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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Here Comes....LOVE!

I'm reading Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, and though I'm not much in the habit of commenting on a book before I finish it, I just read through a section that illustrates to some degree the sort of off-mainstream perspective Shirky shares throughout this excellent read, so I feel the urge to share (call it an act of love).

In a section called, "Love as a Renewable Building Material," Shirky relates the story of a Shinto shrine in Japan that is over 13 centuries old but can't get certified as an historical structure by UNESCO, the UN cultural agency responsible for such certification. It seems that the structure is wooden, thereby not "permanent." But the Ise Shrine Imbe monks do an interesting thing: Once a generation they tear down the original structure and rebuild its exact duplicate at an adjacent site. They have accomplished this "rebuild" sixty-one times in a row, according to Shirky. He muses, "A wrecked castle that has stood unused for hundreds of years makes the cut; a shrine that is rebuilt once a generation for a thousand years doesn't."

He goes on to postulate that:

  • Wikipedia is a Shinto shrine; it exists not as an edifice but as an act of love. Like the Ise Shriine, Wikipedia exists because enough people love it and, more important, love one another in its context. This does not mean that the people constructing it always agree, but loving someone doesn't preclude arguing with them (as your own experience will doubtless confirm). What love does for Wikipedia is provide the motivation both for improvement and for defense...We don't often talk about love when trying to describe the public world, because love seems too squishy and too private. What has happened, though, and what is still happening in our historical moment, is that love has become a lot less squishy and a lot less private. Love has a half-life, too, as well as a radius, and we're used to both of those being small. We can affect the people we love, but the longevity and social distance of love are both constrained. Or were constrained--now we can do things for strangers who do things for us, and a low enough cost to make that kind of behavior attractive, and those effects can last well beyond our original contribution. Our social tools are turning love into a renewable building material. When people care enough, they can come together and accomplish things of a scope and longevity that were previously impossible; they can do big things for love."
That's what I'm talkin' about :)

Love ya!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bloom's Digital Taxonomy!

Every teacher has heard of Bloom's Taxonomy, the progression of skills and objectives that it's held teachers must address in order for true learning to take place. If you've never heard of it (because perhaps you've not had formal training as a teacher, or perhaps because you were out with mononucleosis the week it was taught in your pre-service teacher courses), here's a Wikipedia article that's a good place to begin.

This morning my colleague Penny Phillips, erstwhile High School Technology Coordinator and Director of our newly established Computer Science Department at University School of Nashville, sent out a tech group email with a link to Open Education's rundown of a new take on this foundational concept. New Zealand educator Andrew Churches has created a freely available 40 page .pdf file explaining his reworking of Bloom's Taxonomy for the Digital Age. It is a resource worth having on hand if you are interested in helping prepare your students for the future which (if I have heard it once I have heard it a million times) we cannot begin to imagine.

Here's Churches' own site. Remember to read it, and once you understand it, apply your analytical skills to evaluating it for ways to create new valuable learning experiences for your students!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The "Embedded Practicioner," -- Words of Blogging Wisdom from an 8th Grade English Teacher

I didn't mean to do it. After all, I had already spent over an hour in Second Life earlier in the day at a fantastic panel discussion on "Virtual Identity," the discussion facilitated by the dana centre in England. That panel featured Howard Rheingold, coiner of the term "smartmob" and widely acknowledged creater of the concept of "virtual community," and Will Gardner, founder of the non-profit "Childnet International," an internet safety organization created to "help make the Internet a great and safe place for children." I did some recording there but haven't had a chance to do anything with it. (I hope I can, since it was really wonderful.)

So when I logged in on my laptop at my boy's bedside while he went to sleep last night (he doesn't really need that anymore--it's just a tradition with us, one that I'm sure I'll be losing soon as he breaks into teenagedness) I never intended to get caught up in another online presentation. I made the crucial (propitious) mistake of checking out the happenings at the Auditorium on ISTE Island.

Friend Kevin Jarret (KJ Hax inworld) manages a wonderful Tuesday night speaker series over there, and his blog, "The Story of My Second Life," was one of the first ones that motivated me to begin blogging my Second Life experiences. Last night, KJ offered Torontan 8th grade English teacher Konrad Glogowski (SL: Konrad March) on the topic, "The Embedded Practicioner," sharing information about his journey from attachment to his "teacherly voice" to the development of his "readerly voice," which a teacher attempting to nurture literacy skills with blogs must, in Konrad's view, adopt.

Take 20 minutes and listen up to the segment of the talk I choose to share. If you are interested in educational blogging with students, I feel it's a "must listen!" Then head on over to Konrad's blog, "blog of proximal development," for more. I'll add the pics I took here soon, but here's one for starters, the one referenced early in Konrad's presentation, when he's talking about what most of us traditionally, and habitually, call "teaching":


Monday, April 21, 2008

Billy Hudson's "Aspirnauts" Program--Laptops for the Rural Schoolbus Ride!

I mentioned recently my jaunt down to Memphis for the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools' annual Technology Institute, but it's been bugging me lately that I didn't share out a particularly interesting coincidence. The closing keynote speaker, Nashville educator Jim Kelley shared out several great videos. One in particular struck a note that sounded like home: the NBC News feature coverage of Vanderbilt's own Billy Hudson and his "Aspirnauts" program, the fantastic initiative he's brought to his small Arkansas home county to bring laptops to children on rural school buses. I gather that rural communities struggled for years to keep their local schools, finally succumbing to the urbanization of their counties and thereby losing the tax base needed to support local schools. As a consequence, students in Arkansas often spend up to 5 hours a day riding school buses.

As I reported quite some time ago (June 2007) in my Snacks4theBrain! interview with him, Hudson thought to himself, hmmmmm, what if they had internet connected laptops and media devices that would let them put that previously wasted time to productive use? The NBC video says much more than I might about his project, and I humbly offer it here. To read more about it, visit the story's archive at

Enjoy, and if you happen to know any corporations looking to make a really significant contribution to the future of education, what if school buses all over the nation were outfitted like this? Take a look at the difference it's making in its pilot group:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Here Comes Everybody--A Worthwhile Read!

Hey, ya'll,

I've been almost too busy to post this week, and I'm sure that since many of you are teachers you know exactly what I'm talkin' about.

I just want to share out that Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, the Power of Organizing Without Organizations is shaping up, as I get further into it, as a stellar addition to my own arsenal for helping me understand the ongoing growth of the Read/Write Web.

Building his case that Web 2.0 tools are increasingly making things happen that previously would have just not happened, due to the cost of their management, he suggests that new spontaneous collections of information now do exist "because people have always desired to share, and the obstacles that prevented sharing on a global scale are now gone." That may not be altogether true, if we consider turning a blind eye to online collaboration an obstacle, but it's a nice set-up for his arguments, which are already compelling. I'm pretty sure that I have already read his basic tenet, which is summarized early on in the following sentences:

Our electronic networks are enabling novel forms of collective action, enabling the creation of collaborative groups that are larger and more distributed than at any other time in history. The scope of work that can be done by noninstitutional groups is a profound challenge to the status quo.

While not beach reading, save for the most dedicated followers of current techno-history, I highly recommend it to any teacher, or to anyone looking to make sense of all this Web 2.0 stuff. Thanks to my tweets on Twitter for sharing!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Social Networking and Education--and book review

I just posted a long book review I think belongs only at my Second Life blog but thought some might want to see it there.

And Andy Carvin just tweeted a new blog post, this one an embedded slideshow from his Social networking and Education talk at the University of Maryland/Baltimore's School of Networking. Hey, why doesn't Vanderbilt have a "School of Networking!?" One critical element of his show is a slide called "Overcoming Fear," which references the Byron Review, a good resource to know about.

Here's the slideshow:

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Speaking to a group of students at Peabody College Grad School--Web 2.0 for Us

Just to chronicle a diversion in my normal path in working with teachers, upon the invitation of a colleague at my school (the wonderful Genie Tanner), I stepped into "higherhigher" education Friday early evening. More or less successfully tailoring my Web 2.0 for Us evangelic message to the assembled group of 15 or so graduate students in the College of Human Development, in a class entitled "Advanced Information Systems," I struck out across the street armed with a wiki page I'd slapped together in the morning as a fulcrum. The tools I share are so dynamic and immediate in nature, somehow locking down a talk about them into a framework of sequential bullet points seems counterproductive.

I explained early on to the mostly business-centered students that I was trying to wean myself from PowerPoints. I predict that I will return to presentation software someday, but I'm not going to use it at all for a while.

See below for the simple wiki notes page I made, and the one Genie put up on their own wiki during my interaction with the students . Both of us were 'sperimenting :). Here's the interesting thing, at least to me: Compare the two and you'll see how my non-linear approach enabled me to play off questions and ad hoc insights to share more than I may have shared with a traditional PowerPointy presentation. If you are in the presentation "game," how do you pull it off? Are you grounded in PowerPoint? What else works well!?

