Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Grinch continued...

As I promised yesterday, I made a slide show from children's Kid Pix pictures that were made to show a scene from the story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I created a slide show from kids pictures that I collected in 2001 and 2002. I figured that would protect me from offending anyone or divulging any information about the students (I cut out any part of a picture that had the first and last name of the student). It also shows that I have done this for quite a few years.

video

I have passed the halfway point in reading the story this year. I only have to read it about 6 more times! I do love the story, but cramming 22 readings into a week wears me out like few other things do. Maybe it is because I try really hard to get into the story using voice inflection, and I attempt to become the characters. Subconsciously, in many ways I copy the Chuck Jones cartoon version. Or maybe it is consciously, now that I have thought about it? In any case, it has been ingrained in me that this is the way the story is supposed to be read, and so every reading is like a recreation of the cartoon (if only in my mind).

I have memorized the entire story. This is not really an accomplishment considering how many times I have read it, but it does lead to some strange things that I have noticed that happen when I share the Grinch.

Sometimes I get lost in the story. It is like when you are driving and suddenly look up and realize you don't know where you are or how you got there, before you snap back to reality. This is very odd when you are in the middle of a story and "reading" with emphasis. And I never miss a beat. How can that happen?

Every once in a while I will mess up one word and know it the second it leaves my mouth. No one else knows, but I still feel like the story is then less than perfect and I have failed my class in some kind of small, but personally significant way.

In nine out of ten classes, some kid will question one if not two words that I read; chimbley and roast-beast. Every time it happens, I want to stop and explain artistic license and the importance of being able to rhyme with the words nimbly and feast.

Well, by Friday at around 11:30am, it will be another year down, and another 460 or so students that I have shared The Grinch with... Ahhhh!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Grinch

Every year, since I became a kindergarten teacher in 1990, I have shared one of my favorite books of all time just before the winter holiday, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This means I have shared this story for possibly 17 years with a couple thousand children or so.

I think that I became struck with the story when I was a child watching the Chuck Jones adaptation of the story. I love the book because it shows that even if you make a mistake in life there is a chance at redemption. It is also a reminder to me that Christmas really is more than shopping, and getting stuff. It is more about the joy of being with people that you love and showing kindness to those you don't even know- just because it is the right thing to do.

Now that I am a computer resource teacher in an elementary school, I share the story with around 22 classes every year (K-2 grade). I have created a lesson around the Grinch, and I would like to share it.

First, I read the story.
video
I read this story to a group of kindergartners today. I thought it was appropriate considering where I began this tradition.

After the story, I explain to the children how they can use tools in the program Kid Pix to create their own picture of the Grinch, or another character from the story.
video
The tools in Kid Pix allow the children a chance to be creative in expressing their own vision of the story with some pretty good graphics tools. I have created slide shows in the past of student's pictures and they generally turn out to be pretty good for pictures made by young people with only 15 minutes or so to make one. I will try to add a slide show tomorrow...

It seems like such a small thing to do, but it is my way of sharing something that I truly love with students that I work with at my school. It is a pretty lame Christmas present to get, but it has a lot of meaning for me when I share the Grinch with children. I hope the web enjoys it, too.

Merry Christmas!
:-)
Al

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is a time of opposites. For me it is both the happiest time of the year and the most sad, but I think it is also very confusing for the rest of the country as well.

Black Friday- this is the first shopping day after Thanksgiving. Thursday is Thanksgiving when we share good times with family and friends. Friday is the next day when stores open up at 4 am to angry, out for blood, crowds of serious bargan hunters. I made the mistake of going to Circuit City this year on Black Friday and I was seriously worried about the safety of my son and myself for that brief 20 minutes of chaos. Why is the first official Christmas shopping day more like war than Peace on Earth?

Holiday lights- Hanging holiday lights outside of a house is crazy. Last year I almost fell off the roof. This year I am really into the minimalist approach. A string of lights around the front steps at my house and a blow up Santa and reindeer in the yard. I hope this will be enough. It makes me angry to think that others may believe that I have less holiday spirit because I don't have lights all over the place. I have spirit! Yes, I do! I have spirit, how about you!

Salvation Army bell ringers- Where are they all year long? Every time I pass one going into a store, and coming out of the very same store, I give them money. My kids are trained so that when they see anyone standing outside of a store they beg me fror money to give to them. Half of the time I have to say things like, "No baby. That is the Guy collecting grocery carts." It is a good thing to give to the less fortunate, but where are the bell ringers the rest of the year? Wouldn't they make more money to help others if they were collecting year around?

Giving- I enjoy giving people things that they really want. I think this is the best part of the season, but commericials have warped what I think I need to give to my wife to make her happy. If you watch those commercials, it would seem that I am a very bad husband because I do not give my wife diamonds for Christmas that are big enough to choke your dog, or a new Lexus with a great big red ribbon on it. I am not a rich man. What does an unwealthy husband give his wife for Christmas? A dustbuster (I did this once- not a very popular decision)?

Christmas cards- Every year I try to take a picture of the family and send it out as a Christmas card. I send the digital photo in (online) to Walmart and the next day I have 40 cards ready to go. I also like to make my own stamps at stamps.com. This year we are using our dog Kona as the official Doss Christmas stamp of '07. The part I hate is sending them out. But this year I am going to do my best to get them all out before this weekend.

More later...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fun with Technology

Last week I had a meeting with other Computer Resource Specialists (CRSs). We each brought cookies to the meeting and then shared our recipes in a digital story telling kind of way- similar to the Cog Dog Roo -50 ways to tell a story.

I tried a new (to me) web tool. Voicethread.com is kind of like a slide show with running narration. Pretty cool, small glitches though-

1) Mysteriously, the sound did not record on one of my computers. Switched computers and it was fine. the mic was on but no sound. Odd.

2) I tried to import pictures from Flicker, like it said I could, but voicethread went into some kind of crazy loop that used all of my voicethreads up at once. You get three of the stories for free- so I deleted the 3 blank threads and up-loaded the pictures from the computer.

3) After I got my 2nd computer going and recorded myself on all the slides, some of the slides got stuck and wouldn't play my recording. I was a bit annoyed after I had made the 4th or 5th recording for a slide.

