07 December 2012

Book Challenge

This year's book challenge is coming to a close. I've thus far finished (at least) 32 full books this year and I have no doubt that I'll be making my goal of 35. I say 'at least', because I often forget to write books down as I read them and I can't promise that all of the books I read this year made the list.

One thing that has really helped me keep up with this year's goal is audiobooks. I have been listening to the Harry Potter series via audiobook for several years now, but it wasn't really until this spring that I jumped on the audiobook bandwagon. It started when I was living in Hong Kong, wanted to read The Wizard of Oz series, and had a lot of walking time back and forth from the university there. I started listening to Librivox (which is free). One of the things that I really didn't like about Librivox is the inconsistency of readers. Not all of there readers were bad. In fact, many of them were very good, but sometimes you'd get a book that was read by 30 different people, some of them with very strange accents. I think Librivox is a great protram, but after listening to Jim Dale do hundreds of voices for years, it was a hard change.

This summer my sister, who gobbles up audiobooks constantly, got me to listen to Dean Koontz's Life Expectancy. Hilarious book, but the reading was what I think really made the story for me. I quickly became a member of Audible and purchased the audiobook so that I could finish it. While I was there I picked up several of the books I've listened to this fall, including Neil Gaiman's Stardust and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series. After spending less than half of what it would have been to buy that last series, I decided to call it quits on my Audible account for a while. It's great to have books to listen to, but I figured there had to be a happy medium between paying monthly and the lack of consistent reading quality from Librivox.

It was time to join the local library.

Since moving to Salt Lake City, I had not really explored the city too much until the last month or so. I finally made it over to the U of U library, which is rather nice, but I also wanted to look into the public library as a possible place to work and spend some time. After finding their website, I realized my answer had come to me. The SLC public library has several account databases for library card holders for ebooks and audiobooks. I found my happy medium. Since getting my library card last week, I have now downloaded two books from Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom series. I had previously read the Abhorsen series and was eager to get a chance to explore more of Nix's interesting fantasy realms. His intricate worlds use some familiar and some unique facets to keep readers interested and on their toes as his characters find new worlds and face new challenges.

I have to say, I have really enjoyed reading and listening this year. I look forward to setting another goal for next year and bringing in a book challenge list, from which I will be pulling titles. As usual, there are some old favorites that I cannot go a year without reading, but this year will hopefully seen many never-before-read(-by-me) books, including many classics which I missed out on in middle school and high school.

As always, I hope you, too, find it valuable to spend time reading and I encourage you to set yourself a book challenge for the year. No number is too small if it gets you to pick up a few more books. :)

16 November 2012

Personal Learning Plans (PLP)

One of the tenets of the 21st century learning report (created by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills), is that students should learn how to learn and become life long learners. I think one of the things that we could teach students is to create Personal Learning Plans (PLPs), or even Personal Life Plans. Part of the learning process is evaluating where you are, setting learning goals, and moving to achieve those goals. The PLP is a formal way of doing this. Usually PLPs (or ILPs - individual learning plans) are set up by teachers, sometimes involving the parents and students, for the students as a way of planning to help a student in school. I think that if we taught students to create their own PLPs, it might be a way for them to feel ownership of their school work. It could help provide them with the organizational and tracking skills to assess whether or not they are making progress and how much progress they have made toward a particular goal.

Beyond this, the PLP could be a Personal Life Plan. Students could set themselves some life goals, assess where they are and make long term plans for achieving those life goals. If we are to aim at teaching children how to learn and how to achieve their goals, then why stop this idea at the education level? One thing a PLP can do is set priorities for behavior. This could be a huge step toward awareness for students, not only in their school life, but in their actions in general. Another thing a PLP can do is make the user aware of how they are spending their time. If a student thinks they study hard, but realizes through the lack of progress on the PLP that they are really only spending a few hours a week, they can change that behavior to do better. Likwise with life goals, if they think they are progressing toward some goal, but realize that they are not acquiring the skills needed or moving as quickly as they had hoped, they can tell that their actual behavior does not match with plans or goals they have set. This could be a very useful tool and process for students to learn.

Do you have a PLP? Do you think that they are effective tools for goal achievement?

11 November 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum...

The forum for my current education class, that is. I was highly skeptical of the reading assignment for the week, The Dumbest Generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future (or, don't trust anyone under 30) by Mark Bauerlein. I read review after review of the book (both in Amazon and by journalists), I looked it up on wikipedia, and I went in thinking I knew what I was going to read: some jerk who was on my generation about how dumb we all are.

