Tech Talk

I recently attended an educational technology conference in Orlando, and wanted to throw in a few tips about some up and coming school-related technologies.
  • If you don't know already, iPods are pretty much here to stay. Once thought to be the latest fad which would quickly be replaced by bigger and better tech toys, the iPod has firmly established its relevance to the world in general, and specifically in the world of education. Its uses multiply regularly. Bottom line: if you don't have one, get one.
  • System integration systems are quickly becoming an actuality for school districts. For brief clarification, most schools currently use a collection of softwares to manage student information, library circulation, cafeteria accounts, and standardized test data. These system integration systems I’m talking about here are single softwares that bring them all together into one nice little accessible package. From what I can tell, we remain in the “bleeding edge” stages of working out the kinks, but it’s good to know that what was once thought an unattainable goal is quickly becoming a reality.
  • There were several exhibits advertising web-based professional development courses. From graduate degree programs to trainings on software applications such as Microsoft Word, online courses are definitely becoming increasingly prevalent.
  • SanDisk, a leading distributor of USB flash drives, will soon be releasing the Cruzer Freedom. Designed specifically for students, the Cruzer Freedom is a more rugged drive with the unique feature of partitioned, protected memory that allows the safe storage and sharing of copyrighted material (such as textbooks, novels, study aids, learning tools, etc.). SanDisk advertises the Cruzer Freedom as a digital backpack.
  • Live Ink is a reading intervention software for middle and high school students that alters the format of text on a page to make word and letter combinations easier to comprehend. It employs word patterns and grouping as opposed to traditional block text to improve reading comprehension, content mastery, and retention of information.
  • There is a nation-wide push for 1:1 student/computer ratios in schools. This includes handhelds, tablet PC’s, laptops, and good ol’ desktops. To that I say: we can dream, can’t we?
  • This will not come as a surprise to many of you, but the MySpace social network (dubbed a blog, but does not truly measure up to the true description) is now the #1 source of victims for pedophiles. There are a lot of kids and parents who think it is harmless. Share this information with them and show them how to have a MySpace account without revealing personal information.
  • Professional portfolios for educators have long been a useful way for potential employers to gain insight into applicants' experience in and out of the classroom. Electronic portfolios have also long had a place in the form of disks (and more recently, USB flash drives). Currently the trend has shifted toward using blogs for the design of e-portfolios. Some free blog sites are www.blogger.com and www.livejournal.com.
  • Tablets (laptops that have a rotating screen that you can lay flat and – using a stylus- actually handwrite notes that a software will translate to text) are one of the newest types of PC’s that are becoming very popular with college and high school students. I personally have mixed feelings about them because: 1) Kids today are proficient typers by 3rd grade. They can type faster than they can write! Looking at it this way, it seems like we’re taking a step backward. 2) Any computer that you write directly on will probably need lots of maintenance. Even with a screen protecting film, regular use of the tablet feature will wear down faster than a plain jane laptop. AND 3) The handwriting-text conversion feature excludes kids who have poor handwriting. If the software can’t recognize the markings, it won’t translate the student’s thoughts correctly. Like I said, we have a long way to go with this particular technology. Since they are increasingly popular, however, I felt them worth mentioning.
  • Last but certainly not least is a somewhat older software (well-only about a year old, but that is considered old in the tech world!) being distributed by Scholastic called Scholastic Keys for Microsoft Office. Install this to a workstation that already has MS Office on it, and it works as a simplification of the regular products. I can easily see it as having significant value in the classroom, and even as a training tool for some tech-a-phobic teachers!

Quote of note:

"The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do." ~B.F. Skinner, Contingencies of Reinforcement, 1969


Clements does it again!

As both a classroom teacher and a librarian, Andrew Clements is one of my all-time favorite authors. It is true that pretty much all of his books follow the same “kid conquering the world” format, but they’re still great reads nonetheless. Lunch Money is his newest. It’s the story of money-hungry 5th grader Greg who discovers a gold mine in selling homemade comic books. Greg’s success meets some definite challenges from both authority figures and competitors, but in the end he is able to continue his work and learns the value of principles as well. Clements has produced yet another real winner! This one is great for inspiring kids to get off their keisters and DO something.

The Mermaid Chair

Despite the intended purpose of this blog (discussing literature related to education), I have to include one that is just a good, plain, brain-break read. Sue Monk Kidd is the author of The Secret Life of Bees, which IS a young adult novel, and a new favorite of mine. Her newest work is The Mermaid Chair, and is the story of a middle-aged woman struggling to regain her sense of self after devoting the larger portion of her life to her family. There are a few intriguing turns of events that lead to her self-discovery, including traveling back home to take care of her mother who has a scary habit of chopping off her fingers (yeah, I know) and falling in love with a Benedictine monk (yeah, I KNOW!).

Caution: once you begin this book, you will be consumed with it until its conclusion. Do not attempt to read it if you have an important event or deadline looming. Save it for the beach!


Enjoying a much-needed break from the daily bump and grind, I have consumed several great books this week. One was Flush by Carl Hiaasen, a young adult novel. Set in the Florida Keys, the drama begins when teenager Noah goes to visit his recently imprisoned father (Paine), who is being punished for sinking one of the local casino boats. Being an advocate for the environment, Paine clams that the owner of the boat has been dumping raw sewage from the casino into the water, and his solution was to get rid of the source by sinking the boat. What follows is an interesting (though fairly predictable) series of events that eventually lead to the conviction of the casino owner. There are a few questionable holes in the plot, such as why would an eco-freak exacerbate an already poor situation for nature by pouring oil, gasoline, and other harmful waste products into the water by sinking a boat?

As I read this book, a random thought kept tickling the back of my brain. Now I want to explore this thought a little further and welcome anyone to weigh in on my little theory. As I read, I was struck with how closely Flush resembled To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (which, by the way, if you have not read, run- do not walk- to your local library immediately to get it!). My theory is supported by the following points:
1. It is set in the author’s home town, written with the intention of exposing dark secrets to the light of public knowledge.
2. The story is drenched with descriptions of the culture of that area, which is essential to the plot.
3. The main character’s family is ostracized and the children feel it necessary to defend their father, who has gone “against the grain” to act upon his convictions.
4. There is a mysterious secret hero who watches over the children and ultimately is their rescuer in times of danger.

Overall, despite the blatantly authoritarian liberties Hiaasen takes with directing the plot, the book serves a nice purpose of attempting to increase awareness of protecting our aqua ecosystems. Consider it highly recommended for mature students in grades 5 and up. Be forewarned, however, that towards the end of the book there are surprising and abrupt (and completely unnecessary) uses of profanity.