30 October 2009

The Mountain and the Muhammed

I am an interloper. A lifelong content person who often resisted being labeled as "techie," but has come to find herself in just such a position. What I am finding, however, is that while being a transplant provides opportunity for me to see connections between different groups, it doesn't mean that others do.

For example, Washington, like a lot of other states, is hot on the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) trail. STEM is the buzzword du jour among all sorts of stakeholders at the state level. Interestingly enough, educational technology is not included with any of the conversations. I guess they're not considered part of the big T. I think this is a mistake, but I'm not sure which group is the mountain and which is Muhammed in this situation. After all, I haven't seen content areas invited to many of the EdTech conversations.

How does this sort of stalemate end? How do we move from cliques to expertise to integrated conversations about classroom instruction?

27 October 2009

Linkworthy

One of the things I've been doing the past few days is looking at a mountain of links collected by teachers as examples of "technology integration" to share with other teachers. Mind you, the mountain represents only a minute amount of content available on the internet---and the selections made by the groups varies quite a bit in terms of focus. Some picked resources for teachers to use as lesson plans...others went heavy on the "tools" and left their uses wide open. There were groups who picked simple wordsearch games and those who selected projects to flex students' critical thinking. Since I was not involved with these groups, viewing the work has been a bit of an anthropological project. I don't necessarily agree that all of their choices were the best of what's out there on the interwebs, but the variety does say something about how teachers view the use of the internet in their classrooms.

It has left me wondering: What is linkworthy?

With young students, teachers have to make very conscious choices about what they ask students to write. Young minds and hands have only so much attention and motor skills---whatever you ask of them must be of the utmost importance to capture. I am starting to think about time on the computer the same way. The fact is, most classrooms do not have access to a computer lab very often. Perhaps there are only a few computers in the room at any given time with lab days sprinkled in a few times a year. For the precious time that there is, do we want students doing a wordsearch on the computer...or do we want students to learn about advanced search functions in Google?

I can't help but think of Elaine and her horde of sponges...having to think carefully about whether or not a suitor was "sponge worthy." Perhpas we should be as picky and miserly with our computer time with students.

How do you decide what links to collect and share with peers and students? What makes a link worthy of your attention?

26 October 2009

Back to Our Regular Programming

Various projects over the past week haven't left any time or headspace for blogging...until now. A return to our usual programming will return tomorrow. Stay tuned.

18 October 2009

Story Time

I taught myself to read when I was 2. We had those 45 records (except for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which needed a 33 RPM job) with the companion books. Somehow, listening to those and following along was enough to divine which sounds went with which symbols and the rest followed from there. Reading for pleasure has been a part of my life ever since. I like having books around the house as well as sharing and trading them with friends.

I have not, however, bought a Kindle. This is not because they aren't handy or cool. I know people you have them and love them. I am tempted to get one every time I hold one in my hands or hear how people are using them in different ways. While I appreciate what this piece of technology does, it's what it can't do that keeps me from buying one: It cannot provide the tactile and interactive experience of a book. What researchers are wondering is whether or not these sorts of cues impact the ability to read and process information, especially for young children (from Science Daily: Storybooks on Paper Better for Children):
Clicking and scrolling interrupt our attentional focus. Turning and touching the pages instead of clicking on the screen influence our ability for experience and attention. The physical manipulations we have to do with a computer, not related to the reading itself, disturb our mental appreciation, says associate professor Anne Mangen at the Center for Reading Research at the University of Stavanger in Norway. She has investigated the pros and cons of new reading devices.

Mangen maintains that reading on a screen generates a new form of mental orientation. The reader loses both the completeness and constituent parts of the physical appearance of the reading material. The physical substance of a book offers tranquility. The text does not move on the page like it does on a screen.

"Several experiments in cognitive psychology have shown how a change of physical surroundings has a potentially negative affect on memory. We should include this in our evaluation of digital teaching aids. The technology provides for a number of dynamic, mobile and ephemeral forms of learning, but we know little about how such mobility and transience influence the effect of teaching. Learning requires time and mental exertion and the new media do not provide for that," Mangen believes.

Somehow, the idea of sitting down with a little one and a Kindle does not make for the same pleasant imagery as a child with an actual picture book. I have to wonder if it is possible at all to replace that.

