Yesterday was a Great Day

Picture from the Rocky View Symposium (click to enlarge)

Yes, yesterday was a great day and exactly what I needed. I got lazy over the holiday weeks as I began to plant roots and embrace routine. I remained busy, working on presentations and writing code, but I wasn’t listening or reading, and I was beginning to feel a bit stale (which is not necessarily unpleasant). Brenda had to shove me out of the car at the Raleigh Airport on Friday, with me pleading, “Please don’t make me go!”  It was a real scene 😉

But rediscovering why I love what I do happened quickly and simply yesterday morning as I shared, with Penny Milton, the limo ride from the Calgary Airport Hotel to the event venue.  Penny is the former CEO of the Canadian Association of Educators and currently semi-retired. The event we were both speaking at was a learning symposium organized by the Rocky View School District, and the theme was engagement, enrichment and empowerment.

Penny has been involved in a project that seeks to understand engagement and to find ways to promote it in Canadian schools. She told me that there seem to be three kinds of engagement,

  1. Institutional engagement,
  2. Social engagement, and
  3. Intellectual engagement,

..the last of which being their major focus — the one that consistently scored lowest on the survey instruments that they developed.

Their findings fell into an x/y continuim of challenge and skills. The higher the challenge of the learning experience and the higher the skill sets required and developed, the more intellectually engaged the learner was. But what really wrinkled my brain was the methodology.  During our ride, Penny said that they found that if they shared the resulting survey data with the teachers AND THE LEARNERS, and facilitated conversations about engagement that included both groups, change seemed to occur much more rapidly and deeply. This is a powerful idea and something that I know a lot of educators are experiencing, as they invite learners into their planning and policy conversations.

Another idea that woke me up was shared by Dr. Dennis Sumara, Dean of the School of Education at the University of Calgary. He presented research about teachers and teaching, reminding us that the number one factor, hands-down, that determines success among learners is the teacher. But what I found interesting was what, according to Sumatra, made “good teachers.” It is NOT..

  • Graduate degrees
  • High IQ/SAT
  • Extroverted nature
  • Politeness
  • Confidence
  • Warmth or
  • Enthusiasm

Although these are all important qualities, what seems makes good teachers is

  • A capacity to improvise
  • Participation in professional development
  • Deep learning (as a professional)
  • High complexity
  • A growth mindset
  • Expansive consciousness, and
  • High PCK (?)

I’ll hope to expand on some of these qualities in a future blog entry.



  1. I set up the event from the dashboard by entering a unique event code, usually the acronym of the event and some rendering of the date.
  2. I introduce the audience to Knitter, send those with web devices to the URL, and invite them to enter their name and the event code.
  3. I add that Tweets using the event code as a hash tag will also be captured by Knitter
  4. At the end of the event, I return to the dashboard, click off the event, and export the transcript.
  5. Poste the transcript into my wiki, read it, and comment.

A few days ago I mentioned on Facebook that I had been working, in mad scientist fashion, on my Knitter tool, sometimes called Knitter Chat. Rather than try to fit an adequate explanation into a single status update, I decided to just link to a blog post. But after a quick search, I found that although I have mentioned the tool several times in 2¢ Worth, it seems that I have never really explained it in a single post.  So here goes.

I guess it would be most accurate to say that I started working on Twitter, at the NECC conference where I first learned about Twitter.  I do not recall which NECC it was but I’m pretty sure that it was the first one with a Bloggers’ Cafe — Atlanta maybe, 2007.  Anyway, someone, among the gathered bloggers, mentioned and described Twitter, and we all responded the only way that anyone responds to their first exposure — “Why would I want to do that?”  But after we joined, and started Tweeting and reading the conference, the value became obvious and we started talking about the potentials of lots of conference attendees Twittering away and even workshop participants and classroom students.

Of course, having to explain Twitter, get everyone signed in, and befriending each other were obvious barriers to my using it in any systematic way.  So I started plotting out a new programming project, something that would mimic Twitter, but perhaps have other features designed for learning environments.

