Monthly Archives: June 2009

Pure Fun at Tanglewood

mobileThis weekend we celebrated my father-in-law’s 90th birthday (March) and my oldest brother-in-law’s 60th birthday (May). The clan of 15 (we were minus three grandchildren) gathered for two nights at the Shaker Mill Inn in West Stockbridge, MA, just three miles from Tanglewood, our main destination. Our family (on both my husband’s side and mine) has long enjoyed attending Tanglewood, back from the days when my brother and I spent summers at sleep-away camp in Pittsfield.

Oh my goodness! I was all set to write that the camp has long since been sold and the property subdivided (which is what we had been told years ago), but a quick search for “Camp Mohawk in the Berkshires” yielded an amazing story! The camp does exist and is currently being run as a day camp by the son (and his wife) of the folks who ran it back in the nineteen-sixties and -seventies. Yikes!

Over the past twenty or so years, we have attended Tanglewood with various members of my husband’s family and my Dad. My most recent visit was about five years ago, when I took my Dad to the Red Lion Inn for an evening and we had a last hurrah (for him) at Tanglewood.

This weekend marked the opening of Tanglewood’s summer schedule, though not the “official” opening as the Boston Symphony Orchestra doesn’t have its first performance until July 3.

Another long standing enjoyment in our family is listening on Saturday evenings in the winter and into the spring to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion on NPR (National Public Radio). Somewhere around twenty years ago we attended our first live performance of the show at Town Hall in New York City, quite fittingly along with the brother-in-law who just celebrated his 60th and his wife. After the show, the four of us went out to dinner and who should come into the restaurant and eat at the table across from ours, but Garrison Keillor, the cast of the show, and the guest musical performer, John Sebastian (of the Lovin’ Spoonful). About ten years ago we took our sons to Town Hall for their first live performance of the show.

garrisonFast forward to Saturday night, June 27, 5:45 p.m., and Garrison is warming up the audience fifteen minutes prior to show time. He’s walking up and down the aisles singing, and we are all singing along with him. He gives us the particulars about a live radio show, the warm up ends, and the show begins, featuring all the regulars plus several guests, among them Martin Sheen, Steve Martin playing his banjo (WOW can he PLAY!) with The Steep Canyon Rangers, and Heather Masse and her beautiful voice. All of this made for a savory and relished listening and laughing experience. And that, my friends, would have been enough, but not for Garrison. Up his sleeve was a special guest appearance by Arlo Guthrie! If you are like my 18 year old, you said “Who?”, but if you grew up in the States in the 50s, 60s or early 70s, you probably know who Arlo is, and Alice’s Restaurant is well known to you.

with arloOkay, so the two hour show plus fifteen minute warmup was delightful. And that, my friends, would have been enough, but not for Garrison. We, along with a large number of the audience, were on our feet clapping and singing, and Garrison returned for an encore. I lost count, but there must have been five encores, with Steve Martin in the early ones, and Heather and Arlo in the remaining ones, and Martin Sheen joining the ending ones. And how long did the encores last – oh, for a mere hour and twenty minutes! And what happened in the encores? We sang along with Garrison and Arlo, at one point going for twelve or so stanzas – many of them improvised on the spot – of We Shall Overcome, including: We are happily married, It’s time to pass the hat, I was an English major… plus verses sung by the ladies, by the men, by those who sing bass…bass

We wafted out of Tanglewood around 9:40 p.m., happy, sung out, smiley faced, feeling good, and ready for some rousing rounds of Apples To Apples at the Inn with a 90, 80, 60, 58, 54, 52 and 10 year old, followed by some great late night conversation with siblings, in-laws, and spouses. (That’s Garrison singing his bass stanza, and he can truly sing bass!)

My amygdala is pumped, memories have flooded the forefront, and new memories have been laid down. Neurons firing? You bet!

Watch and listen as Steve Martin plays the title song of his new banjo CD, The Crow (on which he wrote all the songs), with The Steep Canyon Rangers. They played this Saturday night, though this video was recorded elsewhere.

ARTZ, Authors and Alzheimer’s

This post owes its thanks to a conversation with Karen Kruger on Tuesday, at the first Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity conference. More on the conference in upcoming posts, but for now, it’s ARTZ and Authors, all related to Alzheimer’s.

ARTZ
Karen began by telling me about ARTZArtists for Alzheimer’s. Art as therapy has long been a useful tool for assisting people with myriad health issues, right up there in positive impact with music, dance and pet therapy. “The ARTZ Museum Partnership Program implements interactive, educational museum programs for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.” My Dad is unable to visit a museum, but perhaps I can bring “art” to him. I see him respond to my singing of songs and playing of his favorite oldies (Frank Sinatra always hits home); perhaps art – both viewing and creating (why not finger painting!) – will also tweak a memory or provoke a positive response.

