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Obviously Easy to You, Amazingly Hard to Others

The title of this post is taken from one of my favourite videos from Derek Sivers, titled, “Obvious To You, Amazing to Others”.  The idea behind the video is that the things  we share and do that become almost second nature, could be amazing to other people.  I think this is why we (myself included), are extremely tough critics of our own work.  What is simply ingrained thinking and seemingly becomes “common sense”, is totally mind-blowing to others.  What one person believes is insignificant, could be life-altering for someone else.

Over the years, I have embraced a mentality less focused on “everyone should have to do this right now”, to understanding that we are all at different points in our lives, and we do not know the “backstory” of others.  Why I choose (or others) to not try something isn’t necessarily because I don’t believe in it, but could be because of a myriad factors, both personally and professionally.  I tried to balance the “push and pull”, and read when someone needs that gentle nudge, or just needs to feel supported.  I try more to expose people to ideas, than push them to do what I think they should do.  They know their context better than myself.  We need to be empathetic.

Yet I still see people complain “why isn’t every teacher on Twitter…you are going to become irrelevant, blah blah blah.”  Then I look at when they started and it could be 2013.  Where were they in 2010 when I started? Where was I, in 2007 when others saw the potential.  Everyone starts at zero. Zero followers, zero subscribers, zero knowledge.  I am not trying to give people a pass on trying new things, but trying to understand that we embrace things at different times.  I have encouraged several people to blog because I know they have amazing ideas to share, but to be honest, I am not disappointed if it takes them longer then it took me.

Push, pull, and support.  Listen. Understand.  All important elements of leadership.

I was reminded of this recently when I tried “Facebook Live” for the first time.  I knew that it existed and was similar to Periscope, but different because I have connected with many more people already in that space.

So I sat there looking at the app and felt an anxiety I had forgotten about.  The same anxiety when I first started using Twitter, or published my first blog post.  Posting something live doesn’t give you the same margin for error that a blog post does.  I looked and wondered, “what would I even talk about”, similar to people saying, “what would I even tweet about”.  The anxiety was real!

Then I thought, that’s exactly what I should talk about and jump in.  Here is the post below.


It is now over 1 hour since I posted this video and my heart is still racing.  People say you didn’t look nervous, but I was.  As someone who stands in front of large groups and speaks, this gave me much more anxiety than that.

But I kind of like it.

I like it because we talk about “empathy”, yet some “forward thinking” educators also stop growing. We forget what it was like to share that first blog post, or tweet, or even Facebook status.

The higher people go up in any organization, the more people they serve, not the other way around.

If we believe this, we have to remember that was is “obviously easy to you, can be amazingly hard for others”. What have you tried in education, as a learner, that has given you anxiety in the last little while?  Have you shared that? Have you talked about that vulnerability you have felt?  That vulnerability and uncertainty, and the willingness to share it, is truly more of a sign of strength than weakness.

Keep trying things that push yourself, especially if you are asking others to do the same.  That reminder of the anxiousness and uncertainty will serve you well in helping to move others forward.

Categories: Planet

36 Edtech Tools I’m Using Right Now in My Classroom and Life

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 3 May, 2016 - 21:25

and a Link to a Free Resource with More Tips

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

So many of these tools are new to me. It is amazing how I use them every single day. Here’s what I’m using all the time in my classroom right now.


36 Tools I’m Using Right Now in My Classroom and Life Today I’m celebrating my friend Jennifer Gonzalez’s 2016 The Teacher’s Guide to Tech. I highly recommend this book. It is a simple and powerful tool any teacher can use. (She also has a Technology Jump Start Course with 8 modules to help get you comfortable with technology in the classroom.) At the bottom of this post, we’re giving away a sample including 5 tools just for the readers of this blog. Thanks Jennifer! 

As I was readingThe Teacher’s Guide to Tech last week, I realized that it had been a while since I’d shared my own favorite edtech tools. These tools are not in any particular order. They are part of my trusty toolkit. I’ve also shared any previous blog posts that will help you get started with the tool.

1. Haiku Learning (my LMS)

Haiku Learning is my Learning Management system. Now that it interfaces with Powerschool, it is so helpful. I just enter the data once. I log in and look at the “dropbox” (not to be confused with the product of the same name) and see what I have to grade. I grade it and bam – there you go. Great, stable system that the kids love.

Haiku Learning is the tool I use to blend my classroom. it connects with PowerSchool (so I only have to enter grades once.

Tip: To learn about my blended learning strategies, see my presentation on Slideshare Simple Steps to Blended Learning  2. YouTube (for Tutorials)

I share tutorial videos on many subjects in my YouTube channel. While I’ve blogged about some, many I’ve just posted for my students or for a project. These tutorials are recorded a variety of ways using Office Mix, Screencastomatic, Screenflow (for Mac) and I usually make the thumbnails with Canva.

I put all my videos on my YouTube channel. Some are public and others are just for my students and private. I embed these into Haiku and make many of them with Office Mix (PC) or Screenflow (Mac.)

Tip: Create a custom thumbnail for your YouTube videos. The thumbnail shows when the video is not playing and helps the embedded video have context. 3. PowerPoint (for Handouts, Presentations, and Screencasts)

I use PowerPoint in 3 ways:

  • Handouts. Perhaps because I’ve gotten cute fonts and downloadable graphics from Teachers Pay Teachers, but my handouts I now make in PowerPoint. They look better and it is just faster. I just never saw it before.
  • Screencasts. On my PC, PowerPoint is the fastest way to make the screencasts I use in my blended classroom. If I need to change one slide or a word, I change it and hit a button to re-render the movie with the free Office Mix plugin. It is awesome. [See how I use Office Mix.]
  • Senior Movies – In the past the seniors have just had a “goodbye slide.” This year, they’re including gifs and writing on the screen by recording their goodbye with Office mix and generating a short 15-20 second movie to put up on the server.


4. Wikispaces (for the Class Website)

Wikispaces is my go-to group editing website. Whether my class is uploading their Scratch video games, or linking to their website efolios, we post our group work on the class wiki. Wikispaces is also the backbone of my global collaborative projects since 2006, with MAD about Mattering as the most recent example.

Tip: See the sandbox lesson plan and rubric I use to introduce wikis to my class. 5. Keynote (for Presentations)

Keynote – For my presentations, I use a technique that my friend George Couros has mastered. I include videos from many sources. I also love the magic move feature and use it strategically. It is taking me a while to convert my most popular speeches like “Differentiating Instruction with Technology” to the new software, but after I do, I’m so much happier with the flow of the presentation.


If you use Keynote, learn how to use Magic Move. It makes your presentations click. Also, learn how to make the videos start automatically as you open the slide.  6. Crescerance and MAD-Learn (for Mobile App Development)

Crescerance and MAD-Learn  are my tools for mobile app development. We’re in the midst of the MAD about Mattering project. The kids are programming apps and using the MAD (mobile app development) Learn platform. We love it.It is so simple. We have 14 apps we’re developing with other schools. From suicide prevention to domestic violence to poverty to stress in school – it is all there. While we’re excited, the issues the students are grappling with are among some of the most serious on this planet and we don’t take it lightly.

MAD-Learn is a curriculum. MAD stands for “Mobile App Development.” More people access the Internet with mobile phones than with computers. For this reason, it is likely more important that kids learn to program apps than make web pages.  7. ClassCraft (for Tracking Game Based Learning Experiences)


I got into game based learning. I needed a system to track points and all the things that go along with it. I’m in love with Classcraft for this and looking at using it in all my classes next year. Very fun and cool. I recommend trying their free trial for a short experience to see what your students think.

Classcraft is awesome for making the class a game. I’ve used this to turn my keyboarding class into a game. They love it. We start class every day with the random event of the day. What a blast! If you use this link, you get two months free (I also get a free month.)

I learned about this tool when hosting Shawn Young, the founder on Every Classroom Matters. But Michael Matera and Lee Sheldon deserve the credit for convincing me of the merits of this approach when they each came on my show (and I each of their respective books to prep. 8. Trello (for Tracking Genius Projects)


Trello  the project management tool the students are using for MAD about Mattering. It helps them organize their work and workflow and communicate with teachers. I recommend using Trello for genius hour work and tracking projects where students are all doing different things.

I’ve included the video above where I teach our students how we are using Trello for Agile software development, however, Trello has some incredible videos in their help files.

Trello and Slack are two of the tools Jennifer Gonzalez shares in her The Teacher’s Guide to Tech. Yes, I’m encouraging readers of this post to buy her book. It is a great one! 

Here’s a page from the book. You can see why I like it.


9. Slack (for managing my business, show, and just about everything)

Slack was the answer to the long running text messages with some of the people who help me the most. Lisa Durff and Jim Beeghley help me so much. Slack makes communication quick and easy. It also links with other tools we use like Trello, Google Docs, Dropbox, and more. We use Ifttt.com and zapier to link it with other tools so all work is in one place. This quick tool is being used by schools and many more to just communicate better. There’s a reason it is popular. It is EASY!

Slack  I use slack all the time to communicate with my team, Lisa Durff and Dr. Jim Beeghley. Lots of schools are using it to improve communication. It also links with Trello via ifttt.com so that when a card is moved, it notifies the appropriate “channel” in Slack. Think of it as messaging you can organize by hashtag and search. You can dm in slack too. Great tool!

10. Zoom Room (for online meetings and video recordings)

I use  Zoom.us for my meetings now. Just quick and awesome. I also used this to record Angela Maiers’ keynote for MAD about Mattering and then edited in Screenflow. This tool is stable, quick and easy to use.

11. Day One (for journaling)

Day One  is my personal journaling app. The new version of this app gives you separate journals. I have one for general journaling, another for prayers, another for blog post ideas and still another for accomplishments or wins. Using text expander, I store and use 7 questions I ask myself each morning to help me be more productive and focused.

12. Evernote (my digital notebook and filing cabinet)

Evernote holds all my notes. I link it with Omnifocus, my task manager, for my online “filing system.” When I research for Every Classroom Matters, I put an alarm on the notes so they pop up when it is time to conduct the interview.

