Looking Forward

Never Forget

Quote of the Day

Sydney J. Harris:

Of all old proverbs, the most stupid is the one warning that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” – for what it is really paved with are rationalizations for not carrying out our good intentions.

Installing Lion: A Full Day’s Work

Yesterday morning when I started the process to install the new Mac OS on my personal laptop, I hardly expected it to take the whole day. Here what went down:

8:00 AM  Shortly after I discover Lion is available on the Apple App Store, I purchase it and it starts downloading. It’s over 3 GB and I see it’s going to take awhile so I go off and do other things while it downloads.

9:40 AM It finishes downloading. After I agree to the terms of service, I get to the screen where I’m supposed to pick the hard drive where I want it installed. Here is where things start getting complicated – Lion cannot be installed on my laptop’s hard drive because it has to be formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled). In order for me to do that will require me to reformat my hard drive, which means erasing all my data. Unfortunately I have a meeting at 10:00 AM, so all this will have to wait until I get back.

11:00 AM Back from my meeting, I run a Time Machine update in advance of reformatting my drive.

11:30 AM My backup done, I reformat my drive and then restore everything from my Time Machine backup I just made. I’ve heard that sometimes Time Machine doesn’t work perfectly, but this is the second time I’ve done this and it has worked perfectly both times. I get my computer back exactly as it was and everything is working perfectly … except for one very important exception.

12:30 PM At this point, I decide to be extra safe and I try to make a bootable DVD following these instructions from Macworld, whose coverage of Lion has been excellent and exhaustive. However the burn fails.

12:40 PM I have now decided to skip making the DVD and just installing 10.7, but that fails. After doing some reading online, I figure out that the downloaded install application is corrupted (impossible to tell if it was the original download or it was corrupted from the process of backing it up).

1:00 PM I delete Install Mac OS X Lion from my Applications folder, go to the Purchased tab of the App Store and start redownloading it all over again.

3:50 PM Returning from a late lunch, the download is complete. I make another attempt to burn a bootable DVD. This time it works.

4:15 PM I begin my second attempt to install Lion.

4:45 PM Lion is finally installed! Success at last!!

So far I’m liking it, but it’s going to take some getting used to. Lion uses a lot of “gestures” so I’m trying to get used to that and getting used to using Mission Control, which I think is going to be very useful.

The same thing with the full-screen mode of several of the Apple apps. I’m not sure if I like that or not yet. For now, I’m giving it a try and seeing if it grows on me. (Well, sometimes. Right now, I’m writing this in Safari and it would be perfect time to be in full-screen, but I’m not.)

The Auto Save is a bit disconcerting. I started working on a Pages document and it was weird not having to save when I closed it. (It does ask you to name the file the first time you do.) Several times I closed it and then opened it right back up again to see if all the changes were still there. They were.

So I’m going to keep trying it out, seeing what I can get comfortable with and looking for what else has changed.

Midnight in Paris

It’s easy to forget now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Woody Allen was almost universally respected as a brilliantly funny writer and filmmaker. He’s one of the few directors to have a comedy win an Oscar. But in the years since then, his films have become much less funny and he became involved in a personal scandal that has deeply scarred his reputation.

I went to Midnight in Paris today, somewhat against my better judgement – I’ve been burned too many times going to Woody Allen; it ‘s been decades since I’ve seen one that I’ve liked. But was I ever surprised! It turns out Midnight in Paris is a pure delight.

The movie is about a successful screenwriter (played by Owen Wilson) whose written his first novel but doesn’t trust anyone enough to let them read it. He has come with his fiancé to Paris, a city he’s in love with for its illustrious literary and artistic past more so than what it is today. Totally unexplained, he finds himself transported back to the Paris of his dreams whenever he stands at this one particular street corner at midnight. He meets a lot of famous names, falls in love and learns to trust himself as a writer and as person.

Extremely ingenious, the movie has this sweeping romantic nostalgic vibe but very smartly undercuts at the end. Owen Wilson has the best role of his career so far. He completely makes us by the film’s concept – it’s those scenes in the past where you can see him come alive for the first time and we see the excitement and wonder in his eyes.

