Welcome Back, 2012-13

Hello everyone, and welcome back! It has been more than four months since my last post; my longest absence/ silent period since starting this blog in December 2007. The reason for this, is mostly due to my own inability to balance all the demands of my life as a father/ husband/ teacher/ brother/ citizen/ person. Writer/ blogger comes in late on a long list of duties, but I expect to be able to squeeze in a full year of posts this time around

I hope everyone had a great summer vacation and that they feel reinvigorated for a new school year. As usual, I find myself anxious with anticipation and cautiously fearful that my good feelings won’t last. One thing that continues trending in a positive direction is the overall cleanliness and appearance of Haverhill High, the building. Improvements have been made both indoors and everywhere on the school grounds, from the parking lots to the pathways leading into the buildings.

This year, of the many improvements made to the school, perhaps the most welcome (and exciting) is the polyvision boards installed in every classroom. This new piece of technology is expensive, but promises to improve instruction and make classroom time more engaging.  Unlike regular whiteboards, smartboards can be connected to a computer and become large interactive presentation tools. The idea, according to proponents of the smartboards, is that this tool will make lessons more interactive and, possibly, entertaining.  We shall see.

For those who would like to learn more about how smartboards can and are being used in schools, (and whether or not they’re worth it) I’ve collected a short list of recommended reads online. Most of the titles speak for themselves:

While we don’t yet have a smartboard in the LMC, I am hoping that the powers that be recognize how much sense it would make to install one in Lab 2. Many teachers, including me, use that lab for demonstrations and talks that require a large interactive screen. As soon as I get to play with one, I’ll let you know what I think. On to other things …

Here’s a brief list of important dates for the LMC:

  • Tuesday, September 4th, teachers can begin booking time in the library. PLEASE NOTE that the LMC labs must be booked online, just like any other lab in the school. We are not responsible for any conflicts, but we will try to help in any way we can.  All other library visits (to take out books or use the pit, for example) should still be arranged at the circulation desk.
  • Friday, September 7th, teachers of Freshman English classes can begin scheduling visits for an LMC orientation. This introduction to the LMC’s rules and resources takes only one class period. Freshman orientation visits will be Monday, September 10th – Friday, September 28th.
  • Monday, September 10th, students who have a regular study period scheduled, can begin signing up for library study.  Students can sign up before first period or at 2:05, after the last school bell. Please call ahead of time if you must send a student or students for any reason to the LMC and ALWAYS send them with a pass. With so many people using the LMC at the same time for different reasons, it gets difficult to keep a track of who belongs there and who doesn’t. We appreciate your cooperation and thank you in advance for your assistance.

Random things that I want to mention:

  • Over the summer, Curiosity, a car sized rover, landed successfully on Mars, proving once again that even if we can’t go there ourselves, we have ways of “getting there” with our technology. Human beings have this amazing ability to imagine ways of doing things that seem impossible before we actually do them. I can’t wait to see all the high definition pictures and data that Curiosity collects over time.
  • I didn’t really watch the Summer Olympics because there was other stuff going on in my life, but I did see Usain Bolt run two races. I couldn’t help but be blown away by how powerful and explosive he looked, especially when I remembered that everyone behind him represented the very best of the rest of the world. This short video, comparing Bolt to every past Gold Medal Olympian, is both telling and incredible, and left me wondering where the upper limits of human performance are.
  • Hans Rosling is back at TED Talks doing the kind of interesting talk, combining statistics and storytelling, that I always find eye-opening. This time around, he explains what is happening in terms of world wide birth rates and why we should be planning for a world with around 10 billion people.

Finally, over the last few years, I have unfortunately been reminded of how quickly our time passes and how suddenly change can come into our lives. In facing these personal losses, I have had much to reflect on, and I have spent a lot of time reliving my days with those people; elders who carried the world on their shoulders for me, until I was ready to bear the weight for myself. I don’t remember specifically how these people, who are slowly disappearing from my life, taught me all the things they needed to teach me about responsibility or respect or love. I just remember that they made me feel special, protected and wanted. They believed in me and I knew it. As a father and an educator, I hope I can make my own children and students feel that way. I want to thank everyone who has supported this blog over the years and I want to encourage readers to leave feedback so that I know what interests you.

Have a great week and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2012. All rights reserved.

Some observations about technology & education

               As the librarian, I get to observe many teachers working with their classes. It is a fantastic perch I get to watch from and I am always trying to “see” what it is that we are doing in school. Here are some of my latest observations, though I am not sure what they mean. (Perhaps you can help me with that part.) 

