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On the Other Side of the Screen

I often get the opportunity to work with students and speak to them in large gatherings, which can be tough.  Some of the educators that I speak to might know me from my book, blog, or Twitter, but it is rare that students have any clue who I am.  Online connections help to build rapport with a lot of people before I speak, but with most students, I am starting at zero. I always try to focus on building rapport with an audience, but large groups of students can be tough, especially when they hear about “social media” from an adult coming to a school.  Many students have too often heard the “don’t cyberbully talk”, and from what many of them tell me, they are sick of it.  My focus is to help them see what they can do, not on what they shouldn’t do.  Schools should not live in a “culture of don’t”, but focus on what’s possible.

That being said, it is not that I ignore cyberbullying completely.  What I try to focus on with students is that we never know what is going on the other side of a screen, and what might seem like a meaningless or comment to you, can have a tremendous impact on someone else, either positive or negative.  I have felt it and I am not alone.  Sometimes I am having a bad day, and a rude comment will come out of nowhere, and it seems like it is piling on.  Sometimes I am having a great day, and a rude comment will come out of nowhere, and it seemingly wrecks the rest of the day.  Either way it sucks. I do my best to deal with it, but only a select few are impervious to some of these comments they receive.  What I tell students whenever I can, is always err on the side of positive.  Any person can have an impact, so your best bet is to try and make it a positive one.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge ideas.  We should.  Yet rapport is important.  I have found that when I do not agree with someone, the best way to have a conversation is by asking questions, not making statements.  Seek first to understand.

Yet after my latest talk with students, one young woman hung around after.  She came up to me to say thank you for my talk, and then revealed that she had been (and still was) being cyberbullied.  What started off as a smile, turned into tears on her face, and I did my best to just let her share her story.  My heart broke for her, because what seemed meaningless to others, was hurting her so deeply.  I gave her some advice, but I asked her if it was okay to give her a hug, to which she replied yes.  She cried a little harder, then stopped, thanked me, and went on to class. Her principal watched and checked with me right away to see what happened, and he immediately followed up with her.  I realized that part of the reason she felt comfortable telling me in that situation is because I was a stranger to her.  It is sometimes easier to be vulnerable to those you may never see again, than those who you see every day and, in your mind, perceive you to be strong.

In my mind, I can’t stop seeing the tears rolling down her face as she told me her story.  Is what I saw, what others knew?  Now, I know there is always two sides to a story, and I only caught a brief moment of this student, but it was just a reminder to me about how important this work is for ourselves and our students.

A reminder to myself…Always err on the side of positive.  We rarely see what is on the other side of the screen, so let’s just do our best to be kind to one another, and work with our kids to do the same.  The message of “don’t cyberbully” is not enough; we need to do our best to go out of our way to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

P.S.  One of the students that I spoke to already started an account to tweet positive things about other students in their school.  I look forward to following the account to see it grow!

Categories: Planet

“A Blessed Unrest”

The Principal of Change George Couros - 8 December, 2016 - 10:26

In my opinion, Bruno Mars was one of the most memorable Super Bowl half time shows I have ever seen. I have seen him in concert, and he is an amazing entertainer. When I recently saw this video being shared on Facebook, I had to share it myself.

A couple of things that stuck out to me.

First of all, not only remembering where you come from, but also celebrating it. Listening to Bruno Mars talk about his humble upbringing was quite powerful, especially in how he talked about how important it was that they (his family) had “each other”. It really was a powerful statement.

The second part that stuck out to me was his drive. As someone who is extremely talented, he knows that this talent is developed, and that he can still grow. This insatiable drive to become better is something that I have noticed the most successful people have. Success is measured in many different ways, but the qualities to become successful in any endeavour, are very similar.

This poem (Blessed Unrest) was shared with me recently, and this part stuck out to me:

To become better, we have to have an insatiable drive to so, and the work ethic to match.


Categories: Planet

What’s Your Elf Name–A Programming Project

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 8 December, 2016 - 03:36

I love string manipulation projects. Maybe because I have always been more of a word person than a math person. Who knows why. I see them every where. For example this time of your one sees a lot of images like this one shared on social media.

It’s a simple enough game.Pick one part of the name based on the first letter of your first name and the second from the month you were born. As a programming project it lets students use arrays and do some parsing work converting words selected into indexes into those arrays.

And of course is it seasonal so there is that. There are many variations of that sort of meme to be found. Recently I found the “what is your Sith Lord name?” meme.


I’m tempted to use this one before I have students test for palindromes next semester. A lot of thought goes into reversing strings for people new to programming. This one makes for a simpler project which can be a good thing.

But maybe you want to avoid the Sci Fi thing and it is not the Christmas season. How about spirit animals?

It turns out that a simple image search for “what is your name” (I used Bing for that link) turns up a plethora of examples. I was amazed at home many I found. There seems to be one for just about every season or holiday and many popular social interests. Something for everyone I think.

I’m still using the Shakespeare Insult Generator project though. That’s fun.

Categories: Planet

Should international league tables drive education policy?

Bluyonder Greg Whitby - 7 December, 2016 - 13:15

Last week it was TIMSS. This week it’s PISA. Report cards on the performance of education systems are everywhere right now.

The PISA results released today (PISA is the Program for International Assessment) tell as similar story to the TIMSS report last week: that Australian students are not performing as well as hoped for in core areas such as mathematics and science. It seems that our students are falling behind.

Education specialists from countries that take part in these international tests pore over the key findings and graphs contained in these reports to see where they sit in what is essentially a collection of international league tables. The countries that do well sing from the rooftops the virtues of their education system; those that don’t do as well, gnash their teeth and look for someone to blame. The media have a field day with it: with lots of numbers and graphs and rankings, what’s not to like?

Should we be worried?

There’s a lot of information in the TIMSS and PISA reports, much of it useful. For example, the PISA data indicates that it is not just subject knowledge that our students are behind in; Australian students are also not showing the capacity to apply the mathematical and scientific knowledge they have in everyday situations. This is essential in a knowledge age.

What isn’t useful when examining reports such as these is placing too much emphasis on ranking countries based on a narrow set of assessment instruments. Using a set of league tables to determine the direction of our nation’s education policy and how billions of precious dollars should be spent into the future is dangerous. Politicians and advocacy groups will also use the information contained in these reports to push their own agenda, or for political point-scoring. This helps no-one.

Numbers and graphs are not sources of truth – they are instruments to help discover it. Rather than simply pledging blind allegiance to a narrow data set – however capably that data has been compiled – we should instead be using it as a starting point for exploring how we can do things better. We need to resist the temptation to take a simplistic view of the findings from the latest TIMSS and PISA reports. Such a view only leads to proposing simplistic solutions that don’t work and waste taxpayers’ money.


Categories: Planet

Treat People with Dignity and Respect

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 6 December, 2016 - 23:14

Who Will Be the People to Bridge Racial and Cultural Distrust?

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Someone thought Dad was a poor dirt farmer. Here’s how they tell the story. You see, my father is a farmer in South Georgia. In the past, he’s been involved in various political campaigns in both political parties. One time it was during harvest and Daddy came to hear a candidate speak at the courthouse straight out of the field. Dad hadn’t listened to the candidate before, and neither had many people from our area. As the candidate was introduced, Daddy walked up near the back of the crowd. Daddy was “filthy dirty” as we say in south Georgia. It is likely, knowing Dad, that his shirt was untucked. Probably the only nongrimy part of his body was the whites of his eyes.

Dad, the “Dirt Farmer” Meets the Politician

As the story goes, as Dad walked up, the candidate leaned over to one of the local members of his election campaign and said,

“I’m so glad the poor dirt farmers could make it today. That speaks well for our campaign.”

Of course, everyone knew the man was talking about my Dad. Mouths were open, and uncomfortable looks were exchanged between those who brought him to the courthouse for his “stump speech.”

After the speech, Daddy came up to shake his hand. The man assumed a condescending air that everyone saw as Dad walked up. Daddy shook his hand. Then Dad said something like,

“I mentioned your name to Senator [name withheld] when I was on the Hill last week. This year’s farm bill is looking good and I hope if you get elected that you’ll continue to support our efforts to help farmers in Washington.”

Dad added a few comments that showed relationships with some influential people in Washington, DC. The onlookers remarked with amusement about the look on the candidate’s face. In shock, his face changed looks from one of condescension to one of realizing that he had misjudged this “poor dirt farmer” who came late to the courthouse. He was completely floored because his assumptions were wrong. Needless to say, this potential candidate’s gaffe was spread throughout the town, and he did not carry our county nor the election.

I know this story well because it was the one they told me often as a child reminding me to treat all people with dignity and respect.