Fortunately enough for me, I was surprised. While Bauerlein certainly takes what most consider to be a very aggressively negative outlook on the entire generation, he does have his points of moderation. He doesn't try to claim that all use of technology or the internet is what is killing our generation - it's the general uses that we all tend to fall into. Extensive time spent in front of the computer screen is as bad as our parents always told us too much time in front of the tv screen was. This is true. If you're spending all of your time in front of a screen and do not escape to the outside world, then you're probably not reading the classics or volunteering to better your community. Bauerlein does not, however, say the entire generation has gone to pot. In fact, he cites many authors who argue for the opposite. He points out that these shining examples do not exemplify the entire generation, but there are some worrying habits that do.

Honestly, something you wouldn't know much from reviews of this book, most of what Bauerlein has to say is about literacy. He's very concerned that we have an entire generation of kids (now becoming adults) that spent its young life parked in front of a television and are now parked in front of a computer screen instead of parked at the library with books. It doesn't take a very deep look at our generation to find a few of these folks Bauerlein is talking about either. There is consistently a problem among students who don't have the vocabularies to continue learning at the pace at which society expects us to, even if we're only getting a GED. Without the ability to read and comprehend, there is much of life that will be beyond us. In these respects, I think Bauerlein has made some points.

The other thing that rattles everyone is that he criticizes the stupidity (a bit of a harsh word, indeed) of the Millenial generation, but then he goes on to blame the several generations before for the state of things. I must say, I don't think I've ever read a book in which the author tried to insult so many people all at once, unless perhaps you remember Oscar Wilde's attempts, or perhaps even Chaucer. Given the strong reactions, particularly to this later section of the book, I was ready to be offended.

And yet, I found myself more intrigued by Bauerlein's defense of tradition and felt that he was not against moderation. He says he's appalled by the response of  academics in the 1960s who supported the "youth revolution", but it seems it is because these academics joined and justified the extremes being played out. It was strange that "only the adult world needs fixing" (page 181). It is the way in which history or anything perceived as traditional is seen as a threat and at odds with youth and a fixation on the youth identity carried far beyond adolescence that is disturbing to Bauerlein, and I can't say that I blame him. If I were trying to engage a group of students that frequently treated my own view as an active threat or with complete disregard (sometimes simultaneously), I too might be pushed to the lengths that Bauerlein is pushed to in his book.

Perhaps it is with biased perspective that I try to read Bauerlein's concern with as much empathy and charity as I can muster, but the contents of the book certainly didn't consistently offend me as much as the title seemed to communicate it would.

What did you think?

05 November 2012

Using cell phones in class

Cell phones in class: pro or con?

This week my group is writing a project in which we propose to let 8th graders text answers to review questions into the online program called Poll Everywhere. This is the kind of assignment that would allow students to utilize the technology available on almost every cell phone to help them review for an upcoming test. In the trial, the students will text in their answers to multiple choice questions. As they text in their answers, the class responses will appear live on a bar graph for all to see. We hope this will spark conversation and get students sharing knowledge as they prepare for the test.

BUT, of course, there is always the issue of kids texting in class. Will they be paying attention to their classmates? Or will they be trying to get away with texting other things during the class activity?

As usual, with greater use of technology come greater responsibility on the part of the student to focus and behave appropriately.

Will they do it?

What do you think? Would you allow students to text in class as part of an assignment? Or would you rather discourage the use of phones during class time?

29 October 2012

Gaming or simulation?

I recently started designing an economics unit idea based on the use of two table top games: Settlers of Catan and Monopoly. Both are resource management and expansion games, but the first uses an agricultural/products model, while the second is more about property, currency and investments. The basic idea is that students would play the first game, accrue resources and products, which would create a market. The supply and demand of this market would determine prices for those resources which are held by the students at the end of the game. Thus, the resources from Catan would determine how much money/property each student had to work with in Monopoly at the start. This would demonstrate how products drive the macro-economy and how businesses and financial investing build off of that. All of the game play would be supported by class lectures and discussions so that students understand the economic terms and concepts in play.

I see this as a way of using games in the classroom in a context that allows for real world knowledge to be transmitted in an engaging way.

Recently this website was recommended to me: http://www.winthemoneygame.com/ . I think this is a great idea, but it doesn't accomplish the same thing. This is more focused on the management of personal finances - salaries, paying bills, budgeting for things we want/need, etc. While I believe that this is equally important, it serves a different purpose. The Catan/Monopoly set up is highly theoretical and is about larger economic concepts - understanding how the nation's economy works and also a brief history of economic practice (e.g. bartering vs currency). The Win the Money Game would give students a much more practical notion of what it is like to get paid and what to do with that money once you have it. Both are good lessons for students to learn.

The more I think about this entire project, the more I think there are ways to bring content into the classroom via gaming. My Catan/Monopoly idea brings the engagement of traditional table top games to economic concepts, while the Win the Money Game brings a more literal simulation aspect to the table.

What do you think about gaming in the classroom? Can it deliver?

