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Nov
07

A question posed for our discussion this week: Is it possible that filters are being used to get around the issues of online safety?

If you’ve been in class with me previously, you might have heard some of this before. I apologize! I’m passionate about this issue. The issue of school filters matters a great deal to me, and I do think that we’re using filters as a replacement for teaching students internet safety and responsibility. (I don’t filter my own children’s accounts at home, but I HAVE taught them internet safety and etiquette, and I DO monitor their activities to some degree.)  In other words, schools can avoid the whole issue of teaching students how to use the internet responsibly. The filter makes all the choices for them, and students fail to develop any meaningful skills.

In the worst cases, filters not only replace education; they also promote specific political and religious perspectives that may stand in direct opposition to rights and values we champion in public schools. Several years ago, my school district had a very restrictive filter, which seriously interfered with legitimate research and also blocked sites dealing with LGBT issues. For example, any student researching Harvey Milk got a message saying the site was blocked due to “Lifestyle.” Students researching white supremacy groups like the KKK found sites blocked because of “Hate Groups.” (This created nightmares for teachers working on Holocaust-related projects, too.) The Health teacher had a terrible time when she had her students doing research on drug and STD topics. Sites were blocked, but not because they weren’t safe. In fact, sites were blocked that students needed to access in order to fulfill curricular requirements! We eventually got rid of this filter, but the new one has other problems. It blocks wikispaces, for example. I can’t access this very WordPress blog from school. (Blogs are blocked.) In order to get a specific site unblocked, I would have to submit a proposal in writing to be reviewed at a tech committee meeting.

I’m currently teaching William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in my AP English Lit course. I had heard that James Franco was planning to direct a film adaptation of this novel, I knew I had to share that with my students. When I tried to search for information about it at school today, one site (which is devoted to film and film news) was blocked due to “Adult content/pornography”! (I can’t imagine a less pornographic novel that As I Lay Dying…).

Looking forward to hearing my classmates’ thoughts on this issue!

 

 

Oct
26

I attended a conference recently, and one of the topics was raising awareness about child and slave labor being used to produce chocolates. Among the most egregious offenders are Hershey’s, Nestle, and MM/Mars. They KNOWINGLY purchases cocoa beans harvested by child slaves. We are huge chocolate lovers at our house. It’s hard to find fair trade chocolates to hand out at Halloween (and it’s expensive–but then, there’s a good reason for that). Trying to figure out how to manage Halloween this year….

To find out more, check out: http://thedarksideofchocolate.org/

 

Oct
22

My school filter blocks wikispaces, so I use the wiki tools located in our Blackboard. My subject area allows me to do in my classroom what many librarians would do in collaboration with teachers, so I thought I’d talk about a project I’m working on with my AP students right now–a project that could also become a research activity. My students are currently studying Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which for me is like feeding them candy!). Early on in our study of the novel, I divided my class into five groups and assigned each a topic or motif to trace as we read. The topics include: marriage; manners/social conventions; characters (what we learn about them and from whom); pride and prejudice; and letters (one scholar has pointed out that letters are the most important indicator of social responsibility in Austen’s work). Twice per week, my students have met with their group members to locate and record specific examples of their own topics, which they have then posted to our class wikis. These wikis will then become resources for students to consult when they eventually write essays in which they analyze the novel.

As we have worked on this project, I have also provided my students with access to a well-respected Jane Austen wiki, http://www.pemberley.com/. If you were to visit course websites established for professors of Austen studies and Regency novels, you would find that most include links to this rich and valuable resource. (One really nice feature: a searchable full-text version of the novel. If a student wishes to find references to the use of “pride” and “prejudice,” this search feature comes in very handy. It’s also a hypertext document with links explaining references, etc.) Thus, my students are building their own wikis for a very specific purpose, and in doing so they are consulting another wiki. If I wanted to, I could then also turn this into a research project. I could have my students build a bibliography of scholarly texts to consult when studying a particular topic, such as Comedies of Manners.

Oct
17

So, I signed up to attend a workshop on social media at the NYSUT leadership conference. I thought we would be talking about how to use social media to promote advocacy and political action. How wrong I was! To be fair, the presenters represent the legal arm of the union, so I suppose it was fair to expect that they would be talking about raising consciousness about the consequences of inappropriate uses of social media. We have all heard stories of teachers losing their jobs because of their Facebook postings, tweets, and blog posts.  Fair enough. And we heard many, many examples of workers of all types being disciplined or fired due to inappropriate emails, etc.  I did learn quite a bit in terms of “management” rights. (The laptop I use as my classroom computer is district-issued; although the district encourages me to take it home, I know that my district then has a right to review and even own any keystrokes I make and any work I produce on that computer.) I definitely came home more aware–and more paranoid. (Anyone could be reading this, after all!)

