Saturday, December 1, 2012

Detention: Thinking Out Loud with Social Media

So it's Saturday night, and I'm in detention. Not quite a John Hughes film like The Breakfast Club. 

(I include the trailer for students that haven't seen such '80s classic films)

To clarify, I am not serving detention. I monitor detention that runs from 7:45 to 10:30pm. The students have cut class or required work to make up. Some may have skipped one too many sit-down meals or assemblies. The list is relatively short - seven kids - in a boarding school of about 400 - not bad.

Their eyes are fixed on laptops and ipads with earbuds secured. 

One boy falls asleep; after twenty minutes, I tap him on the shoulder and tell him to take a bathroom break and splash a little water on his face. 

Truth be told: many of these students would be doing the same thing in their dorm rooms. The punishment is to sit in uncomfortable chairs in a math classroom under terrible fluorescent lighting. My eyes hurt. 

Meanwhile, I contemplate grading, reading, revising plans for tomorrow's lacrosse clinic, or finishing an overdue course plan for a unique ECHO course this winter entitled: "Teaching Social Media."

(What is an ECHO Course? FYI )

So please allow me to think out loud with you.

Here's the course plan: 

TEACHING SOCIAL MEDIA; Social Media for Social Good

Pre-meeting sign up for Edmodo.com - in-class assignments will be shared on Edmodo.com

Take Edmodo group poll and quiz to see where the 25 students stand in terms of literacy with, and use of, social media.

Hopefully, there will be more than five veteran iMovie editors - and many students with smart phones with HD cameras.

(Exploring possibilities to partner with Mr. Gerber's video editing ECHO that will run simultaneously.)

Week 1:

Watch and Discuss the Fine Brother's viral video:
Teens React to Chilling Cyberbullying Video

"Be With" Exercise - to see one another eye to eye.

Discussion on Integrity: Who am I? An existential crisis in a world of social media.

Review privacy issues on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as personal exposure on social media.

(Re)introduce Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and the Class Blog. Create platforms to share and learn.

For some, it will be old hat - for some it will blow their minds; therefore, partner students with a tech savvy mentor.

Things to think about: Who would you like to interview on campus or in Hudson? We will create content for our blog that the admissions office, alumni office, or deans office will likely appreciate - and share with prospective students, alumni, and current students and parents.

Course Projects: Why WRA? What makes WRA special to you? Tell your WRA story.  

Week 2:

Brainstorm in groups; then, go shoot short films on smart phones - one take - no splice editing necessary.

Post to blog - and share via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

Brainstorm longer documentaries that will require editing and more story boarding and planning.

HWK: Contact possible individuals to interview on campus and in town.

Week 3: 

Continue to brainstorm and plan in groups; then, go interview individuals on smart phones.



Week 4:

Brainstorm in groups; then, go interview individuals on smart phones.



Week 5:

TBD - Possible field trip one week.

Week 6:

Review and showcase work.

Final discussion.

Conclude with another "Be with" exercise.

During the course, we will discuss and share various findings, video clips, and TED Talks.

I hope to have short visits from guest speakers both live and via Skype or Google Hangout. For example, tech savvy faculty, alumni, social media gurus, business owners, non-profit organizers, content producers, writers, etc.

FYI: I've already been tweeting @kob14 relevant links and posts using: #teachingsocialmedia #wraecho

I am guessing the students will teach me more than I can imagine right now; however, I do want to share the idea that who you "Follow" in cyberspace is just as important as it is in the real world.

Technology is a tool - how do we use it responsibly? That's the question.  Imagine if we shifted the mindset from mundane status updates and cyber bullying to social media for social good.

Any feedback would be most appreciated. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Turkey Transition and Novel November

Today, a Taco Tuesday in the dining hall, was the first day back after a generous week off for Thanksgiving break. Long vacations such as these are well-deserved at boarding schools for students and faculty alike.

Yet it's the transition - ramping up to speed - that can be a challenge as November turns to December. It's been called the final sprint to the second marking period and the looming fall exams.

This morning, I was greeted by the sleepy eyes of juniors. This afternoon, the tired seniors showed the effects of disrupted sleep schedules. First days back I tend to tread gently and keep expectations low - the secret to happiness is low expectations according to Barry Schwartz argues in his TED Talk.

Tomorrow will be better as we transition to our second home here at WRA. Expectations are high - and the final push can be intense. Students and faculty up there game in preparation for final essays, projects, and exams. The reward: another long vacation.

However, I appreciate today. Despite the cold grey but dry day, there is an energy and excitement that buzzes on campus as students reconnect like a family reunion with stories and questions, smiles and laughs. I am reminded how special community is - and how special this WRA community is.

And as another birthday passes and November ends - National Novel Writing Month, I think of another year without writing that unfinished novel; however, taking inspiration from Matt Cutts "Try Something New for 30 Days," I will blog for the next 30 days.

