Crawling Back

I’m trying to get back into the habit of blogging.

I know I can do it. I just have to keep at it.

In a way, this experience is somewhat humorous to me. I find it funny that I am having to make myself take what spare minutes I can scavenge out of the day and write. There was a point in my life when composing a few lines for a blog was easy. In fact, at one point (about seven years ago), I was something of a blogging maniac. Of course, back then, I was in a magical place, a Camelot of sorts, where all manner of magical content seemed to appear before me and I had time to write.

These days, I have so many commitments vying for my attention that I feel guilty about stepping away to blog. Even so, I am going to do it. I know that reflecting upon what I am discovering and learning matters. Writing like this is akin to coming back to exercise after an absence from physical activity. Initially, there’s little pleasure in the process but over time that will change.

In addition to blogging again, I am also using of Twitter. As I am reading and re-reading Classroom Instruction That Works : Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd Edition) by Ceri B. Dean, Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, and Howard Pitler, I am delving deeper into the research cited by the authors and tweeting what I find to be most enlightening. I am hoping that anyone who follows my tweets will benefit as well. Having to condense my thoughts down to 140 character summaries is maddening and, strangely enough, addictive.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program…

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At 12:00 PM, Eastern Time (ET) today, President Barack Obama delivers a national address to the students of America. Other presidents have done this kind of thing before. President Ronald Reagan happily addressed and took questions from students from four area middle schools on November 14, 1988. His successor, President George H.W. Bush, interacted with students as well on October 1st, 1991 from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C.. Apparently, presidents think it’s a good idea to demonstrate a willingness to promote the importance of learning.

In his address, President Obama will speak directly to our nation’s pupils. He will urge students to roll up their sleeves and do the hard and necessary work of learning. His speech will call upon students to set educational goals, persevere (especially when the work is neither fun nor easy), and ultimately resolve to be responsible for their own learning. The U.S. Department of Education is understandably excited about the occasion. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has released a letter to school principals inviting students, teachers, and other administrators to participate in the event by watching the president deliver the address.

Sadly, though, as MediaMatters points out, some people are attempting to derail this promising educational message and steer it into a political divide. Opportunistic, venomous critics of the President are fanning the flames of fear and ignorance, encouraging parents, administrators, Boards of Education to not even entertain the idea of listening to President Obama’s appeal to students. A civilized society allows and requires its citizens to debate the merits of an idea. However, before one can debate the merits of an idea, one has to listen to the idea.

President Obama’s message to students is not a secret. Anyone–even those who oppose the president’s address–can read an advanced copy of the speech. The White House has made the Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama Back to School Event available online. Despite all the dire warnings that demagogues and other incendiary media schismatics are voicing, the President’s address is not a dastardly plot to subliminally deliver a partisan political agenda into vulnerable young minds.

What’s wrong with challenging students to dedicating themselves to working hard, working smart, staying in school and dramatically reducing dropout rates? Why wouldn’t our nation want its president to echo such a sentiment? ANY president of the United States, no matter what his or her political affiliation, should be able to inspire America’s students to be dedicated to serious lifelong learning. Of all the things people could worry about negatively influencing young minds, President Obama’s address to students isn’t one of them. A small minority of splenetic critics and opportunistic instigators are going about the detestable business of corrupting what should be a unifying message to students–education is so important that ALL of our parents, educators, business experts, and political leaders, regardless of other beliefs, agree that dedication to learning is vital for success and a wise nation.

Whether you are a parent, a superintendent, a principal, a media specialist, a teacher, or a student, you have the the right to make decisions. Do what wise people do: listen to another individual’s ideas–in this case, President Obama’s address to the nation’s pupils–and carefully analyze those ideas before you decide who or what to believe. The President’s message will be streamed live on WhiteHouse.gov/live at at 12pm ET, and broadcast live on C-Span. Thanks to technology, anyone with access to the internet can check facts and thoroughly inspect the merits of ideas.

Think for yourself...it’s what Americans do.

Related resources:

  • No ones likes to be tricked. Having someone pull the wool over our eyes is embarrassing and potentially harmful. Yet, how often do we arm our students (or ourselves, for that matter) with the cognitive tools to chip away at incorrect logic or obfuscations? My guess is (in the rush to prepare for standardized testing) that we probably don’t consistently explain to our pupils about how incorrect lines of reasoning sometimes appear plausible. Dangerous thinking can go unnoticed. We must be vigilant and prepare for a battle of wits. Thankfully, back in 1996, Stephen Downes created and graciously shared his wickedly wonderful Guide to the Logical Fallacies. The Guide is extremely enlightening and well worth visiting on a regular basis. Also check out the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill‘s incredibly handy collection of common logical fallacies. Teach students to use all of these resources to analyze and clarify their thoughts as well as ideas propagated by ALL figures of authority–including pundits and political officials from BOTH sides of the aisle.
  • Looks like it’s time to get out your Baloney Detection Kit.
  • FactCheck.org is an indispensable means of sorting through political spin and should be included one’s collection of tools for verifying claims.
  • Be a strong advocate of literacy. Citizens who can read have access to new ideas and perspectives, ingredients for a healthy, open mind. Today, September 8 is International Literacy Day. Even though there are approximately 4 billion literate people across our planet,  that’s not nearly enough! Visit Literacy Online and get involved with worthwhile reading projects.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

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In a time of standardized tests and misguided attempts to cover lessons rather than help students understand and apply concepts in real life situations, we’re losing–if not outright outright ignoring–opportunities to inspire pupils to fall in love with science. Intersection‘s sciencebloggers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum both suggest that we desperately need to get busy finding nascent scientists. Their book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future is a sobering wake-up call.

We can do better. We must do better. We need new scientists and it’s up to us to find them.

How would you describe a potential scientist? Could you spot one in your classroom? Are you doing all you can to nurture these rare individuals? Why are they so rare to begin? Can anyone be a scientist? If educators are going attempt to answer these questions and help budding researchers bloom, they’d be wise to follow the work of Sloan-Kettering Institute Chairman Emeritus, Richard Rifkind.

Once a scientist, Rifkind is now a filmmaker who wants viewers to “stand in the shoes of a scientist at work in a lab, glimpse the world of research as it really is, and understand what it takes to fill an ample pipeline of future scientists.” He’s passionate about finding and cultivating a new generation of scientists. Toward that end, Rifkind has produced a moving documentary called Naturally Obsessed:  The Making of a Scientist. In addtion to producing the film he has also sharing rich resources for exploring ideas presented in the film via the Naturally Obsessed Blog.

Are you curious enough to investigate?

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Starting Over

I’ve come full circle.

When I first began blogging, I used Blogger. It was a wonderful tool for sharing and it served me well. Later, when I was looking for more robust features, I turned to WordPress. I was satisfied with it for quite a while–almost 5 years. Yet, here I am again, cranking up another blog with Blogspot in its address. Funny, really, when I think about it.

Recently, a lot of things in my life began to go through some interesting changes, one them being the WordPress blog that a few others and I had been maintaining. It was a useful blog that had a great run. All good things, it seems, must come to an end. One day, not long ago, someone hacked our site, infected our archive of posts and left us with a deviously malicious code that redirected visitors elsewhere. After talking about our options (i.e., should we try to work our way through 5 years of daily posts in an effort to remove the offending code or should we just hose everything and start again), it became clear to me that none of my fellow contributors felt the same sense of urgency that I did. That’s okay because, well, we’re all different people with individual goals and aspirations.

I’ve held out as long as I could. I’ve tried to keep busy doing other things. In an effort to keep my mind distracted, I started tinkering with some of side projects. I plinked around with Python, checked into a few, new Linux applications, and took apart and reassembled a few old PCs. During this interval, ideas began piling up in my head. Usually, I share them, via the web, just to get them out of my cranium. For two whole weeks, I stayed away from my old WordPress login screen. I told myself, no blogging for a little while.

Not anymore.

I have to share my ideas. It’s what I do. Judging from the reactions I’ve been getting from a few faithful visitors to my old blog, they’d like access to the kind of content I was posting. In an effort to be a useful person and partially to get some mental relief, I’m going to start over. I’m going to take a whack at reinventing myself. Everyone should undergo a personal renaissance from time to time. It looks as if I have an exciting opportunity to dust off the remains of failure and start again…with a little more perspective. That why I’m starting this new blog.

I’ve always tried to approach life in an eclectic manner. I look for the best ideas from all kinds of sources–literature, the Arts, Science, technology, other people–just about anything. Why? Everything captures my attention, a condition that is simultaneously something of a curese and a blessing. I’m curious and love to learn. I try, as much as possible to glean the most useful, intriguing, and puzzling aspects of each experience I encounter. I like to think that I’m gathering a wealth of handy concepts–new, innovative, creative ways of seeing hidden or obscure leverage–that’ll eventually be applied to problems and challenges I’m likely to face in the future.

I think of my approach to life as being eclectic before I’m forced by circumstances to be eclectic. In fact, I’ve coined a word that describes people who share my outlook. The word is preclectic. This term describes the quality of assembling the best ideas from many systems, disciplines, sources, people, et cetera long before they needed. It’s a blend of responsibility, lifelong learning, advanced problem-solving, and fun that I’d love to help others crave in the same way I do.

So, I’ve created a blogthis blog–to help me in my endeavor. In the days to come, I hope to use this blog as a means of collecting, categorizing, and cataloging useful ideas and resources that I discover. I also want to use this blog a tool for collaborating, actually applying what I’ve learned and helping others to do the same. I know it’ll take a lot of work but that’s fine with me. I thrive on a good challenge. If anyone out there reading this would like to experience a little (or lot of) personal growth, feel free to join me.

Let’s be preclectic!