Here is the Voicethread that I made. To sum up, interesting tool, and you can't complain too much about something that is free. I would use it again, but I also saw something another CRS made using RockYou.com, I want to do something on that site... wish it was able to go full screen though.

I learned a lot about making cookies through the semi-failure of the baking experience. Unfortunately it won't help this poor batch of sugar cookies. That's ok, they still taste the same. I do have a new respect for those who take to time to make some good looking and good tasting food. It is hard work, and there is definitely a learning curve there!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Me Worry?

The holidays for me are time of mixed feelings. The joy of what is to come and sadness for what is lost. I feel anxiety over what I need to do, should do, and what I want to do for others. I guess you might say I worry.

It helps to know that I am not the only one concerned about things to the point of worrying. Sometimes it amuses me to hear what other people worry about, and it allows me to put my own worries into perspective. I hope others think my worries are funny.

Alfred E. Newman, "What, me worry?" Mad Magazine

I worry that;
...the newest ache, pain, cough, or sneeze is the first step to a new Ebola like disease outbreak.
...the HDMI cable that the Target guy put in my bag, but forgot to ring up, has me on most wanted posters (didn't realize it until I left the store- I am going to take it back, maybe even today).
...I look like an idiot when I speak, walk, stand or do just about anything really. I am pretty sure I do, but I try not to care about it.
...when I pick up a tool I will break whatever I touch.
...aliens are plotting to transform the earth into a giant farmer's market and I am a juicy tomato.
...whatever I choose to do is not nearly as much fun as the thing I passed up.
...there is an asteroid with our name on it floating around out there in space.
...greenhouse effect gases coming from cows will destroy the ozone.
...bad things will happen to Brittany Spear's children because of her reckless behavior.

Some of these things are genuine concerns, others not so much, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. I think the problem that I have, as well as all of the other worriers out there, is that worrying gives you an odd feeling of power over what you are worrying about. This is a total illusion. Worrying causes many more problems that it ever solves. It makes people unhappy so that they can't enjoy what they have right now.

I think worrying comes from a time in human history when worrying was needed to survive. It allowed man to plan against dangers to himself and his family. Shared worries helped man to learn to work together and build society so that more people would live. Worrying is an evolutionary leftover- like an appendix.

Now, approximately 99% of the things I worry about I have no control over. How does that help me or anyone else? So, I am trying to give up worrying. It is not easy because I have quite a bit of quality practice time under my belt. I started getting really good at worrying after I decided to settle down. Before that, I was able to pursue my hedonistic lifestyle with very few worries.

I became a "Worry Master" after after my wife became pregnant the first time. Children really have a way of bringing that out in a person. After child number three, worries consumed me. Men are not supposed to worry in our society, they are supposed to do something. When things are beyond your control and yet you continue to worry, well, it can make you a bit conflicted at times.

I am thinking that I need to try to give up worrying about the past and the future, and just concentrate on making the present the best I can. I try to experience my anger and quickly let it go. I run with my dog as often as I can. I play with my kids as much as they will allow me to play. I try to behave in a fun loving way and avoid those people that make me unhappy. Unfortunately, I still watch the news and look at Internet news sites- an industry that thrives on making people worry.

A life without worry may only be possible for coma patients and very young children, but it seems to be a worthy goal in life. Maybe now I can give up my lucky underwear and accept that no matter what I do in life I do not have an impact on all that I worry about, and let it go.

For a believer in the Chaos Theory this is a problem. If the butterfly effect is true, then isn't it possible that if I don't wear my lucky underwear my team could lose? I think I may have found something else to worry about...

Monday, November 26, 2007

We Don't Need Another Hero?

I read an article that really bothered me. The article is basically about the qualities that make a hero and Arland D. Williams, Jr. Mr. Williams was a passenger on Air Florida Flight 90, a plane that crashed into the Potomac River on January 13, 1982. He was one of a handful of people to survive the initial impact of the crash and hang on to a part of the airplane that was still on the surface while waiting to be rescued. A helicopter came with a rescue ring on a cable and Mr. Williams gave it up three times to others so that they could live. The article finishes up with what amounts to a Darwin Award. No lie, these are the last two lines of the article,

"But as Darwin predicted, there is no Arland Williams IV.
And there never will be."

There was quite a bit of useful information in the article but the way it ended made me feel like it was condemning heroes for being selfish and not thinking of those that loved them. I understand that heroes typically die just trying to help others, and perhaps they are individually foolish. But what about the greater good? What about the lives that were saved because Mr. Williams gave up his turn at the rescue ring three times?

Kelly Duncan was one of the people that received one of Mr. Williams' turns on the rescue ring. As of 2005, she was happily married with three teen-aged children, she said,

"I feel like every day has been a blessing. I have a wonderful life. It sounds crazy to say it, but that accident changed my life for good... God used a bad thing to turn my life around."


I understand the impact of the loss of Mr. Williams on his family. The whole incident was a tragedy and the loss of his life was no less tragic, but he did one of the most kind and generous things that anyone can do for another human being. He gave his life trying to help others.

I am not sure that anyone has the answer as to why a person sacrifices his life for others he does not even know. This is a special quality that should leave us all wondering how we can help another person, not just in a dangerous situation, but in the everyday world. Altruism is something we see very little of in our daily ugliness bombardment of death, destruction, and celebrity gossip that we call news. Yes, the loss of Mr. Williams is bittersweet, but he has given us all a higher standard to live up to.

I am saying all of this not because I have always wanted to be a Superhero, but because this article is wrong in its conclusion. We must have people like Mr. Williams who stand up and do the right thing to help others. This is the example that we all need learn from to become better people so that all of humanity can progress.


I thought about listing heroes from war, or civilian heroes , but these links will have to be enough. After all, I know that I can not really put together a thoroughly researched response to Christopher Mcdougall's article, but I don't think I need to do that to know in my heart that he is wrong. Mr. Williams is not a Darwin Award winner. He is what we should all aspire to be. A hero.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gator Bowl

Tomorrow, Wednesday, November 21, 2007, is my school’s annual Gator Bowl. Each year, for the last fifteen years, my school has put on a Gator Bowl. This is a football game between the fifth grade students and the staff of my school. The last day before Thanksgiving break is a half day of school and all of the students, staff and other spectators line up around a roughly laid out 80 yard football field.

I have been a part of each one of the games that have been played. I have coached the teachers, coached the students, played on offense, and my favorite, defense. I have always felt like the Gator Bowl served a greater purpose; the goal of the game has always been to pump up school spirit and have fun.

But the game means a more to me than that. It certainly is fun to run around and play football, but it is not important to me so that I can live some kind of middle aged football fantasy. It is important to me because 15 years ago I met my wife at the 1st Gator Bowl.

We had talked a little in the halls about this and that, but I started to really get to know her at the teacher practices. Right before the game we were walking down the hall together and out of nowhere she started singing some made up song. Immediately, I thought that was odd, because I thought I was the only one who did that- make up ridiculous songs and sing them out loud. I thought, “There is something different about her.”

In the game that day I played tight end and Amy was a running back. Late in the game, Amy ran the ball off the right tackle, while I ran my route on the left. As soon as she busted past the line, I came across the field and blocked three kids off of her. Touchdown!

Ever since that day, I have felt like I won.

So, each year the Gator Bowl comes around and I get a little sentimental. My wife and I still work at the same school. We share so much that I am sure other people think we should be sick of one another. Somehow we aren’t like that. The Gator Bowl always makes me feel like I have so much to be thankful for.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Not Bob the Builder

Every person should have some idea of what they are good at, I am still struggling with this, but I do have some idea. I am certain of what I am not good at. I am not a handy man. Maybe it is my own fault because my standards of quality are just too high.

Some men are perfectly happy just patching things together with duct tape and calling it a day. I expect that if I build shelves from scratch that they should not lean at 23 ½ degrees to the right. I explained to my wife that the leaning of the shelves was due to the coriolis effect. I said it with a straight face but I don’t think she believed me. She knows I have a B.S. degree.

This “not being handy,” is a fault of mine that I recognized long ago but have only recently decided to accept. Somehow being a man means that there is a whole list of things that you should be able to do, you can’t ever do, or should never be seen doing. Being handy is something that every man is supposed to be born with, like it is a gene or something. I am here to tell you that it is a learned behavior.

In my formative years, I must have missed something. I do have some skills, but they are helper skills. If you show me what to do I can replicate it. If you tell me what to do I can make it happen. If I am in charge, it is going to get broken. I should never be unsupervised if repairs or construction work is needed.

I do have a pretty good collection of tools and equipment for someone who has no business using them. Sometimes looking at them scares me because all I can picture is the damage I can cause. I have an ultimately cool laser level and I swear I still can’t hang a picture straight. I am not making this up, I have the piles of un-hung pictures stacked around my house to prove it. Part of the reason this tool doesn’t work well for me is the fact that I am afraid that I will blind myself or a family member with the intense beam of focused light. I saw Star Wars and know what a laser can do.

Last night I got to set up my Birthday/Christmas present for the next seven years- a new 42” LCD TV. It has really been filling me with dread. Not because of the putting together of the TV, that is easy- I do well with electronic stuff for some reason. The problem was the new TV stand.

I can’t call it an entertainment center, because that sounds very large. This “stand,” as I call it, is a glorified coffee table really. It is about the same height and length, but it has a drawer and little mini shelves. It only took me almost three hours to put together. This is a new personal record, especially considering that I only had one left-over screw, and that was the manufacturer’s fault, not mine. One of the screw holes had the female connector jammed too far down the hole. That is how I have a left-over screw.

Part of the problem with putting the stand together last night was that I was trying to do it with my kids around. They want to help, and I needed help, but I needed someone with more skills than I have to help me, not fewer skills. If I don’t know what to do, how am I supposed to direct them? I try not to be the grumpy dad, but it is hard. I never understood that about my father, why he would suddenly become moody over doing some little thing. Now I know it is because he was faced with something he didn’t know how to handle, or what he was supposed to do. It is hard when you are an authority figure and you don’t have a clue as to what to do.

I tried to get my kids to help me at different points during the stand building. Sammy, who is 3, sorted my screws, and then when my back was turned, put a tiny screw into a bigger hole. The screw disappeared and I spent the next 5 minutes banging on the part to get the screw to fall back out. This was before step number one was started.

Of my children, Sammy was by far the most eager to help me. I used a rechargeable screwdriver and lined everything up and let him push the buttons. He was digging it. Calvin helped me get the top lined up and move the big pieces around. Savannah also joined in after the screwdriver button pushing fun began.

The most difficult part of the build was when I was laying on the floor trying to look in the dark space underneath the stand holding a flashlight while attaching the top to the supports. Sammy thought this would be a great time to hang off the sofa and try to zerbert my stomach. When he couldn’t quite reach he asked me to stretch my stomach up to meet him, which I did because I thought it was funny. Suddenly, he jumped of the sofa and onto my stomach. I was a trampoline, and Sammy was bouncing on me. It is hard to laugh, breathe and tell a kid to get off of you. They just don't take that very seriously.

In the end, I only had to take the stand apart and put it back together 3 times. And I did not cuss, except really low where the kids couldn’t hear. I didn’t yell at anyone or break the stand, but I am still afraid to move it by picking it up from the top. I think it will pop right off. The screw that could not go into the base, well I think I know what to do with him. I will just put him in the drawer with all of the other left over parts I have collected throughout the years.

Maybe I am getting better at this stuff. This project turned out much better than the computer desk that I put together that could not be moved for 4 years because it would collapse (we lost the desk when a mover lifted it 2 inches off the ground). Or the doggie door that nearly crushed my wife and Calvin, when he was a newborn. Why would a dog actually use a door that you made for him?

So, I am not handy. Big deal. At least I have some helpers that that don't know how incompetent I am. And they know the Bob the Builder song. That always fills me with confidence.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

And the Pain Continues...

I think I mentioned before that I am a Redskins fan. I question why, and all I can really come up up with is a warm fuzzy feeling that I would get inside whenever I wore a stupid hat. How illogical and emotional that makes me. After the latest loss, I am feeling - despair.
The problem is that I have such an emotional investment in each game that I can't separate the outcome of the game from my own personal reality. I believe in my team the way a native population of a small pacific island might believe in a volcano god that will not destroy the village if fed virgins. Mine is a mindless devotion. I can even prove my devotion. I participate in a weekly football pool. During the week before the Skins vs Pats game I was the only person on the the face of the earth to pick the skins to win, and believe in the pick! Foolish man that I am...
If my feelings about the Redskins are similar to a religious belief, then FedEx field is the cathedral where I worship. The TV is only a stand in when I can not make my pilgrimage. My clothes are purchased to keep up with the latest styles so that I will always be prepared to show my Sunday's best.
My tithe to my team is probably not a tenth of my family income as the definition implies, but I estimate that it is in the neighborhood of 2% to maybe 5%. This is way out of wack for a family of five with income that is based on two teacher's salaries. I was inspired by a cool blog and created a special graphic to illustrate my meaning (inserted below).


