New lab in the library

I waited for three long years for it to happen, and then I forget to mention it here. That’s just how it is sometimes; the anticipation is so great, the delays make you lose faith, plans change, you forget about it, it starts to come true and stalls. And then it’s done. That’s what it was like waiting for another computer lab to be installed in the HHS LMC.

Thanks to the hard work and efforts of many people – administrators, tech workers and others who advocated for this – there are twenty five more computers available for student use in the LMC. This new lab is to be thought of as a “classroom”, even though there are no walls – kind of apropos considering the open 70’s design of our wonderful library.

That means that we can now accommodate two visiting classes at a time. That also means that we need everyone to realize how important it is to cooperate with each other in order to make sure that the LMC remains the academic center of our school.

Teachers who would like to schedule a class visit are reminded to check the calendar kept at the circulation desk. Here are some new LMC policies and a few reminders:

  • Visiting classes will be placed in the new computer lab first, to allow study students who signed up for the library and students with passes to use the other computers.
  • If two classes are scheduled to visit, the larger class will go to the lab, and the smaller group will use the other computers.
  • VHS students still get first use of the VHS bank.
  • If a teacher decides to cancel his/her visit, please call to let us know at xt. 1143.
  • Students are to remain SEATED until the bell rings.
  • Students are not allowed FOOD or DRINK in the LMC.
  • Four students to a table; unless a visiting teacher is allowing for group work.
  • Return all furniture to where you found it.

We truly appreciate your efforts and cooperation to create the kind of academic atmosphere that we believe is necessary for a successful library and a great school. Please remember that the LMC is now home to six directed-study classrooms, two computer labs, the VHS computer bank, the Jobs for Bay State program, and the library books. Yes, we still run the library out of that room as well. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’re here because we are ancillaries to the mission that we are all carrying out in the school. But we are subordinate, in the same way that the heart is just an organ in the body.

Hope to see you soon in our new lab, and thanks for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Follett from your desktop

Isn’t the digital age great? No really, there are some fantastic advantages to our wired world. Sometimes, we just need to know more about what we can do digitally in order to appreciate it. Take for example, the little icon that appears on the Teacher’s desktop when they log in at school. (Students, will hopefully get this access soon when they log in, as Ms. Gauthier and the techies work it out). One of the often overlooked and misunderstood icons is the Follett icon. But it is a valuable and powerful tool that many teachers never realize is available to them.

When you double-click this icon you are connected to the HHS/ LMC database. That means that you can check out the entire catalog to see if we have the resources that you want for your classroom. No longer do you have to trudge down to the LMC (especially you A-wingers) to see if we have copies of your favorite nineteenth century romantic novel about social protocols or an educational film about the art and craftsmanship of the shaking Quakers (Shakers, to those of you in the know).

From your desktop, you will get all the information you need, including the call number, year of publication, whatever bibliographic information there is and whether or not the resource you are looking for is available. Never again, will you have to wait for Barbara or me to tell you if we have something. Now that you realize you have this power at your fingertips, I bet you can’t wait for Monday, so you can try it out.

In the meantime, enjoy your weekend, and thank you for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Books from the HPL!

Our good friends at the Haverhill Public Library have blessed us again with some great titles that we will be adding to our shelves. As these are donations, they are not hot off the presses, but they are still great reads and worthy of your attention. We will have them displayed by the entrance on the RECENT ARRIVALS shelf, before they join the tens of thousands of books in our collection. Below is a list of some of the titles I found interesting (while cataloging them) with links to the Barnes and Nobles pages about them:

Hope you find something that piques your interest enough to stop by for a visit. See you all tomorrow and thank you for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Thinking about digital literacies

In an effort to get more materials aimed at educators and to improve our professional development library, we currently subscribe to three academic periodicals including the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. This weekend I had a chance to read many of the articles in the September 2008 issue of JAAL, and I highly recommend it for everyone, but especially for our technology teachers who are working with many of the issues covered in the publication. With that said, I would like to offer my thoughts on the articles and ideas in JAAL.

While I love technology, and advocate heavily for its use, I found myself conflicted by what I was reading. It reminded me of the double-speak I often hear at universities and seminars; it sounds good on paper, but in practice it’s a different animal. Furthermore, I wasn’t convinced that the digital literacies described throughout are comparable substitutes for the orthodox literacies they are replacing.

In defining what digital literacies are, writers O’Brien and Scharber say: “We take the position that digital literacies include the composition and reading of multimodal texts. In multimodal composing and reading, ideas and concepts are represented with print texts, visual texts (photographs, videos, animations), audio texts (music, audio narration, sound effects), and even dramatic or other artistic performances (drama, dance, spoken word)” (p 66).

As I was reading, I found myself thinking that the writers were confusing the technical abilities that students display with meaningful construction. True meaning making is different than creating a collection of personally significant artifacts that reflect random feelings, moods and affiliations. Choosing a background color, banner, font scheme, screen name, personal epigram, theme song and photo for your home page may be a creative process, but some authors seemed to be trying to convince me that this should be included in our school time.

It’s interesting to take a peek at what our students are creating when they forget that everyone is looking or able to look. Even a perfunctory tour of the web pages and spaces created by most of my students will reveal that they are typical high school students, pushing the boundaries of their limits and urgently trying to achieve status by displaying their brand associations as badges of inclusion. They are little consumers, except that now the store is digital.

When I was doing my student teaching at Holyoke High School, one of the many technology companies pushing to move into schools was a program by Christopher Whittle named Channel One. The idea was simple. Channel One would provide schools much needed “technology”, that is televisions, satellite dishes, and all the necessary cabling. Each morning Channel One would broadcast a two or three minute “news” segment highlighting important events around the country and internationally. The catch was that the programming included a one minute commercial for companies who paid big bucks for a captive audience (Whittle didn’t pay for all those TVs himself, after all). I wrote a paper against this program, believing that the cost was too high. Delivering our students into the hands of companies vying for their attention and loyalty seemed to me, to be against what I was trying to do as a teacher.

One of the articles in JAAL, Remix: The Art and Craft of Endless Hybridization, discusses how digital tools allow users to take original content and create new versions that reflect the creative and whimsical impulses of the users. As evidence, they offer sites such as Worth1000.com, where visitors can compete by creating altered photos around a theme such as “Mythical Creatures”. Another example of this kind of digital mashing is music videos created by anime fans, where they take their favorite song and clips from different anime episodes to create an original music video. Other examples, left me even less convinced that these are worthy of school time.

Interestingly enough, an article in the same issue of JAAL by Wendy Glenn, focusing on trends in Young Adult novels, mentions how publishers have honed their marketing techniques to attract readers by providing provocative situations, morally questionable characters and an insider’s look at the exclusive world of the socially elite. Some of the most successful YA titles, such as Gossip Girl, have web-sites and even television series which also attract the same demographic. This all reminded me of a video that my friend and fellow educator, Carl Tillona, sent me a while back.

The video is a student project called “A vision of students today“, completed at Kansas State University in the Spring of 2007. The video features a calmingly, haunting musical score and a series of statements written on walls, chairs, notebooks, computer screens and other surfaces. The underlying argument of the video seems to be that students today learn and live so radically differently than in previous times, that all of our pedagogies are archaic and ineffective.

Two series of statements especially caught my attention. In the first series, a student holds up a notebook stating, “I will read 8 books this year, 2300 web pages & 1281 Facebook profiles“. The next student, holds up a sign saying, “I will write 42 pages for this class, and over 500 pages of e-mail.” I found it disheartening to say the least, that college aged students could equate the experience of reading Twain, Austen, Hemingway, Morrison, Miller, Vonnegut, or any of the long list of writers available to us all, with checking out what a thousand people think about themselves. I also found it insulting that they could compare 42 pages of critical thinking and notes to any amount of e-mails; that is unless they are having much more serious correspondences via e-mail than I usually engage in.