My favorite Evernote productivity course is The Secret Weapon tutorials. I never really understood Evernote until I went through this course.  13. Dropbox (for syncing files)

Dropbox  just runs in the background. I never ever have to worry about it. I moved all of my documents to Dropbox. Dropbox is so fast and stable, it just works. It is totally worth the pro version. Love dropbox and use it all the time to move files.

A few years a go, I lost my hard drive on a computer just before a major book deadline. I fired up a laptop, installed dropbox and was back writing within an hour. No problem. What used to be panic was just a peaceful shift to a different device.

Tip: With selective sync, you can sync some files to each computer. For example, many of my personal files from home, I do not sync with my school computer. 14. Screenflow (for capturing Mac screenshots, iPhone and iPad)

Screenflow – This is THE screen capture program I use on my Mac. It will even capture iPhones and iPads using the lightning cable. It can rip just about anything and I can pull the videos into Powerpoint. Thanks to Tony Vincent for this gem. I love it.

You can see how my students used film from their iPhones in their Bullyproof video. 15. TextExpander (to make things faster)

TextExpander – I keep this running on my Mac, so if I type a quick code, it will expand it – if I type “semicolon ecm” I get Every Classroom Matters. I have lots longer snippets for blog post templates.

You can copy blog post templates by going into HTML view and copying the HTML. Text expander also has many other cool tricks. 16. Canva (blog graphics)

Canva – While I know Photoshop and use it sometimes, Canva is just lightning fast. We use it for graphics in my classroom and I use it heavily for this blog.

I’ve written six free lesson plans for Science, English, Literature and other topics that you can use with Canva. 17. Excel (for budget tracking and rubrics)

Excel – This workhorse is still often open on my computer. From forms to spreadsheets and budgets – I need excel.

18. Google Drive (Collaborative Writing)

Google Drive – My students get to choose what they will use for word processing and collaboration. They usually open a Google Doc and add collaborators and they are off to go. Many of them use Google Docs for everything.

Take a look at the 100+ Google resources if this interests you. While Google Classroom is fine, I want students to know how to quickly create and share a doc with others. I also want them to know how to collaborate and communicate in the document.  19. Microsoft Word (Personal Wordprocessing for Basic Documents)

Microsoft Word – Lots of layouts, templates, and just heavy duty wordprocessing. Word has been my go-to tool since the 1980’s when I first used it.

20. One Note (Student Notetaking)

One Note – My students have their favorite notetaking app – definitely One Note. They sync it with their mobile devices. You can’t beat one note for student note taking.

21. Google Forms (Quick Surveys)

Google Forms – We are surveying our Project Managers and Assistant project managers for MAD about Mattering using Google Forms right now. The summarization aspect of this tool has improved so much in the past few years.

22. PhotoShop (Advanced Graphics)

PhotoShop – The students have to use PhotoShop to make the graphics for their apps on MAD about Mattering. Nothing else will do the power editing they need for the graphics.

23. Grammarly (Spell and Grammar Checking Everything Online)

Grammarly – My students love Grammarly and I do too. [Blogged it here.] It saves time by finding grammar mistakes. I also load and use it to check the app pages to ensure there is no plagiarism (a pro feature). This way I can know we’re not publishing work that is not original.

Please see my blog post on 4 Writing Tips to Save you Time for more tutorials on using Grammarly. 24 and 25. Amazon Prime and my Jtouch Multitouch Board

Amazon Prime – I have a monstrous JTouch Board that I adore. [Blogged about it here.] When I’m not teaching with the board or using it for announcements, we play these awesome screensavers with scenes of water, beaches, great places in the world, and just beautiful things. It calms the classroom and we get more work done when it is playing. It is amazing how a quick glance at a high def meadow or waterfalls just does something to you!

26. Omnifocus (Task Management)

Omnifocus – I use Omnifocus for my tasks. I went through an incredible course on Lynda.com in January to help me use it better each day.

27. Task Clone (Send Tasks from Evernote to Omnifocus)

Productivity Tip: I use Task Clone to send tasks from Evernote to Omnifocus. It even attaches the note. Task Clone works with omnifocus but also other task managers like Wunderlist and 40 other task apps. It works like this. I make a note in Evernote. When it has a checkbox for a task I want to do, I tag the note omnifocus. Task clone works behind the scenes to put this in my inbox in Omnifocus. Very cool tool.

28. Google Calendar (Appointments, Coordinating Times to Meet)

Google Calendar – Google calendar integrates with Haiku Learning and runs the calendaring on our school website. I couldn’t live without it. Shared calendars with me and Lisa Durff, who helps me with my calendar, make calendar management so much easier!

Here’s a tutorial to help you see how we use it to coordinate meetups between classes.  29. Audacity (Recording Audio)

Audacity – When we need to edit audio, this is our tool. We often record it and then pull it into our favorite movie program: Pinnacle Studio.

30. Pinnacle Studio (Video Editing)

Pinnacle Studio – Our preferred movie making program for the PC. Students who have macs may use iMovie but largely we just use Pinnacle. It has  a quick learning curve but will let you add special effects, tracks, and so much more. My seniors are making movies with it right now.

Pinnacle is a fantastic program. Here’s a recent trailer my students made on domestic violence made in Pinnacle. 31. Ning (Student Blogging)

Ning My students blog privately on Ning in the eighth grade. In high school we blog on WordPress sites depending on the project. Ning is a great private place for working together.

32. Snagit Plug in (Quick Screenshots)

Snagit has a plugin for Chrome that my students and I use daily. I also love the feature that lets you grab a picture of the whole page. Snagit syncs with Google Drive so the pictures all go in there.

33. Extensity

Extensity is the most important chrome app you can download. It lets you turn on and off all the other plug ins. Teach this to your students and stop fighting the battle of which plugin is causing the problem.

34. Kahoot (Review Game Creation Tool)

Make games and activities with Kahoot.  I make sure my students know how to make and share kahoots so they can review any time they want.

35. Alfred (Helps me get started faster on my Mac)

Alfred is my Mac’s productivity superhero. I use it on my Mac or I use remote control on my iPhone to control things on my Mac. While this is for a more advanced user, this handy Swiss Army Knife app lets me set up work flows. For example, I can click “Start my day” or press Option space on my Mac (the keys to start alfred) and say “Start My Day” and BAM — it opens Pandora, my Bible App, Evernote, and Day One. I programmed it to do that. So, instead of deciding what window to open and clicking here and there before I get started, I hit a button or type a command and BOOM, I’m working.

Here’s the setup screen for some workflows I have set up on Alfred. I click a button on my iPhone and the windows open and close that I want on my Mac.

36. Scrivener

Scrivener is my book writing, brainstorming tool. I use it for organizing all of my writing and especially for writing books. I love this tool and the easy way I can write and reorganize writing. Great tool.

I took the Scrivener Coach’s Learn Scrivener Fast Course and it helped me so much! I love this course and still go back in and go through the videos. If you write professionally or just write a lot, I highly recommend Scrivener and the course.  How Do I Pick What Tool To Use?

Well the thing is, for most of these items, I don’t pick. At this point in the year, my students are fluent and just pick up whatever tool they want to use.

I’ve not even covered all my tricks and tools for blogging. Let me know if you’d like to know more tools for blogging, productivity, and more. I’m happy to share. (It just takes a while to write these posts which explains how long it has been since my last post.

I appreciate my friend Jennifer Gonzalez inspiring me with her  Teacher’s Guide to Tech and Technology Jump Start Course to get me sharing. I hope you enjoy her free download below.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The post 36 Edtech Tools I’m Using Right Now in My Classroom and Life appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Stemming the tide

Bluyonder Greg Whitby - 3 May, 2016 - 12:24

Recently the Conversation Hour featured some of the world’s greatest scientific minds sharing their personal stories.  It is worth a listen especially Professor Ian Frazer’s reflections of how studying German at high school changed his career path from wanting to become an astrophysicist to studying medicine. Ian Frazer ended up inventing the technology used in the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.

The reason for mentioning Professor Frazer is because in part, his story demonstrates how non-mainstream subjects (e.g German) complement learning and contribute to a holistic education.  The current push by governments around the world towards a STEM-driven educational agenda and the creation of STEM-focussed schools seems to be short-sighted.  It reflects a popular view that innovation is not only central to future economic growth but that it is largely driven by advances in science and technology.  The danger is that we run the risk of reducing education to a training capacity.

With the rapid development of quantum computing and its potential to power artificial intelligence we are entering uncharted territory. Even today’s complicated programming and coding will increasingly be done by machines that can learn. It is simplistic to assume that current programming and coding skills will remain the same into the future. Before the agrarian revolution the prime skill set was agricultural expertise. The industrial revolution changed that. As the knowledge age expands the same will happen to current skill sets.  The ability to use technology critically and creatively (i.e. soft skills) will be more vital than hard skills.

Universities are having a similar debate over the utility of educating students for the short-term job market when we live in such a rapidly changing world. Kate Carnell, former chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry told the Universities Australia conference in March that we had more to gain by focussing on the skills needed in existing jobs rather than focussing on future jobs.  According to Ms Carnell, ‘innovation is as much about people and process as STEM invention’.

We have always known that a good education is the balance of soft and hard skills; non-academic and academic paths; science and the humanities. Innovation will be defined by how well teach all students to apply critical and creative thinking across all disciplines.

Categories: Planet

Interesting Links 2 May 2016

Back to school today after a week of vacation. I’m rested and ready for the final stretch of the school year. About seven weeks left. I spent a lot less time on the Internet last week than usual but still managed to collect some great links to share.

Did you see and sign the petition calling for Computer Science in all public schools? Some 82,000 signatures have joined the initial ones by an impressive list of CEOs, Governors, and education leaders. Check it out! Oh and take a look at Pat Yongpradit’s post on the Huffington Post - Dear Congress, Give Leila the Opportunity to Learn Computer Science

CS certification In Montana: ain’t going to happen soon by Garth Flint is a look at the problems caused by standards for teachers that are written by people who don’t understand what CS education is all about. I hope the K12 CS Framework under development will lead to some changes. But it will take time.

CS Fundamentals Unplugged from @codeorg unplugged lessons for your classroom to teach the fundamentals of Computer Science even without computers.

Introduction To Data Science “Imagine teaching your students how to predict, and then reduce injuries that happen in football games. Or help them learn how their favorite online retailer creates recommendations based on purchase and browsing history. This is the magic of data science, and it's one of the hottest subjects in schools across the US1.” Some new curriculum resources from Microsoft.

A rich problem - a Canadian coding/computing problem. A great project for Canadian CS teachers. For the rest of you, did you know that Canada was phasing out the penny? It makes for some interesting rounding off questions. Doug Peterson explores those and suggests some interesting related exercises around the issue. This may happen in the US one day not too far away.

Beyond Blocks: Syntax and Semantics – a valuable article on the issues around block based programming languages and the move from there to text based programming languages.

Categories: Planet

About | Digital Writing, Digital Teaching

Classroom 2.0 Diigo Group - 2 May, 2016 - 10:55


  • "Digital Writing, Digital Teaching is a blog ... [that] explores the variety of issues related to teaching writing with new media for K-16 teachers and teacher educators" (About, ¶1, 2016.05.02). - Paul Beaufait

Tags: learning, literacy, methodology, networks, teaching, U.S., writing

by: Paul Beaufait

Categories: International News

About NWP - National Writing Project

Classroom 2.0 Diigo Group - 2 May, 2016 - 10:51


  • "The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners" (Our Mission, ¶1, 2016.05.02). - Paul Beaufait

Tags: learning, literacy, networks, teaching, U.S., writing

by: Paul Beaufait

Categories: International News

Standing Still is Falling Behind

You have two teachers in a hiring process and one of them does some amazing things and the other one is doing really good things. At this point, “teacher A” is stronger than “teacher B”. Which one would you take?

Well some people would obviously choose “teacher A” is better, but what they need to realize is that they are better now. What about two years from now?

The question you need to ask before you make the decision is which one is more willing to learn?  If “teacher A” is done learning and believes that what they do now will suffice later, “teacher B” with a mindset that they can continuously grow and develop, will eventually surpass “teacher A”.

This is not just something that is relevant to “individuals”, but also organizations.

As I attended iEngage Berwyn as both a presenter and participant, we spent the first day going around and checking out classrooms, and learning from students.  I have been to conferences like this before, but what I felt was really powerful was that it wasn’t just the community showing the amazing things that were going on in their schools, but they were asking questions on how they can continuously move forward.  It was a learning experience for all those involved, not just the participants.

I have said this before, in a world that constantly moves forward, if we choose to stand still, we will eventually fall behind..  I appreciate these schools and districts similar to Berwyn South, West Vancouver, and so many others, continuously ask questions to get better, even when the spotlight is shone upon them.  If we aren’t open to getting better, we won’t get better. That simple.

Categories: Planet

Assessment A Powerful messaging system — The Learner's Way

Classroom 2.0 Diigo Group - 1 May, 2016 - 18:53


  •  The role of assessment has always played its part but it is a role that is changing in the present global climate and understanding this shift is important for educators. - Nigel Coutts

Tags: no_tag

by: Nigel Coutts

Categories: International News

How do you see “literacy”?

The Principal of Change George Couros - 30 April, 2016 - 02:23

I have shown this awesome video from Karen Mensing’s class last year, with her students sharing their own “Twitter Tutorial”. Check it out below:

@gcouros @msmspencer Here is Twitter Tutorial, Part 2 https://t.co/0OBXnO0CKV

— Karen Mensing (@MsMensing) April 23, 2016

If you think that this might be a little bit above your ability, it is fine since they have a tutorial for beginners as well

Now some people would say, “Why would you need to teach young elementary students how to use Twitter?”

But do you see this as simply “Twitter”, or do you see this as teaching literacy?  I see it as part of the latter.

In a post that I wrote in 2015,  this is what I had found on the concept of “literacy”:

So what is literacy? The “traditional definition” is the ability to read and write, but you will see that definition is a little different according to some sources.  The definition of literacy has changed over time, and there are many different perspectives on the topic.  In this article on the “Definitions of Literacy”, the author shares some differing perspectives that go beyond simply “reading and writing:

“…we acknowledge that the word literacy itself has come to mean competence, knowledge and skills (Dubin). Take, for example, common expressions such as ‘computer literacy,’ “civic literacy,’ ‘health literacy,’ and a score of other usages in which literacy stands for know-how and awareness of the first word in the expression.” Dubin and Kuhlman (1992)

Or this thinking from Langer in 1991:

“It is the culturally appropriate way of thinking, not the act of reading or writing, that is most important in the development of literacy. Literacy thinking manifests itself in different ways in oral and written language in different societies, and educators need to understand these ways of thinking if they are to build bridges and facilitate transitions among ways of thinking.”

(Read the entire article…there is lot to think about in what is shared on the “definitions” of literacy.)

If you think literacy is only about “reading and writing”, then Twitter might seem insignificant.  But if we see Twitter, and the ability to not only read and write, but to communicate and leverage this medium as literacy, it might seem more important.  What I am not saying is that you need to go teach Twitter to your students right now.  Not at all. What I am saying is that if you simply dismiss things as creating with different types of media, or using social media to connect with others as “tech” or “insignificant”, you might be holding your students back in sharing their wisdom from the world with a simpler view of what literacy can truly be.

Categories: Planet

Building America's Democratic Federalist Republic 2-page class handout

Classroom 2.0 Diigo Group - 29 April, 2016 - 04:00


  • Important background for everyone especially in an election year.
    http://www.textbooksfree.org/Building%20America's%20Democratic%20Federalist%20Republic.htm - Walter Antoniotti

Tags: Education, resources, teaching, Learning

by: Walter Antoniotti

Categories: International News

Creating Change

The Principal of Change George Couros - 28 April, 2016 - 10:27

One of things that I have been really thinking about is not only embracing change, but educators creating it. Creating better ways for our kids and ourselves to learn. Too often change is thrust upon us, yet how often do we lead it?  How often do we create change in education?

Well actually, more than you think (and sometimes you might hear).

Things such as Genius Hour, Innovation Week/Day, Identity Day, Maker Spaces, EdCamps, Flipped Classrooms, revamped professional learning opportunities, using social media to create powerful opportunities for learning, and a myriad of other empowering ways to learn, are things that didn’t exist when I went to school.  Yesterday, the “Global Day of Design” happened (#GDD16 on Twitter) and over 450 schools took part in this an amazing opportunity. Obviously some of these things have been adapted from things that are seen around the world (one of the characteristics of the “Innovator’s Mindset” is being “observant”), but educators are making them happen.  School might not be at the place where we want it to be, but I am seeing it so much better than what it was not only from when I went, but just a few years ago.  A “relentless restlessness” to constantly get better is crucial in any organization, and so many teachers are exhibiting this.

It doesn’t say anywhere in the curriculum to do any of these things.  Nor does it say anything about doing worksheets.  Yet so many educators are choosing innovation and empowerment over creating a compliance model of education.

We can choose for change to be thrust upon us, or we can create it.  The thing is that when you create it, you have WAY more of a say of what it looks like.  I choose the latter.  So do more and more educators every single day.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing. Let’s not just embrace it as educators, but continue to create it.


Categories: Planet

2016 Cutler-Bell Prize contest now OPEN!

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 28 April, 2016 - 06:13

The Cutler-Bell Prize is awarded to outstanding high school students who do computer science work well beyond the bounds of an ordinary high school computer science course. The first awardees did some amazing work. You can read about their projects ACM AND CSTA ANNOUNCE FIRST-EVER CUTLER-BELL PRIZE STUDENT WINNERS. I was impressed and I think you will be as well.

But maybe you have or know of some impressive high school computer science students. If so it is time to tell them about this years contest.

Below is the official CSTA announcement.  

The ACM and CSTA are excited to announce the opening of the 2016 Cutler-Bell Prize for Excellence in High School Computing contest. Applications will be accepted May 1 - November 1.

This prize seeks to promote and encourage the field of computer science, as well as to empower young and aspiring learners to pursue computing challenges outside of the traditional classroom environment.

Up to four winners will be selected to be awarded a $10,000 prize. The prizes will be funded by a $1 million endowment established by David Cutler and Gordon Bell.

Eligible applicants for the award will include graduating high school seniors residing and attending school in the US. Challenges for the award will focus on developing an artifact that engages modern computing technology and computer science. Judges will look for submissions that demonstrate ingenuity, complexity, relevancy, originality, and a desire to further computer science as a discipline.

The application is NOW available and will close on November 1, 2016. Winners are expected to be announced in January of 2017.

Please share this exciting announcement with your fellow teachers and your students!

Categories: Planet

When is it Time to Quit Teaching?

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 26 April, 2016 - 21:28

A hard question we all must consider

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Each year I seek clarity for my teaching career. There are no easy answers here. Know this. The question is serious,

“Should I teach another year?”

As I ponder my own path, let me take you on a journey of thoughts.

Dancing with Snakes.

The Indonesian pop star, Irma Bule died at age 29 of a cobra bite she got while performing. She performed with pythons. In April 2016, the conference organizers provided a cobra. She thought it was de-fanged. It wasn’t. After a full performance with it draped around her neck, she put it back in the bag. As she performed, it slipped out of the bag. She stepped on its tail. It bit her. Not thinking she was in any danger — she kept performing. Forty-five minutes after she received the bite, she stepped off stage and died.

I’m not sure why the snake handlers who knew the slithering performer was full of venom (and fangs) didn’t stop the show. Surely, they knew what was happening.

As teachers, we deal with difficult people. Sometimes we even deal with people dangerous to our health. There are several times sharp-fanged people have wounded me. Once, I wasn’t sure I could recover as a teacher. The venom of a hateful person poisoned me so much.

Thankfully, my family recognized the signs of my injury. They helped me heal and prepare to teach again.

Sometimes teachers are too wounded to perform. We help so many. But sometimes we’re the one who needs the help. Those who love us or work with us should help us get help before we kill our career. (or even worse, do permanent harm to our bodies or those precious children we teach.)

If you know someone who has been wounded by a situation, seriously consider what you can do to help. Don’t ignore it. Time definitely does not heal all wounds. Injured in the game.

I’ll never forget the sight that had the whole sidelines gasping and gagging. The young man’s thumb dangled down to his wrist. With three minutes left in the state semi-finals, he begged to be taped up. He wanted to go back in.

