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Tuesday
Jan032017

Can a computer teach kindness?

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You've got to be carefully taught!

                           South Pacific - Rogers and Hammerstein

Values are learned. But despite the muscial observation above, can they be taught? Especially by a computer program.

So I found this article interesting: 10 Best Apps to Promote Kindess in the Classroom (GettingSmart, Dec 30, 2016. Mainly aimed at younger students using simulations, these apps are a radical departure from most activities I have experienced in computer play - how many points can one rack up by killing monsters, pigs, zombies, etc.. At least one "kindness" app, does retain the spirt of competition:

3. The Great Kindness Challenge: School Edition
Ages 4-18
(iOS)

The School Edition of this app is perfect for the classroom. The “acts of kindness,” such as “Smile at 25 people” or “Pick up 10 pieces of trash,” are appropriate for students of all ages and teach them simple but important acts of kindness they can do every single day. Set a goal with your classroom, and the countdown timer will remind everyone how long they have to reach their goal along with the number of acts of kindness left to complete.

Good to see there is nothing that can not be done for extrinsic reward and the satisfaction of wiping up the floor with the competition. Sigh.

Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of kindess. In a 2005 column, A Secret Weapon - Nicess*, I suggested it "has a bigger impact on our effectiveness and job tenure than any technical or professional skill we might hone." and added "...  behaving well is learned, not genetic. And I continually look for those who can teach me the skills that make me a person with whom others like to work."

I don't suppose there is much harm in having a child play with an app that is supposed to teach a deep, very human affective behavior like kindness.

But I sure as hell wouldn't depend on it. One adult demonstration of a positive interaction with another individual will "teach" more that all the apps the iPad can hold.

* Niceness is Minnesotan for kindness.

 

 

Sunday
Jan012017

Why you should take a job nobody else wants in 2017

I always get a chuckle when I show this "inspirational" poster:

Why might your principal regret cutting your library position? Might it be because she/he now has to find another teacher to do some tasks that it's hard to get others to do? Such as:

  • Webmaster
  • Test proctor
  • Digital citizenship instructor
  • Parent newsletter editor
  • Sponsor of ____________ club or activity
  • Makerspace facilitator
  • The United Way staff organizer
  • Textbook/equipment inventory master
  • Keeper of the passwords
  • PTO liaison
  • Gifted and Talented coordinator
  • And ....

In any school there are jobs that nobody wants. That are outside of one's job description, perhaps outside the traditional duties of the profession itself. That are a real pain in the ass. Unless I was 100% sure of my job or I didn't care if the next round of budget cuts would impact my position, I would not just take on such jobs, I would seek them out.

Why? Budget reductions are always about choices. Cut librarian or cut the music teacher. Cut the librarian or cut the textbook budget. Cut the librarian or raise class sizes.

Here's the thing. Your boss should pause for a very, very long time before cutting you if it means finding some other teacher to take on the jobs nobody wants. It's not noble. It's not ideologically pure. It may not even be professional.

But it's practical.

If nothing else if you do get cut, you will have the satisfaction of knowing the idiot who did it will be suffering as well.

Original post Nov 9, 2011

Sunday
Dec252016

BFTP: Gifts that keep on giving

Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your own children.
                                                                                  Erma Bombeck

Christmas morning. The house is quiet. The tree is lit. The snow outside is very white and very deep. All is ready for the children and grandchildren who will be invading next week for a few happy days.

I will admit that I can't wrap a package to save my soul, so it took hours gettting the robots and bicycles and LEGOs and underwear and books and computer games and noisy toys ready to be un-wrapped in seconds. You really have to be a grandparent before the old saw, "it's better to give than to receive," genuinely rings true. I don't believe my grandkids are any more or less greedy than other  children, but they do love presents - and their excitement is a gift to this grandpa returned many times over.

Material gifts for these boys are easy. A list from their mom, one's cash card, and the local Target store is all that's needed. I have no illusions that 90% of what the boys receive will be lost, broken, or forgotten within weeks. A few things might stick - a book that becomes cherished, a computer game that will engage, a special toy that will become "alive" and so escapes the garage sales. But as I sweep the lost StarWars figures up from under the couch next week, I'll have to remember that material gifts are just this grandpa's shallow means of making his affection visible.

Were I able, I'd wrap these gifts up for each of my grandchildren with some cards attached...

  • Health. While about 95% of your health is due to genetics, for good or for bad, the other 5% that you can control is pretty important. Strike a balance between risk paranoia and complete disregard for your bod. Eat a candy bar now and then, but have the good sense to walk it off.  I hope you like the color and the size of your body. To a large degree, the shape will be up to you.
  • Passion. The luckiest people are those who find something that really interests them. What that something is makes little difference  - computers or hockey or inorganic chemistry or etymology or entomology or library science or whatever. Wear this every day.
  • Compassion. OK, this one is a little odd, but it's important, kids. The capacity to feel for others will give your life meaning and purpose. People who are best at handling the occasional blues do so by finding others to help. This one is polar fleece for the soul.
  • Adventure. Here is the courage to take a risk now and then. Eat a new food. Travel to a different country. Accept a challenge to your physical strength and stamina and comfort. Read something by someone you don't agree with or completely understand. Do at least one thing every year that none of your friends has ever done. Legal, of course. Take pictures. The people with the best stories, not the most money, are life's winners. Wear this hat even when it seems a little scary.
  • Appreciation. Never forget how truly lucky you are to be born to loving parents who can afford to feed you, clothe you, and take you to the doctor. Remember that you live in a country that is free of political violence and gives you both freedom and protection. Be thankful that you can get an education that will let you become just about anything you want to be. Even when things may not seem to be going your way, wear these glasses and you will recognize that you are still more fortunate than 99% of the rest of the world.
  • Problems. Yes, I am giving you lots of problems as a gift. You may be an old man like me before you come to appreciate this package, but it may be the most valuable one you receive. Problems engage our minds. Problems make us creative. Problems (and finding solutions to them) give you self-worth. Problems keep life from getting boring. Problem make life fun - really! When you put these in your pocket, it may feel like a burden, but they are boosters.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Winter Solstice or whatever flavor holiday you celebrate.

Original post December 25, 2010