Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





The travel phone


I have an old iPhone I keep in a drawer at home just to use when I travel abroad. As soon as I get to a international destination, I head to the nearest cell phone store and purchase a new SIM card and a pre-paid data plan - usually about 5 gig. Total bill is around $20-$30 and the data lasts for at least a couple weeks.

I only realized on this last trip to Europe just how dependent I've become on this old device.

Its primary uses are for navigation and photography (which needs no explanation.) I do feel totally dependent on GoogleMaps whether walking, driving, or even taking mass transit. (A librarian in Tokyo taught me how to use GMaps to use the city's complex metro system.) I love how GMaps will predict walking time and has the directional indicator that shows which way you are facing. For me, one of the most confusing parts of a subway is figuring out exactly where you are when you come up on to the streets. When I do a lot of driving, I have a commercial app called CoPilot that I like because the maps are downloaded and one can still navigate without having a cellular data connection. 

Other apps on which I depend when traveling include:

  • Speak and Translate -  real time lanuage translation 
  • Spanish Anywhere - Spanish dictionary
  • Fly Delta - boarding passes, updates of flights
  • GlobalConvert - currency conversion, but also does metric length, weight, temperature
  • Mobile Pass - easy go through immigration returning to US
  • Uber - works around the world. Taxi drivers are corrupt in many places.
  • HostelWorld, TripAdvisor, Kayak - on the fly booking for rooms, tours
  • AllTrails - maps of hiking trails
  • Bed Time Fan - creates white noise to help one sleep
  • Facetime, Skype, GoogleVoice - calling home
  • Compass - when you really just need to know what direction is actually north
  • DropBox - storing and accessing pdfs of reservation confirmations, copy of passport, and other travel docs

I explained to a friend recently that one of the reasons I like to travel is I consider it a test of my aging brain. Can I still figure out how to get from A to B? Can I make myself understood when neither of us speak a common tongue? Can I still a book a room, rent a car, or sign up for a tour? He observed that travel asks us to use different parts of our brains than out daily life, and suggested that is perhaps why it feels like an effective test. I like that.

I've long wondered whether our devices are enhancements or replacements for our thinking processes. When the affordable pocket calculator came out in the mid-70s, I liked to think that I could use my mental processing power to solve problems rather than to remember multiplication tables. Does the GPS allow me now to learn more about where I am going rather than worry about how I get there? As language translation apps become more powerful and realtime, will I now be able to craft more effective communications with my host country friends? 

Or maybe, just maybe, my phone being smart helps compensate for me not being quite so smart myself.


BFTP: Big C and little c creativity

Csikszentmihalyi differentiates between big-C creativity and little-c creativity. The big-C creative person is eminent, a person whose work is well known by people in a particular field. The little-c creative person is not. Big-C creativity leads to the transformation of a domain. Little-c creativity is used in everyday life, as in problem solving. Jane Plirto Duke TIP

Why do so many teachers think that creativity belongs only in the art room? Why do so many parents simply write creativity off as frosting on the high brow cultural cake? Why do so many of us feel intimidated when asked if we ourselves are "creative"?

It's because we don't differentiate between Big C and small c creativity. 

Psychology professor and popular author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi divides creativity into two types: big and little1. Big C creativity is that which most of us think of when we think of creative people: those who break the norms of art like Picasso, Presley, or Tharp. Those innovative scientists like Galileo, Edison, or Einstein. Those who invent new technology models like Ford, Bezos, and Jobs. It's those folks who influence what Csikszentmihalyi calls an entire "domain."

But Csikszentmihalyi also recognizes the small c of creativity - the everyday, often personal, problem-solving all of us do. We are all of us small c creative when we find that we're missing an ingredient in a recipe and need to substitute. When two of our children need to be at different places at the same time. When the lesson we planned can't be taught because the Internet is down. When we need to write something romantic in the Valentine's Day card to our sweetie.

We improvise.

We monitor and adjust.

We MacGyver.

I think of this as "duct tape ingenuity."

As much as I admire the Spielbergs, the Warhols, and the Beethovens of this world, I appreciate the really good small c creative people with whom I work everyday even more. The problem-solvers. The initiators. The teachers who do something a little crazy hoping the crazy thing may just capture the attention of some kids who weren't paying attention before. The tech who devises an ingenious work-around. The librarian whose library policies treat library users as people.

We need to honor small c creativity in our schools and classrooms - and we should be demanding our students demonstrate small c creativity instead of relying on adults to routinely provide the solutions - to personal issues, of course (I forgot my iPad at home) but to classroom issues as well.

Shouldn't we be asking our students for solutions for these sorts of problems?

  • We have only 20 books for 26 kids in the classroom.
  • When school dismisses early on snow days, some kids' parents can't come to get them until regular dismissal time.
  • Jerry and Tom are always arguing.
  • Alisha is getting cyberbullied.
  • The chapter on the civil rights movement in the textbook is boring.
  • The librarian only lets kids check out two books at a time.
  • The wireless network is slow.
  • Our newest student doesn't speak English as her native language.

Teachers should recognize that not all forms of creativity are demonstrated through big projects with formal assessments for a grade. Thinking of creative solutions to a problem is a habit of mind, a disposition, a personality trait - an integral part of personal responsibility.

That only gets stronger with practice.


 1. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Harper, 1997. 

Original post 2/13/14


2 advocacy fallacies

2nd Rule of Advocacy: Build relationships so others will advocate for you. One parent telling a school board how important he thinks the library program is to his child is more powerful than a dozen studies. One teacher willing to tell the principal that library services have helped her class be more successful secures library funding better than any mandate. One community group that works with school libraries to build information literacy skills is more effective than any set of national standards. We need to make sure we build the kind of relationships with parents, teachers and the community that are strong enough that members of these groups will speak on our behalf when needed. That takes a communication plan that, as Jennifer Stanbro reminds us, has “more positive things to say about what is happening in the library than negative. … People want to invest in things that are going well.” Jennifer also suggests: “Schedule regular program reviews and involve anyone who will participate, even skeptics. Make sure as many people as possible feel like they are partially responsible for the success of the program. If the library is everyone's baby, no one will want to throw it out.” Rules of Advocacy Head for the Edge, LMC, March/April 2012

Word went out on the state's school library listserv last month that a(nother) district has cut all its elementary librarians. I don't know the details, but I can guess budget cuts played a major role. After a career in school libraries spanning more than 40 years, working at local, national and international levels to assure that all children and young adults have access to a vital library program, I feel like a failure when I hear of districts downsizing or eliminating programs.

Library programs that are most secure are those that avoid two common advocacy fallacies. These are:

  1. We can advocate for our own programs. We cannot. The best we can do is build relationships with others who will advocate for us. 
  2. We advocate for library programs, materials, and budgets. We have to always frame advocacy efforts and requests in how it will help our patrons, not our libraries.

Had I started beating the drum of effective advocacy 40 years ago, would we have more secure programs today? It's a question I'll need to live with until dementia sets in, I suppose.