In his September 7, 2008, New York Times article entitled, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, writer Clive Thompson offers new and compelling insight into the world of digital communication.  I must confess that before reading this article, I like many others viewed Texting, Blogging, Facebook and MySpace as a waste of time.  Who had the time to invest in establishing, designing and maintaining a page?  Who had the interest?  Not I.

The few pages that I had seen seemed like nothing more than self-indulgent, non-celebrity news, advertisements for the regular people.  My guilty pleasures never involved reading about celebrities and they were not going to involve reading about the minute to minute tedious details of the lives of “friends”.

Reading a “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy”, offered a more engaging and unique perspective of realities of digital expression.  Thompson opened my mind to the concept of “ambient awareness”.  He states that “It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on their mood through the little things he does-body language, sighs, stray comments-out of the corner of your eye….Each little update -each individual bit of social information-is insignificant on its own, even surprisingly mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friend’ and family members lives…”

As stated by Marc Davis, a chief scientist at Yahoo and former professor of information science at the University of California at Berkeley, told him, “It’s an aggregate phenomenon. No message is the single-most important message…”  According to Thompson, .  “You could also regard the growing popularity of on-line awareness as a reation to social isolation. Ambient awareness becomes a way to “feel less alone”, as more than one Facebook and Twitter user told me”

In addressing my time concern, I found out that “awareness tools are not cognitively demanding”  because they are not really directed at you.  Therefore they do not take up a lot of time.  Also these on-line updates allow you to increase your number of “weak ties”-loose acquaintances, people you know less well.  According to sociologists “weak ties” greatly expand your ability to solve problems.  This could potentially help you to save time.

The ultimate effect of the new awareness, quotes Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County is that, “It brings back the dynamics of small town life, where everybody knows your business…the current generation is never unconnected.  They’re never losing touch with their friends. So we are going back to a more normal place, historically…”

Digital communication makes it possible to establish and maintain relationships with people all over the world.  Instead of traveling thousands, you need only travel a few key strokes to meet the world at your door.  Meeting the world at my door, now that is exciting.

“Of course, no matter how innovative our schools or how effective our teachers, America cannot succeed unless our students take responsibility for their own education. That means showing up for school on time, paying attention in class, seeking out extra tutoring if it’s needed, and staying out of trouble. And to any student who’s watching, I say this: don’t even think about dropping out of school. As I said a couple of weeks ago, dropping out is quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country, and it is not an option – not anymore. Not when our high school dropout rate has tripled in the past thirty years. Not when high school dropouts earn about half as much as college graduates. And not when Latino students are dropping out faster than just about anyone else. It is time for all of us, no matter what our backgrounds, to come together and solve this epidemic.”

These remarks were made on March 10, 2009, by President Barack Obama during his speech “Taking On Education”. I especially appreciate these remarks because they more accurately portray a realistic plan for a resolution to some of the challenges that  face students in urban schools.

Although I am certain that this is not a unique perspective, prior to the speech I had never heard it verbalized so clearly. This was the first time that I had heard someone speak about the active role that students have in their own education. In the past, the responsibility for educating students was placed squarely on the shoulders of teachers. If the student did well, the teacher merely did their job. If the student failed, the teacher failed to do their job.

This view challenges the outdated passive role of students as learners. Students are not empty vessles that teachers pour knowledge into. Students are unique, thinking, feeling individuals who come to us with a variety of skill levels and needs. As such, they do have a responsibility to themselves and their education.  They do have to show up, they do have to pay attention, they do have to ask questions, and they do have seek help when they don’t understand if they are to take an active role in their education.

This is not about blame. This is about the cooperative responsibility that students and teachers must share if teachers are to be successful as educators and students are to be successful as learners. We all have a part to play in the resolution of some of the unique challenges that face both student and teachers each day in the classroom. We must work in concert to ensure that teachers are providing students with the skills that they need and that students receive the necessary tools that will allow them to become thinking, productive citizens of the world.

To read the speech in its entirety go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/03/10/Taking-On-Education/

I am new blogger. To say that my technological skills are lacking is an understatement of fact. I admit that if it were not for a class, I would not have joined the writing space community at WordPress. While I am more than willing to learn, my learning curve seems incredibly high and my patience is waning.

In her book, Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy, author Diane Penrod offers five basic reasons for blogging:

1. They are easy to publish.
2. They mix pleasure with information.
3. Blogging is a malleable writing genre.
4. They allow writers to generate new personas and construct new worlds.
5. Blogs empower those that are often marginalized in society.

I find the five reasons to blog very exciting. In terms of blogs mixing pleasure with information, Penrod goes on to say that “When a blog functions at its peak, several elements are at work to encourage writers to play, to be creative, and to continue blogging:

There is a clear reason.
There is immediate feedback.
There is a balance between challenge and skill.
There is focused concentration.
There are limited distractions.
There is no fear of failure.
There is little to know self-consciousness.
There is time distortion.
There is an increase in autotelic behavior. (Bloggers blog just for the sake of blogging).”

It is clear to me that my blog is not yet functioning at its peak. The problem seems to center around mixing pleasure with information. I do not yet find the blogging process fun and I have a high fear of failure. I am experiencing great self-consciousness and I do not yet enjoy the act of blogging for the sake of blogging.

The greatest challenge seems to be the time intensive nature of blogging. Perhaps it is because my desire to blog is not yet organic. Perhaps it is because I have not yet found a subject that I am passionate enough to freely blog about. Perhaps it is because my skill level and the challenge of blogging are not yet balanced. Whatever it is, I only know that it takes an incredibly long time to blog-so long in fact, that I find myself losing focus.

The good news is that I believe what Ms. Penrod says about five reasons for blogging. Given that belief and my desire to challenge myself so that I can discover new ways to engage and challenge my students, I will continue to blog so that I reach my blogging peak. Perhaps then I will experience blogging as an autotelic behavior and blog for the sake of blogging.

One of the greatest gifts that you can give to another human-being is the gift of listening. How we all long to be heard, so much so, that we talk on the phone, text, email, blog, tweet, participate in chat rooms, sign, write, and type all in an effort to say that we are here and that we matter. With all that talking, texting, signing and blogging going on I would like to remind you that one the greatest
gifts that you can give to another human-being is the gift of listening.

Teachers are lucky enough to work in environments where they are actually face to face with other human-beings for a good part of their work day. I most humbly request that you not let the administrative responsibilities of the job allow you to squander this great opportunity. I ask that you put the book down, step away from the chalkboard and focus on the student in front of you.

It is important to be present when students talk to you. Listen with your whole being. Maintain eye contact, use appropriate body langauge, ask questions and respond to what is being said. You will be surprised how valuable a little time and attention is to the student that you are communicating with.

Whether the student is five years old or eighteen years old, they will appreciate being heard. A little time, everyday, to every student allows you to get to know the student and allows the student to get to know you.

By listening, you confirm that the student is here and you confirm that they matter. Infact, when you take the time to listen, really listen, you can discover the hopes, dreams, and fears of a child and just might discover the key that unlocks their passion for learning.

Have you listened to your students today? You just might be the only person that listens to them all day.

As a Elementary Education student, part of my training requires me to have field experiences in several school systems so that I have a well rounded view of what is happening in classrooms throughout the community. Of my two field experiences, the second experience has had the most profound effect on me to date. That is because of the challenging circumstances surrounding my host teacher.

Once a week, for seven weeks, I experienced what is was like to teach in a struggling inner-city school. I say struggling because most of the students performed below the state average on most standardized tests and the teacher was struggling to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The most accurate way that I can describe what I witnessed during my weekly visits to the school is to say that my host teacher taught “in spite of”. She taught in spite of numerous interruptions by students, who engaged in conversations that had nothing to do with the lesson being taught. She taught in spite of some students who answered questions with answers that had nothing to do with with the subject at hand. She taught in spite of some students engaged on their cell phones. She taught in spite of some students who randomly called out during the lesson. She taught in spite of some students who failed to cooperate with her requests. She taught in spite of the lack of support from the administration when she followed protocol for disciplinary action.

