Twenty-Three Things: Activity 21: [GoodReads]

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox
  16. Tagging Links: Delicious
  17. Tagging Links: Technorati
  18. Twitter
  19. Twitter in Education
  20. Image Generators

Activity 21: Shelfari and GoodReads

So… I’m supposed to be doing this activity in this project with Shelfari.  I’m sure Shelfari is quite nice. Really I am. But I already have an account on GoodReads, and Shelfari belongs to  Actually, as of this writing, I think GoodReads belongs to Amazon, as well.  See what I mean about how radically changed the world wide web has become in six years?  It seems like an unimaginably vast amount of time where an entire website can go up, run for several months, and then vanish again in the space of a year.

Anyway, GoodReads.  On GoodReads, I can rate books, share recommendations for other books with other people, and post my book recommendations to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites so that other people can follow my book recommendations, and maybe read the things that I read, and perhaps join a conversation about them with me.

Wow… we used to call that blogging.

So… why should I write reviews on GoodReads, or send my students to write reviews on GoodReads, or post my reviews from GoodReads to Facebook?  Is there any good reason for doing this at all?

It feels like feeding my students to the maw of corporate interest: here, while you’re still kids, generate creative and critical content for free for the corporate interest of the largest online bookseller in the world; write reviews of everything you read, which is mostly mass-market Young Adult literature, and avoid reading anything serious (because who would review a century-old book?)

Not that I read century-old books, mostly.  I’m suddenly realizing that I read a lot of how-to art books, technical books, and books about magic and mythology, and darned little else.  Fiction has largely ceased to interest me as a reader; I still read a lot of history books, mostly biographies and mise en place surveys of eras, like David McCullough’s books about the American REvolution, or similar works.  I used to read lots of current-events analysis, but by and large I don’t believe those analyses any more.  I don’t find them compelling, now that I don’t live in that world.

I’m slowly becoming a non-reader, the kind of person I dreaded encountering as a kid.

It’s not true, of course.  I’m glancing up at my bookshelves, and I can see seven or eight books that I’ve read in the last six months, like 1493 by Charles Mann, and The Traditional Healer’s Handbook, by Hakim G.M. Chishti, and Sacred Geometry  by Skinner, and The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp, and GameStorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo.  But none of these are suggestive of a rich attention to fiction or to the common stories of our time.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t like image generators.

Twenty-three things: Activity 16&17: Delicious.


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox

Activity 16: Tags and Delicious

Delicious is a website that allows one to track, sort, manage, and keyword by tags and categories all of your bookmarks for the Internet, and share them with others via social networking.

It used to be called — it had a .US domain name rather than the more common .com, — and I decided I didn’t want to use it the last time I went through the 23Things list. For one thing, it’s cumbersome. I have to save my bookmarks to someone else’s website, and it becomes another website I have to check in on regularly — like Feedly or other sites ive learned to use as part of this project. I have to tag and categorize them and manage them, rather than having that work done for me. I can do that work just as easily in my web browser program, thanks to the interpenetration of Web 2.0 concepts and tools into desktop programs, and vice versa.

For another, it’s social. Increasingly, as a teacher, I’m asked to work within a walled garden —a paradise, curiously enough, from a Persian word — where kids will have access to the digital tools and materials I provide, And expect them to use, but not be subject to the demands or needs or imposition of other adult users who may not have the students’ best interests at heart. also, as I use the same computer increasingly for both school and private work, I’m reluctant to “cross the streams” in public. Facebook and other social media tools have made the hazards of crossing the streams both increasingly likely, and increasingly likely to result from a privacy setting accident.

Third, and this is a big one for me, is that the business of tagging and categorizing links is clearly part of someone’s business strategy to make a fortune. I don’t know whose fortune will be made, if anyone’s, from link-tagging and categorizing… but sombody’s always spinning, somewhere. For me to spend my time and energy categorizinging and organizing my links requires that I me to take time from projects I should be doing, like reading student papers or planning classes, or writing reports. It’s also time I could be spending on kayaking or mountain climbing or other such activities. And if I do it for Delicious, I’m clearly not using my time being creative in ways that may eventually feed me as an artist, financially.

Which annoys me.

But this is future shock. This list of 23 Things was created in 2003 or 2004. And it’s now out of date. A brief ask-around of folks I know indicates that relatively few use or ever used Delicious, and most of us have switched over to using programs like Evernote or Dropbox or simillar Cloud-based apps to track their bookmarks and keep them synced from one device to another.

But OK, that’s not the purpose of this activity.  I’m ranting, not following directions for the activity.  For this Activity, I’m supposed to a) set up a Delicious account [don't have to, my old one is still there], and b) try out a few common search terms and see what I find that’s useful and relevant, and c) write a blog post about what I find.

So, on to Part B — try a few search terms.

  • search term: 3D-printing
    • Ooops, most recent link is 5 months old
    • Try 3d printing
      • most recent link is 2 years old
  • search term: common core curriculum
    • Most recently available link is 10 months old
    • next most recently available link is 2 years old.
  • search term: hermeticism
    • most recently added link 3 years ago.
  • search term: Latin
    • most recent link added 2 years ago.
    • Pearson’s website for Ecce Romani added 3 years ago.
  • Search term: Connecticut
    • most recently added link, 6 months ago.
  • search term: Boston bombing
    • most recently added link, a month ago.
    • next most recently added link, 4 months ago
  • search term: Egyptian revolution
    • most recently available link, 2 years ago.
  • search term: Michelle Rhee
    • most recent link: 4 months ago
    • Michelle Obama?
    • most recently available link: four months ago.
    • her husband? search term “obama” — first link presented to me as relevant, dated TWO YEARS AGO.

Ok… so this is all feeling way out of date and not very useful.  I mean, if people were keeping up with it, great… but if the site isn’t keeping up its own link system to handle important stuff about relatively recent events, there’s no way to make use of it today.  More importantly, I had a network of nearly 80 people there… and none of them has added a link in over five years.

That looks and feels like a dead social network.  Maybe people are still adding to it, but not about subjects I care about.  And no one I cared about online as relevant to my work, three years ago, has decided to stick with it.

What about Technorati?

Activity 17: Technorati.

Yeah… I don’t want to do this.  Just looking at the front page  of Technorati tells me that this is primarily a technology-oriented site, that probably comes up with a bunch of stuff that I might care about…  but really?  It looks like I have to wade through a bunch of crud that I don’t want.  And the people I know who are involved in Technorati usually post the interesting stuff they find to their Facebook accounts — where, eventually, I might see them, and read them if they’re of interest to me.

All the same, let’s try a few search terms before signing up for an account. The same ones as at

OK, all of this is goodish, I guess.  But I have other sources of news for most of this, and I have access to other materials that don’t require me to join this website.  I didn’t find anything that made me shout for joy and jump up and down in excitement here… no amazing new resource for teaching Latin, for example, or any wild new source of information about my state, or amazing new how-to’s for my school’s 3D printer.

So, I’m going with my initial gut reaction, and not joining Technorati at this time.

Twenty-three things: Blog about Technology


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools

This week, I’m supposed to blog about technology (Activity 6 of the 23 Things).  If I’d been teaching for less than 10 years, I’m supposed to blog about how I think technology will change my teaching over the course of my career; if I’ve been teaching for more than ten years, I’m supposed to blog about how I’ve used technology to change how I teach in the classroom.

I’ve been a teacher for 17 years, and I have to admit that how technology has changed my teaching — Not Much.

That’s an awkward admission to make.

Some background.  In 1996, while I was a student in seminary, I learned about this weird thing called the World Wide Web. You had to use dialup service and a web browser to reach it, but using FTP and a bunch of code in a new programming language called HTML, you could write pages for the World Wide Web (we really called it the World Wide Web then, not just “the internet”).  So I put my brand-spanking-new Master’s Thesis online.  And after months and months, someone else linked to it!  I couldn’t analyze traffic or count hits, but it was exciting to know that someone online could find my page without knowing the address ahead of time.

Fast forward eighteen years.  I’ve done a lot online — kept up this blog, joined Flickr, learned to write budget spreadsheets for trips to Washington DC with my school, learned some digitally-based accounting, wrote two novels, published a lot of poetry online, and to show for it — seventy-six thousand views, all time, on this blog.  Eighteen years of activity online.

Eighteen years.

In my last year at my old school, I thought, “I’ve been at this long enough.  It’s time to create a different way of teaching.” I asked IT services at my school to turn on the software on our server to use wikis and teach wikis in my ancient history class.  That was thirteen years into my teaching career — and I feel that it was an abject failure.  I had few girls in my classes. The boys made social pages rather than academic pages; they defaced one another’s pages (and it didn’t really matter to them that I could see who had vandalized one another’s pages through my administrator functions — because they’d steal one another’s usernames and logins, and deface under someone else’s name; the “innocent” victim of this prank would sputter and protest that they hadn’t defaced “Kevin’s” page, while knowing full well that they’d done it to somebody else’s page.  Loads of kids from several classes, all studying the same subject, building a wiki together — but not being good writers, nor good readers, nor good historical thinkers… asking them to build an ancient history wiki?  Disaster.  A complicated disaster, with a lot of complicated lessons for teachers:  kids as pranksters and tricksters at heart. Kids as social animals.  Digital learning as a risky strategy for learning.  THe problem of “Walled Gardens” in education — creating safe environments for kids to learn in online at school, while they’re used to much more wild-and-crazy environments like Instagram and Facebook (which are themselves walled gardens of a sort, but in service to other masters than schools, and much larger, and thus much more apparently open. And full of people — seventeen kids is not enough to populate a wiki).

So, a retreat from digital learning at my new school.  Some experimentation, yes, but mostly the old standards of traditional education: typing, spreadsheets, a little bit of page layout. Not much.

Last night, coming home from the inaugural Mo’Mondays in New Haven, I was talking with my friend Hollie.  We were talking about the work of alchemy as a metaphorical tool for understanding creativity.  She mentioned the daughter of a friend of hers, though. “Andrew,” she said, “this kid doesn’t ever seem to be curious about anything.  She doesn’t follow sports. She doesn’t care about school.  She talks to her friends on the phone, texts them, but it’s like, about nothing.  So I think curiosity is something we’ve taken out of kids today. And I don’t know what to do about that for her. But it scares me.”

It scares me too.  I feel like I see a lot of kids like this friend of Hollie’s — kids who don’t seem interested or want to engage in many ways.  And I don’t think that putting them in front of a computer screen is necessarily the answer, unless we’re also empowering them to make, do, dream, create, and invent.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this, and that I’ll be given a chance to later on.  But it seems to me that in eighteen years, I ought to have done more with computer technology in my classroom, and with internet services, than teach kids to use a word processor.

Twenty-Three Things: Flickr Fun


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr

The goal for today is to use some of the “fun Flickr apps” to do something with a photo or group of photos from Flickr.  And here, I’m at a loss. The links to the tools suggested, like Mappr and Moisaikr don’t actually work any more. One hasn’t worked since 2007; the other works, sorta, but the code seems to make it impossible to use your own photos as the basis for the work.

However, I did find a way to make one of those motivational posters using the Al-Baldah image I created using Chris Warnock’s book on the Mansions of the Moon.

motivatorc34a5098f591919a221d2cb509327b68a284bba8 I have no real interest in buying such a thing, unfortunately. I could make them again in the future, though, or use CreativeCommons images from American history or elsewhere to make Palace of Memory posters for my teaching or my workshops.

I also learned that I could have photo business cards made from my images, and greeting cards, by Should I? My success with selling my Geomancy poster or my pagan chant mandala t-shirt on has been a big zilch.

My usual search skills are not proving very helpful; I did find this memory game tool, which allows you to pick a tag and then use that tag as a way to train the memory.  I’ve not thought how to use this in the classroom yet, but one possibility would be to use it as a way to teach kids to learn about a subject of study before doing a deeper bit of research.

One of the few tools I’ve found is this one, though, which is kind of disappointing even as it’s accurate.   It compares the frequency of a photo’s views with the length of time that it’s been available (how long since it was uploaded).  And what’s disappointing about it is not that it’s inaccurate — but that my photos are not broadly received. Alas.  Not really on anyone’s radar but mine. None of my photos in the last two or three years have seen much use or collected much interest.    And here’s another list of tools for Flickr.

Oh well. It does give me the ability to keep track of all my art projects, and that’s been useful.

Beyond this, though, in doing explorations of Flickr toys, I’ve found that a lot of the tools require me to hand over user names and passwords, and this is a security issue for me.  If it’s not a tool that I can use without providing the keys to my artistic history, I’m not sure I want to use it.

Twenty-Three Things: Flickr and Images


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog

This week’s discussion is supposed to be about learning to work with images online, primarily using Flickr.  Flickr is a photosharing site run by Yahoo! I don’t know the site’s history, but it’s reasonably family-friendly, and it’s pretty easy to be a generic user of the site; I’ve been a pro member for years, and I’ve had an account since February 2007. My user name there is Anselm23.

This is my most recent photograph stored there:
First knitting efforts:

And this is my first:

Thai Food: Galloping Horses I think it’s funny that I’ve used my site to take pictures of architecture and art and my current artistic projects for nearly all of the six years I’ve been using Flickr.  And that I’ve been posting pictures here as a way of linking between this blog and that photo-stream nearly that long.  It’s part of the way I’ve helped establish an identity for myself on the web — being heavily involved in two websites has, in a way, made it easier to find me (So has Twitter, for that matter, although Facebook has reliably provided me with more traffic even though Facebook is most unreliable about sharing my links to Flickr and to this blog than either of the other two sites. Argh!)

But one of my tasks for this week is to find a photo on Flickr that I want to blog about which isn’t mine.  This is somewhat harder, but fortunately I know some search-fu, and I have a sense of what I want to talk about, and that’s the way that we as teachers can help students understand their world by providing them with strong access to metaphor and imagery through the actual use of images that support metaphor.

Some of you are going, “Huh??”

That’s OK.

Black Swan Portrait

Black Swan Portrait by Flickr user birdsaspoetry, David Jenkins

Here’s the image I’m blogging about: It’s a black swan. The economics writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote a book called The Black Swan, about the effect of the highly improbable upon economics.

Hundreds of years ago, it was impossible to imagine black swans in Europe. Swans were white; it was part of the definition of the bird, almost.  Then (I think) European explorers in Australia found black swans, real black swans. Their discovery was a minor sensation in Europe as lots of theories about biology needed revision.

But the thing that Taleb pointed out, is that the black swans were always there. They’d been living and breeding and so on in Australia for centuries before Europeans encountered them.  They caused a sensation in Europe because knowledge had to be revised — but to anyone who really knew how the world worked, it was possible to imagine black swans, and to exploit that knowledge to advantage.

And this, I think, is one of the things that so upsets many teachers. For decades now, teachers have either ignored the internet, or used it in limited ways.  It was always there, but it was difficult to use for knowledge-gathering, complicated, required a knowledge of programming, etc.  There were obstacles to using it in school, and challenges to authority that it could cause.  But it was still there, still growing, still active, still empowering people outside of schools.  The development of this technology was moving on, regardless of what we in schools did about it, or used it for.

