When I was in Norway, one of my less frequently requested presentations was on food. My first incarnations of this presentation were a little dry, so I decided I needed to augment this first draft with some humor. One thing I added was an excerpt of the following video:

Yeah, maybe I was a little desperate--but I have to admit that this video made me chuckle.

Fast forward to 2011. Recently, I went to Kansas City for the National Writing Project's Web Presence Retreat. We spent most of the weekend in the hotel's conference room, working with really smart people to create individual protected social networking sites housed at NWP Connect. I was excited to meet some of the people that I've been following on Twitter, people who are committed to teaching with technology and who have all kinds of good ideas about 21st century learning. Even though it was a working weekend, it was exhilarating to be in the same room with such innovative teachers.

Saturday night, we actually left the hotel for the first time in 24 hours. A group of over 20 of us went to Gates Bar-B-Q, one of the two best barbecue joints in Kansas City, according to locals Michael and Steve. I don't eat a lot of meat, so I was a bit flummoxed as I stood in line waiting to order. I can't remember who was in front of me (Anne Marie? Beth?), but I decided to order the ribs that one of the Gates employees recommended. The ribs were so good that I commented, "I like the idea of being vegetarian, except for the part where you don't get to eat meat," much to the delight of my twitter pal, MsEstep. I also really loved the green beans which were, I'm sure, meat-ified somehow. I'd post a picture but, for some reason, my computer wants to protect my most recent upload. Suffice it to say that the ribs looked like ribs . . . and tasted like the most delicious food ever.

So . . . back to the video. Although the video is definitely a parody of regional culinary differences, I think it still illustrates a passion for barbecue that I now share. Last night, I went to a barbecue at a friend's house and ate . . . a veggie burger. It was delicious--there's just something about the smoke from the grill that adds such a nice flavor to food--but a veggie burger isn't as savory and jaw-droppingly mouthwatering as Gates Bar-B-Q.

Gates Bar-B-Q
various locations (see website)
Kansas City, MO

1

I'm not really a PowerPoint person. The only time that I've used that style of presentation regularly was when I was traveling from one school to the next while in Norway. I knew that I needed visual effects to help students stay engaged with my presentation--and that I didn't want to be carting notes, DVDs, handouts, etc. around everywhere. PowerPoint (PP), or Keynote, the software I used, really helped. But, aside from that, I haven't really used PowerPoint (PP) presentations in my teaching.

But this summer I became really engaged in the idea of using technology in the classroom. My students told me that the PP presentation was one of the only uses of technology they had experienced in the classroom. But they also told me that they thought PP was pretty boring because it was so teacher-centered.

So I challenged myself one day last week to make a Keynote presentation that would actually encourage participation instead of stifle it. My students had read a particularly important but conceptually dense article by Brian Street on the New Literacy Studies. I knew that it was essential for my students to have a solid understanding of the article and that isolating important ideas or passages that I selected could actually increase their comprehension. I designed a presentation in which I gave an overview of important ideas, but integrated discussion points throughout. I identified specific passages that I thought were key to Street's article, and I stopped talking frequently (after asking questions) to allow my students to interact with the article. I listened closely to my students who were increasingly confident in their understanding of Street's article. It totally worked.

Thursday, I did something similar with another key article by James Gee. In this case, I worked hard to suggest applications of Gee's ideas to make them more tangible for my students--who fleshed out my suggestions in ways that demonstrated understanding. I also divided the students into groups at one point in the PP to allow them to become experts on key terms that Gee uses. This presentation was even more interactive than the first--and, again, I felt that my students left class with a much better grasp of key ideas in literacy studies.

I'm glad that I was open to a different way of using PP in the classroom. In November, my friend and Writing Project colleague Jeromy and I will be making a presentation at the NWP's annual conference in Orlando. We'll be doing an Ignite style presentation--20 slides, 15 seconds a slide. I think I want to try this technique in class at some point this semester. Here's an example of how it works:

5

I bought my Kindle because I was going to live in Norway for a year. I knew I'd be reading a lot as I traveled all year via plane, train, bus, ferry, and subway. I didn't see the point of lugging heavy books all over the world, so I thought a Kindle would be a good purchase. It went everywhere with me. I always had something to read, and it was relatively light to travel with.

In the last year that I've been back in California, I haven't really used my Kindle. I haven't traveled nearly as much, and when I have, I've toted more academic books with me so that I could work. I've also bought a couple of hardback books (which I now regret).

BUT . . . over the last few weeks, I've been sorting through all my things, and I've realized that I have way too much stuff . . . including books that I read once and never look at again. I'm starting a pile of things to get rid of, to make room in my house to organize and to get rid of clutter. As I've sorted through my books, I've realized that I needed to break out my Kindle again.  I love crime fiction, but, except for Tana French's In the Woods, which I taught fall semester, I don't see ever repeat reading specific novels. Even Michael Ondaatje's Divasdero, a book that I adored, is not a book I need possess in tangible form. My pleasure at reading that book is about the content, the story, not the feel of the book.

I've started using my Kindle again. I don't think reading devices are the death of books (unless by "books" you mean the physical artifact, not the content--and even that is debatable). In fact, my Kindle allows me to read and own more "books." I can revisit them should I ever care to, and there are certainly still some types of books that I prefer to own in hardback (poetry, anything by Alice Munro, books that I might teach some day).

So . . . save a tree, make more room in your home, be an avid reader. Buy a Kindle.

1

Tomorrow, I'll be talking about technology and teaching in both my classes, so I decided to try out some new sites last night. One of the most interesting sites is Wordle, which allows one to enter text into a box, then generate a word cloud. After a couple of tries, I learned to limit the number of words (150 is the default, I found that 40-50 created a more accessible cloud). I also learned to use the "mostly horizontal" setting, which I liked better than the other settings. Here are three examples of the word clouds I made:

This word cloud is made from the prompt I use for the unit plan assignment in my Methods class. I think it demonstrates how Wordle could be used to help students understand what's important about the assignment. Notice that, besides the word unit, the largest words are "teaching," "writing," and "students." The word "include" is quite large, too, a lesson to me that I need to find other verbs to use.

I also made a word cloud from my course description in my literacy studies class:

I was relieved to see words like "language," "communities," "practices," and different forms of the word "literacy." The important verb in this cloud seems to be "understand," an unconscious reminder that this was new content for me and that this semester I've been learning with my students. If I teach this class again, I'll do a new course description, then see what Wordle creates.

I can imagine using Wordle to help students process their own writing--and then to analyze what the results mean. Do certain words show up because they are important to the argument/topic? Or do they show up because the writer needs to expand their vocabulary?

I can also see using Wordle to replicate a passage from a literary text. Last week, I observed a student teacher who was just finishing The Great Gatsby. I love the last few paragraphs of the novel . . . which create this word cloud:

What stands out to me here are the words "green," "wonder," "back," and "hardly." That last passage emphasizes both the wonder of the New World and its loss--and these words remind me of the sense of impossibility at the end of TGG, the difficulty of going "back" to recover what once was.

I'll be trying to use Wordle occasionally in my teaching. I see it as a tool that can help students focus on and analyze text.

Over the last month, I've seen such amazing opportunities for online professional learning communities (PLCs). I spend so much time on my computer, but there are so many things posted on the internet that I don't know about . . . including information directly related to my academic interests. I love the concept behind Diigo, a social bookmarking site that allows people to share what they're reading, to highlight and annotate websites, and to share their annotations with others (both within and outside of their groups). Recently I set up a Diigo group: Teaching English in Central California. I sent out a couple of invitations, but so far I'm the only member of the group. I'd really like to get this going. Please either join my group or send me suggestions about how I can get others to see the possibilities of such a group.

Here's an example of what Diigo can do. I've taken a screen shot of an article I read, highlighted, and annotated. Readers can read what I said and reply to it . . . multiple times. So Diigo allows a group of people to have conversations, to question, to express excitement, to argue about what they read on the internet.

I've used delicious in the past as a way of accessing my bookmarks from any computer, but Diigo can be an online repository for your bookmarks AND it has these capabilities, too. It also allowed me to import my bookmarks from delicious so that I still have all the information that I used to keep there.

I know, I'm a total geek. But I love Diigo.

1

I know, I know. I've gone totally AWOL over the last month. What can I say except that I've been really busy and productive in other ways.

For now, let me fill in the gaps briefly:

Life is an adventure.

Teaching is a really satisfying career.

Diigo and all the other techie stuff I've been learning about rock.

Ask me to tell you a story--that's what I'm working on right now.

That will have to do for now. Two more days of teaching. Big projects to grade. I'll be back when I'm either done with grading . . . or when I'm avoiding grading. 😉

8

When I began the project of migrating my blog to a new server, I was overwhelmed. I wasn't sure that I had the technical skills to do it and to transfer my old posts to a new forum. But as I searched on the internet, I found a great series of instructional videos that helped me make this change. There are still a few things that I want to figure out, but for now, my site is up and running.

Note: this entry is actually a test to see if everything works okay. And, yeah, the picture has nothing to do with the post. I'm just experimenting.

Fallen Sequoia
Fallen Sequoia

When I first started using an RSS Reader, several of the programs I tried out had built in bookmarks for such sites as Metafilter and BoingBoing. Being a newbie to the blogging/technology scene, I was underwhelmed by these websites, quickly deleting them from my reader. I'm still a newbie, but I'm becoming more committed to learning how to be an effective blogger. Today, I was checking bookmarks that Johnnie sent to me via Delicious and started reading about the most influential bloggers. As I skimmed the list (starting with #1, of course), I began to understand how these websites can further my blogging education. There's one in particular that looks perfect for someone with my level of skill (or lack thereof): Problogger. Although I only had time to skim the site today (on a break from my reading/prepping for class), I want to spend more time there. Johnnie also sent me a link to an article entitled "41 Reasons Why Your Blog Probably Sucks." This list also looks like an important one for me to study. I hope that in the ensuing weeks, you'll see some changes that will make my blog more interesting and readable. Stay posted.

If you read my earlier post "Thoughts on Blogging," you know that I've been rethinking my relationship with technology. Over the last few weeks, that new relationship has materialized in a number of ways. First, I now use an RSS Reader to keep up on my favorite blogs and news sites. If you're like me who had never heard this term until about a month ago, you need to know about RSS Readers, downloadable free software which does the mundane work of checking your favorite websites in one place. I'm beginning a new morning routine which includes checking my RSS Reader to see what's new. I started out using Bottom Feeder but have now switched to Feed Reader (more visually appealing than Bottom Feeder but prone to crash when I'm deleting entries if I'm not careful). If you have a number of websites you'd like to keep up with, I encourage you to try an RSS Reader.

In addition to Feed Reader, I'm also using del.icio.us, a great website that allows me to use my bookmarks from any computer. In addition, it allows me to bookmark websites for friends. Del.icio.us has also been key in a newfound interest in You Tube. My favorite video is of Salvador Dali's guest appearance on "What's My Line." But I've also enjoyed watching liquid dancing and bad, bad, movie clips (Who's the master?).

The last two items on my list of new technologies? An iPod and a cell phone. I know, I know, I've complained about cell phones for years. But I've finally caved . . . and I have to admit they are rather convenient. Last week when I was traveling, it was nice to talk to my boyfriend and family while I was in airports. When my brother ran a little late, rather than wondering if he'd forgotten me, I could call to see where he and his family were. And when I hadn't talked to my boyfriend all day, it was nice to chat with him during a layover in Phoenix. I admit, though, that I need to make better decisions about what's polite and safe in my cell phone use. Now that the novelty is wearing off, I'm already doing that. And the iPod--well, it's just fun to have so much good music to listen to at home, in my car, or when I'm walking.

So . . . I guess I have to say that technology is, in fact, enriching my life. I've finally moved into the 21st Century and it's not a bad place to be.