Sunday, September 25, 2011

Must Have Chrome App: Kindle Cloud Reader

A few weeks ago I began using a great new Chrome App called the Kindle Cloud Reader. Every once in awhile someone develops one of those simple, but have to have applications and this is one of those. I already have access to my Kindle library from my iPad and my Kindle. I also have access to my books on both my laptops through Kindle e-reader apps that I've downloaded and installed. The beauty of the Kindle Cloud Reader app for Chrome is its simplicity. I can click and open the book I'm reading and just start reading. I can download a book for offline reading if I want to be able to read it without web access. I can change the font sizes, the margins and the background color just as I can in the Kindle e-reader app. One thing you can't do yet with the Kindle Cloud Reader app is highlight text and make notes. If you have highlighted text in the other Kindle applications it will be highlighted in the Kindle Cloud Reader app. You must add the Google Chrome Kindle Cloud Reader to your list of must-have Chrome apps if you are Kindle reader. It gives you one more level of access to your Kindle library.

Kindle Cloud Reader Chrome App Main Screen

North Carolina Public Education Funding Continues Its "Race to the Bottom"

Chris Fitzsimon at the NC Policywatch posted his Monday numbers on the NC Policywatch Blog. These numbers show the damage our state legislature and political establishment has wrought on public education since 2008. You can check out the complete numbers for yourself, but here's some that I think are indicative of the true value our state government places on public education.
  • There have been 16,678 public school jobs eliminated in North Carolina in the last four years. (Our government has done its part to contribute to the unemployment rate.)
  • North Carolina ranked 49th in 2007-2008 among 50 states in administrative spending in public education. (All that administrative waste politicians like to banter about isn't there and wasn't there.)
  • Speaker of North Carolina House Thom Tillis said there were 0 teacher and teacher assistant positions cut in the 2011-2012 North Carolina General Assembly Budget. (See the reality in the next bullet.)
  • As of August 31, 2011, 534 teachers have been laid off due to budget cuts made by the North Carolina General Assembly's 2011-2012 Budget. (For more reality, see next bullet.)
  • There were 1,260 teacher assistants who lost their jobs due the North Carolina General Assembly's 2011-2012 budget. (Reality is not something our current political establishment deals with very well.)
  • There have been a total of 2,418 layoffs in public education due to the North Carolina General Assembly's 2011-2012 budget. (While Thom Tillis can boast that his budget didn't lay off these individuals, his budget created the reality that made it necessary.)
  • There have been a total of 6,307 public school jobs eliminated due to the North Carolina General Assembly's 2011-2012 Budget. (Tillis, as did many in General Assembly, demonizes these people as moochers.)
  • 4,000 more public school jobs will go after the federal stimulus money goes away next year.
If you really want a good picture of North Carolina's commitment to public education, check out these two:
  • In 2007-2008, North Carolina ranked 45th in per pupil spending.
  • In 2010-2011, North Carolina ranked 49th in per pupil spending.
I've heard all the tired arguments about "money won't solve the problems in public education." But I think the reality is in business and education, "You get what you pay for." Those who make statements like the ones above most likely have another agenda. They want public education gone, not reformed. Thanks to our current North Carolina General Assembly, we have begun the "Race to the Bottom" in earnest and are inching closer to that goal.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Exercise and Physical Activity Must Be Part of 21st Century Learning

John Medina, developmental molecular biologist, has written an extremely readable book entitled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. In it, he provides readers with a list of "12 Brain Rules" to guide them in getting the most from their own brains. The first principle he discusses in the book is "Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power." I know from a workshop I attended a few years ago on brain research that exercise has beneficial effects on cognitive functioning. In his book, Medina makes this lesson even more clear. He asks the question, "Is there a relationship between exercise and mental alertness? The answer is, it turns out, yes."

Medina writes, "A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared to those who are sedentary. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid intelligence tests." So the rule for adults like ourselves? We need to get exercising in order to sharpen our minds. According to Medina, a walk for as little as 20 minutes a day will improve our cognitive performance.

What about our students? According to Medina, "Physically fit children identify visual stimuli much faster than sedentary ones. They appear to concentrate better. Brain activation studies show that children and adolescents who are fit allocate more cognitive resources to a task and do so for longer periods of time." So our students do benefit from physical exercise. Medina goes on to say"Physical activity is cognitive candy." He mentions the fact that school districts around the country are giving up physical education and recess because of the intense focus on test scores. "Given the powerful effects of physical activity, this makes no sense." He says that "Cutting off physical exercise---the very activity likely to promote cognitive performance---to do better on a test score is like trying to gain weight by starving yourself."

So what does Medina suggest? He suggests that instead of having students always sit at desks, have them walking on treadmills." Well, I know, we don't have treadmills, but we can look for ways to get students physically active. He suggests that teachers teach while students take a walk. Perhaps if you sense students' attention is waning, you might engage them in something to increase the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. According to Medina, the evidence is clear that physical activity can increase cognitive functioning and alertness.

Medina's ideas about the efficacy of exercise and brain function isn't new. We've all heard it before. This might just serve as a reminder about the importance of our students getting physical activity.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Teaching Students 6 Strategies for Responsible Online Behavior

Note: I posted a variation of this to my parents in my Parent Weekly Email Update. This version, I address more to educators and 21st century educational leaders.

In her book Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats, Nancy Willard states, "Cyberbullying and cyberthreats are new concerns that have not been fully addres by the academic community." In fact, our students are receiving very little instruction from anybody regarding responsible online behavior and being an effective online citizen. Too often, efforts to address such knowledge is done as an add-on somewhere rather than an full set of principles and values that students should demonstrate while engaging in online activity.

