Archive for October 2007

Coffee Stains: Tempus Fugit

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Salvete, discipuli et discipulae!

There were times when I thought that I was put on earth for one purpose: to tell my sister what time it was. That changed, though, when I lost my Darth Vader digital watch in 1979. Then, when Stephany would ask what time it was, I would have to look for a clock in the kitchen or in a bedroom. Without the convenience of time on my wrist, I began to get impatient with her every time she’d ask what time it was. And then it hit me.

“Chris, what time is it?”

“Why don’t you look for yourself?”

“You have a watch.”

(By the way, this is all done with a least one room between us).

“No I don’t,” I said.

“Where is your watch?” she asked.

“It’s lost,” I said.


My sister’s been in town since Thursday, and time is still an issue in our relationship. She still asks me “What time is it?” or “Why didn’t I wake her up sooner?” and I still get that sinking feeling that I had back in 1979: the irritation that “I’m not my sister’s timekeeper.” Actually, it’s mostly the loss of my Darth Vader watch (it was a really cool).

We’re getting ready to play a game of chess last night (sort of our thing to do when she comes out to visit), and we were doing the usual sibling badgering. I think I made some comment about how losing builds character and she retorts with this zinger:

“Have you ever heard of positive reinforcement for your students as opposed to negative criticism toward them?”

Earlier that evening I had read some quote from a local school official on how there’s there is a huge correlation between self-esteem and GPA. I was annoyed at the simplicity of the claim and the person’s use of the word “huge” in making an educational statement and so I pounced on my sister’s question.

Not many encouraging things were said during the first few moves of the game. And, as is the case of a complicated opening (no captured pieces until move 14), if you let a conversation play out for a while, you end up with the thing that really bothers both sides. For Stephany it was the tone of her workplace and how there’s people there who incessantly complain and bicker but also don’t work very hard; for me, it was trying to convince my sister that some students don’t need positive reinforcement because they’ve been told too many times that “you are doing great” or “you are so special.” As a result of this general “feel-goodness,” not all of my students “do their best work.”

“Why should they?” I asked her. “What’s in it for them? Grades? Approval? Internal joy and happiness?”

And she gave me one of those “you can’t say that, can you?” looks.

It amazes me that my family is concerned about the time when they are rarely punctual. Time, for my family, is a mere suggestion rather than a list to keep up with. This didn’t bode well when Lori’s family was 20 minutes early for the before-the-wedding pictures and the Judsons ambled in, relaxed, 25 minutes late. And I still believe today what went through my mind then: I’m stuck with them and there’s no changing people for my own convenience.

I have little choice in who takes my classes (or, probably more accurately, who is assigned to my classes). I also have little say in whether or not students do their homework, do well on exams and, most of all, care about the work they do for my assignments. One of the greatest harms that our profession can promote is replacing a clear and fair assessment of student work with points of positive praise for egos. Self-worth and self-esteem come not from my words or approval or grades, but from your own self. The problem though, is that most people want to wallow in self-pity and self-reflection instead of accepting that some things in life are just plain difficult to do and you just have to work at it. I can kind of understand the underlying annoyance when Yoda responds to yet another whiny Luke Skywalker question: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

For the last weeks of the trimester, that’s a timely assessment– fair and clear.


Magister Judson


Entrenched Engagement

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Dale Dougherty ,writing for O’Reilly, tries to tease out some of the questions in how today’s technology can affect what is happening in the classroom:

Is it possible for education to be transformed by Web 2.0 thinking, if not Web 2.0 technology? How could it disrupt the entrenched educational bureaucracy and offer new, potentially better, ways for self-directed learning and exploration? Can we break down the walls of the classroom to make it possible for students and teachers to re-connect in more meaningful ways? Education@Web 2.0

I think he is asking the questions that are on the minds of folks in the technology world and who are wondering when are the teachers and schools are going to start openly adopting some of these technologies (such as Web 2.0 apps and movements: Facebook and social networking to name a few). I don’t want to read into his words too much, but the tension between technology creators and classroom educators (the rhyme wasn’t intentional) has existed for some time and Todd Oppenheimer has outlined a bit of that relationship in The Computer Delusion. I won’t try and recreate what Oppenheimer has already done, but I would like to qualify a statement about the “entrenched educational bureaucracy” that Dougherty refers to.

