Tech Salad

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Month: October 2012

Digital Citizenship In the Wild

Over the weekend, many people up and down the Eastern Seaboard relied on social media to keep up with the latest on Superstorm Sandy. There were useful tweets from government agencies and relief organizations, as well as news outlets with people in key locations. Citizen reporters helped fill in the gaps.

At the other end of the spectrum were the funny people posting manipulated images of sharks swimming down the streets of Manhattan and other pranksters. One of these people in particular, one with a large following, tweeted a few things that caused many to panic. Shashank Tripathi, a political consultant, might have thought it was funny to tweet about the New York Stock Exchange flooding. He did not think of the consequences. The tweets have caused him to lose his job, and have authorities in New York contemplating criminal charges.

As more and more of our teachers and students join the Twitter community, it is important to constantly remind ourselves that what we say online can be as powerful, or more powerful, than what we say in person to those around us.


Next week I’ll be collaborating with Ms. Thomas, our Language Arts student teacher on a fun project she shared with me. The students will be running a poetic device adoption agency. They will select a device and try to talk poets into adopting that device into their work. They will have to present the device as if it were an adorable puppy or kitten to be brought home and loved.

This project is a great way for students to tackle a topic that could be boring if all students had to do was learn definitions and give examples. Instead, the students get to be creative in how they approach and present each poetic device. They also get to find examples they really like and think their peers will like. And, most importantly, in presenting their information, they will be teaching the rest of the class.

I know student teachers are only here for a few weeks, and are not expected to plan and execute a G21 project. I’d like to say thank you to Ms. Thomas for doing it anyway. She is giving her students the opportunity to engage with poetry, something so many students dread, in a fun and memorable way.


This year we have some really great G21 projects in the works. One I especially like is Mrs. Rohrer’s Fireworks project inspired by Katy Perry’s song Firework.

Mrs. Rohrer and her students are creating an awards program for Goochland Middle School to recognize students who are trailblazers, fireworks who inspire others to be fireworks themselves.

From determining the criteria for selecting award recipients, to selecting the awards committee, to designing and producing the awards themselves in their ceramics class, the students are in control of this project. They are even coordinating with the yearbook committee to dedicate a page to this year’s winners, the inaugural cohort of the GMS Fireworks.

The students are helping to establish something that will remain long after they have left GMS. In the process, they are examining the qualities that make their peers outstanding citizens of the middle school world, building empathy and working collaboratively. Maybe someone should let Katy Perry know what she’s inspired these kids to do.

The GMS Microcosm

Goochland Middle School is a small place, but this does not mean it is lacking anything. Just today, following up on projects and working with teachers, I saw political activity, economic activity, social activity, and even foreign policy. These are all the activities fostered by our G21 framework.

First I saw the posters made by the anti-bullying brigade led by our counselor, Stacey Rainbolt. You can follow her and her #NoBullyZone campaign on Twitter.


Next I bought pencil sharpeners and pens at the student-run Eagle’s Peak store. The kids were gearing up to market their new Halloween-themed merchandise.


After lunch, I sat in a meeting with students who will be running a mock election with Mrs. Creasey (blog) to learn about the democratic process. The discussion centered around touch screens, voter fraud, and the differences between the political parties. And, as cool as I think this activity is, the best part was the interruption I had while I was in this meeting. A student interested in running for Student Council stopped by to ask about the best place to find Creative Commons images to use on his campaign poster. Awesome!

As it happens, I’m still in this meeting, and John Hendron is leading a discussion on the use of spreadsheets to analyze data. When I’m done here, I’ll be talking to Mrs. Barnes, our Spanish teacher. Her classes will be creating videos to share with students in Mexico. The students in Mexico, in turn, will send videos of their own.

Bad days are full of malfunctioning printers and missing files. Good days are full of activities that go well beyond the walls of the classroom, like today.

Sausages, Standards, and G21

Last night I was fortunate enough to be in the audience when Dr. Yong Zhao addressed a group of school leaders at the University of Richmond. I had heard him this summer at ISTE, but his message is one that is worth revisiting.

Dr. Zhao compares standards-focused education to making sausages. All sorts of students go in: dancers, paleontologists, composers, engineers, chefs, veterinarians, firemen. Just as a first grader what he wants to be when she grows up. At the end of twelve years of schooling and testing, all those different kids are expected to come out looking the same: uniform cylinders filled with identical contents. What happens to their interests? Who develops their talents? Is being able to select one out of four answers for any given question any real preparation for life after school?