In chapter five of her book, Willard provides what she calls "strategies to address negative influences of technology on behavior." This list of six strategies is an excellent starting point for teaching students how engage in responsible behavior as a 21st century citizen. I would encourage you to explore more fully Willard's book, Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats.

  1. Be Kind Online.  Too often, because of the anonymity of life online, the values people have do not translate to people's online personas. Elias Aboujaoude's new book, Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality does an excellent job of describing how people often exhibit an online personality that is quite different from their offline one. Still, we need to emphasize to our students the importance of exhibiting the same value of showing kindness to others online as we do offline. Students need to understand that the online world is invariably connected to the offline world.
  2. Online People Are Real People Too. At least they need to understand that online people are most often connected to real people offline. Our students need to deploy the same empathy for people online that they use in the offline world. They need to consider the perspective of others whether online or off. Using examples of where young people have been harmed by cyberbullying will help students understand how the harmful actions online affect real people offline.
  3. What You Do Reflects on You. Our students sometimes do not make the connection with how their online behavior affects their reputations. They need to understand that the online choices they make are a reflection of the kind of person they are offline. Just providing students with rules to guide their online behavior is not enough. They need to understand that their online behavior is who they are.
  4. Think First. Willard suggests that we teach students to engage in effective decision-making when engaging in online activities. In her book she provides a series of questions to guide students in reflecting about their online activity. 1) Am I being kind and showing respect for others and myself? 2) How would I feel if someone did the same thing to me or to my best friend? 3) What would my mom or dad think? 4) Does my actions violate agreements, rules, or laws? 5) Would it be okay if I did this in the real world? 6) Am I trying to think my way out of a wrong act? 7) How would I feel if everyone could see me? and 8) How would this action reflect on me?
  5. Life Online Is Not Just a Game. Online actions have real-world consequences. Students need to understand the possible legal ramifications of online behaviors such as cyberthreats.
  6. You Are Leaving Cyberfootprints. Students sometimes feel that their online personas are totally anonymous and undetectable. That is not entirely true. Their online actions are creating an online self that invariably can be connected to their offline selves. This is one consequence many students and even adults are experiencing the hard way.
Educators have a responsibility to teach students about responsible online behavior if we value teaching them citizenship in the offline world. Too often, we are still leaving the learning of appropriate online behavior to chance. Twenty-first century school leaders have a responsibility in making sure our students are responsible citizens in the 21st century world, online or offline.

Cover Image

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Social Media Is Here to Stay: Get Out of the Way or Become Roadkill!!

A recent 2010-2011 study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research had some interesting statistics regarding social media use in universities and colleges:

  • 100% of colleges and universities studied are using some form of social media (up from 95% the year before and 61% in 2008-2009)
  • 98% of the colleges and universities had Facebook pages (up from 87% the year before)
  • 84% had Twitter accounts (up from 59%)
  • 66% had a blog (up from 51%)
What the study also stated was that "unsurprisingly, Facebook and Twitter are the main social media tools for US higher education institutions." Yet, what are our K-12 politicians and education policymakers doing? They are banning the use of social media as a means to communicate with students and parents.

Instead of passing bans on connections between students and teachers on Facebook, and employing filtering software to block social media sites, the US K-12 public education system needs make a giant step in the 21st century and embrace social media tools as just one of the natural ways people communicate today. It is misguided foolishness to think that social media is magically turning teachers into predators, preying on our nation's children. That nonsense is driving school systems across the country to ban social media connections entirely between teachers and students. Unfortunately, those who do such things will do so. How about paying closer attention to those we hire as teachers instead? Blaming the medium for the problem never works.

Social media is here to stay. Education policymakers really only have one choice: accept it as a 21st century means of communicating, or be rendered roadkill. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Teaching Is a Business of the Heart

NOTE: I included this segment in my weekly staff email update for this past week. Writer Parker Palmer has so much to say about the importance of taking care of the inside as we go about the business of being educators. I hope readers will find these words helpful.

Celebrated author of the book The Courage to Teach once wrote:

"We became teachers of the heart, animated by a passion for some subject and for helping people to learn. But many of us lose heart as the years of teaching go by. How can we take heart in teaching once more, so we can do what good teachers always do---give our heart to our students? The courage to teach is the courage to keep one's heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able, so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community  that learning, and living, require."

There is not a one of us standing in our classrooms today who did not become teachers for the two reasons Parker Palmer describes. We became teachers either out of love for a subject or a love to help others find the joy of learning. In the busyness of the birth of this new school year, it is so easy to get caught up in events and incidents that drive our days that we forget the true inner passion inside ourselves that made us teachers. Palmer repeatedly admonishes us to look back inward to recapture the spirit of what we do. He tells us that teaching is one of those callings that can't become just a job, it involves body, mind and soul. When we stand authentically in front of our students, we are teaching with all of ourselves. We are, as Palmer says, "Giving our hearts to our students," and that's why it truly takes courage to teach.

In the coming year, I challenge all of us, including myself. As Palmer suggests, let's reconnect with who we are, teachers. That is an inseparable part of our identity, because it is our passion. We must reclaim the relationship we have with the teacher within us, and with integrity build relationships and open our hearts to our students. That is the courage to teach and we all have that.

Thank you everyone for your tireless efforts in the beginning weeks of this school year to tackle the most important reason why we are hear, our kids. Through countless examples every day, you demonstrate to me that you have the "main thing" in focus and as a priority.

For an inspiring read about teaching, check out Parker Palmer's "The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching" at this web address: