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EdTech Update





BFTP: Reading incognito and revisiting childhood reads

Reading incognito

Women can now download electronic erotica on their Kindles, Nooks and iPads anywhere they want, with no bodice-ripping Fabio cover to give them away. Maureen Dowd, March 31, 2012

When I started reading on my Kindle six years ago, my wife must have asked me three times a day what I was reading. My standard response was always, "Porn." I don't know why she stopped asking.

I have a love/hate relationship with book covers. They've sucked me into buying a title many times. They are great icebreakers with your seatmate on a long flight ("So how do you like that Dan Brown?") They look pretty on the coffee table.

But at the same time, I am just as happy reading incognito. I think it stems from when as a kid I finished reading all the Hardy Boy mysteries and moved on to Nancy Drew, definitely a "girl's" book I didn't want to be seen reading. And as an adult it was embarrassing to have to go the romance section of B&N to get the latest in the Gabaldon Outlander series. It is historical fiction, not romance, I'd advise the store clerk.

As sad and troubling as these trials may have been for me, I think we all know kids in our schools and libraries who might read more, read more broadly, and certainly read more at an appropriate reading level, if other students couldn't see what they are reading. 

Who want to be seen reading a "baby" book? A book written for the other gender? (The old rule of thumb is that girls will read boys' books but boys won't read girls' books.) A book that may identify a personal problem being experienced. (A book on divorce written for teens, for example.) Even books that are controversial or have strong political or religious messages, can subject the young reader to teasing or questioning.

We need to figure out how to get our materials into digital format as soon as possible. Reading on a digital reader will remove stigmas that may well discourage reading.

Oh, Ms Dowd, I'm guessing it's not just women who are downloading erotica to their Nooks. I a little suprised B&N didn't call it the Nook-E.

Original post April 2, 2012


Revisiting Childhood Reads

On the evening before our departure I saw them approaching along one of the great avenues which lead into the plaza from the east.  I advanced to meet them, and telling Sola that I would take the responsibility for Dejah Thoris' safekeeping, I directed her to return to her quarters on some trivial errand.  I liked and trusted Sola, but for some reason I desired to be alone with Dejah Thoris, who represented to me all that I had left behind upon Earth in agreeable and congenial companionship. There seemed bonds of mutual interest between us as powerful as though we had been born under the same roof rather than upon different planets, hurtling through space some forty-eight million miles apart.

That she shared my sentiments in this respect I was positive, for on my approach the look of pitiful hopelessness left her sweet countenance to be replaced by a smile of joyful welcome, as she placed her little right hand upon my left shoulder in true red Martian salute.

"Sarkoja told Sola that you had become a true Thark," she said, "and that I would now see no more of you than of any of the other warriors."

"Sarkoja is a liar of the first magnitude," I replied, "notwithstanding the proud claim of the Tharks to absolute verity."

Dejah Thoris laughed. (from A Princess of Mars)

It's always interesting revisiting favorite books from one's misspent youth. In anticipation of seeing the new John Carter movie, I re-read Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars on which the movie is based*. I found it surprisingly more enjoyable that I had guessed I would. While the language is stilted and rather Victorian in tone and style, it's action scenes are suspenseful and frequent.

What kind of junior high kid reads books with complex sentences and vocabulary like countenance, verity, and congenial? Who'd read a book in which the heroine is always referred to by both first and last names (Dejah Thoris)? (Or maybe this the Martian equivilant of Mary Ann or Cathy Jo.) I also remember voluntarily reading Gulliver's Travels, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Three Musketeers.

Every time I re-read a book remembered fondly from childhood, I'm a bit awed by the text I needed to deconstruct. And while I've always like to read, I was never considered "gifted and talented." I suspect my teachers had a stamp made that read "Does not live up to potential" that was passed from grade to grade as I moved through school.

I've worried for a long time about how we use technology to "teach" reading. Reading text online and then taking trivia-based multiple guess questions has to be a passion killer for tons of kids. And I've seen first hand as a librarian how the child who can't decode "cat" in the reading primer, does just fine with "carburetor" in Hot Rod magazine.

Reading instruction would improve with fewer computer programs and more kids reading about what they love. Even Martian princesses.

* Free download in lots of places on the web including Project Gutenberg, Amazon, and GoogleBooks.

