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CrucialMonday, April 9, 2012

Over a holiday weekend where nearly every Sunday paper in the nation carried a story about an eighteen year old breaking up with her teacher (who she'd moved in with) or another about teachers making a student punch a wall mat or both, there weren't a whole lot of uplifting education stories to report on today. Possibly the highlight of the weekend's postings was a brief note in the Richmond Times-Dispatch relating that the mild winter will mean an earlier-than-expected end to the school year because of the lack of snow days used. Of course, that may only apply if you live in the lower 48, as Anchorage, Alaska, broke its record this year for winter snowfall when they received another 3.4 inches of snow on Saturday.

But after a lot of searching, I actually did find one excellent letter to the editor and several good stories about education.

Part of the problem with finding good news stories for today may have been that I didn't get to start searching for them until very early this morning. We had a family outing over the weekend with one of our daughters and several grandchildren to Turkey Run State Park. I hadn't been there in years, but it's still a beautiful place to visit. If you're traveling through Indiana this summer on either I-70 or I-74, it's about an hour's drive (north on US 41 from I-70, south from I-74) off the beaten path.

At the creek The creek Suspension bridge Rocky Hollow

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Autism Awareness RibbonWednesday, April 11, 2012

A Story That Needed to be Told

Michael Winerip's Keeping Students’ Mental Health Care Out of the E.R. is revealing far beyond what the headline implies. He tells of a student who didn't receive needed services because his school simply couldn't afford what was known to be needed. Under special ed law, that's a definite no-no, but Winerip also tells of the child being placed in an inclusionary setting with many other special needs students. Far too often school systems hide dumping special needs kids into the regular classroom under the title "inclusion."

On the Blogs

Watch live streaming video from califather at

Jim Horn posted and embedded Stephen Krashen's talk about education "reform" and poverty at Occupy DOE on the Schools Matter blog recently. While it's a long video, Krashen is an entertaining speaker, and he clearly reveals the flawed premise of the current round of education "reform," directing folks instead to what President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and a host of other "reformers" should be addressing, poverty.

Google Docs for TeachersRichard Byrne, author of the excellent Free Technology for Teachers blog, has put together and released a free guide, "Google Documents for Teachers," that includes "the latest round of updates to Google Documents." One can view it online in his posting, Google Docs for Teachers - A Free eBook, or download it as a PDF document (27.6 MB).

Paul Hamilton also wrote about Google Docs recently in Smart Spell Checker in Google Docs Provides Awesome Support. He wrote, "A common problem with spell checkers is that they don't catch mistakes when the error is a real word. For example 'here' is written when it's supposed to be 'hear'. Google's new spell checker looks at the context and offers suggestions accordingly."

Maybe it's because we're currently dealing with cleaning out our father's house, but Siobhan Curious's posting on Monday on her Classroom as Microcosm blog, Too Many Books, was terribly interesting. It's all about parting with books "we don’t particularly like or a book whose purpose has been served." She rhetorically asks why "it so much harder to let go of a book...than it is to dispose of most other things, even more expensive things – an article of clothing, a tchotchke, an electronic gadget?"

I don't have an answer to her question. I do know that Annie and I have begun looking at all our books, vinyl, and an attic full of our children's treasures (junk?) since my father's passing, wondering at the mess our children would face if we both went at the same time.

Ronnie Burt had a funny, informative, short posting last week on he and Sue Waters' The Edublogger, What is the purpose of school? It's definitely worth reading in its entirety, but part of his conclusion is classic:

What I am saying, especially to all of my friends and former colleagues in the midst of another stressful round of heavy state testing – do not forget that all of those great lessons, activities, and projects you did with your students this school year are way more important than any test results or grades.

Male human head louseIf you teach school long enough, you'll eventually have to deal with a lice infestation in your students' hair (if not your own or you own children's hair). "Mrs. Lipstick" writes briefly in Best news I've heard in awhile about a device that apparently removes hair lice without all the messy shampoos and combing. She also links to an NPR story that tells about the LouseBuster, for "professionals nit pickers and for use in schools, camps, clinics, and other places where lice are commonly diagnosed or treated...not intended for private use."

