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Jacqui Murray

30 Mar

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-eighth grade, creator of a passel of technology training books for middle school and technology in education generally. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, and more. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Jacqui won the Southern California Writers Conference Outstanding Fiction Award for her upcoming techno-thriller, To Hunt a Sub (excerpt available on Scribd.com). Reviewers laud her novel as ‘strongly written’ with ‘interesting and unique plot hooks’. She’s currently working on a prehistoric character-driven novel, Born in a Treacherous Time (excerpt available on Scribd.com). She was born in Berkley California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, a BA in Russian and an MBA, she worked for twenty years in a variety of industries while raising her two children and teaching evening classes at community colleges. With her children now adults, one in the Navy and one in the Army, she lives in Laguna Hills CA with her husband and two beautiful Labradors.. She teaches computer science to grades K-8 while pursuing her writing.

You can find her columns, guest posts and thoughts at the following digital ezines, blogs and websites:

If you’re interested in having Jacqui guest post on your blog, website, or review a product/website/book for you, please contact her at askatechteacher@mail.com.

 
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Writing Process Blog Meme

21 Apr

writerMy dear friend (in the real world as well as the virtual), Shari Pratt, nominated me for this writing process blog meme.If you haven’t visited Shari’s blog, she is quite a verbal artist. The mental images she draws with her words are stunning. She doesn’t post a lot, but what she says is so worth listening to.

The rules of this meme require I answer four questions about how I write and nominate three others. I haven’t done one of these in a long time–I’m generally an award-free blog zone–so bear with me as I stumble along.

What am I working on at the moment?

Too much! Here’s a run-down:

  • my primary WIP is To Hunt a Sub. I’m editing it–final edit (yeah right), with a goal of publishing this summer
  • a series of non-fiction books on integrating technology into the classroom
  • summer workshops for teachers and students (two separate workshops)
  • several articles for ezines I write for

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write thrillers, but mine include a lot of tech and science as the plot engine. It’s challenging to simplify for everyone, but provides ample twists and turns I can adopt. I have a few typical characters (a struggling grad student, brilliant undercover cyberwarrior, and a retired SEAL) and an AI named Otto I just love. He’s trying to take over the story. I’ve got control of him pretty well in this book, but the sequel–he breaks out.

That’s my long way of answering your question–my work is different because of this AI character.

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It’s OK to Write What You Don’t Know

18 Apr

mark twainMark Twain started it when he said, “Write what you know.” From then on, writers have taken that as gospel. Dig deep. Scratch out what you feel/think/are passionate about and bleed it onto the page. As new writers it’s one of three truths pounded into us–Show don’t tell, Murder your babies, and Write what you know.

No one ever asks, “Don’t novelists make stuff up?” It doesn’t seem to matter that no one’s ever seen DC blow up though thriller writers postulate it all the time. How about a massive gorilla atop the Empire State Building? Fantasy writers make up whole worlds and species. As do Sci Fi aficionados. Did they not get the memo? What about Hannibal Lector, cutting people’s heads open to eat their living brain? Or Criminal Minds‘ psycho killers? I’d rather drink Drano than think they’re real.

In a rational literary world, making stuff up makes sense. It’s called ‘fiction’, which Webster defines as ‘not real’ (I’ve abbreviated, but you get the idea). How does that jive with ‘Write what you know’. What Mark Twain should have said–maybe meant to say–was ‘Lie creatively. Do your research, weave with zest, be believable, and write’. But that’s got all the literary charisma of a dirty needle.

Maybe he meant it as a suggestion, Write what you know. Or not. Your choice.

I confess, I tried to ‘write what I know’. I imagined what people I knew would do in particular circumstances and wrote that story. It was boring. Then, I researched a topic, got all the details exquisitely perfect and added fiction characteristics like characters, setting, crises, pacing–stuff like that. It was creative nonfiction before that was invented. I figured I was still ‘writing what I knew’, just embellishing.

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#IWSG–Am I Brave Enough?

02 Apr

writers groupThis post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out like Kate and Rebecca who inspired me to begin). The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.

This month’s insecurity: Am I brave enough to be a good writer? (inspired by Kirsten over at A Scenic Route, in a comment she left on my February IWSG article).

I’ll start by saying I’m not brave. What might be characterized to others around me as ‘brave’ is actually forced. I know what must be done and I do it. Or, often–this is how I became a writer–I don’t know how to stop. It’s easier to keep moving forward than come up with a plan for a new direction. On the outside, that might be mistaken for brave, gutsy, or confident, but those genes were left out of my genome.

The problem is that adage–all you have to do to write is cut a vein and bleed onto the page. Meaning: Open your soul to complete strangers. Share your inner-most secrets. Stand at the front of the room to be judged by people you don’t know. I can’t do that. Just can’t. I try, fail, try again, fail again. Repeat.

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How to Talk to a Tech Teacher

27 Mar

There’s always been something mystical about people in technical professions–engineering, science, mathematics. They talk animatedly about plate tectonics, debate the structure of mathematical functions, even smile at the mention of calculus. The teaching profession has their own version of these individuals, called ‘technology teachers’. They used to be stuffed in a corner of the school where most teachers could pretend they didn’t exist, that what they did was for ‘some other educator in an alternate dimension’.

Thawritert all changed when technology swept across the academic landscape like a firestorm:

  • iPads became the device of choice in the classroom
  • Class SmartScreens became more norm than abnorm(al)
  • Technology in the classroom changed from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’
  • 1:1 became a realistic goal
  • Students researched online as often as in the library
  • Students began spending as much time in a digital neighborhood as their home town
  • Textbooks morphed into resources rather than bibles

Today, teachers who don’t use technology are an endangered species. Often, they’re too young to retire, so they get a map from a colleague to that place where they’ve been told they’ll find help–from a person variously called the ‘tech teacher’, ‘integration specialist’, or ‘tech coordinator’.

As they enter the room, Google Maps in hand (an effort to impress), they figure the person they’re looking for must be the one who looks up as they enter, fingers flying across the keyboard, never pausing and never slowing even as she smiles and says, ‘Hi!’.

Before you ask your question, I have a short list of signs that will help you have a more positive experience when you confront this big-brained Sheldon-look-like:

  • You can’t scare them (in fact, even Admin and a lousy economy doesn’t frighten them). They’re techies. Try kindness instead.
  • Patience and tech are oxymorons. Know that going in.
  • Bring food. Techies often forget to eat, or ate everything in their snack stash and need more.
  • Some days, tech looks a lot like work. Distract them with an interesting problem.
  • Start the encounter with a discussion on Dr. Who, Minecraft, or Big Bang Theory. Find a clever tie-in to your topic.
  • Understand that tech teachers often think trying to teach teachers to tech is like solving the Riemann Hypothesis (many consider it impossible). Bone up on basics before the Meeting.
  • Life after the 100th crashed computer is what Oprah might call a life-defining moment. If that just happened as you walked through the door, turn around and come back another time.
  • Understanding a techie who’s in the zone is like understanding the meaning of life. Again–leave the room; come back later.

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12 Spring Cleaning Steps for Your Computer

24 Mar

spring cleaningIt’s time for Spring Cleaning. Of your computer.

If you followed my suggestion over New Year’s, this will go faster than you expect, but still, plan to set aside a couple of hours. Grab a coffee or tea, get a comfortable chair. Put on your problem-solving hat, and get started:

  1. Make sure your firewall is working. Windows comes with a built-in one. Maybe Mac does too. Leave it active. It’s under Control Panel-Administrative Tools. Sometimes, they turn off by themselves (I have no idea why). Check it to be sure it remains active.
  2. Run Spybot or a similar antispyware program. Spybot is free, which is why I like it. I’ve had good luck with it. Download.com says this about Spybot: The program checks your system against a comprehensive database of adware and other system invaders. The Immunize feature blocks a plethora of uninvited Web-borne flotsam before it reaches your computer.
  3. Keep your antivirus software active. If you’re paranoid like me, run an antivirus scan weekly to be sure nothing is missed.
  4. Run Ad-aware once a week to keep malware and spyware off your computer. It has a stellar reputation and is still free to all (although there’s an upgrade you can pay for).
  5. Sort through your My Documents files and get rid of those you don’t need anymore. That includes pictures, videos, faxes, all that stuff. It’s intimidating, like a file cabinet that hasn’t been opened in months–or years. Do it, though. You may not need the hard drive space, but you don’t need the computer fingering through unnecessary files every time it searches.
  6. Back up all of your files to an external drive or cloud storage. If you have an automated system like Carbonite, skip this. If you don’t have one, consider getting one. They not only automatically back up your work, but they make it accessible from wherever you are–home, work, your accountants, the soccer field. If you use Windows, try their ‘backup’ program. It’s easy to find: Click the Start Button and search ‘backup’.
  7. Empty the trash folder. Don’t even look in it. If you haven’t missed a file by now, it won’t be in there.
  8. Learn to use that program you’ve been promising you would. Evernote is a great example. Use it (and you won’t be sorry) or delete the email from your best friend exhorting you to. Move on.
  9. Go through your programs and delete the ones you no longer use. Here’s what you do:
    • go to Control Panel>Programs and Feature

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5 Reasons Class Size Does NOT Matter and 3 Why Large is a Good Thing

19 Mar

problem solvingAre you drowning in students, sure that the flood of bodies that enter your classroom daily will destroy your effectiveness? Does it depress you, make you second-guess your decision to effect change in the world as a teacher? Do you wonder how you’ll explain to parents–and get them to believe you–that you truly CAN teach thirty students and meet their needs (because you must convince them–of all education characteristics, parents equate class size to success)?

Take heart while I play Devil’s Advocate and offer evidence contrary to what seems by most to be intuitive common sense. I mean, how could splitting your finite amount of time among LESS students be anything but advantageous? Sure, there are many studies (US-based primarily) that support a direct correlation between class size and teacher ability to meet education goals, but consider how you–personally–learn. Sure, it occurs through teachers, but just as often by trial and error, peers, inquiry, student-centered activities, play, experiencing events, differentiated ways unlike others. Educators like John Holt believe “children [and by extension, you] learn most effectively by their own motivation and on their own terms”.

Is it possible the root of the education problem is other than class size? Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City (National Bureau of Economic Research) indicates that traditional success measures–including class size–do not correlate to school effectiveness. According to this study, what doesn’t matter is:

  1. class size
  2. per pupil expenditure
  3. fraction of teachers with no certification
  4. fraction of teachers with an advanced degree

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Celebrate Pi Day

14 Mar

Pi Day is an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (or 3/14 in the U.S. month/day date format), since 3, 1, and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form.

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14 Things Writers Do Before 8am

10 Mar

todays authorThis is inspired by Jennifer Cohen over at Forbes who wrote a wonderful article on “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8am” (few of which I did, though I can claim #5). She includes chores like exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, map out the day–all great ideas, but not pithy enough for the average writer I know.

Here’s my list, gathered from chatting with friends (and a few efriends) about their daily ToDo list:

  1. solve the problems of the world
  2. wash Superman (or woman) cape
  3. figure out the equivalent of sticking twenty people in a phone booth–i.e., get kids ready and off to school with packed lunches and completed homework, arrange household repairs, get the dog sorted, talk significant other down from an emotional cliff, figure out how to make coffee by pouring hot water through yesterday’s grounds (forgot to buy coffee), and find your child’s lost iPad which must be brought to school every day now that class has a 1:1 initiative
  4. consult with muse on the next Great American Novel
  5. invent clever phrases like “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” (though Winston Churchill has already come up with that one. Bollocks)
  6. invent clever humor like,”If b******* were oil, you’d be OPEC”.
  7. invent clever similes, like “Like a violin in a marching band”.
  8. move everything that wasn’t accomplished yesterday to today’s To Do list, which is most everything because there were a few emergencies that blew up what should have been a highly-productive yesterday
  9. reread the books about how anyone can write a best-seller.
  10. find the overlap between ‘common’ and ‘sense’
  11. figure out how many writers it takes to screw in a lightbulb
  12. find life’s undo key
  13. answer all Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus queries with friendly, pithy responses
  14. take a nap

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#IWSG–My Writing Style Doesn’t Work

05 Mar

writers groupThis post is for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers Support Group (click the link for details on what that means and how to join. You will also find a list of bloggers signed up to the challenge that are worth checking out like Kate and Rebecca who inspired me to begin). The first Wednesday of every month, we all post our thoughts, fears or words of encouragement for fellow writers.

