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Back Again

I haven’t written on my blog for a long time. I hope to start posting on a regular basis. Wish me luck.

 Woodrow Wilson by John Cooper, Jr.


The first thing I found interesting is that Woodrow Wilson was named Thomas Woodrow Wilson. He was called Tommy as a boy. He started using Woodrow when he was studying the law at the University of Virginia. The second is that he was a poor reader. He didn’t learn his “letters” until he was nine and he learned to read at twelve. This problem might have been due to his eyesight or dyslexia.

In 1883, he paid $87 for a typewriter. That was a lot of money at that time. Typewriters did not have set keyboards at that time. Also, not all typewriters had the same keyboard. Wilson typed with two fingers using the popular hunt and peck method.

All of that is interesting. Reading this book and others books about U.S. Presidents has started me thinking about how do you rate a president. What or who is a good president and why. Who is a bad president and why.

The tough part is that some presidents came in to office during troubled times and solved the problems. Others had prosperous times that they didn’t create that hurt their term in office. Some had the support of the House and Senate and could pass legislation and others had the House and Senate controlled by the other party and couldn’t do anything.

My question is what do you think makes a good president? And who during your life time has been the best president?




Scat is the “solid waste, or droppings, of carnivorous animals.”* It is also a book by Carl Hiaasen rated for ages 9-12. When my son was much younger we used to go on a lot of backpacking trips. I think we have slept in a tent in over twenty states. We always use to carry guides to plants, animals, birds, trees, and you guessed it scat. I used to joke with him that when he grew up he was going to become a “scatologist.” That’s why when I saw Carl Hiaasen’s latest book Scat I had to buy it.

I’m glad I did. I had enjoyed his book Hoot and Scatis just as good if not better. Like Hoot it has a story built around an environmental issue. In this case an endangered animal. Hiaasen also brings the Iraq War into the book. Nick is the main character in the book. His father is in Iraq and days go by that Nick doesn’t hear from his dad and is worried that something must be wrong.

The book has some great humor in it including an incident with a Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil. Those of you who had read Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis will remember the Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil from that story. This one is just as good. I think middle school students will like this book. It moves fast, contains mystery, and has some humorous moments. In fact I bet teachers would like it also.


Outliers: The Story of Success

I was going to write more about Outliers (See my previous posts.), but then I read a question and answer session on Gladwell’s web site. It gives a good overview of the book. It may encourage you to read the book. I really did enjoy Outliers and would encourage you to read it. I just finished it today and it gave me a lot to think about for a while. What he has to say about success has a lot of implications for schools.



“Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”
Malcomb Gladwell, Outliers, the Story of Success p. 150

Perhaps this should be written on the back wall of classrooms to remind teachers about the importance of meaning. Work that is so engaging that you loose track of time. Work that brings joy to others. Work that brings new knowledge to your world. Work that excites you so much you dream about it at night. We have all experienced that type of work. We need to bring that to our students.

We need to provide students with meaningful work with new tools we have available. Read Alan November’s article The Digital Learning Farm for some ideas to start with in your classroom. New tools like blogs, wiki’s, screencasts, podcasts, can provide audience and meaning for many of our students.

I just love that the sentence.


Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

I started reading Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell today. Gladwell also wrote Blink and The Tipping Point. I read the other two books and enjoyed them both. After reading the first hundred pages of Outliers, I think I will enjoy this book aslo. He makes some very interesting and disturbing observations. First, he makes the case that one key to success may be the month you were born. He uses hockey for his first example. In junior hockey in Canada, the majority of players are born in the months January through April. He says this occurs because they tend to be bigger and stronger when they start playing with students their own age. They are the ones selected for the all star and traveling teams. So they get to play more, get better coaching, and get more experience that even makes them better. Players born in January through March are much more likely to be successful.

The advantage of age also applies to school. Older students (even by just a few months) do better in school than student born later in the year. This starts in elementary school with reading and math groups and carries on right into graduate school. You’ll have to read the book to get all of his insights. The important part that this has serious implications for education and is an idea we should be examining.

The most disturbing part of the book is his ideas about why some people with very high IQ’s are very successful and some are disappointments. Malcom shares a study that shows that the major factor is the economic status of their parents. Many of us have all seen this occur with students in our schools. Too often the students get the blame, instead of getting the help and support they need to be successful.

I’m really looking forward to the second half of the book. At this point I would say it is well worth reading.


Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Boy In the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I finished Boy in the Striped Pajamas yesterday. It is for ninth graders and up. Also, it has been made into a movie that should have it’s first showing this month. I think it is just playing on one theater in the Detroit area. The average review on Amazon is four stars. I thought I was going to like the book, but I was mare and more disappointed as I read the book.

The concept is that two young boys meet at a fence. One is the son of the German Commandant at Auschwitz. The other is a young Jewish boy held in the camp. Both are nine years old and were born on the same day. I won’t tell you what happens in case you want to read the book or see the movie.

My problem with the book is that the German boy is supposed to be innocent and naïve. Even though he is living with in sight of Auschwitz that is surrounded by a wire fence and holds mean in boys in striped uniforms he does realize that it is a prison. Even though the boy is nine, I had a hard time believing that he doesn’t know it is a prison. I couldn’t help thinking about other German’s citizens that lived near the camps, but claimed they had no idea what was going on in the camps. I would worry that using this book with students would give them the impression that is was just a few bad people that carried out the Holocaust. I was mad about this portrayal of the camps.

If you read it or see the movie let me know what you think.


One Quick Look, That’s All it Took

I love to read books. I know it is so Twentieth Century. But remember I was paper-trained. I just purchased two new books. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell and Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World HC
by Don Tapscott. I haven’t read either one. I most likely will post my opinion about them after I get time to read them. But here is my opinion from just glancing at the two books. I like the publisher of Outliers better.

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World HC
was publish by McGraw Hill a major publishing company. I didn’t like the layout when I first opened the book. The print is small and it is printed on bright white paper that isn’t soothing to the eyes. Also, the print that comes from the center of the book is too close to the fold.  I think it is called the gutter. There is so little space that you need to hold the book flat or beyond flat to read it. Also, the margins are small. There isn’t much white space. When I first looked at the book, I thought it was self published and had to check to see who published it.

Outliers: The Story of Success is printed on off white matt paper that is easy on the eyes. No reflection or glare from the paper. It has a larger gutter and bigger margins. Nicely done. My complements and thanks to Little, Brown and Company for a job will done.

I think the same thing happens to web pages and digital media. We get so caught up in the technology we sometimes forget the reader.


More about Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen

In my previous post, I wrote just a little of what I got from Disrupting Class. There is a lot more to the book. One big issue that Christensen raises is why computers have not made a difference in education. He makes the case that any institution will fight change and innovation. Organizations will take threatening technologies and blend them into the existing structure and goals rather than change the existing practices. We have all seen this with the implementation of computers in the classroom. Schools have often used computers, as Alan November likes to say, as $2,000 pencils. Students are doing what they have always done with pencil and paper, but are now using a word processor.

Most schools don’t use the power of the technology to develop student-centered learning to meet the individual learning patterns of the students. In many cases the schools don’t allow students to use technology to present what they have learned using creative computer or web based tools. We see small pockets of teachers who are using computers to change the structure of learning. These teachers often have to struggle to maintain their individual efforts as the school tries to force them back into the main stream. If you removed the teacher(s) from the building the innovation would die.

Christensen states that innovations that directly compete with the existing structure will be co-opted into the system or will fail. He uses the example of radio. When they introduced radio, they did not put in large auditoriums to compete with live performances. Instead they put radios in homes where people could listen to broadcasts of live performances. They were expanding the audience, not replacing the performance.

He does believe that technology can be successful when it fills a need and doesn’t compete with the existing structure. An online course is one of these technologies. Courses are being offered that don’t compete with existing courses. They are courses that the school couldn’t offer due to low enrollment or staffing problems. Once they gain a foothold, the number of classes taught on line will greatly expand. He thinks that we will reach a point where half of all high school classes will be taught online.

Christensen also makes the following statement:

We suspect, however, that when disruptive innovators begin forming user networks through which professional and amateurs – students, parents, and teachers – circumvent the existing value chain and instead market their products directly to each other as described above, the balance of power in education will shift. (p. 142)

When I read that statement, I couldn’t help but think about what is currently happening with the use of Ning, wikis, blogging, and social sites like Twitter. Educators are creating networks to support and encourage others to try new technologies. Teachers can find support and encouragement beyond the walls of their school. These networks can be agents of change in education. Educators can learn, share and teach through the dynamic tools that have been created. The networks are slowly removing the isolation of educators trying to reform education one school or classroom at a time.


Great Read

I recently read Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen and others. I usually never mark or write in a book when I read it, but I made an exception for this book since it had so many important things to say. I’m just going to share one of them in this post and will post others later.

When I present, I emphasize the importance of students having an authentic audience and doing real work. Too often in class, students are just producing papers for their teachers that have little meaning for them. Their main concerns are: How long does it have to be?; When is it due?; And what was my grade? Once they have the grade they forget the assignment and move on to the next assignment. Tools such as blogs, wiki’s, podcast, Jing and digital stories allow students to create and publish work for real audiences and give them a global voice. In Disrupting Class, Clayton tells the story of Dan who was studying to be an accountant. He did all of the work and graduated, but he really didn’t understand accounting. After graduation, Dan was offered a position at a local junior college teaching accounting. He was filling in for an instructor who had to take a leave due to illness.

When Dan began teaching accounting, he explained the concepts the way he understood them and for the first time really understood accounting. Clayton goes on to state:

We learn material much better when we teach it than when we’re sitting passively in a classroom listening to someone explain it to us.” That’s why technology enabled students to create content for this second stage of disruption will be so healthy for student-centric learning.

Students can now create tutorials and content to help others learn.
In doing so, they will help others and learn the material in greater depth.
Real work for real audiences will bring results. Give it a try.
I’ll write more about the book Disrupting Class in future post. I highly recommend you read Disrupting Class.