Knitter went through several incarnation, the earlier ones including various existing chat room scripts that I’d found, downloaded, and integrated into the functionality that I was working toward.  But I’m not a Java/Ajax programmer and was unable to make the tools run reliably enough.  So I switched to the programming that I knew and although the result is less “slick,” it works for me — 99% of the time.

This is probably a good place to say that Knitter is not a public tool.  It is a personal experiment that I use in many of my presentations.  I simply do not need another public tool to have to support.  I can barely keep up with Citational Machine and Class Blogmeister, and that with loads of help from Robert Sharp and other users.  And there are alternatives when there were none when I built CB.  Here are some that I usually suggest when asked.

If you know of others, please post a comment.  Of those four, I have used and enjoyed Today’s Meet the most.  It’s simple and fairly reliable.

There is one feature, however, that I have included in Knitter that I’ve not seen in other backchannel tools — at least the last time I looked.  When my presentation is over, I go to a private dashboard and export the transcript of the backchannel in two formats.  The first format is one that is coded to be copied and pasted directly into a wiki page.  The codes are tuned to PMWiki, an open source wiki engine that I use for my online handouts.  But the formatting can be easily adapted for Wikispaces or others.

The resulting wiki version of the transcript is then linked to my online handouts so that it becomes available to all participants as a community-generated resource.  Since the transcript goes into a wiki, I (and others) can continue the conversation by inserting answers, insights, and corrections directly into the chat.  It becomes another way for me to extend that learning experience beyond its place and time.  Here is an example from the Georgia State Superintendents’ Association conference.

The other format is a simple text dump of the transcript with most coding stripped out. This text can be pasted into any of a number of word cloud tools to share a visual representation of the conversations. I usually use Wordle, but may give Tegxedo a try.

With more and more educators using Twitter, I recently used their API to capture Tweets posted with the Knitter event code (see The Process) as the hash tag.  This worked far better than I expected.

The benefits in teaching and learning contexts are many.  Here are just a few that I have found to be most important:

  • Capable learners are more engaged, because they are getting traction from the ideas by pushing and pulling on each others’ perspectives.
  • The answers to important side questions can be answered by knowledgeable and insightful peer/participants.
  • Depth can be drilled among participants who are ready or in need of deeper learning.
  • Participants learn about local experts whom they can contact later.
  • Generates valuable community generated content.
  • I receive invaluable feedback through the transcript, as I learn where I’m hitting the mark and where I am simply not making an idea clear — or where my idea may be wrong.
  • I have more opportunities to teach, as I can read through the conversation and insert answers, clarifications, insights, and exploration of new ideas after the event is over and I have left.

Over my recent and greatly welcomed weeks at home, I have been working through another feature that, technically, is not really a part of Knitter.  Again, one of the most important benefits of Knitter is the ability to archive and publish the backchannel transcript.  So what if I could capture transcripts of backchannel chattings for other events, maybe even events that I am not able to attend.  For most of EduCon, I will be working a conference in Christchurch.  I’ll make it back for the last day, though I’m not sure how alert I’ll be after flying to NYC from New Zealand, and then a midnight train ride from there to Philly.  But what if I have the transcript of the first two days of backchannel to keep me company.

Yesterday, I finished a feature that enables me to schedule a capture of Tweets with a particular hash tag.  To test it, I scheduled a one hour capture based on a recent trend and hash tag, #savelibraries.  You can see the transcript here.  My plan is to schedule a capture of #educon postings, starting at 10:00 AM on Friday (Jan 28), hoping that the old laptop I’ll have monitoring the conversation doesn’t explode under the load.

Is the Truth More than What We’re Willing to Believe?

From April 2009 Ben Clement (cc) Photo

Several days ago, trying to settle in for a fruit and yogart breakfast in the lounge of the Evansville Airport Marriott, I posted this Facebook status update…

Wondering if I can possibly finish breakfast with Fox News blaring in the corner.

A brief exchange of comments followed which forced me to think a little harder about the feelings that prompted that post — and it had only a little to do with the content of the program — but at least little. I will admit that there is not much that I have seen on the FoxNews Network that does not challenge the values of my country, at least as they were taught to me by my parents and teachers. But trying to cut down deeper to the aspects of the broadcast that were bothering me, I concluded that it was not the content.  What irked me was the unapologetic enthusiasm, with which the newscasters were delivering that content.

FoxNews is certainly not alone in their apparent need to dress up their news with zeal, entertainment, or sex appeal.  Around the time of the last Presidential election, I took to watching or listening to a couple of the more liberal counterparts to FoxNews, and found myself just as disgusting with its self-righteous and drama-charged presentation — intended to generate emotional energy instead of delivering news, The sad fact is that…

The truth has become anything that people are willing to believe.

What finally provoked me to write this blog entry was an October 27 report from the PEW Research Center for the Peiople & the Press, “Wide Partisan Divide Over Global Warming.” According to a 2007 Harris Interactive survey, 97% Earth and atmospheric scientists agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years. 74% stated that “currently available scientific evidence” points to human-induced warming, and 84% of the scientists believed that warming is a result of human activity. ((Lichter, S.R. (2008). Climate scientists agree on warming, disagree on dangers, the media’s coverage of climate change. Stats Articles 2008, Retrieved from
Yet, according to the PEW survey, 44% of the polled population said that scientists do not agree that the earth is warming because of human activity, and the same percent (44%) said that the scientific community does agree. To be fair, the argument can easily be played out based on semantics alone. But when desegregated, based on political parties, a picture unfolds. When asked if there is solid evidence that the earth is warming, 8 out of 10 of Democrats (79%) said, “Yes,” while less than 6 in 10 Independents (56%) agreed.  62% of polled Republicans indicated that there is no solid evidence of the earth’s warming.

Is the earth warming? With three snows in December and ice still on the ground from our January 11 ice storm, it’s easy to find reason to question claims of global warming. The fact is that I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. If I want to know, then I’m going to read what scientists are saying in scientific publications, not to what enthusiastically partisan news reporters are telling me.

But to say that it’s partisanship is too easy. It’s that enthusiasm part that really twists my nerves. One of the epiphanies that I experienced, after finishing my formal education and starting to pay attention to this world, was that it’s not a boring place. The world and what happens here is intensely exciting, and one of the forces that came to drive my teaching was that learning about this world should be just as exciting.

Anyone who understands and reflects on their world experience, the forces that influence that experience, and how we affect others, does not need to be convinced by bubbly or blaring reporters. The person with knowledge and understanding can make his or her own “interest.”

What does this mean to classroom? Two things…

  1. We should help learners form not only the information literacy skills that are necessary in an information-driven culture, but also the literacy habits of exploring all sources and all viewpoints and drawing well-reasoned and defendable conclusions. Expect them to compare and contrast — everything. ..and model those habits.
  2. Stop teaching from beneath the standards.  Instead, teach for understanding. Teaching to the test serves only those who want to sell us something.

Dealing with my own Technolust — a New Year’s Resolution

It’s not an iPad, but I’m actually pretty impressed with my Kindle and even some of its social features.

One of my surprise gifts this Christmas was a package from Amazon, sent by one of our business partners in New York, containing a 6-inch 3G Kindle.

I’d not thought much about the devices before. After all, I have an iPad, and I have the software installed on the it, and have even ordered a few books. But, although I use the Apple device primarily for reading, it’s usually news or news feeds (Pulse & FlipBoard) — professional reading.

What instantly excited me about this Kindle was the fact that I am re-reading the last Harry Potter book, and since I do my fun reading at night, just before I fall asleep, I have found it exceedingly frustrating to handle a 750 page book in bed. Now I can read and it weighs almost nothing.

So the next morning I set out to buy my first Kindle book for my new Kindle reader and became frustrated again at what seemed like such a poorly designed web site, that I simply could not find the Kindle download for The Deathly Hallows.  Finally Googling the problem revealed that J.K. Rowling, the books’ celebrated author, has refused to allow any of the Potter works to be digitally published. What?

