Archive for June, 2016

So, I’ve been thinking about postcards and CLMOOC. The other day I wrote about how excited I am for the new CLMOOC to start. Then, I got to postcard making. Since I am also still working on taxonomy projects (sets of 5 works), I decided to make 5 postcards.

So, I printed some recent pictures of this and that–a few images from my family’s outing to the Creative Africa exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (I loved the fabric exhibit and Colorspace by Francis Kéré best) a magnolia flower on a tree at school, Falls Bridge in Philadelphia (a longtime favorite subject of mine), and some big leafy plant at Longwood Gardens (Longwood is showing Nightscape again later in the summer. If you are in the area, do NOT miss this.)

Then I thought about what to do with the images. I have been working a lot with text and blackout poetry this year, but that did not seem right for this. I do love vellum, so I thought about having a top layer with some sort of words in vellum. Then, the picture is underneath and a layer of craft paper is under that. I hand sewed them together with embroidery thread. Here are those two.

Then, I didn’t have any more vellum handy, so I started thinking about other options. I decided it would be interesting to hide part of the image and to suggest that the recipient rip the cover off to see more. I used brown craft paper and printed the directions to tear off the cover on top. Then, I cut holes in the paper so that there was a teaser section of the image showing and put another layer of craft paper on the back. Finally I machine sewed all the pieces together. I love the peak-a-boo aspect of the card as well as the fact that if you want to see the picture you have to rip the top. These should not be precious, in my opinion; they are not going in anyone’s keepsake box. Yet, it seems wrong to throw away what someone has made. This fixes that problem. Tear it apart, look at the picture, keep it around for a while, and then send it to the great beyond.

The more I think about it, the more intriguing it is to me that to see the entire image, to make sense of the image which you know is part of a larger whole, you have to alter the work, which in turn breaks apart a different whole image, that of the postcard. I did not think of all that in the moment, but I find it interesting now. I might need to make some more of these.

Ah, making stuff.

Public domain image from

Public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about change. Over this past school year, I’ve been part of our strategic planning committee and am now leading a task force to investigate our interdisciplinary program. And last week, I participated in the week-long Penn Summer Leadership Institute course organized by University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and ADVIS (Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools).

Our first session on Thursday was led by Cathy Hall. She spoke about the shifting ideas in technology in schools over the past 25 years or so. After some discussion, she asked the group to think about $5 million dollars and what it could be used for in the name of innovation at our schools. What would we do if we had that amount of money to spend over the course of 3 years, what  would we spend the money on? What would we definitely keep? What would we change? I thought this was a really interesting idea to consider.

Here’s what I came up with (remember the assignment was to consider using this money is support of innovation) in 7 minutes.

  • I would rewrite teacher contracts to include 2 weeks of professional learning each summer and a pay increase to cover this time.
  • Then, I would have significant professional learning for everyone around project based learning and interdisciplinary work. Buck Institute and High Tech High would be up on my list of options there.
  • Finally, I would give grants to grade level teams as they developed particular projects that required either professional development, resources, books, visits etc.


Then, as I was describing this to my husband, I realized that an interesting next step would be to consider how far you could go without $5 million. How important is that money to the process? Once you have your plan, is that more important than the money? Does the idea of the money get you thinking outside of the box, but turn out not to be critical in the implementation?

So, what if I did not have all that money? What could I still plan?

  • Serious summer work: maybe this gets spread across several years with smaller groups attending each year. With paying for training and a smaller group make this financially very reasonable?
  • And, could we go with more of a train the trainer model so that in the following years, we would be able to provide the relevant training in-house?
  • Team projects could also be scaled down in terms of money. Yes, to all the online research and talking to others people can do. Maybe less travel that involves flying.

Either way, what a great catalyst for thinking. I may give it a try with the task force in the fall.


CLMOOC postcard from Karen

CLMOOC postcard from Karen

So, I’ve been thinking about the new summer of CLMOOC.

I signed up for the postcard swap and got my postcard in the mail the other day. I a few photos and am ready to make some postcard too. I know I’m a little late on the postcards, but I’m going to combine the postcard making with my taxonomy project (where I make sets of things). I’ve got some ideas to combine my images with some blackout poetry perhaps. Lots of ideas swirling around in my head during a week where I have a and a week-long, all-day class, so it’s weekend making for me.