Midnight in Paris is finally a Woody Allen movie that lives up to his old reputation – funny, clever and wise. Highly recommended.

Also worth seeing:

Super 8, the kind of movie you wish Steven Spielberg would have made more of after Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.

Bridesmaids – although it’s the gross-out scenes that got all the attention, it’s the honesty and realism of the characters that keep it grounded and the cleverness of the best of its comedic set pieces is what you’ll remember.

WWDC Wrap Up

It’s been a week now since Apple CEO Steve Jobs kicked off the keynote at eh company’s developer’s conference. Overall, I was very impressed. Sure, there’s going to be some features I’m not going to use (Launchpad), but there was quite a bit announced that I’m excited to begin using.

* As an educator, I especially like the idea behind Auto Save. It seems like no matter how clearly I give the directions and monitor that they’re being followed, there’s always somebody in an average class that didn’t save their work or didn’t save it properly. Not to mention, losing everything because of a power failure.

* Personally, I excited about Restore which will save your position in documents when you quit an application and save the applications, documents and windows you have open when you shut down the computer, and will then put everything back exactly what it was when you go back by opening the program or restarting the computer. This seems like it will save me a lot of time. I’m hoping I’ll be able to turn it off however, too. At school, when a student opens up a Pages document, I want it to go to a new document by default, not the place in the document the student who was on that computer the period before was working on.

* I’ve always wished transferring files between computers was easier. AirDrop looks like it will solve that.

* In iOS 5, the problems with notifications seem to be successfully dealt with. Being able to set up an iPad especially is a very welcome development. Also, Reminders looks promising. I’ve yet to find a to-do app which syncs across all my devices and doesn’t end up get hidden away, so I’m going to give that a try once that’s released.

* I was on the fence on whether or not I was going to use iTunes Match or not. Why pay money to keep my music on “the cloud”? I have to download to play them anyway and I’m find with syncing music onto my iPhone when I want to listen to something.

Then it occurred to me: $25 a year for me to be able to back up my entire music collection, even the songs I didn’t buy from iTunes. That’s $2 a month, that’s not a bad deal.

And this is a bit weird but it’s true: I’m hoping I’ll be able to delete a lot of songs from my computer that I don’t really like anymore. No, I don’t want to lose access to them forever – just in case I change my mind someday, which has happened and I end up having to buy the song again. I’m hoping this service will keep the song available to me just in case I change my mind.

* Apple’s hardware may be more expensive than Windows, but wow, when you’re talking about software these days, Apple has gotten very inexpensive. They’re selling the OS upgrade for $29 – for all the computers in your house! That’s amazing. I wonder if Microsoft will lower it’s OS price in the next version of Windows. I can’t believe that they’re not feeling some pressure to drop it. And to be giving all that iCloud stuff away as a free service (except for the optional iTunes Match)? That’s really good news. I just hope they have an education price that’s just as reasonable.

Math Sense

A headline that says it all.

U2 Rise Again

Rare among even the best entertainers, U2 knows how to rise to the moment. In 2002, they gave us the greatest Super Bowl halftime moment with their 9/11 tribute, and just a couple of days ago, they did something that was also very cool. They dedicated “Beautiful Day” to Arizona Congresswoman Gaby Giffords and had her husband, NASA Commander Mark Kelly, appear from the International Space Station.

I know a lot of people get turned off by U2 because of Bono’s ego, but I’ve always been willing to forgive them for that because the band frequently acknowledges that reputation with good humor (see lyrics to “All Because of You”) and because they can pull off moments like this. How many other rock shows have an astronaut being featured?

Constructionist Learning

A couple of days ago on her blog, Sylvia Martinez shared Dr. Seymour Papert’s Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab. Since I think they’re extremely insightful and I want to refer to them later, I’m going to include them here.

Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Lab
By Dr. Seymour Papert

The first big idea is learning by doing. We all learn better when learning is part of doing something we find really interesting. We learn best of all when we use what we learn to make something we really want.

The second big idea is technology as building material. If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things. And you can learn a lot more by making them. This is especially true of digital technology: computers of all sorts including the computer-controlled Lego in our Lab.

