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Tuesday
Dec052006

Getting back in the groove - TIES helped

I'm having a very tough time mentally re-engaging with work, professional reading, and writing since Thanksgiving. Too much turkey, perhaps. The blogosphere and the professional journals seem to have gone into intellectual re-runs, or at least most writers seem to be playing variations on a theme. This observation, I'm sure, says much more about my personal mindset than the quality or topics of others' writings.

So it was good to have attended the TIES conference last Monday up in Minneapolis. (It's our "state" educational technology conference.) First time since I don't know when that I went only as a participant and not a presenter, since I didn't get my ducks in a row submitting a proposal. Just attending was sort of relaxing, actually.  I should do it more often. Anyway, a few highlights for me:

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Milt Dougherty opened with the keynote. The big take-a-way for me was a chart he showed dividing students into four quadrants: the authentically engaged; the artificially engaged (going through the motions); the disengaged; and the rebellious.  (These terms are from memory and he had a source I did not get written down, thinking I could find his handouts online. If anyone has a better recollection of this or knows how to get the handouts, please let me know.)

Is there a way we can actually measure "engagement?" How do we in tie it to achievement? As a profession do we simply see engagement as a prima facie good? Those of us in technology especially talk a lot about it as a primary reason for technology. Is it enough?

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I was disappointed in  the presentation made by the Gaggle.net representative. Instead of an informative demonstration of his product, he turned the session into a "let's scare the educators into using our product" exercise. Gaggle.net is a great product; the threat of lawsuits and other terrorist tactics simply aren't necessary to get people to use it.  The presentation lowered my opinion of the company.

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Treating the same topic in a much more positive and focused manner, Dave Eisenmann and Kim Hoehne from the Minnetonka Public Schools gave an outstanding presentation on the efforts their district is making to educate students, teachers, and especially parents on tech "dangers" kids are facing - everything from cell phone as cheat aid to online pornography (production as well as consumption) to social networking misuse to video game "values."  

 Some sites mentioned during the talk:

 So OK, now I am feeling really guilty for not doing more here in Mankato with our parents and community.

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In his lunchtime talk, "Can Schools Regulate Cyberbullying, Harassment and Social Networking?", Dr. Scott McLeod from the U of Minnesota presented 6 case studies of schools attempting to regulate student online speech. Guess what?  The schools lost 5 of the 6 cases when they disciplined a student for the production of off-site web content - much of it quite nasty.  Can you say, Tinker vs Des Moines? Duh. Scott's PowerPoint and podcast for the session are available here.

He also addressed a school's ability to regulate/discipline employees' online speech. Sounds like if your blog gives your supervisor a headache, disciplinary action is OK. Have I mentioned lately how much I love my district, my boss, my job???

As always, Scott did an outstanding job with both content and his lively presentation style.

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 nova_pict.jpgAfter publicly fussing about there not being an affordable and robust computer especially designed for students this fall, I thought I better go see what the Nova 5000 was all about. This machine is definitely a step in the right direction: rugged, lots of input/output options, basic productivity software built in and wireless connectivity. I am uncertain about the screen size, its battery life is still only 4 hours and its price (quoted at $600 plus $200 for an added 3 year warrantee) is still double what I really want to pay (you can buy a "real" laptop for this amount.) But it is the most exciting piece of hardware I saw at this conference - actually at any conference for the past few years. We are ordering one for evaluation purposes here. My goal is a sustainable 1:1 computing environment in this district before I retire or am fired or am committed or go into hiding. I see glimmers of hope.

Tuesday
Nov282006

Why filters will never be enough

I am encouraging all our staff to take a look at schoolboredom.com. One of many, many, many sites your kids know about that you don't.

schoolboredom.jpg
 

Why Internet filters alone just can't do the job of ensuring safe and appropriate use of the Internet in schools.

But then you knew that already. 

 

Monday
Nov272006

The Inca Trail

No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one. - Elbert Hubbard

 mpgroup.jpg
I am home. I really enjoyed my trip to Peru, despite the hike being totally exhausting. The time on the Inca Trail was probably the hardest four days physically I’ve ever spent. Check these numbers:

  • Day One: 7.5 miles – beginning elevation 8,500 feet, ending elevation 9,850 feet.
  • Day Two: 7 miles – beginning elevation 9,850 feet; high point, 13,800 feet; ending elevation, 11,500 feet.
  • Day Three: 9 miles – beginning elevation 11,500 feet, highest points – two separate passes, 12,800 feet and 12,000 feet; ending elevation 8,700 feet.
  • Day Four: 5.5 miles – beginning elevation 8,700 feet; ending elevation at Machu Picchu 7,800.

That is a lot of climbing and descending at very high altitudes. Much of the days were spend walking 50 steps and stopping to catch one's breath; walking another 50 steps and stopping to catch one's breath; walking another 50 steps and stopping to catch one's breath. You get the idea. As an overweight, under exercising, ex-smoker, I felt I did pretty good - better in fact that a couple of the 30-somethings in the 13 person hiking group I was with.  If you would like to duplicate the experience at home, think about getting on a stairmaster with a backpack for seven hours - with half the oxygen molecules sucked out of the room.

mpfog.jpg

What I found totally incredible, however, were the porters who humped our tents, food and other supplies. Weighing in at about 130 pounds soaking wet, these guys carried half their body weight on their backs and jogged the entire trail wearing what looked like plastic shower sandals. And a couple had been doing the trail once a week for 30+ years. Just one more reason to stay in school, IMHO.

The views, the Incan ruins, and the flora and fauna made the hardship worthwhile. I might even do it again. Might. 

If there are lessons to be learned about technology or libraries or education from this experience, I don't want to think about them right now.  It was incredible and if any of you are contemplating doing this hike and want to talk, I am happy to do so.  

mpdeadwoman.jpg More photos are on my SmugMug site.