Friday, August 31, 2007


Awhile back, George Crawford, teacher at the Jonesboro School, posted an article titled
Change: Certainty and Uncertainty in the School Year Ahead and the Future.

I think George has hit upon a key issue in the world in which we are living. Complexity - and the chaos that comes with it - can have a detrimental effect. More and more I see us reacting to events in a crisis mode. Whatever happened to deliberate planning and implementation? Whatever happened to patience, consistency, and thoughtfulness?

George's point was that in a chaotic world, we need to have some rootedness, some things that we can depend on. I am thankful that the most teachers still, at some level, understand this. What some see as resistance to bureaucratic demands, is merely a need to maintain sanity in the presence of a flood of data and directives.

We all have many roles and only so much time and energy. The question is: How do we strike the right balance for ourselves and our family and friends? How much time do we allocate to relating to our students on a personal level? What is important?

To this end, there is a need to simplify. What is essential? Too often, our tools become increasingly complex, sapping our limited energy from the more human elements of our existence. Too much information (data) is as incapacitating as not enough. Where do we draw the line?

I would suggest that the reason Google is growing so fast, is that it understands this. It understands that we don't have to know anything about automobile mechanics to drive a car. The simplicity is on the surface, the complexity within. And the motivation, to get from point A to point B, is clear. Likewise, it engineers its online applications to be easy to use and clear in purpose.

Check out Kern Kelley's Description of the Google toolbox at the Tech Curve.

Also this: The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less

What do you think?

Spelling problems...where is the blame?

I am not sure if I have some sort of brain malfunction or if I might have missed some critical years of schooling during a tramatic time in my life or maybe I just have an incredibly lazy brain, but I can't spell! I have always loved to write just as much as I have always had deficiencies in spelling. As with most Americans, I need someone to blame. Currently my targets are English teachers and the FCC.

Back in the early 80's Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and a host of other geeks were setting the world on fire with all of their new computers and the host of posibilities that could change the world as we know it. The common man sat back with that, wait and see attitude that usually slows down traffic so much when someone rolls their car off the freeway. Everyone looses concentration, slows down a bit, hopes to see something exciting, then lacking any excitement, picks up speed and heads on their way resuming their life. The FCC did not slow down as much as the rest of us. The FCC oversees communication networks and aims to keep rules and regulations so that communication channels do not get confused, clogged up, or interfered with. The FCC threatened the major modem companies at the time. Each modem company had a different way of communicating the same information over the phone lines. With so many different menthods for the same information to be running around our precious phone lines, the FCC dictated that the modem companies MUST come up with one protocol by X date or they would be kicked off the phone lines. Battles and negotiations ensued with the end result that the companies finally ended up with one format to transmit all those special packets that give us the Internet. We the consumer, simply went out and bought the new product that was necessary for our cumminication to continue.

If the FCC is so concerned with communication protocols as illustrated in the story above, then why has the FCC not stepped into Education to say, "Hey all you English teachers, come up with one set of spelling rules ... or else"? Evidently, the FCC only cares about communication that directly could affect someone's profit margin.

So now what about all you English teachers out there. I have never met a teacher that did not acknowledge that many students suffer with spelling and that the different origins of the words may help to add to the confusion. See, the argument goes that different words came from differnt languages and to keep the cultural heritage of that language we spell the word in some way that reflects that orgin. That is a silly rational. Think about America. We come from all sorts of countries and cultures, but we all have to conform to sets of rules and laws so we can all get along and have some order. So why can't SOAP and ROPE be spelled the same way? I have yet to hear a logical reason for why a culture, that is so into assimilating the best of everything from it's peoples to come up with new standards, can not come up with a standard way to spell it's words. English teachers, the people most responsible for teaching the basics of spelling, seem to be in the correct position to (lead, leed, lede) the charge for a standard set of rules that do not change.

They say Latin is dead as is the greek language. Ironically, I can spell almost any word that has a latin or greek root. Is it possible that these two dead languages are the only ones out there to stay consistent with the spelling of it's phonetics? Hmmm, maybe that is why they had to die, di, or maybe it's dye? As long as I have to write science terms, I feel comfortable. When doing "normal" writting, I can only say "Thank God for spell check!!!!!" I know it has limitations, but I feel the limitations of spell check are far fewer than all of the various reasons out there for spelling our words the way we do.

I keep looking for those forces out there looking to standardizing our spelling. Looking to the Feds I see nothing, teachers... nada, common person...we can't even remember those silly rules from school, how about the kids...well, I can actually point to kids being able to do something all of us adults have not been able to do for so many years. Kids are helping to create a language through their online chatting that is consistant, efficient, and has it's own natural beauty to it. Is there a different way to spell lol? How about brb? Using the symbols of our language, these chatters are creating a language designed to keep up with the incredible pace of technology and learning. This language allows people to state an entire sentence in only a few characters. Why then, should a student care about all those silly spelling rules and stuff especially when the rules are not consistant and the language itself is so much slower and inefficient? If we were all in the same room right now I can guarentee that we could identify all the English teachers in the room based on how many veins were sticking out at the mention of chatting. English teachers, and teachers in general are charged with teaching the language we use. One could question who "we" are. Yes, in our adult lives we have experienced standards that have sort of been accepted for many years. There is a generation that is looking to the future of our communication and that "we" group can not understand why the language we use has to be so slow and lacks consistent rules. There is definately a comunication divide in our classrooms. Teachers want kids to be able to communicate and kids think they have a better way to communicate.

So until the powers that be can spell soap and rope the same, I guess I will have to roflmao irl w/ :) cos 2M imho f2f will b way diff f/ chatspeak. Iac I gtg. Cul8r + hand.


For those of us needing translation, you may find most of this new language online at sites like

Maybe you need a translator?

Remember: f we dun chAng lngwij 2 b mo efficient, it wil chang 4 us.


The following post does not represent the views or beliefs of anyone. It is simply the musings of an aging man as he wakes up one morning. Have you ever woke up in the morning with a thought running through your head and you have no idea where the idea came from. That seems to happen to me a bunch. If it does not happen to you, I apologize if this post seems "out there".

I woke up this morning thinking about all of the areas of our life we have to have a license for. Of course some of the big items jump right at us like a driver's license. The rational for having a licence for driving is a good one. Driving can be dangerous and can negatively impact other people's rights or safety. Therefore, many countries around the world developed their standards for when someone can get a driver's license and how individuals can get a license. Paper work was created, agencies were established to issue the licenses and of course our wonderful friends in blue with the nice flashing lights were given yet another responsibility. O.K., so we have that idea of licenses, what else do we have?

Well, there are professional licenses. Plumbers, electricians, lawyers, some farm workers, pilots, and so many others. You even need a license to take apart cars for recycling purposes. I think it can be agreed that each of these professions can have a negative impact on the safety of others if left without any licensing requirements.

Recreationally, we have to have licenses as well. We require hunting and fishing licenses among other recreational licenses that may not be necessary in every state. Hunting, I can see as fitting our rational for needing a license. Some one just running around with a gun firing at things with out regulation can be a bad thing for sure. But how about fishing? When was the last time someone was threatened by an old guy standing up in his dingy waving an unlicensed fish at someone? Not sure that has happened and I don't really think fishing falls into our "protect others" license policy. Instead, fishing license and some hunting regulations seem to be set up to preserve a species or to maintain a quality of life for that species. We go to great lengths to protect different forms of life in our country and we have many laws and regulations.

So from the above conversation one could conclude licenses exist to help protect and to regulate. Nobel ventures that can really help increase the quality of life. So what about those things in life that are not currently licensed? We have a practice in our society that is responsible for making thousands of people miserable. This activity has the potential to ruin family lives, professional lives, can help contribute to starvation, can financially ruin people and may be the number one reason our social problems seem to increase every year.

The one thing we don't regulate, we don't license, and most people shudder to think about ever licensing is the creation of life. I know, I know there are many issues that rub people the wrong way in this discussion, but lets look at how creation of life compares to the above licensing rational.

As most people know, there are no skills needed to create life. There is no study involved, no training, and in many cases very little time. Can this result in a threat to the quality of life? I am sure people that become parents at a very early age can attest to the hardships and difficulties. We have tons of documentation of abuse and neglect from people that have become "parents" without really wanting to. Even if the new parents want the responsibility of raising the child there are many sacrifices made, especially with our teen parents.

Lets look at the regulation side of things. Every year the data from our agencies point to increases in the number of homeless and destitute people. More and more there is a portion of the population running around uneducated with no employable skills. With the drop out rates in school rising as fast as the number of single parent families, one might draw some correlations there as well. Regardless of people's views on life, I think most can agree that there is a portion of our society that is discarded or not cared for. Sure there is some help out there for them, but for people that can not read and have no home, that help is similar to trying to show each fish caught your fishing license.

What would it be like to have to take a parent certification course in order to conceive? We have to get a marriage license, but not one for making a baby? Who would do certifications and to what standards? Of course the big question would pop up, how the heck would you think of regulating this? I am sure there are great minds in China, India and other heavily populated ideas that have thought of different ideas. Maybe even a technological option of having a chip installed at birth. That chip could shut off the possibility of creating life and could be turned off after the license is issued. Of course we wouldn't want to take away the ability to practice, where's the fun in that.

I am not advocating the licensing of baby making. I am simply wondering about society and the rational for changes used by society. I wonder how much increased regulation and licensing can be taken before people start to really rebel? All though history, we have rebellions against agencies that wish to limit rights. The pattern is the rebellion builds up steam, explodes in violence, people in charge begrudgingly alter their proposal a bit and the compromise seems to end up with a new law or regulation. So what is going to be the next big regulation?

Waking up in the morning with such thoughts brings up a better question. What the heck is our brain doing all night that results in waking up with such silly thoughts? I can't be the only one out there that has woke up in the morning with some crazy thought or idea, can I? Can others share some of the wild thoughts that pop into your head at times? I find the process of our thoughts and how our brain work fascinating. Without the electrodes and other fancy tools, the only way we can study our thinking is to hear other's thoughts. What have you been thinking about lately?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Why does some fruit grow ugly?

Want a great inquiry-based lesson idea? Well apple harvest time here in Maine is right around the corner and anyone who has ever been to an orchard can tell you that there are quite a few variances in apples even from the same tree. This year seems to be a very good year for apples, at least up in my neck of the woods in the county. What helps to determining a good apple year from a bad year? Is there a cycle these trees go through? If so can we alter that at all to get better apples every year? Speaking of better apples, why is it that some apples look like they started doing yoga and got stuck? These "ugly" apples look so mutated that one can wonder if some little alien may pop out of it at any moment. Yet, right next to this freak of nature will be a perfectly symmetrical specimen that gets you drooling before you pick it. Same tree, same branch, but completely different product.

Well this is a selfish request. I have trees all over the back woods where I live. Some of these trees were planted as far back as colonial times, and from what I hear, there are some unique varieties running around out here. I have started learning a bit more about these trees and how to care for them. Last year I learned that you can prune too much from a tree in one year. Well, think about it, branches look like hair and we can trim those pesky hairs right down to a bald spot, right? Evidently, the same does not apply to trimming trees. So I need some class of students to help set me straight on this ugly apple dilemma. I am not biased against ugly apples. In fact some may even taste great if I can ever figure out how to eat the darn things. But if there is something I can do to prevent these mutants from gracing my trees, or if there is some way to naturally encourage bumper crop apples each year, I would love to know.

If you do have students take on this challenge, and the students can post their results online somewhere, could you please plop a post here? In the meantime those ugly apples will feed the deer well as I look forward to another great fruit season in Maine.

"You sank my battleship!"

I had the pleasure of working with a 4th grade teacher the other day. This teacher is very enthusiastic about having the students learn technology, and she wants to integrate technology as much as she can. Unfortunately, she lacks confidence that she can do it alone right now. I think she is doing just grand.

As I come into class she is pulling apart a battle ship game in order to get the plastic matrix out to show the students. She places the board on the overhead so students can clearly see the letters and numbers and proceeds to teach about coordinates and numbered pairs. Students play a class game trying to sink their teacher's battle ship (fortunately for her ship, the class still needs to learn much about logic). Students would take turns calling out coordinates and everyone would be compiling the coordinates down. All good things must come to an end at some point, so with some moans and groans, the teacher asks students to get out the chart they had made in math the day before. The students had surveyed the school to find out the favorite types of ice cream in the building (chocolate won .. but of course you already knew that). The class compiled the data into a chart the day before. Today the teacher introduced the class to a spreadsheet and showed how referencing cells uses the same coordinates. She led the class into determining how to transfer their data chart into the spreadsheet. Careful attention to teaching students how to save was addressed as this was one of the first experiences the kids have had on their computers. Students then learned how to make some graphs using the graph wizards. Instantly, the room erupted as students were commenting, "That is so cool." "This is so much easier than doing it out by hand." "Hey, look what happens when you change the graph like this"... As so often happens in exciting classrooms, the bell threatened to ring way before the class was eager to start packing things up. As the students were putting their computers away, the teacher and I talked about the questioning strategies that might be used tomorrow to help students reflect on their learning and solidify the connections they made between battleship, spreadsheets, and some simple graphing.

Yes, I think this teacher is doing just fine! She still has insecurities, she still has questions, and there are definitely limitations aplenty. Instead of concentrating on the negatives, this teacher is doing what many teachers with support are starting to do. She concentrates on the excitement of learning. Learning the kids are doing and learning she is doing, and everyone is having a blast. Her 4th graders will be performing great works by the end of this new school year, I have no doubt, due in large part to their teacher's excitement and eagerness to "take a chance" to try something new.

What a way to start off a morning...

