November 23, 2012

Thankful Fridays 4: Trivial (but useful) tricks

Filed under: about me,Misc. — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:07 am

I am always grateful for things that save me time or help me find things. In the spirit of sharing, I am passing along tricks that I am grateful to know, discoveries that make my life just a little easier. I show my gratitude by paying them forward.

1. I am thankful for four email accounts, not beause I like reading that much email but because this system keeps things sorted into the right “box”:

  • personal/home email
  • work
  • shopping/travel (includes mileage programs, coupons, saver clubs, etc). All the shopping junk emails and coupons stay in this box!
  • memberships (things I subscribe to or join, including web-based or cloud services). This one gets email subscriptions, wiki-Twitter-blog notifications, etc. I use the same info to set up usernames and PW on all these tools (see below re risky business).

I created the three non-work email accounts using “names” to remind me of their purpose. Fake person for memberships = my son’s childhood imaginary friend. I use it to join the zillions of web tools  where I “belong” and use the same password for all, assuming they are not really important stuff.  I ask myself whether I would care if I lost my work there. If so, I change to a second, more secure password. NONE of these emails uses the same password. Risky business: My financial sites have their very own, secure membership and passwords, not my general “memberships” log in.

2. I am thankful for color coding. I use it in my email inbox (both colored flags and colored highlighting). I use it on files in the Finder [that’s My Computer in WinSpeak] or folders on my desktop. I use it within documents as part if the writing process (green is OK, orange means needs to be revised, etc). I color code to show steps in a process, sort items on a to-do list, and to designate or sort sticky notes on my Chrome app home page. I cannot live in black and white.

3. I am thankful for using Rename to make space on my links bar and add hints to my Bookmarks/Favorites. I right click and rename to give myself hints about log-ins and passwords without actually showing them. I might say PW= usu to indicate use the usual password or usu+BD for usual password plus a birthdate.  I also shorten the full site name that appears  on a bookmark automatically to make room on my links bar: TF for TeachersFirst, for example.

4. I am thankful for meaningful file names. If I cannot figure out what it is without opening it, I have failed. I rename it…. and maybe color code it, too.

5. I am thankful for Command (Ctrl) + F. I can find things in almost any program or web page. I can hit enter to see all the instances of the same word in a piece of writing so I can improve my word choices. I can find a student name in an Excel workbook  with 50 spreadsheets. I can find a certain passage in a long online text, such as a quote within a scene of Shakespeare (when all I know is the act: scene ) or a word in a transcript of a debate. Sometimes I wish I could hit Command+F to find my car keys or pool pass!

6. I am thankful for scheduling tweets. This may seem devious or deceptive, but it allows me to send timely tweets without completely sacrificing my personal life and well-earned leisure time. Hint: I am scheduling this post  to show up online during a day off, and I can even schedule the tweet announcing it. I use Tweetdeck to schedule tweets when I cannot reasonably send them in real time or I am afraid I might forget to send one that is very important. I resist the urge to plaster the world with scheduled tweets like bird droppings. The auto-programmed tweet responses are bad enough!

I am thankful to have figured out or heard about these tips from others. I think of the dad in the original Cheaper by the Dozen, an “efficiency expert,” and I wonder what he would say about these tips and tricks of digital life. I hope they give you something to “thank” about.


October 14, 2011

Stick with it: extracurriculars and budget cuts

Filed under: about me,education,learning,Misc. — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:38 pm

lacrosse.jpgI admit it; I was  “jock” in high school.  Actually, I went to an all girls school before Title IX (don’t start doing the math now…). It was OK to be athletic when there were no boys around. I was a good student, too– lots of academic accolades and all that– but my classmates remember me most for being captain of this or that and for getting out of the scary Algebra II teacher’s classes as many afternoons as possible to leave early for games. I did a lot of other activities, from glee club to yearbook, but 3 varsity sports a year really defined my reputation.  As a college freshman, I continued on to the first women’s field hockey and lacrosse teams at a formerly all-male college. I was not afraid to try anything, from sports to being a T.A. for a revered prof. Those who know me now would say that all of this “fits” with what they know of me today. My high school extracurriculars did help define who I became and how I approach adult life.

So I read with great interest on Education Next about the Academic Value of Non-Academics. Unlike many articles that correlate extracurriculars to student/life success, this analysis does a great job of critically analyzing whether either is a cause or effect. It probes into what makes a student decide to participate in an afterschool activity. What makes him/her stick with it? The research about the impact of extracurriculars intrigues me. As budgets shave away at students’ opportunities to participate, I worry. If I had been asked to pay for my activities, would I have chosen to try almost anything? Probably not. There was no extra money in my two-teacher family. My scholarship to the all-girls school was as a “professional courtesy,” and I attended school with many whose families had a hundred times more money. But I had confidence and an identity among them, in part because of being a “jock.” We played on the same team. We lost together (a lot).

EdNext’s article is on the right track in suggesting that the extra adult contact of extracurriculars could be a major factor in why participating students are more successful. But so is the extra contact and social parity of simply being in the same activity with other students you might not otherwise socialize with. We talk a lot now about how social learning really is. Employers want collaborators. Extracurriculars are often a much better suited environment to learn collaboration than a forced “group” project. Being a jock is not a frill. It is part of the same broadbased, personal, and ubiquitous learning that we advocate as “21st century.” I hope the kids who attend schools where “jocks” and bandmembers are being asked to pay up (or even lose the chance to have a team or band altogether) can find another way to play.

