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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Open House Welcome Prezi Slideshow

Here is a sneak peek at the Open House Welcome Prezi Slideshow. Click on the arrow to move to the next message. Of course there will be more to see in a couple of weeks, but I hope you like what you see so far.

This week I'm taking over all of my classroom supplies to our room. It might even take two-trips!! I'm hoping that the environment that I create will inspire you to learn. I hope you are as excited as I am.

Don't forget Community night on Thursday July 29th at 6:00 in the Commons. See you there.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Widening Their View

For me, July means the Tour de France, the greatest and arguably the toughest sporting event in the world . In my lifespan, I have followed this three-week bike race for a longer period of time than I have not followed it. It is a beautiful race to be sure, sometimes cruel in it's relentlessness, but always intriguing. The personalities and races within the race for sprinting, climbing, and team classifications provide a glorious three weeks of drama each year. It never fails to give me goosebumps or cause me to yell out loud at the drama that unfolds in front of me.

When I first started following the Tour, there was no local TV news and very little newspaper coverage of the daily races, as our national sport of baseball took up most of the daily ink. The limited TV coverage was provided with quick recap coverage and highlight shows and only shown on the weekend.  Thank goodness for ABC's Wide World of Sports, which gave U.S. spectators glimpses of sports out side of the big four, football, baseball, basketball, and for some, hockey.  Pre-ESPN and pre-internet, a devoted fan would have to seek out alternative outlets for information as to what was happening in a country that seemed very far away. I remember going to the larger downtown library to hunt down French newspapers to review results from midweek stage results. The results were a couple of days old, but they would get me through the week.

Nowadays, I can watch live TV coverage for about 3-4 hours a day with live internet commentating in full swing an hour or so before that. Multiple sources can provide the devoted fan Tour content via blogs, smartphones, twitter, and video delivered to your choice of hardware. However, my experience is virtual, I'm not really in France running alongside the riders as they try and make their way up steep 10% grades for kilometers on end. (Yes, I would almost certainly be that guy) It doesn't diminish my experience though, I am still participating, still interacting with my world at large. The technologies allow me to widen my world view, and enrich my life by taking part in something that I might not ever get to do in person. I learn about French history, food, architecture, customs, art and more, and my world view gets just a little bit wider.

I taught at a neighborhood school last year, meaning that there were no bus' that delivered the students to the door, as they either walked or were dropped off by their parents. Sadly, many of the student's world view were limited to the streets surrounding their home. In a class full of kids that were in pain (psychological - another post, another time), one of the saddest comments I had relayed to me was "Mr Johnson, I've never been to a zoo." I extended the conversation with the student to learn that he never had been to a museum, a parade, concerts, pro (local-team) baseball game, or similar. Unfortunately, this fourth grader's experience was not unique in this class. Revealed in subsequent class discussions was the fact that a number of these kids were not exposed to diverse experiences that can help them lead richer lives.

Similar to the vocabulary gap that forms in early child development between children who are read to and those who are not, I was concerned that these kids were at risk of a cultural gap. My small solution was to dedicate learning time each week, both independent and complimentary to regular curriculum, to something that they had never seen, nor likely to experience firsthand. We would take virtual tours of great museums, art galleries, view thought provoking or intriguing pictures from cultural celebrations from around the world. Our class would then either talk about or compose responses to what we had just seen. Once in a while we would create our own images, create building floor plans, or imagine a celebration for something that was meaningful to them. We used technology to bring the world closer and open it up.

I was very pleased, and consistently amazed at the students observations and comments. They would offer insights and opinions that were generally respectful to strange (to them) scenes and customs. (e.g. India's festival of Colors or Holi MSNBC Week in Pictures or CBS News ). The learning activity spurred more learning and was soon an anticipated part of class. As usual, I learned more from them than I what I was able to impart. I felt that by the end of the year, we were able to close the gap a little more.

Here are some of the places we visited and things we saw:
MSNBC's week in pictures - One of my favorites, with terrific consistency. Great pictures every week from around the world. Sorted by topic, Explore, Science, Hot Topics, Special, News, Entertainment and not to be missed Animal Tracks.

Virtual Tours - U.S. Government A seemingly endless index listing of photographic and video virtual tours of United States Government sites, including National Parks, Museums, The White House, etc. Wonderful. Also check out PBS' Virtual White House Tour, which can help students understand some of the history of the building.

North American Bear Center: We adopted Lily a two-year old Black Bear and watched her hibernation and birth of her first cub. Somewhat by happenstance a den cam was placed into the den of this bear and it was later discovered that she was going to have a cub at some point during the long cold Minnesota winter. We checked in almost daily. We were captivated, as were a lot of others, when the first shrieks of "Hope" -the cub- were heard. Students brought in their own research on bears and subsequently other animals to share with their classmates.

