Squishy Not Slick

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Teaching thoughts mainly. Other stuff I'm working on is over here.

June 17, 2014 at 1:04am
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William Logan on “ideal elementary-school curriculum”

We don’t live in such a world, and perhaps not even poets alive today wish we did. My ideal elementary-school curriculum would instead require all children to learn: (1) the times tables up to, say, 25; (2) a foreign language, preferably obscure; (3) the geography of a foreign land, like New Jersey; (4) how to use basic hand tools and cook a cassoulet; (5) how to raise a bird or lizard (if the child is vegetarian, then a potato); (6) poems by heart, say one per week; (7) how to find the way home from a town at least 10 miles away; (8) singing; (9) somersaults. With all that out of the way by age 12, there’s no telling what children might do. I have thieved a couple of items from W. H. Auden’s dreamcurriculum for a College of Bards. If my elementary school students are not completely disgusted by poetry, off they could go one day to that college, well prepared.

William Logan in “Poetry: Who Needs It?” via Matt Thomas

May 21, 2014 at 10:06am
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squishy not slick, the edtech futurist version / #thoughtvectors not call centers

lots of rumblings lately, lots of connections

[most of this will just serve as placeholders until I have more time to fill in the missing pieces]

Is the future of educational technology going to look like a call center?

Rob led me to Gardner Campbell’s talk [who I just realized is a colleague of some of my favorite people on the internet, @jonbecker and @twoodwar who are working on the #thoughtvectors thing at VCU], in which he explains the point of all this as ”networked transcontextualism,” which is the way to escape “the double bind,” a term from Gregory Bateson.

In the same vein, Audrey Watters says all the right things [and thanks to Rob for storifying it]

Seymour Papert keeps coming up [Campbell and Watters mention him]

Campbell’s “networked transcontextualism” especially reminded me of what Richard Elmore had to say about all this, that we’re moving from “nested hierarchy” to “networked relationships.”

Then Dan Meyer joined in, saying it with a Neil Diamond analogy.

This is all happens while I’m trying to make Sugata Mitra’s SOLE idea, or something similar, happen in more traditional classrooms, an attempt at finding an alternate path, an escape from the call center version of our edtech future.

April 16, 2014 at 12:28pm
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KFC is bringing back the Double Down, which reminds me that I once had students do some critical thinking about this sandwich (including the question: is it really a sandwich?).

March 6, 2014 at 6:27pm
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A list of reasons why teaching The Great Gatsby is so much better now than it was five years ago.


Ready for a Gastby reference? Here it is: I, for one, am very glad I’m not repeating the past. 

I hate doing blog posts of top whatever lists, but this deserves it. So, without further excessive use of caps locks: a list of reasons why teaching The Great Gatsby is so much better now than it was five years ago.

• Reflector + iAnnotate - I put the text of Gatsby into a PDF with some huge margins and dropped it into iAnnotate. With the Reflector Airplay Receiver, I can mirror my iPad to my computer and get it on the wall with the projector. That means I can have the text on the screen with big margins, and I can be annotating the book using iAnnotate as we go through it. I guess I could have done that a few years ago with an overhead and a ridiculous number of transparencies… but this, at least to me, seems like a new thing that is available widely only in the last few years. And I think it makes teaching Gatsby ridiculously fun. But, then again, I’m really into this kind of thing. I also like sweater vests, so take all this enthusiasm with a heaping spoonful of salt.


[iAnnotate in action]

• Crash Course - Not only do they have the perfect video to set up the Jazz Age (slightly not safe for some classrooms, btw), they also made two episodes just about the novel, perfect for viewing afterwards. 

• RapGenius - ok, I’m having a hard time deciding if this is my favorite thing or if iAnnotate + Reflector is, because, wow, this is so, so good. Some kind people on the internet have given Gatsby the RapGenius treatment and annotated it thoroughly with helpful explanations. It’s not perfect. Typical user-generated-content caveats apply, but even still, it is so useful.

• Bingo Card Generator - I had this idea while eating breakfast this morning: what if I put together a BINGO game for Gatsby? Then I thought, nah, too complicated. I decided to google it anyway, and I found that Mr. Gravell put together a Bingo Card Generator. This was perfect. While eating my morning omelette, I typed some recurring themes and symbols and ideas from Gatsby into the generator and had a class set of Bingo cards ready to go by first period. It’s been a fun way to guide us in paying attention to what might be important in the novel.


Splashtop Streamer / Whiteboard - with Splashtop I can roam the classroom, iPad in hand, but still control my computer that is attached to the projector. This allows me to start and stop the audiobook while roaming the room, switch between Keynote for some slides and Google Chrome for videos and their timer (just Google “set timer for 5 minutes” and see what happens). 