The third big idea is hard fun. We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean “easy.” The best fun is hard fun. Our sports heroes work very hard at getting better at their sports. The most successful carpenter enjoys doing carpentry. The successful businessman enjoys working hard at making deals.

The fourth big idea is learning to learn. Many students get the idea that “the only way to learn is by being taught.” This is what makes them fail in school and in life. Nobody can teach you everything you need to know. You have to take charge of your own learning.

The fifth big idea is taking time – the proper time for the job. Many students at school get used to being told every five minutes or every hour: do this, then do that, now do the next thing. If someone isn’t telling them what to do they get bored. Life is not like that. To do anything important you have to learn to manage time for yourself. This is the hardest lesson for many of our students.

The sixth big idea is the biggest of all: you can’t get it right without getting it wrong. Nothing important works the first time. The only way to get it right is to look carefully at what happened when it went wrong. To succeed you need the freedom to goof on the way.

The seventh big idea is do unto ourselves what we do unto our students. We are learning all the time. We have a lot of experience of other similar projects but each one is different. We do not have a pre-conceived idea of exactly how this will work out. We enjoy what we are doing but we expect it to be hard. We expect to take the time we need to get this right. Every difficulty we run into is an opportunity to learn. The best lesson we can give our students is to let them see us struggle to learn.

The eighth big idea is we are entering a digital world where knowing about digital technology is as important as reading and writing. So learning about computers is essential for our students’ futures BUT the most important purpose is using them NOW to learn about everything else.

I wish I would’ve had this last August AND I wish I would’ve known to show them to my media class students. Unfortunately, I didn’t and, even if I did, I wouldn’t. Which is too bad, because it lays out perfectly the promise and the challenges we were about to face.

As a teacher, #5 really opened my eyes. I saw that all the time and it really surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to see it. Here we had all these computers and video cameras, and all these opportunities for students to do something fun and creative and they were … bored. They wouldn’t do anything unless I told them what to do all the time. It was incredibly frustrating. I thought this was supposed to easy, but it was anything but.

I think in theory, most teachers believe in the constructionist learning model, but in practice they chicken out when the going gets tough and then they fall back on what they know. I know that describes me. But that doesn’t mean we should give up because students need to self-directed learners if they’re going to be successful in life.

I think I’m going to make Hard Fun the motto of next year’s media class and my whole computer lab as well. I think that’s really our ultimate goal: That students experience that great feeling of accomplishing or mastering something difficult. That doing something hard isn’t always something to be avoided, sometimes those are exactly the challenges you need to take on.

If they don’t come away with that, does it really matter how well they did on the state tests?

The Year That Was

I’m back! Did anyone miss me? Is anyone still here?

Yesterday I finished up my 23rd year of teaching. Like most school years, it defies a neat summary. There were successes and failures, some new challenges and a lot of old routines, some forward movement and too much inertia.

Ironically my biggest success this year was also my biggest failure and which is already giving me a great deal of hope and excitement for next school year: The sixth grade media class.

At the beginning of each day, sixth graders are my school have had three choices of fine arts classes to pick from: band, orchestra and visual arts. At the beginning of last year, it was decided that a fourth option was going to be added: media. I was brought in as a support person, at least I think that was the original plan. The students were going to produce a newscast every nine weeks or so and I was going to help the students learn how to do that.

It didn’t work out. The students weren’t producing enough timely content to fill up even a short newscast, in my opinion. I also came to the conclusion that I was going to have to start being the primary decision-maker in the class or otherwise it was going to be unmanageable, but I was very slow to do that, for a lot of reasons. Part of it was that I didn’t want to step on any toes, part of it was that I didn’t have a lot of ideas for the class. It wasn’t my idea, and I didn’t have any vision for the class; as a result, I didn’t take ownership of the class until it was very late.

But still, I persevered on. Despite my reluctance, I knew that this is what our school should be doing and I was trying to figure out how to make it successful. In the process, a couple of good things happened.

First, we managed to put out a lot of content. One of my frustrations during the first three years I was technology coordinator was that me personally and we as a school collectively produced very little that people could see. This year we made over 60 videos and many others that contained audio.