The frustrating thing for me, though, was hearing union representatives insist that I should discourage my members from using social media. Period.   I pointed out that the Common Core emphasizes 21st c. literacy, my district promotes it, and I am supposed to be using social media in the classroom. My own union has a twitter feed and a Facebook. I’m the VP for Political Action. I feel I need to use every means possible to reach the largest numbers of members possible. (After learning how to create a closed caption video last week, I recorded one for my members to contribute to VOTE/COPE; I’ll send links to all members when I’m ready for the campaign drive. I’ll post it on Facebook.)

But I’ve been warned that everything I do creates a digital footprint, and so I should be very wary. I realize that technology is changing very rapidly, and we are not adequately writing contract language, articulating policies, and most of all educating our members and our students about how to behave responsibly in a digital age. And whose responsibility is that? The institutions that train teachers? The district? The administration? The union? The law? Moreover, I do not want my enthusiasm for free speech rights to be darkened by fear of reprisals.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

Oct
16

As an English teacher, I find myself often concerned when students lack linear reading skills. Just recently, and honors (!) student stayed after school to speak with me after he performed poorly on a quiz. He confessed he was used to learning how to make sense of text through class discussion. He told me when he reads his eyes just go over the words on the page. He doesn’t really think about the characters or what’s happening to them, since he depends on the teacher and class discussion to do the work for him.

I think as a future librarian, I would work to combine shared reading activities with linear activities. Many colleges now require students to participate in shared reading activities, and as I librarian I would follow some of the modified models I’ve heard about happening in schools throughout my region, as well as in various cities. (I used to live in Illinois, and Chicago often had shared reading activities. So cool!) We could pick a text that the whole school would read–including teachers, hall monitors, and administrators. I would use the library as the base of operations, but I would sponsor sustained silent reading activities throughout the school. I would work collaboratively with classroom teachers to integrate the book into their specific curricular area. That way, they could use passage in class that the class could interpret together and then link to lessons in that particular subject area. I could help teachers find and use secondary readings to help enrich students’ understanding of the primary text. We could run research projects, have a school blog on the topic, and so much more.

That’s what I’d do!

Oct
02

When the weather turns cool, we find ourselves craving fragrant foods baked in the oven. Here’s s a slight variation on a simple side that we love from the Moosewood Restaurant’s low-fat cookbook.  It’s easy and a great side for a busy night when we’re just having sandwiches, chili, or quesadillas. This is very adaptable!

2 lbs sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into thick fries

1-2 T. olive oil

1 T. paprika

1 T. cumin (the original recipes only calls for 1 tsp, but we love cumin)

kosher or sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425. Toss all of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to coat. Turn the sweet potatoes out onto a baking sheet (should be in a single layer). Bake 45 min to an hour, until fries are golden and crispy, stirring occasionally. Serve with spicy ketchup, salt, and/or malt vinegar.

Oct
01

I admit it: I love Powerpoint. For one thing, the version I use now is so  much for versatile and interactive than the version I learned years ago. I can embed video, audio, hyperlinks to websites, and so much more. Sometimes, when I need a concentrated way to introduce a new topic or genre to a class, a Powerpoint slide show can help me a great deal–and I can archive it on my course Blackboard for students who missed class and/or who need to go back and consult it for review purposes. Over the years, I’ve made slide shows to introduce topics in all of my courses. Just this week, I used one to lecture on the experience of ancient Greek theater and Aristotle’s Ars Poetica. I’m using one to play a game with my 9th graders next week, which will help them learn about academic honesty. I have slide shows for introducing Film Noir, Horror Films, John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, theories about reading the body as a text, and so much more.

One of my colleagues designed a fantastic assignment a couple of years ago–and because my department shares, I use it, too. When teaching a novel from a specific era, he’ll assign each kid in class one narrowly-defined research topic. Each student must make just one really well-designed slide (and a works cited). The slide is deposited into a class powerpoint (using a shared folder on our server, but google.docs works, too). Then in the course of one class period, we can cover about 20 different topics. Students just have two or three minutes to present. It’s so fun!  Everyone participates, and the shy ones can do it from their seats in a darkened room! My students just presented on the 1920’s to contextualize The Great Gatsby. They had gorgeous slides on topics like “crazy pastimes of the 1920’s” (gold fish swallowing, flagpole sitting, marathon dancing….), advertising, cars, interior design, fashion, organized crime, etc. My favorite was on popular dances. The student used animation schemes to layer images; he also connected his slide to an amazing youtube video montage of the Charleston–real footage from the era. It was magical!

