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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

#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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A Soldier’s Christmas Poem

20 Dec
This is one of the most popular military Christmas poems I’ve seen. Here’s it’s history, from “A Soldier’s Silent Night”:

“The true story is that while a Lance Corporal serving as Battalion Counter Sniper at the Marine Barracks 8th & I, Washington, D.C., under Commandant P.X. Kelly and Battalion Commander D.J. Myers (in 1986), I wrote this poem to hang on the door of the gym in the BEQ. When Colonel Myers came upon it, he read it and immediately had copies sent to each department at the Barracks and promptly dismissed the entire Battalion early for Christmas leave. The poem was placed that day in the Marine Corps Gazette, distributed worldwide and later submitted to Leatherneck Magazine.”

Schmidt’s original version, entitled “Merry Christmas, My Friend,” was published in Leatherneck (Magazine of the Marines) in December, 1991.

As Leatherneck wrote of the poem’s author in 2003:

“‘Merry Christmas, My Friend,’” has been a holiday favorite among ‘leatherneckphiles’ for nearly the time it takes to complete a Marine Corps career. Few, however, know who wrote it and when. Former Corporal James M. Schmidt, stationed at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., pounded it out over 17 years ago on a typewriter while awaiting the commanding officer’s Christmas holiday decorations inspection…while other leathernecks strung lights for the Barracks’ annual Christmas decoration contest, Schmidt contributed his poem to his section.”

Over the years the text of “Merry Christmas, My Friend,” has been altered to change Marine-specific wording into Army references (including the title: U.S. Marines do not refer to themselves as “soldiers”) and to incorporate line-ending rhyme changes necessitated by those alterations.

This poem was written originally by Marine Corps Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt in 1986. It is narrated by Father Ted Berndt.

See you in a few weeks!

 
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December To Do List for USNA Applicants

11 Dec

partial photo credit: NemoDepending upon where you are in the process, you may have done some of the items on this list. Skip them. Be happy you’re done. Move on to the next:

First Steps:

If you’re serious about attending the USNA or any other military academy, buy a few books (or check them out of the library) on the process. It’s worth the investment because if you pursue this dream, you will be investing much more of your time and money before you achieve your goal. Better to make sure this is the direction you want to go.

Here are two books to get you started:

 
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Dear Otto: What are Common Core keyboarding standards?

17 Jul
tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Lani :

I am trying to set up my curriculum map for 2013-14, for preK-8. This is the first year I will be actually using the lab f/t…I hope, along with library skills. I purchased several of the structured learning books & your blog has been amazing! My question, you mentioned that keyboarding is part of the CC…45wpm minimum, by end of 8th grade. I have looked at the CC State Standards, but cannot find this or any tech standards. Can you share where this is? I have new administration coming & would like to be prepared! Thank you.

Here are the relevant Common Core standards for keyboarding:
  • Keyboarding is addressed tangentially–saying students must be able to type *** pages in a single sitting (see CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.6 for example. The ‘pages in a single sitting’ starts in 4th grade and continues through 6th where it’s increased to three–see CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.6)
  • By 3rd grade, Common Core also discusses the use of keyboarding to produce work, i.e., CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.6 which specifically mentions ‘use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills)’
  • The keyboarding requirement that is giving teachers across the continent heartburn is that keyboarding will be required to take Common Core Standards assessments (a year off except where Districts are testing this eventuality).

It’s worth noting that CC standards are progressive–students are expected to learn material, transfer that knowledge to the next grade level where they show evidence of having learned it by using it and building on it. Therefore, the notation to ‘produce and publish writing using keyboarding skills’ in 3rd grade carries into all successive grade.

Here’s the meat of Lani’s question/answer: To fulfill these standards will require a level of keyboarding expertise by 4th grade. I get the speed by extrapolating what CC wants accomplished. To type one page in a single sitting in 4th grade means typing approx. 300 words without taking a break. At 25 wpm (my recommendation for that age group), that’s 14 minutes of straight typing. That’s a lot! But not too much. If 4th graders are slower than 25 wpm, the time commitment of sitting in front of a monitor goes up tremendously. For example, at 15 wpm, they would be typing non-stop for 20 minutes–can they do that?

