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April 2010 entries

New Film Ratings

While I was getting massage yesterday (thank you, Marge for the awesome Christmas gift!!!) Mike must have been telling the kids about the rating system that accompanies the Wii movies (Netflix Instant Play through our Wii...the closest thing to "Magic TV" we have).  Aidan reported to me: 

"G means we can watch it.  PG means we can't.  PG-13 means we need 13 people to watch it with us."

21st Century Learning

A friend of mine posted an article from The New York Timeson his Facebook page -- he's a tech geek and professor at Penn College -- and I found it interesting in light of some of the recent initiatives in education.   I sent it around to a few people in the school district who I thought would be interested in such an article, and as was the case with the online comment section of the TImes, my email brought various responses.

The article (titled "We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint") details the military's dependency on the popular presentation tool from Microsoft.  Essentially, every military briefing consists of a PowerPoint slideshow -- the construction of which consumes officials' time and threatens "discussion, critical thinking, and thoughtful decision-making". 

While this article focused on the military's (mis)use of technology, I thought immediately of the encouragement from on high for classroom teachers to incorporate technology in the classroom.  I participated in the Classrooms for the Future grant (which always makes my husband worry about the Classrooms of the Present) which supplied my students with a laptop cart and my classroom with a large Promethean board ( to mankind, I suppose...). 

Here's my problem -- my students tell me they prefer the way I teach my subject matter.  And I've yet to see an amazingly profound way to use these technologies in an advanced level English classroom.  Every workshop I've been to shows me how to create an interactive slide, for example, that has kids get out of their seats and drag the picture of the fox to the box labeled "noun".  What a potentially effective tool in the elementary classroom! in B206, I favor the Socratic method.  I assign a reading.  The kids read it independently (out of real book made out of real paper) and take notes -- yes, these notes consist of charts made on Word documents.  They come to class, and we talk.  We discuss.  I ask questions, they ask questions.  They ask me a question, and I play verbal volleyball -- who has the answer for Johnny?  Or I ask another question which leads Johnny and friends to the answer.  I don't have delusions of grandeur -- I'm just starting out as a teacher and am an apprentice of Socrates, to be sure.  But, I find that this pedagogy helps me guide students to authentic knowledge.

Now -- while this classical model works for my discipline and my level of students, some colleagues weighed in on the PowerPoint issue with worthy defenses of its proper use.  For example, an astute science teacher told me, "I generally have discussions and instructions built right into the powerpoint rather than spending time rewriting them each period.  Printable copies of powerpoints are available to kids who are absent. We have all been victim of bad powerpoints, maybe the military should learn how to use them correctly."

And she's absolutely right. 

Another capable educator, a social studies teacher, told me, "But Power Point can also be used as a powerful tool of the classroom.  It is essential, at times, that I use this program to get ideas and concepts across to my students.  With the technology I have in my room, I can place a map on my board and then draw lines and arrows to show movement and get a deeper conversation going with my classes about impact of those movements and make predictions. I can put the outline and standards for the day on the board. I think we are quick to blame Power Point, but maybe we need to blame the creator of the Power Point presentation in question."

And she's absolutely right, too.  In any event, even though I don't use PowerPoint in my room, it's clear that it can most certainly can be an effective teaching tool.  That is also clear is that the military doesn't seem to be grasping this concept...

Little Slugger

Our Little #30 LOVES Tee-Ball.  Saturday was Aidan's first game, and when he went to bed that night, after saying his prayers, he told us that he wanted to thank God "for Kutney Insurance" -- the sponsors of his team!  LOL.

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And of course, the field's proximity to the playground doesn't hurt, either.

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On the Mend

Mike's grandmother just had a knee replaced, and she came home from the hospital yesterday.  One of the perks of having 6 children like she did is that there are always lots of people around to help and visit and care.  We brought the kids over to the hospital on Sunday night for a visit.  They were super glad to see her, and the feeling was definitely mutual.  The equipment -- moving bed, IV, leg device -- was simply fascinating to them.  But it was close to bedtime, and Gabrielle was exhausted.  She saw the perfect place to snuggle:


Reports from Lock Haven tell us that Nan is doing great, and one assessment was that Nan is three weeks ahead of schedule in her recuperation.  Great Job, Nan! 

Author Visits Bostley's

Yesterday, author/illustrator Will Hillenbrandcame to Aidan and Gabrielle's preschool, Bostley's Child Care in Montoursville.  Hillenbrand spoke with the kids about his book, What a Treasure!, and each child received a book as part of an initiative to encourage early literacy.  Hillenbrand made quite an impact on my children, who couldn't stop talking about him on the drive home.  

 Last night, Aidan announced that he will one day be an illustrator ("You can call me Illustrator Aidan!") and he proceeded to write 3 story books.  Grandma Myers helped him with his letters and with writing 2010 on the back of each book.  When I got home from choir practice, I co-authored What a Monster, The Super Monster Book, and an untitled work in progress.  This morning, he woke up with books on the brain.  I asked if he wanted breakfast, and he replied, "Not now, Mom.  I've got a book idea."

This is a picture that Aidan drew -- it's inspired by a scene in Hillenbrand's book, What a Treasure!.  This is the part when Mole keeps digging and digging and finds another mole -- a friend!  What a treasure!


This one is a picture representing a story that Hillenbrand told the preschoolers -- from what I gather, it's about a croc with a mohawk and polka dot socks...and a monkey and a fox and a lemon tree.


We'll be sending Mr. Hillenbrand a thank you note with these drawings.  What an awesome experience for the kids.  Hillenbrand is pictured in today's Sun Gazette -- from his visit to the James V. Brown library yesterday. 

And, as Gabrielle likes to say, he's working on a new book called, Don't Slam the Door! We'll be looking for more Hillenbrand books to add to our Connor library, that's for sure!


I don't have a lot of time to blog about how AWESOME our trip to NYC was, and I want to wait until I have the pictures from our camera uploaded, but I think this cell phone picture that I took upon arriving in Times Square says it all...for now!


Successful Parenting

Essentially, successful parenting boils down to manipulation and psychology.  And I've discovered the way to make bedtime much more enjoyable for all of us.  Typically, the kids fight over who has to get in the tub first (we discontinued bathing them together when they started playing "Find the Peenie" . . . no further comment), then they resist cleaning up, they fight over books to read, the agony goes on and on.

Last night, I had a stroke of utter genius.  I took four brightly colored index cards and wrote each family member's name on a card.  Then, we brainstormed a "To-Do List" for each person.  Aidan's and Gabrielle's read: "Clean up dinner dishes, Clean bedroom, Take a bath, brush teeth, Read books, Say prayers, Get a little sip, Go to bed."  The lists for me and Mike involved more grown-up chores like do the laundry, do the dishes, and watch Law and Order on Netflix.

Aidan, while he looks like a mini-Mike, is his mother's son.  He LOVES the "To-Do List".  He ran around the house tonight, checking things off his list like a professional bedtime technician.  I even overheard him say to Gabrielle, "I'll help you clean up your room so that you can cross it off your list, too."  And, usually, he pulls the "I'm older, I should get a bath later and stay up later than Gabrielle" card, but tonight, he rushed to the tub in order to check it off his list.

Gabrielle, or as Father Manno calls her, my clone, shares not my love for all things orderly.  Or, well, she doesn't yet.  She is only 3, so I don't want to make any hasty judgments.  It's possible that she will come around some day.  :)  Seriously, she didn't do too badly.  She prides herself on being a little mother to her baby dolls, so I worked that angle, psychologically.  We told her that she needed to show her baby how to clean up her toys and take care of her dishes.  She took the bait.

All's well that ends well, right?

A Few Thoughts on Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau's landmark essay "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" influenced such remarkable human beings as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.  King said, "I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest."

In his essay, Thoreau calls for a government "which governs least" or ideally, "which governs not at all".  While that sounds like a call to anarchy, Thoreau packs in a huge disclaimer: "when men are prepared for it."  And that, of course, begs the question -- Will men ever be ready for a government that doesn't need to govern them? 

After assigning this essay to my AP students, I shared with them the news story about Phoebe Prince, a 15 year old girl who felt so harassed and tormented by her classmates that she committed suicide in January of this year.  6 of those students have been arraigned for leading to her death.  What is equally disturbing about this situation is the fact that the adult members of the community have been harassing the school administration: the principal has even received emails condemning him to hell for not handling the Prince situation properly.  We need not wonder where the teens learned their bullying techniques. 

Are we ready for self-government?  If the case study of this Massachusetts community is any indication, I think not.

So what are these conditions that Thoreau calls for, these terms under which "men are prepared" for a government such as he describes?  First, "we should be men first, and subjects afterward."  Instead of blinding bowing to the government, Thoreau claims, "The only obligation which I have the right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right."  This means following the conscience.  Because Thoreau is a Transcendentalist, he believes in the divinity present in each living thing.  If men would just pause and listen to their souls, they would be able to follow their conscience and do what is right.  Imagine if all people all over the world did this -- world peace would finally be possible.

Secondly, Thoreau calls for us to have purposeful opinions: "How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it?"  If our opinions, our beliefs don't move us to action, why do we have them?  If we only repeat our beliefs in our comfort zone of like-minded thinkers, what good are those opinions?  While it may seem daunting to act upon our opinions, Thoreau assures us that "it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever."  The journey of a thousand miles does indeed begin with one step. 

Alas, most of us "love better to talk about it."  We don't allow our opinions and beliefs to make an impact in our daily lives.  We instead, like the neighbors in Thoreau's village, "[run] no risks", and make no "sacrifices to humanity".  After being jailed for a night for not paying a poll-tax he didn't agree with, Thoreau sees his community, "the State in which [he] lived" with a new clarity -- the people around him did not rock the boat, did not voice their opinions, did not question authority.  If they did  they would be "aware that they have such an institution as the jail in their village"-- because they'd be in it with him.  Instead of feeling punished by his incarceration, Thoreau recognized that while the State could attempt to punish his body, it could never reach his mind, his intellect, his divinity.

The final component for a "free and enlightened State" requires the State to "recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treat him accordingly."  Therein lies a two-fold responsibility.  Man must act as if he is a "higher and independent power" -- a critical thinker, a productive member of society -- and the State must treat him as such.  We can't bully and harass others to get our way.  We can't teach our children that such behavior is acceptable.  And in turn, the government must be comprised of people who not only follow their own conscience but respect that of the layperson as well. 

Written over 150 years ago, Thoreau's essay outlines an edenic democracy that the world has yet to see.  Will we ever experience such a utopia?  Perhaps, I suppose, "when men are prepared for it". 

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Not to be left out the spring fun, Gabrielle is also having a blast in the last few weeks.   She loves feeding the ducks in Indian Park,


and riding her bike around the neighborhood,


and having a burlap bag race at Mommy's school during a fundraiser.


 She even tried her hand at chess:


And, of course, she's been spending a little bit of time with that special friend of hers: