How do you bookmark a pumpkin?

(true story alert)

A friend of mine who is an instructional coach at a local elementary school relayed a very telling little story to me today via e-mail. =>

She said that a friend’s first grade daughter, named Riley, was trolling through a pumpkin patch this past weekend…  and apparently, she eventually found one she liked but wanted to keep looking in case she found a better one, and she told her mother, “let’s bookmark this one.

That was pretty funny to me the first time I read it.  Of course, after it settled into my brain a bit more, it became even more amazing.  This first grader gets it.  She understands the concept of why one would perform such a seemingly simple, yet terribly valuable task.

patch o\' pumpkins

I suppose because this provides such powerful contrast to another recent conversation with a teacher who detailed for me how he helped explain the concept of bookmarking to his high school principal. (yes, garden variety bookmarking- not social bookmarking, as in Delicious, etc.)  So yes, just this past month, he walked this principal through the process of bookmarking sites within a web browser for the first time.

I frequently rail against the pigeonholing of folks by nearly age alone into Prensky’s (2001) “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.”  Kids certainly possess a much higher comfort level with technology, but their proficiency often seems grand only in the eyes of the technology illiterate.  I can certainly say that for the high school students I work with, few truly show characteristics of being truly “digital native.”  For this, and many other reasons, I really wish I’d stop seeing this term.  This weak differentiation can even be rather counterproductive at times.

However, my hatred of the phrase weakens a tiny bit hearing stories like this one-  not at all because this story makes it true, but because it does allow me to see where people might have generated this idea in the first place.

So how do you bookmark a pumpkin?…  I think I had just better contact little Riley for the tech specifics of that one.

Artwork thanks:

Bell, Darwin. “patch o’ pumpkins.” Darwin Bell’s Photostream. 24 OCT 2007.
Flickr. 31 Oct 2008 <>.

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Textually-Challenged Love

This rather amazing three-minute presentation depicts a typographical fairy tale.  The video features slam poet Rives.  It was recorded in February and showed up on the TED blog today.  I just had to share this one.  It is far more creative that I originally guessed it might be.  This was more exciting to me the day I watched it, but is also much to good to let slide.  I have been trying to find a way to embed it here.  I failed.  So here is the link:


If you aren’t currently channeling TED into your readers…  then you are missing some of the most truly inspiring content that is freely-downloadable.  If you haven’t been there in a while, check out TED.  As the website says: “Every so often it makes sense to emerge from the trenches we dig for a living, and ascend to a 30,000-foot view, where we see, to our astonishment, an intricately interconnected whole.”

This is the first time I have linked out to a video like this instead of bringing it to you on this page.  Sorry, but I am still trying to figure out how to embed a TED talks video into an Edublogs blog.

The Biggest Windbag… in 140 Characters or Less?

Is this post about Twitter?

No.  But I did find this site originally from a random tweet David Warlick (@dwarlick) chirped onto the Twitterverse a week or so ago.  It has idled alone in its own browser tab until now.  It is one of those things I have been meaning to share here -particularly with my literary and social studies types-  for some time.  Speaking of Twitter, I have been finding it to be quite interesting as of late.  It seems as though I have hit some magical confluence between the number of people I follow and the professional alignment of the crowd… or something.  In fact, my comment(s) to this very entertaining post by David Jakes contain quite the thumb-typed error.  Perhaps you should check it out.

I have a pile of local folks on Twitter with whom I frequently share.  However, I also follow a fair number of more “distant” folks there who wouldn’t recognize me at point blank range.  I also recently found this Google document which attempts to help educators find like minded folks to connect to.  When I finally get a few minutes to play with this spreadsheet, Twitter might just be even more fun.  I have been meaning to say something about this loved/hated service, and now might be as good as any.  By now, I think I’ll now go back and change the section heading for these first two paragraphs.

umm... hello?

Then what is it really about?

Sorry to derail my own post with a blather on microblogging.  Perhaps this post is the first concrete proof of what the little blue birdie is doing to my brain.  My real reason for the original link is to highlight an amazingly in-depth analysis.  Martin Krzywinski’s Lexical Analysis of 2008 Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates is quite a study in detail.  This page will likely appeal to anyone with a curiosity toward communication, human speech, or even scientific methodology in general.  My assistant principal (who was an outstanding chemistry instructor a few years back) and I had a brief geek-fest in first looking over this study.

Personally, I love throwing out divergent studies in my Dual-Credit Biology class to capture the attention of a literary sub-population of the class.  Since the first unit of the course concerns the “nature of science”, we needn’t spend 100% of our efforts within the field of biology-  just my personal bias.  This year in particular, I have made an attempt to highlight solid examples of scientific thinking in all realms of life.  A large percentage of the 24 students in my class will not move on to study biology, or any other field of natural science beyond high school.  It is these individuals I am paying particular and focused attention to this year.  Real scientific processing can happen beyond bees, trees and DNA, and it is one of my goals to drive that point home.

The “real” message?

I won’t even begin to trot out the number of “Aha’s”, inferences, and questions I generated while reading through this lexical analysis.  However, doing so instantly made me think of using this work as a “primary document” in some sort of “Three Story Intellect“-type breakdown.  On a side note, it frustrates me to see that this learning strategy, is rarely attributed to Robin Fogarty when posted online.  I suppose I’ll have to post my own (properly attributed) revision of this in the near future.  *tweet*

To me, it is quite interesting to see how similar large parcels of human speech really are.  I would have thought there were larger differences in parts of speech, etc.  However, the more I think about it, sentence construction by intelligent individuals (or really well-coached individuals) probably is more or less stable.  Now word choice is a different matter altogether.  The analysis of word clouds here is inspiring.  I have several colleagues who have recently taken to the visualization power of word clouds.  The problem is, few of us really know how to use them to their potential.  I thought I might… and then I saw this website.  I am excited to learn more.  This is a great resource for inspiration.