The second series is both ironic and hilarious. In this segment, a number of students hold up pages stating how many hours they spend each day doing various things such as eating, talking on the phone, working, showering etc. The final tally is twenty six point five (26.5!) hours a day of activities, which is of course both impossible and ridiculous. The conclusion is that they get in 26.5 hours each day by “multi-tasking, because [they have to]”. I propose that they get to math class, pay attention and put down their electronic gadgets.

See you all tomorrow and thank you for stopping by.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Quick Hit: Newseum

Anyone who is interested in seeing how the “top stories” are being covered around the nation and around the world, should check out Newseum. This site offers visitors the chance to peruse the front pages of nearly seven hundred newspapers. It’s very interesting to compare and contrast what makes for good news around the country. Newseum might be a good way for teachers and students to discuss bias, coverage, sensationalism, propaganda, and other issues related to journalism. Newseum is included in the “News” tab of this page because I think it is top site worthy of your time. The fact that they actually have an education/ events section means, they’re also thinking of you.

Thanks for stopping by and see you all tomorrow for a great Friday!

© 2008 henry toromoreno

On conquest and culture, Columbus Day (2008)

Growing up, the Columbus Day holiday was always a bit of a mystery to me. I was torn between what I was learning in school and what I was hearing at home. In the classrooms of PS 299 in Brooklyn, we learned that, “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” We read about how he and his crew aboard the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria discovered the Americas, while trying to land in Asia. He was a hero according to my teacher, and so we sang songs and drew pictures celebrating his life and his discoveries.

At home, my mother told me about the forts that the Spaniards built on her island of Puerto Rico. Some of these forts were started as early as the 1540’s and were added to, for the next several centuries. While some Spaniards were building these strongholds in PR, others led by Coronado, for example, were marching across the southwest US in what is now New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, also discovering and claiming new lands for the monarchs overseas.

In our school books, Columbus was described as the discoverer of the New World; but then came the Conquistadors with names like Cortes, Pizarro, Balboa and even one Cabeza de Vaca (cow’s head). I found it easier to pronounce these names than my teachers did, but that didn’t help my understanding. The story I was learning now, was getting very confusing. These small bands of armed men were roaming around the American countryside discovering and renaming things the people they were conquering, had already discovered and named. Even today, the southwest and west of the US echoes in its names, the passage of this history in places like Colorado (reddish), Nevada (snow covered), Montana (Mountain), Los Angeles (the angels), Palo Alto (high pole), El Paso (the passage), and hundreds of others.

So what did Columbus have to do with US history? I didn’t get it. He was an Italian sailor, backed by the Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. His voyage opened up a trail for other Spaniards looking to discover new riches and claim lands in the name of the Spanish throne. There did not seem to be a connection between Columbus and the United States, really. In his four trips to the New World, he never made it further north than Central America. But what Columbus did, was begin a great story about what happened when these two different worlds met. He began a narrative with heroes and villains, and set up a framework for our national mythos.

On my last visit to Puerto Rico in 1981, when I was fourteen, we visited one of the Spanish forts, Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, named after King Phillip II of Spain. I remember being impressed by its size and by the weight that the place seemed to express with every thing; the iron work, the bolts in the floors, the anchors for the cannons. We were able to explore several dark passages where there were holding cages for prisoners and traitors. My mother refused to venture in to see these rooms because as a little girl she was told that they also held slaves and natives in those rooms. From this fort and others like it, the Spanish held off the other powers of the old world and held el Puerto Rico (the rich port) for themselves for nearly four centuries.

What Columbus started in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, a small group of religious separatists were about to duplicate in the colder northern part of the Hemisphere. We learned in school the amazing story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower who landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, and suffered, unprepared, through a harsh New England winter, I endure yearly now. What the textbooks didn’t say was that there had been nearly twenty other unsuccessful ventures that tried to establish a foothold in the north for the British monarchs. The books also fail to mention that the Mayflower’s passengers had obtained a deed to found their colony in Virginia, close to the already established Jamestown colony. Had the Mayflower not been blown off course, however, we wouldn’t have the first great chapter in our national story, that of Thanksgiving, and we’d have to invent some other heroic beginning. What began with Columbus’ landing, continued in the north with the establishment of the British colonies.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that our part of the country is called New England. Here too, the past echoes its roots in the names of places like Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford, Gloucester, New London, and hundreds of others. My father, after whom I’m named, was born in 1945 in Manta, Ecuador, far from this part of North America’s eastern seaboard. Even though no one in my father’s family spoke English, they understood the power of the language and the call of the American dream. They were given names like Walter, Edison, Daniel, and Gladys. My father’s name is Henry not Enrique, and his middle name which he passed on to all three of his sons, is Wilson. There was not a Jose or Manuel or Carlos in the bunch when they arrived in New York City in 1964 seeking their fortunes.

Like everyone since Columbus landed somewhere in the Caribbean, my parents came to the New World seeking fortune and opportunity. In the story of the US, the original settlers first had to combat the elements and the no-longer-so-friendly natives to pursue this cause. As I was learning about the establishment of our fledgling country, the heroic names of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and others replaced the stories of the conquistadors. Around this same time, I also discovered books that described the horrible encounters between those explorers I once viewed as heroic and the natives of my mother’s island and my father’s homeland. I was confused again about Columbus Day and why we celebrated it in the United States. I read the first hand accounts written by Bartolome de las Casas of the brutality inflicted upon the natives all over the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America by the Spaniards. During the course of this civilizing campaign, the Spaniards took with them overseas corn, potatoes, vanilla, tomatoes, papayas, bananas and whatever precious gems and metals they could.

In my home, I heard stories from my radical uncles about revolutionaries named Simon Bolivar, Antonio Jose de Sucre, Pancho Villa, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. These were men they told me, that led the charge for independence from their colonizing Spaniard masters. For too long, Spain had oppressed not the natives of these places, necessarily, for they were powerless, but the people who had learned enough about history to demand an equal station in the world. Likewise, in the thirteen colonies, the revolt against British rule came from a group of educated men who were prepared to demand recognition as a sovereign body, even as they shackled actual bodies in pursuit of wealth. I could no longer keep the story line straight in my little head.

In a fifth grade social studies report, I questioned whether Thomas Jefferson was really a hero, since my uncle Edison told me that he had slaves and a black girlfriend. I thought I was fair, having copied straight from the encyclopedia evidence that Jefferson’s genius extended to writing, architecture and statesmanship; but my teacher still disagreed with my final conclusion that he was not a hero, but just a man. Columbus too, I could no longer see as a hero. By the time I was in high school, I was reading books like the Autobiography of Malcolm X and a host of other writers that had come from the civil unrest of the 1960s. They reinforced my perspective that Columbus’ landing had started something that wasn’t solely worth celebrating … it wasn’t like he had landed on the moon, for example, where no one was conquered.

But the story of the United States, didn’t seem to me early on to be about conquest. The Pilgrims were seeking religious freedom. The colonists were defending their territories. The pioneers were looking for new opportunities. The narrative was clear, the heroes were defending the pursuit of freedom against the elements and the savages. I just wasn’t sure what side I was on.

In appearance I look to be a typical Caucasian male of some mixed background. I have been mistaken as Italian, Greek, French, Turkish, and even Japanese (only in Hawai’i). On my mother’s side I have family members who are dark skinned, but can’t trace their history on the island of PR very far. My father’s side, which comes from Ecuador is equally curious. I have relatives who claim to be descendents of the Inca, while other members, like my father’s father who had gray eyes and dirty blonde hair and was nicknamed by his American co-workers, Il Duce, obviously come from European stock.

