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

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

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EdTech Update





New book coming!

I think it is a little ironic when (mostly) younger teachers and librarians come up to me at conferences and say, "Hey, aren't you that Blue Skunk guy?" For many educators, the fact that I have published four books, written dozens of articles, and hacked out  columns ad nauseum over the years is not salient when it comes to my "claim to fame." It's moments like these that make me feel that the world is moving past me - and I will never catch up.

Still I am excited since I have a new book coming out soon, hopefully in time for it to be available at AASL in Charlotte in early November.

School Libraries Head for the Edge: Rants, Raves and Reflections. Linworth, 2009 is an edited, somewhat updated, collection of my Head for the Edge columns I've been writing since about 1995. My son Brady did the wonderful illustrations for it.

Books are a surprising amount of work, even when they consist of things mostly already written. I took a full week last February of doing nothing but writing and editing to get this one into draft form. I spent another couple full days just going over the first draft. I have a real publisher who is anal about things like footnotes and permissions and such. This is hard for me since when it comes to writing, I am a much better sprinter than marathoner.

Now and then I get asked how one gets started as a conference speaker or consultant. My only advice (which should be considered suspect since I never deliberately planned to be such a low-life) is to write a book or two. Books still cast an aura of credibility on a person that blogs or tweets or other forms of self-publishing do not - at least for many. Often others assume that people who can write can also speak. There is no correlation as far as I can tell.

This may well be changing and I am sure there are other paths to being infamy in educational circles.

Anywho, I am always excited about a new book coming out, even if I have already read it - too many times. I know my mom will be proud and I will send the hometown library a copy so she can look me up in the catalog.

Write a book. I'll bet your mom would be proud too.


In praise of guides

Guide a : one that leads or directs another's way b : a person who exhibits and explains points of interest  ... e : a person who directs another's conduct or course of life. M-W.COM

Guide Kopavi in Ribbon Falls, Grand Canyon, Sept 09

The old chestnut "Better a guide on the side than the sage on the stage" has been so often repeated that it's become meaningless. What exactly is a guide and how does this role differ from that of coach, teacher, mentor or even sage?

This past week my experience with two excellent guides, Kopavi and Chris from Angel's Gate Tours, gave me some ideas about what constitutes good guiding. I have always tried to avoid "guided tours," priding myself in being able to read a damn guidebook and figure out transit most places. But I am very glad we used a guiding service for the Rim to Rim four day backpacking jaunt. (Oh, in case you didn't notice, I did come out alive.)

Our Grand Canyon hike started on the North Rim and followed the North Kaibab Trail for two days, descending some 5,000 feet over the course of 14 miles to the Colorado River. We then spent another two days ascending the Bright Angel Trail about 4,000 feet in 10 miles to the South Rim. We spend three nights camping and we tourists each had packs of between 30-40 pounds. (The guides carried about 80 pounds each starting out.) Three of the four of our group are in our 50s and not, ahem, premier athletes.

And we arrived on the other rim not only alive, but feeling exhilarated and proud - a little sore, but not damaged. We traveled without serious pain or injury and felt safe the entire trip. We were challenged, informed, and just plain had fun. And I thank the guides for a large part of the success of our adventure.

Guides Kopavi and Chris:

1. Pushed us to do things we might not have done on our own. After a day of hiking, the last thing one wants to hear is a suggestion that we hike another mile and a half to a site for supper. (A mile and a half hiking is like about three miles walking down a city street in terms of effort.) But we did it and were treated to a beautiful sunset on Plateau Point and a very cool nightime walk back to the Indian Gardens campground.

Sunset at Plateau Point, September 09


2. Modeled things that encouraged us to do things we might not have done. I don't remember the last time I slept under the stars, but following the guides' example (they did not bring a tent for themselves), I threw my sleeping bag and pad on a tarp outside the provided tent. Each time I awoke during the night, it was to a star-filled sky. Yes, thoughts of scorpions, rattlesnakes (we met one living 10 feet from one of our campsites), mice and other critters did occur, but did not deter, thanks to example. The guides led plunges into the Colorado River, explorations under waterfalls, and stream crossings we would probably not have tried ourselves.