22 October 2012

Game informed learning and RPGs

What is it about games that draw us in? They are engaging, challenging and entertaining. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make classrooms the same? The idea of game informed learning suggests that we can bring these elements that keep us playing games into the classroom. This doesn’t mean that a class has to literally BE a game, but that the design of the class should be informed by that which makes gaming so intriguing. I’d like to particularly address how RPGs (Role Playing Games) could help to inform class design.

A part of traditional RPGs is storytelling. Table top games are often loosely plotted out by a GM (Game Master – though you might know this better as the DM, Dungeon Master from the popular Dungeons and Dragons game) and the players interactively and collaboratively fill in the story as they go along. RPG style video games (such as Final Fantasy) have also made the player an interactive character within the story. Often in these types of games, the player gets to make some choices about how the plot goes (often in the form of answering questions differently or taking one of multiple plot tracks), but the plot usually ends in the same way for all players. MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) have taken this same idea and fleshed out a world full of choices for the player. Like in most RPG video games, there is an overall plot that is played through with some choice as to how to arrive at the end. Unlike most video game RPGs, there is a wide world outside of that plotline in which the player gets to develop their character. MMORPGs like World of Warcraft (WoW) and Guild Wars 2 have full crafting systems, auction houses, weapon/armor/clothing management and other engaging aspects that allow the character being played to be individualized and fleshed out. In a game like this, the player has many choices about what kind of character they play (personality, appearance, traits, storyline choices). This complex style of RPG creates an interactive space with thousands of other players and a barrage of choices that a player has to make each and every time they play.

It is this last iteration of RPG games that provide the most interesting design style for educational purposes. As teachers, we seek to make our students active, engaged learners and citizens. This requires students to understand how to make decisions, how to plan, how to manage time and material – the list goes on and on. What better way to teach students these things than to put them through the process of decision making, long term planning and self management? With an environment that causes them to regularly make decisions about what they will do (therefore planning for themselves and their schedules), students can choose which approach to material suits their interest and learning styles best, and take ownership of their education in a new way. Part of what makes these kinds of games engaging is the fact that players get incremental feedback, notice of achievements, and small rewards as they go. There isn’t a celebration every time a task is completed, but instead there is acknowledgement of how these small tasks build up for a full effect. Rather than giving in to instant gratification or having to provide huge end goal rewards that don’t maintain the interest of students, a constant feedback and acknowledgement of small achievements for actions that help build toward a larger, more holistic goal. This sounds exactly like the kind of environment I would like to teach in.

So how exactly does running a game informed class like an RPG look? Check out one example at The Mac Lab. Mike Skocko, a high school art teacher, has done exactly this. He has taken the MMORPG style very literally into his classroom. His students join the TAG (The Artists Guild) and gain XP (experience) by completing quests (assignments) – some of which they get to choose, while others are necessary for “leveling up”. Students get to acknowledge their own achievement levels and can claim their own mastery. While this might raise the concern that students will game the system and claim mastery without it – don’t worry. Mike has set up a system in which students can challenge each other PvP style (Player vs. Player in gaming terms) to prove they have mastered the skills and tools. While this may not work for all kinds of content, other more traditional options (quizzes, tests, papers, presentations, etc) could serve to demonstrate the mastery of the student when they are ready to claim it.

At the same time, this model doesn’t have to look exactly like gaming. As is pointed out in the article “Game Informed Learning: Applying Computer Game Processes to Higher Education”, simulation is a game informed style of learning. One secondary education example might be dissection or the simulation of dissection on a computer, which is often provided as an alternative to actually dissecting an animal for biology. This gives the student the ability to gain from actual experience of dissecting an animal, usually meant to parallel the exploration of what a human body might be like. The articled cited above uses the example of medical students being given case studies and having to play out their examinations and diagnoses as though they were already working at a practice or hospital. These are situations in which students have to make real time decisions based on knowledge to learn about a larger process or topic

This is an idea that I very much hope to be able to explore and implement in my own classroom in the future. What do you think? Could students benefit from game informed learning in all subjects?

15 October 2012

Gamifying the Classroom

Recently I was reading an article entitled 'Digital Badges' would Represent Students' Skill Acquisition, which discusses the use of online/digital badges as a way for students to earn recognition for their acquired skills and achievements in and out of the classroom. These badges could be awarded for skill acquisition in the classroom, but part of it would also be for the skills acquired during their extra curricular activities. One of the focuses of these badges is to acknowledge skill sets that aren't traditionally represented in the normal grading and achievement recognition schemes that exist, such as leadership, or very specific skill sets, such as learning HTML or Java script.

One of the main objections to these badges is that it creates a situation which "gamifies" the classroom - turning education into a game. The problem skeptics cite is that by providing extrinsic motivation for things which students are already intrinsically motivated to do, we are decreasing their intrinsic motivation to do so. Apparently, the use of point systems is just a way of gamifying education and teachers should be helping students find intellectual value in their educational pursuits that has nothing to do with rewards.

