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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

21 Ways to Describe Detectives

29 Apr

mysteryFor the next few months, I’m sharing word choice suggestions for categories of ideas. That includes:

  • colorful and original descriptions
  • pithy words and phrases
  • picture nouns and action verbs
  • writing that draws a reader in and addicts them to your voice

I keep a  collection of descriptions that have pulled me into the books. I’m fascinated how authors can–in just a few words–put me in the middle of their story and make me want to stay there. This one’s on how to describe detectives.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).

General

  • No one drinks squad room coffee. You pour the stuff, let it sit and then dump it out and start over.
  • Run a trace on phones, credit cards
  • I don’t think, just follow the information. First thing we learn in PI school
  • Send picture of suspect to train depots, airports, toll plazas,  bus stations, police stations
  • Time would slow down for him now, so he arranged things in his shady nook to get some rest. Real sleep was not an option, not alone in hostile territory, but he could allow himself a light doze, just under the edge of total awareness, with his hand always on a weapon.
  • Buchanan’s security net had tracked Colonel Sims to Elmendorf
  • Watching where their arms were in relation to their bodies, watching for certain types of backpacks, watching for a gait that might reveal if they were carrying a weapon or an IED. Watching for pale jaws that suggested a newly shaved beard or a woman’s absent touch to her hair, possibly indicating her ill ease at being in public without a hijab for the first time

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How to Use Social Media for Professional Development

18 Apr

professional learning networkTell me if this sounds familiar:

With the 2016 New Year, you resolved to build your Professional Learning Network–finally, to stop living in the 20th century where your world revolved around a sticks-and-bricks building, a landline phone, and the mailbox. You joined all the big social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, blogging–just for starters). The plan was to connect with the movers and shakers in education, learn from them, and have them as a resource for those times you needed help on a lesson plan or to select the perfect webtool for a project. You committed hours to it, and then days, eager to make this work because everyone you know talks about how much they learn from social media. Now, six months into it, you know too much about your followers’ lunch plans and almost nothing about their educational pedagogy. You’re frustrated, angry, and ready to give this whole failed effort up.

Without knowing anything about you other than that paragraph above, I’m going to predict that you didn’t manage your social media, got intimidated by the words ‘friend’ and ‘defriend’, and quickly became overwhelmed by the volume of information that flooded your inbox every day. The purpose of a social media-based PLN is to extend your reach beyond the narrow confines of the bubble you live in, but that isn’t what happened for you.

Before you unplug from the virtual world, try these six steps. They’ll clean up the clutter, smooth out the wrinkles, and put you back in the driver’s seat of your online life:

Keep your stream pure

Only accept or seek friends who are in your professional area of interest. This is less like a speed-dating party and more like a job application. When you come across a promising educator, visit their social media, pass judgment on whether they fit your needs, and then make a decision.

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21 Writing Tips Found on Twitter

16 Mar

twitter writing tipsI confess, I like the Twitter approach to writing. It’s pithy, cogent, brief, with headlines that stick. I don’t always believe them, but am often entertained. And the posters–love them.

Getting quickly-consumed tips from Twitter that inspire as I start my daily writing seems to be a natural, especially when Tweeple include images (which I wish I’d do more often). I don’t always believe these tweets, but am often entertained. About once a year, I curate a list of favorite Twitter tips. Here’s what it looks like so far this year:

  1. To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.
  2. When you’re writing, write
  3. As part of my editing process I read aloud my manuscript. What a telling experience. (This is one of the most common tips: Read your mss aloud. It’s a sea-change from reading it silently.)
  4. Note to thriller writers on Twitter: Don’t worry, you’ll get followed: By the NSA. Because of your Google searches.
  5. Rituals are a good signal to your unconscious that it is time to kick in.
  6. Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer. –Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Show up and stay present (another reminding us that when we sit down to write, don’t get distracted)
  8. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite. –Elmore Leonard
  9. Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on the glass. –Anton Chekhov (I’d forgotten this one. It’s a keeper–and so true)
  10. Never use a long word when a short one will do. –George Orwell
  11. You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write. –Saul Bellow
  12. Finding an agent is as unlikely as a bus hitting you in the shower while being attacked by a shark. And still, we write.
  13. First person POV might be the easiest for beginners.
  14. If you’re a beginner, be kind to yourself.
  15. Love the process of writing. Or quit.
  16. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
  17. To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. –Allen Ginsberg
  18. Waiting until you feel like writing is like waiting for a train at an abandoned station.
  19. Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk. –Thoreau (OK, not so much advice as funny.)
  20. Your writing should be more feral and less domesticated.
  21. There’s a certain peace in knowing your place in the writing universe. Find it.

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Five Must-Do Skills to Accomplish During High School

18 Jan

A Lou Holtz Pep Talk

Lou Holtz, the University of Notre Dame’s erudite ex-coach, entrusted with turning UND football players into graduates, once exhorted, “How you respond to the challenge in the second half will determine what you become after the game, whether you are a winner or a loser.”

High School is like the second half, and you’re about to find out if you’re a winner. At the starting line, all students are equal, crossing the freshman threshold with the same opportunities, and same possibilities for their future. The 4.0 student stands shoulder to shoulder with the star athlete, and the C student who aspires to nothing more than minimum wage work has an equal chance that inspiration will strike. Every one approaches the starting line, not knowing if the race will be won with brains, hard work, willpower, or intensity of desire.

But you’re different. You know what you want: USNA. There are five general skills you’ll have to learn over the next three years (if you don’t have them by the time applications go out, prior to senior year, it’ll be too late).

08graduation_0251

Maybe you’re thinking, that’s easy. I do it every day. Or maybe you’re wondering: How do I make this happen? I can answer both: It’s not easy or everyone would do it. The only thing easy is the instructions for making it happen.

Vigilance. That’s right. Be vigilant. Every time you’re faced with a problem, try to solve it first. Every time you meet a person you just don’t like, figure out how to get along.

More on this later. For now, know that these are skills the Naval Academy values so they’re worth learning. You either learn them now, in high school and in time for the USNA application, or you’ll learn them later in the School of Hard Knocks that is life.

Not to fret, though. I’ll give you lots of ways to accomplish this. If you want to, you can do it. They only piece that you must be born with is the desire to attend USNA.

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10 Hits and 10 Misses for 2015–Ask a Tech Teacher

06 Jan

top ten 2016Since I started this blog five years ago, I’ve had over 4.8 million visitors to the 1,422 articles I’ve written on integrating technology into the classroom. They may be about how to use wikis or blogs in the classroom or what I’ve learned from my students as we got through another tech week. I have regular features like:

I post a lot of lesson plans that have worked for me and share my thoughts on other ideas that affect teachers trying to tech-ify their classrooms. If you’ve just arrived at Ask a Tech Teacher, start here.

It always surprises me what readers find to be the most and least provocative. The latter is as likely to be a post I put heart and soul into, sure I was sharing Very Important Information, as the former. Talk about humility.

Before you look at what statistics say are the most popular posts, tell me what your most popular categories are by voting in this poll:

Here they are–my top 10 and bottom 10 of 2015 (though I’ve skipped any that have to do with website reviews and tech tips. Those, I cover in other posts):

top ten 2016Top Ten Hits

  1. Hour of Code Suggestions by Grade Level
  2. Do You Miss Kerpoof? Try These 34 Alternatives
  3. Homeschool Day at the Getty
  4. 21 Holiday Websites For Your Students
  5. 10 Tips for Teachers who Struggle with Technology
  6. 20 Great Research Websites for Kids
  7. Keyboarding
  8. Digital Citizenship
  9. 13 Reasons For and 3 Against Technology in the Classroom
  10. 23 Websites for Poetry Month

What conclusions do you draw from this list? I’m amazed by the Hour of Code listing. That article was just published in December and still it beat out lots of articles that had the entire year to collect votes.

Here are the Top Ten Misses–posts I thought were great, but you-all didn’t visit as much. One thing I figured out this year that pushes the link-heavy-posts in the Top Ten Hits over the pedagogic-infused Top Ten Misses is that the Hits are open to dozens of students to visit. I’ve had days where I’d get a 1000 hits in an hour because teachers posted the list as a resource for students. Most of the sites on the Top Ten Misses are consumed individually, over coffee and a donut. I’m not sure how to adjust for that…

top ten 2016Top Ten Misses

  1. 10 Space Websites That Will Launch Your Class Study
  2. 3rd Grade Websites on Economics
  3. Computer Shortkeys That Streamline Your Day
  4. 5 Best Practices for Digital Portfolios
  5. Let Students Learn From Failure
  6. 11 Things I Love About Common Core
  7. Why use a Digital Portfolio–and 9 ways to do it
  8. 29 Online Educational Activities Kids Will Love This Summer
  9. Use Google Safe Search
  10. What’s a Tech Teacher Do All Day?

Did you have a favorite you agreed/disagreed with? I’d love to know. Take a moment to answer this poll:

To subscribe to Ask a Tech Teacher at our new home and get a free ebook, please click here.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

 
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Get Ready for the New Year!

11 Dec

tech tips for writersNext week, I’ll post four holiday activities that will get your computers and technology ready for the blitz of writing you’ll swear to accomplish in your New Year resolutions. Here’s what you’ll get (the links won’t be active until the post goes live):

  1. Is Your Online Presence Up to Date?
  2. Back up and Image your computer
  3. 15 Ways to Speed Up Your Computer

Join me! You’ll come away feeling ready, re-energized, and geeky.


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 the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

 
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17+ Holiday Activities

01 Dec

holidayHere are some great projects to keep your children tech-involved over the holidays. They take lots of critical thinking, problem-solving, and are worth the effort! Let me know how these go:

  1. 19 Holiday Websites For Your Students
  2. Holidays
  3. Book Review: 16 Holiday Projects
  4. Holiday Newsletter
  5. A Holiday Card in KidPix
  6. A Holiday Memory in Word or KidPix
  7. A Holiday Letter for Grades 2-6
  8.  Holiday Card in Publisher
  9.  Holiday Flier in Publisher
  10. A Holiday Story in MS Word for Grades 2-7
  11. A Holiday Newsletter in Publisher for Elementary School
  12. A Holiday Calendar in MS Publisher for Elementary School
  13. Weekend Website 40: NORAD Santa
  14. 5 Fabulous Last-minute Gifts
  15. here’d Christmas Come From
  16. 1 FREE Holiday Resources
  17. The Power of Symbols–What does the word ‘Turkey’ mean?

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Lessons I Learned From a Computer

27 Oct

Life is hard, but help is all around us. The trick is to take your learning where you can find it. In my case, as a technology teacher, it‘s from computers. Here are ten lessons I learned from my computer. The first four, I’ve shared before. The last six I’ve experienced first hand over the past year. See which you relate to:

#1: Know when your RAM is full

illustration of a female worker sleepingRAM is Random Access Memory. In the computer world, it controls how much you can work on at any given moment. If you exceed your computer‘s RAM, it won’t be able to remember anything else (computer programs stall or stop). Humans have a mental workspace–like a desktop–that controls how much we keep in our thoughts before it is shuffled off to long- and short-term memory. For people with eidetic memories, it‘s very large. For most of us, size is controlled by:

  • how complicated the subject is
  • how many numbers there are
  • how many specific facts there are

I know my limits and I don‘t feel bad about grabbing a pencil to take notes or asking someone to slow the heck down. You shouldn‘t either. Figure out the limits of your RAM and accept it. Don‘t be afraid to say, My RAM is full! That‘s what computers do.

#2: You Can‘t Go Faster Than Your Processor SpeedCircuit Board

Everyone wants a computer with the fastest processor speed. That means we as the owner get more done in less time. The computer seems to understand what pace is best for its mother board and maintains that pace, no matter if we yell, scream, or kick its tires. Why? Because it can only work as fast as its parts allow it to.

This is also true of your personal processing speed. It is what it is. Your ability to think through problems and consider issues is determined by your mental and physical framework. No amount of lusting after those with a photographic memory will change your circumstances. Accept yourself for what you are. Revel in it. Own it. Enjoy your strong points and work around the weak ones.

Here‘s something you may not know. No one is perfect and everyone has weaknesses. Successful people re-form arguments and situations to accommodate their strengths and ignore their weaknesses. You can too. Who cares what your processing speed is if your hard drive is to die for?

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Let Students Learn From Failure

19 Oct

Too often, students–and teachers–believe learning comes from success when in truth, it’s as likely to be the product of failure. Knowing what doesn’t work is a powerful weapon as we struggle to think critically about the myriad issues along our path to college and/or career. As teachers, it’s important we reinforce the concept that learning has many faces.

Here are ten ways to teach through failure:

whats a mulliganUse the Mulligan Rule

What’s the Mulligan Rule? Any golfers? A mulligan in golf is a do-over. Blend that concept into your classroom. Common Core expect students to write-edit-resubmit. How often do you personally rewrite an email before sending? Or revise instructions before sharing? Or have ‘buyer’s remorse’ after a purchase and wish you could go back and make a change? Make that part of every lesson. After submittal, give students a set amount of time to redo and resubmit their work. Some won’t, but those who do will learn much more by the process.

Don’t define success as perfection

When you’re discussing a project or a lesson, don’t define it in terms of checkboxes or line items or 100% accuracy. Think about your favorite book. Is it the same as your best friend’s? How about the vacation you’re planning–would your sister pick that dream location? Education is no different. Many celebrated ‘successful’ people failed at school because they were unusual thinkers. Most famously: Bill Gates, who dropped out of college because he believed HabitsofMindhe could learn more from life than professors.

Education pedagogists categorize these sorts of ideas as higher-order thinking and Habits of Mind–traits that contribute to critical thinking, problem solving, and thriving. These are difficult to quantify on a report card, but critical to life-long success. Observe students as they work. Notice their risk-taking curiosity, how they color outside the lines. Anecdotally assess their daily efforts and let that count as much as a summative exam that judges a point in time.

Let students see you fail

One reason lots of teachers keep the same lesson plans year-to-year is they are vetted. The teacher won’t be surprised by a failure or a question they can’t answer. Honestly, this is a big reason why many eschew technology: Too often, it fails at just that critical moment.lesson plan

Revise your mindset. Don’t hide your failures from students. Don’t apologize. Don’t be embarrassed or defeated. Show them how you recover from failure. Model the steps you take to move to Plan B, C, even X. Show your teaching grit and students will understand that, too, is what they’re learning: How to recover from failure.

Share strategies for problem solving

Problems are inevitable. Everyone has them. What many people DON’T have is a strategy to address them. Share these with students. The Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice is a good starting point. Mostly, they boil down to these simple ideas:

  • Act out a problem9965429373_d1f7168616_b
  • Break problem into parts
  • Draw a diagram
  • Guess and check
  • Never say ‘can’t’
  • See patterns
  • Notice the forest and the trees
  • Think logically
  • Distinguish relevant from irrelevant info
  • Try, fail, try again
  • Use what has worked in the past

Post these on the classroom wall. When students have problems, suggest they try a strategy from this list, and then another, and another. Eventually, the problem will resolve, the result of a tenacious, gritty attack by an individual who refuses to give up.

Exult in problemsconcept crumpled paper light bulb metaphor for good idea

If you’re geeky, you love problems, puzzles, and the maze that leads from question to answer. It doesn’t intimidate or frighten you, it energizes you. Share that enthusiasm with students. They are as likely to meet failure as success in their lives; show them your authentic, granular approach to addressing that eventuality.

Assess grit

Success isn’t about right and wrong. More often, it’s about grit–tenacity, working through a process, and not giving up when failure seems imminent. Statistically, over half of people say they ‘succeeded’ (in whatever venture they tried) not by being the best in the field but because they were the last man standing.

Integrate that into your lessons. Assess student effort, their attention to detail, their ability to transfer knowledge from earlier lessons to this one, their enthusiasm for learning, how often they tried-failed-retried, and that they completed the project. Let students know they will be evaluated on those criteria more than the perfection of their work.

Let students teach each otherBusiness gender figure on maze background

There are many paths to success. Often, what works for one person is based on their perspective, personal history, and goals. This is at the core of differentiation: that we communicate in multiple ways–visually, orally, tactally–in an effort to reach all learning styles.

Even so, students may not understand. Our failure to speak in a language they understand will become their failure to learn the material. Don’t let that happen.  Let students be the teachers. They often pick a relationship or comparison you wouldn’t think of. Let students know that in your classroom, brainstorming and freedom of speech are problem solving strategies.

Don’t be afraid to move the goalposts

Even if it’s in the middle of a lesson. That happens all the time in life and no one apologizes, feels guilty, or accommodates your anger. When you teach a lesson, you constantly reassess based on student progress. Do the same with assessment.

But make it fair. Let students know the changes are rooted in your desire that they succeed. If you can’t make that argument, you probably shouldn’t make the change.

Success is as much serendipity as planningidea handwritten with white chalk on a blackboard

Think of Velcro and post-it notes–life-changing products resulting from errors. They surprised their creators and excited the world. Keep those possibilities available to students.

Don’t reward speed

Often, students who finish first are assigned the task of helping neighbors or playing time-filler games. Finishing early should not be rewarded. Or punished. Sometimes it means the student thoroughly understood the material. Sometimes it means they glossed over it. Students are too often taught finishing early is a badge of honor, a mark of their expertise. Remove that judgment and let it be what it is.

I leave you with five of my favorite quotes about failure. If you have one, please share it in comments:

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” –Henry Ford

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That’s why I succeed.” –Michael Jordan

“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” –Thomas Edison

“We learn from failure, not success.” –Bram Stoker

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to the next without loss of enthusiasm.” –Winston Churchill

More on problem solving:

How to Compare and Contrast Authentically

What to do when your Computers Don’t Work

How to Teach Students to Solve Problems


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

 
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How I’m Doing on ‘To Hunt a Sub’

22 Jun

tridentAfter a four-year hiatus from the first book in my Delamagente-Rowe series, I finally think I’ll get it done. I had a few interruptions–agent interest in the series’ second book, deadline for two non-fic series I write–but I think I’m going to make it this time. The short blurb for this thriller–still a work-in-progress is:

…a brilliant PhD candidate, a cynical ex-SEAL, and a quirky bot team up to stop terrorists from stealing America’s most powerful nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine.

Here’s what I did this week:

  • finished the final draft. I still have the Prologue to tighten up, but that’s it. Ah, I can almost smell the scent of freshly-printed books awaiting their new owners.
  • creating a short list (not my usual 101 people) of agents who might be interested. I’d love for this to work because then I don’t have to design the cover, copy edit, arrange printing–but I’m fine self-publishing. Part of what slowed this book down (and the other three I have languishing in the bottom drawer of my desk) was waiting for responses. More importantly: Hoping for acceptances that never arrived. I’m not going down that rabbit hole again.
  • thought about reviewing my acknowledgements. A lot of people helped me with their knowledge of military procedures, but it’s been awhile and I need to make sure the information is still current.
  • thought about the cover. I have found a few people who might be able to help with that.
  • thought about a copy editor. Like the cover, I have a few names, maybe narrowed down to one. I’m crossing my fingers
  • not yet thinking about marketing. Maybe that’ll show up on the next update.
  • not yet thinking about a book trailer. I’ve seen some I like done with a free tool like Animoto. That’s probably the direction I’ll go if I even do this.

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