A guest posting on Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue blog by Educators for Shared Accountability gets some good digs in for SecEd Arne Duncan. Educators Issue VAM Report for Secretary Duncan ranks the various Secretaries of Education over the years using Arne's own sword, er, VAM measures. He ranked eighth out of the nine SecEd's rated!

Odds 'n' Ends

While not directly related to education, our state and governor's penchant for misplacing desperately needed funds is fodder for an excellent Matthew Tully column in The Indianapolis Star, Governor Mitch Daniels doesn't break a sweat over stray $526 million. Tully begins his rant:

Hey, what's a half-billion dollars or so?
These days, it's about the size of a Mega Millions jackpot or the collective amount of the Daniels' administration's screw-ups?

Friday, April 13, 2012

A New Review Site

Common Sense Media has added a section of online reviews of online content for kids, apps, video games, movies and TV to their web site. I read about it first in their newsletter, but also saw a third party article about the new effort on eSchool News, New initiative offers digital media ratings. The non-profit offers pretty objective and useful reviews, as I played around a while this morning checking out sites and apps I knew. I found their reviews of several sites and apps for the younger set to be spot on in accuracy, with positive reviews of things such as BrainPop, Starfall, and Elmo Loves ABCs for iPad, while not being too prudish to see some value for older kids in the scathing satire of the SouthParkStudios site (with appropriate advisories for profanity, potty humor, cartoon violence, and sex). Even better, the reviewers seem to have little patience or appreciation of all the shovelware apps that have emerged over the last few years.

Another Java Update for Macs

Troubleshooting Mac MiniWhile I'm no longer a regular Mac columnist, I'm still a Mac user. So like millions of other Mac users, I got to spend a few minutes today downloading and installing the third Java update from Apple in several weeks. Apple had delayed fixing its version of Java until the Flashback virus really began causing some problems in the Mac community. I wasn't terribly worried about my machines, as all had up-to-date antivirus programs running. But occasionally, something can slip through. Hence, when my "new" Mac Mini began acting strangely a couple of weeks ago, I included a full system scan in my troubleshooting routine (described in Troubleshooting My "New" Mac Mini).

Interestingly, I later found on the site that first highlighted the virus/trojan horse that one of my installed shareware applications may have prevented a potential infection if missed by my antivirus software. According to F-Secure, the virus first checks to see if several items are installed before doing its evil. If it finds any of them, the virus would be ineffective and deletes itself. First on F-Secure's list was Little Snitch, which I've used for years to monitor outgoing network connections on my Macs. But being at least as paranoid as the next guy, I also ran the removal routine in Terminal (the UNIX underpinnings of the modern Mac OS), just to be sure.

Moving to a Blue & WhiteEven with all of that, I was happy today when I saw Lex Friedman's article on Macworld, New Java update from Apple removes Flashback malware. Of course, the new update that actually repairs the potential damage had to be installed on all of my modern Macs, including both operating systems on my Mac Mini and an Intel powered iMac that I brought home when we cleaned out my dad's house.

While messing around on the Mac web, I noticed that Dan Knight's excellent Low End Mac site was featuring the old Blue & White Macintosh as its Mac of the Day. When my Mac G3 tower became somewhat unreliable as my main computer, I briefly used a Blue & White as a bridge machine until I was "rich" enough to afford a G5 tower. The Blue & White was a good machine.

Odds 'n' Ends

I was late getting today's first edition posted, as I spent my writing time last evening finishing up and filing our tax returns. I quickly put up the few links above, but possibly shortchanged the excellent Common Sense Media site with our first story. I came back later and added the Mac filler...after I ran into the Java update. Now I need to shut down and restart in Lion (Mac OS X 10.7) to get the Java update on that partition of the hard drive.

And while I haven't written much here about our gardening this spring, I'm pretty active each day with some outside, gardening activity. The biggie for this week was getting "the first turn" done on a 75' square patch of really hard ground for our sweet corn and melons. We won't use all of the area rototilled, as some of it will go into a cover crop. I think my 18 year old tiller fared far better from the tilling than my none-too-gracefully aging body did! But being retired and having time to be outside each day in an incredibly beautiful setting is a real blessing.

East Garden

Have a great weekend!

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©2012 Steven L. Wood