Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"When Death Comes" by Mary Oliver

A poem about death may seem inappropriate for this season. This is when we make plans, set new goals, convince ourselves that next year, in the New Year, Things Will Be Different.

But today, December 31, is the "death" of 2008. And even though it may seem to be a depressing topic, in this poem about death Mary Oliver displays her amazing ability to infuse wonderment into daily reflections.

I cherish the second half of the poem. Ever since I first read it a few years ago, I knew that I would be returning to it over and over.

Question of the day: What do I want out of 2009?
Answer: I want an amazing year. I don't want to end up simply having "gotten by".

Lastly - even though they're all over the internet, poems are not free. So I've decided to link to a few different sites that have the poem. And also I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND purchasing a collection of Mary Oliver poems. Here's a link - it's worth it.

When Death Comes, Link 1
When Death Comes, Link 2
When Death Comes, Link 3
(they're all the same - just want to make sure you get there okay!)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Teaching & Football, Together at Last

Earlier this month I read the Malcolm Gladwell article on how to identify / recruit good teachers.

A few great quotes. Typical Gladwell - not thinking of anything new on his own, just demonstrating his ability to listen to smart people within a certain field and write about it in plain english.

Basically my own intro to teaching was something like an apprenticeship - two years of working as an "associate teacher", where I was given 80% of a full schedule and also had an assigned mentor and weekly meetings with the other young teachers. It is a much better model than the baptism by fire public school approach.

Also agreed with the point about the unions. They're one (of numerous) reason I don't want to work in US public schools. Teaching isn't really a blue-collar job like most other unionized fields. automatic tenure and the annual increase in salary no matter how well you do your job, bleh. (Caveat - after student teaching, I've not clocked a single minute inside an American school.)

What Gladwell doesn't tackle thoroughly is that the US public system, and teaching in general as a profession, still hasn't figured out a way to fairly implement a different pay structure. There are plenty of failed attempts but to my knowledge not even one success story that's repeatable. One tricky part is side-stepped in the beginning of the article, in the comment that looking at value-added statistics only shows how well a teacher conveys learning that measured by a test. But if you open that door and allow for other areas of expertise, how can you afford the manpower to have a thorough performance appraisal system? The guys watching the video are at the university / district-wide level, not close to the site level.

My prediction is that we'll move towards hologram teachers - great quality courses available online at affordable prices - and that will result in a change in the responsibilities of the adults who work with the students inside the school.

I'm sort of serious about that, too...

Oh and. Happy Holidays to any lurkers out there still hanging on to this barely-breathing blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oh How I've Changed

A funny "aha" moment this week when I dusted off my resume to touch it up for grad school applications. I'd already worked on it over the summer so it was just an issue of managing space / design.

And to my amusement / horror, I realized that I was still using Times New Roman.


What a philistine I used to be...


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shanghai Takeaways

Went up to Shanghai and had another great conference at Learning 2.008.

This time I didn't feel so far behind the learning curve - last year my brain was about to explode halfway through the second day. And this time I presented a workshop. Very similar to what I gave last time at the HK 21st Century Learning. Felt nice to have a standing room only crowd, felt GREAT to have about half a dozen people stick around afterwards to ask more questions / start using their new readers. You can see the notes that people wrote about my preso here (maybe you need to sign in to the Ning first?), and the slidedeck is up here.


What am I taking away from this? Well, had two fabulous meals - one that cost me 100USD (here), one at a local place that cost all six of us under 50USD.

I found the keynote speakers quite inspiring. David Warlick, Clarence Fisher, and David Jakes were my favorites. Warlick's preso on the future of education was brilliant in every way, from powerpoint to delivery to pacing to energy (it's listed in this post as "Telling the New Story"). Great to see Clarence Fisher in person - I LOVE reading his blog.


However, it was a bit funny...the whole conference was framed as focusing on the teaching, not on the tools. But most of the takeaways I have relate to the tools. Shoot, even my preso was about a tool that should make life easier for teachers.

The big question in my head is, how do we get to a school full of teachers like Clarence Fisher, where every classroom is organized like the one he describes here?

How does that happen? What does that mean for the school day? More importantly, what does that mean for the curriculum? There are lots of great online learning systems getting rolled out in international schools, and tons of examples of 1:1 laptop schools. But it seems to me that these programs are in some fundamental ways still recreating the structures and hierarchies of a typical secondary school.

Where does participatory culture come into play? Where is the playing field leveled between teacher and student? Where is the school that truly organizes EVERYTHING around the principle that everyone in the building is a learner?

I would love to spend some time reading more of the posts in my reader, going through Warlick's website and scouring it for insight, following Fisher's blog devotedly to see what he's doing in the classroom with these ideas. Unfortunately, given the nature of a full-time classroom teacher's day, I don't know when that time will come.

So that's why I've been looking seriously into going back to the States to spend a year getting a Master's in Education. Figure that's when I'll have the freedom to direct my thoughts towards these big picture questions.

'Cuz right now, I gots papers to mark.

Friday, September 19, 2008

From Learning 2.008: Google Maps Embed

Up in Shanghai right now, at the Learning 2.008 Conference.

Just going to play right now and see if I can successfully embed this map into my blog.

What is it? It's from Google Maps containing placeholders that I created.

What do I want to do with it? I want to get all of my students in as collaborators on a class map, where we would place important information about people / events in the accurate location.

That's very important for a Humanities classroom. I'll see if I can find a better "finished" Google Map to show what I'd "like" the final product to look like.

View Larger Map

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thanks to Dan...

...I instantly saw how amazing this was:



Anyone who's teaching secondary humanities, please make sure to spend at least five minutes in class (or right before / after) sharing this image with your students.

Why should EVERY humanities teacher use this?

1. If you're teaching American History, and not doing any work on the election, shame on you.
2. If you're not teaching American History, current events needs to be a part of any humanities course. What bigger event is coming up than the fall election?
3. This is an exemplar of how to analyze and represent research data - a staggering amount of it.
4. Unpacking this image is a great exercise in how to analyze a primary source.

This is even relevant to my students in Hong Kong - I am scattering into the curriculum mini-lessons about the US election in my G9 Humanities course to help them learn more about the electoral system of HK, which is probably MORE complicated than the electoral college. AND the amendments to the system are currently a huge item of debate in the legislature / op-ed pages, with major changes proposed over the past two years.

Oh and - if design's your thing - go to Dan's blog and check out everything tagged "design". The guy loves the stuff with an infectious passion.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reflections on Baby Steps

Needed to sit down and post these reflections on my presentation now, before it gets absurdly late to do so. Funny how a week back in the grind me in total manic mode. Not that that's a bad thing...


In prepping for the session, I ended up using Dan's "start with handouts" first tip. I tried to build handouts that had plenty of white space for taking notes, included a few of the key quotes / points from the preso, and were also aesthetically pleasing. Busted out gridlines to make sure everything lined up Just So!

I'd already had the idea to use a sandcastle example to illustrate procedural vs. navigational learning. So when I went to the handout, it just seemed obvious to find a sandbox and slap it on there as a background image. The fact that it was a turtle just made it all that much better. Animals Rock!

I think I overplanned so much on the slides & handouts because I really had no clue what I was in for. And just like in teaching, when you've got a lesson you want to go over really well, you control what you can and cross your fingers about the rest.

Amount of time we're talking about, from researching the preso to building the handout, slide deck, website, and talking it through to my plants? Wow. Gotta be close to twenty hours I reckon.

Another reason I did so much planning was that I didn't know what sort of audience I'd have. Would they be teachers who already dabbled with wikis but wanted more ideas / experience? Or would they be those who are truly fearful of new technology, but were willing to come to a tech conference to try it out?

I ended up having the latter - which meant that they had LOTS more questions than I anticipated, and we needed to spend lots more time going through the specific capabilities / drawbacks of a wiki. Not a bad problem - just meant that I had to go slower and whiz through the RSS section of the preso.

I was really grateful to the IT support staff at KGV, they had a few extra laptops on hand ready to go, which was needed as a number of people in the session didn't bring their own.

Something that fortuitously worked out was that the desks were arranged into pairs. Learning a new tool it is always easier to do when you've got a neighbor to turn to for a quick fix.

I was also glad with how I managed to overcome my nerves. This being the first time I was presenting in front of my peers, I just told myself, "you're about to make ten new friends." So when everyone came in, even though my brain was running through the preso, I shook hands, introduced myself, asked about what school they were at, all that stuff. This also put them at ease with me, giving me a much more responsive / receptive audience.