One problem that I have with this objection is that point systems have been used as behavioral control in classrooms for a very long time. It is a well established, well studied, well taught part of education. While it is acknowledged that point systems do not work in all circumstances, to suddenly say that it is turning education into a game when it bleeds over from classroom control into content seems completely ridiculous. By that logic, getting students to behave appropriately in the classroom is only a game, too.

Personally, I am still ambivalent about the topic of gamifying the classroom. I can understand the downsides of rewarding things that we, as teachers, think students should be motivated to do intrinsically. On the other hand, if there is a way of engaging students in their learning process that works and motivates students to learn through their own exploration, while also benefiting from the reward system that sparked that interest, then I would be hard put to find objections.

One fantastic example of a gamified classroom that I believe works can be found in The Mac Lab. Mike Skocko is a teacher that took the online gaming platform structure (gaining XP [experience], questing [mastery], being part of a guild [classroom community], and having a code of honor [classroom rules upheld as much by the students as by himself]) and applied it to his classroom, which involves time spent in an actual school as well as having blogs and personal sites for presentation of work. Though he is an art teacher, I think this kind of classroom style could potentially be beneficial, particular as many schools move toward 1:1 computing situations. Part of what keeps students interested in video and online games is the dynamic space in which they get to explore, learn, hone their skills and challenge (or get challenged) by other players. The traditional classroom has been criticized for lacking this dynamic aspect, so the thought of bringing an interactive style to the classroom that would help students want to engage and take some control of and ownership for their learning sounds appealing.

What do you think? Would bringing a gaming aspect to the classroom help or hinder education?

07 October 2012

Students on Steroids

No, this is not a controversial sports post, but about what Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, calls the technological "steroids" that are creating a "flatter" world. Friedman writes:

        "I call certain new technologies the steroids, because they are amplifying 
         and turbocharging all the other flatteners." (Friedman, 187)

By flatteners, he means the technologies that are making it easier for everyone to be more connected and have a more equal chance to participate globally. The "steroids" he mentions are the technologies that speed up connectivity, allow for transfer of more data more quickly to anywhere in the world. He points out that "year after year we have been able to digitize, shape, crunch, and transmit more words, music, data and entertainment than ever before" (Friedman, 188). So the question is: what does this mean for students and teachers?

The students of today are natives of this technological wave, they are the people who will most easily navigate and adapt with the technology that is already shaping their lives in so many ways. This inundation with technology in our everyday lives has spread to education already with the prospect of many schools moving towards ubiquitous (or 1 to 1) computing. While bringing technology to the classroom has been an ongoing process for a while, this kind of transition will force a change in the way that teaching and learning are viewed. Rather than having some teachers believe that project-based and student-centered learning are the key to continued success, teachers will be forced to see that traditional, lecture-style teaching methods will no longer be appropriate in ubiquitous computing settings.

While many students are familiar with the "steriods" Friedman refers to and would love to use them in the school setting, they may not particularly understand what changing to a student-centered learning style will entail. This is not just a change for teachers, but a major change for students. They can no longer rely on sitting and half listening to a lecture and asking a few questions in class to cover their grades. Student-centered learning requires students to take initiative in their own educations. While this involves more choice (usually seen as an advantage to the students), they will also have to help drive themselves and be more ambitious if they want to succeed in school.

So are these steroids, which will allow students to engage their peers and information in new and exciting ways, going to help them by relieving some of the academic pressure of studying and finding information? Or is it going to make their jobs as students much more difficult with every higher standards of presentation and engagement?

The answer may be "both".

01 October 2012

Blog vs Wiki: The Educational Showdown

As a teacher, I've got to ask myself: which do I think would be more effective in the classroom: a blog or a wiki? These two ways of presenting and interacting with information on the web are very different and each have advantages and disadvantages.


Both are media that allow multiple authors to write and present material on a web page such that others can add to that written material. Blogs often have comment boxes enabled, so that readers can comment and address the topic which the author has chosen. In a wiki, the original author swiftly becomes the co-author of all pages as readers turn co-author and edit the original page and writing done by the original author. Blogs are more conducive to single authorship and discussion of a topic, whereas wikis are better set up for collaborative work. Wikis allow authors to create new pages for new topics, which might better organize certain kinds of material, rather than the temporally updated and listed material of a blog.

Time as a Factor

With blog, teachers would be able to clearly see when students authored and submitted their work. The general set up of a blog post includes the time and/or date of the post in the header with the title of the post. Wikis are set up to be topic-based rather than chronological in their layout, so authors of the page can edit and change material anywhere on any page at any time on any topic. It is much harder to tell what was done when by whom, unless you have a system that tracks changes. A project with a particular due date for some kind of completed or substantial amount of material would be harder to monitor temporally.