My first reaction was to call this the worse kind of techno-snobbery, an apparent belief that these wonderful stories can only be told from a book — a really big book — never mind that the magic of well told stories far preceded even the earliest books. To be fair, after more reading, I discovered that Rowling’s refusal has more to do with a fear of piracy than what seemed like a narrow-minded wish to preserve the romance of books — even though, her books are apparently being digitally scanned and made available as eBooks within hours of their formal publishing and even sometimes available through Amazon. ((Rothman, David. “Illegal Potter copies were on sale in E via Kindle store: Another example of publishing’s e-mess.” TeleRead. 25 Jan 2009. Web. 4 Jan 2011. <>.))

But that initial impulse lead me to think hard about my own techno-lust and -snobbery. I also rewarded myself, this holiday season, with a Macbook Air, ostensibly because the laptop I’ve been using is simply too heavy to carry around, as much as I sometimes have to carry a laptop around — not good for my posture. But like my iPad, it is a technology I could probably do without. I bought them because I happened to have to money at the time, and because both are such tantalizingly cool technologies. I confess — and I forgive myself.

My struggle now is to continue to work on preventing my propensity for cool tools (toys) from coloring my promotion of education practices and facilities that are more relevant to today’s children, today’s prevailing information environment, and the unpredictable future for which we are preparing our children.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been dealing with this struggle almost daily, as I have decided to switch from Prezi back to Keynote for my presentations. Have you seen the animations that you can so easily accomplish with Apple’s Keynote ’09? It’s dazzling — and it is hard work to keep that dazzle from coming between my message and the audience I hope to influence with it..

..and it is my continuing New Year’s resolution. There continues to be much in what I do and what we do as teachers, librarians, administrators, and even as parents that gets in the way of our need to prepare our children for their future, and we do it in the name of education and even in our efforts to “integrate technology.”  It’s in our expectations, our terminologies and even in how we use our seductive technologies.

So I resolve to make only the most efficiently productive use of my information and communication technologies

— at least 80% of the time 😉


Happy New Years – Cherryville Style…

Image care of Rusty Wise’s “The History of Cherryville New Years Shooters” web site.

I grew up in a small mill town in the foothills of North Carolina, Cherryville (pronounced Cher’-vel). I recollect three stop lights in the town, when I was growing up. They’re up to seven now, that I can count.

Settled in the 18th century by Scots-Irish and German immigrants, including my surname’s ancestor, Daniel Johann Wahrlich (spelled to Warlick by a near-literate ship’s clerk), a German tradition was carried over and still observed in Cherryville — that of traveling from home to home, reciting a chant (below) and firing overloaded mustkets to “ out demons, witches, and other non-desirable entities on the property and bless the land for the upcoming year.” ((Wise, Rusty. “The History of the Cherryville New Years Shooters.” The Cherryville New Years Shooters Inc.. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Jan 2011. <>.))

Here is a video, produced in 2007 by, Cherryville resident, Rusty Wise that includes the chant (posted below) and much footage of the shooters.

Happy New Years to you, everywhere!

You can also enjoy a New Year’s Shooters music video here.


Chant of the New Years Shooters

Good morning to you, sir.

We wish you a happy New Year, Great health, long life, which God may bestow

So long as you stay here below.

May he bestow the house you’re in,

Where you go out and you go in.

Time by moments steals away,

First the hour and then the day.

Small the lost days may appear,

But they soon mount up to a year.

Thus another year is gone,

And now it is no more of our own,

but if it brings our promises good

As the year before the flood,

but let none of us forget It has left us much in debt,

a favor from the Lord received

Since which our spirits hath been grieved.

Marked by the unerring hand,

Thus in His book our record stands.

Who can tell the vast amounts

Placed to each our accounts?

But while you owe the debt is large,

You may plead a full discharge.

But poor and selfish sinners say,

What can you to justice pay?

Trembling last for life is past

And into prison you may be cast.

Happy is the believing soul,

Christ for you has paid the whole.

We have this New Year’s morning Called you by your name,

and disturbed you from your rest,

But we hope no harm by the same.

As we ask, come tell us your desire,

And if it be your desire,

our guns and pistols they shall fire.

Since we hear of no defiance,

you shall hear the art of science.

When we pull trigger and powder burns,

you shall hear the roaring of our guns;

Oh, daughters of righteousness, we will rise

and warm our eyes And bless our hearts,

for the old year’s gone and the New Year’s come

And for good luck, we’ll fire our guns!