Part of what made Kopavi and Chris great models was that they themselves are avid hikers. Although our hike seemed an adventure, the well-maintained, well-traveled paths we uses must seem like Main Street to our guides. These guys talked about unsupported hikes of up to two weeks to the wilds of the canyon. But you could feel their love of both the place and the sport.

Chris models experiencing a hidden waterfall in Garden Creek, Sept 09

3. Showed us things we might not have found. Anasazi ruins, hidden waterfalls, petroglyphs, and the details of the environment would have all gone unseen had we not had guides. We were told how to tell difference between a yucca and an agave plant, to understand the geographical layering of the canyon, and to spot ancient cliff-bound creations of canyon inhabitants. Something guide books could just not do as well.

 Clair in Anazasi ruins, Grand Canyon, Sept 09

4. Demonstrated technical proficiency/best practices. I'd not used hiking poles before, preferring to not have anything in my hands while I hiked. But I got talked into trying them and was given instruction in how to use them to best advantage - for balance going downhill and across streams and for propulsion going uphill. I learned that small steps going uphill are best. I learned how to adjust my pack to change the weight load from shoulders to hips throughout the day. And I learned about "microtrash" - those tiny bits of wrappers or other very small piece of human made materials too often left by visitors.

Oh, over the entire 24 miles, I think I saw but one piece of paper, two cigarette butts and one plastic bottle - what a joy to be in a place with no trash or trash cans. One must pack everything out, including used toilet paper.

 Jodie crossing the Bright Angle Creek, Sept 09

5. Smoothed the way. I have to admit that I liked not having to arrange for camping permits, set up tents, cook meals, wash dishes or even carry my tent or pad. No worries about shopping for food or getting the right backpack. Having a guide service was expensive, I thought, but it turned the trip into an actual vacation.

 Our happy group at the end of the hike - Kopavi, Barb, Jodie, Clair, me, Chris - Sept 09

Why does learning in school have to be so disagreeable to so many students and teachers when we all know learning itself can be about the most fun one can have under the right circumstances. Maybe a little more guiding and a little less "teaching" might make even school a better place.

Oh, that distant horizon you see behind us? That's the North Rim, where we started 4 days earlier.

For the truly bored, one can find about 200 other photos from this adventure here.


A response to Rob

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, could be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness. Reinhold Niebuhr

Rob at Edging Ahead posted a distressing, but thought-provoking entry that questions why one should be concerned about technology in schools when it seems there are so many other immediate and serious concerns in his (and our world).

He poignantly asks:

Should I continue to obsess about flavor-of-the-week technological wizardry, or should I concentrate on rubber-meets-road learning skills that will transcend “the long emergency”,  when being able to learn, from a technology not dependent on electricity, how to purify unsafe drinking water, will be a skill more prized than knowing how to assemble a cloud-based mashup of irrelevant extrivianza?

Doug Jamison offers an easy, cynical "out" for those who prefer not to think about such matters. He calls it, "The Nine secrets to happiness." the first of which is to "dumb down." Like most wicked satire, it is far too close to the truth for far too many people.

I have no illusion that understanding a Ning or learning to use Skype will directly impact the conditions that appal Rob - local denigration of his Bangkok environs, climate change, and a consumer-driven social philosophy that creates waste and ignores basic survival needs in the developing world.

It has always been my contention that the ONLY solution to our world's problems lies in a truly aware and engaged population. And such awareness will only come by way of education that requires, not believing, but dispassionate thinking and robust problem-solving abilities.

And in as much as technology has the (yet unmet and even undiscovered) potential to educate more people, in more powerful ways, I don't see the contradiction that Rob poses. He wants immediacy in the impact of what he is doing. So do, I suppose, we all. But I think we also need to consider Niebuhr's observation about hope - and that little truly worth achieving is fast, simple or easy.

Have a great school year, Rob. My best to you and your colleagues. Thank you for making me reflect and please continue to do so on a regular basis.