Secondly, the media class became wildly popular among the fifth graders who are going to be sixth graders next year. When I gave a survey, over 50% of them picked media as their first fine arts choice. I decided to use this to my advantage and was able to set up a system where my next year’s students had to show a propensity to get things done and be enthusiastic about joining the class.

Finally, in April, I went to the media classroom at Eastwood where finally, at long last, I got inspired. I finally got a picture of what I wanted to accomplish and what directions I could take.

So I’m excited. I certainly won’t be able to blame the students – I have a great bunch. Already I’ve seen the different. At the end of the year, I started giving next year’s media students projects that the sixth grade students weren’t able to do and they came through big time.

It’s going to up to me to keep them moving forward. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

A Spoon for Every Bite

A Spoon for Every Bite is a Southwestern folktale written by Joe Hayes. It is about a poor man and woman who invite their rich compadre over for dinner. During the meal, the poor couple mention a neighbor who has a different spoon for every bite of food they have. The vain rich man is so obsessed that there’s someone richer than him that he wastes his whole fortune buying spoons, only to find out that the spoon the poor couple referred to was a tortilla.

The Southwestern theme of the story is by far the best thing of the story. The illustrations by Rebecca Leer are wonderfully distinctive, full of beautiful brown adobe huts, missions and mountains in the background.

The story is okay. That the story revolves using a piece tortilla as the “spoon” that is eaten up with every bit is bit clever, but an obvious deception. Since the rich man didn’t do anything particularly mean to the poor couple, agreed to be their child’s godfather and was referred to their compadre, I don’t understand why they felt the need to be duplicitous in order to teach him a lesson. Sure, it was the rich man’s greed that ultimately did him in, but it was their dishonesty that started it all and so therefore their fortune they got at the end was unethically earned.

Motivational Challenges

Like most teachers, I’ve used a lot of different types of rewards to try to motivate my students over the years, and I’ve always been dismissive of those who criticize the use of them. Sure, students who are self-motivated learners are far preferable than the alternative, but not all of them are going to be like that and their teachers are still responsible for teaching them. Extrinsic rewards aren’t ideal, but they’re necessary.

And are rewards really that bad?Does anyone really believe that the millions of dollars that Michael Jordan earned every year playing basketball diminish his love of the game one iota? Similarly I’m paid to work with computers everyday; does that mean I enjoy them any less? Absolutely not.

Reading Daniel Pink’s book Drive however made me rethink my beliefs on the subject. He makes a compelling case that, although rewards can produce a short term boost, “the effect wears off – and worse, can reduce a person’s long-term motivation.”

Simple rewards worked perfectly well for the menial jobs that were predominate in the past, Pink argues. But today’s more sophisticated jobs require a different mindset. What people want is (1) autonomy, a desire to be self-directed; (2) mastery, a desire to get better at what we do; and (3) purpose, a desire to be part of something larger than ourselves. If we don’t have those in our work environment, rewards are not going to improve our performance over the long run. (Fortunately, both Michael Jordan, in his pro basketball career, and I do.)

“Solving complex problems requires an inquiring mind and the willingness to experiment one’s way to a fresh solution,” Pink writes. “Where Motivation 2.0 sought compliance, Motivation 3.0 seeks engagement. Only engagement can produce mastery.”

That makes a lot of sense. I hate having to do something out of pure compliance. I want to understand the reasons why things are expected to be done and I want them to be fair. Better yet, I want to be a part of making those decisions. Most teachers feel the same way. But it’s also true that in our classrooms too often “we’re bribing students into compliance instead of challenging them into engagement.”

Pink has some sensible advice to educators. He says we must make sure our students understand why they’re learning the information we’re teaching them and we need to show them its relevance by having them do real-world tasks whenever possible.

But still I wonder, what am I supposed to do when this falls short? What if a student does not want to do a very relevant writing assignment because writing is difficult for him? Just because he doesn’t share that interest, doesn’t mean his teacher is off the hook for teaching it to him. What does she do to motivate him when his intrinsic motivations don’t reach that far?

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To get a better idea of Pink’s thesis, watch this incredible video where you can see his writing come alive in a very interesting way:

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