AUTHORS
Still Alice was written by neuroscientist Lisa Genova, whose grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Lisa had the benefit of being a scientist who could understand the mental deterioration that was taking place in her grandmother’s brain, but it left her wondering how a person with Alzheimer’s felt as their cognition slipped away. From this curiosity came Still Alice. Thanks to a book journal given me by my oldest son, I’ve been writing about the books I read, and here’s what I wrote about this book back in March.

Deb S. loaned me this book. written by a Harvard PhD in neuroscience and online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association, it is a fictionalized yet highly informed look at one woman’s descent into dementia after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. The woman, Alice, is a Harvard professor with three grown children and a husband, also a Harvard researcher. They have a summer home on the Cape, in Chatham. Yes, the ending is a tear jerker – Alice is alive but has lost so much of her capability to communicate. Lisa’s insights into Alice’s mindset seem spot on and I wish-I wish-I wish that I had read a book like this when Dad was in the early stages. Perhaps I could have been more helpful to him.

I did not read verbatim, and intentionally read quickly, because this topic and story – particularly this story – were too close to home. Fred and I teach at the same school. We’ve spent many glorious, soothing summers on the Cape. We have two incredible children. I cried for Alice but nestled deep down perhaps I cried for me. I could have the gene my Dad has, and that portends a future I don’t want to contemplate, certainly not until or unless it becomes apparent that I need to contemplate it.

And that is the most honest I’ve been about Alzheimer’s! This was a sad story but also somehow encouraging, because Alice had a voice. This is Alice’s story.

Karen also recommended another book, which I have ordered, I’m Still Here: A Breakthrough Approach to Understanding Someone Living with Alzheimer’s by John Zeisel. Am very much looking forward to reading it, and of course, will share my thoughts in a later post.

Summer Sharing and Paring

garbagePailIt’s vacation, June 21, and officially the first day of summer. It’s also been an extremely rainy June, providing me more time indoors than at the pool. Last year by this time I was swimming daily half miles in our neighborhood pool; this year the weather has allowed just 3 swims since the pool opened on Memorial Day. It’s been somewhat likewise with our kayaking.

Rather than get frustrated, I have used the time to majorly clean up and out my files, papers, desk and email. There is something immensely satisfying in seeing my load get lighter, in overfilling a garbage pail, in organizing my Google Docs into folders, in paring down my collection of books. I like the act of organizing; heck, I volunteer to organize professional development at school!

So I’m starting the summer by paring down, but also by sharing. Here are some goodies to ponder for the summer.

HOW DID I GET INTO THIS PLACE?
In my experience, most tenth graders do not decide they’d like to write a book and then not only follow through with their plan but self-publish and have the book sell over kristi book100 copies within hours. However, this young person is not your typical tenth grader. In fact, she is now a high school senior as of her last day of school a few weeks ago!

Back when she was in tenth grade, Kristi decided she wanted to pursue an independent study project as an eleventh grader, the project being to write a book that would serve as a guide for students with learning differences to help them navigate the world of high school.

While Kristi’s book is written for students at the school she attends, and where I teach, it is applicable to any student who has a learning difference and struggles with the process of school.

I had the privilege of being Kristi’s advisor throughout the process, which she initiated as a tenth grader, several months before her independent study proposal had even been submitted. The result of her fastidious organization and preparation is an 80 page book that is eminently readable and packed with useful content for both students and teachers. How Did I Get Into This Place? is available for purchase, which is exactly what my school did for all 170 faculty, staff and administrators as summer reading.

THE DANA ALLIANCE FOR BRAIN INITIATIVES
The Dana Foundation is located in New York City, at 745 Fifth Avenue. The Foundation provides resources, both in print and online, including The Dana Guide to Brain Health, a wiki that “is a practical family reference from medical experts.” In addition, the Foundation sponsors events such as the Learning and the Brain conference, “reports news, supports scientists, and supports arts education.” A senior project manager at Dana was most helpful in providing 40 copies each of two publications (Staying Sharp: Memory Loss and Aging, and Your Brain at Work) for me to hand out at the April CAIS conference at which I presented.

THE YALE CENTER FOR DYSLEXIA & CREATIVITY
Who knew this center even existed! A colleague first introduced me to Yale’s center sometime in the spring when the center advertised A Special Conference for K-8 Independent Schools – Dyslexia & Creativity: New Research & Implications. The conference registration filled up quickly, and my colleague and I wound up on the waiting list. The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity has a worthy mission “to uncover and illuminate the strengths of those with dyslexia, disseminate the latest innovations from scientific research and practical advice, and transform the treatment of children and adults with dyslexia.” I leave you with another part of the center’s mission:

Dyslexia is often spoken of as a hidden disability. What is not at all appreciated is that dyslexia can be also a hidden source of great abilities and frequently unrecognized powers.

p.s. Ah, the SUN is out and I am going to go for a swim!

6/22/09 UPDATE: I missed the swim – sun was only out briefly, but the “sun” was shining on the Yale Conference wait list, and it turns out my colleague and I will both be attending the conference!

In the words of others: Reynolds & Sousa

GARR REYNOLDS
Picture 1I’ve mentioned Garr Reynolds before, so many times, in fact, that he is even included in the Tag Cloud at the right. Garr writes an informative blog about presentation design at Presentation Zen, and while I initially found his writing (both his blog, and his book of the same name) enjoyable and accessible for learning about presenting and design, he often includes references to, and whole posts about the brain. So it is with his June 17, 2009 post The power of emotional contagion. Garr does a lot of traveling and presenting outside of Japan (where he lives). This current post finds him visiting Tivoli Gardens after presenting in Sweden, and he writes about mirror neurons, yet another topic that figures in my Tag Cloud.

DAVID SOUSA
Picture 2A colleague who I met at the AIMS Technology Retreat twittered me an article in ASCD by David Sousa: Educational Leadership – Brain-Friendly Learning for Teachers. Sousa, who has also written an information packed book How the Brain Learns, discusses professional development that is geared towards learning for the participants. He references current brain research and provides practical suggestions designed to help make PD opportunities useful rather than onerous. Especially since I am knee deep in co-planning a full day’s worth of opening meetings for the fall, this article is a welcome “hand to the forehead” reminder of what will make the day worthwhile.

Digital Wave – Smart Board Conference

There are now some 70 Smart Boards installed at my school; a large investment in interactive white boards, to be sure. We’ve been providing related professional development for faculty since 2007, both during our June workshops as well as during the school year. About eight months ago, I mentioned to my husband that our faculty (yes, we are at the same school) would benefit by talking with faculty who are using these boards at other schools. Nothing like a healthy discussion and sharing of ideas with colleagues! The result of that discussion was just a few words uttered by my husband along the lines of  hosting a conference; kind of like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney shouting “Let’s put on a show” in the movie musical Babes in Arms. ;-)

The result of our discussion was the Smart Board Conference hosted at our school on Tuesday, June 9. Eighty-eight faculty from 23 schools registered to attend, and on the day of the conference there were ten students (grades 8 through 12) on hand to assist with the sessions, plus our vendor, his boss, and a representative from the New York City Smarttech office. We provided continental breakfast and lunch, along with the location. Attendees came from schools in New York City and Westchester, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Morning sessions were organized according to subject areas: The Arts, Library & Media, Math, English/Language Arts, Science, Humanities, Languages, and two groups of K-4 lower school teachers. Each group had a faculty facilitator, five who kindly volunteered from other schools and four from my school, and each group had a student assistant, with the larger lower school group having two students. The primary goal for the morning sessions was to share lesson ideas and plans, what works (or doesn’t), and to for each person to cross-pollinate their learning by talking with faculty from other schools.

The afternoon sessions were organized by topics that had been suggested by people when they registered for the conference. My goal was for the afternoon sessions to have a quasi-unconference feel, and to that end, during lunch, I encouraged people to take charge of their own learning as they broke out into the afternoon groups. Also during the afternoon, our vendor and the Smart Tech representative provided demos of the Smart Table, the Smart Response, the Smart Document Camera, and the Notebook software.

Our students, who were the primary presenters the day before, were at the conference to provide a second set of hands. However, true to the collaborative nature of the day, many of the students also gave demos and shared their perspective as the primary consumers of this technology.

Overall, the conference was a success! I requested feedback in a follow-up email, and received many useful suggestions that will be considered for incorporation next time I organize a conference. Some of the suggestions included:

  • having a marker board available for doodling and sketching notes and ideas
  • putting out Legos (Zometools would work also) for people to randomly and collaboratively tinker and build
  • organize sessions to accommodate differing familiarity/ability levels
  • have facilitators for unconference sessions (would that take away from the unconference nature?)

Just imagine the dining room below packed with 100 people. You can click the image for a large version of the panorama taken by Riley K., one of our student assistants.