Original post March 15, 2012


Digital resistance is multi-generational

A teacher recently advocated for a student who wishes to stop using her school issued Chromebook and return to paper and pencil to do her assignments. I had heard reports earlier in the year from high school math teachers who went totally paperless that there were students who asked that they could get paper handouts and turn in homework on paper. Surveys show up now and then proclaiming that younger people prefer reading print books to reading ebooks.

When we think of resistance to change in schools, it is usually the adults who come to mind. Nudging, encouraging, mandating, cajoling, bribing, (not yet resorted to blackmailing), I've worked for 30 years to get teachers and administrators communicating, record-keeping, and teaching with digital tools in ways that benefit students. While one is unlikely to encounter a paper grade book or 16mm film in schools today, our digital tools are still pretty much doing analog tasks.

So should we in education re-think this whole digital conversion effort?

A couple phrases we use in our district's planning and mission statements are "real-world ready" and "future ready." And I believe those should be more than simply rhetoric. In order for our students to be real-world ready, they need to be confident in their ability to use "real world" tools - computers, spreadsheets, planning tools, productivity software, communication devices and apps. When Jenny and Carlos get their first engineering jobs, I do not believe they will have the choice of a drafting table or CAD/CAM on a computer.

If we allow students to opt out of using digital tools in their K-12 education, we are doing them a disservice.

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When in doubt, be kind

                   ...Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

“Be Kind” by Michael Blumenthal

My poor son-in-law, a pastor of the UCC, comes as close to a spiritual advisor as I have. He advised always giving to panhandlers when I queried him on the topic. Give. Just give without exception or hesitation.

So when the president of St Catherine University in St Paul shared this editorial from the March 5 edition of the New York Times, I was pleased to see that Aaron and Pope gave the same advice: just give.


The Pope and the Panhandler

New Yorkers, if not city dwellers everywhere, might acknowledge a debt to Pope Francis this week. He has offered a concrete, permanently useful prescription for dealing with panhandlers.

It’s this: Give them the money, and don’t worry about it.

The pope’s advice, from an interview with a Milan magazine published just before the beginning of Lent, is startlingly simple. It’s scripturally sound, yet possibly confounding, even subversive. Living in the city—especially in metropolises where homelessness is an unsolved, unending crisis—means that at some point in your day, or week, a person seeming (or claiming) to be homeless, or suffering with a disability, will ask you for help.
 You probably already have a panhandler policy. You keep walking, or not. You give, or not. Loose coins, a dollar, or just a shake of a head. Your rule may be blanket, or case-by-case. If it’s case by case, that means you have your own on-the-spot, individualized benefits program, with a bit of means-testing, mental health and character assessment, and criminal-background checkto the extent that any of this is possible from a second or two of looking someone up and down.

Francis’ solution eliminates that effort. But it is by no means effortless. Speaking to the magazine Scarp de Tenis, which means Tennis Shoes, a monthly for and about the homeless and marginalized, the pope said that giving something to someone in need is “always right.” (We’re helped here by the translation in an article from Catholic News Service.)
 But what if someone uses the money for, say, a glass of wine? (A perfectly Milanese question.) His answer: If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?” Another way to look at it, he said, is to recognize how you are the “luckier” one, with a home, a spouse and children, and then ask why your responsibility to help should be pushed onto someone else.

Then he posed a greater challenge. He said the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.
 The reason is to preserve dignity, to see another person not as a pathology or a social condition, but as a human, with a life whose value is equal to your own.

This message runs through Francis’ preaching and writings, which always seem to turn on the practical and personal, often citing the people he met and served as a parish priest in Argentina.
 His teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics has infuriated some conservative critics who accuse him, unfairly, of elevating compassion over doctrine. His recent statements on refugees and immigrants are the global version of his panhandler remarksa rebuke aimed directly at the rich nations of Europe and at the United States. America is in the middle of a raging argument over poor outcasts. The president speaks of building walls and repelling foreigners. That toxic mind-set can be opposed in Washington, but it can also be confronted on the sidewalk. You don’t know what that guy will do with your dollar. Maybe you’d disapprove of what he does. Maybe compassion is the right call.

Were I to form a religion (heaven forbid - so to speak), I would have kindness be its most basic tenet. You honor your god by treating all her/his/its creations with kindness whether they be animal, vegetable, or mineral. Pretty simple - the one commandment - Be Kind.

Were I ever to find myself homeless, the first thing I would do is get a scruffy dog. My solicitations would be not for me, but for my canine companion. I bet I'd get more donations than my fellow bums.

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