Thanks for reading. Here's to writing, again!

So I leave you with a final quote that I found on a new favorite site, brainpickings.org:

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers


“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” E. B. White

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dawn Reader: Oops! To err is human--but I don't like to be hum...

Read a great blog from Dr. Dan Dyer - former colleague, prolific reader and writer, and ongoing inspiration to countless students and peers:

Dawn Reader: Oops! To err is human--but I don't like to be hum...: I have spent much of my adult life finding and marking mistakes.  For thirty years I taught English to middle-schoolers (and fifteen more...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dorm Duty and Darth Vader

Ah Freshman! Nothing quite like dorm duty in Wood House, the freshman boys dorm.

I am tempted to email freshman teachers and let them know that they are not assigning enough homework.

This is what I say when freshmen start wandering the halls like animals prowling for food.

I ask if they are finished mastering their foreign language, memorizing their bio book, and annotating all the white space in their Rime of the Ancient Mariner... 
Not to mention - have you completed AP multi-variable calculus?
There is always something to study.  

A door bangs, and I hear pounding, "You can't close your door during study hours."
A door opens, and I hear a bag of cellophane snatched.  More pretzels have been stolen.

Math homework is discussed in another room.

A pretzel thief tiptoes across the hall, seeking more salty snacks.

Another freshman strolls slowly down the hall to get a drink, killing time, then detours into a room not his own.  

They move like Obi-Wan-Kenobi in the orginal Star Wars (Episode IV) - where he sneaks around the Death Star.  

They think I don't notice their wandering and stealth strolling about.
I too am a Jedi, feeling the force.
I guess that makes me Darth Vader, roaming the hall; the Man; the bad guy; the faculty master, playing cop.


Freshman don't realize, yet that little goes unnoticed in a dorm, or at a boarding school.  Eyes and ears are everywhere.  It's a wonderful community where everyone (soon) knows everyone.
But everyone knows everything (sooner than later).
People talk, tweet, and text.
So "live with integrity" is not just part of our mission statement, but sage advice to heed.  

At times, we choose our battles, but we hold them accountable.  Admittedly, the homework is easy at the start, but it will pickup and requests for late lights will soon be frequent (and regularly denied to those who wander).

At 9:45 at the end of study hours, we allow them to have their cellphones - we collect them at 745 when study hours begin.  Two hours without tweets and texts - no notifications vibrating and beeping.   A freshman literally dances and moonwalks down the hall - the joy - the reunion of boy and iPhone.

I notice another wanderer; so I talk with him - a catechism of sorts: questions about his homework in each subject.

A boy down the hall sings a rap song from memory, but can't remember his homework assignments.  A paradigm shift is in order.  I must go.  The music grows louder.

Good night. Duty calls. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Teaching (and writing about) the Poet's Life

A new school year is upon us, and it's time to write again.  The summer months passed far too quickly and my fingers never quite found these keys.  I pecked out emails on my iPhone, but I confess it was a summer of action and travel.  Now I write and reflect.

This fall I am teaching a senior English elective on "The Poet's Life". We will read delve deep into a handful of poets while sharing favorite poems and poets, finding new favorites in the process.  We will follow the advice of Elizabeth Bishop to an aspiring poet circa 1960:

Read a lot of poetry - all the time... Read Campion, Herbert, Pope, Tennyson, Coleridge - anything at all almost that's any good, from the past - until you find out what you really like, by yourself.  Even if you try to imitate it exactly - it will come out quite different.  Then the great poets of our century - Marianne Moore, Auden, Wallace Stevens - and not just 2 or 3 poems, each in anthologies - read ALL of somebody.  

So we began the course with summer reading, Jay Parini's biography of Robert Frost: A Life.  Parini spoke on Brian Lamb's Booknotes on C-SPAN in 1999.  Frost was onsidered the most celebrated American poet from his rise to fame in 1915 to his death in 1963; Parini spent twenty five years researching this biography.  In 2008, Parini taught two teen vandals from Ripton, VT more than a few things about Frost and poetry.

Now, we will read more Frost poems.  We will listen to Frost recordings.  We will watch video ("Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening") of him too.  We will take a closer look at "The Road Not Taken" and see if we can find a deeper understanding of the work by knowing the man.  We will also memorize a favorite Frost poem.  We will also create each create a Prezi presentation of one Frost poem.

We will also compare Frost to:
Wallace Stevens - Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Marianne Moore - Poetry

We will also post to a class blog. Check out my first post: http://whypoetrymatters.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Afraid of the dark?

This year's Knight scholar, Ian Cheney screened his documentary The City Dark in the Wilson Lecture Hall.  The film made me think more about light and night pollution than I ever have.  His journey in making this film lead to unexpected discoveries which were fascinating - see the film.  The Q&A with director, writer, and producer Ian Cheney made the experience truly special with excellent questions from students for over half an hour.

Consider this post as a teaser to see the film, rather than a review, and more of a reflection of how it resonated with me.

After the thought-provoking film, I began walking back to my apartment at Wood House and noticed our lighted campus.  I could see down Brickrow from Wilson to the Metcalf Bookstore - a mark of a safe campus, yet felt a new sense of guilt for the generous light from which one could easily read a book.  I felt nostalgic for my first couple years where there were fewer lampposts and many more shadows.

A Frost sonnet, "Acquainted with Night," echoed in my head, especially the third line.

I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light. I have looked down the saddest city lane. I have passed by the watchman on his beat And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain. I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet When far away an interrupted cry Came over houses from another street, But not to call me back or say good-bye; And further still at an unearthly height, O luminary clock against the sky Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. I have been one acquainted with the night.

So that's what I tried to do, outwalk the furthest campus light.

I headed to the cross country hill.  My eyes noticing lights everywhere,  a pink hue to the clouds, and a scimitar moon - with a star or a possible planet a few inches to the right above the moon.

To be honest, I wish I knew my stars like my father, a sailor, who once navigated by star light in the Virgin Islands.  He had a telescope that as children we played with like a toy, losing parts to his chagrin.

Yet on the hill tonight, in the shadows behind a wall of remaining pine trees, I could still see all ten tennis courts, light near the hocky pond, and distant cellphone towers and truck lights flashing from Interstate 80.

I was sad to see so few stars and more clouds than I should.

I thought of Peter Lee, former physics and astronomy teacher, and his frustration with night pollution.  My first year, seven years ago, on a similar night, I needed a walk before bed, and I came across Peter in the observatory.  It was a memorable experience for me, yet he was disappointed. Forlorn, he said, there used to be more stars to see.

However, alone tonight, I was still reminded of how insignificant I was in the grand scheme of moon and stars and universe and global commerce with trucks rumbling all night across the country, and cell phone messages whirling faster than bats.

I simply stood and wondered.

The paradox of progress - and connection via technology - that disconnects us from nature and darkness.  

The dark.  The fear of the unknown.  The fear of uncertainty.  

I wonder what is next?

No light can tell us that.

Fear not the dark.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Twitter, Tweeting, Twits: What's the Story?

If you're not a fan of Twitter, this post is for you.  
If you don't get it, you have to watch the TED Talk below.  

Or not, but odds are high that your friends or your students are already on Twitter.

In this 2009 TED TALK, Evan Williams, Twitter founder, speaks of the unexpected uses of Twitter.  It seems like ancient history now, but if you're already on Twitter and tired of mundane updates - you may want to consider the friends you follow...on Twitter.  

Consider the possibilities of real-time mass communication via Twitter, watch this TED Talk.  Maybe then you'll understand last year's historic revolution in Egypt.

Williams is not the most exciting speaker; however, when I watched this talk last year, it made me rethink how one could use Twitter for multiple audiences.  

If you want to follow a social media maven on Twitter, follow former WRA faculty member and graduate, Brendan Schneider @schneiderb.  His blog schneiderb.com offers priceless advice on using social media in independent schools.  He writes, "I use Twitter for three [reasons]: to share information, to connect, and to communicate." 

After "listening" to Brendan's wisdom for a few months on Twitter, we started using Twitter last spring for WRA's lacrosse program, sharing real-time information with players, parents, and alumni @WRALacrosse.  This year, I am sharing information with my English classes @KOBsENGWRA, for student life at WRA, a boarding school @clubsactivities, and as a head coach @CoachOBrienk.  Each has a specific audience that I wish to share, connect, and communicate with in an effective manner.  

On Twitter, like life, it's all about who you follow. For each account, I follow Twitter users that are relevant to each audience and retweet pertinent information. For example for my English classes, I follow @advicetowriters, @newyorker, @grammargirl, @quotes4writers, @oedonline, @poetryfound, @parisreview, @theatlantic - the list goes on.  I have embedded Twitter feeds on each of my blogs (that's another post).  Easily switching accounts on my cell phone, I only read Twitter a couple minutes a day, but I find much to share. (Now, it may seem like I am an ego maniac.  No, I have no aspirations to be a Twitter celeb like Ashton Kutcher.)

But I teach 10th and 11th grade English, serve as a class dean, and lead the boys lacrosse program. When considering the different hats that one wears at a boarding school, it's all about communication.  There's so much information out there...I like to channel information with a discerning eye, and tweet, "Hey, you may find this interesting - or inspiring."  Yes, some information tweeted is even essential.  

Like any technology, it can be abused; however, Twitter is not going away. Students are using it, and more are going to be using it.  My two cents: meet them where they are and teach students how to use Twitter responsibly and effectively.  

My message to students: tweet wisely as you "Share, Connect, Communicate." If your tweets would embarrass you, your parents, or your school, please think again.  Or at the very least, make them private.  Public tweeting means literally anyone in the world can see those tweets.  

Final thought: perhaps, begin by simply "listening" on Twitter
Follow your interests and people that inspire you - and learn more. 

Thanks, Brendan.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kate and Frederic Chopin

For this post, please click this video and listen as you read. 

Make no mistake: They are no relation, Kate and Frederic, yet they are inextricably linked in my mind.  Although we were three obstreperous boys, my two brothers and I would calm down like Pavlovian dogs whenever my mother listened to Chopin on the stereo, which was often in my memory.  Much older now, I, too, have fallen in love with his nocturnes and sonatas, calming meditations through music.  I now associate Chopin with the brilliant performance of Albert Wang.

In college, however,  I read The Awakening,  and when I came across this scene where Edna listens to Mademoiselle Reisz play Chopin, I think of listening to Chopin, the composer, as a boy.

Kate Chopin writes:

Edna was what she herself called very fond of music. Musical strains,
well rendered, had a way of evoking pictures in her mind. She sometimes
liked to sit in the room of mornings when Madame Ratignolle played
or practiced. One piece which that lady played Edna had entitled
"Solitude." It was a short, plaintive, minor strain. The name of the
piece was something else, but she called it "Solitude." When she heard
it there came before her imagination the figure of a man standing beside
a desolate rock on the seashore. He was naked. His attitude was one
of hopeless resignation as he looked toward a distant bird winging its
flight away from him.

Another piece called to her mind a dainty young woman clad in an Empire
gown, taking mincing dancing steps as she came down a long avenue
between tall hedges. Again, another reminded her of children at play,
and still another of nothing on earth but a demure lady stroking a cat.

The very first chords which Mademoiselle Reisz struck upon the piano
sent a keen tremor down Mrs. Pontellier's spinal column. It was not
the first time she had heard an artist at the piano. Perhaps it was the
first time she was ready, perhaps the first time her being was tempered
to take an impress of the abiding truth.

She waited for the material pictures which she thought would gather and
blaze before her imagination. She waited in vain. She saw no pictures
of solitude, of hope, of longing, or of despair. But the very passions
themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the
waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking,
and the tears blinded her.

Mademoiselle had finished. She arose, and bowing her stiff, lofty bow,
she went away, stopping for neither, thanks nor applause. As she passed
along the gallery she patted Edna upon the shoulder.

"Well, how did you like my music?" she asked. The young woman was
unable to answer; she pressed the hand of the pianist convulsively.
Mademoiselle Reisz perceived her agitation and even her tears. She
patted her again upon the shoulder as she said:

"You are the only one worth playing for. Those others? Bah!" and she
went shuffling and sidling on down the gallery toward her room.

But she was mistaken about "those others." Her playing had aroused a
fever of enthusiasm. "What passion!" "What an artist!" "I have always
said no one could play Chopin like Mademoiselle Reisz!" "That last
prelude! Bon Dieu! It shakes a man!"

It was growing late, and there was a general disposition to disband. But
some one, perhaps it was Robert, thought of a bath at that mystic hour
and under that mystic moon. (72)

Online book

When Edna is "unable to answer," she enters the liminal en route to her awakening.  Without words, the music has not conjured her imagination, thoughts in her mind, but something more powerful than intellect: "passions themselves were aroused within her soul."  As an artist, Mademoiselle Reisz expresses herself through music, playing for herself, and Edna "the only one worth playing for."

Through art, whether it be music or Edna's painting, creative expression resonates with each of us as human beings.  As unruly boys,  we connected with Chopin.  As a young man in college, I connected with Edna's plight as she searched for her voice.  As I write this, and teach The Awakening again, I find new meaning through writing.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Connection: "The Power of Vulnerability"

In writing this...blog (I am still not a fan of the term), I have found courage and connection.

I humbly share these words, these musing, these stories, and these videos.  Writing makes you vulnerable, sharing your thoughts and your heart.  There is no hiding once your words are in writing.

This blog makes me feel vulnerable as I share, especially as an English teacher; however, as an English teacher, what better way to set an example?

Writers write, right?

Researcher, Story-teller Brene Brown shares her story. "Connection is why we are here."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GO MAD: Be the Change - Be a Friend

It has been said that there is no greater mirror than an old friend - to see how much we have grown.

What makes our boarding school friends so special?

Short answer: From around the world, you come together in a community and bond for life.  And those friendships,  despite time and space,  never end.

They are with you always - and you celebrate their achievements with more joy and pride than you do your own.  Forgive me while I brag share a story about one of my dearest boarding school friends.

I first met Soiya Gecaga in the first few days of our four year experience at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA.  We were both fourteen and far from home; I missed Cleveland, she missed Kenya.  Yet we were all in the same boat at boarding school. As a class, in no time, we became like a family, relying on one another like siblings.  Her outgoing personality and kindness made her an instant friend to me.  As we approach our 20th Andover Reunion this June, I am proud to count her as one of my many life-long boarding school friends.