Yesterday, I started off my morning walking into a fellow teacher's room to check up on how things were going. He had a bit of a peculiar face on, so I asked if everything was all right. He abruptly answered "No, it's not alright". As this was a close friend, I knew I could press on for more information. He shared with me that he had a student come in this morning and he did not have a clue how to work with the kid. The student was not belligerent, was polite, was eagerly into the work in the class, but he was incredibly somber. The student had stopped in to see my friend in the morning before school to explain the circumstances.

The day before this student had walked home from school as he always does. It was unclear from my friends rendition what the family structure was, but he seemed to imply that the boy and his father may live alone. As the boy approached the front door to his house, he started to feel all shaky for some reason. He opened the door at the same moment his father pulled the trigger on the shot gun that ended his father's life. The boy went into graphic detail as to what it looked like and according to my friend, the boy still looked like he was in shock the next day as he entered the school and came to my friend's classroom "to talk".

At this point my friend and I just looked at each other for a few seconds in silence. As one, we both mumbled "...and he is in school today?" A few more seconds followed by, "Well where else has he to go?" I hugged my friend as a way of saying "good luck" and had to head off to one of my many meetings that day. I have since checked in to find how how this young boy is doing. Obviously, things are in all sorts of turmoil for the boy, but not at school! In school, he finds a reason - a purpose.

So many professional gurus continually point out to teachers every year that many teachers lack the skills to motivate students by meeting the kids "where they are". Often this is given in reference to technology integration and more relevant curriculum. I would add that teachers may also need help with dealing with the social changing of student environments. Did anyone take a class in their undergraduate or graduate studies on dealing with a child that loses his/her family? How about strategies to work with that little junior girl with the attitude? Sure she gets A's and appears bright, but her attitude gets in the way so much. That is, until you find out that she goes home at night and has to take care of her 5 younger siblings because mom is no longer alive and dad is working two jobs and does not get home until 11 p.m. He leaves in the morning my 3 a.m. leaving this little junior girl to be mom to 5 kids she never birthed.

The point is that teachers, especially this time of year, are starting to learn about their students. During that process it is natural for many teachers to make some assumptions and some judgements. We don't always get to hear the issues facing some of our more challenging students and if we do get to hear it, we may wish we did not. As hard as it is, try to avoid the judgments and instead concentrate on questions. What questions do you ask? I have found the system of 5 Why's to be helpful, especially when the questions and answers are in writing.

In the old days we used to hear teachers or school officials saying that a student was too dumb or lazy. That shifted to being challenged. Now I hear motivation being to blame. Sometimes, it may be that the young person is dealing with issues you or I have never had to deal with.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

U.S. History - Digital Alternatives

Instead of buying the bound version of a U.S. History textbook, how about using some digital alternatives? Better yet, how about the real possibility of having students create their own history book using NoteShare or some other Web 2.0 tool?

WikiBooks: U.S. History

Digital History
1899 U.S. History Textbook

American History 102 - 1865 - Present
American Memory
A People's History of the U.S. - 1492 - Present
Primary Source Resources

Tools for Student Collaboration in Book Creation:

NoteShare Resources
Wiki Resources


Suppose it could work? What would the issues be?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Power of

I cannot tell you how great it is to have a account. Once you have begun to use it you will realize how helpful it becomes to your work. I especially like the feature: Links for You. I am able to "tag" websites that I find for people in my network, and they do the same for me. It's a quick and easy way to share links. You also get to view the networks and links of others in this rich Web 2.0 environment. works best in the Firefox Browser, and now Firefox has added new features. This Bookmarks extension enhances the old Firefox bookmarking system with a new set of tools to help you create, manage and search your bookmarks. By importing your old Firefox bookmarks to you will have "all your bookmarks in one place", and your Firefox bookmarks will now be synced with This means that your bookmarks will be instantly accessible both in your Firefox browser and from the website. To access all your bookmarks from another computer simply go to your bookmarks on delicious. If you wish to use you must download the app into your browser.Then it's right there ready to go. Try it you might like it!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Textbook Moratorium

Wesley Fryer on Infinite Thinking Machine has called for a moratorium on purchasing textbooks. This got me thinking. Where might this be very easy to do in 1-to-1 laptop schools. What subject would lend itself to a transition from hard copy textbooks to digital textbooks and then perhaps to no textbook whatsoever. How about Algebra?

Here are some online Algebra Textbooks:

Totally Free Algebra Book
Wiki Algebra Book
Understanding Algebra
Nutshell Math: Algebra

Some addition Algebra Resources:

Purple Math - Your Algebra Resource
The Math Forum@Drexel - Algebra

QuickMath Automatic Math Solutions
Topics in Mathematics - Algebra
MathTeacherLink - Algebra
ThinkQuest: Math for Morons Like Us

Algebra Resources for Educators
CyberSleuth Kids - Algebra
PowerPoint Study Files
ThinkQuest: Algebra

The Algebra Experience ThinkQuest
Awesome Library - Algebra Resources
101 Algebra Links
S.O.S. Mathematics - Algebra Tutorials
Math Homework Help, Algebra Help, Tutorials by Students
Algebra Homework Help at Algebra.Com
Algebra Story and Word Problems

Add to that the numeracy tools on the MLTI laptop. Do we really still need hard copy algebra textbooks?

What do you think?

2007 Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference

2007 Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference

"I Touch the Future, I Teach"
Nashua, New Hampshire ~ November 27-29, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Concept Mapping

I've been experimenting with MindMeister, thanks to a lead from Ron Smith on I'm hoping you will be able to see the map that I embedded below. It includes a number of solutions for concept mapping as well as a link to more information. Or it should! :)

Note: I can see it in Safari, but not in my Firefox. Hmmmmmm. If you can view it with your browser, note that each node is linked.

Concept Mapping Resources
Graphic Organizer Resources

Many Literacies

The good people at Stenhouse Publishers, a Portland, Maine company, have some interesting videos and podcasts available at their site as well as opportunities to preview books on education.

David Booth and Larry Swartz, coauthors of Literacy Techniques, discuss the many different literacies that kids encounter today.

Part 1 Audio
Part 2 Audio

Other Podcasts
Other Videos

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Bionic Librarian

Maine State Library
MARVEL! Maine's Virtual Library
Maine Association of School Libraries
Maine Library Association
Maine Libraries

The Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project

THMS Garden Project

Gardening Resources

Life & Learning in a School Garden

Active Games for Kids

The Alliance for Childhood has written Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood in which they question the early use of computers in the classroom. The concern is that computers take time away from important developmental needs of young children such as active participation in their environment.

What do you think?