I like turning pages---seeing the progress I've made through a novel. When I'm using a text for work or professional development, I want my pad of sticky notes handy to make notes to place in the book. I enjoy seeing the layout of text on a page---the choices of fonts and margins and headings. With all the wonderful things a Kindle can do, it is not (currently) able to replace any of these. College students who are piloting the use of Kindles as a substitute for texts are discovering the same disadvantages, but they also have some compliments (from eSchool News):

Most like how light the device is--just over a pound--and many would be willing to overlook technical hassles if it meant not having to carry any books. Most still had to buy and carry textbooks for non-Kindle classes this fall.

Students also were impressed with the "electronic ink" screen, which Amazon touts as far easier on the eyes than reading off a computer monitor. But it can't be backlit, disappointing one student who wants to read during dark early-morning bus commutes.

Kraizel, the Case Western freshman, says always having the Kindle with her has improved her study habits. It's much easier to cram in a few minutes of studying between classes, she says, and she's noticed that when she sits down for a serious study session she's more familiar with the material.

The Kindle also can do things books can't, like read homework aloud. Una Hopkins, a 46-year-old student in the nurse-practitioner program at Pace University in New York, got five chapters finished that way when she was stuck in traffic.

"It was robotic, but it got me where I needed to go," Hopkins says.

The device's usefulness goes beyond textbooks: Another Washington grad student in computer science, Franziska Roesner, has used the web browser to read and write eMail when she's away from her computer. It's slow, but it worked, she says.

And sometimes its uses go beyond productivity entirely. Students at Arizona State have found the Minesweeper video game that comes with the device. They've also figured out how to download music.

Roesner, who was steeped in Kindle hype as an intern at Amazon over the past two summers, lamented the device's problems with PDFs, which make up the bulk of this quarter's assignments. Still, she won't write off e-readers.

"If reading devices like this really come to replace reading paper," she wrote in an eMail, "I think in 20 years we'll look back at the Kindle with nostalgic affection and amusement, like we now look back at 1990s computers."

The quote at the end makes me smile. I can't be the only one who remembers learning to program in BASIC on a Tandy computer (or who had Apple IIe computers in my classroom when I started teaching). I think the point is well taken in that we can expect several iterations and evolutions of eReaders in the coming years. Until I can choose how to interact with the information on the screen, I'll stick with my analog books in this digital world.

14 October 2009

Taskmaster

In the beginning, there was Bloom's Taxonomy for categorizing types of thinking. And it was---and continues to be---good. It provides a framework for educators to consider the rigor of the work provided to students. Generally speaking, Bloom's tends to be all about the verbs: identify, describe, explain, state, choose, evaluate, and so on.

But the assignments we provide in classrooms are more than verbs. They are also about objects: either the tasks we assign or the items students produce. And this is where Norman Webb with his Depth of Knowledge framework offers an alternative to Bloom's arrangement. It is a more holistic look at a learning target before determining cognitive demand.

For example, "identify" doesn't have to be part of the slacker Knowledge group of Bloom's. It would be if I ask a kid to identify the location of Ireland on a map of Europe. But, if I ask a student to identify a strategy which might resolve the civil conflict in Ireland, I've asked for something far more involved...something beyond mere Knowledge.

I am thinking about using Webb with the new standards for Educational Technology. Some targets are simple to assign to a classification (Recall, Skill/Concept, Strategic Thinking, Extended Thinking)...but I am struggling with others. For example, "Participate in an online community to understand a local or global issue." Is this a Level One target---because "understand a local or global issue" is the only cognitive piece represented...or is there some amount of demand on the student implied by "Participat[ing] in an online community..."?

How does one classify those targets and tasks involving intangibles like participation? Should these be included? Participation is one of those classroom values which is nearly impossible to standardize. What it looks like from grade to grade, teacher to teacher, and content area to content area can be very different. And while we might come to some sort of consensus about qualities of "good" participation, I still have to ask if there is any cognitive demand involved in the process. Could you write a task for it?

I don't expect any sort of elegant resolution to these questions. I may have to set them aside for now and concentrate on other issues. But if you have some insight to share on how we determine the depth of thinking associated with participating, engaging, and or collaborating, I hope you'll share it in the comments.

11 October 2009

Dinosaurs in Our Midst

I've been thinking a lot about a recent WaPo article on a district's choice to disband its Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).

From a high mark of 12 million in the 1960s, national PTA membership has dropped to a little more than 5 million. Although school enrollments have ballooned, the PTA lost a million members in the past decade alone. Through the years, Washington's inner suburbs have been high-profile exceptions to the general decline. More than 90 percent of the schools in Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery counties have PTAs, for instance, compared with about 25 percent nationally.

But even here, there are worrisome signs for the future of the PTA.

