Sunday, July 31, 2011

Augmented Reality

I saw this awhile back on another edublogger's page and have been meaning to write about it. I thought and thought and thought and I'm still not sure what I think about the "augmented reality" aka extrapolation, aka wishful thinking (?) part of the timeline. Quote:
The future history presented is intended to be edgy, but also as a conversation starter on futures for education and future thinking in human capital development.
Edgy, certainly. I'm all for edgy things. I'm just not sure I would want to worry about the future - especially as far off as 2045 - when there's so much to worry about the today. It's a good idea to keep a balance in mind I suppose. Where I want the future to go affects what my decisions today are.

So, in the end, no big epiphany here. Just...more questions and wonderings. Which I guess is the whole point.

By the way, is anyone else a little squeamish at the term "human capital development?" Just me? Hm.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Thief

This 1997 Newberry Honor story by Megan Whalen Turner has a wicked twisty plot and lots of descriptions of what people in Ancient Greece would have worn and eaten.

No plot giveaways here! The twists are too good for that. But here's a short premise: Gen was imprisoned for stealing, and now the King and the King's magus [wise man/scholar] has appointed him to commit espionage, and to steal something from the neighboring country.

A fun read. I liked it. It takes quite a long time for the story to spin its way around all the twists, and the ending felt kind of rushed - almost to the point of being half-thought and half-baked - but overall, fun.

The main character is humorously self-centered, which, I suppose is a good indication that he's a teenager; his age isn't specifically given, neither is his physical description. Which is refreshing. I like imagining what a character would look like solely based on his, well, actual character.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Re-thinking the way we re-think

Seagulls...are they related to this post? Yes. Why? I leave that up to you.

Despite the profuse supply of The Bachelorette video clips and the like, the internet is still a grand source of inspiration and thoughtfulness.

Any savvy consumer of information would have by now encountered by now. I stumbled upon this article there and it very concisely phrased what I've been trying to put into words. Granted, the writer is talking about workspace design and working, while I'm talking about technology and teaching. But in essence, it's the same.

I love technology, I really do. But my use of it for teaching is not what will make me a great teacher in the end. I can show endless Khan Academy videos, use those little remote control "voting" things for students to punch in their answer, wear out my (non-existent) SmartBoard and (arrived! or at least my colleague's has; I'm assuming mine is here too since the principal ordered both of ours at the same time, although I haven't checked yet) ELMO, and go through enough cans of Dust Air cleaning my LCD projector and it STILL will not make me a great teacher.

What will make me a great teacher?

~ practice
~ life-long learning
~ bouncing ideas off of colleagues
~ professional respect and trust
~ discovering new ideas in both familiar and surprising places
~ experimentation (aka "making mistakes")
~ time and space to recharge my batteries

So what will make my students great learners? Laptops for all? Fancy phones that can text their answers to the professor's iPad? Olympic-sized school swimming pools? Shiny, new hardback textbooks? I don't know about all that.

I only know that this coming school year, I will fuss less about the arrangement of student desks in my oddly proportioned classroom.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Not the most uplifting of endings, but still an interesting read. Life was like that - IS like that, in the Pakistan, Afghanistan, India region. Lots of details of daily life and daily struggles. Although the ending is realistic, I'm not entirely sure the personality of the title character is.

But then, I've never been there myself. I only know of one Afghani girl - a former student, ten years old when she was in my class, and had been in the country for about five years - but she was pretty spunky as well.

Warning: not a book for impatient readers - I skimmed over the second half. Phulan, Shabanu's older sister is quite annoying.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

40 minutes fast

Summers are for leisurely made and eaten Greek salads.

Dug up this 2009 article from the New York Times after talking to a colleague about our short lunch times. Apparently, when my colleague (in her 40s) was in school, she had a full hour for lunch from elementary through high school. I remember my high school lunch period being 50 minutes - enough time for me to go home for a decent lunch and get back with time to spare.

My middle school has a 40 minute lunch period, including the 5 minute passing period at the end for students to transition to 5th period. When I worked at the elementary level, I had a 35 minute lunch period.

It sucks in elementary - by the time the kids are all lined up, out the door, and safely under the supervision of the lunch time staff, there's about 25 minutes left until lunch is over. And it was expected at that school for teachers to start going out to the playground by 5 minutes before to pick up their class. My master teacher, Mr. B, taught me the trick of lining the class up at least 5 minutes before the bell so that when it finally did ring, we would be half-way to the cafeteria. This takes A LOT of practice, timing the lessons just right and making the morning sessions as productive as possible. Fortunately, that was my 5th/6th split and they were savvy enough to catch on - if we worked hard in the morning, we got to go to lunch first. And 5th/6th graders love being first.

My colleague, Ms. O, has this theory that kids no longer know what to do with themselves in their free time, leading to more behavior problems, which is why there is a seeming trend that school lunch periods are getting shorter and shorter. I say seeming because I haven't come across any documentation or studies on this. This is the first I've ever heard of Ms. O's theory, but it sort of makes sense.

So here's my first question I've ever directly posed to my blog audience (if there's anyone reading this): Have you noticed the trend of shorter lunch times? What do you make of it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Planning for change

From the start, this has been the most frightening thing about teaching to me. Not the possibility of weapons or gangs on campus, not learning to deal with violent or serious behaviors (that comes a close second though), not even the fact that I might be pink slipped at any time.

I'm scared of quitting. More specifically, I'm scared of being backed into a corner, like the teacher in the CNN interview, and having no better option than to quit.

Quitting any job isn't a simple decision, although people water down their explanations so that they sound much more sane to their family and friends:

"I want to travel and spend more time with my family."

"I'm not working at my fullest potential."

"I've hit a pay wall."

"I'm just being shuffled from side to side in the company."

All really logical and proper and socially acceptable reasons to quit. But I really believe that underneath the soothing words are much more complicated things happening.

Of course, once again, I am astounded at how lucky I am that I got the position I have today. According to my district's salary schedule, I won't hit a pay wall until my 17th year. I started out at a significantly higher salary than the teacher in the CNN interview. As I accrue units and finally complete my masters, I'll have additional stipends. There is even a stipend schedule for Ph.D..

I am also young, healthy, and single: no kids, no car payments, no mortgage payments, no serious medical expenses. I don't even have credit card balances or student loan debt. Bureaucratic interference is easy to ignore. My district office does have some rather incompetent people, but it's saved by the genius who created and installed the system years ago. Morale is medium to high at my school, for the most part. Yeah, there are certain lack of resources that plague me but I've found creative ways to get around it. My principal has been nothing but supportive of me. The compensation isn't spectacular, but it's also not horrendous either. Too-little decision making, frankly I don't think I want to make any of the big, nasty decisions - let me stick with the small ones that are of no matter on paper. Too little time for planning...fake it 'till you make it - lost count of how many times I've flown with no lesson plan, or had to scrap plans and completely wing it. Accountability pressures...sure, I feel the CST pain, but once again I'm lucky to be at a school that has (yet) to be touched by PI status. My team that I work with is awesome. Weird of course, and sometimes we grate on each other socially, but I know they are good teachers and they trust that I aim for excellence as well.

So by any standard, I've been lucky. Yet, the fear lingers. All of that luck can change instantaneously. Expect change. Plan for it. Be prepared.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Queen had it right

Bicycles! Bicycles!

This is way cool. I'm all for greener urban living. And this, well, this takes the cake.

On a math note: 175,000 bikes @ 1 RMB per bike per day = US$27,144.77. Um, city debt reduction plan #1, right here. That's if American cities charges riders the same as Hangzhou does - approximately 15 cents for the 2nd hour. Because, remember the first is free.

But of course, Americans would never charge that cheap. Let's say $1 per hour, with the typical bulk shopping mentality of "increasing number of hours at a discounted cost" that Americans love so much. And we're even scratching that "first hour free" thing. And let's decrease the amount of rental bikes to 50,000 in, say, San Francisco.

If all 50,000 bikes were used at least once per day, which wouldn't be a far reach in a place like SF, that would be an income of $1,500,000 per month for something that is relatively low maintenance (unlike, say, buses - and rental bikes in strategic locations would increase the use of buses anyway, hence another added layer of income). Yep, that's in the millions, baby. Hey politicians and voters, let's make this happen.

Although, oddly enough, the most astounding thing to me was that one dude who said "the people love the bikes and won't do anything to ruin them" or something to that effect. That's real ownership of a city. It's our city. It's our earth. We take care of it.

Hey parents and teachers, let's make THAT happen.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


It. Is. On.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Little Blue Envelopes

I'm totally not a chick-lit type of reader, although there does actually exist good books that fall in the chick-lit genre. These two were surprisingly sweet and decent.

Synopsis: Naive, sheltered teenager (obviously from affluent, white America) goes on a European tour by way of her dead aunt's instructions. On the way, she discovers the wonders of Harrod's, the creepiness of over-sexed Italian men, that cool travel buddies come from down under, and the intrigue of art dealing. Well, I found the art dealing part intriguing at least.

My favorite parts are the letters from said, deceased aunt, and the main character's interactions with Richard - who probably is a paler-than-pale, uptight English dude between 35-40 years old, but I first imagined him to be rather dapper, and younger than he was described later on in the books.

The main character herself is rather forgettable. Actually, I have already forgotten her name. Um. Sorry. But really, she could have been the fictional doppelganger of that bland, squeaky, blonde girl from my high school chem class. Her sympathetic grief over the sudden disappearance and death of her aunt saves her from complete character boredom.

Overall, decent read. And yes, I cried. Which is what all good chick-lit should make you do.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


The Suzumiya Haruhi franchise all started with a little book that many adults would scoff at just from looking at the cover. But inside this little book is some heavy, mind-boggling, hilarious, and thought-provoking material. Excellent reading fodder for young people, and people young at heart.

It's a very strange story, with a premise that could go very wrong - have gone very wrong in the hands of a less talented author than 谷川 流 Tanigawa Nagaru. It's a very modern story - or at least, it speaks in a very modern way about very ageless things. A quick google search will provide loads of background, and a video search will provide the youtube links to the actual film, so I won't say much about the plot here.

I will say a little bit about why I want this series to be apart of my classroom/personal library. I go for quality reading material, and I walked into my job on the first day vowing that I will never fill my shelves with "filler" books. It's much more effective to have a small, carefully chosen library than shelves and shelves of penny paperbacks where the next book is as dry as the paper it's printed on.

Smart, fun reading material for middle school is few and far between, despite the huge army of YA authors out there. I blame Stephanie Meyers. Let's actually take a look at the books I have in my collection so far, and their respective publishing years, and discover a pattern:

Wolves of Wiloughby Chase, 7-9 novels, depending on who you talk to, by Joan Aiken (1963)
Anne of Green Gables, 8 novels, by L.M. Montgomery (1908)
Fruits Basket, 23 manga volumes, by 高屋 奈月 Takaya Natsuki (1999)
Harry Potter, 7 novels, by J.K. Rowling (1997)
The Hunger Games, trilogy, by Suzanne Collins (2008)
The Golden Compass, trilogy, by Phillip Pullman (2007)

Target audience age range: ~10 to ~16

The odd Diana Wynne Jones, and some pre-20th century classics are thrown in as well, but the above forms the core of my classroom library. All have spent time on my personal bookshelves long before they migrated to school. Maybe with the exception of The Hunger Games.

The Suzumiya Haruhi series is quite something else - very different from the above, but excellent story-telling like the above. There's something else to it too, I can't quite put words to describe it. Something intellectual about the S.H. series, deeply so, and it's all hidden in the folds of a sci-fi/fantasy light novel WITH ILLUSTRATIONS. To the people who say nothing intellectual can come out of a book with illustrations, I say you haven't met the great Haruhi and her minions.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Read and done. Usually, I categorize a series of books together, and this really should be clumped with Leviathan. However, I enjoyed Behemoth a lot more than it's prequel so I'm giving it its own post.

Three main things I got from this book: fast paced plot, Deryn/Dylan is way less annoying, and ohmygoodnessMr.Westerfieldwillyoupleasestopwiththecliffhangers!

Ok, now go read.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about poverty lately. How it affects learning, how it affects businesses and general economics, how it affects emotional and physical health. No answers to the many questions, but I do have these questions that I haven't seen many people ask:

Would poverty be such a big deal if the other side of the spectrum didn't exist at such extreme levels?

Would people feel the effects of poverty so much if western consumerism and our impulses for immediate gratification wasn't as intense as it is now?

How many people can be lifted out of poverty just from practicing conservative money management and investment?

Are we expecting money to solve problems on a near impossible level? Can we throw cash into the coffers of public education and hope it'll all turn out well automatically?

Why do we expect to have the fanciest luxury items and at the same time hold out our hands for government intervention for our basic needs?

Who else out there is liberal on social issues but conservative on economic issues?

Friday, July 1, 2011


By the same author as The Uglies series. One of my colleagues told me this wasn't as great as The Uglies, and I have to disagree with her. In general, I like steam punk stories. They have a certain twist of imagination that sci-fi doesn't. Sci-fi is an extrapolation of reality, if it isn't already reality by now. Steam punk - that's a vision of something completely different.

Alek is a likable character - sympathetic, and you get to see more of his character development in this first of the trilogy. Daryn (aka Dylan) is, so far, just an annoying brat of a tomboy. For someone who defies gender conventions, she is all too ready to follow the rules and protocols of other things.

The artwork is amazeballs. Makes up for Daryn's annoying character.