“Pay attention to students’ interests and the standards will take care of themselves.” Those might not be the exact words Dr. Zhao used, but close enough.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen many of our teachers do exactly that. Many of our G21 projects for the current school year let students make choices and bring their own interests and talents to the table. I wish people who still believe a good G21 project is too cumbersome because it takes time away from hammering the standards home could have been at the University of Richmond last night.

Sound Effects in iMovie

Mr. Burch and his Goochland Players are preparing for their upcoming production of Dracula. They will be enhancing the live action on stage with audio and video effects. Here’s a tutorial I made after spending time with them in the auditorium this morning.


Somewhat Reading Vs. Really Reading

As is often the case, NPR made me think this morning. First, I woke up to a story about Jane Austen, reading, and neuroscience. I had read the report earlier this year when a friend sent me the link to the Stanford website. I kept it open in my browser for weeks, hoping to somehow work it into a blog post at some point.

It turns out our brains behave differently depending on the purpose of our reading. We get to a point in time where we read unconsciously. We can hardly glance at a word without reading it. We can also scan documents and skip around books getting the general idea. And, while that is reading, the purpose is different from consciously settling down for concentrated, concerted reading. It makes sense that our brain behaves very differently depending on how much attention we pay to the text, how engaged we are with the text. 

Of course, there must be implications for educators in there. I’m not a neuroscientist, but I’m sure not forming that habit of purposeful reading must leave a hole in people’s lives. I do tons of the more superficial reading, and get more and more distracted, especially when reading on a screen, or reading a text while in close proximity to a screen. I still value and enjoy the deep, engaged reading where, as one researcher said, the house could burn down and I’d be hard-pressed to notice.

I was still thinking about this issue, and how to ensure children do form that engaged reading habit, when I heard the interview with author Robin Sloan. He is well-acquainted with this distraction problem. He worked at Twitter, a great source of distraction for me. And he gets it. He really does.

“If you come from the Internet, as I do — I think of it as sort of my native country — there’s a lot of great things happening on the Internet, but one of the things, one of the feelings you just can’t escape is the sense that it’s really hard to keep people’s attention,” Sloan says.

In the audio, he even mentions what a feat it is to get someone to look at your website (or blog?) for more than 30 seconds, if they even look at all. If you’ve read this far, I win. You’ve spent more than 30 seconds visiting my blog. Yay!

So maybe our brains are changing, and maybe our students’ brains are completely different. The truth remains. If something is interesting enough, good enough, people will pay attention and engage. 

If you have time, listen to the full interview. Then, if you are in the classroom, think about how you attempt to engage students. Are the students distracted because they don’t know how to pay attention, or are they distracted because what you are offering is not holding them?

In the News

Early this week I spoke to Mr. Burch about his Debate and Forensics classes, and he shared a really interesting tool with me. I only had a chance to explore it today, and maybe because it is a Sunday, what I saw made me want to write a blog post.

Newsmap is a tool that takes data from the Google News aggregator and creates color-coded representations of the number of sources and articles devoted to particular topics at particular times. You can select the country of the news sources to see what is being reported in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and many other places around the world.

So, I started with an overall view of the news, then started selecting individual countries at random. It was surprising to see the different proportion of news “airtime” dedicated to different concerns. Take a look at what each country finds most news-worthy. Follow this color-coded key to know the topics even when you don’t understand the language.

Let’s start wit  the United States. Look at that! Half the screen is taken up by sports news. I hope when I look at this again in the middle of the week the proportion of blue will be smaller.

Now look at Canada.

I would have thought they might have something more important to report than someone else’s presidential campaign. Hmm… Also, take a look at the tiny corner devoted to national news. Is nothing going on in Canada? I’d love for Canadian educators to chime in on this.

Up next is the Netherlands. I can’t read a word they are reporting, but the distribution is what’s important to me right now.

Yes, their sports section is large, but it is followed by their national news. It is a tiny country when compared to Canada and the United States. Is  more happening there, or do they just find it more important?

Brazil seemed to have the most equitable division of news of the countries I looked at. There is a fair proportion of the screen dedicated to sports, national, and world news, with the remainder dedicated to entertainment, business, and technology.

I thought this was a valuable exercise for me. It made me think about different cultures and what they find most important. On the flipside, it made me wonder: Do the chunks of color in these screen shots really represent the values of the people in each country? Who makes the choice to report one thing over another? And how accurate is Google News in aggregating equitably from all sources to present an accurate picture of what’s most newsworthy?

I know we have many teachers in Goochland County who are working to make their students more aware of the world beyond the county line. This would be a great tool to start a class discussion. Just pull up one of these screens on the projector and ask a few questions. Let students click on a square they find interesting and go from there.

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