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Monday
Jun012009

Research: Smaller tasks, more often

Brain research shows that permanent learning only takes place when research activities are assigned frequently enough that students can exercise and develop the essential skills of critical reading, writing, higher-order thinking, and presenting ideas and opinions with a purpose.

Brain research also shows that these activities must be related to student interests about their world and provide the opportunity for them to develop their own “reasoned opinions” based on researched facts and expert opinions. This desired learning is impossible to do for all students when schools depend on the “term paper” as their only research strategy.

A recent study of Social Studies teachers indicates that the age of the term paper is rapidly disappearing and being replaced by shorter and more frequent types of mini-research. Education Week – November 20, 2002.

We too often think of information problem-solving in the context of huge projects or term papers, when most of us in both our work and personal lives use information problem-solving skills everyday. How can we give our student’s everyday practice with information literacy skills? Some suggestions are below.

  1. Use the Internet to check the weather forecast and make a recommendation about dress for the next day.
  2. Search and report an interesting fact about the author of the next story being read by the class.
  3. Email students in another class to ask their opinions on a discussion topic.
  4. Recommend a movie or television show to watch the coming weekend.
  5. Find two science articles that relate to the current science unit. Evaluate the credibility of the sources of information.
  6. Locate a place from a current news headline on an online map resource like <www.mapquest.com>.
  7. Recommend a book to a classmate based on other books that classmate has read using the school’s library catalog or an Internet source.
  8. Update the class webpage with interesting facts from units studied and links to related information on the web.
  9. Estimate the number of calories and fat grams in the meal served in the cafeteria that day.
  10. Find a “quote of the day” on a specific topic and use a graphics program to illustrate and print it out. (from Everyday Problem-Solving, Sept 2002)

My sense is that most teachers could easily create a "information task of the day" type activitity - or the librarian could supply one to the entire school for the daily bulletin. We don't rely on big "reading" projects or "math" projects or "writing" projects to teach these essential skills. Why do we rely on big "research" projects to teach those essential skills?

Think small. Think more often. Think real life questions.

 

Sunday
May312009

Housing values

I dwell in Possibility,
A fairer house than Prose.
     Emily Dickinson

This has been the first "stay-at-home" weekend I've had for a month or more. And it's been both relaxing and productive. Our house sits on one of Minnesota's 15,000 lakes and its screened-in deck provides a lovely view. Middle Jefferson's not the best lake in the state by any measure - shallow, mud-bottomed, and weedy until early July. But it is quiet and a refuge for pelicans, muskrats, ducks, leaping fish, herons, turtles, egrets, and the occasional eagle. The sunsets are glorious. Could be worse.

What got me thinking about the house was a story on public radio yesterday about how the "net worth" of so many Americans is completely tied up in their houses. And how the uncertainty in home values (your house is worth nothing if you can't sell it) is causing great unease among lots of people.

And here I naively thought we bought homes for the quality of life they provide, not simply as a financial investment tool. As a nest rather than a nest egg. Were I to sell this house at a loss, I believe I still would come out ahead considering the wonderful events it's hosted - holiday meals for the masses, fishing and boating with the grandsons, graduation parties, quiet evenings with friends, and even summer department meetings. It's a congenial place that's value lies less in land, paint and shingles than in memories and pleasant hours spent.

I was recently asked if I knew the monetary value of a school library. Such a number is not that hard to calculate - add up building costs per square foot and the cost of resources, furniture and equipment. I'm sure such numbers have importance to some people, but I have a tough time seeing any program that nurtures a love of reading, problem-solving and learning in purely dollars-and-cents terms.

Perhaps I am just getting sentimental in my old age. But I feel sorry for those who only see worth when dollars are involved when it comes to either homes or schools.

Friday
May292009

User-centric experts

God bless the copyright "experts" whose thankless work and opinion goes into countless professional journal columns and articles. Bless them, but take them with a grain of salt.

Any "expert" who writes for a mainstream publication on copyright will ALWAYS err on the side of the most litigious group on copyright questions. And I do believe that will always be the copyright holder, not the user.

That's why it is great to find an increasing number of "user-centric" copyright experts, among them the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Please take a careful look at the EFF's responsible and balanced "Teaching Copyright" curriculum. (Thanks to Tom Hoffman for bringing it to my attention).

The lessons include:

My scan of this material shows a common-sensical approach that helps users know their rights, not just limitations to copyrighted work. The activities and support materials look doable.

One resource in the EFF curriculum that I was particularly pleased to see is a list of links to what I would define as "user-centric" experts. While I have developed such a list on my own wiki, EFF's list is more comprehensive (and also contains links to what look like some great articles I've not yet read.)

It's our professional obligation to not just teach traditional copyright obedience, but to seek out, champion and teach the ideas of those individuals and organizations who question current intellectual property rules and practices.

Oh, I think I am gettin' me a t-shirt with Justice Marshall's great quote printed on it to wear at my next copyright workshop.