Reviving my blogging

It’s been a whole year since I really blogged here, doing too many other things. But it feels like time to start up…

Posted in Fred's

“I will march headlong into the teeth of your blame machine…”

Links to SOS March videos:

Save Our Schools Rally For Education July 30, 2011 [1]

Save Our Schools: The March to the White House July, 30 2011 [2]

John Kuhn, Superintendent of Perrin-Whitt School District in Texas speaks at SOS March and National Call To Action on July 30, 2011

“I will march headlong into the teeth

of your blame machine…” [3]

Jonathan Kozol’s speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011
Part 1: [4]
Part 2: [5]

Diane Ravitch’s speech at the Save Our Schools march in DC, 7/30/2011
Part 1: [6]
Part 2: [7]

Jose Vilson Rocks the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011 [8]

Jon Stewart’s Teacher Tribute For the Save Our Schools Rally [9]

Matt Damon’s headliner speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011 [10]

The Last Word on SOS and Matt Damon
Rewriting the Attacks on Teachers [11]


Many thanks to Tom for posting this list on the Philadelphia Public School’s Notebook.

Posted in Fred's

Telling the computer what to do

"Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be. - Judith Gooch

There’s a blog post by Miguel Guhlin in which he says something like, “For the most part, with black and brown kids, the computer tells them what to do. Only white kids get to tell the computer what to do.”

I’ve paraphrased those lines dozens of times since, and now I’m launching the idea as a book proposal to myself. It’s also the name I’m proposing for our digital storytelling series for the coming 2011-2012 school year, and the model for that series began to emerge Thursday, when we had our first full day collaboration between our Invitational Summer Institute (ISI) Fellows and our Advanced Leadership Institute (ALI) Fellows.

Each year, for about 6 or 8 years now, the ISI takes on organizing a Spring Conference, at which each Fellow presents on the Inquiry they prepared during the summer, and ALI participants organize a Fall Conference, at which they do the same. The ISI folks attend the Fall Conference as one of their Continuity Days, and many ALI participants attend the Spring Conference, whether for personal learning or collegial solidarity, or both. So having the face-to-face meeting broadened, deepened, and personalized the collaboration we had built into the structure.

And it occurred to me as the ALI folks were outlining the topics on which they would present at the Fall Conference that I should present on digital storytelling then, and that that workshop could become a required “registration/orientation” session, the initial meeting of a DS collaborative that would carry through the 2011-12 school year. My goal is to organize a cadre of experienced digital story practitioners who will do push-in classroom visits to the teachers who sign up for the program, and those mentor/coaches and their mentees will all participate in an online forum, within which we’ll support each other as we explore implementing these ideas in the face of relentless bureaucratic, technical, cultural, and policy obstacles to authentic learning through student-centered, project-based, socially meaningful activities.

Which brings me back to my book title: “Telling the computer what to do.” The statement that most black and brown and poor students’ experience with computers in schools in our part of California, and I believe in a great many other places, is of sitting in front of screens running “drill and kill” atomized skill-based practice programs may sound hyperbolic or exaggerated, but I saw it with my own eyes when I recently did a long-term substitute job in a second grade classroom. I did manage to carve out a few hours here and there from the kids’ after-school program to stay (on my own time) and do some digital story projects, but my efforts to get PhotoStory installed in the lab and to create a school-wide digital storytelling initiative were not supported. The change that’s happened because of the catastrophic adoption of test-score-driven rote learning approaches as a result of NCLB was expressed most poignantly by a teacher from the ALI who works as a reading specialist at a “Program Intervention” school: “I remember how the kids used to line up excitedly, waiting for their turn in the computer lab, clutching their papers with the stories they were going to transcribe onto the computer. Now they just stand dully in line.” They used to tell the computer what to do; now the computer tells them what to do.

When I first began learning about computers, in 1991, it wasn’t anything about the computer itself that interested me. I was pretty Luddite, really, never having been particularly mechanical or adept with tools. But I’d heard about this thing called the internet, and I earnestly believed that enabling my Mexican-immigrant students to communicate directly in Spanish with native Spanish-speakers around the world would help to raise the prestige of Spanish literacy and motivate them to develop their skills, as well as provide a real-world context for using those skills. All of my digital explorations since then spang from that initial hunch about the power of networking – until I discovered digital storytelling.

I had a similarly revelatory instantaneous flash of insight and inspiration on first seeing the term “digital storytelling” in print, sometime around the fall of 2005. I had not then ever seen anything formally called a digital story, and had only the vaguest understanding of what the term actually meant, but I knew immediately that I would be devoting the rest of my academic career to pursuing multimodal composition.

Leslie Rule’s free introductory workshop, offered through KQED in San Francisco, was enough to get me started. I naively tried to promote the idea to the technologists at our County Office of Education, and was told that digital storytelling sounded like “too much fun.” The proliferation of buzzable vocabulary around the field speaks in part to pandering in the face of such prejudice, but also reflects authentic efforts to understand the meaning, rhetorics, and conventions of these new modes of discourse. At its core, for me, digital storytelling is about empowering our students to tell the computers what to do.

Who gets to tell the computer what to do is also a crucial question for understanding the faux dichotomy between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” and also for developing the appropriate tactics to overcome the digital divide. There was an interesting discussion thread on Kelly Tenkely’s blog about the “native/immigrant” terminology. One of the commenters, an adult who was claiming the “native” moniker for himself, lamented how “education as a whole is starting to discourage the arts and creative thinking.”

“Telling the computer what to do” has, of course, the more literal meaning: that’s what a programmer does, the ultimate authorial authority behind the machine, the software creator. While digital storytelling is way to harness the creative power of the computer age for authentic communication, and we need to give all students equal access to those capacities, we also need to give them the tools to choose high tech careers they may never have even considered of interest or within accessible range.

Another poignant story from our ISI: a teacher at a continuation high school shared how a student had articulated to her his goal: to go to prison. I had heard from another teacher at the same school about a student who listed incarceration as his goal, and was flabbergasted, and uncomprehending. But my colleague this summer had explored how her student came to have this ambition. His father and uncle had both gone to prison, and come out with marketable skills in auto body work. He didn’t know that there was an auto body class available at the local community college. He was articulating a sensible aspiration and exploiting the resources which he knew to be available.

Spreading the word about what’s possible in this world is what education is supposed to be about. We need schools where students begin their literacy experiences being exposed to the full range of opportunities a networked world affords. We need students who tell the computers what to do.

Posted in Fred's

Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child as a Wordle

Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child as a Wordle

Link to the public file – click on the small image

Wordle: Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child

Posted in Fred's

aBowman’s dog gadget

Many thanks to Elisa Gopin @edtechtoday in Israel, who has this posted on her website and to the Twitter hashtag #digitalstorytelling which introduced us.

Posted in Fred's

The heart of darkness, the liver of twilight, and…

the brain of the day…

16th century anatomical drawing of the brain

16th century anatomical drawing of the brain

Today as we were leaving clay class with Tom, he said, “I want all your work to come from the heart of darkness.” And I asked, “What about the liver of twilight?”

I thought, but didn’t say at the time, the completer of the triad, “The brain of the day.” Interesting: the immediate expressions of distaste from some of the other students at the mention of liver.

anatomical drawing of the liver

Still, I really enjoyed the play of analogies. I went to internal organs in the class itself, since the wedding vessel I had in mind to craft for a renewal of vows with Sefla took a rather larger shape than I had imagined, and at one point I thought to make it resemble the dual chambers of a physical heart.

anatomical drawing of the heartBut the end result of the piece was to create a hand, reaching up from below the vessel. I called it “the hand of God” at one point, and tried in my mind to say “hand of the goddess,” but since I’d modelled it so closely on my own mangled left hand, it had none of the feminine qualities I would want to see in her hand, so it had to remain an image of his. Not the romantic piece I’d imagined creating when the idea of making a South American two-chambered wedding vessel for the renewal of our vows came to me at the prior class…

Posted in Fred's

Presidential Math

Rachel Maddow had a brilliant analysis of Obama’s budget speech on her show last night. She lauded the President for “committing math” in public, and made a great show with freeze frames of recreating his image for what the Republican tax cuts for the wealthy plan (erroneously referred to by the rest of the press as a “deficit reduction” plan) actually means (the picture below is a clickable link to the video clip):

Rachel Maddow on Presidential Math

Rachel Maddow on Presidential Math

I’m not at all confident about Obama’s follow through on doing any of the things he promised, given his track record, but it was a remarkable showing of spine, given his willingness heretofore to allow the Republicans to set the agenda and move the debate so far to the right as to warrant the resurrection of the 50’s terminology “reactionary” for the lunatics who are so shamefully called “conservatives” by the mainstream press.

Rachel also highlighted the spine regeneration aspect of the speech by calling the whole segment “Not While I’m President”:

Rachel Maddow segment "It's not going to happen as long as I'm President"

Rachel Maddow segment "It's not going to happen as long as I'm President"

Posted in Fred's