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Edublog’s Awards: Where I Am Miss Colombia, Once Again


The 2015 Edublog Awards Winners were just announced, and all grand winners! 

*Secretly wonders to self: what could I do differently, and does it matter?*

Well, let’s see:

We are our own worse critics–my posts are too wordy, too meandering, but overall, that’s all right. Ultimately, we write for ourselves. When I look back over posts, the ones that rise to the top, or get the most views, are not necessarily ones that make people think. A blog is that– an online journal–a digital means of archiving the Captain’s Log.

Check out the winners, and see for yourself some of the examplary writing and thinking that goes on out there. Cheers to them all! Now, to go add more links to my blogroll…

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The Fault in Our Logic

Whereby I tell John Green I feel his pain of the never-ending trolling of adolescent bullies.

john green

This may be one of the most important posts I’ve written, and yet my timing is shaky: we’re all hopped up on sugar plums and family time. I’ll muddle on, however, and maybe dear readers, you’ll bookmark this for another time.

Please heed this message: never, ever stop teaching students about rhetoric, fallacies, and logic. And the hysteria of the Salem Witch trials.

And to think for themselves, and follow the ‘money’ (power, pay-off, etc.)

Allow me to illustrate the innocent tripping into this conversation with one of my young charges. For the holiday season, one of my esteemed colleagues organizes a ‘winter wishes’ gift give-away. Students sign up for modest gifts, and we the staff try to make these wishes come true. I took on the requests for “books for a girl” (?!) and another student requested Autumn Kiss and Autumn Falls by Bella Thorne. For the girl, (no, we’re not getting into a conversation about gender identity now, thank you very much) I purchased the box set of the Hush Hush series by Becca Fitzgerald. Literary judgments aside, a few years ago some students told me they loved Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn, so I grabbed another copy of that just in case, and everyone loved The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I did, finding it poignant and real.

Well, not everyone, it turns out.

I have a young student, a girl, and some colleagues were giving her Hanukkah presents, so I offered “Fault” to her. She is very quiet, very intelligent, and respectfully declined. Surprised by her reaction, she said she hadn’t read it, but believed John Green to be a Holocaust denier.


That John Green.

The John Green who writes open, gritty young adult novels, who is consistency politically correct, provides free Crash Course educational videos, is a well-known and beloved author, vlogger, etc., is apparently the opposite of a well-informed, articulate, and intelligent human has succumbed to Holocaust Denial: also, according to my young student, he “hates mental health issues and only loves cancer patients.’ (Paraphrasing.) Again, the John Green who has spoken openly about his own struggles with mental health management.

Nonplussed, I inquired where did she hear this information, and basically “she knew the Internet had misinformation, but this was all true,” and when I said no, it’s not, she challenged me with “how do you know?”

Well, how did I know?

Seeking answers, I am going to share a conversation (with permission) with a colleague, Kim McClung, I admire and trust, who’s been writing a series on fallacies on social media.

Your student has fallen prey to some of the fallacies I’ve been talking about on Facebook – particularly the Straw Man Fallacy, where a statement was taken out of context and misrepresented. John Green did an interview where he said:

Interviewer: Why did you decide to throw in the story of Anne Frank alongside these fictional young women whose lives are also cut short?
John Green: Anne Frank was a pretty good example of a young person who ended up having the kind of heroic arc that Augustus wants—she was remembered and she left this mark that he thinks is valuable—but when he has to confront her death, he has to confront the reality that really she was robbed of the opportunity to live or die for something. She just died of illness like most people. And so I wanted him to go with a sort of expectation of her heroism and be sort of dashed.
The line where he talked about Anne dying of illness like most people was taken completely out of context by some teen bloggers on Tumblr who argue that by ignoring the circumstances of Anne’s death, that he is denying the Holocaust ever happened. The fact is that she did die of illness (typhoid) like most of the Jews in the concentration camps. It wasn’t a heroic death as being shot fighting Nazis might have been. Keep in mind that The Fault in Our Stars is a book about teenagers dealing with terminal cancer and looking for some meaning in their death.
Like the Starbucks Christmas Cup Scandal, when we take some random person’s rant as fact, we are prone to errors in thinking.
This is my original response to my student:

Subject: Research 

 I did some research on the John Green issues: fascinating ways that folks manipulated a popular author, although I am once again disheartened about how haters use false arguments to troll people who are trying to do good things, (like John Green), as well as troll potential readers who may miss out on reading great stories, like a great student/thinker such as yourself.

 The argument about the Holocaust issue is what’s called an ‘ad hominem’ attack: attack the person and another, ‘straw man’ where one takes something out of context to attack the person, and not discuss the argument.

The fact is this: John Green did not explicitly deny the Holocaust, and would most likely be horrified to see this form of trolling. He did not imply it either. This quote is taken out of context, and the argument does not lead to logic. Many people discuss history and it’s assumed that general knowledge informs the public that everyone knows Anne Frank went to a concentration camp. I learned that she died of Typhoid Fever in that camp because of his knowledge/research. I went to Amsterdam when I was twelve and visit her apartment where she hid and wrote her diary. “Leaving the Nazis out” is not a logical premise, and this misinterpretation of Green’s work is quite honestly, a little weird to me. The writer of this quote is reading something into it that simply isn’t there, and I’m not sure what their own religious/political agenda may be. But some folks get some egregious notions about things. The best thing you can do is read, discuss, and think for yourself. You’re too smart to draw conclusion based on Internet trolling. To underscore: it is  fine not to like someone’s style of writing or choice of topics; however, taking aim at a writer/thinker etc. based on out of context quotes is Trolling 101. The Tumblr community feasted on spreading rumors, and the teenage girls who trolled Green remind me of the Salem Witch Trials: they get a thrill with a little bit of power by spreading lies and fear. It’s horrible.

As to the other issue,  not only does he not say “bad things about mental health,’ he is on record for saying very supportive and honest things:

My colleague also posted this after further consideration of this issue:

The Argumentum ad Ignorantiam Fallacy is also called the Argument from Ignorance or Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy. Personally, I prefer “Argument from Ignorance” because it feels to me to be the more appropriate description. This is the final fallacy that I’m going to discuss, and I chose this one as a favor to a friend and fellow teacher. In fact, I’m going to use the example from her classroom. As is implied by the name of the fallacy, this one is born of ignorance and, I would add, a stubbornness born of belief perseverance and confirmation bias. The idea behind this one is that a premise must be true if it cannot be proven false.

In my friend’s classroom, a student is refusing to read a book because she believes the author is a Holocaust denier. Because there is no on-line evidence that this is true, the student is persevering in her belief, even though there is no direct evidence and only blog-o-sphere suppositions to support her beliefs. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to explain logic to an eighth grader.

This fallacy can be a little complicated because the burden of proof falls on the person making the claim, so it can work on both sides of the same argument. If a person claims, “Aliens exist, and you cannot prove to me that I am wrong, so I am correct,” s/he is falling prey to this fallacy. Likewise, if someone claims, “Aliens don’t exist, and you cannot prove me wrong, so I am right,” the same fallacy is being used.

Is your head swimming right now? Mine is. Just how do we help students think logically about their choices in media, literature, politics, etc.? The Tumblr -Trolls are feed off of their opinions going viral, that is their currency. And if it keeps one girl from reading a book that’s one book too many. This willingness to censor and banish when if presented a chance to ‘fit in’ strikes me as hypocritical of this accepting and tolerant generation. Cognitive dissonance is a heckuva challenge.

Thank you, Kim, for helping me find my way through this. Moving forward, when we begin to discuss argumentative writing/reading, these concepts will take center stage. What we believe and trust push big ideas through our collective consciousness sieve. It’s important.

Have your students ever believed something that may actually harm them? Censored a book or knowledge because of what others have said first? 

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Field tripping.

field notes

That seminal moment in every teacher’s career: planning and embarking on a field trip. Yes, I can call that one good.

Yesterday we went to the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus. I was hoping my older son could join us, but he was studying for a Russian exam. (Hey, I’m glad he’s a Russian+ major, but sure could have used some tour-guidyness.) The folks at the Burke, however, did a superlative job, and I highly recommend a visit there.

Of four students in peril of being left behind at the last minute, two paid their fees and found their way to my rosters. The count ended up at around 86 students and 12 chaperones. I took most of the kids who need a bit of extra supervision/guidance, with the help of my trusty co-educator, Jen. Admittedly, this is small potatoes compared to earlier this year the entire eighth grade class went to go see “He Named Me Malala” in tour busses and hefty Donor’s Choose contributions. (I just think that’s the coolest thing!)

mask burke
Nakhnokh Mask -Tsimshian/Nishga

Back in the day, I used to be responsible for major convention planning; everything to trade show exhibit activities (mostly for doctors), to social event planning. And in every event planning, no matter how many dotted i’s, crossed t’s, or boxes checked, unexpected things happen. Chalk it up to the human factor and that students are not robots. Anticipating most needs, I carefully crafted eleven packets, full of cell phone numbers and cross-checks, and honored my colleague who did not want to give her cell phone to parents. Completely understandable, but perhaps next time I’ll anticipate timely check-points just in case. I put a cover sheet on all the packets to return them to me for shredding, which all of the parent chaperones did. However, I forgot about the lousy cell service in the HUB, and maps are always a good thing. In the words of the estimable Tolkien:

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

Some feet weren’t known. Some roads crossed in pedestrian crosswalks. And many doors were stepped out of. And lunch was definitely an issue. Liken 86 middle school kids to Hobbits who really need their tummies full. What?! No second breakfast!


The HUB, or Husky Union Building, is not a short walk from the Burke, especially if there’s construction and it’s not clear where it is. We kept being told “that way, yes, just down that way”  but ‘that way’ proved octopodian* in its meanderings. Each group of three had about 45 minutes of ‘self select time,’ which I told my colleagues could be used for lunch, and the staff at the Burke told everyone, too, but that message didn’t get to all. If I could change one thing about the Burke it would be that there was more on-site eating or sitting facilities inside the building. It feels sketchy to take 12 and 13 year olds through the wilds of a college campus, with students dodging walkers, ear-budded, face-down in their screens, jockeying for position on moss-lined sidewalks: but then again, what happens are unexpected, unintended good consequences.

With every churning tummy, however, there is a silver lining: about two groups made their way to the HUB, and then trying to make their way back, engaged university students in a high-five contest to see how many college kids would high-five them back. The students felt thrilled that they could say ‘they went to UW,’ and seeing the campus thrilled them.

(Seriously 20-somethings: if you can’t high-five a middle school kid you need to rethink your priorities.)

fish trap diagram

We ended up eating most of the lunches in my room around 1:30-ish, which is late for middle school kids used to eating at 11:30AM, and my husband met me in the parking lot with six bags of pretzels for snacks. We finished making our miniature fish-traps, which left my classroom full of raffia looking like a family of scarecrows came to an untimely and gruesome end.

For those of you veteran, nay, Generals in the Strategic Art of Field Trip Maneuvers and Excursions, my take-aways are going to seem amateurish. However, if I don’t capture them, I’ll forget, and the next thing you know I’ll try to do another field trip and don’t want to face palm myself into a migraine.

totem burke
Smile! Everyone’s back safe!


Ultimately, here’s what I learned. Consider these my field notes:

  1. Thank the chaperones: this weekend I’ll be handwriting cards and buying Starbucks gift cards. It’s all I can do for now, and belies how much I appreciate the good natured parents. Also, don’t forget the bus drivers. The two bus drivers were wonderful.
  2. Buddy-system for grown-ups: have a teacher friend along, too, to share the experience.
  3. One of my colleagues is the Master of the Big Voice. I tried to ‘yell’ and as one of my students said, “Mrs. L, you’re just not very good at it.” I used to be though, dang..I used to be. But not sure why I was yelling in the first place. So, I’m not a yeller anymore. So more communication and information in students’ hands, as well as perhaps a bullhorn, would be good for me.
  4. Some people may grumble and dart-throw. That’s the nature of any event planning. Nothing new, nothing to be done, and not a good use of energy to try to placate those personalities. The only question is to redirect and ask what they would do differently, or apologize if needs or expectations weren’t met.
  5. Kids will have a grand time if they get to socialize, get out, do something different. Nothing matches the eagerness of a middle school child: the paradox of displaying curiosity and risk taking combined with overwhelming desire to fit in–all of that synthesizes into a whole lot of fun.
  6. They will follow the adults’ leads: if the adult is happy and jumping in with flexibility and ‘go with the flow’ so shall they: if the adults frown and act like ‘everything’s stupid,’ well so goes the way of the student, too.
  7. College kids can be amazingly cool. If the event is connected with a University, find out ahead of time if university students can help in the teaching/guidance. Of course they need clearance ahead of time, but perhaps in terms of other modes of instruction. (Why not have anthropology majors Skype the classroom later?)
  8. If and when there’s a next time? Delegate more so the leaders have a stake in the outcomes. Do not accept shrugs or “I don’t care’s” from helpers. This can only lead to potential set-ups for criticism and perceived failure. Give students knowledge of their groups ahead of time, and designate accountability within their groups.

Tonight I’m sure I’ll wake up in a nightmarish sweat and think “IS Z** STILL THERE? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE VEGGIE SACK LUNCH?” and then re-orient myself, calming down, reminding myself it’s over, no one was left behind, everyone got fed, and all is well.

Now to face the last week before Winter Break. Pshaw, I got this.


The optional assignment I created is as follows:

“Look at all the objects at the Burke, and imagine one of them comes to life a-la Night at the Museum–what story does it tell?”

Think I might choose this totem:


*I made this word up. It should be a word.

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Chasing the Golden Techie: Part II

kids and tech


Okay – thank you for indulging my history lesson on one school’s adventure with 1:1. I saw this passing ’round the Interwebs not too long after posting, and realize, just like a thousand other Dorothy with ruby red shoes, I had the power all along. And I’ve been doing this all along. Units I have planned for my content area this year balance a “this is how it was/what happened” and “this is how it is now” approach: everything from the Salem Witch Trials, to the upcoming Yellow Fever and Second Amendment units I’m planning. Years past, using Burning Questions blog and presentations students demonstrated huge understandings of the world, resources, and their views.

But my expert friends on PBL: how can I construct this with a math and science teacher? I can do this on my own: how to bring others into the conversation who may not want to look through the lens of early American history? What if they have something completely different in mind–it can’t be driven by my content area? Here are some troubleshooting guides, but what advice is there for working with partners on the adult/professional level? 

Ultimately, there is only one rule–make it student-focused. Any other thoughts? Feedback? Potholes you’ve fallen in and you can help me avoid? All advice is welcome.

As an aside, more tools: The Ultimate List of Tutorials, Apps, and Games to Teach Kids Coding

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Chasing the Golden Techie.

Why I'm going to teach handwriting...
Why I’m going to teach handwriting…

What are we doing with technology integration these days, anyway?

Sometimes the cure for curiosity is a good, old-fashioned esoteric conversation, even if it’s only with oneself. An issue, a debate, is percolating, brewing rather, and using my Powers of Subtextual Hearing, need to explore some ideas that have fanned before me: I think technology integration is in trouble at my school.

Here’s the situation:

My school, since its re-opening eleven years ago, houses a ‘technology academy.’ (And for the sake of full disclosure, this accounting is from my own anecdotal observations. I am open to others who may read this to add their insight, perspective, and most importantly, corrections to this.) The technology academy consisted, and still does, of two teams, one 7th grade and one 8th grade. The content teams include Humanities (social studies/language arts), Science, and Math. The schedule altered from the rest of the school (I’ll label that Regular MC), using blocks, and rounding out the day with PE/Health and an elective (usually band or orchestra). The students were, and are, (there needs to be a tense that covers all of time) chosen by a lottery system to all of the elementary schools. The program was touted as something unique, elite (in the good way) and supportive of those kids whose interest in technology would be singled out (again, in a good way) and would be inclusive to all students, too. Special Education, Honors, all demographic backgrounds/class, etc. are invited to cast their hopes and chosen. If the student’s home/local elementary or middle school was outside of the boundaries, special arrangements for transportation are made. When I began at the school, the program was in its second year, and had phenomenal leadership, and the teachers worked functionally in their teams, augurs of PLCS to come. When asked, the teachers of the tech academy would offer professional development or guidance, but for the most part, the majority of my tech instructional development has been on my own. There seemed to be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture, sustained by the notion that the students, and teachers, in the tech academy were something special and other. They were the vanguard, the proof of concept, the leaders in technology integration. Some years, the district brass would come to their spring PBL showcase–strongly integrated content areas using the best of the technology and exploration available at the time.

victor courtright

Meanwhile…back in the Regular MC…staff changes, administration changes, etc. made for some instability. However, some of this change proved golden. During these years I, being a nerd/techie/geek myself, loved having the technology for all students, and worked very, very hard to integrate engaging lessons using the technology and best practices for 21st Century Learning Skills. Most of this I did, and do, on my own time and dime. It was often my desire to see how to get the Regular MC kids to feel the same about their school experience as I saw the Tech Academy students. There was a clear difference. Was it about buy-in? Tipping points? Staff trained better, or just simply better? There was no time to think about causes and correlations, because just the job of teaching, getting my Boards, maintaining responsibilities in curriculum leadership and planning, etc. kept my focus, and I could embed engaging technology on my own terms. New teachers infused the staff with their passions about brain research, and another set of colleagues provided whole staff inspiration on their ‘water’ project. In other words, they tried to recreate on a larger scale what the enclave of the academy achieves regularly. But without support as a whole-school vision, these programs would stumble a bit, but overall, a great start. When we had teams at Regular MC, we planned Student Led Conferences, once the singularity of the Academy, but for years we incorporated and planned them, too. So that’s another area where the Academy wasn’t unique. But what were they doing and providing that was value-added? This question isn’t intended to make anyone defensive–having a cohort of students who get focus and attention with an excellent staff (although there has been a high turn-over in the 7th grade team), who continue up to the tech academy in high school, have a block schedule, (more time for instruction and learning), hands-on projects, and perhaps most importantly (speaking for my own bias) true integration with ELA/SS– this is what Common Core and great instruction is all about –learning about history with writing, reading, and critical thinking. These are great benefits to students in the academy. Could they be replicated whole school? 