“Give me a shot and tape it. I can play,” howled the quarterback.

He didn’t even look at his slick, white bones sticking out of the gaping wound. Or the blood. Or his pale face. He was in shock. He wasn’t thinking.

The doctor said,

“If you play, you will do permanent damage to your hand. You cannot go in. Your high school career is over.”

He cried. He begged. The doctor stood firm. With these injuries, he could not play.

Sometimes things can happen to us and we break. We cannot function. A death of a child. Or spouse. Or parent. A divorce. A hardship. A terrible loss. A traumatic accident.

Like the broken hand, things can damage us and our ability to teach. We can become unable to do the job for now or indefinitely.

As a teacher, we have to be sound in mind and able to hold our patience. We have to have healthy minds because our minds are attached to our hands. If we’re angry at the world, we cannot let ourselves inject our anger at our circumstances into an innocent child’s world. It is not the child’s fault.

We all need colleagues we trust. We need truth-tellers. When we are injured by life, someone who loves us should tell us we are not at our best right now.

Oh, places that understand the value of a sabbatical bless our profession so much! Sometimes teachers have burnt out or broken down. Sometimes a sabbatical can salvage a career. She needs time to heal. She has to stop dancing. Pull her out of the game.

Burnout or breakdown happens to many teachers who have a long and storied history of greatness. Sometimes principals and administrators have to play the role of the doctor in this example. If you can offer a sabbatical, consider it. A great teacher is hard to find. If you can help a teacher re-find their own greatness, you’re doing the person and your school a big favor. Sometimes great teachers don’t need to get out, they just need a break so they can rejoin the ranks. 

He retired too late.  

The glory days were glorious, but they were a decade ago. People shake their heads. He used to be great. He isn’t anymore.

I pray that I retire from working with kids when I can no longer give them my patience, love, and belief.

Children are children. They are difficult. Hard to handle. They need patience. Sometimes I’m so tired I put my head down on my desk after the students leave.

The things that make me examine my thinking and work as a teacher:

  • The moment I am starting every class period at the end of my rope. I need help.
  • When I can’t reach up and touch bottom. I need help.
  • When I say things in the teacher’s lounge starting with the words “kids today are so…” and I finish the sentence with some stereotype or blanket statement that is unworthy and untrue. I need to either adjust my attitude or remove myself from teaching.
  • When I refuse to believe in a student because some kid fifteen years ago that I poured my heart into let me down. When I start recycling yesterday’s faces without giving the kids today in front of me a chance – it is time to go.

Retiring from teaching is not bad when it is time to retire.

Support and appreciate retiring educators. Some are made to feel like failures when they know it is time to move on. See retiring teachers as a success and celebrate their awesomeness. Perhaps someone will do the same for you one day when you know it is time to retire.  Considering Quitting

Teachers are wonderful, and I appreciate every single one of you.

Please listen…

  • Sometimes we should stop dancing and get the antidote for our injury.
  • Sometimes we should come out of the game and have our wounds tended.
  • And sometimes we should retire from the sport we love because we can no longer play the game.

Your break from teaching might not be permanent. You might need to retire. Or, you might need to coach others in the profession you love! (Anyone know a 50-year-old football players? I know coaches, though.)

Quitting sounds so negative. If we stop teaching for the right reasons, WE ARE NOT QUITTING. We are being called to a new area of service. We are doing the right thing for ourselves and our students. Great teachers are usually motivated by love. 4 Things to Remember As We Consider Whether We Should Teach 1. We all get broken sometimes.

We all have hard things happen that make us unable to dance. While I need a job, a suffering child is too high a price to pay for me to draw a salary.

2. Some teachers have had a great run.

Time has run out because they no longer love the kids. The kindness is gone. The spark of genius and love that ignited their greatness is extinguished. A different phase of life beckons. Or they are broken and need healing.

3. Seasons are part of life.

You can’t stop them. We must learn to enjoy each of the seasons for their beauty. The tragedy of life is that we can make more money, but we can never make more time.

4. There are no easy answers.  

Nothing easy to say. No formula exists saying ‘this’ plus ‘that’ equals retire. Or ‘that’ plus ‘this’ equals a return to teaching.

I can tell you this: teaching is serious business. Lives are at stake. Futures. Generations.

I know you love it. I do too. But I pray that when I either become broken or have a new calling that I will have the guts to move on.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is to keep on putting ourselves out there and teach and teach and teach. Sometimes taking ourselves out of the equation is the best thing for everyone. Knowing the difference is the key to living with our choice. Two of the most miserable kinds of teachers are the teacher who quit too soon or the one who quit too late.

The Lies We Must Not Tell Ourselves

Some will hate these words. They think no one should ever retire. We should act like everyone stays a great teacher forever. We should pretend that some wounds aren’t game ending and that snake bites never happen. And we would be lying.

I love you too much to feed you lies. Lies can poison a profession. And to think that everyone is physically and emotionally capable of teaching for fifty or sixty years — that is enough of a lie to make Pinocchio’s nose grow by 10 feet.

Some of the worst teachers I’ve ever seen were once the best. Some  great teachers let bitterness, anger, and dissatisfaction take root. Then, the used-to-be-a-blessing teacher becomes a curse. These formerly-amazing professionals hurt kids because they didn’t deal with their own hurt.

(Let me add, one of the best educators I know is 86, teaching full time and still going strong — so don’t say this is an age thing. I hate seeing great teachers retire too soon! It isn’t the age of the sage, but the patience of the pedagog at issue here.)

Don’t get out of teaching because it is hard — it will always be hard.

Don’t get out of teaching because you’re tired — it is a tiring job for all of us.

In this time and season may you decide whether you need a sabbatical, to retire, or if you’re healthy enough to keep on teaching those precious children.

Teacher, You are Needed

Your profession needs you, teachers. It needs you to be healthy. It needs you to be of sound mind. The kids need you to love them. And when you aren’t those things, it needs you to take a break, so you don’t break. Or even worse, so you don’t break them.

It is the nature of the human condition that things happen to us that wound us deeply. Like a car in a wreck, sometimes we need repair.

Kids are too important. You are too. So is this question.

“To teach or not to teach?”

Do not suffer the slings and arrows of our outrageous profession without considering the heartache and a thousand natural shocks our career is heir to.

The post When is it Time to Quit Teaching? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Hands On with the BBC Micro:Bit

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 26 April, 2016 - 19:55

Recently a padded envelop showed up in the mail. No return address. No identifying information. Inside was a BBC Micro:Bit. Now I have played with one once or twice and of course tried out software in emulation at the official BBC Micro:Bit website this is my first chance to really get into it. And I am grateful for the chance..

It comes with a power source, which uses two AAA batteries, and a short USB cable for attaching to  your computer. When you plug in the Micro:Bit (at least on my Windows 10 systems) it shows up as an external disk drive. More about that shortly.

The device itself is pretty cool and obviously meant to be easy to understand. One side has the “stuff that makes it work” and is clearly labeled.

Seeing things like compass and accelerometer is a good clue that there are more to this gadget than some pretty lights. Though it does have pretty lights on the other side. Twenty five of them to be specific.

Here we see the A and B buttons which are programmable, the LED grid and the labeled pins for attaching things to it. I have a Makey Makey that may be plugged in soon. We’ll see. BTW I blurred out the white box in case it has information to track down where it came from just in case someone might get into a fix for sharing it on the wrong side of the pond.

My idea of a “hello world” is to make the lights light up and rotate around the screen. I used the version of TouchDevelop for my first couple of tests. There are JavaScript, Block Editor, and Python options as well.

The way it works is that you write code, test it in the emulator (assuming you are the testing sort – I am), and then compile it to a .HEX file. The .HEX file is then copied to the MICROBIT where it runs.

The .HEX file is downloaded to your Downloads folder (at least on Windows 10) and has the name of the script as its name. You could easily have a bunch of scripts compiled and ready to move to the Micro:Bit. Copies go quickly.

The Micro:Bit will run without the separate power supply while it is connected to the computer. But to take it and show off your program to you friends you’ll need to plug in the power supply.  Losing power does not lose your program from the Micro:Bit. So you don’t have to keep the power on all the time. When you plug in the power the last program you downloaded will run right away.

You could. in theory, use these without a class set but I wouldn’t recommend it. If my experience is any indication it is much more motivating to see the program run on the device than the emulator. Somehow the emulator is just not as real. Plus you can take the device around to show your friends a lot easier than you can a full size computer. Students will want to move around showing off for a while and you can’t do that with less than a class set.

It will be a while (sometime next week) before I can show this to students and get their impressions. In the mean time I’m going to try a few things and think about how I might use these next year if they become more widely available.

I would love to hear from teachers and students in the UK who are using them though. What works? What is cool? What should I watch out for?

Categories: Planet

Vision to Action

The Principal of Change George Couros - 26 April, 2016 - 02:56

“If you do a good job of teaching your values and mission to the people at the bottom of your organization, then once you give them control, they will do the right things with it.” (Charlene Li, 2010)

Working with school districts all over the world, one of the things that I have noticed is an abundance of mission and vision statements within one organization.  There could be one at the district level, then at school levels, and even different departments (technology vision, curriculum vision, etc.).  Often people wonder why there is no cohesion within an organization, but don’t realize that the leadership is often inundating people with too much information.

One cohesive vision for an organization is hard enough to make a reality, let alone two or three.

In 2011, Parkland School Division moved away from the “multiple-vision” model, and went to one vision.  It was not implemented with a top down approach, but with input from all levels, and was co-created. Ownership of a vision is more likely to make it become a reality.

The vision is as follows:

“Parkland School Division is a place where exploration, creativity, and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams.”

Although the vision is compelling, without action it is meaningless.  The focus is not on repeating the vision over and over again (although that does help), but on helping others to make it become a reality.  As one of our superintendents said at the time, the goal is to help every individual realize that they are part of making this vision come to life within the larger purpose of the organization; it is not meant to separate but to bring people together.  How the vision looks in one classroom, can look different in another area.  The autonomy is in the delivery but the vision brings together a shared purpose.

It doesn’t make much sense for educators to move within an organization and faced with a change of “vision” each time they have a new position. Each community is unique but a great vision binds people together for a common goal.