Related Resources:

Physical Education Resources

Children's Games Around the World

Capacity Building: People & Conversations

"We're talking about a change in the culture of schools and a change in the culture of teaching. We know that when we think about change we have to get ownership, participation, and a sense of meaning on the part of the vast majority of teachers. You can't get ownership through technical means; you have to get it through interaction, through developing people, through attention to what students are learning."
~ Michael Fullan

We have to be careful with buzzwords. Thrown around without thought, they become perversions of their original meanings. "Professional Learning Communities" and "Capacity Building" are two such instances with which I am concerned. We have to be very careful that they have meat to them and are not merely empty structures driven by the status quo. More busy-work for teachers without intellectual freedom and openness to new ideas will not suffice. In my mind, the ability to listen and put ourselves in the shoes of others without being defensive is the key. We don't have to like what we hear, but everyone must be given a fair hearing. Only by having true conversations can we create cultures that are open to new possibilities.

To this end, I would like to suggest the ideas of Meg Wheatley, which I just came across this afternoon. Check out the reviews of her book, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised , for an outline of her ideas.

A couple other books by Wheatley:

A Simpler Way

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tobasco Sauce

I always thought my father was a bit crazy to be putting Tabasco sauce on just about everything he ate. What was the old man thinking? It was definitely not anything I would ever do!

But I fear it has happened: At age 59, I have become my father. It all started with those fresh cucumbers out of the garden. It has become a tradition for me to create the most incredible, mouth-watering delicacy about this time every year . . . the cucumber sandwich. My ultimate recipe had always included fresh bread, real butter, salt, pepper, a few drops of sesame oil, and of course, cucumbers. In the frenzy of creating this gastronomic delight, I found that there was no sesame oil to be found. Enter Tabasco sauce and the rest is history: I can no longer stay away from the stuff! There seems to be an exponential improvement in anything I put it on. What can I say? Dad wasn't quite as crazy as I thought he was!

The question: Is this behavior a result of nature or nurture? Does my genetic makeup create a biochemical predisposition that is creating this craving . . . or is there some social/psychological connection going on here? ;)

Google Earth Sky

Wow! Google continues to amaze. This update of Google Earth is a must-have for astronomy teachers or anyone else who is interested in what is out there. Download the latest version of Google Earth to see what I mean. Who needs to go to the planetarium? And how can you beat the price?

For a companion, download Celestia as well.

Related: Solar System Resources

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On the Deeper Basics . . .

What is important?
On the Deeper Basics…"'Why can’t Johnny and Susie read, write, and count?' is the mantra of school reform. To be sure, these prerequisite skills are essential for all future learning – and they are not enough. Where are the voices that fear as much for the deeper basics – the basics of the human mind, heart, and spirit? Why aren’t we at least equally troubled by why Johnny and Susie can’t think, can’t slow down, can’t reflect, can’t sit still, can’t imagine, can’t create, and can’t play? Why aren’t we deeply saddened that they can’t dance, or paint, or draw, or make up a story? Why aren’t we worried that they can’t cope with frustration and conflict? That it is so easy for them to be bored, cynical, and distrusting of adults and that it is so difficult for them to express deep love, trust, and compassion? Why are our hearts not heavy because their spirits cannot breathe, because they have not experienced the wonder and awe of the natural world, and because they do not know how and why they belong in the world?"

~Stephanie Pace Marshall

What do you think?

First Year Teacher

" There can be so much tugging at your students' minds and hearts - troubled family situations, changing friendships, uncertainties, doubts, and fears. Be aware of them as a whole person." ~ Karen Katafiasz

It is difficult being a first year teacher.

My first year was way back in 1970. To say that my youthful idealism was tempered by the realities of the classroom would certainly be an understatement. There was so much I needed to learn at that time, but in many respects, it was a much simpler time. New teachers today have many more demands on them from day one.

Here are some links that might be of assistance in helping first year teachers:

New Teacher Resources

Back-to-School Resources
Classroom Management Resources
Behavior Management Resources
Mentor/Coaching Resources
Process Skills Resources
Hot Links for New Teachers

Monday, August 20, 2007

Questioning Information

“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.” ~ William Pollard

Lots of information out there. Do we give everything the same weight? Who is presenting the information and from what perspective do they come? How do we find out more about the creator? How do we give credit? How does copyright law fit into the picture?

Below are some links to resources that might help in answering some of these questions:

Resources for Evaluating Information
Plagarism Resources

Who Is It?
Wayback Machine
Logical Fallacy Resources
MaineLearns: Copyright & Plagiarism
Citation Machine
How to Write a Bibliography
Evaluating Web Pages

Any to add to the list? Thoughts, suggestions, recommendations?

Discover Information Literacy

Web 2.0 The Dark Side?

In the Bangor Daily News of August 13th, there is an editorial entitled: Amateurism Goes Big. The editorial discusses Web 2.0 as the “birth of a revolutionary new era of cultural democracy,” and “ marking of the end to elitism and gatekeeping and a reliance on the wisdom of the masses.” It also urges us to be cautious.

As we move into an age where items such as YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, and the downloading of music becomes more common, and we depend on Google to locate information we need or entertainment we want, we need to become careful as citizens and educators. We also need to pass this caution onto our students.

The quality of some of the information on the Internet should be called into question. Are all the facts in the Wikipedia article really correct? Are the first five listings of my Google search the best information about my report? Does the YouTube video of the candidate’s mistake or outburst make him or her less of a person?

Andrew Keen, the author of a book, “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture,” that is cited in the editorial. He gives us this warning, “Parents and teachers and individual users of the Internet must seek out trustworthy sources and beware of hidden propaganda and deception. The Internet is here to stay, but it must be approached with skepticism and watchfulness. Just as the experts and the gatekeepers have their faults, so does the wisdom of the masses.”

As educators, we need to stress Informational Literacy. The resources of the Internet are a source of information and entertainment. We need to be sure that as consumers of the Internet that we are cautious about the information that we get from the Internet. We also need to be cautious about what we put out on the Internet. It needs to be fair and we need to remember that once something is online it doesn’t go away.

Things to Think About:

1. What are the good and bad points of Web 2.0?
2. How do we teach students about Informational Literacy and testing information on the Internet?
3. How do we teach students to be responsible about what they put on the Internet?

Editorial in the Bangor Daily News of August 13, 2007 link to Andrew Keen’s Book “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.”

Sunday, August 19, 2007


"Time and tide wait for no man. A pompous and self-satisfied proverb, and was true for a billion years; but in our day of electric wires and water-ballast we turn it around: Man waits not for time nor tide." ~ Mark Twain

To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, "Time is on our side." Or is it? How should we handle time?