Which leaves me being born in Brooklyn in 1967, to a brown-skinned, teenaged Puerto Rican mother, and a pale-skinned, twenty-something Ecuadorian father. We spoke Spanish at home as I learned English from television and the streets, before I started attending school in 1972. Public School 299, where I went until the fourth grade is in the middle of the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Today, just as it was when I was growing up, it is a predominantly black neighborhood with pockets of new immigrants still arriving from south and central America and the islands of the Caribbean. The landscape is dominated by three story tenements and the weaving metal course of the elevated train. Three hundred years before I was born, the Dutch named this area “Boswijk” meaning “heavy woods” or “town in the woods”. The British who took it over called it Bushwick Green. By the time my family arrived to the area, there were few trees to be found.

When we moved in 1977 to a different Brooklyn neighborhood on the border with Queens, our new home had a small backyard with a tree that produced nasty, green apples. Instead of renting an apartment, this time my parents bought their first home. A brick-faced, two-family row house with a finished basement in Cypress Hills. Like Bushwick, there weren’t many trees in my new neighborhood, except for the eponymous cemetery that seemed to stretch for miles when I saw it from the elevated train. But this neighborhood was different because here there were Italian-Americans who lived on my block. For these guys, Columbus was still a hero, and Columbus Day was a holiday worth celebrating.

But that wasn’t the most serious point of contention between us and the “white boys”. We didn’t argue politics or understand history. We just knew we were different because of how we dressed and our tastes in music and what we caught each other eating on the front steps of our houses. We made fun of their rock bands with long hair and screaming singers. They yelled back that what we were listening to wasn’t even real music. We accused them of being greasy, they accused us of being lazy. In the end, it was settled with a soccer match; in the streets, during weekdays, and on the local high school field on the weekends.

The Hispanic kids in my new neighborhood came from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, and El Salvador. Still, we bragged about Argentina’s and Brazil’s World Cup prowess. The “white boys” didn’t care so much for West Germany or England. Their soccer heroes were Italian, and the first back-to-back World Cup championships belonged to them only. When Italy won the World Cup in Spain, of all places, I was fifteen and the matches on our street, as well as the talk and braggadocio, got pretty heated. By the time Argentina reclaimed the title, four years later, most of the white families on my block were gone.

Christopher Columbus did not come up once in our arguments or disagreements, but I believe that he was part of why we were in conflict, and why they moved away. And why I’m still confused about what to do on Columbus Day.

© 2008 henry toromoreno

Internet Television

Thanks to the October 2008 edition of WIRED magazine, I’ve discovered another website that is bound to get us all into trouble at home and at school. Luckily, only a few dozen people a week visit this blog, so the word will not get out as quickly as it might elsewhere. Anyway, if you’ve never heard of Hulu.com don’t feel bad. I consider myself a little more than an internet novice, and I hadn’t heard of this one until the article by Frank Rose discussing how Hulu was born through a deal between FOX and NBC (strange bedfellows indeed).

It seems that the old media giants who fought against the age of clandestine file sharing that began in a college dorm with Napster, fought against copycats like Kazaa and Limewire, and are still fighting against the explosion of YouTube, have come around to realizing that media is a digital genie … once it’s out the bottle, it’s almost impossible to contain (and therefore, difficult to collect royalties). So Hulu represents the beginning of another stage of online media. And yes it’s FREE.

So what will you find at Hulu.com? Think of it as YouTube with better quality videos and commercial interruptions. Or think of it as television on the internet. And not just old shows like they used to have on AOL.TV (Sorry AOL) when it first started – but current hot shows like Heroes, 30 Rock, the Office and Saturday Night Live. For someone like me, who doesn’t watch any primetime programming on the old networks any longer, this was a great find. I don’t have a DVR, TiVo or satellite television, but with a wireless broadband connection to the internet and Hulu, I can now see what everyone else seems to be talking about (when I care).

Unfortunately, you’ll have to endure the ubiquity of bad programming (you know I’m talking about you, Family Guy), but you can also find gems such as full length feature films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Inherit the Wind, Of Mice and Men, and the documentaries Split: A Divided America and Hoop Dreams.

Thank you for stopping by and keep your Hulu viewing at home. See you all on Monday.

© 2008 henry toromoreno