Why do I think I did a good job? Well, those numbers on my last post should say something. And then when people were leaving, a couple grabbed extra handouts for their colleagues. But what was the best moment by far was the person who seemed to be looking at her handout instead of paying attention to a panel discussion by some BigShots. See, this teacher had excused herself from my session about halfway through - her own laptop couldn't connect to the network, and the pc she was using from the classroom ran out of batteries. I kinda thought it was a polite way of getting out of a session she didn't enjoy. But then, to see her later checking out the handout like she had said she would - sweet.

Although it's possible she was looking up a note she had written to herself on my handout about something completely unrelated...can't let hubris get me too much.


And of course the big reminder to not get too far ahead of myself was that on Monday I was asked to share some of my preso to the rest of my colleagues. Does it need stating that teachers who have elected to spend a Saturday on a holiday weekend at a technology in education conference are going to be a better audience than a group of fifteen teachers on a Monday afternoon after a long holiday weekend, five of whom are leaving the school at the end of the year, all of whom were told off by the principal first thing Monday morning for not doing the paperwork we're asked to do?


Sunday, May 04, 2008

HK 21C Learning: It's Done

Well, it came and went. My first time to stand up in front of an audience of peers and be granted the gift of one hour of their time.

Here's one way of looking at the numbers.

28: Number of slides in the deck
4: Number of pages in the handout
20: Number of handouts I brought to the session
5: Number of handouts I came home with
10: Number of people who joined my one hour session
5: Number of people who took an extra handout with them
1: Number of times I saw someone looking at my handout during the panel discussion instead of listening to the Important People on stage
4: Number of static pages I created on a wikispace built just for the workshop
2: Number of static pages I actually needed to build
0: Number of times I presented this to another live person before the actual go-time
3: Key sources of inspiration

9: On a scale of 1-10, how good I felt about the preso.

More detailed reflections to come. Meanwhile, check out the wikispace here:

And to top of yesterday, it ended with a wonderful surprise, something completely unrelated to the preso but completely awesome.

Nice to be on top of the world, ennit.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

HK 21C Learning: Almost Ready

Well, after two online research sessions and two public holidays spent creating a slideshow & handout, I think my presentation for Saturday's HK 21st Century Learning conference is just about finished.

I first posted about this back in February, but it really wasn't until the last couple of weeks that I buckled down and pounded out the workshop.

Titled "Baby Steps into Web 2.0: Wikis & RSS", I'm gearing my presentation at classroom teachers new to / hesitant about using these Web 2.0 technologies. I've designed the session to involve lots of time to mess around with these tools, following the premise that teachers need to be comfortable with using new tools for their own personal learning BEFORE they can use them in the classroom.

I got a lot of help in my thinking from the following three posts:

First, Karl Fisch's great photo of his seven year-old daughter multitasking on a laptop and cell phone provided a perfect visual for a short segment on the digital native / immigrant analogy.

Then, my friend Justin forwarded me Wes Fryer's brief yet cogent piece on how to introduce new technologies to teachers. Provides a nice theoretical framework for the "learn by doing" parts of my workshop.

And lastly, Dan Meyer is the root cause of all my hours spent in front of the computer. Without all of his posts on presentation design to look through, I would not have had anything as aesthetically pleasing and well-constructed as the slide deck and handouts I've (hope I've?) arrived at.

Now's the time to do a few final talk-throughs with the slide deck. Tomorrow I print off the handouts. Saturday, 9.00 AM HK time, it's Go Time.

Coming up soon-ish: the actual preso. Coming up after Saturday: the presentation gets online.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Shakespeare on Facebook?

Peoples, think with me, please.

7th graders just started to read Romeo & Juliet. Not gonna plow through the whole original text...I've gotta abridge some of it or their brains will asplode.

Skimming through the feedreader last night, found this sentence on LeaderTalk:

The good teacher is encouraging students to create mashups, to build social networking pages devoted to Romeo, to create discussion groups to second guess Juliet, and to figure out why Shakespeare separated lovers in two feuding houses in the first place.

How can I get Web2.0 on Billy Shakespeare? Could I have the students make profiles on Facebook / MySpace? Do we jump into Second Life on this one?