Chris's Virtual Online Collection of 'Flash' Time Pieces
NLVM Clocks
Timeline Resources
Calendar Resources
66 Best Quotes on Time Management
Quote DB: Time
The History of Time

BBC: Walk Through Time

Saturday, August 18, 2007

ACTEM MAINEducation 2007 Technology Conference

ACTEM presents "Learning in a 2.0 World" on October 11-12, 2007, at the Augusta Civic Center. Details

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21st Century High School Teacher Tools & Resources

There will be a series of MLTI regional leadership team meetings on the new high school laptop initiative. Details

2007 MAMLE Conference

Highly recommended for all: The 2007 Maine Association for Middle Level Education Conference. October 18-19 at Sugarloaf. Details

"Building Bridges: Creating Change for a Common Good"

The 41st Annual NEEEA Conference, Sept. 14-16, 2007 at Camp Matoaka in Smithfield, Maine. Looks fascinating! Details

Friday, August 17, 2007

Building Bridges

"Without a narrative, life has no meaning. Without meaning, learning has no purpose. Without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention. This is what 'End of education,' is all about." ~ Neil Postman

Building bridges that last is a complex matter. A great deal of knowledge, testing, and trial and error often come into play. But in the end, we all want bridges that will endure and be dependable. This is true with physical bridges, such as the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge, as well as metaphorical bridges, the kind that link people and ideas.

How do we build bridges from 20th Century learning to 21st Century learning? Between the past and the future? How do we really connect - with respect, integrity and long-lasting collaboration - to come to terms with the changes that are taking place?

I would suggest that a start might be for us to take time to reflect on education metaphors. Beneath all our words, how do we really feel about the learning process?

Got a good metaphor for education?

What else is needed to build a good bridge to the future?

Neil Postman suggests in The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School that we need new "narratives," that the old ones worked fine in their time, but that new ones are needed for the future. He offers 5 possibilities and argues that we need a context in order to have a coherent system that is not to being driven by technology, but rather by people.

Can I sell you a bridge?

Speaking of building bridges, check these resources out:

Bridge Building Resources

Collaboration Model

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” ~Ryunosuke Satoro

I just completed four days at the SAD#43 and SAD#21 Technology in Curriculum Workshops and thoroughly enjoyed it. Evidence of collaboration was everywhere. It was a time when two districts combined their resources and allowed teachers to choose from a cafeteria menu of tools, but more importantly, allowed them to work on curriculum projects that might be enhanced with technology. There was plenty of technical support and expertise to provide the partipants with the help as they needed it. Kudos to Technology Director Wally Devoe, Curriculum Director Gloria Jenkins and others for making this a powerful event. The enthusiasm was evident.

These districts respect their teachers by allocating funding for staff development that builds capacity and encourages conversations on classroom practice.

Where else is this happening?

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Kids love survival stories, and they love to have someone read to them as well. You really can't go wrong with these books:
Lost on a Mountain in Maine
Island of the Blue Dolphin

Check out Novelist and NoveList K-8 at Maine's Virtual Library (MARVEL) for a wealth of information on books, authors, themes, and activities.

Here are some related resources:

Wilderness Survival Resources

Survival Video

Read Aloud Resources

Children's Literature Resources

Book Report Resources

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I live in the Town of West Paris, population around 1700. In the village is very small library that is in the form of a miniature castle made from fieldstones found in the area. Although the space is severely limited within the library, thanks to the MSLN it has the capability today to access information that very few big city libraries had just a very few years back. We have many to thank for this wonderful availability of resources. Strike a blow for equity. Anyone can drop in to make use of the wired computers as well as the wireless connection. Add to that the wonderful resources of MARVEL (Maine's Virtual Library) and even our poorer citizens have the potential to be empowered by the immense knowledge provided by our tiny community space.

Do we appreciate it?


"It takes a village to raise a child" - African proverb

My nephew will be a sophomore at UMO in the college of engineering this coming year. This summer he has worked for a Maine firm with about three dozen engineers specializing in automation. An example of their work is the automation of a small hydro-electric dam north of Rumford. The owner of the dam can now completely control all aspects of the dam from his laptop as he travels the world. There are many sensors that tell him exactly what is going on and allow him to make adjustments from wherever he is.

They have asked my nephew to return next summer, work on school vacations, and even work on projects as he might have time during his studies at the University. What the owner found especially beneficial about him is that he not only had excellent computer skills, but that he had very effective people skills.

The point that I want to make is that my nephew got an excellent, well-rounded education in the Mountain Valley Schools.

Beyond family support and not to dismiss his hard work and perseverance, he had great mentors, such as Wally Devoe, MSAD#43 Technology Director, who offered opportunities to be involved in the school networks, and others in that district who encouraged him in music and sports. This influence cannot be overestimated. Josh had the opportunity to work with laptops his entire time at Mountain Valley High School and just might be a precursor of the talent that will be unleashed from Governor Angus King's vision for creating a new economy in Maine.

In the same vein, I visited Marie Keane's elementary classroom at the Crescent Park School in the Telstar School District where students were powerfully involved with the Lego Mindstorm program. While there are some who might think of it is just playing around, it was instead a process that involved incredibly high-level thinking skills in order to solve real problems. Students created machines with sensors and used the software to build programs to direct them. Good Stuff! Where might these students be in the years to come from this top-notch influence?

Links to check out . . .

Logo Resources

Ed Latham's NetLogo Workshop & Resources

Robotics Resources

Artificial Intelligence Resources

Taking it a bit further . . . .

Some Ethical Questions:

Should we create intelligent robots?

Is the creation of an intelligent robot an act that only God should do?

Will there need to be some regulation about the creation of robots?

Will intelligent robots take away all forms of human employment?

Where are humans to derive their meaning and purpose in life?

If in the future machines have the ability to reason, be self-aware and
have feelings, then what makes a human being a human being, and a robot a robot?

If you could have a robot that would do any task you like, a companion
to do all the work that you prefer not to, would you? And if so, how do
you think this might affect you as a person?

Are there any kind of robots that shouldn't be created? Or that you
wouldn't want to see created? Why?

Automation and the development of new technologies like robots is
viewed by most people as inevitable. But many workers who lose their jobs consider this business practice unfair. Do you think the development of new technologies, and their implementation, is inevitable? What, if anything, should we as a society do for those people who lose their jobs?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Change: Certainty and Uncertainty in the School Year Ahead and the Future

The 2007-08 school year will bring many certain things. As a teacher, I will walk into my classroom and see the students on the first day. There will be assignments given then graded. Kids who need extra support and those who don’t. Realizing how much taller the some of the returning students are or how they have grown up. I will certainly have some first day jitters. I have had them in other years during my 18 years of teaching at the same school.

This year brings many uncertainties as a teacher. Uncertainties I will see such as getting to know my new students, knowing their abilities and interests. New challenges and also unknown success and failures will come this year.

This school year will be different than many others because of the uncertainty of the change in school governance. As districts select their “dance partners” and begin the process of merging and consolidation, as a teacher I wonder where it will all go.

All of the terms I have learned about school governance such as School Unions, School Administrative Districts, and Consolidated School Districts will be gone by 2009. I will have to get used to Regional School Units. RSUs for short.

The way of doing things is about to change and be developed. I am excited as I can watch the process unfold with Regional Planning Committees setting up the new district. I would like to see teachers be a part of the process and help to set the new district in a good direction. Hopefully, the product at the end of the road is a good one for students, teachers, schools, and education in Maine.