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Personal Post: My Stellar Children!

I don't do "personal" on my blog much, or at least beyond the fact that I take my teaching and my learning very personally ;)...

However, last night at the annual USN High School Cabaret Night my two children, Colin and Miranda, banded together onstage (in a rare inclusion of a 6th grader into a High School performance evening) to sing a song they wrote together. I gotta share. Their performance was introduced by a skit about the songwriting performed by the evening's spectacularly funny trio of emcees; so Miranda takes the opportunity to clear the air just before 12 year old Colin hits the first chord to start the song. When he does, a funny thing happens.

I'm sooo proud of my urchins, pleased with Colin's progress in voice guitar (he's more accomplished at 12 than I was at 16!) and, as always, proud and amazed at my daughter's voice. Her instrument is her voice, and she plays a mean piano as well. Here's a promo picture of Miranda, flanked by two of our talented HS Chorus' young men:

Listen to "Without You," by Colin Merrick and Miranda Merrick, unveiled in public at University School the evenin' of April 3, 2008. Enjoy!

Miranda also performed a favorite of mine, Stardust, accompanied by Ben Easton on grand piano, then led the chorus into a beautiful rendition of Somewhere, from West Side Story. My audio may not be the best in the world, but my daughter is. Not that I'm biased. Enjoy...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Vanderbilt's iPhone Content Portal!

Very cool, I must say. Just came across Wes Fryer's notice of Vanderbilt University's recent release of its iPhone content portal, expressly designed to efficiently deliver web content to that device, and went and checked it out. The front page, gold letters on a black background, obviously designed for fast delivery, includes the text,

Download coursework, lectures, news, music, sports, special events and more.

Play on your iPod, Mac or PC, or burn a CD.

Stay connected anytime, anywhere.

Explore a world of knowledge at Vanderbilt.

and links to content, including the extensive offerings of Vandy's iTunes U, podcasts also available via iTunes. I looked a little further, into iTunesU and found Community Content, and here's a screengrab of that page. Look what's on top! Yippee!!! If you've been the interview subject in any of Snacks4theBrain!'s now 69 podcasts, zip on out on your iPhone and give yourself a listen!!!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


I promise I'll stop re-trumpetting Will Richardson's blog, right after this post. Actually, I came into Blogger this morning to share a comment I posted after reading Will's post entitled "The Conversation About Conversations."

The post is well worth a read. He cites John Larkin, Graham Wegner, Doug Noon, and Chris Craft all talking about the increasingly overwhelming flow of information, and he seems to lament deeper discussions, as if what I term "Information River" makes these impossible. Well I don't believe they do, actually--it seems to me that the River enhances the possibility of those happening. For example, I joined a fascinating discussion with 6 or 8 (attendance changed as the conversation ensued) Denver educators just yesterday, all about how to get our colleagues to take note of this sea change (wow, another water metaphor :) in the nature of discussion. How did I learn about this? By dipping my toe in the Twitter River and seeing a call to talk.

As I write this I see a url to a Congressional session on Online Virtual Worlds. I gotta go to Congress.

Here's my reply in Will's blog.

Woowoo, heady stuff. All this talk, all this talk. We’ve most of us been espousing “get into the conversation” sort of as an end unto itself for so long that I agree the hurdy gurdy man’s monkey is spinning his instrument faster than any of us might have dreamed possible. Harold Shaw says it in his Clay paraphrase, Like Clay told me when I first joined Twitter (paraphrasing) only “sip from the waterfall” (I will add) if you try to drink too much you may fall in and drown.

I find it funny how we’re starting to pick pet flowing-water metaphors–mine is dipping my toe in Information River: if I have time to do so I know I’ll learn something useful; if I don’t, sure I miss stuff, but it’s only “stuff.” There are worse things than a dry toe.

If I’m away from the river setting up a ball return net in the front yard for my boy’s lacrosse practice, or walking my big purebred Tennessee Black Dog Mutt, or reading Cormak MacCarthy while practicing mandolin scales, well, that’s cool, too.

Will, Will, take a deep breath, keep thinking and sharing so eloquently, and don’t despair. That’s too easy and it’s what’s gotten us into this fine pickle, isn’t it, Ollie?


Gus by Scott Gardner Merrick  I wear these navy slacks I found behind O'Shaugnessy's, in the dumpster there. And they'r...