This month’s insecurity: What if my style of writing just doesn’t work for the genre I selected?

I have been writing for about 17 years. I started as a fiction writer (had no idea what my genre was), took some classes. Got excited about writing as a craft. I thought it was something I could be passionate about for a lifetime so I wrote a novel. It wasn’t well received. That didn’t stop me. I kept writing and submitting and filing. Write. Submit. File rejection letters. Repeat. Being a smart person, I figured out this wasn’t going to pay the bills so I started writing tech-in-education articles, books, stuff. That worked well. I seemed to have found a good balance of layspeak and tech for lots of people.

But I kept writing fiction, now focused on thrillers. Still I write. Submit. Get rejected. Repeat.

I’m starting to wonder if my writing style doesn’t work for fiction. I’m organized, almost methodical. I like approaches like the Marshall Plan that tells me how many scenes my characters should be part of (not to say I follow it all the time. I like being a rebel). I create my draft in Excel so I can add rows, ideas with alacrity, then convert everything to Word. I probably have all the required pieces of a novel, but I wonder if I’ve organized out the passion. Emotion. Little surprises that just happen and make readers come back.

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve had some success. A first place in a writing competition. Quarter finals in ABNA. I even had an agent for a while… That’s another story. People I respect swear it’s the Universe being quirky, not me being hopeless. I’ve tried quitting, but I’m back at it within weeks, like an addict. I know people who quit smoking and their rough period starts when they quit and continues till they die. Is that what being a reformed writer would be–”Hello, my name is Jacqui and it’s been ten days since I edited my novel…” I get the shakes thinking of that.

Still I wonder. If I self-pub will anyone read? Will I be among those ‘Indie authors who embarrass the profession’? Yikes–I’m depressing myself.

How do you handle this sort of worry?

More IWSG articles:

Am I good enough? Does it matter?–#IWSG

Fear of Saying Dumb Things Scares Me to Death

#IWSG–The World is Changing–Can I keep up

Will I Find Employment if I’m an Older Job Hunter?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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Ten Commandments from Richard Bausch

24 Feb

richard bauschI recently started a Writer’s Workshop with Richard Bausch. I–and ten other future-great-authors–get to spend about two hours a week with this master of short stories, pithy novels, and literary fiction. Over the fourteen weeks this will take, I intend to share his wisdom and my epiphanies with you. So far, I find him wise, entertaining, human, approachable, humorous, interested and interesting. He has an identical twin brother, so I must be careful not to confuse the two (though Richard provided a clue to differentiating). More on this later.

I’ll start with this I found on his website, what he considers the Ten Commandments for writers. I must admit–I haven’t read most of these anywhere else. And having read them, I wonder why:

  1. Read: “You must try to know everything that has ever been written that is worth remembering, and you must keep up with what your contemporaries are doing.”
  2. Imitate: “While you are doing this reading, you spend time trying to sound like the various authors — just as a painter, learning to paint, sets up his easel in the museum and copies the work of the masters.”
  3. “Be regular and ordinary in your habits, like a Petit Bourgeois, so you may be violent and original in your work.” — borrowed from Flaubert
  4. Train yourself to be able to work anywhere.
  5. Be Patient. “You will write many more failures than successes. Say to yourself, I accept failure as the condition of this life, this work. I freely accept it as my destiny. Then go on and do the work. You never ask yourself anything beyond Did I work today?”
  6. Be Willing. “Accepting failure as a part of your destiny, learn to be willing to fail, to take the chances that often lead to failure in the hope that one of them might lead to something good.”
  7. Eschew politics. “You are in the business of portraying the personal life, the personal cost of events, so even if history is part of your story, it should only serve as a backdrop.”
  8. Do not think, dream.
  9. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, and learn to keep from building expectations.
  10. Be wary of all general advice.

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