School’s out Friday

Busy day here for me. I’m in Philadelphia and about to go and sign up for Educon, the real purpose of my visit to the United States. Then it’s off to do a bit of sightseeing before things kick off tonight.

Thought you might be interested in this review of the iPad, Apple’s new offering, that I think is going to blow the Kindle and other ebook readers out of the market. I may be wrong, but the touch screen, and the fact that it offers so many more features, the best of which is internet browsing enabling you to leap from your newspaper to other links, seems to me to be reason enough to purchase an iPad as opposed to a Kindle.

I’m so tired right now. Think all of this traveling is catching up with me! I’ll have to find some reserves of energy so that I can keep up with the discussions taking place this weekend. I’ll keep you posted.

Enjoy your weekend. If you’re in Australia, enjoy the warm weather. Philadelphia is freezing!!

New York reflections

I’m becoming a bit of a vlogger on this trip. Too tired to write a post, so if you want to hear about it, you’re going to have to put up with watching me talk about it!!

New York, New York, a wonderful place…

This could be a long post. Hope you can hang in here.

I am LOVING New York . It’s like a giant version of Melbourne; there’s a very similar feel between the two cities. I arrived Friday night and caught a taxi from JFK to my hotel. A set rate of $45.00 plus tolls and tip seemed pretty reasonable. I didn’t feel confident enough to hop on the Subway and then make my way to the hotel in the dark! I did venture into the streets in search of food and was amazed to find I could buy a giant slice of pizza for $1.00. Yes, you read correctly. $1.00. You’d never find a price like that in Melbourne.

Saturday morning I decided to tackle the subway. I headed down to Union Square and encountered the Farmer’s  Market that runs there. Not a huge market, but full of homemade produce and the like. A weekly subway ticket, covering trains and buses, cost me $27.00. Compare that to the $12.50 a day ticket in Melbourne! I managed to get totally confused and headed uptown instead of downtown. (Those of you who know me well will find no surprises there…) Thanks to some very helpful New Yorkers I was put on the right path.

The World Trade Centre site is a hive of activity. Construction is underway on what will be a memorial and new buildings. Where the two towers stood will be two large pools of water, with 30ft cascading waterfalls around the edges circulating the water. Etched into the edges will be the names of the people who lost their lives in the tragedy. Trinity Church sits at the edge of what is now the construction site. It survived the fall of the buildings and became a haven for firemen and police who sifted through the ruins in the weeks that followed. It serves as a memorial for the victims at present and I was very moved by the experience of reading letters from families and those firefighters and police. 9/11 had such an impact on me and I didn’t know anyone directly affected. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for New Yorkers who must be constantly reminded of that day and the loss that ensued.

I ventured to the Hudson River and caught my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. When you’ve only ever seen it in movies or on television it really is one of those intake of breath moments. I caught the ferry to Liberty Island to get the close up view. I’d contemplated catching the Staten Island ferry and seeing it that way, but am so glad I chose to visit. It’s a truly magnificent structure. Awe inspiring really.

On my return, my iPhone came to the rescue and led me to the Subway. (I’ve downloaded a few apps specific to New York and they are all proving very useful.) On a whim, I decided to go to Times Square to see the lights – all very impressive – and on another whim, I decided to go and see a Broadway play. There’s a cut price ticket booth in Times Square and the man in the queue in front of me recommended ‘In the Heights’. I’d never heard of it, but I’m so thankful for the recommendation. It’s an Hispanic musical that’s about to be made into a movie under the direction of Kenny Ortega apparently. It’s feel good, has great music and dancing, and a storyline that transcends cultures. I found myself relating my experiences growing up, to the story being told. I’m sure that was true for many in the audience that night.

Great idea going to a Broadway play, but then you have to find your way back to your hotel in a very large city, and, you’re a woman on your own. I was a trifle nervous, but there was no need. Once again, the kind people of New York helped me find my way to the right train and I got back perfectly fine. One of the things about New York that you notice is that it’s always on – there’s no downtime – people are always around. I certainly found that out when noise form the nightclub three dooors down kept me up nearly all night. At one stage an altercation outside led to the arrival of the NYPD! I felt like I’d landed in an episode of CSI. A room change the next morning has led to settled nights of sleep fron then on thank goodness.

