Googly Moogly, Neighbor!

I do not work for, or get renumeration from, Google. Not that I’d turn it down, mind you, but so far they haven’t called me. (*checking voice mail*.)

However, let me just state for the record that I’ve been a Google fan since, back in 1999 or 2000, my friend Spooner said, “Hey, you gotta check this new search engine out…it’s got a ‘I’m feeling lucky’ feature!” And it was bright and clean. And then the doodles started. And then, in 2005, the best things since sliced bread (and sports bras): Gmail.  I got my first invitation from a discussion board friend in New York with whom we were staying during a fourteen-state-plus-Canada road trip. I had goosebumps after he showed me what it could do.

My next epiphany, being a travel AND cartography nut, was, of course, Google Earth. I still can spend hours “traveling” via the program. I don’t know how I ever lived without it.

Following, of course, has been Google docs, bookmarks, reader…everything that keeps my life interesting, handy, portable, neat, and organized.

I’m now up to four gmail accounts.   Yes, yes, I know…the features are so good I could just use one and keep things separate.  However, with privacy issues and whatnot, I maintain four.  One for my general, every day stuff.  One that used to be just for family but is now my professional account.  One I keep just to catch the detritus from facebook (and perhaps another site or two that generate a lot of stuff I don’t want to deal with). And now, as of yesterday?  After years of wanting this but getting no traction? An official WORK GMAIL ACCOUNT.


My new district has gone to the undark side (still, cookies) and is using google apps, and I’m the owner of a brand new work-sanctioned gmail account AND Google Sites.  I’m so giddy, I’m seeing in primary colors.

This also means I spent about eight hours yesterday (yes, you read that correctly) setting it up, importing bookmarks and sharing between my accounts, setting up two Google Plus accounts (one associated with my regular life and one professional, although this latter cannot be tied to my new work mail because profiles aren’t allowed, for some reason), and starting on Sites for my homepage and classes (although I’ll have Moodle2, as well…oh, will the fun never END?!?)

I’m aware that amongst those reading this, and even within my own circles (common parlance, in this case, and not Google Plus speak), those individuals who would find such tasks as…dare I say…”onerous.”  I do not understand these people. I had a fantastic day yesterday, playing around with new tools, getting my feet wet with Google Plus, jumping in with the Sites wiki-based platform, networking and coordinating and sharing Google docs between accounts. I have chosen themes to accompany each account and its newly-focused task. I am using the new Gmail template (clean and bright and wonderful) for one of them. I have downloaded the G-Whizz! app for my iPod. I have added shortened URLs to my accounts, and added one to my LinkedIn. I have done twitter searches on new features.

I have experienced bliss.

I accept Google as my new overlords, and not just because Neil Gaiman’s son works for them, and despite their possibly being evil on one or two occasions. Long live the blue, red, green, and yellow!

Google Love

Google Love

We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.*

Boing Boing (and Xeni and Cory) has long been one of my favorite daily stops in the corner of the web where design, geekdom, politics, freedom of speech, cute animals, and computers hang out and have adult beverages together. It’s kind of like taking a walk through one’s favorite boho University neighborhood–if it were filled with hackers‘ nooks, steampunk, and used bookstores.

Fairly often, I find something there that I bring to the attention of students, especially when I’m discussing Creative Commons or Lawrence Lessig (or, of course, using Doctorow’s writings in class). And, even though today is in July and I won’t be in front of students until September, one of the finds on Boing Boing today immediately suggested a fabulous first-week-of-school project, perfect for a teacher new to the district who doesn’t know any of the kids.

Boing Boing has a contest for desiging the most boring magazine cover.

The Winning Entry, from Boing Boing dot net

The Winning Entry, from Boing Boing dot net

While I don’t think my upcoming students are boring–far from it–the whole idea of using design and rhetoric (with a healthy dose of humor and pastiche) appeals to me.  I’ve been thinking of ways that I could get to know my students (and they, me) quickly and in fun, that will also incorporate writing and thinking.  This is perfect.

My students do not yet know it–or, well, *me*–but they will be designing their own magazine covers for *themselves*. Not only will I get to know them by the real magazine they might choose (I suspect I’ll see a lot of Seventeen and Sports Illustrated parodies, but who knows), but how they choose to portray themselves.  How they write headlines. What design choices they might make.  What *materials* they choose (as I often do, I’ll leave the digital vs. hard copy up to them, I believe). It will tell me a lot about who the individuals are in front of me, and a lot of what makes them tick (and how they write and complete projects).

It will also provide me with something to hang  up on my massive, bare white walls, right away at the beginning of the first quarter!

My New Classroom

My New Classroom

I’m very excited. And yes, I’ll be having to create my own, of course…I suspect I’ll be using Mother Jones or Smithsonian or Discover for mine.  This. Will. Be. Fun.

Thanks, Boing Boing!

*From John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club, of course…wanted to use the “demented and sad, but social” line, but that was a bit insulting…

Don’t Clip My Wings

There’s been a lot of ink (digital or otherwise) sacrificed over the last few months about teachers’ work. Their hours, their work ethics, their supposedly exorbitant pay and pensions (don’t even get me started). So many times, we see outsiders quantify our work with the number of days we’re on official duty during the year, making it seem like we’re part-time employees.  Those who are teachers, or who live with teachers, know that the job (read: obsession) of educating goes far beyond contract days, and, like with many professions, just because we’re doing other things in life doesn’t mean we’re not actively planning and organizing for new and better lessons.

Case in point, this blog entry from one of my favorite inspirational sites, “Learning Like a Hurricane,” by Marsha Ratzel. Her stated experience of spending June reflecting and August honing is recognizable to most of us.  I like having an afternoon commute because it gives me time to mentally sort through what worked, and what didn’t, during my day, and plan ways of directing the next day’s lessons.  The last couple of years have been even better because I’ve gone to and from work with my husband, so an actual, exterior dialogue happens daily on school events and lessons.  While that won’t be happening in my upcoming teaching year, I’m quite capable of having quite vociferous internal dialogues of my own, thank you very much!

I’ve often thought that teaching is like art in many ways; everything experienced, seen, heard, felt becomes fodder for lessons (or parts of lessons). Just as we now realize that part of the reading gap in young children is due to not having the varied life experiences that carry with them vocabulary and frames of reference, so, too, would teaching come hard to someone with a very narrow focus and little imagination.  To be effective, one needs to be able to view things from various sides, transcend disciplinary boundaries, speak on many levels, and balance content and method.

As Ms. Ratzel exhibits above, the catalysts come at the oddest moments.  Anyone who’s ever lived with, or spent time with, a teacher will recognize that spark when the eye brightens, the back straightens, the tail twitches (okay, okay, this latter is probably just because I live with cats…). The teacher has an IDEA. And…she’s off and running.

This is another reason why I could never teach with a canned curriculum, or scripted lessons. I want the freedom to bring in my own fodder and relate it to the objective of the lesson, based on current events, my personality, and, mostly, the personalities of the kids whose butts are in my classroom and their eyes on me. Just as art exists in the space between artist and viewer/listener/reader, so, too, does education occur in the interaction between teachers and students (and that education is multidirectional, mind you).

Having my ability to shape content clipped would, indeed, keep me–and my students–tethered to the ground, when so much of life is elsewhere.

P.S. Thanks to Marsha Ratzel, and I wish I were a student in her classroom!  What an amazing teacher!  More thanks to Clay Burrell, also linked, who’s long been an amazing voice for quality education.

He Departs as Air: Bill Holm, 1943-2009

Let go of the dead now.

The rope in the water,

the cleat on the cliff,

do them no good anymore.

Let them fall, sink, go away,

become invisible as they tried

so hard to do in their own dying.

We needed to bother them

with what we called help.

We were the needy ones.

The dying do their own work with

tidiness, just the right speed,

sometimes even a little

satisfaction.  So quiet down.

Let them go.  Practice

your own song.  Now.

–“Letting Go of What Cannot Be Held Back”, from Playing the Black Piano, Bill Holm, 2004

I first heard of–and met–the large, ebullient, red-faced Icelander over twenty years ago when I signed up for some poetry/creative writing workshop at my St. Cloud, Minnesota, college.  Bill Holm had just published Boxelder Bug Variations, and I was intrigued by the freshness, the humor, the seriousness, the twinkle.

Many years later, I suddenly found myself teaching English at a tiny little school in a tiny little town that just happened to be not only Bill Holm’s hometown–and current residence–but his muse, his tether, his theme, his kingdom.

It wasn’t completely accidental, of course.  During my interview for the teaching job, his name and acclaim were brought up as a way of sweetening the deal.

It worked.

For the nearly seven years I’ve worked here, I’ve seen Bill Holm speak in a variety of contexts, spoken to him in awe as he peeked into my classroom, driven by his house with a sense of fan-girl curiosity, and admired both reading and teaching his printed word.  While I’ve never–and will never–share his appreciation for the desolate prairie (I’m a “tree person” as he would say), I do share a Scandinavian Lutheran background, a Liberal mindset, and a love for wit, humor, and travel.

And a love of Walt Whitman.

Reading his essays, his poems, is like looking in a mirror and finding I share part of myself with a middle-aged bearded man with a hearty voice and a love of ale and chat.

It’s not a bad place to be.  Ever.

When I began teaching my Advanced Placement Language course one of his books of essays (The Heart Can Be Found Anywhere on Earth) centered around the very town in which I spend the vast majority of my time, three schoolyears ago, I was nearly giddy when reading certain of his pieces.  My class teased me the entire year about my schoolgirlish crush on the man, and kept threatening to stop by his house to tell him of my undying love.  Since I had thought about getting up the courage to ask him to speak to my class, this was a major problem.

I never did ask him–he spoke about the same essays in another English course taught by another English teacher (Aaron Cheadle, who also happens to live across the street from Bill)–and now I never will be able to.

Bill Holm died last night, in Sioux Falls.  We thought we’d lost him a couple of years back when he suffered major heart trouble, but he pulled through to keep carrying around Walt Whitman and leading Boxelder Bug Days, and even kept teaching at the local University until retiring this past year.

Every summer, he conducted an Icelandic travel and writing seminar, and I always wanted to come up with the money to go.  It was a dream of mine.

And last night…he left us.

And, like he wrote above, I still want to bother him and call it help.

Goodbye, Bill.  I will look for you in the grass.