Monitoring of behavior

In a classroom/educational setting, the subject of safety and behavior monitoring have to be taken into account. The natural set up of blog seems to make this easier, as a single administrator can have the power to edit or delete inappropriate posts by authors. It would also be much easier to tell which author posted inappropriate material. Wikis are naturally set up to evolve and change as the group of authors decide, with less attention paid to authorship. This would make it more difficult to monitor the behavior of individuals, again, without the close monitoring of tracked changes. Also, the nature of a wiki is to expand topically. Authors can create new pages and expand the size of a wiki site very rapidly, which is good for material organization, but also makes it easier to hide inappropriate material as a wiki rapidly grows.


I think that choosing a blog or wiki will really come down to assessing what kind of project is being done and what kind of material is being approached. If the material involves a broad topic with many sub-topics that need to be discussed and addressed by all students, particularly in the creation of some kind of study-guide or reference website, then a wiki is probably the best choice. If the students need to turn in distinctly individual materials on a schedule (daily, weekly, monthly), then a blog is probably a better medium. When taking the behavior of a particular class into account, if a teacher needs to monitor and restrict information sharing and authorship more closely, a blogging format and set up with naturally serve better. If a teacher is leading a mature group of students in a project that is understood as a peer editing and collaborative project, then a wiki is an exciting resource to be able to use.

This post is part of the 21st Century Learning post series.

20 September 2012


I am not yet sure of the capabilities that allow one to put podcasts up on blogger, but I'll be making a podcast this week and I thought this would be a great place to put it... if I can. :)

Not much crafting of late, unfortunately. Not much blogging either (as you might notice from my lack of archived material). I've finally gotten back to work for my boss in Hong Kong and things are picking up a bit there. Classwork is getting more complicated as the semester goes on and I find I want to get out more and more. It's nice to be able to get out and do things. We even have two events to attend on Saturday: a community block party and a philosophy department party. We might finally get to meet some of our neighbors and we're starting to get some decent social time with the phil department folks. :)

Things are coming along in SLC.

04 September 2012


So the first of September has come and gone. I missed posting. Oops.

Since I last posted here I have had several creative pursuits which have taken up my time. The first was a cowl shirt. I first saw one in REI, but it was $60! Crazy, I told myself. It looks sorta like this, but with a more subtle pattern. I could not get it off my mind after I saw it in the store, so I decided to make one. I bought a black t-shirt and used the body of it to make the long neck, which I attached to a black long-sleeved shirt I already owned. I will have to see about getting some photos up. There are things I would do different if I were to do it again, but isn't that always the way of projects? I'll have to see about getting some photos up.

The other project I worked on was for my Emerging Technology course. I created interactive PDFs! It was a pretty fun project in the making. I used Adobe InDesign to create PDFs that have audio and video clips built into them. While this isn't going to be your normal PDF for printing off, it is a really great tool for digital communication. Adobe InDesign allows the user to create PDFs that use several technological mediums (audio recordings, video recordings, podcasts, images) to create multi-level learning tools that appeal to learners of all kinds. Through the creation of interactive PDFs, teachers can adapt and supplement curriculum to the needs of the individual learners in their classrooms. Now, auditory and visual learners have the ability to interact with curricular material through experiences which help them form lasting memories of classroom lessons.

The content which interactive PDFs can communicate to students is infinite. Audio clips are useful for language learning, ESL, literature, literacy, social studies and music. Video clips may be equally important in all of these courses as well as science and mathematics. Through use of the available material from sources such as podcasts, iTunesU, YouTube and Khan Academy, teachers can augment their lectures and keep student interest. Another advantage of using interactive PDFs is that not only can they be used during lectures, but teachers can make the resource available to students and parents through email or classroom
websites for continued access and use of the resources that support in-class materials.

30 August 2012

The Halloween Season Arrives?

So I'm a little confused. My phone tells me that it's in the 80s during the early mornings and heading well into the 90s by mid day. When I go out to jog, the sun is blisteringly and blindingly hot. I still rush in and spend most of my day in the air conditioning to remain feeling like an Earth being rather than a Venus or Mercury inhabitant (or at least like I don't live in Hong Kong without air conditioning anymore).


The rest of the world seems to thing fall is getting on. Halloween stores have been advertising like crazy. I received an advertisement in my inbox for haunted house coupons. When I went into Michael's for a t-shirt, all of the skeletons, scarecrows, pumpkins and corn husks took up at least half of the store. The Possession comes out this week.

Did I miss something? It's not even September 1st yet (though I'm counting the days). Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. Last year I did an Octoberpost series (click here for the series start). I'm all about it. I love that I finally will get to wears some scarves (sniff - alas, I left many in NC during the move), sweaters and hats in my favorite color palette.