SB conference

Digital Wave – Students on Tech

This has been a remarkably productive and enjoyable week of professional development. Special kudos to those brave and incredibly PATIENT students who were on the other side of the help desk, helping us get up to speed on their favorite tools.

Hands on work, lots of time to practice, good company and able, caring facilitators and teachers are the best elements in a successful PD experience. They have all been readily available! (Head Librarian)

I thank you for all your support! What sources of information you were for me, as well as for the participants. Your ability to jump right into any situation… you were eager, polite, and so friendly.… each and every participant thanked me over lunch, telling me how wonderful you two were, and wondering how RCDS had such nice kids…with fabulous backgrounds in technology. (3rd Grade Teacher and Facilitator at our Smart Board Conference)

…thank her for empowering our students. Yesterday’s student sessions were amazing. I learned so much about Twitter, Pulse Pen, I-Phones, Facebook, etc. We have an incredible number of incoming 9th graders [and 10th graders] who are going to amaze you with their knowledge of technology! The world is ever changing…use our students to help adapt to all the changes. You won’t be sorry. The students are so easy to work with and they enjoy helping. (US Math Teacher)

These students were/are AMAZING!!!!! I went home thinking a few things: Like, why are they still in school when they could easily be running their own corporations, and …how can we keep up with them? …and…we have much to learn about the world of tomorrow from them! Thank you, I loved every minute of learning from you!! (MS Learning Specialist)

Thanks…for recruiting and organizing this talented group. I attended Monday’s workshops and came away with a better understanding of how students are using and enjoying technology. These students piqued my interest in expanding my own use of the internet and technology. Thanks to everyone for all the time you put into preparing and presenting your technology insights. (Art Department Head)

I attended some of the Monday workshops and am totally impressed with the students’ knowledge as well as their poise and superior pedagogical skills. They were amazingly patient, knowledgeable, interesting, relevant, intellectually curious, and with-it. I want to sign up for any future workshop that may be offered by our students. (LS Learning Specialist)

Well, the faculty reviews above should give you a glimpse into the reception of our faculty to the Students on Tech sessions this past Monday. Seven students kicked off Digital Wave by sharing their favorite apps with faculty in thirty minute sessions. The goal was not to proselytize, but rather to answer the question “Why I use this app (or tool)?” and give a brief demo of it. In addition to the applications already mentioned, students covered Google Docs, Tech Tips (an in-house podcast created by one of the students), iChat, and blogging.

I am so proud of these students, who presented like professionals and managed to model best practices of presenting, sharing some impressive slides that would make Garr Reynolds quite happy. (I think that some of the students may have learned their presentation skills from years of watching Steve Jobs keynotes.) ;-)

As if Monday didn’t keep them busy enough, these students returned on Tuesday, along with three others, to assist in our hosting of a Smart Board Conference. More on that tomorrow!

Digital Wave

Digital Wave got its start in the summer of 1994, when the headmaster of the school where I currently teach, and the headmaster of the school where I was then teaching, made it possible for faculty at both schools to participate in technology workshops hosted by my current school. My role was to organize and teach the sessions, the focus of which was to assist folks with getting comfortable using computers and basic applications.

Sessions have been offered every summer save one since 1994, with each year’s format and topics being updated to reflect emerging trends in the world of technology, needs of faculty, and alternative methods for sharing information. Along the way, multiple students have been part of the process, acting as teachers and co-facilitators.

The sessions of the early years were open to faculty from other schools, both as participants and facilitators. One summer there were upwards of 80 faculty from a multitude of schools taking sessions offered by 12 other faculty. However, as more and more independent schools, including my school, began laptop programs, many of these schools started their own in-house tech workshops, and Digital Wave became exclusively an RCDS endeavor.

TECH TIMELINE
Following the focus of Digital Wave over the past 15 years provides a fascinating look at how the use of technology has morphed in the world of independent school education. In the very first session the topic was “making the most of the Macintosh” and we used ClarisWorks 2.0 and various content-specific programs. Anyone familiar with these: PageMaker, Painter & Freehand, Geometer’s Sketchpad, HyperCard (alas, no longer in use), HyperStudio, FileMaker, Microworlds, PageMill, BBedit, Graphic Converter, Now Up To Date, PhotoShop, Inspiration, FirstClass, Table Top, and HomePage. These applications filled our first seven years, along with tips sessions, all types of Internet sessions, and sessions on using one computer in the classroom.

Around 2001 we began pushing digital video and imagery, with sessions on camera use, scanning, iMovie, QuickTime, SnapsPro, LiveSlideShow, plus continued teaching of software for making web pages with a switch to Dreamweaver. 2004 saw the ushering in of student participation, often as teachers but also as assistants. If you didn’t already know this, it turns out students are super at collaborating one-on-one with faculty in teaching how to use programs and offering useful suggestions for their use in classes. Hmm, a classic case of asking the experts for their feedback ;-) (Hey students, what works for you as a member of my class?) Around this time sessions on MS Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) entered our summer repertoire. We also started focusing more on integrating technology into the curriculum, instead of teaching applications in quasi-isolation (both to the students during the school year, and the faculty during the summer workshops).

From 2005 to 2008, workshops wove in Apple’s iSuite (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, iDVD, iPod), along with Mac OS Tips and Tricks. All of our desktop computers had always been Apples, and during these years the balance of laptops switched from being mostly PCs to mostly Macs. In 2007 we added workshops on Smart Boards, as our school began installation of what would eventually wind up being 70 Smart Boards. Wikis, blogs, Google apps (Docs, Spreadsheets, and Earth), along with Flash, digital grade books, more on FirstClass email and FileMaker, and podcasting tools, highlighted the sessions of the past two summers.

STUDENTS ON TECH
In November of 2007 I offered an idea for our professional development day entitled Digital Natives, Diverse Learners. Here is the pitch I made to our Curriculum Council, and here are some of the resources I provided. The pitch struck out, partially because it was competing with other themes of the year (Sustainability and Diversity).

I am DELIGHTED to say that on Monday of this week, we presented Students on Tech to a highly appreciative group of faculty. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post with details on the student sessions! (Would add them now, but this is already a long post!)

Sessions #1 – in my drawing ZPD

First Sessions Online drawing lesson. Pencil feels good in hand. Warm up exercises followed by a sketch of an everyday object. Goal was to sketch object without getting fussy about it. Just jump in and draw. Coffee pot evokes Fred’s morning brew. I know, top perspective is off. Not sure I like this staccato post but will give it a try as a stream of consciousness post, without getting fussy about it. One thing is certain, I am in my drawing ZPD! And am going to try a sketch a day.

ex 1 connet the dots

1-connect the dots by drawing 10 random dots and then trying to connect them with flowing straight lines

 

ex 2 parallel lines

2-draw a series of parallel lines across and top to bottom to foster smooth control of hand and pencil

 

ex 3 clockwise spiralex 3 cc spiral

3 and 4-draw clockwise and counter-clockwise spirals to continue warming up hand control of pencil

 

ex 4 braun coffee maker

5-our Braun coffee maker, sketched Sunday evening

 

ex 4 photo braun coffee maker

another cup of coffee ;-)

Lev Vygotsky & ZPD

My friend Ann and I exchanged letters in October 2007 as part of her exploration of learning for a graduate class she was taking. In her letter she mentioned Rousseau, Montessori, Piaget and Vygotsky. Semi-familiar names, they were, but it had been years since I read about Rousseau or Piaget. I am now having the pleasure of (re)discovery as I encounter them, one at a time, in Theories of Development by William Crain. I am seriously considering the purchase of the Fifth Edition of this book, partially for my library, but mostly so I can mark it up with notes in the margin!

Lev Vygotsky had a short but active life (1896-1934). I understand his theory of development as tying together nature and nurture: Nature is the “natural line” of development that takes place within a child. Nurture is the “social-historical line” that comes from the external environment. This theory of development blended his readings of Piaget and others with his Marxist beliefs.

Marx, Engels and Vygotsky all felt that environmental context fostered developmental growth. To better make use of the world around them, people develop tools. These tools are physical as well as cognitive. Vygotsky called the cognitive tools “signs“, and the use of signs impacts an individual’s behavioral responses to the environment. Examples of cognitive tools include speech, writing, and numbering systems. Vygotsky believed that “cultural sign systems have a major impact on cognitive development.” Essentially, we need words and ideas to describe and harness the culture in which we live.

I first heard of Vygotsky in reference to the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD). It took three explanations of the concept to clarify the meaning for me. I understand the ZPD to be a range within which the learner is poised to experience new learning.

A learner develops at their own pace, regardless of external instruction and curricula. When a learner is developmentally disposed towards new learning – when they are in their ZPD – they are on the frontier, ready for new learning. This is how I initially understood the zone of proximal development. However, Vygotsky described it as:

the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.

This explanation suggests ZPD as being the area beyond the learner’s comfort zone – they are actually in the frontier, where they can learn with assistance from others. In fact, they need the assistance of others because the frontier is so new. 

If any reader would like to elaborate or clarify ZPD, please go ahead and do so!