After we graduated in 1992,  Soiya studied at St. Andrew's in Scotland while I headed to Penn.  We lost touch; however, the summer of 2008, we reconnected in London.  My original plan was to visit my brother Sean while he was studying at Oxford.  Through Facebook, Soiya offered a night's stay before I headed out to see my brother.  After a weekend in Ireland together, Sean had serious work to do for school.

So Soiya offered I stay at her house plus a week's worth of yoga at her local studio, Jivamukti Yoga School in London.  Frankly, if you were to guess, the least likely to practice yoga from the class of PA '92... we might have of been tied.  Yet here we were strolling to classes daily and sharing old stories of what we both remembered - or what we chose to remember in the stories that we each created.  We were more than surprised by our differing stories on the same boarding school experience.

During that week, she also shared with me many books, each profound, but The Four Agreements changed my life.  It had been recommended to me before - but now I had some time to read and discuss it with an old friend.  With perspective, we could see how our memories were filled with assumptions that we had made when we were young.  At the time, we thought we knew one another so well, but in reality, we had no clue of the heavy stories that we carried silently.  We were judging, pretending, and trying - desperately - to be cool, to fit in, to be the best.

In our thirties, we could laugh at how high school drama was riddled with failure to be impeccable with one's word.  We recognized how personally we took every slight or rumor.  With anxiety at a school full of the best and brightest, we struggled with expectations, especially always do your best. We neglected the pronoun "your" and obsessed on being "the best."

Since Andover, our paths shared parallels as all lives do - high and lows, twists and turns as well as loss and redemption. Our conversations, both healing and inspiring, will be cherished forever.

Cut to today: scanning Facebook, I read Soiya's story.  She embodies "act with compassion."  The  action she has taken inspires me to be the change that I wish to see in the world.

In June, I do hope Soiya will be at our reunion, but given her work, I will understand if she does not make it - we're with one another in spirit.  I am grateful to be her friend.

(I am also grateful for social media and technology - that allows me to share her story and bring awareness to her work.  Recently, we discussed the possibility of her visiting my WRA classes, possibly via Skype.  On her next visit to the US, she is considering a stop in CAK or CLE. Now, that's a friend!)

At WRA, as we celebrate Go Make-a-Difference Day, we "acted with compassion" as an entire community in various service projects.  It is also likely you made new friends in a new context outside your classes, sports, and social circles.  Be open to these transformative experiences and the diversity of this community.  You have an opportunity to make friends from around the world - that will be there for you for the rest of your life.

Therefore, in honor of today, and our recent service for MLK, I felt it fitting to share Soiya's story - and how our friendship - and how our boarding school experience has shaped our lives.

(Our school's motto:  Non Sibi - Latin for "Not for Self").

Please read her essay published in today's Huffington Post.

Being the Change That I Wish To See In the World

by Soiya Gecaga

           As I think about the year that has just gone by, I am filled with immense gratitude for all that I experienced in 2011. In many ways, 2011 was a life changing year for me. Most importantly, it was the year that my work with "We the Change" Foundation (in the field of early childhood education and care) started in earnest. Mahatma" Gandhi once said that "we must be the change that we wish to see in the world" and ever since I first heard these words quoted, they have strongly influenced me and the choices that I have made in my life. So much so, that I named the foundation with Gandhi's quote in mind.
             Starting in January, my work really took off. It was the culmination of a long personal voyage of discovery, of transformation and of deep introspection. In the wake of the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007-2008, I quit my job as a lawyer working in London and travelled to Kenya, where I was born. My goal was two-fold. Firstly, to get to know and to reacquaint myself with the country that I called 'home;' secondly, I was determined to find a meaningful way in which to give back to communities in my country that lacked opportunity.
            I had sat at my desk in London, watching the devastation unfold on my computer screen and could not believe what I was witnessing. My fellow countrymen were killing and harming each other in ways that I previously could not have fathomed. Like many other Kenyans at the time, I found myself confused and perplexed at just how something this terrible could have happened. Question after question flooded my mind. Where was the hatred coming from? Why were communities that had previously lived in harmony now killing each other? Why were those in power not doing anything to stop the violence? I found myself looking to those in authority for answers. However, it was ordinary Kenyans who provided inspiration....Continued. 
To Read Soiya's entire essay, Click here.  She shares one of my favorite RFK quotes in her conclusion.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Run or walk in the rain? Check out: Myth Busters

Rainy day here at WRA.  Students are coming in like wet dogs.

"Do you really stay drier if you run (vs. walk) in the rain? See what the MythBusters -- surprisingly -- concluded in 2003."

Check out: Discovery Myth Busters

Or sing in the rain?

Gene Kelly "I am singing in the rain"

Pick up a WRA umbrella in the book store.  And please, don't "borrow" umbrellas.

Here's to singing in the rain!

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK Day at WRA

Today's Comments by Mr. Morris resonated with me:

Good morning.  On the occasion of this day I would like to share an excerpt from a speech, a poetic meditation that Martin Luther King delivered at nearby Oberlin College upon receiving an honorary degree in 1965.  
In a voice far, far richer than mine, he spoke these words:
All I'm saying is simply this: that all humankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  
For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be - this is the interrelated structure of reality.  [The English poet] John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: 
No man is an Island, entire of itself; 
every one is a piece of the continent, a part of the main …  
any one's death diminishes me, because I am involved in humankind;  
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

[King followed Donne’s lines with these words:] And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.  
MLK's legacy continues if and whenever we act upon it.  

With his --and Donne's-- poetic, prophetic vision, we can see an ultimate community --
we can see each other, and all others, as sharing one fate, one destiny.  

Today, tomorrow, Wednesday, GoMAD day, every day.  
Thank you.

MLK's Last Speech:

A New Genre? The Possibilities of Using Prezi with Poetry

What's Prezi? What are students learning using Prezi with Poetry?

Students were instructed to select a poem and present it using Prezi.
At the end of the week, they were given two classes in the computer lab to play and tinker with the technology; on Monday, the presented their work.  We discussed the presentations and the use of imagery, mood, tone, the selection of key words and phrasing as well as the flow of the presentation and the effectiveness of the technology.

A Student Example:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Back in Philly

Over the weekend, I travelled to Philadelphia for the National Lacrosse Coaches Convention.  A great networking event, with countless lectures on every facet of the game.  Herm Edwards, former NFL star and head coach, was a powerful speaker as was Coach John Danowski of Duke University.  Perhaps, the best part was the quality time to talk and share ideas with my coaching staff. 

One topic of debate was the use of Twitter and Blogger and how to use technology effectively to communicate.  With the many hats that I wear as a coach, English teacher, and Dean, I see potential for all of these since I can address specific audiences, effectively.  But when is technology too much?  In an information age, how do we glean what is important and discard that which is a distraction?  There's only so much time in the day. And my fifteen minutes is up for tonight; however, I started the following post on Friday morning: 

When I was in college at the University of Pennsylvania, I was dead broke most of the time, and either working out for lacrosse, studying as an English major, or making ends meet by working at Smokey Joe's Cafe or at the current periodicals desk of the Van Pelt Library. Throughout the week, I would squeeze a couple hours at the desk in between classes and practices, but on Sundays I would work a long shift, usually from opening, and sometimes to close, in order to get my allotted 20 hours of my federal work study grant. It was at the current periodicals desk that I may have received most of my Ivy League education.

On Sundays, undergrads and grad students would come to my desk and check out journals - over 4000 were, literally, at my fingertips.  Many students would come in smelling like a dirty ashtray (some I had seen while I was working at Smoke's the night before).  They'd have to write a research paper; some knew what they were looking for... others, not so much. Very quickly I would develop a sense of who was in which class. And I figured out the assignments during the course of the day since the same students would come looking for the same resources.  Inevitably, out of sheer boredom at times, I would read these journals and usually help out as I became an expert in the topic - or at least the assignment.

To be honest, if they were polite, I would help; however, if they did not treat me like a human being and treated me like a servant sitting behind a desk, I merely gave them what they asked for.

But the true education may have been the exposure I had to all of these journals and current periodicals (magazines and newspapers) from all over the world from every subject matter that one could possibly imagine - on subjects that I didn't even know existed. Keep in mind when I was in college email was only available at certain universities - there was no jstor.org (an online academic digital archive), let alone websites for such publications; thus, Penn's resources made it a regional mecca for publications.  I would leaf through these journals.  As I read, I learned more I did in my classes - I read whatever drifted across my desk.

Today, I realized that's what Twitter's become for me, but more specific to my interests.  Whatever I'm passionate about following, whatever comes up in my Twitter feed, reminds me of those days in college of finding something interesting and reading it.

Why? Curiosity.

The longer I teach, the more I realize that the only education I can offer is intellectual curiosity.   Read Emerson. Read Thoreau. Read Franklin.

It's all been said before, but you need to read it to find out.  

In the meantime, set up a Twitter account, follow your passions on Twitter, and let things drift across your desk. Get curious. Read. 

Warning: Who you follow on Twitter is as important as the friends you keep, so be careful who you follow.  Tweet knowing that all the world can see your words; thus, be impeccable with your word.

P.S. Pressed for time, I dictated this message into my phone, early in the morning.  

*I confess it took me another ten minutes to edit this post.  Good night!

"Wait. Only 8 Habits of Mind? What happened to the other 8?" asked my colleague.

Tonight, in talking with a colleague about my new blog, he saw my previous post, he asked the question above.

So many books, so little time? One step at time.

"What do you mean?" I replied.

"There's sixteen."

"Sixteen? T.D. only gave me eight." I shrugged.  He laughed and looked at me with a grin.

"You didn't read the book!"

"What book?"

"Ha! You didn't read Heidi Hayes Jacobs's book. At the end, it talks about the "16 Habits of Mind" - not eight."

"I read it, but I didn't finish it." As soon as I said those words, I felt as sheepish as an ill prepared student caught in a lie.  For faculty development, we were asked to read Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World before her visit (see first post).

"The end's the best part," he replied. And he's right.  The end is always the best.  We commiserated about the middle that lost us both, but he persisted. And I... I missed the best part.

So according to Wikipedia, here are the work of Professor Arthur L. Costa:

The 16 Habits of mind

  1. Persisting
  2. Communicating with clarity and precision
  3. Managing impulsivity
  4. Gathering data through all senses
  5. Listening with understanding and empathy
  6. Creating, imagining, innovating
  7. Thinking flexibly
  8. Responding with wonderment and awe
  9. Metacognition
  10. Taking responsible risks
  11. Striving for accuracy and precision
  12. Finding humor
  13. Questioning and problem posing
  14. Thinking interdependently
  15. Applying past knowledge to new situations
  16. Remaining open to continuous learning

In the twelfth and final chapter of her book Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, Heidi Hayes Jacobs elaborates on these 16 Habits of Mind.  I find it interesting the eight that, I assume, T.D. selected (they are in bold italics).  I will have to ask him.

After my colleague left, I particularly liked reading #14. "Finding Humor: Laugh a little! Finding the whimsical, incongruous, and unexpected.  Being able to laugh at oneself."  I laughed at myself, and then I read the final chapter.  Then, I had an idea for a post to this blog.  (My goal is - was - to post once a day; I clicked something that night and thought I lost everything above... but I was surprised to discover it may have autosaved as a draft... so I caution students to save regularly -  or ctrl A, ctrl C. - Thus, I am applying past knowledge to new situations.)

As I write this post, I still haven't read Curriculum 21 cover to cover, yet I will.  Clearly, I have issues with "managing impulsivity", and "persisting", yet feel I may be leaning towards other habits: "communicating with clarity and precision" by writing this post and by "creating, imagining, innovating" through using technology to share it.  Question: what habits do we value most?  How do we invest or time?

I value writing.  The intention of this blog is to create a writing habit and share thoughts on reading, writing, and life as an English teacher at a boarding school.  My audience is you, obviously, since you are reading this, but seriously, I wish to communicate with students and colleagues at WRA past, present, and future.  This platform will serve as an archive of humble musings that can be read, at one's convenience, and maybe shared - or returned to and reread.  It's an investment of time, but it's a "responsible risk" worth taking, because I think you are worth it.  Here's to "remaining open to continuous learning"!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Playing with Prezi

"The Joy of Books"

My mother likes to send me a plethora of articles and videos that she finds in her daily research.  Neither my dad nor I know for sure what she's researching... but she's happy and enjoys writing comments on news articles (some resemble editorials), and comments on Facebook photos - I've asked her to save the humor (which reminds me of another video that she once sent me).  

Although there's nothing quite like spam from your mother, I do appreciate her good intentions.  Every now and then, she does share a winner and I will post it to my Facebook wall.  Problem: she takes that as encouragement and then I get more... and more emails.  

Sometimes, she will ask if I've read this article or that video that she sent.  I will shrug and say no, and that I can't keep up with her and the barrage of emails that fill my plate already.  But that's a lie, and I am confessing publicly. I read them and watch them when I get a chance. "So, thanks, Mom. I appreciate that you care to share." 

This one I particularly enjoyed, and instead of spamming them to colleagues in the English department, I figured I'd take a few minutes and blog about it.

Hint to Mom: Start a blog. It's easy with Google Blogger.

I am hoping this post encourages her in a new way, maybe I will share her blog soon. Enjoy the video. Thanks again, Mom.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Today's Lessons Learned - from technology and my students.

Today, I have learned many lessons in our experimenting, but three thoughts before bed.  

1. With Edomodo.com, I learned that one is to read the fine print of User Agreements. It's important to understand what you’re clicking, and agreeing to when signing up for anything.  Right now our school usage is on hold - hope to resolve the matter asap. I apologize for the time invested by faculty and students today; however, in the long run, I believe it will not be in vain, since...  

2. Edmodo.com has tremendous potential as a collaborative learning tool on a global platform - it’s exciting just thinking of the possibilities.  I hope to have it up and running soon, once we follow the due diligence and take the necessary communication steps to roll it out to the entire community, especially parents.  To be candid, I let my enthusiasm get the best of me.  It’s just so easy to use Edmodo.com because it’s incredibly intuitive and facebook familiar.  It has tremendous potential!

3. My students are teachers - and incredible learners when it comes to technology.  They adapt quickly.  My role as teacher is to spark their curiosity and help them understand why we are doing what we are doing.  With directions, I have to be clear in leading them; I know personally how overwhelming technology can be.  However, it’s in playing with it and making mistakes, we learn and then we share it with others.  

Today, I especially enjoyed the moments when a student would tinker, figure it out, and share it with classmates.  That’s true student learning and ownership.

I look forward to tomorrow as we focus on developing student blogs. 

Here’s some examples of various award winning blogs:

Time Magazine’s Top 25 Blogs of 2011

Bloggers Choice Awards

Education blogs 

"The Love of Embracing Change"

"How do you get kids that have curiosity and a questing disposition?"

Taking inspiration from John Seely Brown, I quote him - making a poem of his words.
Brown concludes:

Not everything works.

In fact, most things don't work.
And the first thing that happens [when] something doesn't work
is that it frightens you...

then, you're not going to be very willing to embrace change.

But if you realize that when things don't work,
which is almost always,
you can get in there and figure out how to tinker with these things
and just absorb what happens.

Very often when you're tinkering,
it doesn't make pure logic sense.
It's something that you begin to feel in your hands
as much as your mind.

Tinkering brings thought and action
together in some very powerful, magical ways.

I manipulated his words, using enjambment to allow his words to linger
and absorb
with the space after the line.

He's as much a poet as an "Innovation Expert."
I consider this an extended metaphor for life.

So today, we are tinkering.

When we do so,

we breathe

and we are open to embracing change.

Have a wonderful day.

Tinkering, and questing,

Mr. O'Brien

8 Habits of Mind: # 8 Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations:

8 Habits of Mind

Stick to it!
Persevering in task through to completion; remaining focused.
Managing impulsivity:
Take your time!
Thinking before acting; remaining calm and deliberative.
Listening for understanding and empathy:
Understand Others!
Devoting mental energy to another person's thoughts and ideas; holding in abeyance one's own thoughts in order to perceive another's point of view and emotions.
Thinking Flexibly:
Look at it another way!
Being able to change perspectives, generate alternatives, consider options.
Thinking about your Thinking:  (Metacognition)
Know your knowing!
Being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions (& their effects on others).
Striving for Accuracy and Precision:
Check it again!
A desire for exactness, fidelity and craftsmanship.
Questioning and Problem Posing:
How do you know?
Having a questioning attitude.  Finding problems to solve.
Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations:
Use what you learn!
Accessing prior knowledge; transferring knowledge beyond the situation in which it was learned.


When I began teaching at WRA in the fall of 2005, my department head Tom Davis at the time, fondly called T.D. by faculty and students alike, shared with me these 8 Habits of mind.  Thus, I shared it with my three sections of freshman English at the very beginning of the school year, earnestly lecturing and then returning to it throughout the year.  I shared it for a few years and as life happens, I strayed with new ideas and new openings.  We miss T.D. since he's retired, but his spirit and wisdom lives with us as a department - not to mention hundreds of past students. 

While embracing new technologies, I am going back to basics with the 8 Habits of Mind in 2012 with my sophomores and juniors.  I will also share it with the freshman as a class dean. 

And here's why - an email from a former freshman from that fall of 2005.  

I had received the email a couple years ago, but last Friday during a lively English department meeting, we were talking of TD's 8 Habits of Mind, and I was reminded me of the email and with the power of gmail search, I found it in seconds.  I read it aloud to my colleagues, and I share it with you below:

(I must confess I edited in a few missing apostrophes for contractions and added capitalization which drives me nuts - but otherwise. I changed nothing - the ps included! 
Mr. O'Brien 
I felt inclined to send you an email and make sure you're still alive and well at good ol' Reserve!  I also wanted to let you know a little information you may appreciate.  I don't know if you still do this with your freshman English class, but the first day (or something like it) you imparted the "Eight Habits of Mind" on us.  If I remember correctly, I was probably a jackass poking stifler's afro or rocking in my chair apathetically. But now I find myself at the College of Wooster wishing I'd taken that time a little more seriously.  I am writing a paper on what i have experienced in my life that has contributed to the development of my "literate self".  Long story short, I am choosing to write a portion of it on the Habits of Mind, because even though I was most likely screwing around, I was most definitely listening to that lecture, because I still find it a useful resource, especially in the coming stress's of college! 
Anyways, be safe and keep it real.   
K. E.
ps...I'm doing yoga every week.

As a teacher, and as I get older, there is nothing more inspiring than when a former student reaches out with gratitude and writes - I was listening. 

So I share this with you - and hope you're not only listening, 
but reading this blog, so you can return to these 8 Habits of Mind, again and again.  

No regrets.  Begin again, today.  # 8 Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations: 

Cheers to 2012!

Thank you, T.D. 
Thank you, K.E.