It's still August! It's still summery hot outside. I guess it's all just wishful thinking. If so, I'm glad to know that there are many people here that share my love of autumn. :)

26 August 2012

21st Century Skill Sets and Beyond

“Information and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, interpersonal and self-directional skills” This list has become the mantra of teachers reciting the skills they should be helping students acquire. Unfortunately, what students need to learn is much more than a list of skills. Beyond these skill sets, students will need to understand their own learning process. Many of the above skill sets are a part of that learning process, but each individual learns in a unique way. By mastering the learning process and, therefore, knowing how to research, study and retain knowledge, students will be equipped to face the challenges that will emerge in the 21st century. This means that rather than learning particular or specialized skill sets, which individuals will then take to work and execute, students will need to be able to learn the emerging skill sets that are required of a dynamic work environment. In order to help students achieve this in the classroom, teachers will need to focus equally on making the awareness and development of a learning style a part of the curriculum. This is partially a metacognitive approach to learning and teaching, but it must move beyond that into the development of good learning habits and how to adapt one’s learning style to the material. This process seems to also necessarily involve ownership of the learning process. It seems that to help students become good and life-long learners, we must help them to understand what we know as teachers.

To be skilled workers in the 21st century means that not only do individuals have to have niche knowledge and skill sets, but the ability to learn new skill sets and adapt to emerging innovations and technologies. It is this ability to learn that is required now and will continue to important in the future. Teaching, in and of itself, is a perfect example of the kind of career that requires specific knowledges and skill sets, but also requires the worker to adapt at every stage of the process and learn how to flourish in each new situation. New students, new technologies, new curriculums, new requirements and the ever changing state of the material that we must teach all require teachers (and I would like to argue that have always required good teachers) to be adaptive, to understand their own learning processes and to be able to help others learn to be aware and adaptive individuals.

Much of the focus, when it comes to new and emerging information and skills, lays in technology. The technologies that students must be competent in, in my opinion, are the ones that are going to make them good learners and performers. One could easily do research at the library with piles of books and, sometimes, one still must do just that. With the internet being a fairly open resource for the sharing of information, however, much of the information necessary to students now resides in servers accessible from almost anywhere. Though all of the information on the internet is not completely reliable, more and more there are becoming sites dedicated to reliable information recording. When these reliable resources (reliable websites vs. piles of library books), the internet takes the advantage for one simple reason: expediency. Not only will students have to be able to find, learn and retain knowledge, but they will have to do it concurrently to fixing the problems that they are working on. In the 21st century, the speed at which events occur makes the internet a necessary resource and the skills sets to use the internet appropriate equally necessary. As I write this, I know that I am referring to “the Interwebs” and the skills sets necessary to use them as though they were one cohesive skill set. I know this to be absurd. This, however, is the world that our students face IN SCHOOL, let alone what they will face in their future workplaces.

24 August 2012

Building a Lego Bridge... without the Legos

So I wanted to post some pictures from my first assignment in my Emerging Tech class.

Lego – Building a Bridge Debriefing
When tasked with building a Lego bridge, the first problem I encountered was my lack of access to Legos. In search for an acceptable alternative, I found a local church had children’s building blocks that I could use for this assignment. I altered the pricing based on the size of the blocks I had in the following manner:

-          Small square blocks = $150
-          Large square blocks = $250
-          Rectangular prism blocks = $350
-          Large flat blocks = $450

The entire process of planning and building the bridge the first time took me approximately 10 minutes. The end result was a 6 in. tall, 14 in. long bridge, which held a heavy textbook. I used 2 flat blocks ($900), 4 small blocks ($600), 8 large blocks ($2000) and 2 rectangular blocks ($700). My total expenses added up to $4200 for the project. I did not use any resources (except my brain) in the planning of the bridge. Mostly, I focused on using at least one of each block type and making the measurements conform to the requirements provided.

Phase 1 Bridge

For my second bridge, I spent about 10 minutes looking at some of the sites suggested, but I didn’t find the Lego sites very helpful, as they referred to a different building material. I used the Ohio Department of Transportation site (http://www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/Communications/BridgingtheGap/Pages/ BridgeTermDefinitions.aspx) to learn a little more about the terms and structures of bridges in general. I then searched sites about building bridges with blocks. I found a website in which some very young bridge builders had built a block bridge strong enough to hold their combined weight (http://earlylearningcentral.ca/?p=511). Looking at their photos, I noticed that in some cases they used multiple blocks as abutments to hold up the deck of the bridge, while other times they used single blocks. This made me rethink my design in a way that made it more cost effective. My second bridge consisted of 2 flat blocks ($900), 4 small blocks ($600), 4 large blocks ($1000) and 4 rectangular blocks ($1400). While the change in the building was not significant, the cost saved was (a total of $3000 for the second project, saved me $1200).

