaded a short promo video for our school's Elective Fair on my YouTube channel, and it was muted within an hour!  I get the whole copyright protection thing, but does that mean now my students can't put their film projects on YouTube? I guess so...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009

night owls rule! (the creative world, anyway)

News in Science - Night owls are more creative - 12/13/2006
Do your best work at night? Take solace as new research suggests that night owls are more likely to be creative thinkers.

Yes, this is kind of an old article, but I found it by clicking a link in this (more recent) article from Wired, which justifies my lifelong struggle to try to function in the 7-to-3 world of teaching: 3 Smart Things About Sleeping Late.