To ask Otto a question, fill out the form below:



Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, featured blogger for Technology in Education, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Handwriting vs. Keyboarding–from a Student’s Perspective

05 Jul

keyboardingEvery year, I have 4th grade students compare handwriting speed to keyboarding speed. We run it like an experiment.

  • we discuss the evidence–pros and cons
  • we develop a hypothesis
  • we test the hypothesis (with a series of four tests)
  • we revise if necessary

I wanted to test some of the reasons students come up with on both sides of this issue. I framed the discussion with Common Core standards for keyboarding as well as my school’s guidelines:

  • students must type 25 wpm by 4th grade, 30 by 5th, 35 by 6th, 40 by 7th, 45 by 8th
  • students must type 2 pages in a single seating. That roughly 500 words. at the 4th grade required speed, that’s 20 minutes of typing at a single sitting

Since fourth graders for both years I’ve done this have (from a show of hands) believed handwriting was faster, I put that as pro. I should note: The pros and cons were verbal the first two times I did this. The third time, I wrote them on the SmartScreen as students commented:

Pro–handwriting is faster

  • students are better at it. They’ve had more practice
  • don’t have to search for the keys
  • I can handwrite forever. Keyboarding–I get frustrated
  • Have to use two keys for some symbols which slows it down
  • Hand gets tired
  • Gives you writers bump if you do it too long—hurts for 4th graders

Con–keyboarding is faster than handwriting

  • Can lose your paper
  • pencils break, erasers disappear, points get dull. Then, I have to take time to get a replacement. Never happens with a keyboard.
  • hand never gets tired
  • eyes must constantly move from sheet to pencil. Once I’ve memorized the keys, I don’t have to do that anymore
  • you can only get so fast at handwriting–say, 45 wpm. Most students will exceed that speed with typing. Lots of people type 65 wpm. I type 120 (well, not anymore because of my arthritis). In the big picture, the average student will never handwrite as fast as keyboard
  • Erasing is easier
  • Spell check is easier
  • You get better at it because it crosses over into other uses
  • Counts words for you
  • Adjust font sizes to fit in smaller spaces
  • Always legible
  • Quick formatting to make thoughts stand out
  • Grammar details are easier
  • Shortcuts in keyboarding
  • Don’t waste paper

Students really got into this discussion. There were hands up frantically waving until I had to pull the plug because we would run out of time to complete the test.

The test (five minutes typing and five minutes handwriting the same selection) indicated that student handwriting was faster–and so students thought that indicated handwriting was better.

I realized I had made a mistake: Students voted based on THEIR personal status rather than the big picture. In the third of three classes, I wrote the pros and cons on the SmartScreen as students pointed them out, then we voted and discussed the results. This time, students voted based on the future–whether they thought they would soon be more efficient typists or handwriters.

Truth, the results don’t matter. We had a great time applying scientific experimentation to an authentic situation that students could relate to. Students talked about it for months afterward and were proud of themselves when one of our quarterly speed quizzes showed that they–finally–typed faster than their handwriting.

What do students at your school think?



Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, featured blogger for Technology in Education, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Beautiful Words

24 Jun
Beautiful words

Beautiful words

What makes you want to remember a word like cornucopia, abecederian, heterodoxy, circumlocution when you read it? ? Do you try to decode it first–Is ‘-locution’ the root? and what’s the prefix–’hetero-’ tell you about the meaning? What about the suffix -ian–does that make it a noun?

Here’s a great word that roles off your tongue–contradistinction. Think root and prefix and you’ve got the meaning, one that translates to your writing with a single word rather than …hmm… How many would it take?

It reminds me of art. So much is said with a picture in such a concise place. The artist provides us with a 12×14 canvas (or smaller, or larger) and it takes us hundreds of words to explain its meaning.

