Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Living Like a Writer

If anything, I think that blogging has forced me to "Live Like a Writer," a line I am sure I pulled out of one of Lucy Calkins' books. Before contributing to this web log I never took the time to reflect so deeply on my day, whether inside the classroom or in my own home. Life and all of its relentless pressures are certainly traveling at light speed, and taking time to pause and reflect gives my mind that opportunity to be steady and make connections where connections would normally not be made.

I think I have always been an eclectic romantic at heart but now I am certain of it. Today, while in Writers Workshop with my Fantabulous Fifth Graders I was introducing our lesson and I had a moment of clarity. The students were fantastic, I had peaked their interest when I mentioned, "Today you will be using digital cameras."

With my captive audience I began to illustrate how to take a picture of something ordinary and think about it in extraordinary ways. So with my digital camera I leaned over, slowly lowered to one knee, and took a picture of my infamous coffee cup. How could I begin to think about this image in an extraordinary way? If I am to live like a writer what deep personal connections could I make with a simple picture of a coffee cup?

The ideas began to pour out of my students more easily than my first cup of morning coffee.

I had discovered in the middle of the mini-lesson that it's about the time around the Silver Bullet, the incredibly large coffee pot that so graciously holds the morning's life liquid that is found in our staff lounge. The time standing, waiting patiently for my turn to fill my cup, where conversations ensue with other teachers who are anxious for their mornin' cup-o-joe.

I get to find out about someone's new grandchild, get an update on someone's ill mother, find out that a son has been accepted to college, another son in boot camp, or simply get to say "Good Morning" to those I don't normally see throughout a busy day.

Living like a writer has forced me to think about the ordinary things in my life and find deep personal connections, silly I know, but oh so powerful. It helps me to find value in the mundane and allows me to treasure the small things in life and for this I am grateful.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quenched by the Echo in My Head

Searching for the rhythm of words
desperately trying to be heard
Relentlessly yearning
Life long learning
Quenched by the echo in my head

Cup half full or is it empty?
Forever wondering about eternity
eagerly listening
sun glow glistening
Quenched by the echo in my head

Today is the day that could be the first
Living life with a hunger and thirst
never second guessing
thankful for the blessing
Quenched by the echo in my head

Glorious divinity human spirit
Lean forward so you can hear it
gently glowing
truly knowing
Quenched by the echo in my head

Monday, April 21, 2008

John Adams

I have been fascinated with the historical perspective of John Adams, an HBO mini-series, based on the book by David McCullough and would like to share a line from the seventh episode that grabbed my attention.

Allow me to bring some context to this particular scene - John Adams at 90, is walking on his farm with his son Thomas while reflecting, as he does, on his life now that his beloved wife Abigail has passed.

I have some scruples of conscious enough whether I ought to be preserved or whether it would be charity of me to stumble. Still, still I am not weary of life. Strangely. I have hope. You take away hope and what remains? What pleasures? Do you follow me Thomas?

"It's getting late father, let's go inside," Thomas said.

Come here, come here. I have seen a queen of France with 18 million livres of diamonds on her person, but I declare that all the charms of her face and figure added to all the glitter of her jewels did not impress me as much as that little shrub right there. Now your mother always said that I never delighted enough in the mundane, but now I find that if I look at even the smallest thing my imagination begins to roam the milk way.

Rejoice evermore.
Rejoice evermore.

Oh, I wish that it was always in my heart and in my tongue.
This to me is like poetry that strums the heart strings, and really the entire series is smothered in writing that brings such life to our American story. Watching this show has provided me the opportunity to consider the challenges of life in the late 1700's and surely reminds me that there is much to be thankful for.

Rejoice evermore and strive to delight in the mundane...


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Trying to Understand Digital Kids

As of late, I have been trying to sift through Ian Jukes' vast collection of handouts, and have found particular interest in Understanding Digital Kids: Teaching and Learning in the New Digital Landscape. I can easily agree with most of the article however, my thinking has been challenged on a few points that Ian presents.

For instance, he says:
The real problem is that they're just not interested, not listening and increasingly tuning us out. We hear teachers complain all the time that kids have short attention spans - that they just can't focus - that they can't even remember the names of the state or the capitals when asked.

Meanwhile that same student is thinking, "Why do I have to know this when I can Google the answer in 2 seconds?"
And the same kids who can't remember can instantly and enthusiastically remember the lyrics to 1000 songs or the characteristics of 100 video game characters. Their attention spans aren't short for games or music, or anything else that actually interests them. They just have short attention spans for old ways of teaching, learning, and assessment of that learning.

I firmly understand that the "Digital Natives" have brains wired differently than those of the "Digital Immigrants" but I am pretty sure kids in high school have always been somewhat disconnected and not very interested in school. Am I wrong here?

The message I give my own teenage son and the elementary students I am privileged to teach is that there are moments when learning is hard and takes time, patience, and persistence. Learning sometimes requires an intense focus that can be slow.

Despite the ability to have fingertip knowledge we still need to instill a strong work ethic, to be able to work through problems that we may not be very interested in, and completing it with high quality.

In my own home I hear from my teenage son, "Why do I need to know European History, I won't ever need this stuff?"

My response sounds something like this: Perhaps your are correct - you may never need to know European History but think about the project that you have had a month to work on. There was really much more to learn than just the boring content that you are "not interested" in. What about learning time management, meeting a deadline, planning around your schedule in order to complete that the task with a high level of quality, being accountable, responsible, and yes working through something that you didn't want to do in the first place.

These are life lessons that our digital landscape makes incredibly challenging to instill in our youth today.

Despite Abundance, Asia, and Automation it seems these attributes will be required for a successful and fruitful career. I wonder if I am thinking too much into this and should simply shrug it off and say, "Kids will be kids?" But that is just not how I am wired.

For me it has always been about balance as well as not doing the same things can I help prepare my students and my own children for an uncertain future and instill a strong work ethic? I also follow up my message to my teenage son with the idea that no matter what you end up doing in life hopefully you will be passionate about it and never give up. Passion and Persistence, now there is a tall order.

Monday, April 07, 2008

"Why Not Use the English Language?"

A huge Thank You to Joan, a professor at BCC, for inviting me to teach her business class about the mighty Web 2.0. Also, I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Joan's students...I am looking forward to meeting with you again sometime, perhaps online.

Preparing for this class really brought me through a deep reflective process where I methodically used my resources to try and put a succinct outline together that would allow for those interested to go deep in their learning.

I found some fantastic resources such as Mike Sansone's ConverStations, Will Richardson's wiki, Dean Shareski's wiki, and David Jakes new wiki. I spent hours sifting through each of these sites trying to piece the puzzle together for the audience that I was presenting to and in doing so I learned so much. There is a saying that we throw around our school district, "The person doing the work does the learning," and I must say that this process sure forced me to do just that.

On a side note, a three-hour lesson is much different than the 15-minute chunks of time in my elementary class, and in some cases this class felt like a marathon. While I was talking I found myself wondering, "Am I boring them to death or are they OK with this format of instruction?" I wanted desperately to get the class producing content and playing around through Our Wiki and provide them the opportunity to join the global conversation.

However, having the "hallway conversations" for me was worth the price of admission. Not only did Kevin present a fantastic idea for My Starbuck's Idea, but also Joan stayed late after class and helped me "see" how to think about taking pictures. In the end there were a few that created blogs and perhaps the Guitar Player of the group will be found within the blogosphere soon enough, we know Zack surely can be found. You go Zack.

Oh by the way if you're interested ~ Kevin's Starbuck Idea: "Instead of using the words tall, grande, and venti why not use the English language instead?" Makes sense to me.