In my opinion, a vision should have some common elements:

  1. Forward thinking.
  2. Inspiring.
  3. Short and succinct.
  4. Flexibility in delivery.
  5. Input from community.

If I asked someone in your organization what the vision was, and they responded with either “I don’t know what it is”, or “which one?”, then those “words” are not worth the paper (or website) they are written on.

Categories: Planet

Interesting Links 25 April 2016

Computer Science Teacher Alfred Thompson - 25 April, 2016 - 20:16

April vacation! Yes we do things different in New England. After this week we still have 7 to 8 weeks of school left. So this is a good time for a break. I hope to use some of it to work on some projects like writing up some of the assignments I have been using to make then sharable, cleaning my home office desk, and playing with some “toys” like my Kinect and a BBC Micro:Bit that showed up in an envelop with no return address.  For today I have a few links to share.

Bill Gates: Ed Tech Has Underachieved, But Better Days Are Ahead https://marketbrief.edweek.org/marketplace-k-12/bill-gates/?cmp=soc-tw-shr-mktbf … via @EdMarketBrief He’s both right and wrong here. I think he still doesn’t get the culture of education, the need for more professional development and that new hardware and software is not the magic bullet  to “fix” education.

Root, the code-teaching robot http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpage/629 Yet another "new idea" that seems familiar. Doesn't appear to be widely available. I’ll add it to me list of Robots For Teaching Programming when it shows up “in the wild.”

Categories: Planet

Conforming to the System of School?

The Principal of Change George Couros - 24 April, 2016 - 04:04

This post from NPR titled, “Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away”, was shared multiple times on social media, and I shared it was well.

Reading this piece Via @NPR – Attention Students: Put Your Laptops Away https://t.co/s8KHExBDE4

— George Couros (@gcouros) April 17, 2016

I found it to be an interesting piece, but the beginning really stuck out to me.  I have bolded some of the parts below that really drew my attention.

As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there’s a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it’s so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture. And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run.

In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning.

“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can,” Mueller tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.”

First of all, I do not think lectures are bad, but I do think “dull lectures” are.  Interesting thing is that we expect that students pay attention to a “dull lecture” while I watch so many people in organizations choose Facebook or email over “dull staff meetings”.  There should be accountability to not only the learner, but the educator in this situation.  Encouraging things like back-channels. or providing the information before and encouraging learners to create something from it, is actually a much better way to have students “retain” information than listening to a “dull lecture”.  It is not that content isn’t important, but what you create and connect from this content is where the powerful and deep learning happens.

The second part that stuck out to me is when the article says “people”, not “some people”.  The reality is that not all people are the same, but in this article they are using technology (both the pen/pencils and the computer, not only the computer) to standardize.  Not all people work this way. In fact, whether you give me a pencil or a laptop, I am never furiously writing notes down. Ever.  I will write only what resonates with me, but with a computer, I might google quotes or applicable articles that I will save for reading later.  I might not be “listening” as much,  but I could actually be learning more, just not necessarily from the person lecturing at that exact moment.  Is the focus on what I am learning from the person standing in front of me, or what I am learning on the topic in general. These aren’t always the same thing.

Many educators on social media reiterated the findings and shared how they made all students use pencils instead of laptops.  The problem with this approach is that we assume one way works for all.  What we need to realize is that some students benefit from having a laptop, and some from using a pencil.  Choices are beneficial.  Some students will need more guidance than others, but we also need to realize that we should never force students to use what works for us over what works for them.

As a student in K-12, I was single-handedly responsible for supporting the paper reinforcement business in the 80’s.  Many of my notes would eventually be torn out of my book, but even if they stayed in my binder, they were never beneficial to me.  This is not to say that this process wasn’t beneficial to others, just not for me.  But was the problem here that I didn’t conform to the system, or that the system didn’t conform to me?

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  We need to understand that we live in a time where there are more ways to reach more kids.  To lump all kids together and have them do the exact same thing is doing an incredible disservice to the learners of today.

Categories: Planet

2 Simple Ways Improve a Lesson Plan

Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis - 24 April, 2016 - 03:02

Practical Tips for Rigor, Fun, and Retention

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Sometimes small changes can take a lesson plan from “OK” to “Yeah!” By improving the rigor and fun in each lesson, you can improve student learning and make your classroom more exciting. Learn practical tips from super-teacher Laura Candler that will help you make your lessons more engaging and memorable. This is a must-listen for elementary teachers.

Learn about the JTouch Interactive whiteboard

Click to listen to this show on: BAM Radio Network | iTunes | Stitcher Thank you JTouch by InFocus, Today’s Sponsor

My Interactive White Board (IWB) is gone, and I’m never going back. In today’s show, I’ll tell you how I’m using the Jtouch Interactive Display Board in my classroom. It is much more than an interactive whiteboard. (In some ways it is like a massive touch screen computer.) But with Airplay and also a cool tool called LightCast, every single device in my BYOD classroom can broadcast to the Jtouch display at the front of my classroom. When I’m not teaching, I even show huge moving scenes from nature on the board. I love it. Listen to this show to learn more about how I’m using the Jtouch from Infocus or click here to see it in action. Thank you Jtouch for sponsoring today’s show.

Learn about JTouch

Who is Laura Candler?

Laura Candler is the owner of Teaching Resources and a former 5th-grade teacher from Fayetteville, NC. She has presented educational workshops to teachers around the country for over 20 years. She’s the author of 10 books for teachers as well as over 100 digital resources. She can be found at www.facebook.com/teachingresources.

The post 2 Simple Ways Improve a Lesson Plan appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

My #reading April 2016

Darcy Moore's Blog - 23 April, 2016 - 21:32

Every day I work on the edit of my book. I slog away, shifting chunks of material and moving them back, eating my salad in a daze, wondering if the linking passages I’ve written are leading me up a garden path, or are sentimental, or violate some unarticulated moral and technical code I’ve signed up to and feel trapped in or obliged to. The sheer bloody labour of writing. No one but another writer understands it—the heaving about of great boulders into a stable arrangement so that you can bound up them and plant your little flag at the very top.

Everywhere I Look is Helen Garner’s most recent book of non fiction. There are only a few new pieces and the collection spans the 21st century, so it is not really ‘new’. I had read quite a few of them before but certainly did not resent the fact. Garner is always masterful. Her prose is a window and we get to look in, as well as out; it is a mirror too, with cracks.

Garner ranges over topics as disparate as a secondhand couch and a moment on a bus to anecdotes about well-known Australian authors, like Raymond Gaita, Tim Winton and Elizabeth Jolley. She writes about old age and grandchildren, parents, suburbs and houses. She finds a grudging respect for Russell Crowe or at least for his acting. She etches portraits of Australians who have committed unspeakable, heinous crimes. They are unflinching and challenge many readers:

I see now that for some years already I had been trying to turn myself into the sort of person who could look steadily at such things, without flinching or turning away. I remember how my friends reacted when I begged them to come with me and look at the photos at the Justice and Police Museum: most of them really did not want to see them; they couldn’t understand why I thought they were beautiful. But I knew I could learn from them. So I went back, again and again, usually on my own. I longed to mimic in my own work the brutal simplicity of the police photographs.

Memories of books and other mysterious delights and sensations from childhood abound. The anecdotes she shares of primary school – and her adult discovery of the reality of life for that teacher – makes particularly fine reading:

You said, ‘An adverb can modify an adjective.’ Until that moment I had known only that adverbs modified verbs: they laughed loudly; merrily we roll along. I knew I was supposed to be scratching away with my dip pen, copying the list into my exercise book, but I was so excited by this new idea that I put up my hand and said, ‘Mrs Dunkley, how can an adverb modify an adjective?’ You paused, up there in front of the board with the pointer in your hand. My cheeks were just about to start burning when I saw on your face a mysterious thing. It was a tiny, crooked smile. You looked at me for a long moment—a slow, careful, serious look. You looked at me, and, for the first time, I knew that you had seen me. ‘Here’s an example,’ you said, in an almost intimate tone. ‘The wind was terribly cold.’ I got it, and you saw me get it. Then your face snapped shut.

Garner can always make the reader look again at a familiar societal landscape. Her sympathy for the people of Moonee Ponds, in Melbourne, makes us looks less favourably on Barry Humphries’ lampooning of decent people. She relentlessly interrogates her own responses, positions and prejudices. Garner relates feeling “…ashamed now of my bohemian contempt for the suburbs of my childhood, of my longing to be sophisticated”. I would like her to write more about the ‘hippiedom’ of her younger years.

One good book always leads to another. I will pursue the “great American journalist”, Janet Malcolm, who is the writer Garner says influenced her more than any other. If you believe what a person says about another says more about themselves, you will enjoy this description of Garner’s literary hero:

I have never met her, or heard her speak, but I would know her written voice anywhere. It is a literary voice, composed and dry, articulate and free-striding, drawing on deep learning yet plain in its address, and above all fearless, though she cannot possibly be without fear, since she understands it so well in others. She will not be read lazily. She assumes intelligence and expects you to work, to pace along with her. Her writing turns you into a better reader. There is no temptation to skim: its texture is too rich, too worldly, too surprising. She is brilliant at revealing things in stages, so you gasp, and gasp, and gasp again. She yokes the familiar with the strange in the way that dreams do—suddenly a wall cracks open and a flood of light pours in, or perhaps a perfectly aimed, needle-like beam. Reading her is an austerely enchanting kind of fun.

Sounds like an articulate description of Garner’s writing; one that I wish I had written.

If you have not experienced Helen Garner’s non fiction, Everywhere I Look is a good place to start. You will find no better writing about being alive today from an Australian author. Certainly there are few anywhere who can look at life with such an unflinching eye and explore it so honestly. One would have to agree with, and draw strength from, the following sentences which are the bones of the skeleton of what it is Garner does:

Sometimes it seems to me that, in the end, the only thing people have got going for them is imagination. At times of great darkness, everything around us becomes symbolic, poetic, archetypal. Perhaps this is what dreaming, and art, are for.

“I have never lost my conviction that writing, and being involved in the media, is one of the ways you can help change the world.”