“Whether you’re talking to the janitor or the President, each person deserves your respect,” Mom would say.

When I Was an Intern in Washington, DC

Years later when I served as an intern in Washington, DC for Senator Sam Nunn, I remembered these words from Mom and Dad. I would often see people ignore interns like me as the nobodies that we were. But interestingly enough, often there were people in power — like Senator Nunn — who recognized people “like me” and treated us with great respect.

My encouragement to you today is to remember that every individual is worthy of respect. And be careful of wearing filters on your eyes and only seeing people “like you.”

A Curious Thing That Happened Waiting for the Bathroom at Five Guys

This past Sunday, we went to the new Five Guys burger place in Albany, Georgia after church. But before I tell you my “Five Guys” story, let me tell you a little background so you can relate.

Now, Kip and I go to one of the most diverse churches in South Georgia. At our church, we believe that racial reconciliation begins in the church with showing how we love others. Unfortunately, in the US, according to our speaker this past Sunday, Vance Pittman, 86% of churches are segmented by race or social class each Sunday. In my opinion, it shouldn’t be that way. The church that speaks love should rush to embrace and show love to people of all races, classes, and ages.

In fact, recently at church, I was talking to a precious teenager who I’ve mentored about her college choices. She’s a beautiful African-American teen. As a matter of fact, we got to know one another serving nursery duty over the years. At the church social several months a go, I sat beside her as she fished and we talked about college choices. She stopped me in the hall several weeks ago the Sunday after the election when everyone was so afraid and said,

“Miss Vicki, I tell my friends that there are good white people out there. I tell them about our church and they don’t believe me. I told them I have friends of all types at church and we love each other and worship together and they say it isn’t true. All I know is what I see. At my church, I see good people of all colors. I wish more of them would believe me. I wish more of my friends would give people with different colors a chance.”

I told her to keep living her life with love and not hate. I told her that I totally understand and that I have people in my life too that “don’t give people with different colors a chance” but that we have to be different and love all types of people and that I believe it is our God-given mission to love all people.

Now, that you understand that I’d just come from a very diverse church where everybody says hello to everybody — let’s go back to Five Guys. So, I’m a “How are you” kinda person. I love to say hello to everybody and smile. I might be the only smile a person sees right then. So, we’re in 5 Guys after church and I’m saying hello to everyone.

Then, as I’m waiting outside the ladies’ restroom, I see a friendly man coming down the hallway towards the hall where I’m waiting.He’s a “hello how are you” person too!

As he walks down the hall, he speaks to the lady from Five Guys who walks in the hallway out of the serving kitchen.

“How are you sister, I’m so happy to see you. You have a great day.”

Then, a young man comes down the hall and walks just past me and says,

“How are you, young man. Are you doing OK today? You do well in school. Have a good day, my brother.”

As he passed me to get to the men’s room, I turned to him to say,

“Hello, how are you today? I hope you’re having a good day.”

You could have stopped time. He looked at me blankly. With an open mouth looking at me, he didn’t say a word. I was shocked. I started wondering if I had something on my face or if I was just a scary looking person.  I started looking at my skirt and shoes and wondered what was wrong with me.

Then, a lady emerged from the restroom where I was going in. He said to her,

“Hi, sister, how are you? It’s a mighty fine Sunday, dontcha think?”

Just as friendly as he could be. No word to me. I just went into the lady’s restroom and didn’t see him again. I had no clue what was going on until I realized something. All the people he spoke to were African American, and he was too. I’m white.

Is that what it was? Did I not exist because I was a different color?

Now, I’m not pointing this out to say I was treated wrongly. This happening just caused me to wonder and be curious. Having just come from church, we say hello to everybody and everybody is pretty different from us. We’re all different. Different classes. Different races. Different countries, even.

But now, thrown back into the “real world” we were back into the place of being different again. And I wasn’t even worth a “hi, how you.” Let’s say I did have something on my face or was having a particularly bad hair day, I would still think as a fellow human being that I’d be worth a hello. I think the friendly man might have liked me a little if he’d said hello. We were both “Hi how are you” kinda people.

For now, I’ll just shake it off and give him the benefit of the doubt. Who knows why I wasn’t worth a hello.  It isn’t for me to guess and I think life is better giving people the benefit of the doubt. He could have had horrible wrongs done to him or his family by people who are white and he sees me as just another “one of them.” Who knows. In the grand scheme of life, someone not saying hello is really not a big deal.

Like the young lady at church, I just found it odd. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t upset. I guess I was just sad.

You see, often we’re all blind – me included. We’re blind to our own biases. We’re blind to the situation of other people and how they see the world. But we must simply begin not only seeing the world through the eyes of our neighbor, but we must begin loving and treating all people with respect. We can’t rush to judgment. We can’t ignore people who are a different color or who are a different social class. Or even, who are a different physical fitness level. (I can make a whole blog post on how differently “thin Vicki” gets treated from “fat Vicki” — it is stunning to become invisible to some people when you put on a few pounds.)

In the end, we’re all people. Fat. Thin. Rich. Poor. Black. White. Hispanic. Asian. We’re all just people.

I just encourage you today as I encourage myself — 

  • Don’t assume that you are treating everyone with respect.
  • Intentionally today say hello to people you don’t usually greet.
  • Intentionally consider how  YOU treat others.
  • Notice the quiet and those left out.
  • Notice people who aren’t being greeted by others and be the one to say hello.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt when you seem to be having a disagreement. We all have a bad day.

For the small things do become big things in a culture. I’ve given you several examples here of how we must learn to reach out to those different from us and “be the change we wish to see in the world” as Nelson Mandela says.  If “the type” of person who doesn’t usually say hello to you says hello, say hello back.


And let me tell you something, this is not a popular view. People talk about racial and cultural reconciliation, but the peer pressure is to make fun of “the other guy” or to stay away from “the other gal.” Our world is geared to be divisive.

As teachers and as leaders, we simply must be different. We must love all people and show with our actions how the world should improve.

As for me, I’m a hugely flawed individual. Even with this blog post, I’m sure I’ve included biases and things that I said unintentionally. I’ve even debated not posting this because it is such an inflammatory topic.

But I’ll tell you, the unkindness, stereotyping, and lack of civility brewing in our world is going to give us an explosive hothouse of violence if more of us can’t stand up and show with word and deed that all people deserve our respect, attention, time, and best.

May we all reflect upon our actions today and become better people for it.


The post Treat People with Dignity and Respect appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

What are schools preparing learners for?

Bluyonder Greg Whitby - 6 December, 2016 - 13:05

For more than a century the requirements of the workforce/economy have influenced what has been taught in schools.  In the industrial age, skills like efficiency and conformity were highly valued. What developed was a model of schooling that endeavoured to impart these skills through the curriculum. Even today, the requirements of a 21st century workforce seem to dominate educational debate and discussion.  A recent article in the Guardian on careers education stressed that in order for young people today to succeed in a ‘new work order’, we have to think in terms of skills. In fact, the word ‘skill’ was mentioned 22 times in the article. The words ‘knowledge and insight’ – zero.

How many keynotes have included the ‘Did you Know‘ video?  This is the one that states: “We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist… in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.” Yes, I admit to using the video in keynotes to reinforce the argument that has always existed. Schools are in the business of preparing young people to become successful contributors to societies (i.e economies). Even ‘entrepreneurial’ has become part of the vernacular of contemporary schooling.

Has our thinking really shifted when the schooling cart is still being pulled behind the economic horse?  The skills that have become highly valued in developed societies are those that have been deemed critical 21st century skills by governments with market economies. And these skills are championed by businesses that contribute to and benefit from participation in these economies.

The question that we need to continual ask ourselves is ‘are we designing schooling to extend individuals or economies?’ As the English philosopher AC Grayling said work is not the sum of our lives. Schooling must exist for the totality of life not just one part of it. The scope of our work in schools can never be limited to training and skills but on developing higher mental capacities such as reasoning, insight and creative imagination.

A contemporary schooling experience must be one in which young people are able to see their worth not only in terms of their economic value but in who they are as individuals and their role as citizens in a global community.



Categories: Planet

Never Hold a Learner Back Based on What You Don’t Know

The Principal of Change George Couros - 6 December, 2016 - 09:35

Going through university to become a teacher, my goal was to become a kindergarten teacher.  This was what I trained for and it is what I wanted to do.  Before I was even done university, I had an interview for a kindergarten opening at a school division near to where I lived, and I was ecstatic.  The interview was going great, and I felt I had the job, only to find out later that they decided to go with someone else.  Disappointed, but wanting to grow from the experience, I called them to ask for feedback, and was informed that they actually were planning to call me that day to offer me a job.  High school technology teacher.