The Hermitage is one of the world's great museums. Located in St Petersburg, Russia. The State Hermitage houses more than 3 million artifacts and this Hot Media site powered by IBM is a simply marvelous way to bring these items to your classroom. The 360 degree and zoomable views allow students to key in on what they would like to see. The Chidren and Education Section contains activities and extension learning resources. The boys in my class really liked the "Time of Knights" stories.

Eye Revolution allows virtual peeks of some very cool varieties of landmarks and objects, ranging from a bunch of London sites to Shanghai to Chicago's skyline. The company sells these 360 degree services, but their demonstration projects are worth sharing with your class.

If you have some sites to share, leave a link in the comment section. Thanks

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Monday, July 12, 2010

I didn't think of that...

I am usually not welcomed on the weekly grocery store trip with my wife. It's not that my superior packing skills aren't valued when I deftly make every inch of our reusable bags count, it's because I slow things down and complicate the process. In teaching vernacular, my omission has more to do with me not staying on task. A 'normal' trip is extremely efficient, rooted in her rote knowledge of the aisle layout and the repetition that years of shopping the same store have brought. Lists are made, coupons are prepared, and goods are gathered. Get in, get out, no one gets hurt.

I find the variety of goods, both complimentary and substitute, very intriguing. It is mildly amazing to me that the supermarket carries all these diverse types, sizes, and flavors to satisfy the differing tastes of my neighbors. I often wonder as I traverse the aisles, do they really sell all of this stuff? The breadth of choices in mustard alone are staggering. Some of this stuff is pretty irresistible, which has lead to my exclusion.

When I come along, items that were not on the well thought-out list mysteriously end up in the cart and are gradually revealed as the 'authorized' items are placed on the conveyor belt. The items that I have selected could be classified into the impulsive, curious, or sub-conscious decision silos. Inevitably, I get 'the look' and then a quiet acceptance of my weakness that concludes the checkout process.

A recent trip yielded an unusual result from an impulse buy that was not mine. My wife and I were making a detour from the straight line grocery route through the general goods section. Palletized goods are now placed in every retailer's aisles creating a way for them to display seasonal goods and special buys. When we rounded the corner from the main entry, my wife spied an impulse buy that could not be resisted. Brightly colored pool noodles were soon plucked from their cardboard presentation boxes, even-though we don't have a pool. They became minor thank-you presents to our friends who graciously let my son swim at their house. The noodles are 7ft long hollow foam tubes that can be used to keep a person afloat, create big splashes, or whack a fellow poolmate. I soon realized that these noodles were unwieldy and awkward to carry through a crowded store.

I variously tried different ways of getting them to their final destination without knocking anything over or inconveniencing anyone. First, I tried carrying them at different angles, but rounding corners was a challenge. The leading end would get there before I would. Carrying one each arm was not well received by my fellow shoppers either, as I took up more than my fair share of the aisle. I sought the utility of the cart, but that was not a very good option either. Their length was not accommodated by the cart's relative short basket. Placed backward, a turn required releasing your hands from the cart. Placed forward, the excess length acted like a lance for a jousting knight.
I resigned myself to the fact that there was no good way to transport the lengthy items through the store, so I just managed the best I could, until I rounded the papergoods aisle. There was a 10 year old'ish boy that had found a creative solution to our shared problem. Shopping with his mother, they too had chosen two pool noodles, but his solution to the frustrating problem I encountered was remarkably different. 

He had simply placed the length of the noodle vertically through the gaps in the child basket and routed the end to rest on the floor of the beverage tray at the bottom of the cart. Ingenious! I didn't think of that.
His solution solved the jousting , cornering and steering problems with one simple solution. It occurred to me that creativity was at work. His solution was both original and useful, the definition of creativity. I'm sure that his mother didn't tell him how to place the noodles, or place limits on his thinking. The boy just realized that he couldn't drive the cart, a highly valued activity when I was young and apparently for his as well, and carry the items at the same time. I was impressed.

Creativity is sometimes elusive and hard to capture, but I believe can be taught and integrated into traditional activities. Teachers must be willing to let go of the control that can place limits on child's learning. Let the child take control of their own learning with simple outlines of a problem. We should also regularly structure cooperative and collaborative groups that use the diverse thinking of individuals. We can unleash student creativity to create something original and useful, if we just trust ourselves enough to let them.

for more please read: The Creativity Crisis
also Check out: Lego Smart

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Monday, July 5, 2010

A Real Experience

I recently had the opportunity to spend the day with a few middle school aged kids on a day trip to Chicago. The plan was to visit the Chicago Printers Row Litfest and, if I could persuade the Bieberized girls, to stop by the Chicago Blues Fest. I've always maintained that Chicago is the best Summer city in America, influenced by my midwest familiarity with the variety of the, mostly free, events that are part of the warm weather celebration that take place in the beautiful city of big shoulders.