Phase 2 Bridge - with room for a boat or any vehicle that wants to pass under it

Planning Diagram for Phase 2
(sorry this last one is sideways - I can't for the life of me figure out why it won't turn)

I found the second phase much easier, because rather than trying to merely fulfill the requirements, I looked at what other collaborators have done, combined their ideas with my own and applied them to the materials I had. I found searching on the internet to learn the technical terms much easier than trying to find a book in a library (none of which I had access to). I think for the time-constrained learning opportunities that we have in classrooms today, the second phase, in which technology is available for research, to be more appropriate.

While I understand the purpose of this assignment, I felt I had the skills I needed to complete the activity – with or without the technology backing me up. On the other hand, it would have taken me longer than 20 minutes in the second phase if I had not had the technological resources available to me. I think the skills that students will need to learn in order to participate in activities like this are flexibility in brainstorming, critical thinking, knowing how to use the resources available to them and understanding how the creative process works. These skills are exceedingly relevant to the workforce and to problem-solving in life more generally and are 21st century skills. 

21 August 2012

The tech... it's coming

Today I start a course called Emerging Technologies for Teaching and Learning. I'm pretty excited to see what is going to come of this new course. I've already begun to upload photos, update profiles and get back around to this blog, so that I have some place to post of the online goodies.

We've recently moved back to the US from Hong Kong and now are out in Salt Lake City. It's a new place with a new outlook. Some of that will probably make its way into the future blogging as well.

22 January 2012

Educational Standards and Global Learning

As No Child Left Behind is left behind and Common Core Standards make their way in to US educational policy, global learning has become the hot topic of educational dialogue. The big question is ‘how will our nation’s children fare in the ever diversifying, ever globalizing world?’ It is becoming more and more obvious that the problems our younger generations are going to have to solve will be global problems, whether it pertains to the economy, demographic shifts or the environment. Many believe that the way to prepare our students to take on these challenges is through global learning.

To me, global learning is learning that creates and enhances 1) student awareness of different cultures, globalization and its impacts and 2) the ability to interact effectively in an increasingly global world; that is, global learning is learning to be a better global citizen. Yong Zhao notes that these global “citizens must be able to competently negotiate cultural differences, manage multiple identities, comfortably interact with people from different cultures, and confidently move across cultures as well as the virtual and physical worlds” (“Education in the Flat World: Implications of Globalization on Education”, EDge vol 2, no 4). To master these skills, students must become more aware, more tolerant and more appreciative of cultures other than their own. As other countries move toward preparing their students to speak multiple languages, travel across national borders, be more emotionally stable and promote creativity and individuality, the US needs to move in the same direction. Zhao notes that much of what motivates US movements toward a more global education is worry about international competition. If the US wishes to compete with other countries, then it should consider the competing training methods and move to improve upon them in creating its own standards.

What the recent US standards of education point to is that those concerned with how our students perform in international competition are short term strategists. While they seem to be economically motivated – what will keep the US ahead in the sciences, maths and technologies so that we can keep an economic stronghold on innovation? – their vision is short-sighted. No Child Left Behind focused on high stakes testing at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Unfortunately, none of these demographics are particularly money-earning, money-spending or money-creating. Are those test scores really indicators of how much these students will contribute to that demographic in adulthood? I think not. US educational policy makers must come to the understanding that the long term success of the US in innovation was not achieved by those with high test scores (Einstein reputedly did not score well in math, but without his innovative ideas, where would our understanding of physics be?), but by those with the creativity and interest to pursue problems to the end. These are the money-creators (those that create the ideas/businesses that increase profit, jobs on the market, jumps in technology, paradigm shifts, etc). These are the people that change the times, rather than changing with the times. Right now, these people are expanding their ideas and businesses into the growing global community, aware that it is already the frontier to be on. This is the community in which our current students will have to live and work.

US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan commented in May 2010 about international engagement and collaboration through education, but still seemed stuck in Cold War terms: he compares investing in education as “our generation’s ‘moonshot’.” He goes on to say that “like the space race, it involves a healthy rivalry with other advanced nations.” It seems strange enough to call Cold War competition “healthy rivalry”, but to compare this to the developing education program of engagement and collaboration is flat out counter-intuitive. While I believe that “healthy” competition can add urgency and interest into the system, it is better to avoid Cold War terminology that could easily move the dialogue to memories of cultural superiority and paternalism, which undermine international cooperation and collaboration. Despite this awkward diction put forth, Secretary Duncan did heavily stress the movement of education to prepare students for building international relationships and fluency in other languages to support future international and collaborative ventures.