Craig McGregor

Left hand Drive: A Social and Political Memoir by Craig McGregor transported this reader into a very familiar, reassuring paradigm of the period from the end of the Second World War to the turn of the century through the eyes of a thoughtful Australian with a social conscience.

He seems to have been involved, as a journalist and citizen, in numerous momentous social and political events across three continents. McGregor, who grew-up in Jamberoo close-by to where I now reside, lived in the USA and the UK during the socio-political upheavals of the 60-70s. I particularly related to his years in London and England. The energy of the time, his own personal excitement at leaving Australia and the joy of meeting his life-long partner is communicated with precision. This section is the strongest part of the memoir along with his reflections about the challenges of writing and journalism.

The unfolding text of McGregor’s intellectual development and the formation of his values is also very interesting. The thread, from school to a journalism cadetship at a newspaper to university and then out into the wider world worked well for this reader. It flowed.

McGregor won Walkley Awards for his journalism. His insightful profiles of Hawke, Keating and Howard are memorable. His analysis of the period leading up to The Dismissal of Gough Whitlam was particularly interesting; as is his passionate disbelief that Australians could produce a parvenu, like Sir John Kerr, who acted so abhorrently.

The first book of McGregor’s I read was Class in Australia. It still resounds. McGregor, fervently, optimistically believes in ideals like this one he quotes from Pericles, “Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy…” His aside smarts: “sounds like Australia used to be.”

Reading this memoir helps this long-time reader of his articles and books understand how McGregor’s own passions and life experiences helped produce such insightful analysis. His experiences in rural Australia, as a youth, and later on while owning his own property and raising his own children on the land contrasted sharply with experiences in London, New York and Sydney. This sentence resounds and tells much about our Australian context:

I came to realise, however, that being so close to the land and its elemental nature can grind away at your sensibility until, over the years or perhaps generations, someone like the familiar Australian countryman is fashioned: stoic, laconic, unimaginative and possibly cruel.

“One of Moorehead’s chief themes in these years is an exaggerated horror of being pinned down, of getting stuck, and the absolute necessity of avoiding it, either in a place, or with a woman, or – worse – with a wife and the prams and toddlers and suburban front yard he assumed came with one.”

An excerpt in The Monthly from Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish so impressed I pre-ordered the book last month and now that I have finished can say it has given great pleasure. Moorehead made a life travelling and writing. He seemed to know everybody and have been everywhere. His flight from the continental confines of Australia inspired the likes of Robert Hughes, Clive James and other would-be expatriates. At one stage, Alan Moorehead was Australia’s most famous writer.

This is not a conventional biography. McCamish’s book is something special. He is clearly enamoured with Moorehead and communicates the adventure of his ‘search’ for the war correspondent, traveller, husband, father, womaniser, journalist and writer skilfully. I was hooked. There’s just so much to enjoy in the story of Moorehead as well as the author’s thought about his subject’s legacy and life. I particularly enjoyed reading about the challenge of writing:

Back in Cairo in 1941, Moorehead had devised a method for writing books he’d stuck with ever since. He would sketch out by hand a blueprint of the entire book on sheets of foolscap, indicating roughly the contents of each chapter, including inspired phrases or lines of dialogue, and refine it until all his ideas were in the right place. Once this ‘cartoon for a tapestry’ was complete, it was time for the actual writing. It was a methodical, painfully costive process that demanded a steady, unrelenting input of working time. When a book was on the go, he worked six days a week; he rose before 7 a.m., made himself a huge pot of coffee, and trudged out to the studio. There he sat, back to the tumbling vineyards and shining sea, not leaving his seat until lunchtime. In the afternoons, he corrected the morning’s work, read, or redrafted. The greatest lesson Robert Hughes absorbed at the feet of the master, he said afterwards, was business-like hours. ‘Whether he was writing anything or not, he’d be sitting in front of the typewriter, and generally just by the sheer process of shaming himself into sitting there, 1000 words a day would come out.’ Moorehead remarked in the late ’50s, ‘people sometimes tell me they enjoy writing. I just look at them and wonder how long they’ve been at it.’

Roberto Bolaño says genuine travel “requires travellers who have nothing to lose’” and it is easy to admire Moorehead’s ability to travel endlessly; he certainly fits a mould always admired from afar. I have ordered secondhand copies of several of Moorehead’s travel books and will re-read others over the next few years.

To write about Gallipoli, however, Moorehead would have to overcome a lifetime’s distaste for the very word. A boy when the Great War ended, Moorehead had grown up surrounded by its maudlin remembrance, bitterness and human wreckage. Anzac Day was a torment in the 1920s. He hated it all: Kipling’s poetry and the turgid speeches; the ‘bitter, hopeless grief’, the boozy sentimentality and the ‘endless stories about what old Joe did on Hill 60’. It all ‘bored me and bored me and bored me’. Not that you would ever dare say so.

Professional historians never had much time for Moorehead and he was one of the first great popularisers of history to sell well. I had read two of his books previously, about Gallipoli and Darwin, but intend to re-read them when I have a chance. Germaine Greer is quoted as saying Moorehead’s book about Gallipoli was the first, and the best-written.

After finishing McCamish’s book a secondhand copy of A Late Education arrived (culled from a library in Ottawa). I read it in one sitting, understanding what compelled McCamish to pursue the largely forgotten Australian in library archives, via old friends and in places he lived or worked. Moorehead writes very masterfully and with a voice, however unlikely this seems, stripped of ego. His dislike of school is palpable:

I had been a most unsuccessful schoolboy, invariably at the bottom of my class and unable to get into any of the teams, but this hardly explains the sense of loathing—yes, positively loathing that still overcomes me whenever I think of that place. I attended the school as a day-boy for ten years, and surely there must have been pleasant episodes in all that time. Yet all I can remember now is those meaningless morning prayers, the heat of those overcrowded classrooms through the long droning afternoon, those second-rate masters brought out from England with their harassed and defeated faces, those windy red-brick corridors with their clanging metal shutters, and the dead hand of suburbia over all. The bearded dominie who was the headmaster was, I believe, a kindly man and much loved, but to me he was an ogre and I still have a feeling of panic when I recall that awful voice, ‘You boy. Come here!

Clearly all this is very unfair, and indeed my sister, who is some years older than I am, has told me that I was a cheerful and happy little boy, and although I did not do very well at my lessons I was as bright as a button.

But I see a different picture.

Moorehead’s early years in Australia and the period prior to the outbreak of WWII, when he was a young man in Paris, Germany, Gibraltar and Italy for the first time are particularly engaging. The bit about when he met Hemingway is great too. His voice – which has such honesty that he makes Knausgaard look shy – makes for wonderful reading.

Moorehead had insurmountable health problems at a relatively early age (although he seemed to outlive all his WWII contemporaries). Tobacco, alcohol and stress must have had much to do with his stroke. I find it deeply melancholic thinking the horror of those dozen years or so when Moorehead was unable to read or write or talk much at all. This seems so terrible for such a man. And lonely.

Lucy, his wife (and after all his infidelities) was the one who constructed A Late Education from her husband’s notes while he was incapacitated. The book is unbalanced but nevertheless the best that could be hoped for with Moorehead in such bad shape. It was a terrible blow to this reader when his wife was killed and it seemed all the more terrible to think about again after reading her efforts to compile this book. Really terrible.

He died in 1983. His wife had been killed in a car accident in 1979. Buried in London, at Hampstead, his epitaph is brief and wholly appropriate:

Alan Moorehead: Writer

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George Orwell’s third novel, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), is much better than the author personally rated it. Orwell never wanted it reprinted and claimed it was only published as he ‘needed the money’. I can see why he felt this way; the plot, characterisation and style need development. However, I gobbled it greedily feeling pleased that after all these years of reading Orwell that there was still such pleasure to be found in this novel the author wanted pulped.

Orwell worked in a bookshop at Hampstead while he wrote it which will explain some of these lines:

“He was alone with seven thousand books…mostly aged and unsaleable.”

“At this moment he hated all books, and novels most of all. Horrible to think of all that soggy, half-baked trash massed together in one place.”

He had already published Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), Burmese Days (1934) and A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935). He would do the research that led The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) and his enlistment to fight in Spain that would result in Homage to Catalonia (1938).

Listening to a sample of Richard E Grant, who played the protagonist in the 1997 film adaptation, narrate the story would convince even the most reluctant to buy the audiobook. He is superb. It is obvious that playing the protagonist, Gordon Comstock, in the movie has added significant depth to his reading. Comstock is often an annoying character, his whining and negativity can be cloying but Grant inhabits his character with at least some lightness of tone, even though much is quite bleak.

Orwell’s perspective on London in the mid-1930s, socialism, money, poverty and class is fascinating. You can see him thinking out his ideals and seeing through some of the genteel socialists that were in part of the London literary milieu. Even some cursory reading reveals the likely sources for some of his characters but it is the development of Orwell’s particular understanding of democratic socialism that one can see in these pages that interests.

“For after all, what is there behind, except money? Money for the right kind of education, money for influential friends, money for leisure and peace of mind, money for trips to Italy. Money writes books, money sells them. Give me not righteousness, O lord, give me money, only money.”

Orwell is always at his best when describing what he sees. It is a joy to accompany him into pubs and cafes, bookshops and the streets of the Monopoly Board. I know of no other female character in Orwell’s books as successfully realised as Rosemary, Gordon’s girlfriend. Their relationship unfolds in a believable manner, although some of the dialogue is stilted. This is particularly true of Gordon’s obsession with the corrupting nature of money which is not always skilfully rendered. Some of Orwell’s attitudes are certainly of there period.

Anyone who is a student of Orwell, twentieth century politics or English literature, really should read this one. As an aside, The Left Book Club (1936-48), which was supported by Orwell’s publisher and featured several of his books, was reformed late last year. One would hope that some new books that examine our age as successfully as Orwell did his will be highlighted by the club. Here’s the first books on their list.

Chronicles: On Our Troubled Times by Thomas Piketty is a collection of the economist’s articles for the French newspaper, Liberation. Piketty’s voice has great authority and his ideas on how democracy must make capitalism work for all of us are sensible and supported with convincing empirical data. Topics range from the financial crises over the last decade, especially in Ireland and Greece to American politics. He knows Europe must forge political and economic structures collaboratively and points a way forward.