Sep
30

Here’s something that actually happened this week: Two of my students were hanging out in my classroom working on a project after school. I had just assigned a research project to introduce The Great Gatsby. One student, Mary, asked me if I subscribe to John Green’s vlog. She asked because she does subscribe to his vlog and she wanted me to know that he had vlogged about Gatsby.

For those of you who don’t know John Green, he’s a YA author. He and his brother started the vlog called “vlogbrothers.” In the vlogs, they have conversations about all kinds of things, from literature, to the births of their children, and more. As they describe their project: “Hank and John Green are nerdy brothers who make videos. Really, it’s not about anything in particular. Whether we’re talking about our lives, making each other laugh, or trying to get something more important across, people seem to enjoy it.” You can view and subscribe to their vlog here: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers

Now here’s how I personally found out about the vlogbrothers: A teaching friend of mine from years ago sent out a mass email with a link to a particular vlogbrothers video, titled “I Am Not a Pornographer.” In the video (which I hope you’ll watch), John Green defends his novel, Waiting for Alaska, which was in danger of being banned in a school district in upstate NY. You’ll have to watch the video if you want to learn the details, but suffice to say, it was really troubling. I have a friend who teaches in a nearby district, and so I sent him the link, urging him to mobilize teachers to stand up in defense of the book. In the meantime, I contacted some folks I know who work at NCTE, which has a whole division that deals with censorship issues. NCTE immediately got to work by sending a letter in support of the teacher who wanted to teach the book. (She had cleared it in advanced with parents and administrators; the folks who tried to ban the book didn’t even have kids in the school! They just didn’t want their tax dollars supporting “pornography.”

So, long story short: subscribing to a vlog through an RSS feed can help mobilize people for an important cause. And students who love authors can subscribe to the author’s blogs and vlogs as a way of participating in larger discussions about things that matter to them.  For example, here’s a link to the blog of another YA writer whose books have been recently challenged: Laurie Halse Anderson. Kids love her, and she speaks to and for them. Teachers might link such RSS feeds to their class websites, and librarians might link them to their homepages. so, I don’t think RSS feeds are dead.  At least not yet!

Sep
29

Wow, I haven’t been on this blog since I went to MSLIS boot camp! I’m sure there are others out there like me. Totally forgot I had a blog. Well, one thing I did in the past was post recipes for busy people. I’m a vegetarian, and this is a standby for us when we’ve been too busy to make it to the grocery store. It’s easy and adaptable.

Tortilla Espanol

2-3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 yellow onion, chopped

7 eggs, beaten with a dash of salt

olive oil

1. Pour enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of a non-stick skillet, and heat.

2. When the oil is hot, toss in the potatoes and onions. You should have enough to densely cover the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium-low heat. (I usually put a lid on the pan, but you’ll have to remove it to stir occasionally.) Cook until the potatoes are soft enough to bite through. Try not to let them get too much color.

3. Beat the eggs and salt in a bowl. Add the cooked potatoes and onions to the bowl and stir. In the meantime, add a touch more oil to the pan. Pour the egg-potato-onion mixture back into the pan and cook, covered, over medium-low heat.

4. Here’s the one tricky part: When the eggs have more or less set, remove the lid and place a large plate over the pan. Holding the plate and the pan handle firmly, flip the pan so that the tortilla is turned out onto the plate. Then, carefully slide the tortilla (uncooked side down) back into the pan. Let it cook for another couple of minutes.

5. Turn the tortilla out of the pan again using the method described in step 4. Cut into wedges, and serve with some nice sides–like a tomato salad, some good bread, fruit, and sharp cheese. Oh, and don’t forget the wine!

Tortilla Espanol is good hot, cold, or at room temperature. Spaniards often eat it as part of a sandwich on a really skinny baguette. Travels well for potlucks, picnics, and brown bag lunches.

Jul
28

If you aren’t yet a fan of the Minimalist, this should turn you into a convert:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/dining/22mlist.html?em.

And there’s a blog!