Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why I Blog

I was reading MsJWeir's first post in her newly created blog, and it got me thinking about my own experiences (follow her on Twitter @msjweir).

In education, blogging is the best of all worlds. It provides a universal audience, feedback, revision, purpose – it's like the perfect writing assignment. I am always on the hunt for the latest and greatest technological something-or-other that I can use in my class, and blogs certainly fall into that category. But that's not the only reason why I keep a blog.

I think one goal of English Language Arts is to create independent readers and writers. Wouldn't it be hypocritical for me to request this of my students if I don't practice what I preach? My students don't know the address to my blog but they know it exists, and they know I try to post often.

It's the same reason I try to read my own book while my students read theirs during SSR (silent sustained reading). Teachers spend too much time telling kids that reading and writing is important, when we should be telling them it's valuable.
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Don't Ban Guns in School!

There seems to be a lot of “negative publicity” lately as to the allowance of weapons in schools. Admittedly, they can sometimes cause harm, whether purposely or by accident, and can also be used with ill-intent. But I am progressive, and have the ability to see beyond these minor inconveniences.


Guns can be used to enhance curriculum. Wouldn't your lesson on Civil War combat be even better if students could take turns firing a time-period replica Gatling gun? Or how about a re-enactment of the Valentine's Day Massacre (students would shoot blanks at each other, of course)?

Guns empower students. Some of their biggest heroes (Rambo, Davy Crockett, or Walker: Texas Ranger, for example) are often seen toting guns, so this connection will help insecure students feel like part of a group.

Guns are part of the real world! Students in rural and urban areas alike will probably come into contact with guns at some point after graduation. Your school mission statement undoubtedly states that your goal is to prepare students for the real world. Let's face it – guns are here to stay. Instead of ignore them, let's teach kids how to use them effectively!


Are you shaking your fists at me yet? Are you calling for my teaching certificate to be burned?

Before you gather your friends and arm yourself with pitchforks, realise that I was being a bit satirical. Even though guns may have some good, they are clearly not meant for school use.

Did you notice that all the same arguments have been made for using cell phones in schools? Now you tell me – is cell phone use in school a good idea?
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Keeper of the Light

There once was a village located on a small tropical island. Long ago, the village had decided that it needed a lighthouse to protect them from the dangerous seas that surrounded their island. After building the structure, a keeper was called in from the mainland who was said to be knowledgeable on the subject of dispersing light. The villagers didn't like the idea of the lighthouse keeper looming over them from atop his tower, but it seemed like a necessary evil to keep them protected.

At first, the lighthouse keeper did his job well. Whenever a ship approached the island, he quickly shone the light on the approaching vessel. If it was a passenger or cargo ship, the keeper guided it safely to port. There were also rare occasions when a vessel appeared that was of ill intent – a pirate ship, for example. In these cases, the lighthouse keeper turned off the mighty globe and the ship was forced to turn away or risk splintering on the jagged reefs surrounding the island.

One night, the keeper leaned over the railing at the top of the lighthouse and peered down on the village (Incidentally, the villagers hated when the keeper walked the light deck because it cast his long shadow over the entire island, which is a pretty obvious metaphor for oppression). It was late at night, and most of the villagers were sleeping – all but the village scholar who was busy studying a new leather-bound manuscript he had recently received. His window was illuminated from the candles he was using to read by.

The lighthouse keeper was furious. It was his job to keep the island safe, and he felt that this light could spell disaster. What if a pirate ship were to see the light from the scholar's window? He made the decision to force the scholar to extinguish his candles. The next time the merchant ship carrying manuscripts and other scholarly things approached the island, the lighthouse keeper turned off his light, and it crashed into the coral reefs.

The next night the keeper again looked over the railing and spotted a glow coming from a window far below. This time it was the village baker. His oven was glowing from the fire that baked breads and pastries for the villagers.

Again the lighthouse keeper was furious. So from then on, the light was extinguished for any vessel carrying food supplies.

The following night, the lighthouse keeper felt confident that he would be met by darkness when he peered over the railing of his tower. Instead, he again saw a light, like a bright beacon coming from one of the villagers windows. It was the chemist, who was mixing chemicals that caused small explosions and bursts of light.

So his supply of chemicals, too, were sunk to the bottom of the reef at the hand of the keeper.

Each night, the keeper spotted a new light shining from below his tower. And with each one, he vowed to turn away another ship from the island. Soon the island was completely cut off from the outside world.

And it was all because of the lighthouse keeper.
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Monday, May 4, 2009

5 Reasons Linux Belongs in Schools

It seems that whenever someone I know replaces their old computer, it ends up down in my basement. My wife jokingly refers to it as the place where computers go to die. Admittedly many are in some state of disassembly or simply don't even start, but toying around with them is a fun hobby that costs nothing. And I haven't started the house on fire yet.

Every computer but one is running some flavor of Linux operating system. Linux is in distant 3rd place behind Mac and Windows operating systems, but it works great on my project computers because they are usually outdated with limited resources. Just mentioning the word Vista around them would cause them to turn to dust, so an Linux operating system that is under 50mb is the obvious alternative.

The other day I was working on installing the newest version of Ubuntu on a Dell laptop, and I was thinking about all the possibilities that Linux has over Windows. It prompted this tweet:

I use my laptop running Xandros Linux at school every day and it never fails me. I can do more with it than the Windows machines that live in my classroom. My Twitter message was supposed to reflect this, but 140 characters must not have been enough, because I immediately received this response from @jerridkruse:

So here is my belated (and >140 character response) answer to Jerrid's question.

Linux is Free
Linux is free to download, distribute, and use. Every application for Linux is free of charge and open source. Imagine the amount of money a district would save by trimming Microsoft from its budget. It is also free to upgrade (a distribution like Ubuntu guarantees new versions every few months) so a district would never have to worry about obsolescence.

Linux is Secure
While there are free anti-virus programs for Linux, they're pretty irrelevant because there are hardly any viruses for Linux. In two years' time, I have never been infected by a virus on a Linux machine, while an unprotected Windows machine gets hit within about 40 minutes of going online.

Linux is Versatile
Not only is Linux free as in no cost, it is also free as in freedom. The source code for the Linux kernel is freely available (unlike Windows or Mac that keeps their inner-workings top secret), which means schools could customize Linux to fit their specific needs and resources. In fact, many universities – University at Buffalo for one – already do this.

Linux is Capable
Many Linux nay-sayers complain that there aren't enough resources. It's true that Windows software does not work on Linux, but it's also true that for virtually every piece of Windows software, there's at least one free, open source alternative for Linux. Microsoft Office? Use OpenOffice. Photoshop? Use Gimp. Publisher? Use Scribus. Inspiration? Use Freemind. They're all excellent. And besides, a little diversity is good for students. After all, shouldn't we be teaching the process instead of the program used?

Linux is the Future
Plain and simple, Linux is not going away, and it's continually growing in popularity. Major companies are now offering computers shipped with Linux. Cell phones, ATMs, even Ebay – all run on Linux. Every school mission statement says something about preparing for the future. It is likely that these kids will someday be put in a job where they will need to work alongside Linux.


One thing needs to be made clear - Linux is not the same as Windows, and there's much more to it than what I wrote here. But if you are comfortable Googling answers to any Linux questions this post leaves you with, then you will probably be comfortable giving Linux a spin. Let me know if you need a hand.
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