Pain Illustrated


The disappointment of this season is settling in nicely. With the highest paid brain trust in the NFL, the Redskins have managed to all but throw this season away. I wonder which one of them said, "Hey, lets run Portis 7 times and see how far he gets (this was after a turnover at the Philly 24)!" The cameras didn't show the sideline, but I am thinking there was major high fiving on that one.

Don't get me wrong, I have the highest respect for Joe Gibbs. He is a supreme football being to me. If I were to ever meet him I would be giddy like a schoolgirl meeting her favorite teen idol. I can only assume that he is being pushed into the background by the other coaches. Could it be there are too many cooks in the kitchen?

Should I mention how penalties contributed to our loss? Nah, why bore anyone by going over one of the few things we do well? We easily keep drives going for the other team with mindless penalties. This should always be expected from a Washington team. You might think that having geniuses in charge of your team you would only see the proper number of defensive players on the field. But geniuses should never be bothered with counting to 11. That's kindergarten stuff.

Sophisticated communications equipment is in use in the NFL so that all of the coaches can talk and figure out what to do. Do we really need to blow all three 2nd half timeouts for patty cake? Don't they have a contingency flow chart with a pimply faced intern in charge to remind everyone about what they would do if X thing happened- like they agreed to in a Wednesday meeting? Can they just tell Cambell to fake it and run the hurry up all the time?

People might say that if I was a real fan I would never say these things (believe me I am thinking much worse- I am just trying to stay true to my promise of a clean blog). The only thing I can say to that is that I have paid for the privilege. To me, it is like voting. You must pay for the right to complain about government by taking an active role in it and voting. I have given my hard earned money, I have believed in my team and I have felt each loss as if it were my own personal failure. This gives me the right to say what I want.

These coaches make an obscene amount of money to fail. I would pay for the privilege. At least then I could say that I had some influence in a game that I feel so involved in. The difference between me and them, I would pay to fail, while they get paid to fail? No wonder I can't be happy with my team. I am willing to sacrifice my untested football reputation, more of my family's income than I already give away, and precious time away from my family to make my team right and they sacrifice what? Their reputation and time from their families. Millionaire Losers- that's what they are, while I am just a Loser.

I am a 41 year old male who weighs 170 on a heavy day, stands 5 ft 10 (that's what I put on my driver's licence), and I would suit up for a game and sacrifice my body to help my team. I would block the biggest rusher, tackle whoever had the ball, and run crossing routes through Baltimore's D. I mean this- I would do it knowing in the end I would be squished like a grape. My williness to sacrifce myself should mean something, but it doesn't. I sounds like false bravado.

So, where does this leave me? Believing that the Redskins can beat the Cowboys this weekend. Being mocked by other teams fans. Throwing virgins in the volcano...

I believe in God. I have prayed for my team to succeed. I know that He has to be on the Redskins side, because I think the Bible says something like, "The meek shall inherit the Earth." Lord, the Redskins are ready.

Kona

Kona is my dog. She is a beautiful border collie that just turned 1 on Halloween. We didn't get her until she was 6 months old. My brother in law has a male and female that he bred and Kona was one of their puppies. She was a bounce back- meaning she was sold and brought back. She was an unwanted puppy.

My wife, Amy, and I have a pet rule; we never buy our animals, we prefer the ones no one else wants. I suppose in some way it makes us feel that if we give an animal a home that we are doing a good thing inviting another creature into our home. Unlike purchasing a pet which feels more like you own the animal. Somehow, the invitation makes it seem like you have a new family member. This is important because it allows you to accept the flaws and the option to return the animal when it doesn't meet your unrealistic expectations is not present.

Kona is a wonderful dog. High on energy, and a fantastic companion. She is sweet and sensitive and will play fetch all day long. Kona is smart. I am pretty sure she is smarter than me, but she lets me think I am in charge (there must be an alpha dog in the pack and I am it, although my family constantly argues about who is the lead dog).

Border collies have been bred to herd sheep. I don't understand how a trait like that can be passed through genes, but she does this herding behavior without any training. When my 3 kids are running around she will try to herd them. If she finds a frog, she tries to dictate where the frog should go. Sometimes I take Kona to my friend's house, he has her brother, Jackson. Kona and Jackson will herd other dogs that come over to visit and they will work as a team when they do it. It is really fascinating to watch.

Kona notices everything. Movement is key- if it moves, she is on it. Some dogs bite. Kona nips to try to get you to move a certain way- she is herding. I have tried to take her to the baseball field more than once. It is too much for her, she can't calm down. Balls are flying every which way, kids are running, there is simply too much for her to deal with and process.

She is a guard dog in the sense that she is a barker. Any noise at the door will set off the alarm- Kona rushes to the door barking. The TV always throws her off. A doorbell sound from a TV show will send her scrambling for the door barking like crazy. It's pretty funny.

I said she is a guard dog, but there is not a vicious bone in her body. She is really quite timid. Vacuums, handheld or upright, will send her cowering in a corner as far away as she can get from the noisy machines. Loud noises, like fireworks will cause her to run away. This past August, we went to a redneck firework show (fireworks in the backyard after a few beverages with few safety controls- the danger makes it more fun) and she ran off for about almost four hours. She does not like balloons. They scare her.

She does have some bad habits. Kona is a chewer. She has chewed on the dinning room furniture, molding on the wall, the banister rails on the stairs and any toy my kids leave on the floor (and some they don't leave on the floor). She still poops in the house- it is always the same spot, so at least we can find it.

People who don't like dogs, well, I don't understand them. I can't say they are not to be trusted because there could be a perfectly good reason as to why they don't like dogs. Dog attacks are more common than most people believe, but the cause of that problem is people. People who don't care for their dogs properly and don't train them to behave. But people who don't like dogs for any good reason, are just people who have never been around the right dog.

Dogs are like love with hair on it. When they accept you as part of their pack, it is unconditional. The love they give is completely disproportionate to the love they receive. I could list many dog stories to illustrate dog's devotion to people, but the improvement in the quality of life of a person who finds a dog friend is more important than depending on a dog to save your life.

Before we got Kona, the morning wake up routine was tough during the school year. Our youngest, Sammy, was a complete grump in the morning. Everyday was filled with screaming and ugliness. But after we got Kona, things changed quickly.

My morning routine is to come downstairs and let Kona out. Then I make the coffee. Next I make the rounds, waking up the kids. This has become Kona's favorite part of the day. She runs to Calvin's door and waits with her tail wagging and a little, "woof," to tell me to hurry up and open the door. When the door opens, she runs in, jumps on his bed and licks his face. He hates this, but he gets up.

Savannah is next. Kona jumps up on her bed and licks her and then she likes to play, "Don't Touch My Baby Girl." This is a game she invented were she blocks me with her body and nips at me until Savannah is awake. Savannah loves this game, it makes her feel special and protected.

Sammy is last on the wake up list. It used to be that he would wake up screaming and angry at me and the rest of the world. Now, Kona jumps on the bed and flicks that little pink tongue across his face and a smile always greets me. Some days are still bad days, but everyday starts with a smile.

There are many more reasons why Kona is my special little girl. She can tear up the house and drop the occasional load, and it will still bother me, but that one smile first thing in the morning makes everything else insignificant. She has left her mark in the kid's play room, and on all of our hearts.

Kona and Sam

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Something New and Fun

I am always excited about trying new things with my students. The introduction of something new expands the possibilities of what can be done. My principal has become interested in using blogging with students. I am all over this idea!

Obviously, I have been playing with this blog since August, and it has become very important to me. This blog is more of a personal experience kind of thing, like a journal. I treat it this way because I was afraid to limit myself to a single topic. I didn't want to lose interest. While I get very excited if someone comments, I am not sure if I am motivated by what others think. Do I do this for selfish reasons, or is it an attempt to share with others? Can it be both? That is not important now, this entry is about the school project.

The new school blog must be more focused. It needs to have an educational point to its existence and it must have participation to be meaningful. Having played with this blog, I have a better idea of how to set a school blog up and gear it to meet a specific goal. I created a test blog site for my school. I did it as an exploration of the available tools, and to show some of my staff the possiblities of a how a blog could be used to start a conversation. This idea can then be used to help student's reading comprehension and writing abilities.

Edublogs has some great features but it is super slow. Learnerblogs is from Edublogs with the same features, but it is faster. So, this site will be the future home of my school's blog. Unless something better presents itself. I really am not sure exactly which direction the blog will take. Right now I have the idea if it being a writing prompt activity. Pictures, science stories and perhaps some literature will be weaved together to give students the change to put their thoughts in writing and interact in a new way.

I hope that this is just the beginning. There is still so much more out there that kids can jump right into. Podcasting and vodcasting are two that I want to explore asap. Not for myself, but for my students. They need to find their voice and where they can fit into the conversation. Everyone has something to share, they just may not know how to share it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Pain of My Colors

The first winter hat that I can remember having as a child was a gold and burgundy knit cap with a big pom-pom on the end and a Redskins patch. I loved that hat. I think that it was because of that hat that I became a Redskins fan.

Now, as a 41 year old male, I no longer have that hat. I wish that I did, but they don't make them like that anymore so I can't even have a stand in. I do have a closet full of Redskins clothes. I have 15 hats, 17 shirts, a pair of boxers, sweat pants, sweat shirts, a winter jacket, lounge pants (pajamas- but real men don't wear that stuff), and other non clothes items that are far to numerous to list.

The last time a Redskins team won the Super Bowl I missed most of it. I am embarrassed to say that I was busy girl chasing in college and missed all of the good stuff. I did a lot of that in college, I think it is normal, but I missed the glory days of Redskins football. I should have been watching football because now I don't even remember what it is like to have a team to be proud of...

The Redskins are still above .500, so that is good, but after the agony of watching my team destroyed on Sunday, I feel like there is little hope for this team to really be anything more than an also ran. I really have to ask, was it necessary to completely humiliate a team, and their fans, on television like that? I don't think Gandhi would have agreed with what the Patriots did, but he never did learn to appreciate football.

Perhaps the crushing defeat the Redskins experienced (along with the fans) is the result of the bad Karma created by Joe Gibbs in his first go around as head coach. Maybe being wiped all of the field was a form of cosmic justice, but doesn't that in turn create bad Karma for the Patriots?
No one enjoys having their face rubbed in their own weaknesses, but 350 defensive linemen can actually do something about it. I don't wish anything bad on anyone, but I couldn't believe that none of the Redskins had resorted to juvenile acting out as some sports journalists suggested. I would have considered it, but I am quick to anger and usually regret those types of things later, so I have learned to behave. Taking that kind of spanking goes beyond anything I have ever seen in professional football. I realize that the Patriots can do whatever they want, but I don't agree with their reasoning.

Not every team will be as gracious in losing as the skins were on Sunday. Someone, somewhere, is not going to appreciate the throttling that they must take at the hands of the Patriots. It might only take one hit to end their dominance...

Meanwhile, I have to live with my team. One with highly overpaid conservative coaches (Gibbs- as head coach, Williams- Defense, and Saunders- Offense) whose idea of imaginative play calling is a reverse, or a prevent defense. The offense did nothing against New England. Little out patterns, nothing deep, no variety in calls. Defense played a completely different style than every other week so far this year. Like they were afraid. Where is my hard hitting pair of safeties? Why was there no blitzing?

I have been supporting the Redskins for about ten years by purchasing tickets, concessions, and by buying a ridiculous amount of things with the Redskins logo on it. All of that money has gone into Dan Synder's pocket and created a loser. But I can't go against my team. What about my little knit hat with the pom-pom? So I will return to the scene of ultimate failure as a sports fan, FEDEX field. How is it that you can be associated with a losing team but never believe that they will lose? Each year is filled with high expectations and no satisfaction (and quite a bit of financial loss on my teacher's salary).