Juliet Capulet, hometown Verona, age 13.
Mercutio, interested in dreams and swordfights.

Or, do I take the profile pages from those sites, pull out the internet cord, and do them the old-fashioned way - pencil on paper?

Right now my brain is stuck on these three questions:

1. Could this work?
2. How on earth would I assess this?
3. I'm not the first person to think of this - where is it on the web?

(in answer to number 2, seems to me that this needs to be done as we read the play - formative not summative assessment. and number 3 - i guess i just need to be a bit more persistent with my hunting.)

Spring Cleaning

Maybe there's something in the water, the fact that I've had more than 8 hours of sleep a night for the past four nights, or that I've finally parted ways with whatever flu-ish bug was keeping me down...but I am in the middle of a Cleaning Binge.

...two weeks of rubbish, since my maid is on holiday in the 'pines.
...cigarettes - why do they have to be so enjoyable, addictive, and harmful to the body?! if there were cigarettes that didn't poison my lungs i would smoke a carton a day.
...staying up past midnight more than once a week (playing pool doesn't count against this rule).

...winter clothes - which in HK means anything thicker than a few millimeters and/or long sleeves.
...all those pants & jeans my waist won't fit into anymore. but SOMEDAY i'll lose the inches off my waistline!

...exercising. i thought that could be my goal for april, to get into a routine, but seeing as it's april 6 and no routine, hermmm...
...whether i should be "friends" on facebook with anyone who has ever called me "mister pierce". frankly it makes me uncomfortable - do these students remember that they've friended a (current/former) teacher? ...then...why am i NOT on a limited profile? sorry, but i don't want to even see a notification that you posted some drunken photos. right now i'm thinking of setting up a separate account that's just for my former students...but that's a tough call to make, as there are a decent number of students i used to teach whom i'm actually glad to keep in touch with and hear from regularly. guess i'm joining a group of folks starting to get fed up with the fact that facebook is everywhere and everyone is on it.

...a shopping spree to fill out the empty spaces in my closet.
...writing - not just on this blog, but fiction, short stories. there are a few contests out there that give me a clear goal to work towards, and i've still got a few drafts lying around that need finishing up. must admit i'm gutted to find that the Shiva Naipaul Prize, which was my most recent spur for writing, looks to be finished / finishing up.
...reading for fun. since "the wire" finished a month ago, i've yet to start watching another television series (which incidentally has had a positive effect on both my sleep and social life). while i was home sick this week i finished reading "Bone", by Jeff Green - it's a graphic novel, the perfect transition from moving images back to good old fashioned wordsonapage. maybe it's time to reread something from Graham Greene..."Quiet American"?

...and last, but certainly not least:

nine more weeks of Teaching My Ass Off - can't give up on the students, even the ones who have not once tried to do any work in my class. Nine More Weeks. i got this.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Vision of the Future?

Some thoughts on Web2.0 and how it's helping to professionalize this thing called teaching. Check it.

Jeremy Wagstaff, author of the Loose Wire Blog, just came out with another worthwhile article about the impact that technology is having on education. Don't think that he's saying anything that the edublogoworld isn't, but the fact that Jeremy is picking up on these vibes says a lot. His category cluster on the right hand side of his blog shows that he's NOT part of edublogoland. The largest categories seem to be Software, Security, Internet and Journalism (with dabblings in Luddism and Voting).

You can check out the full article at this link, or you can go right to his blog here.

Especially liked this section:

Then there are issues with overcoming the traditions and entrenched interests of academia, such as the concerns some lecturers have about their livelihoods if they put all their material online.

Mr. Wiley's response: Adjust to the new reality. He points to the almost "pop star" popularity of some who have posted lecture videos online. Some have boosted class attendance and have raised interest in their courses, while others have overhauled and improved material in the process of submitting it. "What it has done is to expose teaching to peer review," he says (emphasis added).

Peer Review. Yeah, that sounds fun. A bit scary and daunting, but also full of potential and reward.

Right now, it's the universities that are being directly affected by this. I think that secondary education is still about five years away from facing tough competition from the web. Now, I'm not saying that what's happening on the web right now isn't more interesting than our classrooms. Sad to say that for my students, Japanese prank vidoes on Youtube and "playing Facebook" (to use their wording) is highly engaging, much more so than my mini-lessons on grammar and vocabulary and plot structure.