Sunday. I was very fortunate to be able the share the company of Ann Oro, Lia Parisi and her daughter, Ali. They gave up part of their weekend to help me navigate New York and I am so grateful that they did. It felt good talking at length with people instead of the enforced silence that comes with travelling by yourself. We visited the Empire State Building and ventured to the top. The day was misty and a high wind blew us about up there, but the views were still impressive. Another must do item ticked off. After a Thai lunch we went to the Museum of Modern Art and spent the afternoon either appreciating or speculating about the art on display. The pellet of bricks as art – come on! Who are some people kidding. It makes me wonder; will people one hundred years from now chuckle at what was conceived as art? Thanks Ann, Lisa and Ali.  I really enjoyed the day.

Monday. Early start in horrendous weather. Rain and strong winds and I’m taking the subway to the Bronx. And no, IS339 (elementary, years 5 – 8 and a 1:1 Apple laptop school thanks to a special grant), the school I’m visiting, is not across the road from the station, it’s a 15 minute or so walk away. I was there because of a connection I’ve made with Pat Wagner, an IT consultant who supports the school and who used to work from his home in Queensland doing so. He’s now permanently located in New York and has really helped move this school along. They run all of their administrative data and school planning through Google Apps. If staff want to know anything, they have to learn how to use their system. An effective way to move people forward and an affordable option. Many schools could learn a lesson or two from this example. I had the opportunity to go on a learning walk through classrooms. I’d expected to see some unsettled classrooms, but behaviour amongst the kids was really good. There was a very heavy emphasis on skills teaching in the rooms I entered and the teachers were encouraging the use of routines to reinforce behaviours. Pat was keen to reinforce with me the context of their environment and the fact that maths and literacy levels had been way down at this school. They’ve seen a increase in results since the use of laptops and the heavy emphasis on routines and scaffolding with their student population. I’ve only seen a snapshot of classrooms so I can’t make a judgement call on US education based on this. It did seem vastly different from the Australian system . The fact that these kids don’t get a break during their school day except when going to lunch in the cafeteria, makes me worry. Their school has no playground -there’s no room for one. Kids need time to engage with one another out of a classroom environment -time for them to be themselves and learn from social interaction. Their curriculum doesn’t give them a lot of time for creativity and exercise. To be honest with you, as a parent I wouldn’t be happy with my kids experiencing a school day like this. The school has security staff who are visible all day and the students and visitors walk through scanners when they enter the school. The staff appear to be very dedicated and I saw some lovely interactions between teachers and students. It actually reminded me of my experiences at a former school in a difficult environment, only we were less constrained by the testing rigour of the US curriculum that appears to drive curriculum. Hopefully we will not see these kind of restraints to our curriculum with the introduction of National Curriculum and the threats of increased testing across our school systems.

IS339 has a Dot to Dot program that they run in June. Hopefully my school will be able to connect with them for this program- maybe we can run some projects that cross continents. I hope so. Thanks to Pat for giving me the opportunity to see the school in action.

I walked back to the station in driving winds that saw my umberella invert so many times I might as well have not been using it! Back to New York and the sanctity of Grand Central Station, where I had lunch in their dining concourse thanks to the sound advice from Gary Stager who had sent me a link to a document about the best things to do in New York. The weather had cleared so I visited the New York Public Library and took a look at Bryant Park. More undercover work as I made my way through Macys department school and made a few purchases. By the time I unearthed, it was 7.30pm and the weather had stayed clear. After unsuccessfully finding the right subway point or a bus stop, I walked 17 blocks back to my hotel. Exhaustion was an understatement!

I’ve got lots more I could share but another day beckons. I should be linking and putting in photos but I have not time to do so at present. I may return later and update this. If you’ve stuck it out to the end, thanks for reading!

School’s out Friday

A bit different this week. I’ve just arrived in New York – you can probably tell that from my appearance in the video above! I made it for my family who I miss already. I love the fact that you can record staight from your webcam to YouTube.

Off to start the sightseeing tomorrow! Hope you have an equally exciting weekend.

