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EdTech Update





BFTP: The Grandpa Assignment

Can it really be 10 year ago that I published this? Paul is finishing his junior year of high school!

Last weekend I received this from my grandson Paul who is in first grade:

Here is the response I would like to write, but the LWW doesn't think it is such a hot idea:

Dear Grandson Paul,

When I was your age, I was a pioneer child on the prairie in the wilds of northwest Iowa. All 13 of my brothers, all 12 of my sisters, my mom and dad, two second cousins and I lived in the little log cabin that is still in the city park. There are now only me, your great-aunt Becky and great-uncle Jeff left of all my brothers and sisters. Two were carried away in a flood, four were adopted by wolves, a tornado carried away three, a band of robbers captured four, giant rattlesnakes scared away five, one went missing in a blizzard, a great golden eagle swooped down and flew off with one, and we think one just got left someplace and nobody remembers where. We are looking for some of my brothers and sisters to this day. It was a hard life when I was a little boy growing up on the prairie. Most parents always had a few extra children - just to have some spares. 

We were very, very poor when I was your age. Instead of toys, we only had sticks and dirt clods to play with. The rich kids in the neighborhood had rocks too, but we didn't. Grandma made all our clothes out of tree bark and animal skins - and not very fresh ones, either. We mostly ate mush, field corn and bullheads for supper. For Christmas, sometimes we got a raisin in our stocking. And were we excited! Breakfast and lunch usually were just the berries we could find in the woods. We had to fight over them with the bears. Our TV set only had 13 channels and color was not yet invented. In fact, the entire world was in black and white except for part of the movie The Wizard of Oz

Most of the time we just worked. It was my job to gather eggs from the pigs. Pig eggs are very hard to find and sometimes the pigs got grumpy when they were nesting. You had to be careful or you might get bitten. My sister Lefty, had that happen to her. We tied a rope from the cabin to the barn door so we could follow it during dust storms. Once we had a dust storm that lasted so long we planted potatoes in the air around the cabin. When we harvested the spuds, they were already mashed. Yummmm!

I did get to go to school every other year from ages 5 to 27. Like most children, I had to walk to school, five miles each way and both directions were uphill. My teacher was very nice, but very busy with the 837 children in our one room school. Each of us had a laptop computer, however, and when the teacher was busy with other children, we surfed the Internet. I actually got to talk to Miss Snippet (my teacher) twice while I was in school. Both times she told me I was doing a good job. Our library only had seven books and it took a long time to get one to read at home. It was harder to learn to read when I was a little boy since the letters m and r had not yet been invented. They had just discovered the number 7 when I was in 3rd grade so I had to learn my number facts twice.

But I was happy growing up since I knew one day I would be a grandpa and have a wonderful grandson like you. And that's a fact.


The Grandpa who lives on the lake 

Original post 3/25/2008


Light-fingered librarians


Ah, spring. The peepers are peeping, the flowers are flowering, and the allergies are acting up. And librarians in schools are starting to prep for the end of the school year by doing inventory and getting back overdue books.

Over the past couple of weeks I've quietly listened as a number of library staff members have expressed dismay over "some" students' treatment of books, disregard for our circulation policies, and, of course, the number of books that have gone missing over the past year. Compared to the size of our student body, we have very, very few unhappy incidents. But they tend to be the ones on which we obsess.

I listen and say little. Perhaps because I can empathize a bit with the little miscreants. As a student, I took full advantage of my school library fiction collection, but never checked out a book. I had personal copies of all my textbooks in a closet at home as well. Imagine my chagrin when I came home after my first semester at college to find that my mother had returned all my personal collection of the school's books to the school. (She must have done it anonymously since I still was name a "distinguished graduate" many years later.)

It's been well documented that librarians themselves are among the worst book thieves. Here is one explanation:

Don't dismiss book theft as the work of a few ordinary crooks. Everybody does it. "People who steal books are some of the best people in the world," says Allan Robbins of the Alexandria, Va., library system. Journalists, seminarians, lawyers, doctors, teachers and especially librarians steal books, "which shouldn't come as any surprise -- they use them and value them," says William A. Moffett, head of the Huntington Library...

Perhaps this explains why I can't get too worked up when books go missing. I remember once having had an adolescent brain that somehow allowed book pilfering as well. I don't get too worked up when someone loses or accidentally damages a computer or phone either, since I have also done both of these thing. Stuff happens.

While I certainly believe we should be developing responsible library users, creating a welcoming experience that included empathetic library staff should take precedent. (See Libraries are just fining themselves.) Children and staff  should expect gratitude, not scorn, when returning materials to their school library.

One day, when all we read are ebooks, the theft and overdue issues will be moot. I live for the day.


  1. "Is there a klepto in the stacks?" New York Times, November 18, 1990.
  2. "People who steal books," CMJA-JAMC, December 11, 2001,
  3. "Protect your library the medieval way, with horrifying book curses" Atlas Obscura, November 9, 2016



I still like free

Tim Stahmer in his post "The Hazards of Free" at Assorted Stuff warns that educators should not rely too heavily on "free" websites. He cites Edmodo and Padlet as two services that were once free but are now pay-to-play. He could have added Wikispaces as well.

A common concern I hear about Google Apps for Education, besides unwarranted privacy concerns, is that Google will start charging schools for the service. Like a drug pusher who gives the sucker free samples until hooked, Google will use schools' dependency on its product to be able to extort an annual user fee at some future date. I have seen no credible evidence that this will happen. 

Unlike Tim, I would urge teachers and techies alike to take advantage of free. I am happy that my schools have not had to pay for email - the program or storage - since 2000 thanks to GSuite. Those dollars were diverted to other needs. I was a happy user of Wikispaces for a dozen years or more, using it to share handouts for my workshops. And at Padlet, I still get 48 padlets to use until I decide to cough up the subscription fees or find a replacement tool.

I do not in any way feel like I have been cheated or that my efficacy has been jeopardized. Here a few things about free applications...


  1. Try before you buy. I test out a lot of programs and wind up using very few. A "free" version is a great way to see if a new program actually works as advertised and does what you want it to do. No risk, except, perhaps, for an unending barrage of spam from the company.
  2. Fewer features can be a blessing. Some of the free "stripped down" versions of programs are actually easier to use - you can get to the task at hand instead of figuring out the options.
  3. Even a savings for a few years is still a savings. Nothing lasts forever. Tools and tasks change. As sad as I am to see old friends leave the digital stage, I also am pleased that I got good use of these freebies for as long as I did. And you know, it's not a bad idea to change up tools now and then anyway.
  4. Open source is cool. Whatever happened to the open source movement? These collaborative initiatives have created free alternatives to commercial products like Linux and OpenOffice, Apache and Firefox. Open source software has empowered many a computer user who could not or preferred not to pay for commercial software.
  5. Not all remuneration is a subscription fee. As Tim argues, products need to be sustainable for them to be continued and improved. Subscriptions sometimes are the most visible means of support, but advertising is also a viable means of subsidizing a venture. (I am not sure why we fuss about this so much when it happens online, but accept it without question in magazines and newspapers.)

I suspect that economic model for GSuites is that by building familiarity and comfort with its product, Google believes that students on leaving school will continue to use a personal Google account - which it can then monetize through advertising or data mining. The long view.

Free is not the solution to every budgetary problem (see Getting the Most from Your Tech Dollar: Free is good), but use it when you can.