"I think it's time we join the nation," Catherine Potter, Woodson High PTSA's past president, told the assembled parents and a few jersey-clad students last week. She argued that the national group is too bureaucratic and less relevant in the Internet age, when parents have access to education-related news from Richmond or Washington and can get involved politically in other ways.

While I'm not so sure that "the rest of the nation is jumping off a bridge, so we should, too" argument is the best reasons for disbandment, I do think one of the key pieces here is the "Internet age."

In an era of email, Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts for schools, blog-savvy parents with an axe to grind, and any other number of options, is a brick and mortar organization (like the PTA) still relevant? I believe so. Schools are still places where people meet and learn---virtual support isn't going to be enough when it comes to doing the best we can for all kids (not just the ones whose parents have a special interest wheel to squeak). That being said, organizations like the PTA are only as relevant as they choose to be.

PTA leaders say they are struggling to communicate their message to a new generation of parents.

"The question is, 'What have you done for me lately?' " said Michele Menapace, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. "And we need to do a better job telling them" that the PTA is involved in issues they care about...

Nehrbass, of the Virginia PTA, said it's getting harder to convince parents that it matters to be involved in issues affecting more than their children or their school.

Working alone, for instance, parents can raise money for a computer their school cannot afford because of budget cuts, she said. Working together, they can fill a boardroom to fight for more education funding.

To reverse the decline in membership, the national PTA is trying to redraw the face of children's advocacy. It's reaching out to fathers and training minority leaders to organize growing numbers of immigrant parents. It is also appealing to younger parents through social networking sites.

The elementary school I was a part of two years ago had a terrible time trying to sustain its PTA. Whether it was the dues (a "luxury" for a family living in poverty), the meetings (when parents were working two jobs and/or relying on public transportation and/or had no one to watch the children), or just an aversion to being in a school, I don't know. I do know that those students, more than any, needed a group advocating for them. There needed to be something different with the structure and purpose.

If the PTA is going to evade a dinosaur-like ending to its existence, it is going to have to adapt to the changing form of the American family, as well as the shifting landscape of how people organize and communicate.

10 October 2009

Metric Day 2009

Next year will be "A Very Special Metric Day" (10/10/10), so why not get in some practice today? Three doesn't have to be the only magic number out there; and, isn't base 10 much easier to deal with?

Celebrate all things metric today. The National Council of Math Teachers (NCTM) has a nice page on ways to get your 10 on (even if they forgot to update it for 2009) as does the US Metric Association. Check out the Metric Olympics Events. Go wild on this Saturday night!

08 October 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

You might recall that I am on the hunt for rubrics and other tools that support the evaluation of student skills in educational technology (and/or "21st century learning"). In my opinion, a lot of the problem with developing these sorts of things is that we are trying to capture and deliver feedback on skills that defy quantification. Can one consistently rate how well a student innovates? collaborates? thinks critically or creatively?

I am not any closer on developing these kinds of resources; however, two pieces I read last week are prodding my thinking along. The first came from the Harvard Business Review and represented an interview with the authors of a "six-year study surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews" to identify five discovery skills these innovators have in common: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. Of these, the ability to associate (make connections between disparate pieces of information) was seen as the most important; but, it's really the synergy among these things that leads to inquisitiveness.
We think there are far more discovery driven people in companies than anyone realizes. We've found that 15% of executives are deeply innovative, meaning they've invented a new product or started an innovative venture. But the problem is that even the most creative people are often careful about asking questions for fear of looking stupid, or because they know the organization won't value it...

If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they're grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. 80% of executives spend less than 20% of their time on discovering new ideas. Unless, of course, they work for a company like Apple or Google.

Is this true for schools---both the adults within them, as well as the students? As much as I hate to admit it, we do drum out curiosity and value conformity over time. I don't know that technology will change that, but I do think it will return some of the power of learning to students. The more tools a student has at hand to demonstrate their knowledge, the greater value we place on variety. That being said, not everyone is going to grow up to be Steve Jobs...but not everyone will have to grow up to be Bubba, either.

More intriguing was this image from Inverting Bloom's Taxonomy by Sam Weinburg and Jack Schneider:


They report on a task given to two groups of history students. One group was comprised of AP US History students...the other graduate students in the field of history. Each participant was provided "a document and asked...to read it 'historically,' articulating what he thought the piece was about, raising questions about its historical circumstances, and sharing insights about the text...The document was a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892."