Items about the process also scare me. Will my small school be closed in a few years? Will the final product be a fair and effective system for education? Where will it all go?

The certainties of teaching and of life help us to manage the uncertainties. As a teacher, I hope other teachers get involved in the creation of their new districts. Hopefully we can let the long term uncertainties of the future of Maine education be balanced by the day to day certainties and challenges that we face as teachers. What certainties and uncertainties do you see for this school year? Where do you think educational change in Maine will go or where do you want it to go?

For information on changes in Maine School Governance check out: is excellent to get links to newspaper articles and resources from around the state over consolidation.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Walk Beside Me and Be My Friend

"Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."

Albert Camus

Is it too early to start seeing a payoff for the investment in the 1-to-1 MTLI? Perhaps. But I'm sensing that huge transformations are about to take place. Nope, I don't have a shred of scientific evidence, only an ear to the ground in the various schools I visit. I tell you, this old digital immigrant can feel the vibrations. A take-off point is about to occur!

The most significant indication is that we all now know that it ain't going away. I am hearing from even the most skeptical educators now that they're getting on board. There is no question in our minds that the train has left the station, is slowly picking up speed, is not going to reverse direction, and that we'd better run fast to catch up and jump aboard.

Many of us who have had many years in education have seen more than our share of bandwagons in which everyone gets swept up in the enthusiam, only to see a swing of the pendulum, with everyone then running in the opposite direction.

This is different. This is deep. This is revolutionary. This is a time to find our colleagues where they are and gently bring them along.

Our major issues now are ethical. How are we to treat one another? What is important?

Change Can Be Hard

As the new school year rapidly approaches, I want to ask something I usually begin my workshops with. Do you know where the layout of your QWERTY keyboard came from?

No? Well, the placement of letters comes from a time when people could type faster than their typewriters could keep up. Keys would get jammed in a terrific mess of metal and ink. By placing frequently used keys, like vowels, in harder to reach places, users were slowed down.

Now, examine keyboard in front of you.

The placement of the keys has been the same since 1873. There are newer, redesigned keyboards that allow faster typing such as the Dvorak keyboard. Introduced in 1936 it arranges the keys for the greatest efficiency. But, overwhelmingly we use what is given to us.
What we have always known and are comfortable with.

Sound familiar?

Many teach how they were taught, and I won't belabor the point, but the world is different. It's flat right?

If I handed you a new keyboard, it would undoubtedly take time to unlearn how you type and relearn the new positions. During that time, productivity would down and frustration would ensue. Yet, with the understanding that ultimately, speed and accuracy will improve with time and practice until you have surpassed what you were capable of before.

Such is all new learning.
Don't let only what you're comfortable with limit where you can go!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Back-to-School Resources

I've always loved August. There is fullness to it that I don't feel any other time of year. There's always that native harvest of vegetables of every sort. But especially delightful is nature's orchestra of sound all around as I spend some time in the yard. Heady stuff.

For teachers, August also means preparation for new beginnings, an opportunity to reorganize and rethink approaches and methods. There's the anticipation of that very first meeting with new classes. Here are some online resources that might be helpful:

Back-to-School Resources
Classroom Environment Resources
Free & Inexpensive Software
New Teacher Resources

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Appropriate Tools

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." ~ Albert Einstein

I'm preparing for a series of workshops at a Maine school next week. On Monday I'm scheduled to teach Dreamweaver. On Tuesday we'll be doing iPhoto, and on Wednesday and Thursday I'll be working with teachers on collaborative projects for their classrooms. I'm looking forward to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - but, by no means, Monday.

Let me first of all admit that I very reluctantly agreed to do the Dreamweaver session. Reluctant for a couple of reasons: First of all because I'll admit I'm not as fluent in it as I should be, not using it regularly; and second, because I think it is the wrong tool for the job. While Dreamweaver is a powerful and polished professional web editor, it is too complex for beginners and, in most cases, completely unnecssary for creating functional classroom web sites. It is like learning to fly using a 747 rather than a small airplane. There are just too many buttons/options to confuse the beginner.

I guess I'm of the school that would start neophytes with a hand saw before they moved up to a power saw. I would have them hand mixing the batter before I introduced the power mixer.

I've just completed my 2-year training with the wonderful eMINTS people at the University of Missouri. I've been very impressed with their organization, their resources, and their conceptual framework. Terrific educators . . .they have it together! But . . . Dreamweaver was their required editor, and it was one of the few things with which I disagreed.

A better web editor for the job would be one similar to Nvu, a free download that covers the basics in an understandable way while still allowing for very effective websites. Who could ask for anything more? :) My view is that there is a need to match the appropriate tool to the context in which we are working, so I'm struggling on how to meet my commitment and, at the same time, do what I know is right in terms of keeping the focus on the learning rather than the specific tool.

I would like to start with Nvu in order for beginners to have a better understanding of the pure basics, but on the other hand, presenting two menu schemes in such a short period of time could simply add to the confusion. So what I'll probably do is simply work with a pure white canvas using Dreamweaver, and eliminate as many extra windows as possible. I'll show the templates later. Anyhow . . . a good part of the session will be on planning pages, evaluating pages others have done, and discussing reasons for having a web page in the first place. In other words, what can a web page bring to the classroom?

Let me admit that I also have concerns about tools that are being promoted in other areas, such as online classroom environments. Is the tool easy to use? Will its design enourage implementation? What is it really needed for? Will it be used?

"The Simplicity Paradox refers to the fact that one always want a powerfully functional object which by nature of its very potential belies a complexity of operation. To make something simpler, often means to make something less powerful. How do you make something powerful, but simple to operate at the same time? This is the challenge."
~ The MIT Simplicity Consortium Challenge

The Beauty of Simplicity
The Laws of Simplicity
Simplicity Consortium
Simplicity Blog
The MIT Press: The Laws of Simplicity

That brings me to the essential question:

How do we decide what the best tool for the job is?

Friday, August 10, 2007


"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." ~Lord Acton

Maine Learning Results Guiding Principle:
A responsible and involved citizen who:

• Participates positively in the community and designs creative solutions to meet human needs and wants;
• Accepts responsibility for personal decisions and actions;
• Demonstrates ethical behavior and the moral courage to sustain it;
• Understands and respects diversity;
• Displays global awareness and economic and civic literacy; and
• Demonstrates awareness of personal and community health and wellness;

Citizenship Resources
Micro-society Resources
Rights & Responsibilities Resources
Diversity Resources

OLPC machine

Matthew Hockenberry of demonstrates the one laptop per child's fourth production prototype of the 'hundred-dollar laptop' at siggraph 2007 - video by Leonardo Bonanni of

Math Wars

Check out the varying perspectives of videos on math education on the sidebar. What are your thoughts?

NCTM Standards
The Objectivist Point of View
MISTM Math Portal
Math Resources
Online Interactive Resources
Math Games
Problem Solving Resources in Math

Thursday, August 9, 2007


What do you think? Should all students take Algebra in high school?