I was going either way. For the first time in a very long time, I didn't have any commitments that would hold my attendance back. Work could no longer demand my presence, as I was trying to secure my first teaching job in a gloomy atmosphere of dramatic state budget cuts and corollary teacher layoff notices. My son, who would be coming along this year, wasn't playing summer baseball for the first time since t-ball. The yard was mowed, the house was clean. I was going.

I first attended the blues fest in the summer after my 16th birthday. The first weekend of June, its traditional place on the calendar, fell just a couple of months after getting my drivers license and it became my first big roadtrip. It was to become an annual tradition for a number of years, variously with a singular friend or acquaintance that could share gas money and tolls. Over the years I was fortunate enough to see some great blues giants, Robert Cray, B.B. King, Ruth Brown, Koko Taylor, and on what seemed like a frigid night in Grant Park, John Lee Hooker, to name a few. This time, the highlight was to be 95 year old David 'Honeyboy' Edwards who is probably the last genuine practitioner of Mississippi Delta styled blues. The chance to see a living legend was slotted in very nicely to an mid afternoon spot.

The Printer's Row Litfest (formerly called PR book fair) features hundreds of booksellers, both large and small and sometimes quite specific, and dozens of author events. Particularly interesting was a talk scheduled early in that day by Sebastian Junger, author of a Perfect Storm and his newest WAR, about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal valley.

I thought the challenge would be to get these kids to turn down another day with laptops, video games, full-on texting, and TV for a day away from the virtual world. One with real experiences and actual interactions with something not plugged in or powered by a battery. The barrier proved to be one of my own making. I had mistakenly placed a limitation on these kids. Once again, children taught me more than what I taught them.

Initially, the atmosphere in the car was raucous. I had brought along highway bingo boards and there was much debate on what constituted a "tree grove' and other elements that would form a line of victory or omit a square of 'fail' (apparently the word of the day). The 'old fashioned' game was a hit and I was happy that they were not texting their marked off squares to each other. Next up was car Madlibs another activity that did not require laptops, nor iTouch. The interactions were real, the fun immense.

I was taken aback by the kids enthusiasm upon arrival to the Litfest, they were genuinely engaged in all of the offerings that surrounded them. Most interestingly was their interactions with the authors that were present, some actively pushing their books. Having a conversation with the person while handing you their work was an unexpected thrill for the kids and a memorable one for me. The authors talked with enthusiasm of how their work might fit into the young readers interest. Especially engaging and earnest was Nick Valentino author of Thomas Riley. Dressing the part, Mr. Valentino willingly took time to talk to my boy and pose for pictures, sign and stamp his book with passport stops that presumably involved his title character. It was unique and genuine. Only once did I feel that I had to intervene with these author interactions, when another science fiction author was pitching just a tad too hard to his non-target audience, with which the kids did not have the tools to politely turn down the hard sell.
Appropriately enough to our next destination, weather was blowing in and it was time to take shelter as  Sebastian Junger, the author of "the Perfect Storm" was holding a talk at the recently revived Jazz Showcase, a fabulous room, with a vibe that the kids might not experience on their own for a few years.  Mr. Junger held a wonderful talk about his experiences over a 15th month period with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal valley. He carefully focused his non-political talk about the brotherhood and brave actions of the soldiers with whom he shared a makeshift outpost that was home to some of the worst fighting of the war. (MSNBC reported last week that the actions of the first living soldier to be nominated for the country's highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor, fought in the Korengal valley). I was proud of how polite the kids acted, listening intently and courteously, to a topic that might not have been top of mind in their sometimes singular world. They chose to turn off their cell phones, took flash-less photos and listened quietly, which is more than I could say for some of the attending adults. We waited around for our copies to be signed and talked briefly with Mr. Junger as he graciously posed for a snapshot.
We meandered around the remaining tents and tables of books. The kids reaction to every new find was wonderfully ebullient. They gleefully engaged poets, short story authors, and activists in what was seemed like an endless array of topics and genres. I rarely saw a cell phone or overheard an expressed opinion of boredom. The kids were too busy experiencing all that was offered.

We ironically got some New York style pizza, no time for the local deep-dish variety, and headed to see some live music. Real instruments, real musicians, and no Autotune. Stops included the newly remodeled Buckingham Fountain, Blackhawk Jerseyed lions at the Art Institute and pleas to visit the Sears Tower (I haven't warmed up to the new name) brought us to the huge Saturday afternoon crowd in Grant Park. Blues delivered by a 95 year old man proved to be a hard sell to 12 and 13 year old's, but the trip brought real interactions and life memories that will surely last longer than their high score in Mario Kart.

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