Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections

Seems like everybody is either resolving to do things next year or reflecting on the year about to close.  I'll look back, and, if there is energy, will then resolve.

I've been using an iPad now for just over 6 months.  I have now read more e-books than paper ones.  swiping screens is not a problem.  With the sound turned off, I am uninterrupted by all the apps which send alert beeps and I have discovered I can turn all alerts off by simply switching the iPad to airplane mode.  When I'm ready to connect to the world again, I turn airplane mode off.  Checking email is no problem.  Hooking the iPad up to a TV so I can watch Netflix while on the treadmill is equally easy.  I can easily read news from a variety of sources, watch YouTube, and accomplish a variety of daily tasks which used to require sitting at a laptop.  Thanks to lots of ways to read/view items offline, I can catch up on reading while waiting for Noa's basketball practice to end.

Professionally, I use my iPad daily.  I have taken notes at meetings, posted information on students to databases, conducted parent conferences, etc.  Of course, when I need to create a document, process photos or create a movie,  I turn again to my trusty laptop.  Thanks to DropBox, I can view everything I need to conduct class.  I can even edit Excel spreadsheets, though that doesn't go quite as smoothly as I would like it to.  Using an iPad demystifies it for me and has helped me guide students who are also using iPads through the speed bumps they encounter.  While my school doesn't have an official policy which addresses student iPads, two students brought them regularly before the holidays and I suspect that number will rise once school begins again.  Using DropBox will allow students to use school computers to print documents that require printing.  I look forward to continuing to integrate the iPad into my teaching.

Last night I attended a friend's birthday party.  A guest brought Microsoft's new Kinect unit for us to play with.  Watching kids jump on plain carpet while virtually rafting down a fast moving river was very cool.  I almost considered becoming a gamer, but the moment passed!  In addition to the thrillseeking games, Kinect also has a virtual tiger cub.  The idea behind the tiger cub game is to "dig" for treasure.  All one does is paw at the floor and the tiger digs!  While the tiger cub was being set up, a three-year old boy commented, "this is soooo boring."  I shall remember these words as I find ways to incorporate physical activity into class!  I wonder if Microsoft's Kinect engineers can recreate the chariot race from Ben-Hur?  Happy New Year, everybody!

Oh, the credit....photo courtesy of http://www.threedonia.com/archives/20689/comment-page-1

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trying out new apps

My friend Jay Hurvitz is blogging about some interesting topics right now. You will need a translator or you can enjoy the original Hebrew here. I downloaded 5 free apps today and learned that free isn't always the best price. Craigly is an app which allows iPad users to interact with Craigslist. It seems to work as advertised, though the interface isn't always intuitive. A new Edinburgh city guide is excellent for those traveling to Scotland, either virtually or in person. Touch Icon works as advertised, and I think might eventually be useful for those who use their iPad differently. I created my own custom icon for a couple of websites I regularly visit and also a couple people I email on a regular basis. If I organize my iPad correctly, I will click less to email these folks or have to navigate Safari's bookmarks. it was a fun diversion, but probably not my iPadding style. My Album simply returned one error after another and has already been jettisoned from the iPad. Finally I played with Thicket, and I must admit, I don't get it. I love Winter Break,and getting the house to myself for an hour or two. Off to the gym so I can eat more fudge!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Portland,United States

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's ERIC week

About eleven years ago, I cobbled together a unit I named ERIC.  We study four ancient civilizations, Egypt, Rome, India, and China concurrently.  The unit has an oral presentation component where each group presents their findings to their classmates, parents, and other interested friends.  This year, attendance has averaged around 85-90 people.  The presentations last roughly 50 minutes.  This is a huge block of time for seventh graders to fill.  They write the entire presentation, design all the visuals, costumes, blocking, etc.  My fellow core teachers and I provide broad guidance, but, the presentations are all kid productions.  I never cease to be amazed at how much seventh graders actually know about how to do things.  This year, students have filmed and edited movies, created executable flash animation files, collaborated on powerpoint presentations, used document cameras, choreographed dances, created delicious foods for cooking demonstrations, and exhibited amazing creativity in so many ways.  Their facility for technology is jaw-dropping.  They use Flip cameras, still cameras, document cameras, etc. with  such ease.  My job seems to be making sure the technology is available to them.  We have one group which even needs two projectors!  The energy level is high.  The quality of the presentations is stunning.  It is a very fun week.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ordering NASA shuttle tiles

One of the side benefits of the space shuttle program shutting down is that NASA has a surplus of shuttle tiles.  These are the heat-resistant tiles that covered the outer skin of the space shuttle.  Actually, NASA has about 7000 tiles.  They are giving them away to schools and universities that pony up $23.70 for shipping. Here's the news release from NASA.  Now, this sounds easy enough, I thought.  The press release makes it sound easy...

The lightweight tiles protect the shuttles from extreme temperatures when the orbiters re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. Schools can request a tile at: 


Turns out this is not for the faint of heart.  The gsaxcess site is an example of how not to design websites.  I finally figured out which link to click on.  Then I began hunting for my school's NCES number.  What is an NCES number?  From the GSA website:

Universities and Schools can acquire an artifact directly from NASA without the aid of the State Agency for Surplus Property (SASP). You must first Register to receive a User ID and password. To register you will need the Department of Education's statistics tracking number (an NCES Number if you are a school or an IPEDS Number if you are a University). Just follow the links provided (highlighted text) to obtain the NCES or IPEDS numbers and to register. 

After negotiating yet another website, I'm up to 4 screens now, I finally figured out how to navigate the National Center for Education Statistics site.  Looking up private schools didn't work.  So, I just clicked on the first Search for Schools link, filled in my zip code, hit return, prayed, and voilĂ , in the upper right hand corner of my school's information was an 8 digit NCES number.  Armed with this, I was able to register at the GSA site.  Cooking now, I hear you think.  Nope.  Turns out, I was just the "Person getting the Access Code."  I also needed an "Approving Official."  I tried filling in both blanks with my email and phone, but was told that the two could "Not be the same person."  Hmm.....time for cloak and dagger work.  I entered my administrative assistant's information, the computer accepted this, and we were off.  Once I had a temporary password (somebody super creative at GSA decided the temp password should be 12345678,) then I received an email with a user id.  This turned out to the be the first of 5 emails I received from the GSA involving space shuttle tiles.  Now I was faced with a screen which listed NASA "artifacts."  Did I want something from
 Aircraft Launching, Landing, and Ground Handling Equipment 1 / 1 )
OR
Nonmetallic Crude and Fabricated Materials ( 0 / 0 )

How was I to tell?  Finally, I noticed a tab that said Space Shuttle Tiles, clicked it, clicked the only link on the page, and found this:

I added the Space Shuttle Tile to my cart!  This caused another email to appear in my inbox.  Time to contact my Approving Officer!  I raced downstairs to the office and before I could ask my administrative assistant, she said, "I just got mail from NASA.  Should I delete it?"  I asked her to open it, and neither of us understood what she was to do next.  Apparently, she was supposed to register first.  So, as the Approving Officer, she went through the same registration process.  This generated another 2 emails to her inbox.  Following one of them, we managed to find the correct link for her to "Sign-off" on my purchase.  Then, we followed another email link to the secure payment site (the US government only prints money, they only accept credit cards) where we entered the appropriate information, generated 4 more emails and finally had a receipt.  The whole process only took an hour!  In three weeks or so, Catlin Gabel will own a space shuttle tile which we have promised to keep in its protective wrapping, not to sell, barter, or trade it to anybody else in any country on any planet, and treat with the respect it is due.  Shuttle tiles also come with their own MSDS forms since they contain materials which are hazardous to breathe.

There are also other NASA artifacts "for sale."  Anybody need pliers, needle nose assembly M/U?  How about some used NASA medical items?  Perhaps the Ark of the Covenant?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

School Funding "Bing(o)"

American education is undergoing one of those "Woe is us" moments where we throw up our hands, look around, and try to figure out how to fix America's education system.  Microsoft is now encouraging the American Idol model.  Here is an excerpt from a recent Oregonian article:

Beaumont Middle School is one of 15; national finalists for a chance to win $100,000  from Microsoft search engine Bing, but the potential prize won't come to Oregon unless the Northeast Portland school garners the most votes

If Beaumont wins the $100,000, the money will build and supply a new media center with updated books, furniture and computers, said Fred Fox, the teacher whose eight-grade media literacy class produced the video entry titled http://www.ourschoolneeds.discoverbing.com/Projects/Default.aspx?prj=499#fbid=gMpCLCXDaHJ&wom=false">

And the competition in the final round is tough. A Wisconsin school would like a new theater, a Georgia school needs a new roof, a North Dakota school wants new science lab equipment

"We are the only school in the state of Oregon in the running," Fox said. 'It would be amazing if the whole state got behind us."


Americans are now being encouraged to fund their schools as if education were a reality television show.  No other developed (or developing) country would ever dream of educating its children this way.  This is so wrong on so many grounds that it would take weeks to explain them all.  So, in lieu of an explanation, dear reader, help me cast my vote.  After you visit the ourschoolneeds (real marketing thought went into that one,) site, http://bit.ly/toovapid please leave a comment as to which school deserves my vote.    Feel free to have your friends participate!  I will vote for the school which receives the most compelling argument in favor of receiving my vote.  Help your school win $100K from Microsoft!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Teacher as Learner

Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I have already written a post with this title.  If so, I may consider adding "Again."  In the beginning of ERIC, the 7th grade ancient civilizations project (Egypt, Rome, India, China) students have blogged three topic choices to me (Family Life, Religion, History, etc.) and I have then assigned topics.  This year I decided that group leaders, students elected by their peers, should have a hand in topic assignments.  The methods the groups came up with were fascinating.  One group blogged their choices, but the leaders asked me to email my topic assignments to them for final approval (fortunately for me, they approved my suggestions!)  One group passed out slips of paper in class, had everybody write their choices on them, then asked me to assign topics, again pending their approval.  The last two groups took a different tack.  Their group recorders, also an elected position walked around to every student, asked what they wanted and wrote it down.  If a topic had been taken by a previous student, students simply self-selected another topic.  There was no arguing, nobody wanted to switch at the end.

The empowerment the group leaders and the classes felt was palpable.  Students clearly could not believe a teacher was letting them choose what area they wanted to study.  Two classes didn't want me involved in the process at all.  Did I mind?  Nope, not at all.  Allowing kids to choose what they will study is a huge part of my project-based curriculum.  Was it easy to let go and not try to "engineer" who studied which topic?  It was surprisingly easy.  Next week we will begin research, students have their topics, and I have learned an important lesson about teaching leadership.  Weiden + Kennedy, the Portland advertising agency were right, "Just do it!"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What I Learned in School Today

There is a quote in my classroom.  It reads
Creativity is not just for the artist or the gifted.  It is for people.  It is a way of working, a way of thinking, a way of living.

Today, Nikki showed me she lives that quote.  Nikki is in an eighth grade media production class currently involved in creating movies based poems.  The poems were written by students NOT in the class.  The students in the class chose a poem to bring to life.  Nikki, in the midst of setting up her shot, was drawing stick figures on a rainbow.  She was using a dry erase marker.  Ever aware of resource use, I suggested she use a Sharpie which is considerably less expensive than a white board marker.  She replied she had CHOSEN the dry erase marker because she was going to have to erase the stick figures as she filmed.  Puzzled, I asked how she was going to erase the stick figures off the rainbow she had colored.  She explained she wasn't actually drawing on the rainbow, she had placed Scotch Magic tape on the rainbow and then demonstrated how easily the dry erase marker could be erased!  Truly inspired creativity!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Purring along

Today in class was the culmination of a series of terrific events.  Students have been working on short presentations.  The only requirements have been that presentations must not use paper and must be no longer than three minutes.  Early presentations were almost exclusively Powerpoints.  After each presentation, the class gave the group feedback about one improvement they might make and one part that worked well.  Kids were then regrouped for the next presentation.  Something amazing began to happen midway through the second presentation.  Creativity began to take over.  Skits began to appear.  Some kids used interviews to convey information.  This week, things really took off.

Kids are given almost no class time to prepare presentations.  I invite them to collaborate at home via the tool of their choice such as Skype, texting , or e-mail.  Then, I give them ten minutes at the beginning of class to polish, edit, and practice.  Today, a couple of groups showed websites created using weebly.  Another couple of groups began using YouTube videos (one worked, one didn't.  Life in the seventh grade!)  A couple of groups used Keynote instead of Powerpoint.  One group used Google Docs.  One group used OpenOffice Impress. Hardware included a Samsung netbook, Lenovo ThinkPad, Apple MacBook Pro (new and old,) and an iPad.  Presentations became about content and presentation style, not hardware or software.  Tools were used interchangeably.  Kids had no problem switching between or using the tools.  Research and data presentation became more important than which tool a particular group was using.  It was cool!

One tool that I added that helped all of the presentations was a KVM box.  Having two projector connections sped up time between presentations because 2 groups could set up at once.  Then, with the push of a button, kids could switch between two sources.  Turns out my IT department had a bunch of KVM boxes and cables left over from a server upgrade.  Presentations have never been so much fun.  Kids improved their skills on so many levels in so many ways.  Very exciting!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Humbling Experience

As my Facebook comment states, "Today was among the most humbling days I have ever experienced as a teacher. 13 former students, friends, and colleagues patiently helped 7th graders dig deeper into their writing, look for ways to improve their stories, and offered suggestions on where to go next. The classroom atmosphere was truly electric."  As teachers, we strive to instill in our students a desire to dig deeper, be creative, and follow their passions.  Then, our students leave and we rarely see them again.  Today, I had students who I taught 23 years ago working with my current seventh graders.  These students are parents, parents-to-be, and world travelers.  Some of the students were second generation volunteers in my class.  Their parents volunteered when they were seventh graders.  In addition, friends and colleagues also spent anywhere from 60-90 minutes working with my students today.



What did they do?  They accomplished more in one discussion than I have been able to accomplish in 2 weeks.  They energized the students to improve their writing, to look for the story they wanted to tell, and to polish it.  Tom Tucker, Catlin Gabel shop teacher talks about the sandpaper grit necessary to polish wood to absolute smoothness.  The adults who stopped by today gave that gift to the students.  They talked with them in a totally non-judgmental way, they asked follow-up questions which required the kids to think.  Of course, they also laughed and giggle with the kids.


How did the 7th graders react to sharing their writing with perfect strangers?  They were as open as they could be.  They genuinely trusted these adults to help them edit their stories.  They learned a great deal about themselves as writers and they met someone who was sincerely interested in helping them succeed.


I had shivers running down the back of my neck as I observed the up to 12 conversations simultaneously happening in Fenway today.  It isn't often teachers get to actually see learning taking place.  Today was one of those days.  I was honored by the presence of my former students, friends, and colleagues.  I shall return to class tomorrow a more humble person.  Yes, we took pictures.  They will be posted tomorrow.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Google vs Apple just got personal

All right, it was not my intention to go nearly 3 weeks with no posting, but, in the words of my good friend and mentor, Jay Hurvitz, "I had nothing to say."  Oh sure, I have doing much thinking recently, but none of it seemed worthy of a blog post.  So I have been observing the world and Catlin Gabel for a while.  Interesting conundrums abound, some of which I will write about in upcoming posts.

Yesterday, Pam cam home with a Samsung Droid phone.  It looks and feels like an iPhone, has a built-in 5MP camera, is all touch screen, and feels like.....an iPhone.  Since our family and friends plan is on Verizon, and we keep being advised that Verizon has the best coverage in our area, staying with Verizon seemed the best choice.  Oh, and Pam's Blackberry died (or at least stopped charging.)  Stay tuned for how the Droid world measures up against the Apple universe.

The other big personal tech news is that Catlin Gabel finally solved what had been an unbelievably slow Internet issue.  It is true that I began my teaching career without the Internet in my classroom, but over the past ten years have increasingly begun to integrate it into my teaching.  I am also aware there are many teaching colleagues who have limited or no Internet access in their classrooms.  I am happy to help them figure out how to acquire this necessary resource.  Cajole principals?  I have experience.  Wire on weekends.  Been there, done that.  Revise curriculum to bring it into the 21st Century?  Worked on that project, too.  Anyway, it turns out that our school ISP had a few issues, which when resolved, restored our previously very fast connection....in fact, it now seems even faster.  I am, as always grateful for their assistance in keeping classroom infrastructure humming.

Keeping posts short is a goal this year, it is sunny in Portland today.....back outside I head.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mobile Portland Users Group

Last night I attended a meeting of the Mobile Portland User's Group.  Their topic of the evening was mobile technology in education.  Attendees included developers, educators, job seekers, programmers, and the like.  I sat next to a developer who it turned out had also graduated from Berkeley High School......24 years before I did.  Without a doubt, he and I were two of the most "experienced" people in the room.  Late 20's and early 30 somethings dominated.....which might explain the presence of snacks purchased from Whole Foods.....and the beer keg in the corner.  I can honestly say it was the first education related conference I've ever attended in the US where a keg was present.  Nice touch, though.  Since the whole meeting was streamed live and can be found here, I don't need to summarize.  Yes, the video guy got rid of the cricket chirp before the meeting began.

The tech tools present were an interesting mix.  No Unix or Windows users here....these folks were Apple all the way.  Their work environment may demand Ubuntu or some flavor of php, but the personal brand of choice was Apple....iPhones, iPads, MacBook Pros, etc.  were all being used.  I sat in the back row with my iPad, my $3 thumb tack style microphone plugged in, ready to test AudioNote, a new app I downloaded two days ago.  AudioNote recorded the meeting perfectly.  It picked up speakers at the front of the room facing me, audience members asking questions facing away from me and even the guy behind me who asked a question!  While it was recording, I was adding my thoughts and notes.  Each line I added was time stamped.  Those notes I made prior to beginning to record were stamped 0:00:00.  At playback, the notes I had taken turned blue as the time reached my notes.  I held my iPad on my lap the entire time, writing, taking notes, etc.  The tool worked as advertised and has exciting possibilities for my students.

For those wondering....Since I had to pick up Noa from soccer AFTER the Mobile Portland meeting, I did not taste the keg, but stuck to the bubbly Whole Foods lemon water.  Yummy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Conducting the People's Business

Today I spent nine hours in windowless rooms at a Portland hotel with the folks designing the newest teacher licensure tests for Oregon.  Beginning in September, folks who want to teach in Oregon public schools will begin taking a new set of tests.  All of the information about the tests can be found on the Oregon TSPC site.  My (and my colleagues) charge today was to recommend a passing score on the new test to the good folks at TSPC.  They will either accept our recommendation or they will change it.  While the work could hardly be construed as fun, it was personally rewarding on many levels.

I always enjoy meeting teaching colleagues from around the state.  To find out what is really happening in Oregon schools, just ask the teachers.  They will talk about class size, effects of testing on computer lab use, administrators, budgets, just about anything!  Right now, most are just happy to have jobs.  A woman in Colton just received permanent status, is low person on the 6 teacher totem pole, and is realistic about staying in the school.  Another teacher commutes over 35 minutes a day to his school.  To some this may seem like a short drive, in the Portland area, it is a schlep.

Setting passing standards is important work.  Parents like to know their children's teachers have the necessary content knowledge to teach effectively.   Our passing score recommendation does not guarantee employment or even interviews.  It serves as the benchmark for teacher licensure.  Reach the bar, you get a license, don't reach the bar, take the test again.  The test design and our conference are all data driven.  We received nearly instantaneous results of our scoring work.

So why can't I talk about the tests, the people, the company, or the recommended score?  I signed a Confidentiality Agreement.  Ask me about it in ten years!  A tiring, but rewarding day, for sure.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Outside the Lines

The following article appeared via Associated Press in the Oregonian newspaper this morning:

SALEM -- A Klamath Falls teacher placed on administrative leave after an uproar over a film clip containing profanity has won an Oregon Supreme Court ruling saying he is entitled to unemployment benefits. Robert McDowell was a probationary first-year high school language arts and drama teacher for the Klamath County School District when he showed his senior English classes a clip from the film "Glengarry Glen Ross," based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Mamet. The clip contained some profanity intended as a lesson about language use and misuse. McDowell resigned rather than risk being fired while on leave. But the state denied him unemployment benefits for alleged "misconduct," a decision the Oregon Supreme Court overturned today.

Over twenty years ago I was teaching 8th grade English at Cedar Park Middle School in Beaverton, Oregon.   Glengarry Glen Ross was being performed as a student matinee and I wanted to take my classes. I sent a letter to parents explaining what we would be doing, how it fit into our study of English, and invited them to opt their child out of the planned field trip.  Out of 90 families, one opted out.  The field trip was a smashing success.  Students questioned the actors after the performance about themes in the play, including the prolific use of profanity.  Mamet doesn't use profanity blithely in the play, it serves a particular purpose.  Prior to viewing the play, I shared a list of the profane words with the kids and asked them to let me know which they had never heard or seen.  An interesting discussion about the differences between spoken and written English ensued as there were words the kids had heard but had no idea how to spell as they had never seen them written.  I was surprised that, in this group of suburban eighth graders, there were no "unknown" words.

I have to believe the seniors in Mr. McDowell's English class had not only heard the profane words, but used many of them regularly.....out of his earshot, of course.  I've visited Klamath Falls.  Everybody uses the same profane words found in Mamet's play.  The Klamath County School District was wrong to place him on administrative leave and should offer to rehire him.  He should, out of principle, probably refuse their offer.  Too bad.  He has the makings of a superb English/Drama teacher, the kind students remember, treasure, and trust.  Glengarry Glen Ross is taught and performed all over the United States.  It should also be taught in Klamath County, Oregon.

Photo courtesy of http://pwoodford.net/blog/

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just Do It

With Microsoft trying out "Be What's Next," I thought it a good time to look back at a truly successful slogan which has become ubiquitous in today's vocabulary.  In 20 years, will we say to one another, "Be what's next?"  Sounds strange right now, but time will tell.  Today I spent time with two people who influence my life on a daily basis.  Both have Nike connections which explains the title of today's post.  John is quite possibly the most focused individual I know.  After our one hour meeting, I realized how much work I have to complete prior to the start of the next school year.  Yes, I know the units I will be teaching, but I haven't tried nearly hard enough to infuse my Israel experience into them.  Time to revisit Prezi, Animoto, and Wallwisher.  In many ways, John is my Livestrong bracelet personified.  Wearing the bracelet is easy, living the bracelet requires strength, discipline, and focus.

After meeting with John, I had lunch with my 87 year old friend Henry.  Henry works out for sixty minutes a day....two sessions of 30 minutes each.  That should be enough motivation.  An 87 year old is working out an hour a day.  What are you waiting for?  Two thirty minute workouts a day.  Just do it.....or you won't make it to "be what's next."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Projects

Since posting what one is up to seems to be par for the blogger course, here goes.  Three major projects this summer in addition to the usual curriculum work, tech integration testing, hardware/software updating, etc. My fabulous IT department tolerates my updating my classroom hardware and software.  The exercise helps me gain the skills I will need during the upcoming year to troubleshoot recalcitrant hardware.  I have long maintained that I am really not a genius when it comes to fixing problems, I just have a good memory and through sheer repetition have the necessary skills to appear far cleverer than I really am.

Last weekend, I participated in the 2010 Summer Teacher Institute presented by Oregon Humanities.  This year we studied "The Way We Work:  History Lessons for a New Economy.  The three day seminar was both engaging and challenging.  Right now, I'm working on a paper for Larry Lipin at Pacific University.  I am comparing the lives of working women in Israel to the lives of women/factory workers in the US.  This type of project helps me better understand what my 7th graders experience when they begin a project I shepherd them through.  It feels good to exercise the brain.

Dad turns 80 this year, so there is a project involved.  Since I think he reads this blog, I can't say anything more except that I am using a very old slide scanner and am learning VueScan software.  The program works as advertised and has made life easier.  See you in August, Dad.

Best procrastination for both of these projects is yardwork.  Hedges need trimming, there are unending weeds to pull or spray, plants, trees, and shrubs require pruning, etc.  It feels good to exercise the body.....and yardwork makes Pam happy.  A win-win for me!

Summer Projects

Since posting what one is up to seems to be par for the blogger course, here goes.  Three major projects this summer in addition to the usual curriculum work, tech integration testing, hardware/software updating, etc. My fabulous IT department tolerates my updating my classroom hardware and software.  The exercise helps me gain the skills I will need during the upcoming year to troubleshoot recalcitrant hardware.  I have long maintained that I am really not a genius when it comes to fixing problems, I just have a good memory and through sheer repetition have the necessary skills to appear far cleverer than I really am.

Last weekend, I participated in the 2010 Summer Teacher Institute presented by Oregon Humanities.  This year we studied "The Way We Work:  History Lessons for a New Economy.  The three day seminar was both engaging and challenging.  Right now, I'm working on a paper for Larry Lipin at Pacific University.  I am comparing the lives of working women in Israel to the lives of women/factory workers in the US.  This type of project helps me better understand what my 7th graders experience when they begin a project I shepherd them through.  It feels good to exercise the brain.

Dad turns 80 this year, so there is a project involved.  Since I think he reads this blog, I can't say anything more except that I am using a very old slide scanner and am learning VueScan software.  The program works as advertised and has made life easier.  See you in August, Dad.

Best procrastination for both of these projects is yardwork.  Hedges need trimming, there are unending weeds to pull or spray, plants, trees, and shrubs require pruning, etc.  It feels good to exercise the body.....and yardwork makes Pam happy.  A win-win for me!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Recharging and reflecting

The most common question I am asked as a teacher during the summer months is, "Are you enjoying time off from work?"  Huh?  Time off?  Summer is when I recharge my batteries by NOT teaching, but it is certainly not time off.  There is a mountain of professional reading to be digested, curriculum to be evaluated and changed, and thinking to be done.  None of this is possible during the school year.  If I am lucky, I can decipher the notes I make during a unit about how to improve it.  Students also provide feedback about both units and teaching style.  This year, for example, my students wrote that I was overly sarcastic in class.  Upon reflection, this was probably true.  I was so focused on my Fulbright Israel experience that I probably wasn't as relaxed and caring as in past years.  We'll see how evaluations come in next year.  I'll work on the sarcasm.....seriously.  Right now, I am working on retooling two units, the beginning of the year oral history unit, and the Geography & The Human Experience unit.  While reworking the oral history unit, I read an interesting piece in the THE Journal.  It seems the folks at tomorrow.org conduct annual surveys.  This past year future teachers were surveyed and the results were not exactly encouraging (okay, that was sarcasm.)  Most future teachers are learning to use the technology tools their professors and mentor teachers use.  They are not being encouraged to develop uses for cutting edge tools such as mobile devices, games, etc. which an increasing number of students have access to.  Geoffrey Fletcher, the THE editor who wrote the article asked readers "what teacher education program prepared [me] for teaching?  When was the last time I provided the program feedback?

Lewis and Clark College in Portland Oregon prepared me for teaching.  Back in the mid-70's, computers were limited to Fortran cards, and slides set to music was considered cutting edge technology.  Bernie Wolff, the first of many fine mentors I would have in my early years of teaching encouraged us to be creative teachers who never stopped finding new ways to reach students, differentiate our instruction, collect and analyze data about students and ourselves, and stay current with brain research, teaching literature, and technology.  I began creating musical slide shows of children's books.  My current school continues to work with Lewis and Clark interns.  They continue to be superbly prepared and continue to inject new, creative thinking into our school.

Enough for now, back to re-tooling.  Trying to figure out how quickly my 7th graders can learn and produce quality work with Animoto....

Friday, June 25, 2010

iPad is the new tool in the toolbox--maybe

Like so many other educators around the world, this summer I am exploring the iPad.  Sure, it is cool looking, it is lightweight, the screen is lovely, etc.  But, how do I incorporate it into teaching kids?  Or, as Charlie Johnson, Sunset High librarian and I used to say to each other, "is it 'mo' better?'"  I agree with David Warlick (2¢(I love doing that on a Mac!) Worth) that it irks me that I have to buy Apps from the iTunes store in order to try them out.  I don't mind paying for software if it meets my needs, but I don't feel I should have to support developers who are creating products I won't use once I have seen how poorly created they are.  Richard Kassissieh writes that iTunes App developers earn an average of $682/year.  I admit that is not exactly living wage territory, but I digress.  This is about the iPad.

I have observed my wife using the iPad for around 2 months.  She uses it for writing, playing Scrabble™, checking e-mail, reading books, magazines, and creating her own electronic cookbook.  I have no idea what we are going to do with all the extra space in the kitchen once we no longer need to consult cookbooks!  In short, she uses it all the time.  I would probably use it similarly, but I am trying to figure out how to use it in my teaching.

My classroom already has desktops, notebooks, netbooks, iPods, cameras, camcorders, etc.  Students have free access to all of these tools in their daily work.  What would the iPad add?  I can see individual students bringing iPads to class to take notes, organize work, etc.  To that end, I need to know how to help them with their own tools.  But, a class set?

I think right now I see the iPad as an individual tool that I and others may choose to use.  I am still exploring how to use this exciting new (lightweight) tool to further individual learning.  I know I am not alone on this path.  The exploration is fun!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pausing a moment

Clearly blogging during the last month of school is difficult.  Projects need grading, reports writing, class trips require planning, and the family requires time.  This year, Noa completed eighth grade which meant Pam and I experienced the whirlwind of "graduation."  Neither of us is ready for what will happen in four years.  There is so much to write about, I hardly know where to begin.  Fate, kindly, intervened today.

Ted Knauss passed away on June 9th.  There are only a handful of people who knew AND appreciated Ted.  I am lucky to count myself among them.  Ted was an intensely private person who enjoyed the intellectual challenge of running a school, good food, and baseball; not necessarily in that order.  I first met Ted when he interviewed me for a 7th grade position at Cedar Park Intermediate School in Beaverton.  Since I knew nothing about teaching 7th graders, and less about baseball, Ted must have seen something else in me that made him want to risk hiring me.  I must have done something correct that first year in Beaverton because on the last day of school with ten minutes remaining in last period, he showed up at the door to my classroom.

"Paul, could I speak with you a minute?"  Fortunately, I had already begun practicing a classroom management style which encouraged students to work so independently that it mattered not if I were in the room.  I stepped outside.  Ted, with an enigmatic smile asked, "Would you like to house sit for me?"  I replied that I couldn't answer because I didn't know if I would be working at Cedar Park the following year.  Ted replied, "You are not listening to me."  Finally, it dawned on me that this was his way of telling me I had a job.  Ted was like that.  He had a sensitive side that few saw and even fewer knew to treasure.

Ted was at his most excited when one of his teachers wanted to try something out of the ordinary.  In Ted's years at Cedar Park, we took kids to Ashland, Mt. St Helens, the Columbia River Gorge, and Mt. Hood Meadows.  We held food festivals, mock trials, held kids to high standards, and ourselves to even higher ones.  Cedar Park was one of the first schools in the country to be recognized by the US Department of Education as outstanding.  Those of us who worked at Cedar that year would never forget that designation.

After he left Beaverton, we heard from Ted now and then.  He would send a postcard from a baseball city somewhere.  Those he hired continued to work in education.  We became administrators, superintendents, coaches, counselors, and some remained excellent classroom teachers.  Each of us knew Ted would be proud of what we were accomplishing.

Ted's passions were good food and baseball.  He enjoyed getting people together to try different foods.  New recipes were always welcome.  If they contained lots of garlic, even better.  Ted's baseball knowledge was second to none.  He understood the game, knew the players, and could think of no finer way to spend three hours than eating hot dogs while watching a game.

In typical Ted fashion, even his passing was low-key.  There will be no service, no cause for donations, etc.  Some of us will make donations in Ted's honor, but, it will be because we choose to donate, not because the charity was a favorite of Ted's.  That was Ted's way.  He wanted us to find our own path and passion and follow them.  So, in Ted's honor, my family tried a new spicy dish tonight, others went out an ate a hot dog.

Ted would not want anybody to say as much about him as I have here.  Ted, consider this a background.      Friends will now understand why I am a bit sadder today.  I know you are following Stephen Strasburg and enjoying the amazing hot dogs at Nationals Stadium.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Classroom iPad thoughts

My wife has an iPad.  She loves it.  She reads the New York Times in the morning, has a spiffy Starbuck's app that allows her to purchase coffee at participating Starbucks (they have to have the correct scanning tool,) listens to podcasts, and reads in bed in the evening.  My school IT department has an iPad.  I was asked what I would do with it in class.  I thought it might aid students in learning about Geography during the first unit of the year.  So, I tried to replicate what we had done this past fall.  I used Safari to research volcanic activity in Iceland (there was no shortage of information!)  Then I found a picture I wanted.  I copied (trying to think intuitively here) it.  Next I opened Keynote and began a new presentation.  But, I could not paste the image.  Didn't matter what trick I tried or how many fingers I placed on the iPad or how long I held them there.  No pasting.  Somewhat frustrated, my family decided it was time to walk to frozen yogurt.  On the way, we passed a Mac Store.  Stopping in, I explained my problem.  The helpful salesperson suggested that maybe I should save the photo, then insert it from the photo library.  This worked!  But, the entire experience was so cumbersome, it would require too much work on the part of students preparing presentations.  Then I remembered what bloggers around the world have been saying, "iPad is for consuming content, not creating it."

While mulling over that thought, my wife came in to share some new apps she had found for her iPad.  One was an interactive Alice in Wonderland App.  Objects in the story moved!  This reminded me of all that spiffy new CD-ROM technology of the late 1980's.  I half expected her to show me a Hypercard app!  Now, that would be cool!  What's next?  IPad laser discs?  So, I am back at the electronic canvas again.  How can I integrate iPads to increase student learning?  What content do I want students to consume that an iPad is best suited for?   C'mon web readers.....post those comments here.  If you don't have an iPad, but have an idea, post it.  I'll test it for you and blog the results.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

An iPad in the family

Pam's Mother's Day present arrived early this year.  Friday, she began using her 3G iPad.  So far, when she has been able to wrest it from the hands of visitors, spouses (spice?), and child, she has been loading it with books and organizing her recipes.  I have upgraded our wireless network so that the kitchen is now within range.  So....will she ever buy another paper book?  It's a hot topic right now.  Both Will Richardson and Jay Hurvitz have written on the subject.  Will writes that since he found out he can access his Amazon Kindle annotations online (who knew?), he thinks the game has now changed.  Accessing his notes means he can share them with others.  Oh, right now, things are a bit cludgy, and closed systems such as Amazon and Apple make the actual sharing more of a chore, that will eventually come to an end, I surmise.  People will want to communicate their thoughts on a piece of writing, a video, a podcast, and those thoughts will be shared and recommented upon much as many Twitter users retweet their favorite sites of the day.  At the speed at which apps are being developed, this will probably happen sooner rather than later.

Jay is a bit more skeptical, but, then again, he lives in Israel which last week finally allowed Wi-Fi iPads into the country, so he is forgiven for being a bit behind the iPad curve.  Jay is more concerned about the closed nature of Amazon.  How does one share notes if they have no Amazon account?  Actually, it is a good question.  How does one share Amazon notes with those who have accounts?  I know of no way to currently share my annotations unless I move them out of Amazon and that is a substantial amount of work.  Also, I currently use three e-book readers.  I am unable to share annotations between them.

I am, however, as enthusiastic as Will Richardson right now.  Apps are just starting to be developed for the iPad.  I believe an App will appear that lets me share my notes and thoughts on a book with others around the world.  Why so optimistic?  Magic Piano!  This iPad app has a duet feature which allows users all over the world to play piano duets together.  Now, if musicians can do it, can readers be far behind?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Of Wingmen and Pushing the Envelope

Teaching is pretty much a solo gig.  We interact with students and their parents on our own if things go well, but if they don't we need backup....wingmen in fighter pilot parlance.  Recently, I have required backup, and, in both occasions, IT folks came through with flying colors.

When I returned from Israel, I dove straight into teaching one of my favorite units, Trip Planning.  Students select a country from the Eastern Hemisphere and plan a minimum one-month trip there.  Using Google Maps, Calendar, and Documents, every part of this project is electronic.  Students work at school, then continue, using Google Tools, at home.  This year, we ran into glitches from the start.  On the first day of the project, kids couldn't use FireFox to create either maps or calendars.  A quick visit to my IT department provided the reason.  During my Israel Fulbright, there had been some bad behavior around screen sharing so a decision was made to "manage" student accounts.  Whatever default management settings Apple has, it makes it difficult to use FireFox or Safari to create calendars and maps in Google.  Fortunately, I found that quitting and restarting Safari worked if every step were done in the correct order.  That meant instead of 2 steps to create a Google calendar, seventh graders were required to follow 5 steps.  While troubleshooting this issue, we found that Chrome had no problems at all creating and saving documents.  Within two days, my IT folks had loaded Chrome on the laptops and kids were (and are) back at work, diligently planning their trips.  Catlin Gabel's IT department once again proved their flexibility and ability to support teachers, no matter how busy they were.

This weekend, I was working in Prezi, a super presentation software for those long past tired of Powerpoint and Keynote.  I attempted to upload an audio file, but didn't realize I needed to include an image in it so that Prezi would recognize it as a flash video file and react appropriately.  Stuck, I began searching the Prezi forum, certain I was not the only person ever to commit this silly error.  (Note to self:  READ the online directions BEFORE inserting clip!)  I added my sad tale of woe to another post.  Within a day, Prezi employee Lior had responded and not only fixed my presentation by removing the offending file, but she also gave me instructions how to delete the information from Prezi's xml file, zip it back up, rename the extension, open it again using Prezi's offline tool, and upload it back to Prezi.  It was like having a private Prezi lesson!  Again, I was grateful for Prezi's quick response to my problem, and Lior's ability to solve it so quickly.

Occasionally, teaching at the limits of technology means getting nicked by the sharp, bleeding, edge.  It is nice to know that tech support can be both local and global.  And, of course, as with all good tech support, both Lior and Catlin Gabel are invisible to my students.  I, as their teacher, know that I am only as good as my backup......and I have excellent folks watching my back!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Students demonstrate future tools

Whenever I am curious about what tools our students will be using in the future, I find it helpful to ask seventh graders.  Monday, the nice folks at Lonely Planet released a great marketing idea.  They made most of the European City Apps free to help out all the people stranded by the Icelandic ash cloud.  These apps usually cost around $10 each.  I told the seventh graders who were planning trips to European countries (trip planning is everybody's favorite unit, and a great way to end the year) about the Lonely Planet deal.  Of course the kids who had iPhones or iPod Touches with them wanted to download the Apps immediately.  It was great watching them use these tools so responsibly during class.  They are more excited than ever to plan their trips, Lonely Planet has made these students very happy, and of course, they all went home and told their parents about the cool apps they downloaded at school.  Another very clever piece of marketing on the part of Lonely Planet.  It is great to watch kids working on their laptops, listening to music with headphones (or watching YouTube videos of the countries to which they are planning trips), with their iPhones/Touches next to them running travel apps.  The future of education tools looks very bright indeed.  Photos to be posted tomorrow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Education and Retail Sales

Catlin Gabel needed rechargeable batteries.  I needed exercise.  So, off I trundled to Office Depot to purchase AA rechargeable batteries using my Star Teacher Card.  At the store, I found the 4 packs of batteries were sold out.....but there was an 8 pack of the same batteries.  I asked a store worker if I could purchase the 8 pack for the price of two four packs.  Office Depot would have MADE MONEY on the sale since the 2 four packs would have cost more than the 8 pack.  To my surprise, Office Depot declined to close the sale.  But, they offered to check if another store had the product I wanted.  I thought, "Silly people, this product is being advertised as "green" for Earth Day, and you want to send me DRIVING through the city in search of batteries!"  I left the store, still on foot, and moseyed on down to Radio Shack.  Here, we had the opposite problem.  4 packs were sold out, but there were two packs.  You can guess what happened next....Yep, Radio Shack didn't want to sell me two 2 packs of batteries for the 4 pack price.  Finally, I completed my 2 mile walk to Batteries Plus where the four pack was more expensive than Office Depot, but not by much AND I was able to purchase rechargeable 9v batteries at the same time!  So I charged $68 and walked on over to Home Depot to pick up plants with Pam.  I enjoyed the walk on a sunny morning, but the next time I need batteries....straight to Batteries Plus!  Those other stores need to work on the customer service end of their business.....The picture....Noa enjoyed the day, too.  And, she is a budding (pun intended) photographer.

Update:  I received the following e-mail from Office Depot Monday morning:

Thank you for contacting Office Depot.   Because the nature of your inquiry requires additional research, we are escalating this to our second level technical support team.   A Technical Support Representative from our second level technical support team will research your inquiry and contact you directly within 24 hours. Thank you for your patience and understanding and I apologize for any inconvenience.

Moving On (Back to Reality!)

This will be the final post to this blog.  It provided space for me to reflect while participating in the Fulbright Distinguished Teacher program.  I am, however, motivated to continue writing....so, I have moved all of these posts to a new blog, which can be found by clicking here.  I have enjoyed the global interactions with all those who have posted, lurked, and confessed to reading the stories I have told.  Let's keep the dialog going.....see you online at dadnoa.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It takes a village.....

Not exactly an original title, but appropriate.  It is time to say goodbye, for now, to Israel.  The official part of my Fulbright is at an end.  In two days, I'll be back in Fenway working with an eager group of seventh graders.  A fellow blogger wrote recently that it is important to thank people.  OK, this is going to take a while, but here goes....In no particular order.....Thanks to Paul A. for working the back end to make sure Catlin Gabel would continue to run smoothly in my absence....to Pam and Noa for being willing to head off on an unknown adventure....to Richard, Faith, Johny, David, and Daisy for making sure we had all the tech tools we needed and for maintaining the long distance backups, etc....to Kabir for taking the medieval plunge....to the class of 2015 for allowing me to leave in the middle of the year....to my C&C for trusting that I would return in time for the end of the year and for finishing the yearbook page...to Ruth, Tamara, and a host of others at Mofet for making sure I was well-taken care of in Israel.....to Augusta, Lamese, and the wonderful staff at AED for providing the framework for this Fulbright Program....to Kristin and the staff at Vanderbilt for making sure I had enough to read in Jerusalem....to Rafi, Eleanor, Alicia, Sarah, Reuven, and Susan for meeting with me, shepherding me in the right direction, and allowing me to tag along as they went about their days....to the students and staff at all the schools I visited for showing me the best side of Israeli education, students working hard under the guidance of terrific teachers....to Ribhe for making sure we always had enough halva....to the security guard outside Tal Bagel for making us feel welcome in the neighborhood and for proving that people don't have to speak the same language in order to communicate...to Efrat for making Noa feel "grown up."...to Elaine, Chaim, their children, and their friends for making us honorary Yemenites, showing us how joyous celebrating Shabbat can be, and feeding us amazing foods....to Ahmad, Manal, and the kids for showing us the Israeli-Arab side of the equation.  We needed to spend more time with you.  To Dad and Louise for being willing travel companions north and south.....to the staff at Cafenetto in Mitzpe Ramon for the most delicious lunch in the desert....to Benedict for serving the best breakfasts in Israel.....to the entire staff at Cafe Restobar for making us feel at home in Jerusalem.  We invite you to join us in Portland and wish you good luck with the birth of your second daughter...to Moller for the GPS unit.  It worked like a charm....to all of the Egged bus drivers who worked tirelessly to get me to where I needed to go and back home to Jerusalem again, even when I was exhausted, you kept me safe and sound....to Marilyn, s, Mom, and friends all over the world for responding to blog posts.  You kept us all motivated to write more, observe more, record more....to Spencer for keeping us connected to Portland....to Jeff for pushing me to write regularly, and not just about education in the classroom sense...and, finally, to Jay and his family for showing us the ropes, making us feel at home, answering unending questions, and pushing all of us to explore Israel in our own ways.  A huge thank you to everybody who I have left unnamed because I am still enjoying one more day in the fine Jerusalem spring.   One final note.....this blog will be moving to a new site in the near future. All of the posts from this site will still be there, but I think a new title is in order as this chapter is ending.  Stay tuned for Peeking over the Edge....Goodbye for now to Jerusalem and Israel, hello to Portland and the USA.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good, No, Great Friday

It is Good Friday.  Actually, it is a great Friday.  About 25° C (77°F), sunny, light breeze in the air.  While I was thinking of how to begin this piece, Sebastian Engelbrecht of Bavarian State Radio beat me to the best opening.  "Today, in Jerusalem, everybody is equal.  It is Good Friday for Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Protestants; Passover for Jews; and Muslims will attend Friday prayers.  People from all over the world are streaming into Jerusalem."  There is no more important city in the world today for the faithful, whatever their faith.  Others will write about the religious aspects of the day,  Yes, those are impressive celebrations, and it is a joy to see so many people peacefully professing their faith in so many different ways yet always directed towards the same God.  The people most responsible for insuring that all runs smoothly today will, if all does run smoothly remain almost invisible.  The Israeli military, border police, and local Jerusalem police have carefully planned how to insure that all the groups which need access to areas in Jerusalem's Old City have it.  Roads have been blocked off to insure smooth traffic flow.  When an Israeli soldier on traffic duty tells you that you may not pass, he is speaking with the power of Gandalf, the wizard in Lord of the Rings.  The only thing missing is his wizard's staff.  Watching the woman in the picture try to argue her way past (that is her cab behind her) brought smiles to our faces, and, eventually, she was going to have to find another way to where ever she was headed.  The way she was gesticulating, it seemed she was going to have to go all the way to Amman, Jordan, to reach her destination.  

On foot, through the Zion Gate, our favorite way into the Old City, there was no traffic.  There were almost no people!  We passed one group of pilgrims, and we entered the City as if it were any other day.  We headed straight for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we figured the crowds would prevent us even getting close.  Evidently, we were very early because we ended up at the final checkpoint before the Church.  We noted the knots (as in at least ten) Israeli security guards at the intersections and along the final streets leading to the Church.  The guards were clearly relaxing, having a little breakfast, and in general, not paying much attention to the crowd.  Now, this is misleading.  There were always at least four men (no women today) watching carefully, insuring that all went smoothly.  We passed traffic barricades ready to be moved into place to help guide the pilgrims towards the Church.  One road we walked on had huge awnings over it, crowd barriers to help keep order, and big screen tvs ready to go for services.  The awnings were to try to shield the faithful from the intense sun.  The security personnel were ready for anything.  Riot helmets were on shoulders or in backpacks, kevlar vests were packed with all the gear needed for the day, including at least three water bottles, and first aid kits visible on every soldier.

Noa and I stayed around long enough to enjoy the crowds, watch one group of pilgrims after another complete their march on the Via Dolorosa, and then decided it was time to move along.  The crowd was growing quickly and we didn't want to be on the wrong side of the barriers trying to explain to an Israeli policeman why he should let us through....

So we headed back into the alleyways and made our way through the Cardo to a spot we know has a great view of the Western Wall and Temple Mount.  There were more Jews around due to Passover festivities.  But, there were almost no visible security personnel.  Oh, a solider here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Down at the Western Wall and up on the walkway leading to the Temple Mount, there was the usual Friday complement of guards and police.  

The one interaction we chose not to view was further back along the Via Dolorosa.  Christians marching the Stations of the Cross have to walk West to follow the route.  Muslims trying to get to the Temple Mount, a traditional gathering place during and after Friday prayers have to cross the Via Dolorosa heading South.  Israeli security folks evidently stop the Christians every few meters with barricades to allow the Muslims to cross.  Watch tonight's news to find out if all went well.  

Why a focus on Israel's military today?  On this Great Friday, they are demonstrating why, under any proposed peace plan, they should remain the only military force in the Old City.  Unlike the Jordanians who barred Jews from the Old City for the 19 years they were a military presence and unlike the Palestinians who seem hell-bent on creating violence in the Old City, the Israeli military allows equal access to the important sites in the Old City to any peaceful  person who wants it.  They have done it since 1967, they continue to do it today.  Well done, gentlemen (and, because we know there are women working invisibly behind you, ladies.)  I can hardly wait for Sunday.....Easter and the end of Passover on the same day! 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flirting Gone Awry


Today was a glorious day, weather-wise, in Israel.  Noa and I decided to head to Tel Aviv one final time.  Clearly, we were not the only folks in Jerusalem with this idea.  The Bus Station was as crowded as we had ever seen it.  Egged puts on extra buses for Passover to try to handle the crowds.  We got on a bus to Tel Aviv that was already pretty full.  I found Noa a seat near the front and headed for the back.  Usual bus etiquette is that one asks if a seat is free....some folks try to occupy two seats....and there is usually no problem.  Today, I approached a high school age boy, asked if the seat were free, and he clearly was reluctant to let me sit with him.  In fact, he left to go sit with another friend of his.  I called Noa back to me figuring we could sit together.....Big mistake.....Now, before I continue, I need to remind readers that Noa has fairly negative feelings towards Arab boys, ages 10-18, who have been more than menacing when she and Pam have walked through Arab neighborhoods and the Old City.  These children have threatened to spit at them, an interesting cultural characteristic.....Ok, back to the bus ride.....As we were entering the freeway, Noa and I felt sunflower seed shells hitting the back of our heads.  I turned around and glared at the high school age children behind us.  We were in the middle of a group of about 12 sophomores (my guess), maybe freshmen.  We thought they were spitting at the high schoolers in front of us.  When the second batch hit us, I turned around and asked the young people to stop saying that enough was enough.  The kids grew raucous, mimicked us, but at least they stopped spitting at us and resumed spitting on the floor.  A couple of the girls in the group also yelled at the boys to stop...which they sort of did.  Then a soldier sitting in the middle of the bus asked the kids if it were really necessary to be so loud and obnoxious.  They mocked him, too.  It must have dawned on a couple of the boys that they weren't getting Noa's attention, so they tried out a few English phrases on her, but she wasn't having any of it, so they began using their English to tease her.  This proved equally ineffective.  Then one of the boys decided to try smoking (all Egged buses are non-smoking.)  Again, the soldier in the middle asked what the heck was going on, the kids realized they had a problem, so they opened all the vents to try to clear the air and yelled at the smoker to knock it off which he thankfully did.  Once the boys realized that flirting with Noa was not going to happen , they went back to trying to impress the girls who were with them.  Now, I have taught high school kids in many countries, but I have never witnessed the hard slaps to the head that both boys and girls were dishing out.  These kids were way out of control.  Yes, it is Passover Break in Israel, and high school kids need to prove they are cool to their friends, but this group of children was not only disrespectful towards us, but towards all of the passengers and the Egged driver who was going to have to clean up their mess.  Clearly new to bus travel, many of the boys in the group tried to get off at the security checkpoint just outside the bus terminal.  The security guard sternly told them to stay on the bus.  Enjoying a moment of quiet after they exited, Noa and I made our way to the front, thanked the driver for his patience, and proceeded to have a fabulous day in Tel Aviv!

We walked up to Benedict, Noa's favorite breakfast joint, sat at the bar and enjoyed the world's best chocolate pancakes (Noa) and Matzohbrei (me)  Fresh orange juice and perfect coffee rounded out the meal.  Then, we walked the boardwalk.  It looked like a typical beach scene at the height of summer.  After a day in the sun, we returned to Jerusalem on a bus with no children, a great driver, and a bit of peace and quiet.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A veritable feast!

As the Fulbright winds down, and the education community is on Pesach vacation, it's time for a gastronomic post!  Noa and Pam will blog about our visit to Ahmad Amer, a Fulbrighter from Kfar Qasem.  We ate unbelievable food!  But...read Noa's post for that meal.  Tonight we joined the throngs on Emek Refaim at Caffit.  All day long, people have been eating on Emek.  There is little Hebrew being spoken, but half the Jews East of the Mississippi must be in Israel right now....and they are all in our little neighborhood.  We ordered salad, matzo ball soup, sweet potato latkes, and a Pesach roll.  Then, we sat back and watched the hecticness of the season.  We have never seen hostesses (Pam will describe the fashion) working harder than we have seen anybody work.  The level of noise was similar to an NBA game.  Yet, food was prompt, gorgeous looking, and very tasty.  OK, Pam's soup is better, the matzo balls are fluffier.  The Pesach roll was.....better with butter!  Sweet potato latkes were delicious with the chive sour cream.  Noa's fresh apple juice was foamy and delicious. We had a terrific time laughing with the masses and cementing memories of our time here.

Many restaurants just close for the week.  Remodels are completed, work which might normally disrupt customers can be completed with no disruptions whatsoever.  Supermarkets cover up the "forbidden" Passover foods, and interestingly enough, Israelis finally obey instructions!  Nobody peeks behind the plastic!!  Even the gelato gets a makeover!  Our favorite flavors are on vacation this week....but we will have one more opportunity to try them on Monday night.

Definitely a fun time to be in Israel.....and with Easter coming up this weekend.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Experiential Education

Time to dedicate a blog post to Judy Teufel, art teacher extraordinaire and friend.  Judy taught kids to write "important stuff."  Didn't really matter if it appeared in nice, sentence form.  Much of what I have learned in Israel doesn't really fit a category, it was either observed or experienced.  So, in the spirit of Middle School Breakaway, Catlin Gabel's Experiential program for middle schoolers, here goes.....

Last week, a carpenter stopped by to see what could be done to seal windows and doors to try to keep the rain out.  While he was looking at the patio doors, I noticed a pistol sticking out of his waistband.  I've never worked with a handyman who carried a weapon before!  And, in a gesture seen only in Israel, on his way out, he touched the Mezzuzah outside our door. 

Those who follow Noa already know we travelled to the Golan Heights last weekend to visit the Hoter family.  We celebrated the most religious Shabbat I have ever participated in.  After leaving Jerusalem, we traveled east to the Dead Sea and Jericho.  We turned north at Jericho and found ourselves driving through a desert.  As we traveled north, the desert gave way to greenery.  We passed through the Border Police checkpoint and were out of the West Bank heading towards Beit She'an, often referred to as Israel's Pompeii.  Upon reaching Lake Kenneret (Sea of Galilee), we stopped for lunch at a delightful arts center.  We had the entire cafe to ourselves as we enjoyed the view, serenity, and good food.  It was an idyllic place filled with sunshine, birds, and flowers.

Back on the road, we stopped near Qazrin for a short walk before arriving at Alonei Habashan, the Moshave where Elaine and her family live.  Elaine is one of three Israeli recipients of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, essentially my counterpart in this program.  Shabbat cleaning was in full force.  People running everywhere, furniture up off the floor, food being prepared, etc.  We were guests, and invited to take showers!  In addition to our visit, Elaine's daughter, Michal was home for the first time in many months, daughter Orit had come home from Acco (Acre), and three other family friends were also spending Shabbat with the Hoters.  It was quite a crowd!  I wondered about space for all of us, since most Israelis homes are not that large.  We all fit quite comfortably.  Noa, Pam, and I stayed in Orit's room. 

Once showered, Elaine lit the Shabbat candles.  No big ceremony, nothing like I had experienced before.  I looked up and she was over at the mantle lighting the candles.  Then, it was off to Shul with Chaim (husband) and Avichai(youngest son.)  Zichron and Effi, Chaim's college buddies joined us.  At one point Chaim asked me if I could read Hebrew, I said yes, but I couldn't read it fast enough!  Some of the prayers sounded familiar, others were totally new to me.  I was just happy that most of the time, I knew where to turn the page and didn't have to wait for Chaim to show me.

After an hour or so, services were over.  We met outside Shul.  Pam and Noa had been sequestered in the women's section (one of many reasons, we won't become orthodox anytime soon.)  Then it was time to eat and experience Yemenite culture close up and personal.  Turns out Chaim and his buddies are all Yemenites.  The Shabbat evening had such joy in it that Pam and I were soon laughing, humming, and attempting to sing all the while enjoying what we THOUGHT was the Shabbat meal......turns out it was only the first course!  The experience was dizzying.  Food everywhere....and very good food, too!  Chaim chanting blessings at the appropriate times, Effi and Orit singing the entire time.  Others joining in when they weren't eating or talking. After more than three hours of celebrating, the Monheimer's, who were falling asleep went to bed.  Fortunately, we had quite accidentally left our lights in the correct position or else we were going to have to sleep with the lights on!  No turning lights on or off during Shabbat.  Lights in common areas are on timers so we had light and hot water in the morning, etc.

Saturday morning, we had a light breakfast of sweet cakes and breads.  Zichron and we had both brought goodies from the same bakery in Jerusalem.  We discovered both Zichron and Effi lived and worked withing meters of our apartment!  The world is truly small.  We strolled around the Moshav while others attended prayers.  Then, it was time for lunch....which was nearly as elaborate as dinner the evening before!  Effi continued with what seemed like non-stop singing, Zichron and I engaged in a fascinating conversation about which electronics could be used on Shabbat and which couldn't and why the rules were needed.  After lunch, we strolled up the hill to an old Israeli bunker and admired the view into Syria.  The border reminds me of the German border in the days of two Germanys.  We observed no obvious weapons, but it was also clear they weren't very far away.  After returning to the Hoter's, it was finally time for the Shabbat nap! 

Of course, after our nap, it was time to celebrate the end of Shabbat and....you guessed it, eat AGAIN!  Dinner was a mix of leftovers and freshly prepared new dishes.  After a quick hike on Sunday back to the Syrian border to take pictures (no photos on Shabbat), we headed back to Jerusalem.  Oh, I almost forgot....Pam, Noa, and I are now officially Yemenite.  We passed the two tests (secret, sorry.)  Sunday, it was time to say our goodbyes and head back to Jerusalem.  Experiential Education part two coming up....Pam and I don't think we will ever celebrate Shabbat the old way again!  We understand why Jews look forward to it, and why, if we could go back in time, being Yemenite is the way to go!  Thank you Chaim, Elaine, Effi, Zichron, Avigal, Michal, Orit, and Avichai for being such patient, wonderful teachers!  The flower?  Golan Iris, only blooms in the early spring.  The Israeli equivalent of trillium.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Exploring alternatives




This has been quite a week.  Monday, I joined a group of educators in Be'er Sheva (pronounced "bear" not "beer") who were visiting Bedouin schools.  Israel and the Bedouins have a special relationship.  Israel would like them to settle down, become less nomadic, and has built communities (think townships) for the Bedouins.  Some Bedouins have embraced this idea, others prefer to live in the manner their people have always lived.  To reach the first school, we drove about 5 miles out of Be'er Sheva and found ourselves on a brand new road with newly created roundabouts driving through what can only be described as a township in the South African model.  When we reached the school, I was struck by the fact that we just walked in.  There was apparently neither armed guard nor locked gate.  We just walked in, said hi to the kids playing, asked directions to the main entrance, and headed into the school.  Very different than every other Israeli school I've been in.  We walked into the male faculty room.  Later, we spoke with the principal who has a male assistant.  Clearly, there are cultural norms in these school which are different from other Israeli schools.  This must make some types of communication difficult, if not impossible.  This elementary school was an "experimental" school.  The Ministry of Education allows schools to "experiment" with lots of different areas of learning.  Experiments are funded for five years, then evaluated for success or no success (failure is really not an option.)  Successful schools are those whose students score at the same level as "non-experimental" schools in subjects such as language and math.  They then receive more funding to replicate their model and train other teachers/schools.  Almustabel (the future in Arabic) is right on the edge of the desert.  Students study every aspect of desert life, plants, soil, animals, birds, etc. in conjunction with Bedouin culture.  These kids collect tons of data.  I have already contacted Scott Bowler at Catlin Gabel to see if he wants to trade Northwest data with the science teacher at Almustabel.  The science guy (pictured here) lives in an unincorporated Bedouin village with no electricity.  He tethers his laptop to his cell phone and powers the whole internet connection with a USB modem run on solar power.  The biggest speed bump for this school right now is teacher retention.  It must be difficult to run an experimental school with high teacher turnover.  I don't envy Abdullah, the principal.


After lunch, we joined a caravan of cars travelling off-road to a brand new school in an unincorporated area.  Remember, those areas have little infrastructure....so, no roads, no power, problematic water distribution, etc.  Suddenly, we drove around a dune and were face to face with a lovely two story pastel colored school.  The first thing I noticed was a loud hum.  The entire school is powered by a generator the size of a small recreational vehicle.  Once inside, I thought I was back in Oregon.  Bright pictures on the walls, no hum (thick walls!), lots of color, the whole place looked just like an American school.  We met with school staff to discuss an ongoing project involving teaching Bedouin parents how to use computers.  Hurdles to overcome in this program include separating moms and dads (they didn't even want to join together to celebrate their completion of the course!), stopping in the middle of the meeting to pray, and, most importantly, the fact that many more families want to be included than the school has either teachers or space for.  I asked if families were tracked after the course to see how they put the computer knowledge to use, but, I'm not sure I understood the answer.  It was a tiring, long day, and as I was returning to Jerusalem (on an Egged bus that was overheating), the bus driver switched from talk radio to oldies music.  I smiled and sat back to Aretha Franklin's RESPECT.  That is what the Bedouins really want.  Many serve in the military.  They just want cultural respect from their country....Israel.

Tuesday, I accompanied a university instructor visiting a student teacher who was completing a practicum at a nearby special ed school.  The best part about the visit was I didn't have to take a bus!  I could have walked to the school, but, of course, I met the instructorfive minutes walk from our apartment and we drove the final 5 minutes to the school.  This special ed school appeared to be boys only.  It was a tough audience in a tough school (doors in this school are locked not to keep the world out, but to keep the students in.)  I asked the instructor how the student-teacher came to be placed in the school.  Turns out she asked to work with this population.  After the lesson, I offered suggestions about English sites which the student teacher might find useful.  She is still acquiring the skills she needs to be an effective teacher, but, she already has a very important quality.....she is passionate about the welfare of her students.  All in all, a fascinating couple of days in schools which are way outside the Israeli educational mainstream.