He’s right: it is entrenched and it is a bureaucracy. Public education deserves all of the criticism it receives for not serving everyone equally and for not preparing every person for life. Public education is failing and public education is not easily fixed. If you want a guarantee that a student will be completely safe and will be completely prepared academically, do not send your child to a public school…it’s too risky.

But, before you send your child to a private or charter school or perhaps homeschool your child, recognize that public schools, like democracy, have not been a reality, but a goal. Public schools, like our version of democracy, is a part of the grand experiment (which I’m sure has been said elsewhere and so I apologize for relying on rhetoric).

Rather than scrapping the whole thing and “overhauling” the educational system (that, btw, is political rhetoric used in the pushing through of No Child Left Behind and probably most of the current 2008 Presidential candidates’ stump speeches), maybe we need to shift the power back toward the educators. As I see it, we’ve been in the age of describing school in business-like terms: community members are now shareholders, concern is now accountability and the students are lost in the endless charts and graphs that litter up most DOE websites. Businesses are in the game to make money for their shareholders…that’s what businesses do. It should be a conflict of interest to have business people making up the majority of educational committees (and such is the case for at least the state of Indiana’s “Indiana Plan for Digital-Age Learning ” committee and the Educational Roundtable).

Instead, return education back to the classroom educators (having college representatives or school superintendents do not count here) and work more with the teachers-teaching-teachers model that I’ve made reference to in another post (much like the National Writing Project model).

For those who want a more radical way of rethinking education, why not take the best of the social aspects of democracy and apply a non-capitalistic model to it: yes, why not an open source education? I know it’s not a new idea and it is running on the heals of big tech buzz words, but it may be an idea worth pursuing. A good start would to look over Douglas Rushkoff’s Open Source Democracy and see the thinking that can occur when we strip off coercion and established structures and use the potential of a technology such as the internet for good and not marketing.

But that revolution probably won’t happen nationally yet; but, perhaps the ideas from that discussion could affect one classroom and then another and then a conference…

Back to the Dougherty post: a cool thing happens when you say something in a blog post: people comment and discuss and critique and qualify and, well, work with ideas. Already, his post has generated discussion on his site and has been the spark for this post. Our students are doing the same thing on things that they care about on other sites.

Lakefront Marathon report

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Here’s a report from last weekend’s Lakefront Marathon (Milwaukee, WI), the smaller marathon from the weekend with less press. I decided to use my older camera phone to record the sights and sounds of the race. For the sights, I used my Flickr account and for the sounds, I used my existing Twitter account with Dave Winer’s mashup, Twittergrams (the upshot is that you can record a 30-second message and people who are following your Twitter account have a link that they can follow and hear your audio message). [Note: time stamps are EDT and we were in CDT, so subtract an hour for reality].

Saturday, 6 October 2007

(BayView Farmers Market: Baby Jessica)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 08:34 AM October 06, 2007 from TwitterGram

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 01:32 PM October 06, 2007 from TwitterGram

Some pix from this morning in Milwaukee (Bayview):; time for lunch and packet pickup. 01:43 PM October 06, 2007 from web

(Milwaukee: MSOE field house)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 03:17 PM October 06, 2007 from TwitterGram

Sunday, 7 October 2007 (Before the race)

Today, Lois and I are running in the Lakefront Marathon (WI); we’re headed to the bus pickup and I’ll be twittering (t-gram) from the race. 07:00 AM October 07, 2007 from web

Have a great day folk…it’s gonna be a warm one…drink lots of fluids. 07:01 AM October 07, 2007 from web

Being transported to Grafton, WI

On bus with chatty people runners. 07:48 AM October 07, 2007 from txt

15 minutes before race time

Mile 0: Start of race (Grafton High School, Grafton, WI)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 09:02 AM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 3 (High point…maybe)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 09:33 AM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 4 (Losing Lois and Accordions)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 09:46 AM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 10 (Ambulance)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 10:58 AM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 15 (Fox Pointe and finishing)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 12:06 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 17 (Crowd support)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 12:21 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 18 (White Fish Bay, now all downhill)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 12:41 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 19 (What not to eat)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 12:52 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 20 (Flickr pix)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 01:07 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 23 (What not to eat, part 2; Meeting the Lake)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 01:48 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 24 (Jack)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 02:04 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Mile 26.2 (Finish line)

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 02:23 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram

Post-race commentary

Phoned-in TG from Lakefront Marathon weekend 02:40 PM October 07, 2007 from TwitterGram