As you might imagine, the two groups of students approached the task differently. AP students "marshaled background knowledge about Columbus and worked [their] way toward the Bloomian peak, eventually challenging President Harrison’s praise for Columbus with his own critical alternative. [The] response, though unpolished and in need of elaboration, seems like critical thinking. And that’s how the teachers we interviewed generally saw it." As for the graduate students...

From the start, it was clear what the young historians were doing differently. As one began his reading: “OK, it’s 1892.”

Our high school student Jacob knew the story of Columbus. But he didn’t know how to read a document as the product of a particular time and place. To the historians, critical thinking didn’t mean assembling facts and passing judgment; it meant determining what questions to ask in order to generate new knowledge.

Why, the young historians wanted to know, did Harrison make this particular declaration at this particular moment? Over and over, as they puzzled through the document, they asked “why?” In our dozens of interviews with high school students, not a single one ever did so.

Light bulbs soon started popping for the young historians. “The 1890s, the beginning of the Progressive Era, end of the century, closing of the frontier, Frederick Jackson Turner, you’ve got the Columbian Exposition coming up the following year. Biggest wave of immigration in U.S. history.” This one was on the scent. And then …

“That’s it!”

At the end of the 19th century, America was getting a makeover. Seemingly overnight, immigration had transformed the country’s look, bringing “Slavs,” “Alpines,” “Hebrews,” “Iberics,” and “Mediterraneans” to the United States. Among these newcomers were millions of Irish and Italian immigrants who formed a new political interest group—urban Catholics. Harrison, in honoring Columbus, was pandering. “Discovery Day” appealed to millions of new voters by bringing them, along with a hero who was one of their own, into the fold.

Mystery solved.

Now that’s critical thinking...

To the historians, questions began at the base of the pyramid: “What am I looking at?” one asked. “A diary? A secret communiqué? A government pronouncement?” They wanted to know when it was written and what else was going on at the time. For them, critical thinking meant determining the knowledge they needed to better understand the document and its time. Faced with something unfamiliar, they framed questions that would help them understand the fullness of the past. They looked up from the text curious, puzzled, and provoked. They ended their reading with new questions, ready to learn. The high school students, on the other hand, typically encountered this document and issued judgments. In doing so, they closed the book on learning.

Does this illustrate how curiosity becomes closed by some classrooms? In our zealousness to teach facts and figures, have we emphasized the right answer too much...and the right question not enough?

While I may be no closer in knowing how to evaluate curiosity and innovation in the classroom, I am appreciative of these reminders to build in supports for these skills along the way. Perhaps the instructional resources I gather and share will be grounded there. Maybe the answer to evaluating students' use of instructional technology will be the questions they create.

06 October 2009

(R)evolutionary Parenting

When I started my career, there was an animal known as the "stage mother." It was not a new discovery. The species had been cataloged long before I picked up a piece of chalk and cranked a mimeograph, but it represented only a small subpopulation of parents (both male and female). I rarely observed this type of parent in my science classroom; however, it was not uncommon to make field observations in performing arts classes and at athletics events. These were the parents who advocated for their children beyond what might be considered normal...almost to the point of embarrassing both themselves and their children. Teachers, coaches, and administrators received many a pitying glance after coming in contact with the stage mother in his/her native habitat.

And then, sometime in the 90's, a curious thing happened: The stage mother evolved. There was radiation akin to the Cambrian Explosion. Stage mothers were now "Helicopter Parents," and they had developed into a variety of subspecies, adapting to every niche within a school. An invasive species, they even began to occupy college and university habitats.

We've more or less been at this eyerolling state of things ever since.

Schools, however, need to face a cold hard truth in this scenario. After all, the population of Stage Mothers were more or less at equilibrium for decades. What was it about the environment which changed to allow them to become so pervasive? What happened in school settings that allowed them to use their opportunistic behaviors in new ways? You may have your own answer, but I think it has everything to do with the self-esteem movement. This is not to say that I approve of crushing students---ragging on them within an inch of their young lives. But we have started to tell kids that appearance is more important than substance. Your test scores are more important than what you learn. The number of events you can list on your college application is more important than who you are as a person. Being told you're smart is better than actually being smart.

To be sure, we cannot weed out helicopter parents. Stage Mothers will never become extinct, but perhaps we can discourage their growth and abundance. We can prune. We can encourage alternatives. Po Bronson thinks that native parenting types may be making a comeback---A Return of Tough Love. (You can listen to an NPR interview with Bronson and read the first chapter of his book here.) I don't think this will be a simple or quick reclamation project. It means caring about our kids enough to allow them to make mistakes. It means that while parents should continue to want the best for their children, they have to realize that advocacy does not mean your child gets each and every thing you want. It means that while high expectations and positive thinking are wonderful things, it is more important that the child have an internal representation of those...not just external ones. If we try, we can bring back a balance to the ecosystems that are our classrooms.

