I spent my professional development time reading blogs and I’m not ashamed

by Mr. Sheehy

It’s a “teacher torture day” today, which is the witty renaming one of my colleagues has given to full-day in-services. I’m thankful for a number of aligned events: we have the afternoon to ourselves to work, my lesson plans for the days ahead are solid, and few assignments rest in my folders for grading. which means, for the first time this year, I am heading to the blogs to see what my colleagues around the world are doing with technology, with learning, and with themselves.

I thought I’d share highlights.

From Barbara Ganley, an inspirational outburst articulating her hope that her attempts to force students to bear the weight of their learning will materialize:

It takes faith on my part that if I am patient, and clear, and do a good job of setting up opportunities for learning magic to occur, then at some moment in the semester, when none of us is looking, the students will delight in their creativity, push into the world of ideas of their own choosing, and turn to one another in a lively example of collective intelligence and emergence at work.

For some reason this reminds me of an opinion piece I read a few years back that articulated the need for children to develop their imaginations through time spent alone – allow them to experience solitude and silence as children and they can develop an inner life and an imagination (versus, of course, bombarding them with commercials and sensory stimulation at all times, beginning the moment they curl into Mommy’s arms in the hospital – with the TV on).

I suppose the connection works through the data we discussed in our building this morning – that our higher end students are performing more poorly on our NCLB tests. Is this because these bright individuals have seen these ridiculous tests for what they are and have quit trying? Or is it because in our efforts to enable all students to produce and succeed, we’ve provided so much guidance that there is no opportunity to guide oneself? I heartily suspect I have contributed to that latter situation: some of my guidance is so thick that it falls one step shy of essay-by-worksheet.

Meanwhile, Christopher Sessums makes all kinds of insightful comments and links to videos I can’t see from this desk (SuperFilter wins again), but the comment that stands out to me? This one:

What I find most impressive about a Mac is not the operating system per se, but the box it comes in. Design expert and professor Donald Norman once said something to the effect of, it was the box his iPod came in that impressed him more than the technology itself.

I still have my iPod’s box and haven’t thrown it away, despite having no use for it nor place to put it. It’s a very attractive box. I suppose that’s why I strove so long and hard this summer to rework the design of my classroom website – not because I needed a new look to reach students more effectively in any way that would count on paper, but because I wanted it to look good and convey a sense of pleasure to the reader. I might add that this lack of visual pleasure is one of the great weaknesses of Blackboard’s WebCT system where I spend so much time, and I fear it may be the grand downfall of Microsoft’s SharePoint, a system my district has adopted and plans to roll out in the near future. Why would a student want to visit a page like this when they could visit a page like this? Each has a use and context (the first page is one I use for the highlighting function), but overall, we want a pleasurable experience visually.

Alan Levine exhorts the blogging community nicely with his encouragement to participate in the community. To do so, he suggests adding to our daily routine:

[Take] time when cruising Twitter streams or RSS summaries- jump over to someone else’s blog and write a comment. Not just “nice post”- but add something, disagree, provide context, references, join the conversation.

That line might have come directly from my classroom instructions where we’ve used blogging. But if Levine is exhorting the educators, at least I know I’m in good company when encouraging my students to do the same – not to mention reminded that the step of providing feedback and full communication is a crucial aspect to blogging, even if its under-use is well-documented.

On another note from Alan, I heartily agree with his suspicion of sites like Facebook, who insist on keeping content internal and locked in:

I am wary of web sites where I cannot export my content. The ones I favor provide tools to “get my stuff” out at any time, in formats compatible with other sites.

It’s an obvious business maneuvere, I realize, but I wonder if it won’t be part of their downfall in the end? I stumbled across two other interesting reads about Facebook recently, by the way: one defining the way marketers are beginning to use people’s profiles and connections to promote themselves (incidents like this will only grow, of course), and the other examining the ramifications of the growing phenomena of social networking. Always interesting thinking . . .

On her Christmas list for teachers, Vicki Davis is making sure we’re all able to break out of our cars when they crash:

LifeHammer Original Emergency Hammer (Orange) $14.95

Everyone, I mean everyone needs one of these. After watching the guys on mythbusters show how difficult it is to get out of a car while sinking, my husband got me one of these. It has one edge to cut the seatbelt and an edge of the hammer to break glass.

I keep it beside my seat at all times on the middle dash secured with velcro. Every person who drives in our extended family has one.

My first thought on reading that? That Vickie watches too much TV and has an active and fearful imagination. Or maybe that she drives in a metropolitan area and I’m too used to living 10 minutes away from work, where my top speed along the commute is 35mph. But then I remembered all the times I have heard folks claim that they do not wear their seatbelts because they don’t want to be pinned in the car after an accident. That they’d be dead at that point is not a valid argument for these folks, but what would they do if presented with a LifeHammer? Well, let’s face it: they’d search for a new reason not to wear a seatbelt. It’s just like that effort I put in to helping kids find ways to do their work in class. Once I solve the obstacle for them, they find another. I’ll need to stop enabling them if I’m ever to achieve Barbara Ganley’s “learning magic” I mentioned above. Vicki’s driving aside, she is a great resource for web tools, and my favorite articles of hers are usually lists. A recent post on tools is a great example and an excellent resource for those looking to use the most helpful tools available.

I don’t do a lot of those kinds of posts in my own blog (lists and links), and to be honest, a lot of that has to do with the theme I currently use, which runs the text only of my most recent post. Thus, I don’t want a commentary dealing with one link or a list of three links to bump out of sight an article I spent an hour or two writing. That does not mean I do not stumble across items worth mentioning or seeing. What I do instead is utilize my del.icio.us account and run a feed on my blog – it’s the widget in my sidebar called “Worth Looking.” I also put these on the front page of my classroom website to share with students. One such site I discovered today. Discovered by the folks at TIE here in Rapid City, it is a goofy site that allows users to put text on pictures, like the McDonald’s sign I’ve created here. It’s not Photoshop, but it’s something everyone can do.


I realize this is a rambling post, but creating it seems to have been a good use of my professional time today. I’ve learned a lot and didn’t sit through a single presentation. Horaay!


Image Attribution:

Original image: ‘123‘ by: JAM1978

Original image: ‘iPod nano‘ by: Claudio Montes