There are two more games that I have tickets to go and see, in the good seats (club level), but I think I need to save my dignity. I know! I will go in disguise.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Signs

Seeing relationships between things that are not connected is man's way of attempting to understand the world. This is basically what Gestalt psychology is all about. Pattern recognition in man allowed early hunters to recognize animal behavior and survive in a tough environment. This ability that all people have, has developed in a variety of strange ways. Seeing symbols is one thing that has grown out of man's attempt at patterning the world.
I don't know if all of that ties into what I am about to share, but it seems to in a broader sense. Or it could just be wishful thinking. I have, what Native Americans in the old western movies would call, a spirit guide. This is an animal that represents my connection to the universe. Sounds weird, I know. It is almost embarrassing for me to admit that I even consider this a possibility. I must be admitting it because I am putting it into words...
The first time this ever crossed my mind was shortly after I turned 21. I was driving home from college after I was informed that my mom had just lost her battle with cancer. I was screaming at God, demanding to know how he could take away someone so wonderful and leave such a terrible person like myself behind. Angry at the world, I insisted that I be given some sort of sign that my mother was ok. As I am driving down this little two lane road in the middle of nowhere, I looked up to see a hawk fly across my path.
At the time, I was pretty low, but I can't really say that I took it as anything more than a bird was flying. I am still surprised that I even remember it.
Time passed, and like they say, I healed. But life is like a roller coaster with many ups and downs. It always seemed that after that first time, whenever I was low I would see a hawk and know that everything would be alright. Of course, I expanded my "spirit guide" to encompass all large birds of prey, because when you are searching for a positive you want to grab onto as much as possible. Red-tailed hawks stretched out to include osprey, and bald eagles.
I can't really say that there is any real connection between my sightings and positive life experiences, because it is more of a feeling, not a concrete, measurable object. Just like I can't really describe the depth of my love for my wife or my children. I know it is there, because I can feel it, but defining it is pointless for someone who doesn't believe me.
All of this brings me to today. I have been upset lately, feeling the work world is all stacked up against me. Probably this is just paranoia, but it has certainly felt as real as walking into a brick wall every day. I was with my youngest son, driving back home from a birthday party for a classmate of his when I saw some movement on the side of the road. It was a red-tailed hawk, standing there devouring his prey. I had to pull the truck over into the next driveway and watch. Sammy wanted to go over to him and get a closer look, but I talked him out of it considering how close it was to the road.
Does it mean anything? To the rational world, no. Thank goodness I am rarely rational, because I have to take the hawk as a sign of hope. Life is wonderful, but don't we all need a sign every now and then that tells us tomorrow will be better? I think it is wrong to define the experience or think about what the sighting could mean for me. It is enough for me just to know that things will be better.
Friedrich Nietzsche must have been a terribly unhappy person, or he enjoyed making others unhappy with his dark thoughts about man and his emotions. I think he was wrong. Man needs hope, or at least this one man does.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Passion

This week I am going to teach a group of teachers about blogs and wikis. I am very excited about this opportunity because right now it is a passion of mine. I know these technologies are not new, but in many ways they are new to me. It wasn't always this way, I always thought, why do I want to do this? I don't need this blog and wiki stuff as a part of my technology tool list.

But, I was wrong. It is hard for many people to admit when they are wrong. It is not particularly easy for me, but I have found that if I don't admit it, I can't put it behind me and move on. I think this is an important idea because I am not that much different from anyone else who has ever asked, why do this new thing? The question should always be, why NOT do this new thing? When I was younger, that type of thinking always got me into trouble. Hopefully, now I can control my questioning techniques to make the, "Why not?" question a positive experience.

I read an article this weekend about finding your passions. I strongly believe that everyone must have a passion. For me, things change rapidly. My family is a constant passion in my life, but I often need other things to make living with me bearable. When I don't have some sort of side project, I literately feel like something is missing.

Recently, I created a King Tut thing for 2nd grade, and a Lorax debate for 3rd. I loved it! I felt like I was contributing something, I was modeling the type of thing I want my teachers to try, and I had a chance to be creative. The only problem is that after these projects are completed, I am looking for another distraction. Something I can be passionate about.

Along comes this blogs and wiki class. I really am excited. I love my blog and think that blogs can have great value for just about any class (maybe not this particular blog, but I see the potentional). I think wikis are a great collaboration tool and I recently did a research activity with all of my fifth grade students using a wiki as a group recording page. While you may not see the best example of student writing ever, you will see a collaborative effort of almost 200 students who were forced to adapt quickly to get anything on the page at all. They had to talk to each other and plan how they were going to do the project, they had to research information, decide who was going to input the info on the the wiki page and they had about 30 minutes to make it happen. There was some seriously valuable learning going on. After the activity, many students came up to me and asked me if they could work on it outside of computer lab time. I was like, "Yes!"- to the question, and to the idea that they wanted to extend learning outside of the normal confines of learning. I was impressed. They did all the work, but I got a chance to be the finger pointing the way.

I think some of the greatest things that human beings have ever created came about as a group of people set to work with one focus in mind. They shared, they collaborated- this is what makes blogs and wikis so wonderful. The chance to be a part of something bigger than anything you alone could achieve.

I believe that you must find the passion in life. It is there waiting for you to discover it. Never question why you should do something, say, "Why not!" Give something new a try. You never know where it will take you. Maybe you will find that piece of something that fills your empty space.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Not a good day...

I am not sure what I expected when I decided to change the way I do everything in my job. Maybe I thought that simply because I was doing the right thing for the students that it would be easier to take the negative backlash from the teachers. I was wrong.

I have mentally prepared for every discussion that I could have with any person regarding my new philosophy, but the difference is preparing for battle, and being engaged in battle. You practice on the football field, but when it is game time, it hurts when you get tackled -even though you know it is coming.

Could be that it is just a bad day for me. I'll get over it. This year is still better than last year, or the year before... because I really feel like I am making a difference. That maybe I am helping students and even a few teachers with technology. Last year and before, by this time the routine of the year set in and I felt left behind. Everyday felt at least a little like this; slogging through an endless muddy field with no direction.

Now, most days are exciting and I feel like I am accomplishing something. It is hard for me to let things go, even small things can really get under my skin. But I am going to try to rise above it, and continue on the path that I have set for myself. Hopefully, this is just one little thing that will amount to nothing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fun With Technology 2

I was talking with my gifted resource teacher (GRT) at my school and she was telling me how she was going to do a lesson with the Lorax. She wanted to do something with point of view, enivronment etc., and asked me if I would help.