And the development of the Web has been primarily social — Facebook for social networks, LinkedIn for professional networks, Flickr for sharing photographs, DeviantArt for sharing illustrations and imagery, SoundCloud and Napster for music (albeit with enormous copyright challenges), and so on.  Meanwhile, schools have become increasingly anti-social:  No cellphones in school, no Facebook in school, limited access to the web through filtering technology, and so on.  The more integrated the Web becomes, the less integrated schools become.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t places where the networks shouldn’t end.  But there have to be compelling reasons for keeping the networks out of our schools, and currently I’m not sure that there are. “We need to keep kids focused on the content!” can be a rallying cry, but when photographs of Lexington Green and the Colosseum and Latin inscriptions and geometry problems and algebra solutions and mathematical art and chemical models of DNA are available online as images, I think it’s unforgivable that we as teachers don’t often know how to perform these searches — or that we’re so focused on correcting homework and developing grades that we don’t have the time to learn how to find and use these resources.


Network, by Flickr user sjcockell, Simon Cockell

The other side of it is that this data stream is overwhelming. Black Swans undid a lot of biological theory in the 1700s; and this fire-hose of data about the world is capable of overwhelming the school system we have.  As never before, kids can look at more photographs than the textbook or school library provides, and the built-in brain software we carry around in our heads is 70,000 years older at least than the software for reading and writing.  When we teach kids to use this technology effectively — to search, to find, to analyze and to understand — we make them a hundred times more effective learners, because we’re teaching them to use the networks that effectively surround them every day to pull information to them, rather than passively receive it.  And that’s awesome.

Twenty-Three Things: Setting Up a Blog


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous two entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery

This week’s task is to “Set up a Blog”. And the list recommends using

Forgive me.  I just can’t do it.  I have a blog here, on WordPress.  And given that I’ve used this site for years, I’m not going to go to some other website and start blogging there just because it has “blogger” in the title of the site. Besides which, although I know that from time to time it may be a good idea to start fresh, I’m not sure this is the right time.

That said, here’s where I’ve blogged over the years

  • LiveJournal
  • Gravity’s Grace, back when I did my own webhosting.
  • — I was at, but it looks like they’ve finally taken that down
  • There’s a couple of other places I had things that weren’t exactly blogs, but more or less “writing on the web”, where I had student papers from my days in seminary. That would be around 1995, 1996.  I’ve been on the web a LONG time, and experimented with a lot of possibilities.

All of this is to say, I like where I am now.  And I’m likely to remain here.

The one thing I could do is register a domain name, and redirect you all to “” or something like that… or to “”.

Would you bother coming back, though?

Know the Power of Image

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How to make Google your allied spirit....

How to make Google your allied spirit….

Chances are pretty good that somewhere on your hard drive is an image whose provenance you don’t know. Maybe it’s a picture of a Greek ostraka with a name that looks suspiciously like “Pericles” but you don’t remember where you downloaded the picture.  Or maybe, there’s an unattributed statue picture in one of your slideshows for class.  Or maybe one of your students doesn’t know the bibliographic data for a picture in her slideshow.

You should know how to find that information.  Here’s how.

First, go to Google’s homepage,  Then find the button that takes you to Google Image.  Go there.  In the search bar, notice the little icon of the camera.  Click on that.  Upload the image with the missing provenance data, and search for the photo.  My friend Craig was looking for the identification of this goddess — surrounded by crooked Sunwheels, and dogs, and gees, and bullheads. Who was she?

Potnia Theon — mistress of animals. SOrry about the crooked crosses: does it help that they date to 680 BC? probably not.

Potnia Theon — mistress of animals. SOrry about the crooked crosses: does it help that they date to 680 BC? probably not.

My almost-thirty-year old memory of such things is that this was Geometric ware from ancient Greece, but older than the Parthenon, although younger than the Trojan War. That gave me a window, of call it 900 BC to 700 BC. Turns out that this is from Boeotia, near the ancient city of Thebes (of the seven gates, and the Sphinx riddling to Oedipus on the road). It dates from 680 BC, and she’s a Potnia Theron a Mistress of Animals, akin to Artemis.  The original is in the Archaeological Museum in Athens.

We wouldn’t have known any of this without Google Reverse Image search, a Flickr user named Julianna (thank you!) , and my curious friend Craig.

But now we do.

Reflecting on this, I realized that if I’d wanted to answer Craig’s question fifteen years ago, I’d have had to find an art history library, and slog through books of Mycenaean and early Greek pottery for several hours. Instead, I had an answer in fifteen minutes… and that answer was not dependent AT ALL on what I’d previously known.  In college (actually, in grad school) I spent several hundred dollars on books, and probably a few thousand dollars on tuition, in order to learn the basic framework of Hellenic pottery patterns… and in the clutch, twenty years on, I was wrong.

Google was right, and able to construct the knowledge path from the visual image alone, to the etherial data of the photographer, to the more etherial data of the physical location of the object photographed, and to the even more etherial data of where and when the original potter had worked.  That’s a bizarre and alien sort of efficiency.

And yet, it’s the core efficiency of the Palace of Memory technique, for example.  Your brain is much better at remembering pictures than words, and better at remembering places than abstract information.  And it turns out that Google Images is capable of helping you construct those lines of connection between place and image quite rapidly.

And suddenly, the power of images becomes quite clear.

Pretty girl, all made of geometric patterns with inappropriate crooked crosses, geese, a bull’s head and a shaggy dog or two?  Boeotian, 680 BC ± 10 years?  Potnia Theron, or Mistress of Animals. Sure, I know her. She’s in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens… Why do you ask?

Well, sure I know that.  You have to know these things if you’re a magician…

Only, you don’t need to know that.  You need to be able to construct the path to that knowledge, but not necessarily what the knowledge is.  There may come a time when there will be no Google to call upon.  In the meantime, use it. Trace your imagery back to its sources. Learn what the external brain has to say about the images you treasured enough to keep, but not enough to keep the bibliographic data solidified.

You might surprise yourself.

Financial Accounting and the Teacher Gradebook


In financial accounting, there are three interlocking financial statements:

  • The Balance Sheet
  • The Profit and Loss Statement
  • The Cash Flow statement

The purpose of these statements is different.  The balance sheet shows assets and liabilities… what does a particular person or business own? What does the business or person owe? It’s a “right now” sort of thing, although it can have a series of columns that show change to the balance sheet over time.

Profit and Loss, on the other hand, is a statement of what the business or person has done, what it cost them in time and money and effort and materials to do that work, and what their “administrative costs” were… what it took to get them to that point in the market.

The Cash Flow statement, though, is a set of numbers that detail what a business or person is making from their main line of work, what they’re making from investment and financing, and what the reconciliation is between them.

What does this have to do with gradebooks?

During a meeting today, I was asked about a student.  I flipped open my gradebook, and looked at the numbers, and said, “he’s making mistakes on homework, participating a lot in class, and doing great on quizzes.”  Which means, of course, that he’s using his homework and class-time as learning opportunities, and seeing quizzes as a major form of assessment for me (which they are).

But looking at my gradebook, I realized that those three statements of financial accounting were in fact hiding in the columns of my gradebook.  Maybe.

Join me on this thought experiment a moment:

  • 1) The homework and classwork column are the balance statement, in a very real way.  There’s a snapshot of how many homework assignments a given student has done, how many “empty” columns they’ve left unfilled by not completing work.  Completed homework is like inventory… it represents raw materials for studying; flash cards for new vocabulary; notes and doodles for remember information; diagrams for making sense of mysterious data.  Isn’t that all a kind of equity?  There’s a series of credits left by participating in class, and a series of debts left by not participating or acting up.  Not participating is short-term debt.  It can be rectified, relatively easily, and replaced with positive credits.  But long-term debt… preventing other people from communicating or learning in class, has to be tracked differently.  Sometimes that’s what we call as “acting up,” and we as teachers have an ethical standard to uphold… what’s the difference between acting up and being high-spirited and overeager?  There’s a difference between knowing a learning style, and just being impatient.
  •  2) There’s a profit and loss statement, too.  I try to keep track of how organized a student is:  Is their binder neat and in order?  Are we wasting much time getting notebook and pen and paper and agenda and text all set and ready to go?  Is the student overloaded with materials?  That’s all administrative costs, because it costs us (and the class) learning time.  On quizzes and projects, though, is the student showing evidence of analytical thought?  Are they reading more than just the required reading?  Are they building quality projects, and are they making reasonable guesses on quizzes?
  • 3) Finally, there’s a cash flow statement hidden in that gradebook, somewhere or somehow.  I’m sure of it.    Some of it is “attendance”.  Is the kid in school enough that he or she is getting enough face-time with classmates and colleagues?  I think it’s this: is the student using those homeworks and tests and quizzes in an efficient way, to actually learn something?  Are they building up an accumulation of cash to do something bigger and better? Or are they mechanically going through the motions for good grades?  Are they collecting good will by participating in class, and networking during study halls to build a good academic reputation by helping and tutoring others? Are they getting in the know, and by so doing, are they getting ready to do something bigger and better than they can do right now?

I don’t know if my gradebook can do all of these functions.  I know that without spending some time in an accounting mindset this summer, I wouldn’t have seen it today.   I may not have the idea down strongly enough to actually revise my gradebook to take this into account yet, but I think this is something worth building on… three interlocking statements of grades (probably powered by a spreadsheet or database) which help a teacher recognize what learning is occurring at multiple levels of the classroom and homework experience.

Teaching Scratch


Scratch, offered through the MIT website, is a free programming environment to teach kids the basics of computational thinking and programming. You can download it and teach yourself programming concepts too. If you’re an adult, eventually you’ll have to move on to a more serious form of programming language.  Still, I’ve realized how often a lack of programming knowledge gets in my way as the designer of the Design Program at my school, and so I’ve spent at least some time this summer noodling around in Scratch, trying to figure out how its various programming components work.  I can’t say that this process has been a complete success, but I’ve learned quite a bit.  It’s a bit like the Turtle programming environment that I experimented with so long ago at Constructing Modern Knowledge, where I made the Alhambra window (link to this image at Flickr broken and vanished… hmm), but Scratch makes possible a much wider range of possibilities, including random actions.

We have a period in the school week (Mondays and Fridays) when students can work on their own learning within a particular range of activities. And really before I knew it, I’d signed up to lead this activity program in “computer programming using scratch.” So, from now until Thanksgiving I’ll be teaching this little class in computer programming, and probably learning a lot about programming along the way. Yesterday, the class met for the first time.  While the eventual class will have ten students, yesterday we had three; and it was a beautiful opportunity to lay some ground work.

I showed them how Scratch was organized; how to find and assemble small computer programs, and how to move the cursor around and draw things with it.  They made a simple program (each of the four of us solved the problem in a slightly different way)  that centered the cursor (shaped like a cat) on the 0,0 point of the cartesian plane, and then drew a 100×100 box of red color centered on that point, and then re-positioned the cursor at 0,0.

It was kind of amazing how long that little task took. I think if I can introduce a few computer programming tasks each week, and develop a range of skills in our students, that they’ll be better prepared to understand how computer programming works, and gradually they’ll wake up to other possibilities, like designing games and other more-fully-realized applications of this startling technology.

You can’t think with tools you don’t have


Three short stories, and an axe to grind. Bear with me, and I’ll get to the point.

You can’t think with tools you don’t have. Seems simple enough, right?

Story number one. My mother saw the new computer at college that I’d bought through the tech department’s arrangement with Apple Computer, and said, “what do you need one of those for?” I told her, “writing papers, making art, sending email, publishing a newsletter. You have to get one.” she asked me, incredulously, “what would I use it for?” I told her to get one first, and find out what she used it for later. Twenty-five years later, she’s used it to be the president of a board of trustees, to be a graphic designer, a home-business entrepreneur, an accountant, a data-gatherer, a phenomenal correspondent and a journalist.

If she’d waited to get a computer until she knew what she was going to do with it, she’d still be waiting.

Story number two. My friend Josh has built a pair of headband-mounted cat ears on servos, attached to an EKG reader and an Arduino chip. When you wear the ears, and mount the EKG sensor on your forehead with a little grounding clipped to your ear, the ears swivel left and right, up and down, depending on how much attention you’re paying to what’s going on around you. To build them, he needed a soldering iron, a Cupcake MakerBot (3-D printing), various electronics parts, and a community of folks interested in Arduino devices and having them read code from EkG sensors. Ultimately, he even needed the expertise of some serious electronics designers to solve a power problem.

But he couldn’t have done any of it without a set of tools he already knew how to use, and some ambition (in the form of a cosplaying lady friend).

Third story. Around a million years ago, more or less, our hominid ancestors started making tools. They’d been making “tool” for around a million years, but the Acheulian Hand Axe was our go-to device for a million years. The archaeological record strongly suggests we didn’t know how to make anything else. But then, over a few thousand years, we invented a stunning number of tools in very short order — hammers, knives, needles, fishhooks, harpoons, bowls, cups, baskets, fishing line, arrows, bows, swords… The list goes on and on, and really the business of inventing specialty tools hasn’t stopped at any time in the last million years. A million years of tool-making.

I’m simplifying these tales a lot, because I want to grind an axe, and then I want to chop a point onto this spear I’m pointing. Today, an adequate “school kit” should contain more than just pens and pencils. I realize we’re worried about violence in schools, but safety scissors are dumb. Can we please give kids real tools, and let them have at least a pocket knife in their school bag? For a million years, kids as young as two have been given sharp implements and instruction in how to use them effectively. This is the patrimony of the planet, and if a kid doesn’t know how to use a knife safely by the time she learns to read, how is she going to feed herself, hmmm?

End of axe-grinding. Onto the point.

If the Kavad, and my designer friends, have taught me anything, it’s that you can’t learn to think through problems with tools you don’t have or have never learned to use. Walking around my friend Matt’s new house with him, we thought nothing of looking at misplaced doors and locations where there should be windows. He’s a carpenter! Walls in old houses aren’t solid to him. He has the tools and technology to rebuild them. My friend C takes apart commercially-made toy puppets because they don’t serve his hands very well. He rebuilds them to suit his improv games. He knows how to use a sewing machine and a glue gun, and he knows how fabric behaves when it has a head-shaped piece of foam under it. My friend Jared codes websites for a living, because he understands CSS and HTML and Java from the process of goofing around on his computer, and learning these tools. My friend K is a moderately successful chef in large part because he was cutting vegetables and making food from an early age. He knows his way around a kitchen.

These are anecdotes, of course. But it doesn’t change the reality — tools are the heritage and patrimony of the human species, and yet most schools expect and count on students to graduate with only a strong familiarity with six of them: pencil, pen, college-ruled lined paper, textbook, and correcting pen. If they’re really lucky, scissors, glue stick, ruler, rubber band, and (cheap, plastic) geometry compass will appear on the secondary list. oh, and one of the most villainous tools of all, they learn to use quite well: the bubble test.

This is appalling.

One of the things that appears so often on the list of things that American businesses want from employees is creativity. Yet they can’t get creativity from their employees because their employees learned to be creative despite (rather than because of) schools. It’s seen as an “extracurricular” skill at best. Kids learn to analyze literature only, instead of learning to create it. They study history to learn what they’re stuck with, rather than how to change it, or how to make it. And left to themselves, students learn how to use Facebook instead of learning how to make memes that take over Facebook.

So, in the comments here, i’d like you to name five tools that belong in a new, revamped “back to school kit.” They can be digital or analog. They can be online tools or physical objects. At least one of them has to be sharp, and one of them has to be upsetting. You can specify grade level or type of class, but be a little risky, and a little frisky.

Go on, I dare you.

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