In university, I put together a website, that went on my resume, and at the time, it made me seem like a computer expert. Honestly, I had no idea how to use technology, nor did I think it was useful.  When I called my mentor teacher to ask her advice, she told me, “A job is a job. Take it, be awesome, and you will be able to teach something else later. Just get in the system.”  Nervously I accepted, and years later, I am glad I did.

Since this course for technology with students was module based, I actually could work along students (I would try to be a little bit ahead), and they could learn from me, and I could learn from them. Sometimes I would get stuck and just say, “Does anyone know how to do this part of the program?”  Some students would know, but sometimes no one would have a clue in the room, so we would all furiously try to figure it out.  Often when a student sees that the teacher doesn’t know something, they go out of their way to find the information, and share it back.  We didn’t have to learn technology, we had to learn to learn.

Because of this experience, I have never felt uncomfortable saying things like, “I don’t know”, or “Can you help me figure this out?” Whether I am the teacher, or the student.  One of my favourite quotes attributed to Albert Einstein is the following:

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

There is no shame in not knowing something.  There is so much to know.  Yet as teachers, we need to know how to figure things out.  What a lot of people will challenge here is that I am saying that content is not important.  I am not saying that at all. It is just understanding that even the “experts” do not know everything, but to become an expert, you have to have an insatiable curiosity to grow, develop, and learn.

Yet I have seen in education that we often hold back our students based on what we don’t know.  For example, are teachers less likely to encourage students to create a video to share their learning, if the teacher doesn’t know how to make a video?  When we say to students, “I have no idea how to do this, but I am sure that many of you can figure it out”, that goes beyond engagement; it is empowerment.  When I work with educators and I am brought into a room and they show me things that I have never seen or learned, I know that there is a different level of excitement in the room because they know that their knowledge is valuable to me, not only the other way around.

Never hold a learner back based on what you don’t know.  Develop that same insatiable curiosity, wonder, and drive to learn, that we should embody as educators.

Categories: Planet

Learning vs Work in a Culture of Thinking — The Learner's Way

Classroom 2.0 Diigo Group - 4 December, 2016 - 19:25


  • Earlier this year a group of teachers I work with explored the ‘Eight Cultural Forces’ identified by Ron Ritchhart of Harvard’s Project Zero. In doing so we decided to focus on our use of the term learning instead of the word work. Our goal was to bring our language choices into the spotlight and explore how a more deliberate focus on learning might alter the culture of our classrooms. Two terms later this focus persists and it is worth reflecting on the effect that this has had. - Nigel Coutts

Tags: learning, culture, thinking, collaboration, teaching

by: Nigel Coutts

Categories: International News

How to Assign Homework without Wasting Everybody’s time

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 4 December, 2016 - 04:51

Answer the question "Why does my child have to do this homework?"

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

If you ever assign homework, you have likely dealt with the “Why does my child have to do this homework?” question from parents. In my experience, these complaints are often from parents who have different expectations about learning and the role of home and school than you do. Furthermore, parents now question teachers about homework more than ever claiming that valuable family time is being lost.

Without a doubt, we need to be prepared to answer their questions. Today we hear compelling evidence from the authors of Hacking Homework: 10 Strategies That Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom about how to consider our homework practices.

Listen to this show on BAM Radio Network | iTunes

In this show, Teachers Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton will connect research to the real-life classroom. Let’s rethink homework and prepare ourselves with a homework solution that fits with what works.

ClassTag: Today’s Sponsor Parents and teachers need to be partners. For this reason, be intentional about helping parents know how to support your classroom and what they should be doing at home. Interestingly, the ability to connect with parents is one of the things that caught my attention about a new app called ClassTag.

Get Support

ClassTag’s primary focus is turning parents into partners. They’ve developed a tool for strengthening and deepening the support parents give teachers from home. At the heart of the tool is a system for effortlessly showing parents how to give you the support you and your student need. I’ll tell you more about this tool in the coming weeks. Check it out now.


Show Notes: How to Assign Homework Without Wasting Everybody’s Time
  • When is homework meaningful and helpful?
  • Does the research have different recommendations by age level about homework?
  • Are there some practical ways of assigning homework that improve learning?
  • What should we do and not do with homework at various grade levels?
  • Teachers should be intentional, purposeful and specific about homework.
  • The struggle to give meaningful homework and not just busy work.
  • Hear Starr’s and Connie’s pep talk for teachers about homework that works.
  • The Book: Hacking Homework: 10 Strategies That Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom 

Who are Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein?

Connie Hamilton@conniehamilton Ed.S. is a curriculum director in for Saranac Community Schools and a national presenter focusing on questioning, best practices, and leadership.

Starr Sackstein@mssackstein  teaches writing and journalism in New York City. Additionally, she is a National Board-certified teacher and the New York director for the Journalism Education Association.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. In addition, if you like this show, will you leave a review? (It helps others find the show. Thank you!)

The post How to Assign Homework without Wasting Everybody’s time appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Being a Void that is Felt

The Principal of Change George Couros - 4 December, 2016 - 00:50

We talk often about the importance of “collaboration”,  but talking about the impact of an individual is often taboo.  Effective collaboration is made up of bringing unique talents of individuals to move a group ahead. It is not about all thinking the same thing, but the strengths of individuals coming together.  Collaboration is talked about all of the time, but we forget the importance of the strengths of individuals.

In a conversation I was having with an administrator, they talked about (and not in a condescending way), that many of the positions in education can be replaced.  For example, when a second grade teacher leaves, we will need someone to take their place.  That being said, I want to try be someone that when I leave a place, there is a void.  This doesn’t mean the next person can’t do my job, but they will bring their own unique talents and strengths to the table as well.

There are so many ways this can be done.  It does not always mean being the “best teacher”; it can be in how your bring a smile to the faces of people in your organization. It can be some of the conversations  that you have with students, that will be sorely missed.  True collaboration in organizations brings out and fosters our uniqueness, as well as our similarities.  These individual strengths make a stronger whole.

I have been thinking about what being “irreplaceable” means.  When you leave, be a void that is felt, not simply filled.

P.S. If you want to connect with some teachers who have truly made an impact on others, follow the thread on this tweet.

Categories: Planet

Is This Thing On?

Chris Betcher - 3 December, 2016 - 21:31

Hello?  Is this thing on? Anyone?

That’s how it feels at the moment with my blogging. Or non-blogging. I can’t believe I have not written here since July! That’s 5 months, and the longest time I have gone without writing here since I started this blog just over 10 years ago. But August – my 10 year ‘blogaversary’ – came and went and I still just didn’t seem to get around to it. Not sure why. Partly being busy with my work with EdTechTeam. Partly being busy with other stuff. And partly, I think maybe just a little bit of a need to disconnect from this online space, and reconnect with the real world a little more.

I have good intentions of writing again. I enjoy writing, and as I’ve said on many occasions, writing is my way of thinking out loud, of throwing ideas around in my own head in a public space so I can be kept accountable for them. But lately I just haven’t felt motivated to do that.

I think it’s partly the impact of social media. It’s now so easy to just throw an idea out there, usually in a few sentences (or 140 characters), so that it feels pointless taking the time to express it here in a longer form.  It may be partly because I read other blogs that are full of ideas that seem so timely, so eloquent, so contemporary, that even when I’m thinking along the the same lines it feels kind of redundant and derivative to bother expressing it.

But I need to remind myself that I still have my own voice, and I can still make contributions to this ongoing global conversation in my own way. I forget that sometimes.

So I just wanted to assure you that I’m still here. Still alive. Still with a head full of ideas, thoughts and questions. And I plan to start writing here again. Honest. There, I said it. Now it has to happen.  Bring on 2017.

Oh, and a belated 10th birthday to Betchablog and to the many readers like yourself that have made the last 10 years such an amazing experience in learning together.  I appreciate you all.

Header image: Microphone by Alex Indigo
Creative Commons CC BY

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  3. Vote Early, Vote Often!

Categories: Planet

My #reading November 2016

Darcy Moore's Blog - 2 December, 2016 - 19:10

When the Europeans arrived in the Sydney region, writes Aboriginal activist and elder Burnum Burnum, ‘they landed in the middle of a huge art gallery’. On the shorelines today, in the national parks and reserves, and even silently underlying suburbia, are more than 10 000 artworks, carved or painted on stone. Sydney is the world’s largest outdoor museum of Indigenous art.