Snake\'s Mouth

Tweet the vote:

Sorry about filling your screen with errant links today.  There are only a few days left before the election.  Fit in this little gem where appropriate before then.  Can you summarize this treatise in 140 characters or less?  If so, send out a tweet!

Artwork thanks:

Mundee, Laura. “Umm…hello?.” Flickr. 24 Mar 2007. 27 Oct 2008


Antunes, Vitor. “Snake’s Mouth.” Flickr. 25 June 2007. 27 Oct 2008


Blogging: Building Bridges Within The Brain?

If the act of web surfing might keep dementia at bay, then blogging might just allow your brain to outlive your body.


The Context

I found this brief, but intriguing article from MSNBC interesting enough to engage a read-aloud with my Dual-Credit Biology class this past week.  This classroom of curious minds is full of nascent bloggers.  We have begun our journey into the blogosphere within the relatively safe confines (if the global web can be seen as “confined” in any way) of a classroom network on the Ning platform.  Here we have recently dabbled with  online discussion forums, mini-project publishing and blogging as it relates to the dynamic nature of science in general.

One must also be aware that these forms of learning are quite novel at my school of around 900 students in Saint Joseph, Missouri.  I, along with a small cohort of teachers at Benton High, have taken a step into the world of online interactivity and publishing within the standard curriculum of our courses.  After just a month and a half, we have realized the fact that the doors of our classrooms no longer lock tight at 3:00pm.  During even late nights throughout the week, many of our classrooms are still abuzz with content discourse while the mice come out to frolic in the hallways of our aging school.

I have to say, my students have bought in.  I have tried to deeply embed the daily work we do in class with the digital tendrils that run throughout the global web.  It is fun to think of these conversations happening invisibly about our heads as radio signals.  For years I have peppered my classroom mission with this ideal, but this year I have taken a full windward tack toward digital conversation.  The experimental nature of it all tends to dovetail well into the two science classes I teach (Dual-Credit Biology and Marine Biology).  Students seem to come to these classes fully prepared to confront ideas and phenomena they have yet encountered.  I have never taken that mindset lightly in what I do on a day-to-day basis.

The Article

So it is within this framework that a little article like this can get some serious play.  The suggestion that web surfing itself could prolong the cranial excitement that leads to long brain life is powerful.  The main detail that stuck out to me is the fact that fMRI scans of subjects surfing the web were more diverse than a control group who were merely reading books.  In this study, the book-reading participants showed significant brain activity in the temporal, parietal and occipital lobes of the brain.  As the article states, these regions are involved in controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities.  This surely comes as no surprise to any reading expert as many of our current comprehension strategies are designed to take advantage of this.

However, the brains of those participants who were web surfing showed the same activity.  What is more is the fact that they also excited the frontal, temporal and cingulate areas of their noggins.  These areas of the brain control decision-making and complex reasoning.  More still is the fact that this effect was only noted in those subjects who had prior Internet experience.

“Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading.”

If ever there was a solid suggestion that a non-webbite should get on the Internet…  and now…  this could be it.  The fact that a discussion of these ideas can take place for fifteen minutes in the lives of open-minded teenagers is pretty stimulating.  To know that what you do now can effect the neural wiring of your future brain is pretty compelling.


Going Beyond

If mere web surfing can be such rich exercise for gray matter, then the act of blogging just might build the kind of active brains we strive for in education-  for blogging, is not your garden variety writing exercise.  My first experiences with blogging last March were personally empowering for many reasons.  Not the least of which was the fact that I soon felt like I was engaging in a type of writing that went way beyond anything I had done to date.

After authoring a few trial pieces to see what the phenomenon was all about, it occurred to me that I was engaged in far more than I had ever been while solely journaling.  I remember talking this out with several of my closest educator friends.  I remember making a comment that what I was doing felt like some type of “connective” writing-  perhaps even a different genre.  Of course, what felt like a shiny new endeavor to me was already a published entity.  In fact, in Will Richardson’s 2006 book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, “connective writing” is mentioned as somewhat of a new genre starting on page 30.  Finding this little gem made me feel a little less of an explorer, but was certainly validating.

Richardson describes this type of writing as being, “a form that forces those who do it to read carefully and critically, that demands clarity and cogency in its construction, that is done for a wide audience, and that links to the sources of the ideas expressed.” He goes on to drive home the point that good blogging requires far more critical reading than might be immediately noticed by the casual reader of a blog.  There is far more rich goodness in this chapter than can be related in this post, and I highly recommend the book to anyone looking to engage students in the pedagogy of blogging.

Bottom Line

Academic blogging is rigorous synthesis.  It is an activity than can certainly enhance your classroom, and potentially extend the life of your brain.  As I finish up this post, my wife @erinlynnnash just chimed onto the Twitterverse with a somewhat-related line from a Flobots song:  “There is a war going on for your mind.  If you are thinking, you are winning.”

Perhaps this is a better mission statement for our school than the one we last authored.

Artwork thanks:

Mao, Isaac. “Brain.” Flickr. 13 June 2005. 18 Oct 2008 <>.

“tmcnamee”, “Old World Brain.” Flickr. 03 APR 2007. 18 Oct 2008 <>.