Musical links (personal list)

 This is one of those posts looking for a meaning; a collection of observations and musings (with links) that are only loosely tied. By now you too have probably heard something about Susan Boyle, the woman who wowed the judges and the world on the television show, “Britain’s Got Talent”. In under a month, one link of Boyle’s performance on YouTube has garnered 33 million hits! And there are other links to the same performance with another 20 million plus hits. It is remarkable what kind of attention this technology can garner. Susan Boyle’s performance reminded me of Paul Potts, who also floored the judges and left the audience gape mouthed with his rendition of an opera song — if you haven’t seen that, you can find it here. (Warning, it’s on YouTube, so you can’t watch it at school).

Anyway, both Potts and Boyle are just the latest reminders “not to judge a book by its cover”. In our ever increasingly superficial world, we are so quick to dismiss one another based solely on looks. It is an unfortunate truism about the media driven culture that we inhabit and it is getting worse with digital technology and photoshop able to erase all those “flaws” that make us beautifully human. It is a strange quirk about our nature, that if someone can demonstrate some other talent, we begin to forget (or not count so heavily) what they look like. Music, especially, seems to be able to close this divide and bring tears to our eyes.

Surfing around the net as much as I do, I often stumble across musical (and other) performances that leave me floored. Most times these just get bookmarked in one of my favorites folders and they remain there until … well, until I find some way to use them. Here then, are my recommendations for two performances that I believe deserve a wider audience:

P.S. 22 Choir: (Viva La Vida) During hard financial times, schools look to cut programs they deem as unnecessary or of limited academic value. This usually means that the arts, music and physical education programs are the first to go. Public School 22 in New York demonstrates what you can accomplish with a gifted, creative teacher and a little Internet publicity. While you are listening to these sixth graders sing, take a look at their little faces and tell me that they are not experiencing something valuable, meaningful and educational.

Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra: (Bernstein Medley) Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I played Tony from West Side Story in the 8th grade (singing and kissing and everything!). So it should be no surprise that somewhere on this list you would find an entry that features some of Leonard Bernstein’s music from that play. This performance is amazing, and then you remember that these are NOT professional musicians, but a collection of poor kids from Venezuela who were given a serious arts program. Listen and enjoy!

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you have a great holiday!

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.

A trove of free software

I love being a school librarian for so many reasons. For one thing, the term bibliophile made it sound like I had a serious condition and becoming a librarian was cheaper than seeking professional counsel. Of course I love reading, not just books, but newspapers, magazines and on-line sources, and as a librarian I get to share all that information with students and teachers. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly nowadays) being a school librarian gives me a real reason for spending so much time on-line (I’ll be off in a minute, honey – not now, kids, daddy is working).

Spousal and parental negligence aside, I really do try to do something productive with my time in the connected electronic world. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am always thinking like a school librarian; wondering if something I have found or read or linked to could be useful to someone I know. Many times, when I find useful resources on-line, they are disconnected stories or links that don’t make much sense when they are lumped together. Occasionally, however, I store away a few good finds long enough to gather a real trove of resources that compliment each other. Thus is the following annotated list of free software that every student and teacher should have and learn to use for school. Links to download these programs come from respected sites trusted by the Internet community to be safe to use and virus free.

Open This is an absolute “must own” for anyone who doesn’t have another hundred dollars to buy MS Office. Open Office provides the five programs most users are familiar with (word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing and presentation) as well as a look that resembles Office. It took me less than twenty minutes to download and install the program at home. I used the word processor program to prepare this post and it worked flawlessly. According to a few reviews that I read, Open Office is dependable and all the programs work as well or better than their counterparts in Office. Open Office will work on a variety of Microsoft operating systems, including VISTA, as well as other OSes such as Linux.

Open Office Suite
Open Office Suite


Paint.Net: I already recommended this program in an earlier post, and I still believe that it is a great piece of free software. I discovered Paint.Net when I went looking for a replacement for my old PhotoShop which I couldn’t transfer to my new computer. Paint.Net worked mostly well for what I was doing, but I missed having more powerful tools. So, I continued searching and found …

The GIMP: Despite its rather un-PC acronym (it stands for GNU Image

Paint.Net tools vs. GIMP toolbox

Manipulation Program) and its sort of infantile looking desktop shortcut icon, GIMP is a fully functioning, high quality program with more filters and other bells than Paint.Net. A quick comparison of the tools/toolboxes from the two programs shows just how many more options GIMP has to offer. I haven’t had a chance to really play around with GIMP too much, yet, but just having a smudge tool again is enough to sell me on it. I was able to download and install the software in less than twenty minutes. While neither GIMP nor Paint.Net match up to PhotoShop’s versatility and power, most amateur users will be able to do everything they need to do by combining what each of the free software programs does well. Considering that PhotoShop starts at over $250, and that most of us aren’t professional artists or graphic designers, GIMP and Paint.Net are manna from the online gods.

FreeMind: In early February, Ms. Sullivan recommended to me the site when I was searching for a replacement for my mind mapping program, Inspiration. I found many useful templates and tools at, and still highly recommend the site. However, I wrote that the essay map tool was, “exactly the kind of graphic organizer that I was looking for”, which may have been premature. What I was looking for was something like what you get at FreeMind, which is more open-ended and flexible than the essay map tool. FreeMind is still not as powerful or easy to use as Inspiration was, but I have already found myself playing around with it and finding that it serves my basic brainstorming needs. FreeMind allows you to import graphics, add hyperlinks, play with fonts, colors and backgrounds and even has some time management tools that shows how long it took to complete a project. Best of all, the mind map can be saved in multiple formats or can be exported as a .jpeg or .pdf to be included in other documents or presentations. FreeMind is not an Inspiration clone and lacks key features, like the “outline” view. But if you’ve never used Inspiration, you won’t know what you’re missing and you can save yourself $70 with a free, useful mind mapping tool. Like the other recommendations on this list, FreeMind took me about twenty minutes to download and install.


These four software applications give every teacher and student a good tool kit for participating in the connected electronic world. Anyone who already owns MS Office, Adobe PhotoShop and/or Inspiration don’t need the free software, but if you are missing any of these tools, OpenOffice, Paint.Net, GIMP and FreeMind are available for the asking.

Thank you for stopping by and may everyone enjoy their Passover and Easter holidays.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.


Mashing to make meaning

I am at a loss for words when I see some of the projects a few of our high school students put together for their classes. I have watched them cut and paste pages straight from the Internet along with grainy, poor quality, black and white pictures they gather easily from Google images. Hurriedly, and seemingly randomly, these students affix their “research” onto oak tag they get from us that morning or onto a presentation board they brought from home. This is not to say that there aren’t other students who do a marvelous job of researching, writing, editing, designing and presenting their work for class projects. It’s just that those aren’t the projects we see getting done, most of the times, in the library on the day the work is due.

This has always been true of some students, I suppose, but I am just floored that more students don’t take advantage of all the tools they have at their fingertips to complete their class projects. (I’ll write a future post about that). It find this interesting, considering how digitally connected so many of our students seem to be (I spend more time telling students to put away their phones, than saying anything else during the course of a school day – sad, but true). At our school, we’ve even chosen to block social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook, because the students were using all their free time on those sites. Of course, students weren’t spending their time on MySpace and FaceBook completing school work, but they were doing something.

Most of them were writing to their “friends”, updating their “status”, commenting on others’ pictures and words, embedding their favorite videos in their pages, taking silly quizzes, posting new photos of themselves and their world, adding songs to their playlists, changing the background colors and fonts on their pages, and doing a variety of other tasks that require skills we don’t teach or value much in education. I am not alone in wondering why this schism exists between how knowledgeable our students can be in some things, and how poorly so many seem to do in school.

We should not overlook or underestimate the role that technology plays in our lives, especially in the lives of younger people developing lifelong habits or ideas about the world. Cell phones, ipods, webpages, online virtual worlds, and the cacophony of media that is becoming ubiquitously available and instantly accessible, compete for our students’ attention, even when they are in school, sitting in class, walking the halls. I am not sure, yet, what this all means, but I have discovered a number of videos that have made me think that something seismic is happening.

The first two videos are from Kansas State U and address the notion that technology is changing the ways we communicate, because the tools have created new media for users to play with. The other links are examples of my favorite user generated videos (not professionals), taking pre-produced media, and creating a genuinely new work.

Note:  YouTube is blocked on our school computers, so to get to the links below, you will have to view this post elsewhere. (sorry).

A Vision of Students Today

Short video summarizing some of the most important characteristics of students today – how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they will experience in their lifetime. Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

An anthropological introduction to YouTube

Presented by by Michael Wesch of KSU to the Library of Congress, June 23rd 2008. Worked with students to prepare over 40 minutes of video for the 55 minute presentation discussing how online users are generating new content and creating new social networks.

User generated videos

McLuhan – The Media is the Message posted by MyCluein

Video created by a YouTube user combining audio from “Speaking Freely”, hosted by Edwin Newman, featuring Marshall McLuhan and broadcast on Jan 4, 1971, with video from various sources. McLuhan was decades ahead of his time as a visionary and critic of electronic media and technology.  He is recognized as coining the idea of “the global village” and for advancing the need to understand how media impacts culture.

We are here: The Pale Blue Dot posted by palebluefilms

Reknowned astronomer and advocate of science education, Carl Sagan was also quite a wordsmith. In this user made video, Sagan narrates the words to his famous passage, “The Pale Blue Dot” reflecting on the picture of Earth taken by Voyager I in 1990, from nearly 4 billion miles away. The user says that it is, “set to some my favorite films and the music of Mogwai.”

The Matrix vs. Carl Sagan posted by dvlazar

This user made video asks, “Ever wondered if scientist Carl Sagan and Agent Smith from The Matrix might be the same person somehow?” I imagine that it is a pretty accurate portrayal (unfortunately) of how some students feel about sitting in science class. (Don’t worry Keanu is coming to save you.)

Have a great Sunday, and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.