I read The Colony: A History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens on the strength of Tom Griffiths’ recommendation. Karskens describes the early years of European settlement enabling one to read history forwards, rather than backwards. Never before have I had the thought that Governor Arthur Phillip landed at the largest outdoor art gallery known in history but this idea, coupled with my existing knowledge of the early years of the colony and her portrayal of the development of agriculture and building, has helped me to visualise the settlement more effectively than ever before.

Karskens is able to communicate the social history that many Australians know well with new insight. She helps construct the world of Sydney Town and other regions, especially along the Hawkesbury, with new eyes. Her analysis of the impact of social background on the economic and farming systems that emerged in the colony is fascinating. The development of markets in The Rocks and how trade, and the human need for food and communal relationships, is nicely surveyed. The way of life that has developed in Australia was shaped in these early years in many ways that were not planned by the architects of the colony who wanted it to be a place of fear and loathing, an effective deterrent for the criminal classes in Great Britain. The following quotes illuminate the above points:

These officers, civil and military, created something more than real estate, however. They also aspired to the lifestyle of eighteenth-century country gentlemen, and many of them achieved it. This was not the polite, self-improving, Protestant culture of the nineteenth-century genteel classes, obsessed with status and breeding, but an older, more rambunctious male culture of ‘patriarchy and paternalism, risk and style, coolness and courage’. As Richard Waterhouse reminds us, men like John Piper, John Jamison, Thomas Rowley, D’Arcy Wentworth and his son William Charles after him were enthusiastic patrons of rough plebeian sports and amusements. They demonstrated elite social and cultural standing by organising the cockfights, bare-knuckle prize-fights and horse races—so not all the bettors and spectators at the races and fights at the Green Hills were emancipists and convicts. Some of those who decided to live on their rural properties even established the old tradition of the Harvest Home, when all the local workers and tenants were invited to the Big House after the harvest to feast and drink, and enjoy the paternalistic largesse of those who were, undeniably, their superiors.

In fact after that first burst of enthusiasm in 1793, the officers quickly lost interest in grain production on a large scale. It was a mug’s game. The cost of labour was high, the market small, and in any case grain-growing was associated with the deeply inferior, poverty-stricken emancipist settlers. Grazing cattle and sheep was a much more appropriately genteel pursuit. It ‘fitted better with their duties’, was less labour intensive and, in those early years at least, the quality of the soils did not matter so much.

Settlers were supposed to closely supervise their workers and control their movements, but as they did not live on their farms, their convict labourers were free to go into the towns and to commit robberies.

The original absence of a money supply and of financial institutions had ironic outcomes. Since people wanted to acquire goods and services in Sydney, an extraordinarily intricate system soon emerged, combining barter, a riotous variety of specie brought privately in pockets and purses and on ships, credit, and promissory notes. Phillip recognised this unruly, hidden internal trade only gradually, and eventually tried to regulate it (as well as the lively trade in stolen goods, of course) by establishing public markets where ‘anyone, including convicts was permitted to trade in articles and produce legitimately owned’.

But by the time the Sydney Gazette first appeared, distinctions between urban and rural people in the Sydney region had already emerged. There were deep social and economic differences among the settlers, as we have seen—between officers, free settlers and emancipists; within the ranks of the emancipists; and, to varying degrees, between small landholders and the landless convicts. Now there were differences between town and country folk as well.

…travellers noticed that the manners of the colonists shifted from polished politeness to rustic intimacy. In Sydney one was welcomed with ‘ceremonial politeness’, at Parramatta ‘with friendly affability’, while at the Hawkesbury visitors were embraced ‘as one of the family’. Christmas well-wishes varied according to the urban/rural divide too: for the settlers at Parramatta and the Hawkesbury, there were hopes for agricultural plenty; for Sydney people, ‘all concerned in trade and commerce’ were wished success.

Women learned how to collect and cook native foods and were still doing so in the 1940s. The Hawkesbury families intermarried, making a labyrinth of relationships spread out along the snaking reaches and tributaries; some families intermingled with local Aboriginal people too. Early Australia had been a partly literate society, just as England was, and for some, education and literacy remained in the realm of the non-essential. They knew the ways of their own world.

Karskens does a good job showing contemporary attitudes to the colony and why we have developed particular mythologies about life in that period. There are many examples of Karskens’ measured debunking of simplistic beliefs about our history and the way large blocks of time have been amalgamated into one limited, shallow perspective of the past. Her point, that our contemporary, unexamined beliefs are sometimes based on the viewpoints of just a few influential people, at a particular point in time, is well born out in the following passage:

Historian Eric Rolls thinks we must have projected the gloomy bush literature of Henry Lawson and Adam Lindsay Gordon backwards onto early Sydney. The disasters and tragedies of selection and small-farming over the nineteenth century overspread the preceding period. Seeing the nineteenth century like this, ahistorically, as a single block, is a mistake. We cannot project the responses of one generation backwards or forwards upon the whole; we cannot assume what happened later must have characterised earlier experience. Present preoccupations with alienated white settlers in the ‘weird’ Australian bush, and with the landscape’s ‘absence of ghosts’, also shape assumptions of how it must have been. Another explanation is that the idea of the brutal ‘gaol colony’ looms so large.

Karskens challenges the image of the alienated, fearful, indoor-dwelling, bush-hating European settler with evidence that the warm climate led to better health, massively reduced infant mortality rates compared with Europe and a greater sense of overall wellbeing. She quotes from a range of sources, including letters from the colony:

‘My greatest diversion is to run among the woods and rocks; and also go a fishing with lines and a net, at which we have the greatest sport, catching great numbers of the most curious fish’. Men such as these obviously relished the environment, and probably never forgot the sensory experiences of the bush—the scents, the breezes, the sun on one’s back, the sounds of the bush at night, the sight of moonrise over water and the lagoons and rivers alive with fish and birds. In the 1830s a travelling ‘Gentleman’ wrote of his deep sense of well-being in the Australian climate. He declared simply, ‘In England we exist, here we feel we are alive’.

I know the period when Governor Lachlan Macquarie arrived until the Bigge Report that ruined his reputation reasonably well. Karskens does a particularly good job summarising this era and how it has been portrayed. It never occurred to me Macquarie’s building spree was not really viewed positively until the 1970s:

Although the ‘Age of Macquarie’ is associated with enlightened social attitudes, improved morals and economic expansion, it is building—bricks and mortar—which lies at the heart of this nationalist recasting of Macquarie as the heroic figure who transformed the colony ‘from a penal camp to a young nation of the future’. He is said to have taken a mean, ramshackle, disorderly camp and transformed it into an orderly town, a town endowed with fine, worthy buildings which lent permanence, confidence and purpose.

I also wish I’d known that Macquarie is buried on the Isle of Mull with the epitaph ‘The Father of Australia’ on his headstone when I visited the island.

Karsken’s book deserves a wide readership. Highly recommended.

So should Ellie learn cursive? Probably not. It will only really prepare Ellie for third grade, not life.

I feel for any student assessed on his intelligence based on the quality of his penmanship. Most of my family is penmanship challenged, being a strong line of left-handers, and like many lefties I have always had poor handwriting. I don’t have many vivid memories of my earliest years, but I do have a very distinct recollection of receiving an “NI,” “Needs improvement,” on my second-grade report card. I know well what it is like to be taught by people who, as one second-grade teacher told me, believe that “it makes people seem more intelligent if they can write clearly.”

As a child suffering the unkindness of primary school teachers who associated moral, rather than merely educational outcomes, with good penmanship (and you can read into that it took me a long time to get my pen license) I read The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek with great interest.

Students have been taught to write for over six thousand years and the current controversies about what is best for a new generation are familiar, rather than new challenges to be resolved, in the evolution of writing. She explores the work of the scribe in long ago Sumer and Egypt but also in the early christian monasteries. More modern scribes, authors like Mark Twain and Henry James, decided to bang away on typewriters in the late 19th century rather than use a quill or pen are also discussed. Her insight into the impact of social convention and moral codes on this topic is of ongoing relevance to us today.

A Catholic school advertises for students by describing its advantages over public schools: a dress code, teaching of moral values, and cursive writing

National Handwriting Day is the brainchild of the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) representing the $4.8 billion industry of pen, pencil, and marker manufacturers. A lobby located about a block away from the White House, WIMA was formed in 1943 “to bring together pen, marker and mechanical pencil industries.” In 1994, in a moment of conglomeration, it merged with the Pencil Makers Association. They sponsor the national day, created in 1977, to celebrate handwriting’s “purity.”

