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EdTech Update





TeachingBooks gets author pronunciation guide

As Blue Skunk readers well know, I very rarely endorse any product. However, I make an exception for Nick Glass's TeachingBooks resource. Nick is a committed educator and he and his staff produce a product that gets  interested in books and reading. So when on the rare occasion he asks for help in spreading the word about something, I do what I can...

Hi Doug,

I'm excited to share that the Author Name Pronunciation Guide has just reached a milestone -- there are now 2,000 recordings of authors telling the story and correct pronunciation of their names!

Would you help share this news?

A press release is on my blog at -- highlighting some of the most played recordings.

Or freely explore to pick out one of your favorites to share.

I find it particularly fun that Tomie dePaola is the 2,000th recording added to this collection. How do you pronounce his name? "...paw-la," "...paa-oo-laa," "...pow-la," or something else? Hear Tomie say it at

How about Maya Angelou? Jon Scieszka? Yuyi Morales? and 1,996 more!

So fun!

This collection of authors and illustrators revealing the origins and pronunciations of their names is completely free and available for anyone to use, anytime. These audio recordings have been listened to almost half-a-million times since I launched it in 2007.

Thanks so much for considering sharing this exciting news. And please ask how I or can ever be of assistance with your work in this wonderful world of children's and young adult books and reading.



Hope this helps get the word out, Nick. Keep up the good work!


BFTP: Limits on lists and change

For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press 3. 
Alice Kahn

I've been reading the instruction sheets for our new VOIP telephone system. I am a little worried. Some of the tasks require up to ten steps. Setting a speed dial number, for example.

My unscientifically-proven observation is that you lose between 5% and 10% of people for every step in required to complete a task. One step - 90+% will complete it. Two steps - 80% - 90% will complete it. Which means that for jobs requiring 10 steps or more, very few people will have the tenacity to accomplish them successfully.

My own internal dialog in working on lists of instructions goes something like...

  1. OK, step one. Where are my reading glasses?
  2. Step two. Going good! Get a beer.
  3. On to step four. Wait, did I skip step three?
  4. Up to step five. Damn, this isn't working. Oh, I did step two wrong. I have to go back.
  5. Step six already. This is completely unintelligible. English is obviously not this writer's first - or second language!
  6. Step seven. To hell with it.
  7. And step eight - give it to a kid who can do the task without looking at instructions at all.
  8. Optional step nine - complain about technology in general.
  9. Step ten - have another beer.

The same 5% - 10% theory seems to work with surveys as well. 90+% of people will complete a 1 question survey. More than 10 questions, well, who has that kind of time and patience?

There is a very interesting article in Fast Company about the relationship between the ability to change and exhaustion. Dan Heath (one of the Stickiness Brothers) writes:

You hear something a lot about change: People won’t change because they’re too lazy. Well, I’m here to stick up for the lazy people. In fact, I want to argue that what looks like laziness is actually exhaustion.

How complex can the technology tasks we ask our staff and students to master be? Are we finding the least complex tools available that will still let them do the job? What is the balance between power and complexity? (If GoogleDocs has even 80% of the functionality of Office, is that good enough for most students and staff?)

Or has the deluge of the new and work in keeping up simply exhausted all tenacity and perseverance from the modern learner?

Original post June 4, 2010


The DC experience

A vacation is like love — anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort, and remembered with nostalgia. ~Author Unknown

Last week Anne and I flew with grandsons Paul and Miles to Washington DC for a week of exploration and sightseeing. While different from some of our earlier road trips with the boys*, it was great experience. Overall I found the city traffic far worse, museums more crowded, and meals more expensive than when I took the boys' Uncle Brady there in 1999, but it was still a fun place for two bright kids (and two senile adults).

A few photos and comments that Blue Skunk readers should just skip over, but that will help ME remember the trip...

 Day One - Getting there

The boys have not flown a great deal, so budget Spirit Airline was first class for them. The low cost fares are off-set by hard, narrow seats, expensive baggage fees, and inconvenient airports (we flew in and out of BWI), but Miles approved of the snack box that contained a wide assortment of chips, dried fruits, crackers, and cookies. He tragically lost a beloved pocket knife at security, forgetting it was in his backpack from a Cub Scout camp. His grandpa has lost a few pen knives himself that way. Anyway, timely, if not very comfortable, flights on Spirit.

Day Two - Getting Around

The Metro became a big part of this trip, as it was in my other previous trips to DC. We stayed at the Virginian Suites in Arlington - great rooms and service - about a 15 minute walk from the Rosselyn Metro. Metros for me are like a game, figuring out the lines and directions and transfer points, whether in NYC, Paris, London, or Tokyo.

We spent the morning at the Lincoln Memorial end of the Mall, visiting the sites in those areas. I tried to tie history to the boys' family experiences, explaining how their Aunt Neva was a nurse flying wounded soldiers out of Vietnam and their great grandfather served in the Korean Conflict. Back at home, I was very impressed that 9-year-old Miles could tell me the name of every memorial, every statue, every museum in every picture.

Nothing says souvenir of Washington like a squid hat from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. This squid is about to be eaten by Tyrannosaurus Rex. We moved to museums later in the morning since big brother Paul was hurting from a sunburn he got on the previous week's canoe trip.