Piketty writes about the rise of extreme right and left wing movements that endanger the European Union and democracies everywhere if the disparities between the exceptionally rich and the rest are permitted to grow even more. There’s not many who would disagree with that. Piketty consistently advocates for redistribution through a progressive global tax on wealth. Many would be surprised to read how heavily taxed the wealthiest were in the Europe and the USA prior to the neoliberal reforms that commenced with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Piketty, as always, presents hard data to support his positions.

Politics goes in cycles but many feel the game is fixed through the economic hegemony of the uber-wealthy. Piketty helps shine the light into dimly lit places. The zeitgeist is always unfolding but in the last few years fundamental democratic inequalities and the way pubic discourse is manipulated for the benefit of the wealthiest few is bubbling through into public consciousness and writers, economists like Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz, are unexpectedly on international bestseller lists as a result.

A randomly jotted list shows a perfect storm – the economic global meltdown commencing in 2008; the taxation scandals revealed via the Panama Papers; the turmoil economically and politically in Greece; governments breaking all kinds of laws, as shown by Edward Snowden and Wikileaks – that is leading to a concerted fight against the corruption at the heart of the political and financial system.  All this is coagulating in the public consciousness as state infrastructure is neglected, public schools under-funded and austerity policies punish those least responsible for financial crises in many countries.

There is a change in the air and many (look at the bestseller lists) are looking for economists, intellectuals and thought-leaders like Piketty. The UK Labour Party after losing all seats in Scotland at the most recent election has a “left wing leader” again, in Jeremy Corbyn, signalling a break from the neoliberal consensus of the last two decades and Bernie Sanders has had far more support than expected in the American process of choosing presidential candidates.

You can see from the screenshots above that Piketty mostly writes about difficult economic issues with an acute awareness of the political context in which these challenges have arisen. My favourite piece in this collection, Secularism and Inequality: The French Hypocrisy, draws the veil from any notions that the state is truly secular in the way it treats religion. Roman Catholicism is privileged socially and economically, especially in schools. This is a legacy of history but not discussed publicly as the official, grand narrative, that “France likes to present itself as a model of neutrality, tolerance and respect for different beliefs without privileging any one of them…” is shown to be false.

Piketty writes of the job discrimination that young muslims experience in his country. He is particularly disturbed to see that ‘discrimination is greatest for those who have met for offical requirements for success’ and the highest levels of education and best credentials. He quotes from studies with particularly clever methodologies revealing that the name on the top of the CV makes all the difference.

This collection of articles is a good introduction to Piketty before taking on the challenging book that made him famous outside of France. Highly recommended.

Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis is a quick, informative read that has a great deal to offer a wide-variety of readers. Many will be surprised to find out about the business and legal challenges facing Gutenberg in raising money to develop his printing press. Other considerations, including secrecy were also interesting. Gutenberg developed different parts of the press at numerous locations to prevent industrial sabotage. His legal troubles, as a result of challenges raising money and ‘shipping’ on time, made for interesting reading. The more things change…

Jarvis successfully compares both Gutenberg’s press and context, as an innovator, with contemporary development in the American tech industry. His observations about the impact of the printing press compared with the contemporary platforms, like social media via the World Wide Web, are very worth reading.

I think Gutenberg the Geek is potentially a great book for secondary students to read, in any number of subjects or contexts. It is certainly available as audio or ebook at a bargain price of just a few dollars.

“…we are running a 21st century digital economy on a 13th Century printing-press era operating system.” Douglas Rushkoff

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity by Douglas Rushkoff is a great read addressing a topic of profound importance, especially for our children and planet. The book is not really about Google, or rocks hurled at buses. This is a book about legacy systems – corporate, economic and societal – with a few suggestions of what may ameliorate the situation in our current, 21st century digital context.

Rushkoff does a good job analysing how the current economic model, to which most digital startups and tech companies are unable to escape, is ultimately unsustainable, socially and environmentally. The system is broken for the majority but the small, very small minority of people who benefit have inordinate power to keep the growth engine it cranking along. He takes particular aim at corporations:

“The economy we’re operating in today may have been built to serve corporations, but not many of them are doing too well in the digital environment. Even the apparent winners are actually operating on borrowed time and, perhaps more to the point, borrowed money. Neither digital technology nor the corporation itself is necessarily to blame for the current predicament. Rather, it’s the way the rules of corporatism, written hundreds of years ago, mesh with the rules of digital platforms we’re writing today. A corporation is just a set of rules, and so is software. It’s all code, and it doesn’t care about people, our priorities, or our future unless we bother to program those concerns into it.”

The long, slow death of Twitter makes all of us sad and Rushkoff’s analysis of what has happened to the ten-year old social media platform is an instructive example of the above quote:

(Evan Williams) and his partners turned Twitter into a publicly traded, multibillion-dollar company and in the process sacrificed a potentially world-changing app to the singular pursuit of growth. Here was arguably the most powerful social media tool ever developed—from organizing activists in the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements to providing a global platform for citizen journalists and presidential candidates alike. And it wasn’t particularly expensive to create or maintain. It certainly didn’t require a multibillion-dollar cash infusion in order to keep  functioning.  

Having taken in this much new capital, however, Twitter now needs to produce. It must grow. As of this writing, the $43 million Twitter profited last quarter is considered an abject failure by Wall Street. In 2015, Twitter investors complained* that the company was too far from reaching its “100x” growth potential and forced out the CEO. Shareholders are demanding that Twitter find better ways of monetizing its users’ tweets, whether by injecting advertisements into people’s feeds, mining their data for marketing intelligence, or otherwise degrading the utility of the app or the integrity of its community. Whatever actually may have been disruptive about Twitter will now have to be made less so.

It’s not that Twitter isn’t successful; it’s just not successful enough to justify all the money investors have pumped into it. There was already enough revenue for the employees to be happy, the users to be served, and even the original investors to be well compensated in an ongoing way. But there may never be enough to satisfy shareholders who expect to win back one hundred times their initial $20 billion bet. To do that, Twitter must  grow into a corporation bigger than the economy of many entire nations. Isn’t that a bit much to ask of an app that sends out messages of 140 characters or less?

This disproportionate relationship between capital and value— or invested money versus actual revenue—is the hallmark of the dominant digital economy. If anything, the digital economy has laid  bare the process by which cash, labor, and productive assets from the real, transactional marketplace are extracted and converted into frozen capital—all in the name of growth.

Indeed. We all noticed.

I enjoyed Rushkoff’s explanation of the medieval marketplace and extrapolations to the modern peer to peer economies, like eBay and the growth of local cash/barter/exchange/sharing economies in Japan and Spain that combat high unemployment or rampant inflation. His explanation of ROA (Return on Assets) vs ROI (Return of Investment) makes an important point about the fundamentally flawed nature of the quarterly economic cycle in encouraging genuinely unsustainable growth. He quotes a from a recent study:

“the conclusion is inescapable: big hierarchical bureaucracies with legacy structures and managerial practices and short-term mindsets have not yet found a way to flourish in this new world.” 

This sounds very similar to challenges we have in education.

The title of the book is probably the worst thing about it, although one does tire of it towards the end probably feeling a little more disappointed that there are not really many solutions other than a few examples of peer to peer transactions or using local currencies. Rushkoff seems to steer away from political solutions.

History is far more than a series of events and the biographies of big names; it is the subtle interweaving of human actions spread over vast landscapes and through deep time creating a dense fabric, every thread of which has significance. The wonder of it all lies in how interconnected everything is.

By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia is another extraordinary book by Barry Cunliffe. The scope – and this certainly is “big history” – astounds. Although the book gallops along the “great swath of steppe, some 9,000 kilometres of it stretching from the Great Hungarian Plain to Manchuria” and across 10 000 years one is able to stay in the narrative saddle. There are numerous peoples, locations and periods of history that this reader was very unfamiliar with and Cunliffe’s quite informal “Guide to Further Reading” at the end of the book could keep one busy for many, many years.

If the mountain ranges created barriers to easy communication between east and west, the great steppe corridor provided a remarkable uninterrupted route running almost the entire length of Eurasia between latitudes 40° and 55° north. Beginning in the Great Hungarian Plain the steppe extended, unbroken, to Manchuria, a distance of some 9,000 kilometres. The vastness of this ecozone called for rapid movement. This was the land of the horse rider, of the pastoralist tending his flocks and herds, and, later, of the warrior horde.

The steppe is the most remarkable natural corridor in the world. It is here that the first horses were domesticated and ridden, where mobile pastoralism first emerged, where the fast two-wheeled chariot was invented, and where riders first learnt to work together as cavalry with world-shattering effect.

Although this is big history there are many smaller stories of individuals who were remarkable. Landscape painters, merchants, monks and travellers also people this landscape we can really only learn about by sophisticated scientific analysis of archaeological remains. I particularly enjoyed the story of Faxian (337-422 CE) a who was a Chinese buddhist monk. He travelled to India seeking scriptures and was understandably content on returning home to spend the rest of his life writing an account of his travels, translating and editing the texts he had collected:

The accounts that he gives of the sea-voyages provide a tantalizing insight into the maritime systems at work at the time and the massive scale of the enterprises then under way in Indonesian and Chinese waters. In the ports at the mouth of the Ganges and on Sri Lanka he could well have found himself in the company of Roman ships’ masters who had set out from the Red Sea ports of Egypt, and heard the stories of their very different worlds.

Along with Faxian’s work, I’d love to track down Guo Xi’s (1020–90) book, “Advice on Landscape Painting” which discusses how sensible it is for humans to “seek solace in the forests, streams, and hills, but duty requires them to remain in the busy world”. He says, “the purpose of the artist is to provide them with landscape paintings to offer peace in the home when they return from work”. Sound advice that.

This book is not just about ‘the steppe’. Cunliffe has always written about ancient and prehistoric seaways which seem to hold a particular fascination for him. Those familiar with Homer’s stories will recognise the source for this passage:

To return after a long journey with esoteric knowledge or exotic goods set the traveller apart: he held a power that other men did not, and story-telling about distant parts became an art. This was the very stuff of the heroic societies reflected in the works of Homer. When the unknown traveller Telemachus and his entourage arrived at the palace of Nestor, he was accepted, bathed, and fed without question, and only when the rules of hospitality had been observed could Nestor ask: ‘Who are you, sirs? From what part have you sailed over the highways of the sea?

Cunliffe’s next book, provisionally titled “Exploring the Sea of Perpetual Gloom”  pursues this interest and will be with his publishers shortly (he tells me). How can one not want to read more from such a learned person who also has enough of a sense of humour to write this towards the conclusion of his book:

The causal interlinking is, of course, infinitely more complex than the bare skeleton outlined here, as anyone who has read the previous eleven chapters will recognize, but the advantage of attempting to tease out the essential threads is that it reminds us that history is much more than ‘just one **** thing after another’.

Yet the name Inklings, as J.R.R. Tolkien recalled it, was little more than “a pleasantly ingenious pun … suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.” The donnish dreaminess thus hinted at tells us something important about this curious band: its members saw themselves as no more than a loose association of rumpled intellectuals, and this modest self-image is a large part of their charm.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski is a detailed look at this very famous literary group of fellow-travellers in the middle of the 20th century. For those who have read much about Tolkien there is not much that is new but contextually, this book is which explores is friendships does offer deeper insight into the period and his world.

I learnt a great deal about CS Lewis; although much of it just made me like him even less, if that is possible. Lewis’ fall, from secular atheist to christian apologist, is particularly well covered by the authors. I knew very little, almost nothing about Barfield and Williams but found the latter more interestingly covered in the book (or maybe just a genuinely weirder figure than the other three).

The sections on Lewis and Tolkien, especially about their developing philosophies and ideas, are by far the most interesting parts of the books; as are their perceptions of this literary circle. Lewis always said of the Inklings that they were “…a group of Christians who like to write” but the authors of this book posit that these individuals really shared “intellectual vivacity, love of myth, conservative politics, memories of war, and a passion for beef, beer, and verbal battle…(with a) set of enemies, including atheists, totalitarians, modernists, and anyone with a shallow imagination”. It was, in my assessment, more of a bloke’s drinking club than anything else. They were all reticent to talk out of turn about each other, especially as their individual fame grew but Tolkien wrote an unfinished novel, The Notion Club Papers, which I would like to read as it seems to be an exploration of the Inklings that Zaleski and Zaleski feel is the best representation of the group we have; ’notion’ being a synonym for ‘inkling’.

Lewis was to become, after his BBC radio talks, “the foremost Christian apologist in the English-speaking world”. He was much more well-known than Tolkien – “who had a widespread academic reputation as a time waster and dreamer” – and whose fame only really spread when he was an old man and after his death. Lewis certainly had a moral political agenda that was clear to others, like the writer and journalist, George Orwell. Lewis’ broadcasting approach was successful, in Orwell’s opinion, as his “chummy little wireless talks” succeeded in making everyman listen and were “not really so unpolitical as they are meant to look.” Quite simply, “since becoming a Christian, his teaching, reading, writing, and scholarship had all acquired zest and purpose. He had found his vocation: to fight the Lord’s battles in the academy and the world at large, armed with wit, dialectic, and invincible faith” believably suggest Zaleski and Zaleski.

This was not Tolkien’s style at all. He believed that while myth and fairy tale must reflect religious truth, they must do so subtly, never depicting religion as it appears in “the known form of the primary ‘real’ world.” Lewis certainly, well at least after his conversion to Christianity in the early 1930s, had no such compulsion. He was happy to proselytise and use allegory, which Tolkien rejected. Tolkien insisted on the strict separation of the allegorical from the mythopoeic but Lewis thought they mixed.

I really do not like Lewis as a writer, person or for his philosophy one bit but certainly admire his knowledge of English literature and ability to read with absolutely undivided attention for long periods of time. There would be few people, in any era, more well-read than he. Whenever I have read Lewis’ fiction or non fiction he leaves me feeling annoyed. This book has let me see more deeply into why that might be.

I am with Philip Pullman – “the most dangerous man in England” – in railing against the works of Lewis. Pullman sees Lewis as “bullying, hectoring and dishonest in all kinds of ways” and describes the Narnia books as “very dodgy and unpleasant – dodgy in the dishonest rhetoric way – and unpleasant because they seem to embody a world view that takes for granted things like racism, misogyny and a profound cultural conservatism that is utterly unexamined.” Pullman hates how Lewis “pours scorn on little girls with fat legs. And, as one commentator said, among Lewis’s readers will be some little girls with fat legs who find themselves utterly bewildered by this slur on something they can’t help and are embarrassed and upset by already. It’s the position, as this commentator said, of the teacher who curries favour with the bullies in the class by bullying the weak children with them.” (Quoted in ‘The Guardian’ 20/11/2013)

The following quotes from made me grimace more than a little (smile a little too) and certainly provide an insight into the complex young man who went from being such a militant atheist in his youth to one seeking forgiveness in the Christian faith and encouraging other sinners to find God too. Perhaps they go some way to explaining the dodginess that Pullman notes, while also making us feel a little sorry for Lewis:

“Lewis’s increasing fixation during this period upon sadomasochism. Four of his letters to Arthur he signs Philomastix (“whip lover”), sometimes in Greek characters to thwart snoopy readers (Lewis’s father snatched up and read his correspondence whenever possible, and Lewis may have feared that the same reign of terror prevailed in Greeves’s household). He daydreams in these letters about lashing young ladies of his acquaintance; he even wonders, baselessly, whether William Morris was also entranced by “the rod,” on the strength of a stray sentence in The Well at the World’s End. Sadomasochism may be the English vice, but Lewis’s jaunty tone, his eagerness to describe his imagined victims and their stripes, suggest a mind knocked more than usually askew by the fierce energies of teenage sexuality.”

“Lewis as a youth was extraordinarily uncomfortable in his body. Dances were a torment, sports a nightmare.”

“Each thumb had only one joint, a defect that led, when shaving, tying laces, or attempting other normal manipulations, to fury and tears. He inhabited his young body as if it were a suit of armor; and if his face was doomed to miscommunicate his true feelings…”

“As Tolkien looked to the future, Lewis rummaged in the past. A letter Lewis wrote on November 22, 1916—forty-six years to the day before his death—reveals an eighteen-year-old with the energy of a schoolboy and the tastes of an octogenarian.”

If this is the first book about Tolkien one has read than titbits, especially from his formative years, will interest. Those of you who are not fond of spiders will appreciate one of his earliest experiences:

“…a large spider, perhaps a tarantula, bit baby Ronald. Tolkien would later deny any connection between this childhood spider bite and the spider-monsters of his fiction; yet it is tempting to imagine that this horrific creature nestled in his subconscious until it reemerged, swollen to gigantic size, as the spiders of Mirkwood in The Hobbit, the insatiable Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, and Shelob’s mother, Ungoliant, in The Silmarillion, the primary collection of Tolkien’s mythopoeic tales.”

I did not know of the timing of Tolkien’s father’s death and found this following passage deeply affecting:

“News of his illness arrived via telegram on the same day that Ronald, barely four years old, was preparing to post his first letter—his first literary production of any sort—a rapturous note to his father anticipating their reunion. Arthur, only thirty-nine, died of a haemorrhage the next day. The poignancy of hope denied is acute, as is the circumstantial intertwining of literature and tragedy, touchstones of much of Tolkien’s later work.”

You my have seen this interview (1968) with Tolkien where he talks about what The Lord of the Rings is all about:

The story of Tolkien’s extended courtship with Edith, his wife to be and the subsequent tales of Beren and Lúthien that developed, will also interest many fans. Tolkien, convalescing after the experience of the Western Front, is able to spend time with his wife (see the final photograph at the end of this post):

“Love ripened between the parents-to-be. Tolkien wrote, read, and drew, while Edith enchanted him with her piano playing and, one day in a “small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire,” with her dancing, offering to his exhausted eyes a vision of beauty and grace, a glimpse of paradise. “In those days,” he wrote, “her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing—and dance.” The forest interlude inspired him to write “Of Beren and Lúthien,” to his mind the narrative heart of The Silmarillion. A quasi-autobiographical tale, it recounts the love of Beren, a man, and Lúthien, an Elven princess he spies dancing in the woods, and their terrible trials in search of a magical jewel…”

There’s a good deal to be gleaned from this book about Tolkien’s books. I learnt that in the earliest versions of The Hobbit that Gandalf was the chief dwarf. Tolkien borrowed the names for the dwarves from the Dvergatal (dwarf list), a section of the Old Norse Eddic poem Völuspá, which mentions Durin, Dvalin, Dain, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Nori, Thrain, Thorin, Fili, Kili, Eikinskjaldi (Oakenshield)—and Gandalf. You may be interested to know that in 1977 the word “hobbit” was found listed in a two-volume collection of folklore studies (1895) about the preternatural beings native to northern England.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings kept me interested but does have some pretty dull stretches to be weathered. The book has not made me wish to read the works of Lewis, Barfield or Williams but it has deepened my appreciation of the intellectual friendships that nourished Tolkien and as such, was definitely worth the time spent on such a lengthy tome. It certainly amused me to read that Germaine Greer famously declared that “it has been my nightmare that Tolkien would turn out to be the most influential writer of the twentieth century”. Germaine surely would agree, with some frustration, with the authors conclusion that Tolkien:

“…by returning to the fundamentals of story and exploring its relation to faith, virtue, self-transcendence, and hope, have renewed a current that runs through the heart of Western literature, beginning with Virgil and the Beowulf poet; (recovering) archaic literary forms not as an antiquarian curiosity but as a means of squarely addressing modern anxieties and longings.”

Featured image: screenshot of book titles.

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

Categories: Planet

Learning from the journey — The Learner's Way

Classroom 2.0 Diigo Group - 23 April, 2016 - 14:12


  • There is much to be learned from journeys. From stepping out of our doors and by placing one foot in front of the other making progress towards a planned destination. Journeys are a great metaphor for the challenges we face in our day to day lives and the parallels we draw may allow us to set a goal and achieve it despite the obstacles. - Nigel Coutts

Tags: learning, journey, teaching, education

by: Nigel Coutts

Categories: International News
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