Steve Jobs on life, love, loss and death

Spend the next fifteen minutes watching Steve Jobs address College graduates from Stanford University in December 2009 * (Update – my mistake – it was from 2005. Explains why he didn’t mention the liver transplant). He takes you on a journey through his life. You won’t regret the time spent. If you’re smart, you’ll find time in the classes you teach to show it to your students. Steve’s message,

“you can’t connect the dots looking forwards, you can only count them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future”

is an important one. Steve’s road to success has not been an easy one, but he has risen above adversity.

Herein lie messages our students need to hear.

Ubiquitous access

Here’s what I think.

We’ve moved past the point where we can demand that parents purchase the computer school deems necessary for use in classes. Maybe we can determine the necessary specifications that are required, but we can’t determine the platform they choose to run with and we can’t determine the model. There are so many options out there now and all at different price points. If we want to ensure equity of access to information, then we have to acknowledge that some families are not going to be able to afford the high price option. It may well be that a mini pc with an external hard drive to store documents may be a workable option. I functioned like that for three weeks last year while my computer was out of action and it was viable.

We also have to acknowledge that plenty of kids are out there with computers in their pockets. My kids have just got iTouches, and they can successfully navigate the web using these. Shouldn’t we be acknowledging the power of these devices and let students use them to their advantage for their study? A $269 iTouch is capable of browsing the internet (as can any smart phone with a decent screen size for viewing); it could be connected to a school network and students could be conducting research with portable devices like these. Yes, I know, they could also be sucking the school’s bandwith by downloading Apps, but maybe that becomes part of the teaching we need to do about responsibly using the internet at school.

Right now, I teach in a private school where the expectation is that students will begin with their own laptop. When I was a teenager, I went to school in a lower socio demographic area, and that experience has made me highly conscious of the need to ensure equity of access for all. Why should it be that only the kids from higher demographic areas have access to the technology that they will find in their future workplaces? I know some lower demographic schools have been set up with computer labs and the like, but there is something different about having access at your fingertips and a laptop that goes home with you at the end of the day. It becomes your workbook, your modus operandi. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen too many workplaces of late operating with a pen and paper model.  If students are given laptops via Government initiatives or given the option to bring their own, at least we can be reasonably comfortable in the knowledge that a significant number of these students may have access to the internet when they get home too.  Even if they don’t, kids are smart enough these days to figure out where the free wifi in their neighbourhood is. Andrew Hiskins, from the State Library of Victoria, was telling me how they find kids flocking to their location on weekends because they know they can access facebook via the free wifi extending from their premises.

I’m waiting to hear the stories of schools being faced with students coming to school with their own laptops and their own internet access. USB modems are everywhere. I’ve seen students at my school pull them out of their pockets and use them when our network has gone down. I’ve done it too! Will we start to see parents out there, who desire the best for their children, taking matters into their own hands and providing their own hardware and access? Access that will bypass school filters. Access that will challenge teachers who are not entirely comfortable with students who can access the answers to questions easily. These are challenges that I think we will see schools facing. The 3G network is ensuring that the phones in their pockets are becoming vehicles for change. Maybe it will be our parent communities who start a groundswell approach to bring our schools up to speed in terms of ensuring access for all.

How much longer can schools ban phones and dictate terms when access is ubiquitous?

School’s out Friday

This is the 100th School’s out Friday post! I couldn’t resist using this video that Alec Couras tweeted about today. It’s a send up of Farmville, a game that people play where they run their own farm. I’ve seen peoples’ Facebook updates where they mention how they’ve planted new crops and purchased livestock and I’ve wondered what this Farmville thing is. My daughter mentioned that she knows friends who are obsessed with it and my husband was telling me that people at his work devote hours to it too.

It makes me think. People who don’t understand how Twitter works often express disbelief that I would spend time looking at it. Maybe they’d express disbelief that people spend hours on Farmville too. I think I could raise a bit of a case about which pursuit is the more productive. Or maybe not; Farmville seems to have a fair spread of users!

100 School’s out Friday posts. That’s an awful lot of Friday nights trying to source something funny for the end of the working week. I like the continuity of it though, and it certainly forces me to keep posting.

Enjoy the weekend. This time next week I’ll be on a plane headed for New York. School’s out Friday may very well be absent. Let me see what I can come up with!!