Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back To School Shopping for Computers

It's that time of year again and this summer I'm recommending that parents, teachers, and schools give the Linux Ubuntu operating systems serious consideration.

For the past six months or so I have been eating my own dog food so to speak and I am so pleased and impressed with Ubuntu that I believe it makes the most sense as a student operating system for a number of reasons. I know from using it myself that Ubuntu is the real deal - a desktop Linux as good and better than the competition.

Dell now sells Ubuntu machines preinstalled. Walmart offers Linspire another fine distribution and other vendors are following suit.

Second, Open Office is both free and just as powerful and easily learned as any other Office suite on the market. Schools use the argument that commercial packages only cost the school $40 per seat but what they forget is that these packages cost parents $100s of dollars at home. This cost affects teachers as well. For families under finacial constraints this is a back-breaking expense.

I have found Ubuntu's Desktop better than commercial products and the number of free applications is astounding. Kids can freely experiment in art, science, math, and just about anything one can imagine without regard to cost.

And wise parents will invest in a $400 range laptop for high school students. The portability is well worth the money and the quality of these machines is more than adequate IMO.

And don't forget an inexpensive copy of "The Ubuntu Book" - an indispensible manual telling users how it all works.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Holding NCLB Accountable

No Child Left Behind started on a fraudulent premise, was funded like a miracle cure and is only now being exposed for the human disaster it has always been.

In Bush's No Child Left Behind Law Leaves Certain Children Behind from Educational-Portal, a Chicago study scratches the surface.
Students who are considered to be on 'middle ground' had significant test score gains, but those who were in the top ten percent saw no change. The bottom 20 percent of students, on the other hand, actually lost ground in most cases. In fact, these students did better in 1998 before the 'No Child Left Behind Act' was passed.

Economist Derek A. Neal, who co-authored the study, concluded that teachers in the area surveyed are being forced to practice 'education triage' and focus their attention on children who are in the middle, thus passing over those at the top or those deemed to have little chance of improvement.
Not another taxpayer dollar needs to go into this mandate. It is as poisonous to children as the tsunami of lies Washington politicians shower Americans with every day.

Let's make sure NCLB is allowed to expire for good. Let your political party know you've had enough.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dems Get B+ on NCLB Answers

Tonight's Democratic Presidential candidate's debate was revolutionary for the use of arty and clever YouTube video questions. National politics will never, ever be the same.

One video question asked about whether to scrap or attempt reforming No Child Left Behind. Biden, a friend of Ted Kennedy, said scrap it as did other candidates. Of course this is the correct answer but it is also a no-brainer.


Let's just let it expire quietly.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Writing a Screenplay

Many English teachers are using automated screenplay writing applications as a part of their writing curriculum. This site, How To Write A Screenplay, offers online tutorials as to how to create your own.

This site,, is a comprehensive inventory of software and resources worth your evaluation.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

-Gasp- Learning Counts Somewhere!

In my queue of unfinished business is a Psychology Today article that talks about schools whose graduates are better prepared for their future than NCLB saddled public school graduates are. Kids aren't considered ADD and they have a lot to say about their education.

From Education: Class Dismissed
It's every modern parent's worst nightmare—a school where kids can play all day. But no one takes the easy way out, and graduates seem to have a head start on the information age. Welcome to Sudbury Valley by:Hara Estroff Marano
So ingrained is the belief that kids learn only when confined to their seats and explicitly taught that most adults overlook obvious evidence to the contrary—the young struggle persistently against even their own clumsiness to master such formidable tasks as crawling, walking and talking on their own. "Learning and teaching have nothing to do with each other," declares Dan Greenberg, who, with his wife Hanna, is a founder of Sudbury Valley. In traditional schools, he says, teaching is driven by coercion, which breeds resistance. "Learning is driven internally by curiosity. Teaching can be effective only if the person you're teaching has sought you out to teach her." A physicist by training, Greenberg abandoned an Ivy League tenure track career in academia to start SVS.

Outsiders commonly choke upon hearing that no one even teaches reading. Sometimes insiders get a bit antsy, too. When Ben was in the second or third grade, anxiety temporarily overtook his well-read father, who offered the boy a dime for every 15 minutes he'd spend reading at home. Ben accepted the bribe long enough to prove he could do it.

But true to the Sudbury spirit, his reading proficiency took a huge leap forward only after he began playing with airplanes and then an electronic flight simulator—because that led him to read the flight manual. And that led to discovery of flight simulator communities on the Internet, which led to mock airplane battles, which led to communicating with squadron leaders, which led to spelling and writing, which ultimately got Ben into Swarthmore, where he is now finishing his freshman year.

Journey from Smoking Rock

Given the lack of formal demands, Sudbury attracts its share of sullen and shy teens short on motivation. Stephanie was sinking in her SAT-pressured public high school when she decamped in junior year for Sudbury (her friends derisively called it "day care") for "the sole purpose of avoiding college." For several months, she puffed and sunned her days away on Smoking Rock. In time, she drifted over to the music barn. There she picked up a flute again and began playing purely for pleasure. Two years later she selected a college specifically for its new arts center.

Jessica was severely depressed in her community's high school. Numerous friends "shared my indifference, but they were content with their apathy. I was tortured by it." Her parents agreed to a change, but adapting to Sudbury was difficult. Jessica was shy. She brooded. She sat at the edge of the sewing room, pretty much the crossroads of the school, a large space on the first floor of the mansion where there's always animated debate or a raucous card game around a huge table. For a long time she just listened. Eventually she began contributing to political arguments, discussions of personal beliefs "and philosophies of education and just about everything else." Conversation and debate, she insists, were the source of her education.

Current educational theory corroborates her assertion. Increasingly across all the sciences, there is an awareness of social capital. Researchers in a variety of disciplines believe that human interaction is critical for learning and the best learning comes about as a result of social participation. Relationships provide both the deep motivation and context for acquiring information; people are driven by the desire to understand the perspective of others. Studies have shown that peer engagement, for example, clicks on both intellectual engagement and learning persistence amongst students.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Got Milk? How About a Comfortable MetroNorth Train Ride?

I had a nice conversation with Bryan Hurlburt - 53rd District - CT, this evening concerning the price of milk. The price of a gallon of milk has increased $.50 in the past few weeks.

We need to ensure that school lunches continue to supply inexpensive milk to students even if it requires emergency legislation. Kids need milk to grow. Period.

And while I was at it, we talked about ways to get more FFA funding emphasizing dairy expansion, cultivating highway roadsides for hay production, and leveraging open space initiatives in such a way as to broaden dairy farms.

Oh, and I gave him an earful about the atrocious state of MetroNorth service along the shoreline and central Connecticut. The MetroNorth system is run like a third world monopoly that has no accountability to consumers. Enough. Get some decent passenger cars for chrissake - they've been paid for by the consumers. The condition of passenger trains in Connecticut are an embarrassment to railroading.

Train service has got to improve to accommodate an aging population and a growing country. Wake up.

CT has got to be part of the solution. Bryan can be reached at;

Bryan P. Hurlburt
State Representative, 53rd District
Ashford, Tolland, & Willington

At the Capitol:
Legislative Office Building, Room 4100
Hartford, CT 06106-1591

In the District:
268 Hartford Turnpike
Tolland, CT 06084

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2007 (NCLB)

Just vote NO! The rancid politics of the Bush administration need to stop somewhere and now is the time. There is nothing worthwhile in any of this federal legislation that would not occur without it.

Generally speaking, schools and teachers are conscientious and do the right things based on their circumstances. America has no use for old-fashioned, Soviet-style, centralized education. We have no use for brain-washing our kids or disempowering our communities.

Dismantling the federal Department of Education is job #1. Stop funding it and start dismantling it.

Spellings is a disgrace to the education profession and has acted as little more than a sock puppet for Bush and his cronies.

Vote NO and put some mustard on it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Education Bloggers Social Network

I just discovered EduBloggerWorld, a social networking site for bloggers whose special interest is education.

It looks like a winning strategy - School 2.0 collaboration in the making.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mr Rodgers, Rest In Controversy

I happen to love the work that the PBS series, Mr. Rodgers pioneered for children. Today, posthumously and surprisingly, he is being attacked for making children feel good about themselves (special).

From, Blame It on Mr. Rogers: Why Young Adults Feel So Entitled by Jeff Zaslow, WSJ.
Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were "special" just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.

Now Mr. Rogers, like Dr. Spock before him, has been targeted for re-evaluation. And he's not the only one. As educators and researchers struggle to define the new parameters of parenting, circa 2007, some are revisiting the language of child ego-boosting. What are the downsides of telling kids they're special? Is it a mistake to have children call us by our first names? When we focus all conversations on our children's lives, are we denying them the insights found when adults talk about adult things?

Some are calling for a recalibration of the mind-sets and catch-phrases that have taken hold in recent decades. Among the expressions now being challenged:

"You're special." On the Yahoo Answers Web site, a discussion thread about Mr. Rogers begins with this posting: "Mr. Rogers spent years telling little creeps that he liked them just the way they were. He should have been telling them there was a lot of room for improvement. ... Nice as he was, and as good as his intentions may have been, he did a disservice."

Signs of narcissism among college students have been rising for 25 years, according to a recent study led by a San Diego State University psychologist. Obviously, Mr. Rogers alone can't be blamed for this. But as Prof. Chance sees it, "he's representative of a culture of excessive doting."

Prof. Chance teaches many Asian-born students, and says they accept whatever grade they're given; they see B's and C's as an indication that they must work harder, and that their elders assessed them accurately. They didn't grow up with Mr. Rogers or anyone else telling them they were born special.

By contrast, American students often view lower grades as a reason to "hit you up for an A because they came to class and feel they worked hard," says Prof. Chance. He wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: "The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you'll have to prove it."

"They're just children." When kids are rude, self-absorbed or disrespectful, some parents allow or endure it by saying, "Well, they're just children." The phrase is a worthy one when it's applied to a teachable moment, such as telling kids not to stick their fingers in electrical sockets. But as an excuse or as justification for unacceptable behavior, "They're just children" is just misguided.

"Call me Cindy." Is it appropriate to place kids on the same level as adults, with all of us calling each other by our first names? On one hand, the familiarity can mark a loving closeness between child and adult. But on the other hand, when a child calls an adult Mr. or Ms., it helps him recognize that status is earned by age and experience. It's also a reminder to respect your elders.
I don't subscribe to a word of this. America is precisely the place to become special. A lot of us like it that way.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I just finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Every high school English class should be reading this novel at some point of their schooling. Today, it is a more important novel than 1984 or Brave New World and it is a more literate piece than many of the classics still being recycled through the current English curriculum.

This book is a masterpiece. The story of a man and a boy describing their journey in a post-apocalyptic world describes no cause, no nation, and promotes no agenda. Readers will have to think about the consequences of destroying civilization.

It is readable by just about anyone who can read rudimentary English. McCarthy is a genius in composing vignettes that are breathtakingly straightforward, expressive, and visionary.

The suspense of the story is gripping and this is the first book that I've read in a long time that has made me want to drop everything else to read more.

Teachers who want to kick start a real conversation about life, responsibility, and survival should seriously put this book on the must-read list.

School Bus Emissions Victory

A few days ago, Susan Eastwood - an incredibly effective and hard-working advocate for school bus emissions reduction - passed along the good word from Sarah Uhl of
The House of Representatives just voted to approve the budget
implementers that put the state budget into effect, following an
overwhelming Senate vote last week. The good news- $10 million for
school bus retrofits is included, with funding spread out over 2
years! The budget now goes to the governor who is expected to sign it.
The funding will cover the full cost of purchasing and installing
pollution control devices for the approximately 3,400 school buses in
the state that are able to be retrofit. This victory is the reward
for years of effort by all of you and without your time and
persistence this wouldn't have happened.
Representative Denise Merrill, co-chair of the Legislature's
Appropriations Committee, should be commended for her work to secure
this funding. Representative Merrill said "I am very pleased that
during the budget negotiations we were able to retain the $10 million
dollars needed to retrofit the state's school buses in order to
protect our children from harmful diesel emissions."
Next steps: Writing positive letters to the editor on this to local
papers, thanking key legislators who made this victory happen,
Future steps: Work with DEP to ensure the program is implemented in a
timely way, and watchdogging the school bus law at the capitol next
year to ensure that the program funds are not reduced and are
adequate to meet the program's goals.
We're also kicking off local campaigns to ensure transit buses are
retrofit in Milford, SE CT, Norwich, Middletown and other areas.

Sarah Uhl
Roger Smith
and the CT Alliance Against Diesel Pollution

Sarah Uhl
Diesel Consultant
Clean Water Action
645 Farmington Ave, Third Floor
Hartford, CT 06105
(p) 860-232-6232 (f) 860-232-6334
Everyone who works so hard on these goals is to be congratulated. Susan has been a tireless advocate for this cause - GO Susan!

Aside from that, in even the smallest of CT towns, the acts of our citizens continue to enhance the lives of the entire state and maybe the nation. The state legislature would be wise to lend an ear to these voices more often. Our big cities have plenty of needs and they often control the legislative agenda. But the solutions to our state problems are found in the broader depth of the population, much of it living in the countryside.

Our kids will be soon healthier and breathing with fewer cases of asthma thanks to this appropriation. I call that a good thing.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Teachers Teaching Teachers

I recently cane across a website that offers teaching assistance to teachers by other teachers. The content is wonderful.

For example, how teaching blogging supplements English class.

Or, youth radio that connects students from around the world with each other.

I'm adding this link to the list of highly recommended sites that already are listed to the left.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Red & Black Ball

I just received the EO Smith Foundation's newsletter. It details the thousands of dollars that were privately donated to support EO Smith educational endeavors. This is a wonderful and worthwhile organization that can be reached at:
E O Smith Foundation

P O Box 39

Storrs, CT 06268-0039
Chairman Francis X. Archambault, Jr. has announced that their annual fundraiser, The Red and Black Ball, is scheduled for Sept. 22, 2007 at the Rome Commons Ballroom.

The first such event was a great success. Your continued support is celebrated there.