Socrative - Socrative allows me to collect quick feedback from my students using whatever fancy devices they happen to walk in with, as long as it has a browser. I can have them do short answer responses to interesting prompts (shameless self promotion, I think these Gatsby prompts are pretty great) or have them take polls or quick quizzes to check for understanding. Socrative is one of my favorite weapons in my teaching arsenal.

*Please note that the new, Baz Luhrmann version of Gatsby is not one of my reasons. No, I don’t want to elaborate.*

[This list will likely update as I think of / encounter more reasons]

Update #1: ehsmrsj pointed me toward her Gatsby Meme Assignment, which I’m sure we’ll be trying out once we’re a bit closer to the end of the book. 

February 5, 2014 at 6:17pm
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This has something to do with teaching. (via)

This has something to do with teaching. (via)

February 4, 2014 at 9:54pm
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Reblogged from bobbyjgeorge

In a postindustrial society, understanding is reached through negotiation between the individual and his or her culture. Intelligence thus becomes communal, creative, and communicational, reflecting an ability to bring relevant “knowledge to bear on a novel situation” and a context in which “understandings can only be apprehended and appreciated if they are performed by a student.” The productive exchange between teachers and learners… is interactive, surprising and challenging as the exchange between performance artists and their audiences.

— Hannah Higgins, Fluxus Experience (via bobbyjgeorge)

(via robertogreco)

January 21, 2014 at 1:43pm
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January 14, 2014 at 6:39pm
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January 5, 2014 at 1:33pm
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SOLE / Group Research Questions

It wouldn’t be the holiday break if I didn’t decide to scrap my original plans and try something different when we come back together in a few days. 

Here’s what I’m thinking…. any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

I really like a lot about Sugata Mitra’s SOLE idea. You can watch his TED Talk (does that need a TM after it yet?) about it, or you can read the supporting documents that have been put together about it (if you do, are you horrified by the police role that they have students fill?). Here’s the basic formula for SOLE: students are given a question and the internet and then form groups to answer it. That’s about it. It’s pretty brilliant in its simplicity, and we’re going to give it a try.

I’ll have to tweak it a bit for our purposes in a few ways…

  • Our pattern will be one day of research (eighty minutes) and then one day of prep and presentations (twenty minutes to get set and then an hour to present, discuss, reflect, and write about it). We’ll see how this format works and what needs to change. I’m assuming that the length of time needed depends a lot on the question, and I’m sure some of the questions will need quite a bit more time.
  • I’ll assign groups. I know that one of the big pieces of the SOLE system is the whole “self-organized” thing, but, sadly, my students are fifteen and have spent a decade learning bad habits around motivation for education. Maybe they’d do fine. Maybe the question and the freedom to answer it together as they choose will help them to overcome those just-give-me-what-I-need-for-the-quiz mindsets, but I’m not that hopeful they’re there yet. I have lots of other reasons for this, but I am hopeful that after they get the process down (a few rounds of it), they will be able to make good choices around who they work with. So, hopefully we’ll get to the point of being actually self-organized in the near future.
  • I have put together a form to structure some of it and help with the grading part of it. I think that ideally there would be no grades, and it would be all about the love of learning together. But that’s just not the reality of what we’re working with here.


imageHere are some ideas for questions we might try to answer… many of these relate to the content we’re supposed to be covering:

  • Which human has saved the most lives on the planet?
  • What does the rise of the selfie tell us about society?
  • What will daily life in 2075 be like?
  • Are you worth your weight in gold? Is any person? Is every person?
  • What is the situation in South Sudan and what options does the US have there? Which option should they pursue and why? 
  • Who is Edward Snowden and should he get clemency?
  • Which place and time on earth has developed the greatest art?
  • What was the most important invention of the last 200 years? 
  • Which historical figure should we bring back to be president in 2016. Why this person?
  • How would your life be different if you lived in a totalitarian state? Are you living in a totalitarian state now? How do you know one way or the other?
  • What are the keys to a successful revolution?

Standards? I’ve got lots of those figured out. This hits a bunch of them… 

What else? What am I forgetting? What should I think about?

8 notes
Reblogged from thrumminginthemixture

[Auden] combined vast literary ambition with a sense of shared, common humanity, and understood that comedy and profundity are both at their best when they coexist. When serious themes tempted him to solemnity, he reminded himself that his poems could point towards seriousness, but that neither he not any other real person could embody or personify it. He thought of poetry as a “game of knowledge”-a game that could explore matters of life and death, but was always itself less important than the world in which such things were real.

— Edward Mendelson, in the Introduction to “W.H. Auden: Selected Poems” … This has something to do with teaching. (via thrumminginthemixture)