With these goals of international collaboration and cooperation in mind, what must global learning become to achieve those goals? The most obvious global learning facets – awareness, tolerance and appreciation of different cultures – tend to come to mind, but for students to succeed in increasingly diverse communities, the ability to interact with internationals and those with cultural differences will be equally important. Two of the major skill sets involved in that ability are multilingual and cultural fluency. One can speak a language, but without the cultural fluency to be able to interact with native speakers of that language, it will be hard to grasp the full meanings of things such as idioms and body language. Another is skill set understanding how to be a critical and creative thinker in unfamiliar or collaborative environments. Without these interactive components of global learning, international collaboration and cooperation would be impossible.

What is your definition of global learning? How do you think students need to be prepared for an increasingly globalized world? Leave a comment!

This entry was also posted at Global Learning Dialogues. Please visit for more entries on Global Learning. This post is also being submitted to YeahWrite, so please go vote later this week!

12 January 2012

Mini Food Rant

So here I am, taking a short break from work and browsing through Pinterest when I see a picture of lasagna. This is all fine and good (and even mouth watering) until I read the comment posted under it: "Best Lasagna. As good as any restaurant. Worth the time and effort!"


I'm good with the first and last statements in that comment. It's the middle one that kinda disturbs me. I'd like to preface this mini rant with the fact that I'm Italian. I learned to cook at home. There was good food there.

1) I believe that food at restaurants (of the normal kind - none of the 4 star ones of course), should be AS GOOD AS AT HOME. Not the other way around. Seriously - my husband pretty much won't eat pizza that isn't homemade anymore, because he considers it not good enough. I always tell people I know the best Italian place in town... it's my home.

2) If you've been to good Italian restaurants (funnily enough they're frequently owned by Greeks, if not Italians), then you know that the food is made with a care that shows in the outcome. If you've been to other Italian restaurants or restaurants that serve Italian food along with other fare, you know that much of the time your pasta comes to you mushy instead of al dente, the sauce has too much oregano in it and the sodium content is probably through the roof (which is a good reason on their part to cover it with cheese).

3) When did the standards of cooking become so low that restaurants quality is the goal? Much of what people eat out nowadays is fast food anyway.

Now I'd like to be fair - there are fabulous restaurants that are completely worth emulating, but when I think of the majority of the restaurants that I've eaten at in the past year (on a normal person's budget), I don't usually want to emulate their food.

I highly doubt the woman that posted that comment was thinking gourmet when she thought of restaurant quality lasagna. My guess is she was thinking more like Olive Garden. Their food is fine, but it's not something I run home to try to recreate. All in all, this comment makes me a little sad... I am such a food snob.

11 January 2012

Book Challenge 2012

Last year I did the Good Reads book challenge (though that website really annoys me) and I successfully achieved and surpassed my set goal of 30 books in a year. I actually read a few of them more than once, but I only counted a single read on any given book toward the goal, so it was more like 38-40.

This year, I plan on setting myself the same challenge, but I'm going to up my goal to 35 book in the year. This will probably be harder to complete than last year, because I didn't have a job last year until July, so there was plenty of time to get lots of novel reading in. This year, I'm starting out with a full-time job, three credit hours of classes for my Master's degree and studying for the Praxis I and II. Needless to say, I'm giving myself a real and fairly difficult challenge here, but I think I might be able to squeeze three books a month in.

As I said last year when I set this goal, I completely support and encourage others to set reading goals for themselves. We all tend to get busy and forget to take the time to do things we enjoy. So set yourself aside some time and set a reading goal this year! It's a New Year's resolution you might just stick to. :)

Goal set: 35 Books!

07 January 2012

The end of last year

This is the time and space in which people talk about their New Year's resolutions, but I think I need to finish wrapping up last year first:

1) The sudden loss of my uncle put a bit of a damper on the season and most definitely my want to post here for a while. He was a wonderful man with strong convictions: the community and his drive to help those around him, cooking (best rack of ribs in the world), his family, his religion. He was the kind of man that took the time to make those who might have felt forgotten feel remembered, feel loved. Losing him is a great loss to this world. He was always ready with a laugh, especially when we were children. He often confessed that he had not graduated from the "kids table" at my Nonna's house, which meant he was there to make sure dinner got eaten and no funny business was going on. It also meant that he made sure that every business was funny. He always had a quarter for your 25 cent words and he might even flick a bugger (pretend or not) at you. He is missed.

2) I did finish my Book Challenge for 2011, though I didn't post it in time. I finished Chill Out and Get Healthy. It's a book with a modern interpretation of Chinese medicine. It was okay - more a laugh (due to the language, not the topic) than anything else. I also read all three books in the Hunger Games series (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay). The series was excellent and I'm looking forward to the films. That closes me out at 33 for the year. I've also read Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire. Fabulous ending to the series. Not what I expected, but I will leave the details for the actual reading. You have to read the series and it's best to go in order. :)

I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season. I'll be posting a little less often than I was until we get settled back in Hong Kong - which should be fairly soon. Until then, good reading and Happy New Year.

Leave me a comment to let me know you stopped by!