  • Technology is here to stay and yet, we’re not really sure why we’re using it sometimes. I’ve seen teachers bring their classes down to use the computers, but they are being employed in vastly different ways. Some teachers bring their students to use the internet for research, guiding them with recommended sites, while others allow their students to simply Google anything they want, and/or use wikipedia as a source. Still others only visit to have students type their essays, never using the internet or online databases.
  • It is interesting to watch students working on asynchronous, distributed learning like Virtual High School courses and the NovaNet program. Some packages include video and audio segments to go along with the standard online reading and writing. What is clearly missing is the classroom interaction, the back and forth of discussions and questions. I’m left wondering if this model works for all learners, and if the “assessments” (usually multiple choice questions) really demonstrate learning or simple recall of information.
  • I am amazed by how many students still see the computer as basically a typewriter and/or an entertainment system. When they are not typing a paper, they are trying to access music or games online because, according to them, “I’m finished with all of my work”. Besides the occasional Power Point presentation, I hardly ever see students using computers to actually “compute” anything. That is, I hardly ever see anyone using a spreadsheet to plot information or create graphs. I have never seen students creating a database, learning what fields are or how to run a query. I haven’t witnessed students independently watching educational videos from PBS, Yale Open Access, TED Talks, Khan Academy or any number of valuable information sources available online. Instead, I find them looking at Nike sneakers, cars few will ever be able to afford or the latest video from Nikki Minaj or Lil’ Wayne.
  • Finally, I posted a picture of Steve Jobs, along with a quote attributed to him, on my office window the day after he died. There is no mention of who he was, only the dates 1955 – 2011. Not surprisingly, more than a few students had no idea who he was, even though they carried versions of his ipod in their pockets and had little white ear buds hanging from their collars. One writer I read, mentioned that perhaps Jobs’ greatest contribution to our culture was his ability to make technology fun and beautiful. I leave that for others to decide. 

               There it is. Some observations from where I sit. Like I said, I am not sure what all this means, but I know that I am watching a radical departure from what school was like when I was a student. I love technology, and I am thankful for the incredible power it puts at our fingertips. I’ve learned though, that whenever something is gained, something is inevitably also lost. Many people have started taking sides on what we’re gaining and losing with the advent of always being connected. I recommend for your consideration the following books, which we have in our collection:

  •  Fool’s Gold: why the internet is no substitute for a library by Mark Herring: We just got this title in, but obviously it would strike a chord with me, being a librarian. I’ll give a more informed review when I’m done reading it.
  • The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr: I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before, but I think it’s worth repeating. Carr’s thesis is essentially that our brains are “sculpted” by the thinking and learning technologies they encounter. Everything from pictographs, the phonetic alphabet and maps have all informed our minds about the state and shape of the real world around us. Now neuroscience is discovering that our latest and greatest invention, the internet, is changing how we think.
  • The Future of the Internet: and how to stop it by Jonathan Zittrain: Another new arrival to our shelves, I can’t say anything except that it promises to be interesting. According to the blurbs and reviews I’ve read, the author posits that commercial interests have already started taking control of what was once an open, democratic and often, chaotic new form of communication. The real danger for users lies in the ubiquity of the internet and the incredible power it has for gathering information about all of us.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something interesting and useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.

A new post … finally

               So we’re still in the middle of the coldest, harshest winter I can remember in the recent past, but we are almost at spring, so hang in there. It’s hard to start posting again after some time away. I sort of lose my groove if I miss my self-imposed Sunday deadline. Before I know it, three weeks (or months) have passed and I haven’t put together any ideas for the next blog post. The only way to get going again is to start posting again, so without further ado, here’s a list of random things that have accumulated on my desktop since last I wrote.

  • March is a very busy month in the Library Media Center (LMC) as we are closed for many days to accommodate MCAS retesting and Accu-placer testing. I am working to create a calendar tab on this blog that will allow anyone to see what days we are closed or hosting special events. In the meantime, please check the library calendar to see what days are available for visiting classes.
  • The Internet has run out of Addresses. Bob Brandon, our television and film guru happened to mention on Facebook that the internet had run out of addresses. A friend of his posted a link to the article from WIRED magazine, which I now pass along to you. It’s a fascinating story, because I think most of us just assumed that there would be an infinite number of available addresses forever. Turns out, it’s not so.
  • Nature informs architecture, presented by Michael Pawlyn: Using nature’s genius in architecture. How can architects build a new world of sustainable beauty? By learning from nature. At TED Salon in London, Michael Pawlyn describes three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun. 
  • Are We Still Evolving? A documentary from the BBC which asks the question that also doubles as its title. This hour long program is fascinating as Dr. Alice Roberts travels around the world to visit people living in remote parts of the world to investigate if there are clues to where the human species may be heading. One of the experts they consult is right here in Massachusetts, the Broad Institute; a leading research firm that specializes in the human genome. 
  • BONUS silly dial up modem cartoon … the sound track alone is worth the visit.

I’ve still got a few more things in my pile, but I better save them for next week. Until then, stay warm and try radiating your own sunshine.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something worth your time.

 Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.