Anyway, I’m excited for the rest of CLMOOC to start on July 10th. (The FAQs page gives some good background on the experience, which I find a little hard to explain.) The emphasis on making and connecting that with really abstract ideas about place and community really spoke to me. I spent hours both thinking about the ideas and making things that related. Not all of the things I made were successful in terms of projects, but spending time thinking about making something to speak to these larger ideas was a great exercise. It made my brain hurt, in a good way.

Reflecting back on it, I think that the work I did on CLMOOC put me in a different mindset when the school year began. It meant that I had been thinking, making, and writing about some big issues over the summer. It was like cross training. I came back to my usual topics in technology with renewed energy, excited, and ready to think differently.

Win, win, win!

Public domain image from

Public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about this blog. I set a goal last summer to write 5 posts/month. At that time, that was a lot, and I thought I could only begin to consider that much writing in the summer when I may be working, but the pace is summerish.

It turns out, I could make the goal. I think maybe in August I didn’t make it, but that’s such a crazy month from the middle on, that I gave myself a bit of a break a bit. It also turns out that it wasn’t hard to do. Certainly it helped that I was participating in a great online mooc/community (CLMOOC–can’t wait to participate again.) That gave me a lot to consider and write about. What it also did was get me in the habit of writing.

Then, this past school year, I was teaching a new senior English elective each semester (Truth and Fiction in the fall and YA Literature in the spring), which also gave me a lot to ponder. In addition, I started thinking about sets of works (either art or poems or just creations) after hearing a colleague talk about her MFA course work (Taxonomy projects). And, finally, I have some wonderful colleagues with whom I chat regularly which also gives me plenty of food for thought. All of this is to say, I found I could keep writing during the school year as well.

Since June 2015, I have written 4 posts each in September and December, 5 posts each in October, November, January, and April, and 6 posts each in February, March, and May. I know these are not big numbers for serious bloggers, but they are huge numbers for me. I’m not getting many comments, so that’s certainly not keeping me going. And, I don’t get many reader either. However, I’m still writing. So far this month, I’m only on post 2, and it’s already mid-June. I still think I can make it to 5 this month.

I may not have been able to get in the habit of exercising this year, but I’m getting in the habit of writing, audience or no. Maybe I’ll get on the exercise thing this summer.

Public doman image.

Public doman image.

So, I’ve been thinking about this question: Why do I need to know this? A group of colleagues got together a few months ago and one brought up the challenge of answering this question from students.

Here are my thoughts on the topic in a nice short list:

  1. I do think schools and teachers have a responsibility to continually review curriculum, consider relevancy, and look to create a curriculum that balances past, present, and future.
  2. I don’t think that teachers should have to defend each fact or piece of information as “useful” later in life.
  3. K-12 education is not the same thing as job training.

If I were to explain this in something more elegant than a list, I would start with the lovely idea (cue the dramatic music) that K-12 education should be a sacred time to be idealistic, luxurious, expansive in our learning for the sake of learning, a time to seek knowledge without the need to justify it as useful.

Ok, now back in the real world where harsh lighting, bells, and cumulative averages exist.

I cannot pretend to have any magic answers for how to find that magical unicorn of a curriculum that balances the divergent views of education as a search for knowledge and education as job training. I do think that when a student asks “why do I need to know this?” he or she may be saying a number of other things (thanks to @LisainPA who reminded me of this fact):

  • I don’t see how this connects to the rest of the class.
  • This is hard, and so I’m trying a diversionary tactic.
  • This entire subject is so not my favorite, and I am done with it.
  • I didn’t do this problem on the homework, so I am trying another diversionary tactic.
  • There are not a lot of things in school that interest me, and I have to spend so much time here.
  • I like to see if I can get you, the teacher, off topic because then we are talking about something I enjoy more.
  • I think I will have to spend a lot of time on this to learn it, maybe I can get out of that.

I could go on.

The point being, a balanced educational diet is just as important as a balanced food diet. It can’t all be cupcakes and ice cream, but neither should it be all kale and raw grains. As the chef of the classroom, it’s up to me to plan learning that is good for my students, interesting to my students, and maybe even useful in later life. Not every fact or assignment needs to check each box, but I have to hit a good balance over the course of a unit or semester. So when a student asks why do I need to know this, I know that if I answer the question as asked I know which food group(s) I am hitting. And, I need to listen for what other question is being asked and maybe answer that one instead.