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, 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

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 Pam and Noa for being willing to head off on an unknown Richard, Faith, Johny, David, and Daisy for making sure we had all the tech tools we needed and for maintaining the long distance backups, Kabir for taking the medieval the class of 2015 for allowing me to leave in the middle of the my C&C for trusting that I would return in time for the end of the year and for finishing the yearbook Ruth, Tamara, and a host of others at Mofet for making sure I was well-taken care of in Augusta, Lamese, and the wonderful staff at AED for providing the framework for this Fulbright Kristin and the staff at Vanderbilt for making sure I had enough to read in 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 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 Ribhe for making sure we always had enough 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 Efrat for making Noa feel "grown up." Elaine, Chaim, their children, and their friends for making us honorary Yemenites, showing us how joyous celebrating Shabbat can be, and feeding us amazing 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 the staff at Cafenetto in Mitzpe Ramon for the most delicious lunch in the Benedict for serving the best breakfasts in 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 Moller for the GPS unit.  It worked like a 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 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 Spencer for keeping us connected 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.