Trubek tells us that clay tablets were so important to cuneiform they became part of one Sumerian word for “writer,” dubsar, which combined the word for “tablet,” dub, with sar, from the verb for “writing,” which means to go fast and straight. A dubsar was a writer or scribe who could write quickly and in a straight line on a tablet.  Many readers may be surprised that clay, the medium favoured by the Sumerians, not vellum, parchment, papyrus, and paper has proven to be the most durable, and perhaps most sustainable, writing surface humanity has ever employed:

…many more examples of Sumerian writing have survived than more recent writing done by ancient Greeks, Romans, medieval Europeans, and even, proportionately, writing done after the invention of the printing press. If the Greeks had written on clay, the Library of Alexandria would have survived the flames.

While her survey of history is fascinating and thoughtful, what many readers and educators will take from this book is the idea that “the key neurological function that we want to bolt into children’s brains is “cognitive automaticity”, the ability to write without consciously being aware one is doing it. When the brain has automatised the slopes of letters or their place on a keyboard, it is freed from low-level demands”. Never a truer word has been spoken, or written. Trubek is clearly a pluralist believing that handwriting will be around for a long time and makes it clear that what matters is that a child can “achieve cognitive automaticity” by the age of 10. In other words, as long as they can write fluently, regardless of the tool, all will be educationally well:

Psychology professor Ronald T. Kellogg, in The Psychology of Writing, states that “the tool choice makes no difference in determining how well a writer composes.” Nor do people think better with a pen than on a keyboard: “This may be true for some writers at inspired moments or for those using a free-writing strategy, but as a general rule, it seems highly suspect. Planning and translating are generally highly effortful, controlled operations that proceed too slowly in general, not too rapidly, for the pen to match the pace.”

“By fourth grade, Ellie will likely achieve cognitive automaticity whether she is using a pen or a keyboard. If she is typical, cursive will be her toughest challenge, and if she does not master cursive by fourth grade because of fine motor skills or other issues, she will continue to struggle with it—and never achieve cognitive automaticity in cursive—for the rest of her life.”

“There is no science that proves handwriting makes students smarter; further, typing clearly has a democratizing effect, removing unconscious bias against students with poor handwriting, and leveling the look of prose to allow expression of ideas, not the rendering of letters, to take center stage. Everyone is graded on the same curve. Odds are Ellie will be faster at typing than at writing by hand by the fourth grade, and she will rarely need to handwrite in school and work as she grows up. But she might choose to anyway.”

Even though there is no science that proves handwriting makes students smarter, Trubek’s experience tells her that most college students and adults resist any curriculum change that devalues handwriting instruction as “they were raised in a culture that connected handwriting to individual expression and personality, and it forms some of their earliest memories of schooling.” This is my own professional and personal experience too.

My take home message is that if we do not have students who are writing or typing fluently “cognitive automaticity” by the time they are in 5th class their chances of being truly literate are slim. That’s what really matters, not what tools they use. Handwriting is not used anywhere much, outside of school.

One argument for continuing instruction is that students will need to write for examinations. I hate this notion. Education needs to make sense for a contemporary world and handwriting, like candlelight, will continue on in our society but one must question its place in the school curriculum.

“I had reached a point where I would be able to get all my work done if the kids didn’t come to school.” GJ Stroud

I purchased the Griffith Review 51: Fixing the System for one essay on education but found the rest of the collection excellent. Many topics about how our “system” – the government, society and economy function – are explored effectively but perhaps one could argue there were limited solutions explored. The basic theme for many of the essays is articulated well in the following passage:

The bureaucracy – once the stalwart of crafting and articulating public policy direction – has become the beleaguered home of this state of stagnation, taking on most obviously this sensibility of intellectual lethargy. Inheriting the very worst of the Weberian nightmare, the bureaucracy has struggled with, if not abdicated, its role in policy innovation. Chained by its past, limited by its routine and constraining of the individual, the bureaucracy has become paralysed at the level of ideas. Its youth are left uninspired. Its great thinkers, co-opted into executive layers of management, become hall monitors rather than protagonists in the great drama of public ideas.

The article I mentioned wanting to read was GJ Stroud‘s Walkley Award nominated,Teaching Australia. Gabbie was a teacher in Merimbula, NSW who resigned after 15 years service. I think that reading my clipped highlights from her essay is better than my commentary about what has happened to many teachers and students in Australia during this managerial age:

There’s something sinister happening to this profession that I loved.

I’m an excellent teacher. I know how to bring them together. I am able to create a feeling of family and safety and security. In my classroom they know they can take risks and try new things and experience failure while being supported by me and by each other. We feast on stories together, devouring Where The Wild Things Are and savouring There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. They come to love the taste of reading, the flavour it adds to their life. In small, bite-size pieces I show them how it’s done – how they can make meaning from the words. Their eyes sparkle when they realise they can read, when they realise they can nourish themselves.

There is something about giving the gift of reading that creates trust. These little ones believe me when I tell them they are writers. We put a sign on our door: SSSHH! Writers at Work Our room comes alive with a hushed concentration. I join them in the writing process, my texta scratching onto butcher’s paper, modelling my love of writing. I field the occasional question: How do you spell unicorn? Does motorbike have a ‘a’ in it? Can we put ‘crocodile’ on the word wall?

My career has not been long but in that time I have endured the imposition of initiatives such as A-E reporting, naplan, My School, Professional Standards for Teachers, Quality Teaching Frameworks and a national curriculum. I have become morally and ethically conflicted as I am drawn away from my students and their needs and drawn toward checklists and continuums.

The assistant principal. ‘I need your assessment results. Canberra just rang asking why our data isn’t entered.’ It was a desperate feeling. A realisation. I was trying to do the impossible. I was destined to fail. There was pain in my chest, my heart clenching and screaming LET ME OUT. A cold sweat shivered on my skin. This is it, I thought. This isn’t teaching. I’m not a teacher anymore.

TWELVE MONTHS LATER I’m still turning that experience over in my mind. My fire has turned to ash, burnt out from relentlessly keeping account when I should have been teaching, reporting when I should have been listening, making standard when I should have been making a difference. How did I get here? I was burnt out because successive Australian governments – both left and right – have locked Australian education into the original model of schooling first established during the industrial revolution. Each decision made keeps us stuck in an archaic learn-to-work model, now complete with ongoing mandatory assessment of our student’s likely productivity and economic

Fundamental to this model is the idea of standardising. Standards, standardising and standardisation. Making every kid the same. Making every teacher the same. If I was successful in my job, that’s what would happen. Based on that, I don’t want the job any more. My story isn’t special. My class roll wasn’t disproportionate in the number of students with particular needs. Every primary teacher, regardless of their location, has a roll similar to mine. The names might vary, the ages and issues too, but ultimately every class roll is a story, if someone would just care to listen.

And with each new agenda comes paperwork, so much of the stuff that it piles up on my desk and crowds out the note from Donna’s mum about her asthma and the book I wanted to share with Toby and the picture Kalindah has drawn for me. It’s happening everywhere, people tell me. The red tape is horrendous. Every business is the same. But schools are not businesses. They’re not industries. Schools should not be framed by business models. They should not be viewed in terms of academic results based on productivity. When we look at schools in this way we lose sight of what matters. We lose sight of students.

TEACHING – GOOD TEACHING – is both a science and an art. Yet in Australia today this incredible and important profession is being reduced to the sum of its parts. It is considered something purely technical and methodical that can be rationalised and weighed. But quality teaching isn’t borne of tiered ‘professional standards’. It cannot be reduced to a formula or discrete parts. It cannot be compartmentalised into boxes and ‘checked off’. Good teaching comes from professionals who are valued. It comes from teachers who know their students, who build relationships, who meet learners at their point of need and who recognise that there’s nothing standard about the journey of learning. We cannot forget the art of teaching – without it, schools become factories, students become products and teachers: nothing more than machinery.

What if I could teach Australia to think for herself?

You can listen to Gabbie talking with Richard Vidler here.

…every picture – good or bad, and even if it does not seem so – presents a personal angle on reality.

A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen by David Hockney and Martin Gayford is a beautiful, albeit heavy book to hold. The words are written in the form of transcript. It is a long conversation about representation and art between the authors and I really wanted to underline the numerous quotable quote, dog-ear and scribble notes on page after page – but could not bring myself to do it. The book is more of a history of representation than a history of pictures and I found their insights sagacious.

Hockney has always been more than willing to try new tools. He is well-known for his recent artistic endeavours with an iPad and iPhone but he also made art using a fax machine when this was a new technology. Regardless of the technology employed the same artistic challenges of representation exist. How does one turn what we see into a 2D image? How does one get the light right? How does one make marks on a surface represent reality?

I spent a long time with Picasso’s Owl of death and Rembrandt’s A child being taught to walk. Hockney and Gayford made me look much deeper than I would have expected into both with their ruminations on both artists’ testimony, of a particular creature or scene and how each generation sees it anew. How, with just a few brush strokes, does the artist create such focus on the child within the scene? Why does that pail looks so heavy?