At times the frustration showed on her face but never in her voice. Never in her mannerisms. Never in her behavior toward the students. She knew that the tangents and negative behaviors were cries for attention or their way of saying that the did not understand so she was always respectful and caring in her response to them.

Although students tested her commitment to them by their sometimes disrptive behavior, she always passed with flying colors by keeping their well-being and learning as the focus. It is my hope that I will be as committed to my students as she was to hers and that my focus will always be on their well-being and their success no matter what challenges may confront me.

In a speech during his bid for president, now President Barack Obama referred to a “young teacher” at Dodge Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago, who addressed him.

“She spoke about what she called “These Kids Syndrome”–the tendency to explain away the shortcomings and failures of our education system by saying that “these kids can’t learn”; or “these kids don’t want to learn” or “these kids are just too far behind.” And after awhile, “these kids” become somebody else’s problem. And this teacher looked at me and said, “When I hear that term it drives me nuts. They’re not ‘these kids.’ They’re our kids. All of them.”

I have heard the phrases “these kids can’t learn”, “these kids don’t want to learn”, and “these kids are just too far behind” flow from the mouths of some educators and parents and into the ears, hearts and minds of anyone willing to listen as easily as water flows from the mouths of rivers and rush downstream and over falls into great waters waiting below. I suspect that these statements may have developed out of frustration from a great many well intentioned people who truly desired to make a difference in the lives of children but found that the road to making a difference could be long and riddled with obstacles.

Instead of throwing up your hands in frustration and joining the choir of nay sayers, who blame the very people that they initially desired to help, open your mind, ask questions, roll up your sleeves, and seek the answers. Do the hard work that is necessary in helping another human-being to fulfill their promise.

Replace “these kids can’t learn” with “How can I help you to learn?”, then listen for the answer. Next replace “these kids don’t want to learn” with “How can I get you interested in learning?”, and listen for the answer. Finally, replace “these kids are just too far behind” with “How do I get you up to speed?”, and again, listen for the answer.

Human-beings are individuals so the answer may differ a bit from child to child. This is a process that requires time, patience, and flexibility. However, if you are diligent and you continue to ask questions and listen for the answers, you will start to notice patterns that will allow you to reach and help many children over time. After all, “They’re not these kids. They’re our kids. All of them.”

clipart_computersWhat role will we, as teachers, play in Technolgy and Education Reform? Are we ready and willing to utilize all that technology; particularly the World Wide Web, has to offer in assisting us to prepare students to participate, compete, and thrive in the world today and tomorrow? What are our technological skills? Do we view computers and the internet as someone elses domain? Have we stayed current with technology? Can we navigate the Web? Do we blog? Do we Tweet? Do we even know the meaning of these terms? Do we care? If we do not not care, then we should.

“Technology is the core and essential to the strategies we are using to reform education.” This comment was made by Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the United States Department of Education while addressing a meeting of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.”

As reported by Geoffrey H. Fletcher in an article from The Journal, “Obama Administration: Technology at the Heart of Education Reform”,  He cited the four assurances that are at the core of ARRA educational funding-college and career ready standards, preK to college and career data systems, improvements in teacher effectiveness, and providing intensive support for low-performing schools–and said you can’t do any of the four without technology, especially helping students in low-performing schools.”

Flether also stated that Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer at the White House, said that technology in education is less about hardware and software and more about what we teach, the method in which we teach it, and professional development and support for educators.

If we ourselves are not technologically prepared, if we are not participating and contributing by incorporating technology into how we teach, then we will not be able to prepare our students to participate, contribute, and compete in the world.
If we are not preparing students to participate, contribute and compete in the world, then we are not doing our job.

Get connected.

To view the article in its entirety, go to http://www.thejournal.com/ArticlesTo view Obama’s America’s Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) go to http://whitehouse.gov/issues/education