I posted a list of my favorite words here and here and here. These are words that you’ll want to use in your writing. They say so much in their few little syllables. And for those of you working valiantly to avoid adverbs and adjectives–because you understand they are the crutch of weak verbs and nouns–as Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”–you will notice that they replace up to five normal words.

Here’s the question. Do you love words so much you’ve become a logomach–one who disputes over words and their meanings. Or a neologist–one who invents words for a situation (do you verbize nouns and nounize verbs?). You might simply be a philomath–a lover of learning.

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Humor that Inspires–for Teachers! Part III

15 Jun

funny quotesIf you liked the last Humor that Inspires (Part 1 and Part 2), here are more to kick-start your day:

  1. “A man can’t be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”
    - Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
  2. “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
    - John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)
  3. “Logic is in the eye of the logician.”
    - Gloria Steinem
  4. “No one can earn a million dollars honestly.”
    - William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)
  5. “Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”
    - Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
  6. “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.”
    - Martin Fraquhar Tupper
  7. “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book – I’ll waste no time reading it.”
    - Moses Hadas (1900-1966)
  8. “From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
    - Groucho Marx (1895-1977)
  9. Read the rest of this entry »
 

Who is Today’s Author?

04 Jun

1186845_pen-friendAs I was considering this month’s post for a writer’s group I spend online time with, I jumped to a ponderment (I’m a writer; I’m allowed to make up words).

Who exactly is

Today’s Author.

Are you different from Yesterday’s Author? Or My Mother’s Author? Or the guy with his name on thousands of books and hundreds of contracts? Why do readers visit a site with a name like

Today’s Author‘?

Well, I figured it out:

  • you’re half writer and half salesman, trying to get what you pen into print. Used to be, someone offered to do that for you. “Write for me and I’ll put your name in lights.” Now, you put your own name on Twitter feeds, blog headings, LinkedIn banners, and Facebook Fan Pages. Shy? Get over it.
  • you work many jobs. Used to be, a writer slaved in anonymity in a cheap apartment with a sponsor paying essential bills, waiting for the Best Selling Book. Or parents kept him/her in the family estate, happy their child was busy, not believing anything would come of it. Until it did. Today, you work a 9-5 gig, then write 7-midnight. And you believe with your entire being you can make it.
  • you don’t labor in solitude. Few authors do, despite the persona of the lonely figure hunched over a paper, pen gripped in a crabbed hand. Mostly, now, you engage with fellow writers in forums, PLNs, online hangouts. You share ideas, cheer each other up, spread the good word about what colleagues are writing and publishing. It’s not face-to-face, but that’s so last generation. Look at kids. Even in groups, they’re on digital devices, chatting with names on a screen.

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Is The Earth Warmer or Cooler? Some Evidence

09 May

north-69212_640Despite that Al Gore declared this topic closed, there is much information that can be debated, with proof of global warming or cooling based on facts and science. Consider:

  • We are living in an abnormally cool period since the earth’s average surface temperature for most of its history averaged 22 Celsius compared to the present 14 C.
  • Ice ages occur at approximately 250-million-year intervals.
  • Fossil evidence suggest that during the Mesozoic Era (230 to 50 million years ago) the earth was 10 C to 15 C warmer than today.
  • One million years ago the current ice-age (Pleistocene) began.
  • Glacial stages last more than 100,000 years and are interrupted by interglacial stages that last about 10,000 years.
  • We are now living in an abnormally warm period compared to the earth’s average temperature for the last one million years (during which glaciation has prevailed).
  • The current interglacial period has been subject to climatic changes on a smaller scale than the change from glacial to interglacial but still large enough to disrupt civilizations.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, featured blogger for Technology in Education, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Dear Otto: I need reading resources for ELL/ESL

23 Apr
tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Shelley:

tomorrow is a half day planning day so I can’t wait to look at all of the websites you have for 1st grade. I’m wondering what recommendations can you give for ELL/ESL students? One of my student’s home language is Spanish and the other home language is Pashto. Thank you for any recommendations!

I found three websites that share story books in lots of languages:

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