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on photography and painting with lenses. As a result of reading this book, I ordered Hockney’s, Secret Knowledge which further explores the use of optics and mirrors to create realistic representations in painting. I had not known of this technique previously but it really makes sense when one looks at the incredible sagacity with which reality is portrayed by our most masterful artists.

This is a magnificent hardback to own and I am sure it will be re-read and consulted for many years to come. Highly recommended.

A Brief History of Everyone who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford is yet another popular science book exploring genetics. It is accessible and readable. The author’s style is more chatty than I’d usually like but this did not detract from it all that much. He does a good job explaining challenging concepts and the following explanation of the challenges of classification is clever:

We often rely on language as a metaphor for explaining genetics, and I’m going to attempt to use it here too. Imagine all the books currently in print in the world. To simplify, let us just refer to those written in English, and non-fiction. Publishers and bookshops like to categorise them in order to help promotion, to push sales and to help the reader get an idea of what it is that they are buying. You’re holding a science book, though it has plenty of history in it, and it’s primarily a biology book. My last book, which was about the origin of life, was also science with plenty of history, but while it had plenty of biology, it also featured physics, astrophysics, geology and chemistry, as befits the study of the transition from inanimate chemicals to living systems on the young Earth.

He makes good commentary about some of the dicey commercial ancestry products that have become so popular:

You are of royal descent, because everyone is. You are of Viking descent, because everyone is. You are of Saracen, Roman, Goth, Hun, Jewish descent, because, well you get the idea. All Europeans are descended from exactly the same people, and not that long ago. Everyone alive in the tenth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne, and his children Drogo, Pippin and, of course, not forgetting Hugh. If you’re broadly eastern Asian, you’re almost certain to have Genghis Kahn sitting atop your tree somewhere in the same manner, as is often claimed. If you’re a human being on Earth, you almost certainly have Nefertiti, Confucius or anyone we can actually name from ancient history in your tree, if they left children. The further back we go, the more the certainty of ancestry increases, though the knowledge of our ancestors decreases. It is simultaneously wonderful, trivial, meaningless and fun.

Rutherford is another in a long line of historians to challenge popular notions of Celtic identity but does so using the science of genetics. That concept is a modern invention of a presumed people that isn’t reflected in Britain’s DNA. There wasn’t a point where a group of genetically similar people spread throughout the British Isles and settled into a culture that was Celtic

This is not a great book (in an increasingly crowded market) but it mostly held my attention. It does show, once again, that a good title can help sales though.

“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.”

“Like Nazis at a Ku Klux Klan rally, they were comfortable ideologically, but not in terms of corporate culture.”

The Sellout by Paul Beatty is a most amusing and subversive read. Considering he has just won the Man Booker Prize for 2016 another review is not really needed but nevertheless I will make a few points without bothering too much about discussing the novel’s context.

In many ways, like Michel Houellebecq, Beatty is interesting as he says things about race, culture and contemporary society most authors would not poke with any length stick. There are many one-liners that make one laugh aloud. Sentence after sentence is intelligent and very wickedly witty. Like Houellebecq, you laugh more than just a little guiltily. I love how his outrageous rants are often little “essays passing for fiction”. There is wisdom and some pretty terrible, or terribly insightful, things said:

“This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store. Never boarded a crowded bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the elderly, pulled out my gigantic penis and masturbated to satisfaction with a perverted, yet somehow crestfallen, look on my face. But here I am, in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my car illegally and somewhat ironically parked on Constitution Avenue, my hands cuffed and crossed behind my back, my right to remain silent long since waived and said goodbye to as I sit in a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.”

The eponymous, yet unnamed black narrator, grows up as the subject of his father’s psychological experiments. This proves to be a great device for exploring and commenting on many aspects of late 20th century American society. “The Sellout” – and we do know that his surname is Me – has a uniquely challenging childhood not just due to these experiments but because his father’s “nigger whispering” to dissuade suicidal locals from ending it all when high on drugs or drunk (I noted that Beatty graduated with a degree in psychology).

The meetings of the club his father founded, the Dum Dum Donut Intellectuals, are among the funniest in the book. The rewriting of great works af American literature, including The Great Blacksby and Mark Twain’s great novel, is a highlight. Here’s a passage:

“I tried to read this book, Huckleberry Finn, to my grandchildren, but I couldn’t get past page six because the book is fraught with the ‘n-word.’…That’s why I took the liberty to rewrite Mark Twain’s masterpiece. Where the repugnant ‘n-word’ occurs, I replaced it with ‘warrior’ and the word ‘slave’ with ‘dark-skinned volunteer.’ ” “That’s right!” shouted the crowd. “I also improved Jim’s diction, rejiggered the plotline a bit, and retitled the book The Pejorative-Free Adventures and Intellectual and Spiritual Journeys of African-American Jim and His Young Protégé, White Brother Huckleberry Finn, as They Go in Search of the Lost Black Family Unit.”

He makes a number of other points about the representation of colour in literature:

“The Color of Burnt Toast,” I said, naming the bestselling memoir about the guy from Detroit with a “crazy” white mother who didn’t want her biracial children to be traumatized by the word “black,” so she raised them as brown, called them beigeoloids, celebrated Brown History Month, and, until he was ten years old, grew up believing that the reason he was so dark was because his absentee father was the lightning-scorched magnolia tree in the housing project courtyard.

‘I’m so fucking tired of black women always being described by their skin tones! Honey-colored this! Dark-chocolate that! My paternal grandmother was mocha-tinged, café-au-lait, graham-fucking-cracker brown! How come they never describe the white characters in relation to foodstuffs and hot liquids? Why aren’t there any yogurt-colored, egg-shell-toned, string-cheese-skinned, low-fat-milk white protagonists in these racist, no-third-act-having books?

One of Beatty’s insights seems to be that history cannot be erased allowing progress towards a fair, just and equitable society by just forgetting what has happened. Reinstitution of segregation in Dickens is as subversive a plot line as one can imagine. No wonder the novel open and closes in the supreme court.

You really should read this one.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories and Byline are both books by Ernest Hemingway that I have read before. This time I listened to them. This collection of journalism spans his time in the immediate post-war period, from 1920, in Europe writing for The Toronto Daily Star through to 1956 when living in Cuba. . Hemingway, as a journalist, is always a creative writer. His talents as an observer are especially evident. He is often politically astute but his ability to dig for information really helped him explain what he was seeing with intelligence and clarity. He is an unusual journalist for the period as his style is to tell how he feels about what he is seeing rather than just describing the scene. . It is interesting to read his impressions of events that any student of history knows well as they unfolded. His analysis of the period directly before WWII is interesting, especially in relation to Japanese expansionism. He predicted much of what was to come, including the Japanese attack on British and American bases. Journalism gave him a ticket to people and places he wanted to visit. . Much of his journalism is excellent being both imaginative and engagingly evocative. Hemingway uses his non fiction writing, virtually without change, in his fiction. Of course, his experiences in WWI as an ambulance driver, informed some of his most famous novels but the two plane crashes he experienced in Africa made me think about one of his most famous short stories a little differently. . Hemingway’s preoccupation with suicide and shooting oneself finds its way into both his fiction and non fiction in an a way any therapist would consider a concern.

The post My #reading November 2016 appeared first on Darcy Moore's Blog.

Categories: Planet

Going Past “Knowing”

The Principal of Change George Couros - 2 December, 2016 - 10:41

Tony Sinanis, a friend that I consider a brother, is one of the most thoughtful educators and leaders I know.  He recently wrote this as a Facebook status:

Maybe in our schools our focus should be on helping educators & educational leaders develop a growth mindset instead of just focusing on the kids. #edchat

Although I agree with this statement to some degree, I think it is not going far enough.  This was my reply:

This is going to sound like a promotion, but obviously I am passionate about the topic. Why not an “innovator’s mindset“? Growth mindset says a lot to me about being open to new learning, but innovator’s mindset approach is meant to actually have people think about what they have created with their learning. Do we want kids to be good at math, or have the ability to do something with the math they have learned? Should teachers just be open to learning, or be able to create better experience because of the learning that has happened.

As Thomas Friedman said, “The world doesn’t care about what you know. The world only cares about what you can do with what you know, and doesn’t care how you learned it.” This quote is a reminder that the notion of the “growth mindset” is maybe not enough in the world today for our students and ourselves.