Algebra Resources


“It may take forever to win men's minds by persuasion, but that's quicker than you can do it by force”

How do we sell our ideas? How do others sell their ideas to us? How do we remain respectful of others who have different ideas and perspectives than our own? To me, this is a much more important topic than many of the other subjects that are expected to be taught in our schools.

For several years I moderated a conference on a FirstClass BBS in a Maine school district. The conference was called Speak-Out. Topics were offered by mostly high school students but also by a few interested teachers, and then replies were made. In the heat of the argument, how easy it was for students to regress to subtle and not so subtle namecalling,put-downs, baiting and innuendo. Now I ran quite a tight ship for the space for blatant trangressions of the AUP, but sometimes it was obvious that students just didn't know any other way of expressing themselves. And who could blame them as there is a constant flow of rudeness everywhere around them . . . from radio talk shows to T.V. sitcoms and reality shows to discussion list on the Internet . . . to our national leaders.

I found that as long as I was present (meaning checking in regularly), discourse was civil. (Perhaps because I had the power to discontinue their accounts :) but I really think there was more to it than that.) If, however, the conference was left unattended by adult supervision for a long period of time, discussion would tend to head for the lowest common denominator.

Last year, although I was no longer the moderator of the conference, I reluctantly stepped in with this:

"I certainly agree that namecalling and personal attacks have no place in this conference . . . and certainly violate the user agreement that all have signed who are on the BBS. Sure it is okay to have positive or negative opinions on an issue, BUT that does not include character assassination of people who disagree with us. Loss of BBS privileges for infractions seems very appropriate to me.

In reading the posts in speak-out, I sense that for some it seems to be simply a game to annoy others in an attempt to feel more self-important. This is commonly referred to as baiting. There is an arrogance here that ultimately is self-defeating and hurtful not only to others but to the initiator as well. We use this tactic when feeling inadequate in making legitimate persuasive comments. In other words, when we don't have anything to back up our view or have anything else to say, we lower ourselves by attacking the person with whom we disagree. Not good . . . but all too prevalent in our culture at large as well. We need to be both intelligent in what we say and caring for those we are saying it to . . . even those with whom we disagree. As my grandmothers use to say, "If you can't say something good about somebody, say nothing at all."

For other people, there seems to be a misunderstanding of what civil discourse includes and what bogus argument is. Using "I" statements are much better than "They" and "You" statements. "I believe" or " I think" work much better than "You are . . . they are" constructs. Below find some resources that will help you understand this a bit better. Writing like this takes a bit of practice and experience to understand the spirit of it. Give it a try.

There are times when all of us will cross over the line in life. I know I have . . . and still do on occasion. We all make mistakes, but we have an obligation to ourselves and others to point ourselves in the right direction and do our best in making rational discourse an important means of making a better world.

So . . . what is the next issue to discuss?"

Someone somewhere is going to have to start modeling civility and perhaps focus more on empowering our young ones with the art of respectful dialogue.

Who is it going to be? What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

Some pertinent links:

Logical Fallacy Resources

Propaganda & Advertising
Persuasive Writing Resources
Citizenship Resources

Idea Generators

Don't know where to start? Looking for ideas?

Idea Generators
Writing Prompts

Any others to add to the list?

Constancy and Change

I think educational leaders should approach rapid change from the inner strength that comes from their "universal bones." For instance, those who think change should drive a new understanding of ethics or democracy should instead, let their understanding of ethics and democracy drive their approach to new technologies. I can think of no better example than the confrontation between Elliot Schrage, of Google, and a group of congressmen over his defense of Google's practice of helping China to oppress its people.
Schrage is a "Corporate ethicist," a lawyer and consultant with a huge resume (and real achievements) on issues where human rights and global commerce meet. With a very agile mind, he attempts to defend Google's actions as working toward the greater good in a complex world. The congressmen had a simpler understanding, and typically expressed outrage at what Google was doing. They were informed not by the "new technological landscape," but by their own sense of democracy and right and wrong. I am saying they were right, and Schrage, in this case, was wrong. No matter what the "greater good," it was wrong to participate in oppressing China's people. Period. I think as teachers we are stronger when we rely on an armature of truths about democracy, morality, human rights, etc., and I am not comfortable with the relativism so many seem to be expressing. Rapid technological change is here, yes. It needs educational leaders with backbone and purpose!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Narrowing the Search

A couple of interesting sites that help find topic-specific resources on the web easily:

K12 Station is free (has ads).

netTrekker is commercial search engine which has a free trial for Maine this month. Check it out to see what you think. This is a good opportunity to zero in on specific resources that you might use in your lessons and bookmark for the future.

Check with your school ACTEM List reader for the ID & Password.

Hopes & Dreams

"When your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme."
~Jiminy Cricket

Little did I know that when I lifted my youngest daughter, Melissa, on a pony when she was age 4 that I had unleashed a life-long passion with horses. Lissa never looked back! Though many obstacles got in her way, including her father's sometimes luke-warm attitude, she persevered. She dutifully and successfully did her stint in the local school system and was involved in high school basketball and field hockey, but in the end, these were just distractions from her real love. She went on to UMass to get her B.S. in equine sciences, though her father rather dismissively called it horse-ology. She presently works for a large stable that raises Dutch Warmbloods just outside Amish country in Pennsylvania . . . and Lissa absolutely loves her work!

My daughter, though I'm sure she doesn't realize it (Do you think I should tell her?), has taught me a great deal about the power of having hopes and dreams. Sadly, I never knew where I was going, just sort of floating wherever the wind took me. Because she had a dream . . . a vision, if you will, she was able to doggedly persevere, to be persistent in her efforts. Her dad is proud.

All of which is an attempt to lead into a topic that I think is too often overlooked in our schools: The issues of student outlook/attitude/point-of-view, social class, and behavior management. It seems to me that there is an incredible effort to adjust the curriculum, reorganize schedules, and to measure what has been learned, which at times seems like just reshuffling the chairs on the Titanic.

Perhaps more effort could be put into looking into our culture, and the effect that income disparity has on learning in schools.


• What can our schools do to put hope for a better future in student lives?
• How are dreams that motivate created?
• What are the most productive methods of dealing with behavior that gets in the way of student learning and that just might open up some limited horizons?

To such end, I highly recommend Mike Muir's presentation on poverty and discipline. . Mike has a wealth of information at the Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning.

Also recommended: The 8 Conditions that Make a Difference
Other related resources:

Behavior Management Resources
Process Skills Resources

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Change. Is there anyone who will deny that it is becoming exponential? I've lifted this topic from Jim Moulton's Edutopia Spiral Notebook Post with a new twist because I find it so intriguing. Vernor Venge has spoken of the Singularity, a time in the not too distance future when all bets are off, where there is a take-off point that changes everything. Ray Kurzweil has a site where he gathers information on the implications of the change that is taking place.