The cool thing was that I planned with my GRT using Instant Messenger. Here is her exact entry (I had to copy it to make sure I wouldn't forget), "The depth and complexity pieces include: language of the discipline (big words about the environment); details (facts); patterns; trends, ethics, rules, big ideas, across disciplines, unanswered questions, relate over time; multiple perspectives." This activity is for a gifted cluster group of 3rd graders.

So, what I came up with was a debate. I took parts of The Lorax and added some of my own material to create a script. Next, I searched Flickr.com for pictures and then recorded myself reading the script and used the flickr pictures as a slide show in Window Movie Maker. Below is basically the result (The web page is a little more attractive for my school- didn't seem important here);

Environmental Debate
The Lorax vs The Once-ler

How will cutting down the Truffula trees impact the future?
Lorax Once-ler

What do you think about the thneeds?
Once-ler Lorax

Why are you so passionate about Truffula trees and or thneeds?
Once-ler Lorax

Is it ethical to chop down truffula trees?
Once-ler Lorax

Should there be rules to make sure that people get thneeds and we save the truffula trees?
Once-ler Lorax

There must be some way save the Truffula trees and make Thneeds…
Lorax Once-ler

I had a great time making it but it did take quite a bit of time. I even spent about 3 to 4 hours of my birthday working on it. That is not a complaint. It just goes to show how much fun it was for me to make.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Collaboration vs. Competition

I know my posts have been a bit more infrequent lately, but I have not given up on it. Not at all. Thursday night I woke up at 2am thinking about my next post. I suppose my subconscious mind had been turning things over for a while, and just like the oven timer, the ding that told me the idea was ready, woke me up. No matter how strong the urge, I try to resist the impulse to jump out of bed to get my thoughts out there. I just can't afford to lose the sleep with 3 young kids to chase around.

I think that there is a societal battle over the concepts of competition and collaboration in our schools. America's system of capitalism breeds the competitive individual better than any other in the world. We now have a group of people whose only thought is to get ahead at any cost. To be a winner. Forget everyone along the way, because the game of life is about self promotion, not helping everyone else to get ahead. This is having a negative impact on education.

This drive to be the best has helped America to be great, but it can also destroy us. We have many problems and no one person can solve any of them. It is going to take the cooperative work of many people to make things better. The world is very complex and many hands will be needed to fix it.

Educators should recognize the importance of collaboration, but this is not always the case. Schools are still built around competition. I mean, really, what are grades all about? Finding out which students are best so they can go to better colleges and universities. Teachers want to be recognized, too. Would they really share their super special lesson that will make them stand out for a Teacher of the Year nomination?

Certainly, it is difficult to create a collaborative environment in a classroom. You would have to change just about every aspect of the classroom to truly embrace cooperative learning among students. The concept of social learning is not new, and neither is collaboration, but it just seems to be the opposite of what a successful person would do. Successful, independent people don't need help.

We can not have students collaborate in school because we can not get teachers to collaborate in school. It is always nice to know that you are not the only person to recognize this problem, but it is also scary because it means the problem is much larger than just me, in my little part of the world.

Part of the problem is not that teachers are unwilling to work together, but they don't know how to collaborate. If they can not collaborate among their peers, how can they support that learning model with students?

There is a big push in schools to use cooperative learning and project based learning, but from what I am seeing, these ideas are not being widely adopted. Perhaps these collaborative learning models are hard to incorporate because of the demands of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). If you are required to hit 20 specific areas outlined in the standards of learning in a subject for a major end of the year test, you must teach and re-teach those topics. Three or four times in a year. You can not rely on the hit and miss proposition of project based learning. The student may have a much better understanding of the work completed in the project, but having holes in knowledge is not acceptable under NCLB.

I have not really answered any questions, and probably thought up a few more, but I think this is a real problem. We have the brain power to fix our problems, but we lack the focus to complete the task. We can only make school a better place to learn if teachers work together and show the students how to do the same. These are skills the world needs.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Peter

I have decided this year that I will split my time between my school's two computer labs. It has kept me hopping, but allowed my to work with all of the students in kindergarten through 5th grade. One week I am with the kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes, and the next week I am with 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes.

Last week I was with the older groups. A kindergarten class came into the lab and one of the children came up to the teacher and said,"Where's Peter?"

She said, "Peter, who?"

The little boy said, "You know, the Peter Guy?"

He was talking about me! I am the "Peter Guy." I am sure that he meant computer guy, but the point is that I was missed, and it meant enough to the child to ask where I was. I was touched. I must be doing something right- for a change.

So while, "You can Call Me Al," I will now answer to Peter as well.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Technology Helper

Who couldn't use a little help with technology?

Yesterday we had our neighbors over for dinner. Their kids played with our kids and Dee asked me about web pages. She is a new teacher at a local high school and has become interested in communicating with her students in a new way.

So, I gave her my, "Google is awesome," speech. Shared Blogger- because I love it, and Google Page Creator- because it is more flexible. After a few minutes of discussion over pizza (no pizza wars last night), she was ready. I helper sign up for a Google mail account and in no time she was posting her first blog entry, adding links and creating her own web page.

I wish everyone was that easy to work with because my job would be so much easier. I have been thinking about how all of this happened and I think I may have some ideas about it. The things that made this such a smooth transition for Dee that other teachers are missing in a reverse top 5 list;

5. She has been out of teaching for a few years and has rediscovered her passion for teaching.
4. She sees that students have new abilities and can be reached in different ways.
3. She has real world technology experiences- she has skills developed outside of teaching.
2. She is open to new ideas.
1. She cares more about the students she teaches than she does for the status quo of what her coworkers consider quality education.

I might have missed something, but the important thing to me was that I saw in Dee more interest in technology in one night than I have seen in many of my coworkers in years. Kind of scary. Dee was nervous about it. I think she is still working out exactly how she will use her new tools for teaching, but she will use them. I am excited for her, and her students.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Amusing Myself with Technology

I love technology because it allows me to express myself in many different ways. I don't have a fear of technology and sometimes use it as an outlet for fun. I am easily amused, so it really doesn't take much for me to have a good time.