I'm thinking more that it's not likely that you'll have an activity in class about the development of Ponyboy's character in "The Outsiders" and then a student will walk into class the next day and tell you that your lesson wasn't as good as the one they found online last night. If you think that example sounds far-fetched, go check out MIT's OpenCourseWare site. Don't believe that a freshman could might get so fed up with the lousy lecturer in their Intro to Chem course that they might turn there to find out how to pass their exam? And you better believe that dan's graphing stories lesson is only a long day of work away from becoming a stand-alone awesome intro to linear time graphs.

Speaking of dan, and of peer review, if you're a teacher and you've made it thus far and your name isn't dan or damian, check out this conversation at dan meyer's blog. Want to start that peer review stuff? Raise your hand!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cute Cats and Porn

Two seemingly disparate elements of the read/write web that are connected in a wonderful article I just read through.

Can't take any credit for finding it. Decided to clean out some unread items at Bionic Teaching, and this post by Tom Woodward led me to this fascinating article by Ethan Zuckerman about the ways that Web 2.0 technologies are being used to support activism.

Here's the excerpt about porn:

Based on my Tripod experience, I’d offer the hypothesis that any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media - it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test - if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable.

Cute Cats?

(referring to getting a site blocked) This is a good thing if you’re an activist. Most Tunisians don’t identify as activists and might not be engaged with politics. But, like Americans and Europeans, they’re interested in seeing cute cats being adorable online. When the government blocks DailyMotion, it impacts a much wider swath of Tunisians than those who are politically active. Cute cats are collateral damage when governments block sites. And even those who could care less about presidential shenanigans are made aware that their government fears online speech so much that they’re willing to censor the millions of banal videos on DailyMotion to block a few political ones.

What I'm taking away from this is another reminder that there's a lot of fascinating / eventful stuff happening on the web now. Youtube videos work as a great little reward for a class that has worked hard all lesson, but to be able to receive instantaneous updates from an Egyptian activist via Twitter? That's mind-bendingly / perspective changingly cool.

Thinking out loud, I wonder - How can I get the kids I'm working with NOW, the students who really need language development and organizational skills more than anything else, connected to what else is going on around the world? How can I share with them the excitement of being a part of the global picture while not sacrificing the skills development they desperately need? If they can't write a decently structured paragraph, they can't participate in an online discussion. If they are always losing their homework / notebooks / passwords / thumb drives, how can they be organized enough to have a cohesive online presence?

(I also wonder what the heck is going on with me that all of a sudden I am posting so much more. Not like it was a plan or anything...not like I have more free time now, actually much more involved & overextended at work and at play. Mayhaps it is a result of me actually sticking to them New Year's Resolution-like thoughts...)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thanks Damian

Okay, well I think this ain't the first time that Damian has tagged me in one of them memes. The thing is, I'm not that into memes. For one, I tend to not get "tagged" often cuz there's really only two blogs that I've bothered to do more than lurk on - his, Apace of Change, and dan meyer's fantastic math blog. I have an old-fashioned professional learning network - people I trust whom I work with / have worked with in the past.

And for another, I tend to intensely dislike memes. They remind me waaaaay too much of the email forwards I get from middle schoolers. "IF U DON'T SEND THIS ON TO 30 PPL IN THE NEXT TEN MINUTES YOU WILL NEVER MEET THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE!!!1!" If you don't get those email forwards, consider yourself blessed.

However there are some other relevant facts: it's 10pm, I've got lots of emails yet to send tonight, and I'm wired on caffeine. So let's start knitting our PASSION QUILT!

Start with some copy & paste la...

Passion Quilt Meme Rules:
1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
3. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

So...I kind of ignored the directions. Here's the word I chose to symbolize what I think I think about education at the moment:


You should check out what that word looks like in different fonts. Personally I picked a bunch at random and gain pleasure from viewing baby kruffy, constantia and pussycat.

However...I am one of those guys who follows the rules, as much as I like to pretend to be a rebel. So here's a picture I like that I found from searching for "construction" in flickr cc:

I picked construction because...well, did you see what it looks like all-caps in constantia? And that picture is nice. Great snapshot of a journey...incomplete, noisy, smelly, can't see the end...kinda like life, ennit? And construction involves power tools, which are pretty much amazing.

What does it have to do with teaching...well, there's the whole thing that kids have to "construct" their own meaning out of the lessons. I don't buy into that approach wholesale, because in philosophically pure constructivism there's no place for skills development.

And that's a huge part of my job, the skillz. I'm there to help my students hone their skills - linguistic, organizational, social, emotional. I'm working with them to build the strategies they'll have to fall back on throughout the rest of their life. It's like we're on the same construction team, building a classroom full of gleaming high rise skyscrapers.

Another reason I picked "construction" is that I am fascinated with how a school organization is built. It's always interested me to learn how / why decisions are made. And I'm still completely flabbergasted at the awful hypocrisy of institutions built to help children learn can't seem to treat their key employees - teachers and staff - with very much humanity. There's GOTTA be a better way to build an organization than what I've seen in my short career.


Now, to wrap this baby up. Jeffreygene really doesn't have an online "professional learning network". I'll change the rules again. J-dawg, Kaxmo, Hoov, Justin - you're all teachers in different ways, and you're all awesome. You don't have to do this silly meme. Just read what I wrote and comment, yeah?

But if you don't at least do will get warts on your ring finger in the next year. Really, it happened to my neighbor's cousin's girlfriend's auntie.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

False Alarm?

Well, over the weekend the government hasn't (yet) shut down secondary appears that my job will continue as usual over the coming weeks.

The day after the primary schools shut down, the headline of the leading English-language newspaper blared, "Disease Experts Claim No Need to Worry!" Apparently the deaths of the past month, while sharing some flu-like symptoms, don't have enough in common to lead the experts to think that there's any reason to worry about a coming bird flu epidemic. Today, the editorial page was full of letters complaining about the shut down / lack of advance notice / etc etc etc.

The general sense now seems to be that the government is engaging in a massive CYA operation. That's CYA, Cover Your Ass. Better to shut down the primary schools for two weeks, let whatever flu-like diseases are out there to wither and die, than to risk there being something dangerous lurking in the unwashed hands of 7 year-olds.

And who can blame them? It's about five years ago that SARS crippled the city (and lots of the mainland as well), and the government got such flack from alleged (or deserved, I don't know as I wasn't here or following it closely) failings during that scary time that Better Safe Than Sorry is the motto.

I was able to scare up some renewed interest from the lil beasties in our class wikispace...if we need it full time, it's there. And heck, dear reader, go over there and make some sort of edit yourself. Or give me some advice about how to spiff it up, get the students more involved on it. Aside from the small minority of lil guys who love me / love computers, the space is not widely used anymore.

And, don't forget to wash your hands! 20 second minimum, get that soap into a lather.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ruminations on Avian Flu, Day One

Wonder if any teacher in HK has anything else to say today other than the big news that the schools are starting to close down, in a big way, due to bird flue scares. My phone has been blowing up, with texts from gloating primary teachers to mass updates about the situation from my mobile operator (in Chinese).

Check it out:

As the article says, all primary schools in the city have closed down effective today through until after the Easter Holiday - next day scheduled for classes is March 31.

However, while our primary colleagues "suffer" in meetings and are busy drinking coffee until March 31, us secondary teachers soldier on with our students. The rationale is that secondary students are more mature / responsible and able to be more hygienic than younger students, thus reducing the likelihood of an infection spreading.

My initial reaction is that I feel cheated - every teacher loves snow days (or in HK typhoon days). Growing up in the Ohio I still remember the thrill of listening to the radio announce school closings, the excitement building until it got to the C's - "Columbus Public, all classes all schools, canceled!" It feels like there's a selective snow day going on here, like the typhoon number 8 signal is raised for primary but secondary is stuck at number 3.

That being said, it would NOT be good news to find out that secondary schools are ALSO closing.

For one, secondary students and teachers would simply be expected to "go virtual" - that's a contingency that my school is in the process of preparing for...a new project that I'm needed to work on, I found out a few hours ago via email. Give me 24 hours, I could get that wikispace back up into shape, and we're good to go. And then...I'm working HARDER to deliver the same 70 minutes of classroom learning per day. I'm getting cramps in my hands from typing a ton, my back and ass are killing me from sitting in front of a compy all day. I get paid the same. I work harder.

AND, while I'm sitting at home or in an empty classroom virtually teaching, the city of HK would go into lockdown mode. I wasn't here for SARS, but sounds like the city became a ghost town. Think investors might think the place is unlucky and shy away for a bit? Think the economy might go into a slide? That's the other reason I'm hoping that secondary schools don't close, because the idea of an avian flu outbreak scares the @#$)(* out of me.

The front page of the paper over the past week has carried the heartbreaking story of a young primary student who caught a flu, went to the hospital, all of a sudden went critical and had to be put on life support, and lastly was taken off of life support two days ago. Sounds like this little guy was a superstar: a real leader, polite and sharp. Every story had a photo of his father and a heroic quote about how the family was "holding out hope" and then later "unable to believe what has happened". I can't imagine how on earth that man is able to face the press. How awful to be front page news like that...

So really, here's hoping that the death toll of this outbreak stays at three. Here's a hope for the status quo to continue.

I'll keep anybody reading posted as events develop.

Friday, March 07, 2008


remembered this from dan meyer as a way to spruce up a photo montage...not as a way to teach any kind of learning! so for the guests that visit us tomorrow they get to see this.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Another Project to Work on...

Clearly I've got my work cut out for me. I may only be 25, but that doesn't mean I can spend the next 40 years loafing around.

Retirement Plans

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Next Up...

Just found out this week about an upcoming conference in HK:

ESF 21st Century Learning @ Hong Kong

(ESF stands for English Schools Foundation, the largest group of English-medium schools in the city; they follow the British curriculum.)

I'm planning on submitting a proposal to lead a workshop there. I've met one of the key organizers, Paul McMahon, at a few other events in Asia, and I've spoken to a small rather informal gathering of tech-minded teachers in HK that he organized last fall. However, I've never done anything like this yet - lead a workshop for teachers I don't know from Adam - so I'm more than a bit hopeful / excited / antsy.

First step is to get my workshop proposal approved, and I've got until March 12 to submit my scintillating ideas. Thinking I'll submit to the "Information Literacy" strand...can't really see the ideas below fitting any of the other strands.

Working title: "Web2.0: Getting the Skeptics Started."

I'd want to share about how I've used this blog and my feedreader as my own individualized ongoing professional development this year. While I've not done a whole lot in my classroom with Web2.0 this year, I've nonetheless learned a ton from lurking around the edublogosphere. So, I could share some practical tips on getting an interested teacher started. Target audience would be the attendees who share my healthy skepticism for all this Web2.0 evangelism going on but aren't ready to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Right now that's not really condensed enough for a proposal, but with a handful of drafts I can see it getting there.

I'd be very very grateful for help vetting my ideas! To the handful of you out there who read my monthly posts, I'm counting on some feedback!

And if I get approval, I will be scouring the "design" tags in Dan's blog...

Happy Saturday! In HK today it is 20 degrees. Celsius. That's like 70 Fahrenheit. I just got back from a run wearing a t-shirt. Why people who have the choice to do otherwise would choose to live someplace that gets below zero just boggles my mind...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Jimmy Chan"

I first met Jimmy in a colleague's tenth grade Health class. One of the key tricks in her toolbox is using fictional situations to help students get over the embarrassing parts of her course to move right to thinking through what to do in some tough situations. Jimmy and George and Gloria and Eugene (and a few others) regularly turned up in her class as students who were encountering a typical teenage difficulty. Class discussions focused on giving advice to these "extra" members of class.

Jimmy first showed up in one of my classes when I was stuck for a way to explain the word "taboo" to a class of ninth-graders. "...So there's this kid named Jimmy, and he comes to class naked. That would be 'taboo'. Not to mention instant suspension." Somehow Jimmy often returned our class, albeit still invisible, and still nude. Mostly he came up in those moments when students toss out anything they can think of to avoid the day's lesson. "Mr P, when did you first meet Jimmy? Doesn't he EVER wear clothes? Why are you friends with a naked kid? Isn't that breaking some law?"