Some questions:

How well do you / we adapt to change?
Are we thinking about the implications?
Do we even have any control of how it plays out?
What would your preferred future be?
Who will the winners and losers be?
What is important?

A number of years ago I did a simple graveside service for an older fellow named Steve (not related, age 87) who I was looking after. In writing the eulogy, it occurred to me just how much change he had been through in his lifetime. He grew up in a small farming valley north of Rumford. Reading through his grandfather's diaries, it struck me how much of his early life had been similar to generations before him. Travel even short distances was quite infrequent and there was a close connection to agriculture. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, no phone. And yet as he reached and went through adulthood he saw industrialization in the form of the huge paper mill built at Rumford, experienced the coming of what we consider essentials today. He experienced the transformation of the landscape and culture by automobiles, radio, television, and on and on.

My question then was this: How did he maintain his sanity with such rapid change? Salvador Dali's art suddenly had some meaning to me.

But, in hindsight, that change in his life was relatively small compared to what futurist say is coming. Are we ready for it?

Online Classroom Environments

"Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them."

Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Economy, 1854

Online places to collaborate and set up virtual learning spaces are proliferating. Here in Maine we have the Maine Virtual Learning Project (Moodle), Studywiz, and a neat kind of hybrid called Noteshare. There are also a variety of spaces on the Web that provide varying degrees of digital interaction. Add to that a number of blog and wiki sites, and it's an interesting dilemma on the best choice to fit a particular teacher's needs.

Beside ease-of-use and a respect for a teacher's limited time and varying needs, questions of accessibility and security abound. How open can we keep our spaces and still provide appropriate decorum and insure student safety?

Thoughts? Recommendations? Wisdom?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Constructivism vs. Instructivism

"The two principles, freedom and discipline, are not antagonists, but should be so adjusted in the child’s life that they correspond to a natural sway, to and fro, of the developing personality."

~Alfred North Whitehead

Our whole American culture seems to be in two separate camps over so many issues, amplified by the instantaneous national news media. In the education field, there is the instructivist/constructivist divide, each side totally sure that they possess the final truth. Statistics are skewed to whatever a particular group wants to represent. Examples are cherry-picked in order to prove a point. Rather than discuss and collaborate, there is finger-pointing and one-sided presentations.

Statement: Sanctimonious, self-righteous behavior is part of the problem. There is a need for real and well-thought-out conversations with those with whom we disagree.

We have to be careful with sound bites. Let's take one that's close to home and has had a long run: "It's all about the learning." I sense that the slogan has been very valuable in pointing out the emphasis on engaging student learning, but the problem - as I see it - is that the slogan has not been examined completely. I suspect there just might be some confusion. What does it actually mean? Slogans will only take us so far. It is time for clarity.

Of course, we all know that technology is not just hardware and software. It is also human ideas and inventions of all sorts. It is a structure or form which allows us to create and construct. Sometimes there is confusion in distinguishing the difference between didactic teaching and directed teaching. Teaching applications is seen by some as didactic teaching in a traditional "sage-on-the-stage" manner. A very narrow view, in my humble opinion.

To me, the idea that it is an either/or decision is incorrect. It is a completely false dichotomy. Instructivism and constructivism need each other. The issue is whether a tool is taught with application to real problems . . . or not. Basic skills need to be learned somehow, whether that be "just-in-case" or "just-in-time". My personal preference is "just-in-time" but I don't question that the skills are necessary.

If I have a music teacher who teaches me only notes and scales on my clarinet and never allows me the opportunity to create and perform, then that is not a good use of "technology." But if am able to make use of the skills, drills, and wisdom that the teacher gave me. . . to strut my stuff, then we have success.

On the other hand, suppose the football coach doesn't teach me the tools and disciplines necessary to play good football. Do you suppose we will have a chance of winning the game?

If we have a computer lab where the teacher only teaches computer parts and programs, etc., with no connection to solving real problems, then we have a problem. If, however, the teacher teaches the tools and at the same time engages the kids with possibilities and has them create products that relate to their lives, then we have good stuff happening.

Teaching tools opens up opportunities to create. Instructivism and constructivism can co-exist . . . in fact must both be part of a good pedagogy. Creation without form leads to chaos. Form without freedom leads to boredom and apathy.

Final assertion: Good teachers use some combination of both. Better that we disagree on the best combination and the relative placement in the lesson plan and/or curriculum than the actual need for both.

Here are some links:

Constructivism Resources

Instructivism Resources

Constructivism, Instructivism, and Related Sites

Grappling's Technology & Learning Spectrum

Agree? Disagree? Your thoughts? :)

Essential Questions & Other Questions

"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes."
~Albert Einstein

Good essential questions can help to engage students and guide instruction, but exactly what makes a question an "essential" question?

One definition:

• a question which requires the student to develop a plan or course of action.
• a question that requires the student to make a decision.

See the following links for further information:

Essential Questions Resources

Questioning Resources

Enduring Understandings Resources

What are some of your essential questions?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Working Together

Maine teachers certainly know that for the past few years NCLB has brought us an emphasis on assessment. This has meant an inordinate amount of teacher time focused on testing and creating ways of testing students. While accountability and testing have their place, in most cases there has been very little time and energy left to spend on looking for ways of actually improving instruction.

Some of the questions are: How do we better engage students in the excitement of learning? What models of instruction are out there that might make a difference. What do other educators in the State have to offer us? How might technology help us with teaching the skills that are necessary in the 21st Century?

Finding answers to these questions and others requires time to explore as teaching communities. The buzzwords that are being used are PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and Capacity Building.

For additional information in understanding these ideas, find the following links in the resource list:

Professional Learning Communities

Capacity Building and Michael Fullan

What do you think?

Friday, August 3, 2007


Over on the right in the resource list, catch the first of a string of movies from our time at Castine. It is called "White" and captures a dimension of the village of Castine. Filmed by and starring our own Rick Barter. :) Edited and saved as a quicktime in iMovie on an MLTI iBook. ( Will take a couple of minutes to load on a broadband connection).

For more information on creating videos using iMovie, go to these pages:

A special thank you to Rick Barter, Laura Richter, Elizabeth York, Jana Diket, M.J. Learned, and others for taking the wonderful raw footage of Institute events!


We would love to have you share your ideas on our past two days together.

What went well?

What could be improved?

What did you find interesting?

What suggestions might you make for future workshop sessions?


So . . . what do you think?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Blog the Boat

The first 30 people who reply to this post get free tickets to a harbor tour compliments of Maine Maritime Academy. The tour departs from the Maine Maritime dock at 4:30. Don't be late! The winners will be posted at Inspiration Station at 4 o'clock.

First 30 responses should meet at Inpiration Station at 4:10 for a guided walk down Pleasant Street to meet Captain Mike Alison at the wharf. Those who might want to drive down may park in the parking lot down at the waterfront and assemble at the Breeze ice cream stand. We will pick you up at that point. Departure from the dock is at 4:30.