05 October 2009

Science Online 2010

This year will mark the fourth annual ScienceOnline Conference. The name might be seen by some as misleading, as the conference itself is not virtual (unlike the K-12 Online Conference). Instead it is a gathering of those who advocate for science using online communications. It is "a free three-day event to explore science on the Web. Our goal is to bring together scientists, physicians, patients, educators, students, publishers, editors, bloggers, journalists, writers, web developers, programmers and others to discuss, demonstrate and debate online strategies and tools for doing science, publishing science, teaching science, and promoting the public understanding of science."

And this year, I am going. (And presenting with Sandra Porter from Discovering Biology in a Digital World and Antony Williams from the ChemConnector. And doing a "Blogging 101" session.)

Although I have a greater association with the "online" vs. "science" part of things anymore, I find myself looking for more ways to integrate the real world with the virtual one. Spending time with like minded folks will be good for my working life...and more importantly, good for kids. I realize I'm biased, but I think the sciences have the greatest potential for connection between professionals in the field and students in the classroom. Especially when I run across articles like this one describing how blogs and other online tools bring scientific research within reach:

Every school year, teachers across the country set out to make the work of scientists understandable and appealing to students, who might otherwise find it indecipherable and dull.

This fall, a New Hampshire educator was helped in that mission by a group of scientists—working from a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Those scientists were conducting research in the Phoenix Islands, a remote collection of atolls and reefs in the central Pacific. During breaks, they kept a blog on their work, which Julianne Mueller-Northcott’s students followed every day. Her students e-mailed questions to the marine scientists, who responded when they had time and a working satellite link.

That arrangement is just one of many aimed at connecting students through technology with scientists doing research in the field, an increasingly common practice in schools. Museums, colleges, federal agencies, and individual teachers have become more adept at putting students in direct contact with scientists, even those working in very remote locations—like aboard the NAI’A in the central Pacific, 6,000 miles away.

It's a very cool idea; and, one of many available to classrooms. I am hoping that the ScienceOnline conference will help uncover more ways for classrooms and researchers to connect. I suspect that at least part of that discussion will involve how we also support each group in learning to use online tools. From the education side of things, a recent survey has shown that while many educators use social networking or web 2.o tools, they believe that they could use professional development in terms of using these more effectively in the classroom. Perhaps there will be some good tips I can pick up in January to share with teachers---and maybe I can share some things with the scientists about working in k-12 environments.

See you there!

03 October 2009

Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?

Like many internet users, I do most of my reading through an aggregator. It wasn't always this way. The motley crew of blogs on my sidebar represented part of my daily perambulations around the web. I still try to get out and visit sites every once in awhile. As nice as Google Reader is at collecting things for me to enjoy, I miss seeing the blogrolls and additional features that others have on their sites. I always have an eye out for a new read.

I recently made an effort to search for science education bloggers. You see, other than Science Teacher and Science for All, I really don't have anyone on my sidebar that represent science ed. I always enjoy Mrs. Bluebird, but her stories are more about kids and classroom than anything science. And as I searched through Twitter profiles and a recent collection of all things education blog, I noticed that there are three basic categories of extant science education blogs.
  • First, there is the "hobby blogger": someone who has a blog that is only updated every 4 - 6 weeks, at best. I removed these from my consideration because blogging (in my opinion) should be about sharing and conversation. Someone who only writes 8 - 12 times per year is not interested in using a blog to network or nurture relationships. Typically, these are teachers who just want to be able to say "I have a blog!" Sadly enough, this was the greatest percentage of science education blogs out there.
  • The second category represents teachers who use their blogs to communicate with students and parents. This is a great use for those stakeholders (and one I tried myself)...but it's not designed to be particularly reflective or used for connections outside that circle. I removed those from my search, too.
  • The final category is comprised of science teachers who only post about educational technology. These aren't bad blogs, either...but again, the conversation is not about science education. (For those of you who think this is a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, you're right. I'm not entirely science oriented myself, anymore---but I do try to keep a toe in.)
After eliminating all of the blogs that fell into the above categories, there were a few left. I have to say that I wasn't all that impressed with either the writing and/or the format. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, people used to have some pride in their templates and ease of use for readers. What is up with bloggers filling up every square inch of the page---with the text such a hot mess that you can't tell where a post begins or ends?