Yesterday, I had an idea. Well, I had more than one idea, because they often come in bunches, but one that I thought was good enough to act on.

Second grade classes have an Egypt unit. It is almost time for Egypt week to begin. I have been having a dialogue with my gifted resource teacher for a few weeks about this idea that we came up with for an Egypt room. It is an empty room that we are working on, with second grade teachers, where classes can come in and do different Egypt related activities. My area is concerned with - guess what? Technology!

So I was thinking about how I could add some life to the "Egypt Room." I have been playing with web cams and had a brain storm. Video Egypt FAQs with King Tut. I thought it would be fun for the students- and for me. The only problem was the Eye Liner. How in the world do the ladies get that mess off?

Here is a list of the Questions and the Video Responses that I threw together yesterday afternoon;

Introduction-
video

What are hieroglyphics?
video

How did Ancient Egypt influence the daily life in the United States?
video

How did they make the Step Pyramid?
video

What is the Sphinx?
video

How did you (King Tut) die?
video

What can you tell us about mummification?
video

Is there a symbol for the Ancient Egyptian Religion?
video

This was a fun little project. I am sure it could have been much better, but I had the urge and tried to pull it all together fast. I hope it makes you laugh. I know I did.
:-)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Technology in Education- Part6

Part5
My New Motto (final in series)

For some reason, I have thought that as a final entry in this series I should have something about my overall theme. I think it must be because media has ingrained in me the need to sum things up in as few words as possible. Some sort of catch phrase or something.

Unfotuately, I was not able to come up with my own. However, I decided that the new IBM commercials fit my new mind set about instructional technology.

"Stop talking. Start doing."

The only problem is that the comercials I want to link to are not on YouTube. The only videos not on YouTube. Strange. I wish I could link to the commercials because the website is lame.

The idea behind the commercials is that people talk about innovation, but what they need is to do something about innovation.

This is what I have come to believe is the most important thing I missed so far as a computer resource teacher. I have always tried to communicate about technology in education, but I neglected the action. Not because I was avoiding it but because I thought that was what I needed to do.

Conversations rarely convince people that they are wrong; actions, and experiences do. I used to spend a lot of time trying to communicate with people via email. It didn't work. Deleted and ignored I continued to struggle with using communication skills that didn't make it to the intended audience.

Now I can't be ignored. I am doing everything. If I can reach one person now, that is one person more than I reached before. I am in motion, demonstrating, modeling, teaching, making things happen.

I am finished talking to those those who won't listen.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Technology in Education- Part5

Part5
The Future

Teaching students how to use technology is the most important skill we give our students after teaching reading. Some people have even suggested that the term literacy be changed to mean a combination of reading and technology skills.

I believe that instructional technology is this important, not because this is my job, but because I have eyes and can see how the world is changing. The world is driven by technology like never before. If you have no technology skills, you are virtually unemployable in this society. Project that into the future 10 years, or 20 years. Isn't it reasonable to assume that technology will play a more important role than today? If this is true, then are we adequately preparing our students for that future if technology is not a large part of what we teach them?

Unless the there is some sort of major catastrophe like a nuclear war, or comet impact, the old days are gone forever. What will today’s teacher do when suddenly the world is alien to them and technology becomes the teacher, their role is a facilitator, their only task is to make sure students continue to work on their computer?

Computers never tire of repeating the same material, and they can immediately move to the next topic keeping pace with the student’s needs. They don’t get an attitude after repeating the same material for the forth time, or even the hundredth time.

Have you played video games lately? Guitar Hero, and Dance Dance Revolution are examples of games that were not even dreamed of in my early days of Pong and Space Invaders. These new games teach you how to play the game as you play. When this same type of approach is applied to classroom instruction, teachers should start thinking about new employment opportunities.

Computers can accept speech input, hand writing and eye movement. Have you seen Microsoft’s new computer? Or what about the laser keyboard? How long will it be before teachers are not needed to teach computer skills? I don’t think it will be very long at all.

This might be a shocking idea to many, but what is a teacher’s salary? Let’s say an average of $35K. How much money would it cost to replace 5 out of ten teachers with computers for each of those teacher’s (who are leaving) students? How long would the equipment be usable? If you start to think like that, in terms of money, it is possible to see that it could happen. School divisions are political bodies whose main concern is the student and the bottom line. There is little loyalty, if any, for the teachers who do the daily work of instructing students. Computers don’t cause a fuss when they get replaced by a newer, cheaper model that does more.

If a teacher can’t teach the skills needed to use the tools that the world uses, and it won’t be long before the tools themselves will be able to do the teaching, will the problem and the solution come together in our lifetime? If a teacher is an effective technology user, and instructor of technology skills, this will ensure the teacher a job, at least in the short term future. If you are still not convinced, ask the factory workers who lost their jobs to robots. No one thought that could happen, but it did.

The problem is that non-native technology users avoid using new tools because they don't feel they get anything from it. It takes work to figure out the new tools, and the payoff is not that great. My argument is that these skills will keep them employable as teachers, at least for a few more years. Did I forget to mention that in my state there are technology standards for instructional personnel? Sure the standards are sketchy at best, and require the school divisions to define what the standards mean, but they are out there. They are sure to be revised soon. I mean, they are 9 years old now and many people have worked hard to define the skills teachers need, and let's not forget that the technology that the world uses has changed. A revision of the technology standards for teachers is sure to happen because the work world decides what the educational system needs.

My school system has a technology proficiency test that teachers must pass to stay employed. The test is a joke. It was a joke in 1998 and I don’t think that the test has changed at all since then. Never mind that the technology has changed. You only have to pass it once and you are set for life- until they change the rules. I don’t fault my school system for this; I blame the state for creating a set of weak guidelines.

A teacher’s goal is to teach the SOLs and anything that takes them away from this is not considered a productive use of time. The funny thing to me is that there are SOLs for technology, but because they are not tested, they are not taken seriously. The teacher’s technology test is a joke and some teachers actually brag about being computer illiterate and passing the test. And stupid me, I wonder why no one is serious about using technology. It really comes down to how well a teacher can avoid technology. Maybe if teachers thought that their livelihood was at stake they might take technology more seriously and really work at learning to use it. Perhaps the teachers who do not see the benefit of technology are just waiting for retirement. In the meantime, how many students are missing out on a quality education? What will their future be like?