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EdTech Update





Top 10 Manly Contemporary Authors


Not every story has explosions and car chases. That's why they have nudity and espionage.
- Barnes and Ambaum, Unshelved, 09-14-08

Fists and Brains: My Top Ten Manly Authors and Their Protagonists That I Read or Re-Read in 2008*

I've mentioned before that my favorite guilty pleasure is reading mystery and adventure novels in which the protagonist is a manly kind of man. Each of the characters listed below can be a violent fellow when the situation calls for violence and usually takes some degree of abuse himself. He is smart and follows an internal moral code. He is our Walter Mitty-ish alter-ego.

Oh, and his author tells a damn fine story.

I've chose only characters who appear in series. The title listed is a book in the series I felt good enough to re-read, but it's not always the first or most recent book . So, in no particular order...

10. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher (One Shot)

9. Stephen Hunter's Earl and Bob Lee Swagger (Pale Horse Coming)

8. James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux (Tin Roof Blowdown)

7. Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch (Trunk Music)

6. Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon (The Confessor)

5. Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt (Inca Gold)

4. Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford (Twelve Mile Limit)

3. John Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep (Bangkok 8)

2. Matin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko (Havana Bay)

1. John D. McDonald's Travis McGee (The Green Ripper)

And I am always looking for recommendations.


* Paul C at Quoteflections "respectfully" began this meme: Life is One Big Top Ten (2008). He writes:

It's an outgrowth of Time's ultimate Top Ten Everything of 2008. I appeal to my readers and anyone else so inclined to write their own Top Ten list for 2008 on a topic of their choice. You are invited to link to my site , use the title Life is One Big Top Ten (2008) to help with a web search, and tag several people to carry the meme forward. This topic has the potential to be interesting and fun as we close out the year.

I purposely chose this topic hoping to tweak Paul's literary sensitivities. He's somewhat more high brow than I am. But then we are probably both guys who'd you'd rather have at your side in a spelling bee than a gun fight. But then I've never met Paul. Could be he is a hit man who only uses his teaching career as a cover.

I'd enjoy reading a Top Ten list from these interesting bloggers who don't live in the U.S. ...

Lee Cofino, Artichoke, Gladys Baya, Ann Krembs, anyone from the NESA Librarians' Group, Susan Funk..

Of course everyone is welcome to play the Top Ten meme.


Progressives and public mistrust


One of my educational favs, Alfie Kohn, offers a "progressive" alternative to the names most often mentioned for Obama's Secretary of Education in his forthcoming Nation article, Beware School "Reformers". (Thanks to Scott McLeod and Gary Stager for pointing this article out and for many far more politically astute bloggers for their analyses.)

Kohn suggests that those currently being regarded as "reformers" support:

  • a heavy reliance on fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests to evaluate students and schools, generally in place of more authentic forms of assessment;
  • the imposition of prescriptive, top-down teaching standards and curriculum mandates;
  • a disproportionate emphasis on rote learning—memorizing facts and practicing skills—particularly for poor kids;
  • a behaviorist model of motivation in which rewards (notably money) and punishments are used on teachers and students to compel compliance or raise test scores;
  • a corporate sensibility and an economic rationale for schooling, the point being to prepare children to “compete” as future employees; and
  • charter schools, many of which are run by for-profit companies.

and observes

Notice that these features are already pervasive, which means “reform” actually signals more of the same—or, perhaps, intensification of the status quo with variations like one-size-fits-all national curriculum standards or longer school days (or years). Almost never questioned, meanwhile, are the core elements of traditional schooling, such as lectures, worksheets, quizzes, grades, homework, punitive discipline, and competition. That would require real reform, which of course is off the table.

On Minnesota Public Radion the other day, an interesting comment was made by a caller. He wondered why, if a plane in flight got in trouble, the passengers would not say, "Professional pilots got us in this mess; we need someone who is not a pilot to get us out." But society seems to often say, "Professional educators have messed up our schools; let's get someone from outside the profession to straighten them out." How is it that everyone seems to love individual teachers, but hate the profession?