The notion of “engagement and empowerment” has been one that I have been very passionate about. Do we want teachers to take their learning and create something with it, or is a “growth mindset” enough. These ideas are not in opposition of one another, but the idea of the “innovator’s mindset” is meant to go a step further. Without a “growth mindset”, the “innovator’s mindset” would not exist.  But if we truly take Friedman’s quote to heart, we have to recognize that doing something with our learning, is a necessary step with both teachers and students, to ensure that they succeed in a world that asking much more than just “knowing”.

Categories: Planet

CS Education Week School/District Pledge

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 2 December, 2016 - 03:16

Does your school believe in Computer Science for All? Take the @CSforAll #CSEdWeekpledge to show your support and be included in announcement!

Our economy is rapidly shifting, and families, educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that computer science (CS) is a “new basic” skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility in a world driven by software.

The CSforAll Consortium is preparing for Computer Science Education Week that takes place December 5-11, and the White House would like to include the name of your school or school district in the announcement celebrating the CSforAll initiative.

The Consortium is calling on every school principal and district superintendent in America to join in its commitment to support the goals of expanding access to CS by signing the CSforAll Pledge. To be included in the White House CS Ed Week announcement with the CSforAll Consortium, please complete the CSforAll Pledge by Friday December 2nd.

Categories: Planet

4 Key Factors for Fantastic Formative Assessment

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 1 December, 2016 - 23:19

Practical Advice from Research to Classroom

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Too many times the research is completely disconnected from the classroom. But in today’s show, we talk about some very practical issues for teachers. First of all, we talk about the characteristics that make effective formative assessment. This includes some important tips for adjusting your instruction based upon formative assessment. Secondly, we also discussed standards and why in most cases they don’t work. Today’s guest, Dr. Douglas Reeves, bridges the research with the everyday classroom in a helpful way.

Listen to this show on BAM Radio Network | iTunes 

So, if you want to be a better teacher tomorrow, these tips and ideas are practical ways that will work to make you a better teacher. I especially love the way he says to start class.

Formative assessment and a better understanding of the role of standards will help us all improve. Of course, we’re going to have to ask ourselves hard questions and prioritize what’s really important. In my opinion, when you try to choose to do everything you end up doing nothing very well. And that is the case in most schools which are plagued with too many standards and too many things to do.

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As a teacher, it is our job to focus on what’s important and to move our students forward and help them progress. We can do that. I believe you’ll find today very empowering, encouraging, and practical. So, let’s get started!

Gradecam: A Fantastic Tool for Assessment is Today’s Sponsor Formative assessment options can save you time. GradeCam is a quick grading tool for formative AND summative assessment. You get instant feedback on what students know. With this tool, you print out bubble sheets, use your smartphone, to take a picture of your students’ quizzes, and GradeCam will grade the quizzes for you! You can to quickly collect and assess student learning in the moment and adjust your lessons in real-time. GradeCam also works with laptops, desktops, tablets and any device that has a camera connected to wifi. GradeCam can also quickly transfer all of the scores into a grade book

If you visit Gradecam from this blog post, you can get a 60-day free trial. You can also listen to a bonus episode I recorded about the “Biggest Formative Assessment Mistake that People Make.” Show Notes:

  • Many of us feel over tested. But we’re under assessed. Formative assessment is about informing teaching and learning.

  • Most of what is happening is “uninformative assessment.” He defines what poor assessment looks like and what good assessment looks like.

  • Good Assessment should be: Fair, Accurate, Specific, Timely

  • If you could wave your magic wand and fix formative assessment – what would you do?

  • “We have too many standards. The idea that we can wave our magic wand and assess them all is ridiculous. I’m an advocate of power standards… we should prioritize and assess the half dozen or so that are the most important to get students to the next level.”

  • We discuss standards alignment and the illusion that is caused by having too many standards.

  • Dr. Reeves recommends fewer standards that are higher in value.

  • How teachers can work in a situation where they have too many standards. Doug gives some practical examples of what can help.

  • Good formative assessment helps me be a better teacher tomorrow. What would that look like?

  • You can just have 5-10 items at the beginning of class – trading papers or grade immediately and right then you know how to adjust the classroom instruction for the day. Short, precise, assessments that are focused and inform my teaching immediately.

  • It must get everyone involved so I can see what the whole class is. Doesn’t have to be graded. Kids are more likely to respond to feedback than grades.

  • What we should look at when we evaluate a teacher’s ability to assess and give feedback.

Learn More About Good Formative Assessment Check the other episodes in this formative assessment series: Top Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Formative Assessment that Works (Episode 1), Top Tips for Fast Formative Assessment (Episode 2) and this episode.

This 3-part series is designed to give every teacher something they can use in the classroom. I’ve found that formative assessment is an area that many teachers are lacking that can substantially improve classroom learning. We can do better than the old “show of hands” they were using in the 1980’s when I was in high school. Formative assessment took my classroom forward by leaps and bounds, so share these with your teachers. 

Who is Dr. Douglas Reeves?

Dr. Douglas Reeves is the founder of Creative Leadership Solutions. The author of more than 30 books and 80 articles on leadership and organizational effectiveness, Doug has twice been named to the Harvard University Distinguished Authors Series. He has worked in every state in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries. Blogs at CreativeLeadership.net.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. If this show meant something to you, will you leave a review?

The post 4 Key Factors for Fantastic Formative Assessment appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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How Do I Help My Substitute Teacher Make Progress with My Students?

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 1 December, 2016 - 12:09

Spotlight on Practical Everyday Teaching Problems

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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As a teacher, there are times many of us will substitute for our peers. Substitutes are fantastic professionals who do a tremendous service for schools. If you have some great substitute teachers, treat them well. But there are things you can do to help good substitute teachers be even better.

Listen to this show on: BAM Radio Network | iTunes 

Some teachers just leave short notes. Remarkably, one of the best things I’ve done in a long time is to create my own substitute teacher manual. In addition to giving me peace of mind, it also helps my substitute do a better job of meeting the needs of students in my classroom. Furthermore, a great substitute teacher manual also helps kids make progress by helping the substitute see the big picture and more.

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Let’s talk about how. In today’s show I talk with Simon Youd, a teacher who has had quite a bit of experience as a substitute (relief) teacher. He compares a variety of experiences and shares what works and what doesn’t.

I encourage you to reflect on today’s show and take some time to create a substitute teacher manual including some emergency lesson plans for those days when you’re not well or just have to be out unexpectedly. There are also many other items you need to leave behind: allergy information, seating charts, forms, and commonly asked questions.

Today’s Sponsor: Bloomz Bloomz is your one-stop solution for parent-teacher communications. More than just connecting with their cell phones, you can send long or short messages. You can share pictures and links. You can even coordinate volunteer schedules, donations, and parent-teacher conferences. I’m using Bloomz in my classroom. Show Notes:

Who is Simon Youd?

Simon Youd is a husband and father of 6, currently a relief teacher, looking for permanent work, living in Port Sorell Tasmania, Australia. He has taught PE, grade 5/6, high school math, and science. Simon is interested in the purposeful integration of technology, personalising learning for teachers and students, and podcasting.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. If this show meant something to you, will you leave a review?

The post How Do I Help My Substitute Teacher Make Progress with My Students? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

How to Understand Cyberbullying: From a Teen’s Experience

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 30 November, 2016 - 23:06

Are You a Teacher Kids Can Tell?

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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When bad things happen – do kids have someone they trust? Are you that someone? It breaks my heart when today’s brave teenager Sarah Beeghley speaks out about her bouts with bullying. Now a high school senior, Sarah talks about the heartbreaking journey she experienced. For this reason, I’m asking that you listen and discuss — she’s using her pain to help improve the world.

Listen to this show on BAM Radio Network | iTunes 

I hope that we’ll all understand what it is like to be bullied so we can better help those who struggle. Sure, there are two sides to the story. But I lived this for five years. I know what it is like to be made fun of the moment you walk on campus. I cannot imagine the terror and heartache I would have lived if my taunters could have gotten to me at home or in my private time. It took me time away from school just to get up the strength to go back.

It is tough to empathize unless you, your child, or your grandchild or someone you love dearly has experienced this sort of thing. But there are times we can get a glimpse. Today’s show is one of those glimpses into the life of someone who struggled and is coming out for the better.

Children are petty and hurtful. I don’t see everything, but I can be like Gandalf the wizard and put my staff in the ground and say, “you shall not pass” to bullying behavior. My room is a safe place. No bullying. No “picking on.” No unkind words. Now, will I miss stuff? Of course. Like when I sift flour to make biscuits – somehow unsifted pieces make through. No matter how hard I try, there will be things I am oblivious to and miss. However, I will not let the impossibility of the task keep me from clearly stating what my class will be. My class will be safe. Students can come to me and trust me.