But now I’m on the other side. I’m the 7th grade Humanities teacher. I’m included in the conversations. One such the other day has got me to thinking– I sensed there may be a misconception about what “Regular MC” teachers have been doing while the Academy was chugging along. The idea that we were not doing PBL, or integrated content, or Student Led Conferences, or 21st century technology best practices, or or or….and that simply isn’t true. Did these misconnections create or sustain an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ with the students? One student this year said in an ASB election speech at first she didn’t want to come to our school (fear? reputation for fights?). The students actually gasped in the audience. (Don’t worry: she was still elected. But this is clearly more than a PR problem.)

A colleague mentioned that during parent conferences, some Academy parents worried we weren’t ‘tech enough.’ I didn’t get a chance for clarification, but perhaps that’s not necessary. If any parent’s perception is that we’re not tech enough, or creating a culture innovation, perhaps they have a point, because I’m not sure anyone is anymore.

Has technology integration caught up with itself? Meaning — what is the place for a technology academy? How are we keeping ahead of technology integration–and my biggest question: how are we sharing this with the entire school?  John Spencer recently wrote an article about how teachers sometimes blame the devices, and that led me to a link about the stages of technology integration journey. The point being, if only one area of a school has evolved to actualized technology integration, thinking the rest of the school is behind, there will always be a huge gap. Technology instruction means nothing if 90% of the students aren’t receiving the benefit. The Regular MC kids have a tendency to break their laptops, leave them behind, ‘lose them,’ shove them in lockers, leave them at home, not charge them, and generally treat them with disdain, as if the laptops give them nerd-cooties. We teachers shake our heads and wish there was some way for them to care–knowing full well that this laptop isn’t going to immediately feed an empty tummy or find their parents a job. The laptops tend to be one more thing to make them feel stupid and marginalized.

In some ways, my district has become a shill for one brand of software products, and support for  others is discouraged. And, as if the Internet read my mind, just as I’m contemplating the role of teacher and technology, Mindshift publishes this article, “Rethinking the Role of Educator as Facilitator Amidst Tech Transformation.’ Well, I do believe students still want a human present in their lives to guide them, to smile a genuine smile, be happy they’re here, and listen to their ideas. It can’t be all Khan Academy or whatever new software/on-line class of the day.

But this is important: we teachers can help guide access and relevancy.

Listen to the story, “As Tech Firms Come to Oakland, So Do Hopes of Racial Diversity.”  Our students will forever be disengaged, and fearful, if they never see what the point is. This pragmatic and honest answer is the other side of this question: all the tech in the world means nothing if we don’t show greater possibilities for job, to show how to make a living, how things might look. The old conversations (horrible ones) of “you’ll be flipping burgers if you don’t do your homework” is grossly destructive. Many of their parents are in their 30s doing low-wage jobs, sometimes multiple ones, because doors have been closed or sent overseas for jobs that pay a living wage. So perhaps it’s up to us educators to learn about what are the new paths. And then show them the path. Help them map it out. Talk and teach them how to change or alter if something happens along the way.

Perhaps parents have the new American dream that their children will be giving TED talks on their genius invention, their children are prodigies and have the potential to invent, make, do, and create. Well guess what? Yes. This is the dream, the hope. So it’s up to the educational leaders, especially the classroom teacher, to help see this through. The very definition of leadership is just that — you take others to great places.

In terms of teaching, I am loving my double-content of social studies and language arts. I love my students, and love how they bring engagement, kindness, and yes–charged laptops– to class every day. What an honor. As far as my content area, I’m good at it, I planned it, and know how to garner resources and organize it. However, I’m on a island of one right now, though, and that’s not okay. I vow to continue to share ideas, both using technology, and when not to, and my expertise with the entire staff and students. It cannot be kept in bottle, and anyone who thinks it’s the domain of an enclave is not thinking of the whole vision, perhaps.

Integrating technology is not just for the young, or the experts, or the few. It is one of the last truly democratized, public and free sources of intellectual and academic pursuits.

Question: what role do academies have today? What should their mission statement and purpose include to their students, parents, school, and even district?