Blogging, like any medium, is bound to change with time. I don't expect permanance, but I am hoping for continuity of ideas. I have to believe that there are science teachers out there who are interested in sharing their tales. If you have a recommendation for me, please do leave it in the comments.

02 October 2009

Once and Future Learning

There's been a lot of rumbling at the state and federal levels about "continuity of learning," should the H1N1 virus (or other disaster) prevent schools from operating normally. Both the ASCD blog and Education Week have recently focused some screen time to these topics.

From ASCD:
ASCD Executive Director Gene Carter emphasizes that in addition to prevention and monitoring efforts, schools must consider how they plan to support continuous learning, both for individual students who are home for extended periods of time with the flu and for the whole student body if the virus spreads widely and forces school closures.

“Some estimates indicate H1N1 could infect half the U.S. population this fall and winter, which translates into considerable classroom disruption and absenteeism,” Carter writes. “Students in the same class could end up in wildly different places in the curriculum. Meanwhile, entire classes could fall behind if their teachers are out sick for several days.”

He suggests educators form professional learning communities to help them work together to assess knowledge and skills when students return to school and develop plans for instructional next steps.

If the swine flu plays out in these numbers, then there is no doubt about the disruption to the educational process. I wonder if it is more disruptive to try to keep schools open than to shut down during the peak of infection. This does not mean that staff and students would conveniently all be ill and well simultaneously, but considering the every student/class in a different place of learning at any given moment...why not slow things down for everyone instead? How is a sick teacher supposed to plan for students who may or may not be there themselves?

This is where the e-learning ramp up could play a role, as Education Week suggests. Suppose a teacher posts assignments to their website/Moodle site or e-mails students with lessons. Will this work?

To a point. We are going to have to assume that every child has internet access at home (all with the same bandwidth) and time to use it. This is not guaranteed in a one-computer household with many members. We also have to assume a "one size fits all" lesson---at this time, I suspect that few teachers are going to offer accommodations for ELL, SPED, etc. We are also going to have to assume that every teacher is equally savvy about the tools available for these kinds of lessons and how to use them.

All in all, I don't think that we're ready to offer an alternative learning environment in case of a pandemic...and we're not going to be ready by winter.

I do think that e-learning will be a typical part of future classrooms...a blended model of brick-and-mortar and virtual learning. At that point, it will be a simpler extension and expectation to go all virtual all the time for short periods. If we are truly going to be prepared for a widespread flu epidemic this winter, we need to look at some realistic discussions about what continuity of learning looks like in 2009-2010.

01 October 2009

A Quick Aside

Do you remember me mentioning that I was gaining six hours a week this year? The amount of time cited represented what I save by telecommuting two days per week; however, there are far more benefits than that.

I save 40% on gas, maintenance, and wear and tear on my car...40% on bridge tolls and parking fees. Those are the obvious personal benefits. But I also save 40% on makeup, pantyhose, wear and tear on workclothes/drycleaning costs. In a biennium where there will be no pay raises for state workers, these savings represent a bigger and better benefit than any raise I could have ever had. And the thing is, it doesn't cost the state any more to give it to me.

It's true, I recover that time that I would have spent driving. There are other time benefits. I am not ruled by an alarm clock every work day. This does not mean I can sleep in as late as I want, but when one's "office" is 20 steps from the bed, I can "sleep in" until 6 (I usually have to be up at 4:30) and still easily be to work on time. My work ebbs and flows with the day. I can spend the first few hours of the morning on projects while my mind is most alert and active...and when I'm ready for a mid-morning break, I have a shower and breakfast. There are now three "Fridays" a week, because the evening before a telecommute day, I feel like I can relax and destress. I can actually be wild and stay up until 10 p.m. without fearing I will be dead on my feet the next morning due to lack of sleep.

I'm better focused and more productive on the days when I can sit in my kitchen with the sunlight and fresh air streaming in and can rest my eyes now and then on watching the tide move in and out. The fact is, I probably put in more hours at home than the office simply because I can use the time and space to best suit the needs of the tasks at hand.

I also am getting to reconnect with personal friends and projects. Without the 90-minute drive at the end of the day, I can finish up at 4 p.m. (my scheduled time) and meet someone for a brew at 4:15. I feel like I can be creative again. I'm a real person---not just a worker bee.

So, on one of these "Friday" evenings, as I see the time on the clock is past ten (and I'm okay with that), it just seems right to have a quick aside here to say how much I'm looking forward to spending more time here.