May we all be more sensitive. Is there a “Sarah Beeghley” that you know? Is there a child struggling? Take the time to have a conversation. Trust your gut instinct on this. Just show you care today. Please.

Today’s Sponsor Bloomz Bloomz is your one-stop solution for parent-teacher communications. More than just connecting with their cell phones, you can send long or short messages. You can share pictures and links. You can even coordinate volunteer schedules, donations, and parent-teacher conferences. I’m using Bloomz in my classroom.

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Show Notes:
  • I didn’t trust my teachers enough to go to them because I knew they would laugh it off.
  • It got to the point where I didn’t want to go to school anymore.
  • [The school had] no policy on bullying or cyberbullying at the time.
  • Through  @The_Geeky_Girl , I’m making teachers, parents, and students aware of cyberbullying and bullying that’s happening in the classroom.
  • http://www.thegeekygirl.net/
  • https://www.facebook.com/sarahthegeekygirl
Show notes by Lisa Durff.

Who is Sarah Beeghley?

Sarah Beeghley@the_geeky_girl is a high school senior looking to educate teachers, parents, and students on the effects of cyberbullying inside and outside the classroom.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. If this show meant something to you, will you leave a review?

The post How to Understand Cyberbullying: From a Teen’s Experience appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Am I a serial signer upper?

Lucacept - Jenny Luca - 30 November, 2016 - 22:47

I recently enrolled in Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Classroom course entitled, Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Introduction to Cooperation Theory.  I’ve always admired Howard’s work and have referred to ‘Net Smart’, his book describing how to thrive online, in numerous Keynote presentations.

I’ve been an infrequent blogger of late, and felt that immersion in a community of learners would help me get my mojo back. Things started well. I was ahead in the readings, posted a blog and added to the forum discussions. Yep. I was back.

Then, unsurprisingly really, work and life got in the way. Below is what I posted to the classroom wiki just the other day.

 Hi Everyone,

I’m one of the people with great intentions who has found it difficult to keep up with this course. I’m trying to set time aside but life keeps interrupting. Issues I am having:

1: Time zone I’m living in is working against me. The online sessions are at 4.00am and 1.00pm.  I’m working full time so need the sleep, and the 1.00pm session has been on a Friday- middle of my working day. I’m conscientious about doing the right thing by my employer so tuning in for the 1.00pm session doesn’t work.

2: True confession. I haven’t watched the recordings. No excuse. Sorry.

3: I kept up with Week 1 readings, got some of week 2 completed, yet to start Week 3. Not boding well. But I’m going to try.

4: Feeling like I don’t have enough to contribute to the forum discussions. Sometimes feel out of my depth, especially with the scientific discussions.

5: I’m behaving like a lurker. Reading posts, but not writing replies. Not really like me. Maybe I’m feeling intimidated.

6: Thought the timing of this course would be good, but work has been frantic and my Dad is worryingly deteriorating in a nursing home with Lewy Body Dementia.

7. Beginning to wonder if I am turning into a serial ‘signer upper’ who doesn’t deliver. Have signed up to 3 MOOCs in recent times and just haven’t had the time needed to devote to them.

Things I’m grateful for.

1: I’m a teacher. Feeling out of my depth helps me to understand how students can feel in a classroom. A good reminder that can teach me something.

2: The course has introduced me to readings I haven’t encountered before. I referred to Lynn Margulis and Mitochondria in a discussion the other day. Could bring something to the conversation I hadn’t known before and helped my friend learn something new.

3: I’ve enjoyed reading forum postings and blog entries. Thank you to those who have been posting.

4: Long time admirer of Howard’s work, first time participant in a course. Great to be able to see his mind at work.

I’m not giving up! Will do my best to increase my effort.

I’m still trying to hang in there and become one of those people who is not a serial signer upper and non deliverer, but the truth of the matter is that I just can’t do it all. In recent times I’ve signed up to at least three MOOCs. I have the very best of intentions, but my commitment to my work and my family have meant that participation falls to a low rung on the ladder.

The really great thing is that the other people taking the course have let me know that they are experiencing the same issues I’m facing. Some of them have returned to Howard’s courses numerous times and have had a continual struggle with the kind of participation level to sustain the kind of community Howard wants us to build.

I don’t want to let Howard down and I do want to get my mojo back. It is kind of ironic that a course about cooperation theory is suffering from a lack of cooperation. Best that I find my way back to the wiki and get a late start on Week 3’s readings!


Categories: Planet

How Do We Teach Kids to Use Smartphones Safely?

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 30 November, 2016 - 13:39

Digital Citizenship Spotlight

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Most students use smartphones with unfiltered access to the Internet. Even worse, many students have no filter when they consider what they should share. Schools and parents need to get smart about how they talk to kids about smartphones.

Listen to this show on: BAM Radio Network | iTunes 

In today’s show, we talk with digital citizenship pioneer, Dr. Mike Ribble, about a cutting-edge issue: student smartphone use. How should we talk about them with kids? How do we open lines of communication? Let’s focus on smartphones and get educated about what we should do to help keep kids safe from the world and from their own childish irresponsibility.

Today’s Sponsor: Bloomz Bloomz is your one-stop solution for parent-teacher communications. More than just connecting with their cell phones, you can send long or short messages. You can share pictures and links. You can even coordinate volunteer schedules, donations, and parent-teacher conferences. I’m using Bloomz in my classroom.

Learn More About Bloomz

Show Notes:
  • A lot of times teachers become one of the last ones that know what is really going on.
  • As teachers, we should really talk about what is appropriate, what should we be doing, how should we be doing it, and if there are problems — how do we talk about that?
  • We need to show them….we want you to do this in the right way
  • Respecting others….there are private things we don’t need to share about other people.
  • We need to help kids know that what they do online can hurt people in the real world.

Show notes by Lisa Durff.

Who is Mike Ribble?

Dr. Mike Ribble @digcitizen , author of the books Digital Citizenship in Schools (3rd Ed.) and Raising a Digital Child, has worked within the education field his entire career. He serves as a Technology Director for a school district in Kansas. Mike is also the co-chair of the ISTE Digital Citizenship PLN.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. If this show meant something to you, will you leave a review?

The post How Do We Teach Kids to Use Smartphones Safely? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

How to Teach Students Who Struggle with Self Control

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 30 November, 2016 - 12:43

Research Spotlight

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Misbehavior happens in the classroom. From time to time, it happens to every teacher or principal. You can get angry, or you can make progress.

With this in mind, Dr. Reggie Melrose explains a reason for some of the most difficult behavior. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, emotional dysregulation occurs in around 5% of students in the United States. Furthermore, 8% of kids with emotional dysregulation are from lower income or disadvantaged homes.

Emotional dysregulation impacts not only the child and you as the teacher. If you don’t know how to respond, it can negatively affect your entire classroom. We must remember that when we interact with students, our entire class watches.
Listen to this show on: BAM Radio Network | iTunes

Dr. Reggie points out that many times we teachers just focus only on changing student behavior. Understandably, we just try to relieve the problem. If we’re going to make progress, however, we must move past just changing behavior.

For example, instead of focusing on the “to do” list with misbehaving students, we have to concentrate on the “to be” list. This tip is one of many pointers that Dr. Reggie Melrose gives in today’s show. If you’re struggling with behavior in your classroom, today’s show can help.

Today’s Sponsor, Bloomz Bloomz is your one-stop solution for parent-teacher communications. More than just connecting with their cell phones, you can send long or short messages. You can share pictures and links. You can even coordinate volunteer schedules, donations, and parent-teacher conferences. I’m using Bloomz in my classroom.

Check out the Bloomz App

Show Notes:
  • We are meant to develop a capacity to regulate emotional state. For some children this eludes them.
  • The nervous system that is dysregulated does need space and time
  • When [children] are experiencing stress and trauma, they need more space and time, they need our compassion, much more than they need our punishment
  • Rather than being a perfect storm, it is a perfect opportunity for Brain Charge
  • It only takes 60 seconds of space and time at the beginning of each day
  • We recognize that we are living in a very stressful time
  • We teach the brain how to regulate itself by taking 60 seconds each day.
Show notes by Lisa Durff. 

Who is Dr. Reggie Melrose?

Psychologist Dr. Reggie Melrose @drmelrose is the best-selling author of The 60 Seconds Fix and creator of Brain Charge™: The K-12 Curriculum. She has authored several other noteworthy resources including the groundbreaking books, You Can Heal Your Child and Why Students Underachieve. She is a well-known international speaker and consultant specializing in the application of current neuroscience to educational practice and parenting.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. If this show meant something to you, will you leave a review?

The post How to Teach Students Who Struggle with Self Control appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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