How has the educational profession lost the public trust? Why do we as a nation love our own neighborhood schools, but remain convinced that public education as a whole stinks? Why are political pundits (many who simply want to bust union and increase public financing of private schools rather than improve education) honored and professional educators ignored?

Distrust of professional educators is the only reasons I can think of why we continue to use bubbled, normed tests in this country instead of formative, criterion-based assessment. More importantly, how does the profession gain public confidence in public schools? Or is it possible?

Regardless of whom Obama choses to lead the Department of Education, most of us will soldier on doing what's right by kids -  just adjusting our level of subversiveness to fit the educational climate.


Seven brilliant things teachers do with technology

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Marianne Williamson

Last week I listed seven stupid mistakes teachers make with technology. Easy marks, these teachers.

But to be fair, I see just as many brilliant teacher uses of technology. Here are things i see teachers do that just make me marvel and feel proud to be a part of the profession.

1. Empower kids with technology. Technology is an amplifier of natural abilities. Brilliant teachers see that good writers become better writers, good debaters become better debaters, good French speakers become better French speakers, good mathematical problem-solvers become better mathematical problem-solvers etc. by helping their students harness technology. They do not see technology as a crutch, but as a propellant. Brilliant teachers have experienced the empowering power of technology themselves. Brilliant teachers use good assessment strategies to rigorously determine the quality of technology-enhanced projects.

2. Creatively find and use resources. I can't believe the technology found in some of our teachers' classrooms. And it was provided by neither our department nor was it stolen (I don't think). Through personal purchase, through PTOs, through grants, through business partnerships, through parental contacts, through fund raising, through classroom supply budgets, brilliant teachers amazingly amass digital cameras and doc cams and clickers and sensors and such. One of our brilliant teacher McGyvered his own doc cam out of an old video camera, plastic pipe and duct tape - and calls it his Grover (not his Elmo).

3. Make conferencing real-time. Brilliant teachers don't wait until parent-teacher conferences to communicate with homes. Through e-mail, websites, online gradebooks, blogs, wikis and even telephone calls, technology gives teachers the ability to help make parents partners who help assure students' timely, quality work. They post newsletters, spelling lists, assessment tools, assignments, grades, calendars, discussion lists, and tips. They read and respond to parent emails. Parents want to be involved, but they like knowing how.

4. Put kids in touch with the world. The classrooms of brilliant teachers *hokey metaphor alert* have no walls. These teachers "get" the flat world metaphor, understanding that tomorrow's citizens and workers will have an advantage if they can work successfully with other cultures. From "keypals" back in the day to Vicky Davis's Flat Classroom Project today, brilliant teachers give even the most remote and least advantaged students a glimpse and dream of the bigger world - and help them both communicate and empathize with those in it.

5. Accept the role of co-leaner. One of the best signs of intelligent people is that they tend to willingly admit when they don't know something. Brilliant teachers, not only accept the dismal fact that they will never know all there is to know about technology, but turn the condition into a classroom advantage by having their brilliant children teach them how to do something techie now and then.

6. Use the kids own devices to teach them. Brilliant teachers understand the old Arab proverb, "It's easier to steer the camel in the direction it is already heading." Students are increasingly and unstoppably bringing in personal communication devices - cell phones, cameras, game devices, iPods/mp3 players, netbooks, laptops, and PDAs. Brilliant teachers know how to use cell phones to poll their classes; create podcasts of lectures; use games to teach difficult concepts; and make "Google-jockeys" of wireless laptop owners.

7. Delight in the discovery, the newness, the fun technology holds. It's not about technology. It's about finding out and doing "cool" things. We knew that ourselves as kids. Brilliant tech-using teachers have never lost the thrill of doing something "cool" with the toys. They are pleased with their tech-using students and pleased with themselves. Brilliant teachers use technology's engagement (not entertainment) power. Technology is not "just one more thing" but a vital experience that brings discovery, excitement and, yes, fun to the classroom.

I hope you all know teachers who make brilliant uses of technology. What do you see them doing?