I've decided not to take "monument only" photos anymore. Does the world really need another picture of the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial or Capitol Dome? We stopped early on that very hot Monday, returning to Arlington to see the Minions movie in air con and then going back to the hotel for a swim after supper.

 Day Three - On the Bus

Tuesday was spent on the DC Sites, hop-on, hop-off big red bus, traveling all three routes. I'm not sure I would recommend DC Sites - two of the three routes had nearly inaudible recorded narrations and there were some very long wait times for buses to appear, especially in the afternoon. But riding gave Paul's legs another day to heal which was a good thing.

I was amazing by both the number of kids visiting Arlington Cemetery and the quiet and respect they showed there without having to be reminded. During the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, there were dozens of group-t-shirtted kids watching in awe-struck silence. Number one site on Paul's list was Arlington House, Lee's former residence, which we toured.

Number one on Grandpa's to-do list was visiting the Wahington National Cathedral, one place I'd never seen on previous visits. It turned out to be one of the most fun places we went since there was scavenger hunt designed for kids with a dozen or more images, sculptures, and rooms to find. The Darth Vader gargoyle was tough to see, but we think we located him.

Day Four - Movies, museums and the Capitol

The Newseum was Grandma Annie's priority for this trip. Kinda pricey on admission, but full of fascinating exhibits and movies about the 4th estate, including this 4-D introduction to the history of investigative journalism. The 911 terrorist attack was told in a moving film about journalists involved on the scene. Between movies and hands-on activities, museums take a LOT of time to visit with kids anymore.

Miles experienced touching both a moon rock and a piece of Mars at the museums, along with seeing the Star Spangled Banner, the Kitty Hawk, the Hope Diamond, and George Washington's false teeth (my favorite). Does this make history more real? I remember my son's comment on leaving the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam - "I didn't know Anne Frank was a real person." I suspect there is more than one child who may not know if George Washington was real or fictional.

It seemed that half of Washington DC is under construction. The Capitol Dome is and we were just in time to be able to even get in the Rotunda before it was to be closed completely to visitors for something like 5 months. We had a great guide and asking our congressman's staff to get tour tickets in advance worked like a charm. The boys are shown here with one of Kansas's greats, John James Ingalls, honored with a statue in the building. Do you know by whom your state is represented?


No trip with the boys is complete without an eating adventure or two. Paul here is pictured with his salmon penne at the Il Radiccio restaurant. He's becoming a daring epicure, ordering salmon sliders and sushi on this trip as well. Miles sticks with cheese sandwiches, cheese pizza, and mac and cheese, but he too was a less fussy eater than in the past. We did order pizza in one night, we got heat-n-eat from a little market's frozen food case the night we got in, and we even ate leftovers one night. Miles did complain to his mother when she picked him up that he had gone too long without a "home-cooked meal." Poor child.

Day 5 - Crusing to Mt. Vernon


Cruising to Mt Vernon with Brady was one of my favorite memories from that trip, so we repeated it. After a metro ride that included a transfer, we found the pier where the "Spirit" cruises departed, sailing 90 narrated minutes down the Potomac to George's plantation. Which was under re-construction.

The mansion was much as I remember it, but since I had last visited a very good museum, visitor center and cafeteria had been added. Washington's false teeth had their own display and explanation (they were not wood, but bone and ivory and looked very painful). Tributes to the "enslaved persons" who worked the estates were rightfully prominent and I enjoyed learning more about the fishing and agriculture of the time. I did not know that by owning 8,000 acres along the river, Washington was our richest president.

Day 6 - Biking, swimming, and a movie

One of the traditions of the summer trips has been a bicycle ride so I booked the Monuments Tour with Bike N Roll. It was a leisurely five miles of dodging tourists on the Mall's sidewalks, being entertained and informed by a very good guide. Miles, who two years ago was nervous about going on a trail-behind with Grandpa, rode his own bike on this ride with very few problems. Go, Miles!

While we had seen most of the monuments on our walk on Monday, the guide's narration was a great way to help understand them better. Miles however did set the guide straight when he suggested the Pentagon is not a very interesting place. Having just studied Washington DC in 3rd grade with the Pentagon as his personal topic, Miles stated that the building was very interesting if one knew anything about it.

The inscription reads "Out of a Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope". The MLK and FDR monuments along the Tidal Basin are my favorites. Anne, just having read The Hemingses of Monticello, wondered if Jefferson should have been so honored with his memorial nearby.

After the ride, we returned to the hotel for a swim, a light supper, and then the boys and I metroed to see the Antman movie. A relaxing final day of our stay.


Day 7 - Home again

Based on a TripAdvisor comment, I used Uber to take us directly from our hotel to the BWI terminal at a cost similar to what we'd have paid on Amtrack. I'd not used Uber before and was amazed by the good service. We had leisurely lunch at BWI, an uneventful flight to MSP, and then a quick stop at the Mall of America to replace Paul's outgrown, water-soaked Merrell shoes and Miles's confiscated Swiss Army knife. Home with deli chicken.

Great trip with two great boys. I've started planning next year's adventure - hiking in the Grand Canyon. And the next year, and the next? Suggestions?

More photos for the terminally bored.

* former grandson road trips

Uncle Brady, circa 1999: