Collateral Learning

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My wife and I have a deal when it comes to our daughters- she gets the biology questions, I get the theology questions. I agreed to this covenant years ago, partly thinking I was getting off easy since I have a strong background in theology but mostly because I am almost clueless about females (at least I admit it.) I’ve had the easy questions- where’s heaven, what does God look like, and so forth. Back in February I was hit with some difficult questions after our beloved 12 year old hound dog passed but none of those questions or the fancy diploma or the stacks of books on my shelves could have adequately prepared me for tonight. Theodicy- a concept I’ve taught for years and answered questions about countless times, and I stumbled. It’s a concept that drives believers to doubt- the painful question of “why do bad things happen to good people?” My 10 year old daughter was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder (once again, not a biology person, so the name eludes me) that is attacking her blood vessels and her joints. For days we have sat helplessly beside her trying to calm her as she cries in pain. I’ve taught her breathing exercises and ways to overcome the pain because there is little we can do other than attempt to comfort her. Then she ponders and asks that most difficult of questions: “why did God let this happen to me?” And I found myself grasping for answers. Answers that I’ve given for years and all the sudden they all feel so inappropriate now. The little girl who prays every night that God continues to give her departed hound dog a belly rub for her in heaven is now wondering how that same loving God can be so cruel as to put her in pain. And I ask it as well. The answer I gave brought comfort to my beautiful daughter but still aches me in a way I cannot grasp. I reach for comfort and I hope to find truth in my own advice. The Divine does not cause the pain and suffering- those things just happen. What God does provide is the strength to overcome suffering. Bad things just happen but it is through our faith that we are able to find the strength to overcome.
Dealing with the question of Theodicy is never an easy one. Job searched for answers to his needless and unjust suffering even though he was a man of strong faith. Even the writers of Job we grasping for answers and find reasoning in explaining the only justifiable answer for Job’s suffering is that God and the Adversary we using Job as a pawn in their game. Suffering and illness is never easy and exposing it to children is ever more difficulty because the stoic “poop happens” approach may not be enough.
So now I watch my child as she suffers helplessly and I wonder the same as Job but I think my conclusion is a bit more just than two deities using the life of an innocent child for amusement. We must seize the teachable moment if not only for our children but also potentially for ourselves.

This week’s links of the week:

The Big Picture – The Inauguration of President Barack Obama
The Big Picture is a great site with high resolution pictures of current events.  These make great additions to classroom lessons and excellent focal pieces for writing inspiration.  This collection is from the Inauguration and has pictures from around the world.

Teaching Copyright to Kids
Copyright for Kids
Easy to follow, step by step lesson that helps teach kids what copyright is all about.

Free Online Conference

Timeline Creation Websites
time rime


Web 2.0 Tools of the Week
Off Beat Guides
Create your own tour guide.  Great for trips you are going to take or even to help with geography and economics projects (given a budget of $x.xx, where could you go, where would you stay, what would you eat, what kind of transportation could you use, how long could you stay, etc.)

Create a Graph

Resource of the Week
Today’s Front Pages
Just put your mouse on a city anywhere in the world and the newspaper headlines pop up.  Double click on the front page image and the page gets larger.  Great to use for current events studies and foreign languages.

Articles for this Week:
Cheating Goes Digital

Video Games Help Music and Math

My favorite error screen of the week:


Since I’ve been on the road for over a week, I haven’t had much of a chance to really take alook at my blog. Even now I’m posting using my Palm. While everyone is out making outlandish resolutions they’ll never be able to keep, I’ve decided to make my own. It won’t be easy, but I’ve decided on just one resolution that’ll impact me the most- I’ve decided that for 2009 I’ll be more positive. This won’t be easy since I am by nature a cynic, so being an optimist will take some effort. So here’s to 2009 and all the possibilities it has in store for us all.

Your “Holiday” Link:

Norad Tracks Santa
Countdown to Santa and then track the big guy on his travels.  Want to know where Santa is when you’re out and about?  Download Google Maps to your mobile device (PDA, iPhone/iPod Touch, etc), search for “norad santa” and get live tracking information!

Great links for the Week:

Spoken Text
Spoken text lets you create an account and upload documents and PDFs to be converted to audio files.  It will create a MP3s and other audio files that can be put onto an iPod or MP3 player to listen to later.  Great for uploading a paper so that the student can hear their work read to them for review.  One catch- you can only have five files at a time (but you can delete them) and they are only saved online for one day.  You have to download them if you want to save them.

Diigo allows you to highlight and annotate any webpage and then send your annotations to anyone, even if they don’t have a Diigo account.  This would be a great way to help students to use and evaluate websites for research.  Have them highlight and comment on a page and send the link to you for you to review.  Here is an example of a posting on my blog as I highlighted and commented on it:
A great way of using this site would be to find resources for your students, comment on them and then send them the Diigo links rather than just saying “Go to the internet and Google…”  This could be a great way to demonstrate to your students how to research on the internet.

Edublog of the Week:

A Geeky Momma’s Blog
Lee Kolbert of Boca Raton, Florida runs this blog with some great tech tips.  She can also be found on Twitter:

Favorite Post of the Week:

“The Ultimate Disruption for Schools” by Will Richarson
Will’s interesting take on how technology can empower students to be the administrators of their own education.

Google Earth Links of the Week:

Google Earth Blog
A blog with news and information about Google Earth.

Google Earth Lessons
Lessons, turtorials, and more for Google Earth.

Lower School Link of the Week:


Free audio stories and fairy tales for kids.

Great Application of the Week:

Skype is a great program that lets you talk to other Skype users over your computer- basically using your computer like a phone.  It also lets you do video calls, instant messaging, and for a small fee you can even call land line phones.  For a monthly fee you can replace your home phone with a Skype account and be able to use your phone whereever you have wireless access!  A good friend of mine uses it to keep in touch with her sister and brother-in-law who are missionaries in Africa- she can call, have video chats with her nephew, conference call with her sister in Miami, brother in San Antonio, mom in East TN, and sister in Africa all at the same time and all for free!

Collection of educators Skype names.

Look all over the internet and you’ll hear talk of VLE’s (virtual learning environment), PLE’s (personal learning environment) and the like but something seems to be missing from all of them. Most learning environments and CMS’s (course management systems) are designed for higher ed with a focus on being used by a faculty that may or may not be as techno-abled as others (for some reason the term “tech savvy” has really gotten on my nerves as of late…). We in the (pre)K-12 environment are left to attempt to adapt these systems into our classrooms. For example, Moodle, WebCT, Blackboard, and so forth, which serve as online versions of the already existing classroom, may in many ways be a limitation rather than technological freedom. So where do we go with this?

Let’s consider a “Collaborative Learning Environment” rather than a Virtual or Personal one. Why? Virtual implies something “like” but “not quite” the real thing and personal is, well, lonely. Learning is no longer virtual or personal online. Kids are participating daily in collaborative discussions regarding music, film, and others aspects of modern popular culture. What are we doing with our classrooms? What are we doing with the online extensions of our classrooms?

In February of 2004 I began running an online discussion group that coincided with the Religion/Ethics classes I was teaching. We were beginning the “Web Site Project” where students worked in groups and designed websites on various topics. They learned how to work with Macromedia Fireworks to design graphics and navigation controls and Microsoft FrontPage to build the pages. Since students were in groups and scattered across different classes the forum served as a place for them to keep discussions and share ideas with other groups. Among the discussion forums there were two extras- guided discussions and general discussions. In less than a week students from different teachers classes, different grade levels and even different schools were involved in discussions about projects, music, social issues, politics, religion, and more. In less than a month the forum had turned into an online monster that was beyond my control (with between 400 and 2000 postings a day, I ended up having to bring in students to help moderate!) Discussions that were begun in class continued on the forum and then picked up again the next day- nothing was left unfinished.

For me, in 2004 the face of the online learning environment shifted away from the static pages for my class website, designed in FrontPage and containing notes from class, to using the web as a means of extending the classroom. With the rise of Wiki’s, Blog’s, Social Bookmarking and Networking, and more the purpose of the “class website” has shifted from being “virtual” and simply “personal” to now allowing us to be truly “collaborative.”

Two important forces guide how we teach and the overall environmental philosophy of education: the Mission of Education and the Business of Education.  The work that teachers put into teaching is nothing short of mission work.  No teacher could ever enter into education with the goal of becoming wealthy.  Educators give overwhelming time and energy to the children they teach.  It is the Mission of Education that drives the idealistic young college graduate to enter into teaching- simply “liking kids” isn’t enough since many days you won’t like them much at all. 

But let’s face it, education is a business.  In private and independent schools that corporate attitude extends even further into annual funds and capital campaigns where parents and alumni are called “constituents” and “investors” whereas in the public sector it’s taxes that pay the bills and build the new buildings and every citizen has a vested interest.   Money is invested in the education of our youth in hopes that the investment will reap tangible rewards we can measure.  Where the Business and the Mission of Education differ is how rewards are measured and success is determined.

A Business approach to education focuses on the tangible profit- bigger buildings, larger endowments, increased salary and benefits, better athletic facilities and programs (especially since a strong athletics program is directly tied to financial growth).  The Mission approach looks toward the more subjective rewards- the thanks a student gives when they claim you were their favorite teacher, the bragging rights you earn when your students already knew the material their teacher was presenting since you had taught it the year before, the creative projects full of the eagerness and spirit of the classroom experience, and so on.  The success of the learning experience is where the two meet- where the Business and Mission of Education collide.  Without teachers giving their all and devoting themselves to the mission of education, no matter how much money you throw at the program, it will fail.  Without the fundraising and business end of education, even the most devoted teacher will lack the proper supplies and funds to carry out his or her mission.

It is here where the parental responsibility falls.  Parents support the school financially through taxes/ tuition and through gifts and volunteer time.  They support the mission of the teachers by helping their child through the projects and homework as well as understanding when their child comes home claiming “my teacher hates me” when we know otherwise.  Parents become the glue that holds the forces together as well as the advocates when one force is lacking or being given favor over the other.

Some things to ponder:
1. How has No Child Left Untested shifted the focus from Mission to Business?
2. What can we do to combat this?
3. How can parents become more involved and supportive of the Mission of Education?