Then, at my new school, working with middle schoolers, something changed. Jimmy took on a new life, one that did not focus on a lack of clothing: he became a fully fledged imaginary friend. He grew a last name - Chan - AND a full Chinese name. He's written sample essays for my English classes, but he's still most prominent in lessons on health and relationships in Moral Education. I found out from my students that he has a girlfriend, Gloria Ng. They met outside of a school bathroom. She smokes, but he's a star athlete and doesn't touch cigarettes. He stands up against bullies, but once got a beating for his efforts.

Some of the students here still believe my initial introduction, that he's actually a student at my old school. Jimmy has even been seen a few times, and one day when the students were socializing in my room during a recess they drew his image. Apparently, he looks a lot like the demon from "Death Note".

What's the educational insight from Jimmy Chan? Damned if I can connect him to anything I ever learned in teacher training, or read about on somebody's blog. And I don't think that any of the teacher appraisal systems I've seen have a category on "Makes Up Good Stories" or "Has Extensive Set of Imaginary Colleagues". But despite all that, I think that my ability to bring a class of students with me on an imaginary tale is one tiny part of what makes me effective in the classroom.

Telling stories is all about manipulating the mental space of the classroom. If you can take the kids with you on an imaginary journey to meet this guy named Jimmy, if kids ask you about him in the halls, if they become invested enough in this imaginary friend to draw him on the board during their free time, then something has happened. The collective group becomes willing to try new things in lessons. You gain more power when you ask a class "close your eyes and imagine you're in Feudal Europe." (Post on my four-hour simulation of feudalism coming next...)

So next time you finish a lesson five minutes too soon, introduce your class to a Jimmy Chan. Give them a few broad brushstrokes, let them flesh your friend out. Don't worry - while he is an extra student, he won't add to your marking load...and you just might find that he helps your class learn a few unexpected lessons along the way.

Annual Report, 2007

Here's my entry to Dan's design contest: 2007 as viewed through the lens of television.

And here are some thoughts about making these images...

The idea came together when I was miles above the earth somewhere over Siberia. Even though I was seriously sleep-deprived, it instantly made me smile. My graphics don't really pack a whole lot of information into them, but they do tell two different stories - my physical journeys, and my television consumption from the year - and I'm pleased with that.

It was pretty clear to me as I conceived of the theme that I don't have the design skills necessary to make this set of images as sharp as I would wish. I think if I had more data / time / skillz I could have pulled more information into the arc of my story. Knowing that wouldn't happen, I focused on communicating the core storyline. I kept my fingers crossed that my design wouldn't look like something a middle schooler would make, and I think I did manage to do that..barely.

But man, I would love to know how to do something like the first graphic by Mr K; it took me forever on Excel to get the color bands inside the television the appropriate respective size. And what a crappy looking TV...mebbe I should've taken a photo and edited it? What's salving my ego is that I know I've got a clever storyline, something completely different to the other entries.

Well, thanks for another thought-provoking competition, Dan!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Caution: Post May Contain Resolution-Type Substances

Well, I'm back in HK. And guess it's appropriate to post some type of New Year's Resolution-ish wouldn't have been right to have any resolution-type thoughts while I was still in the US of A, on holiday.

Had a fun return if you enjoy not sleeping for about 48 hours and after all that getting home to find that the door to your flat is stuck and won't open. It took an hour for me to find someone to help. The locksmith showed up, busted out some WD-40, and presto! I was home, how anticlimactic.

Slept about 10 hours, through the night, a good sign that my TradeMarked FailSafe Jet-Lag Solution will work. (It's simple - just switch your sleep cycle to the new time zone starting 24 hours before you fly). Woke up and went for a run - how's that for a good start to the new year? During said run, at 8am on a Sunday morning, I had to dodge bazillions of pedestrians, people walking in droves to the HK Stadium. How's that for a welcome back to HK?

I came back and drafted out a nice long to-do list. Four different categories: Pleasure, Pain, Work, and Shopping. I think it'd be a good thing to do, to keep up with those different lists and try to monitor how much I do on each one.

Priority Items for the week:
Work: Mark Papers; Prepare students for Semester Exam
Pleasure: Complete an entry to Dan Meyer's latest design contest.
Pain: Run/Swim twice more this week, Stay Away From Cigarettes
Shopping: Get some double-A batteries. I'm all out!

I'll be back up in the next week or so to share that entry to the design contest. It's grabbed my brain by the horns and won't let go!