August 19, 2011

How to look at a tool

Filed under: economy,edtech,musing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 2:21 pm

toolchest1.jpgMy husband inherited his great grandfather’s wooden tool chest from pre-1900, filled with beautiful hand tools. The wooden surfaces of the brace and bit shine from hours of rubbing against carpenter’s palms as he built shelves and homes for doctors, businesses, and scores of names. Each of the jobs is carefully penciled into small notebooks tucked into the tool chest tray, seasoned with sawdust. When we pull out a tool, we never say, “It does this.” Instead, we imagine the places it has built, feel how it fits in our hands, and assume it can do anything we are brave enough to envision.

When I see a new tool on the web, even one so simple and “old fashioned” that it lingers from a previous millenium, I do not label its place or task. I  wonder about it just as I do the tools in that chest. Somehow, I always come up with more ideas than it offers for itself. Last week I looked at a review of Box Templates. This simple site offers printable patterns for folded boxes. Like a brace and bit, it has obvious uses. But what if… they could be templates for mystery boxes that students make about themselves as a “getting to know you” activity the first week of school? The outside could be decorated with words or images of significance to the student, the inside filled with small objects or symbols or slips of paper with favorite quotes or song lyrics or… What if we challenged students to make their own box templates for other box shapes? What if we invited students to create a 3D container representing a concept we are studying: government by the people or cells or energy or biodiversity? Some might even render it virtually in SketchUp. Others will need to touch it and crease the folds with their fingernails.

Box Templates is my brace and bit this week. The palms that smooth this brace and bit each bring new materials and new products. This tool does what? Anything.

As today’s budgets make us ponder each available tool a little longer,  we can enjoy the smell of sawdust and inscribe a few notes in our own idea notebooks. It’s just a matter of vision.

July 20, 2011

Doing more with less: Choosing a triad

Filed under: economy,edtech,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:06 pm

three.jpgDo more with less. We keep hearing that. In school, as in any other workplace, it means adding more responsibilities to your already full plate.  It also means making supplies go further, doing without tech support (or waiting longer to get it), and having no money available for professional development. Even if you find a regional conference that addresses the very problems we are being asked to solve, you must pay for it yourself.

There is perhaps one silver lining to doing more with less. We get very good using the tools we do have.  And we don’t have to apologize for knowing only a tool or two for making online projects. If the school only pays for one, it is the one we will become expert at. If we as teachers must pay for online tool subscriptions for our own classes, we either stick with the inconveniences of the “freemium”  tools, beg for money from parents or PTO, or shell out the bucks to “do” with one tool.

Doing more with less time matters, too — more precisely, using less time to accomplish the most.  I want my students to move past the tech toybox stage and into the nitty-gritty thinking of creating and evaluating their own information. What if  a class were to simplify to a max of three tools?

As I prepare for an OK2Ask session next month on three Editors’ Choice tools, I wonder which tools I would choose as my triad. I love Bookemon, Glogster, and Voicethread, but Google Earth is completely free. I think I would want a balanced triad: one very visual tool, one that is ideal for verbal/language, and one that offers a broad and perhaps unexpected perspective, such as the “world view” of Google Earth.

What couldn’t we do with these three? Concept maps we could do in a visual tool. Writing and sharing of words in a verbal tool, numbers and quantities we might have to represent in a real or symbolic context: applied in visuals or written in number sentences. We could use a visual tool to represent temporal concepts such as timelines. We could “place” events on the earth and in our hometowns using Google Earth. What other concepts have I missed? I haven’t though about things that require sound, though we could add sounds to our visuals, if we chose the right tool.

Doing more with FEWER may be a good way to create our own classroom taxonomy of priorities and content. Yes, we need to teach kids to choose the right tools, but don’t we also need to teach them to dig deeper and become expert with a tool repertoire? Think of the mental flexibility it will take to use one of the three to show what they know about a sonnet or mitosis or three branches of government. How could you use Google Earth to represented an underlying concept of our constitution? Hint: think analogies.

I’d love to know which triad other teachers would choose.

January 21, 2011

China “snapsnacks”

Filed under: china,cross-cultural understanding,gifted,istechina,learning,Misc.,musing,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 6:15 pm

Snapsnack: (I made this up) n. a quick impression, much like a handful of M&Ms or crackers to give you a small taste but nowhere near a “meal.”  Snapsnacks also make your brain work :)

There are still so many things I have not written about the China trip, so–just for teachers and kids– I am sharing some quick “snapsnacks” from China. My disclaimer: As with any short trip (11 days), my impressions may not be fair representations of China as a whole. Think about a visitor to your town. If he came on a certain snowy day, he would have one set of experiences, perhaps thinking that everyone always wears boots. If he stayed for a year, he would have a much truer sense of what your town/city/country is all about. For fun, try people-watching at your local grocery store and imagine what a one day visitor would say about your community!

Snapsnack 1: Students in China do not work in groups much. They do things all together as a class, often sm-desks.jpgreciting things out loud as a whole group. When one student is called on, he/she stands, hands behind the back, and looks at the front wall as he/she answers. We never saw a student raise his/her hand. I don’t know if this means they do not ever raise hands to ask questions/volunteer or if our visits just did not happen to see it. The students sit two-across or four-across with long aisles from the front to the back of the classroom. The only schools where we saw other seating arrangements were the international schools– where desks and tables were arranged many different ways. Do you think the way the seatssm-jaderocks.jpg are arranged in your classroom affects the way you learn and behave?

Snapsnack 2:  Did you know that high quality jade changes color over many years of being worn against human skin? I guess it is the warmth that changes it. The hardest jade comes from a mountain that is only partially in China. It is called jadeite. People in China give jade, not diamonds, when they get engaged. What natural resources from your area are rare? How rare are they? How do people use them? What affects their value?

Snapsnack 3:  The terracotta warriors were not always brown. When they were first excavated, they had brightly painted colors, but the colors faded very quickly once exposed to air. When the Chinese officials figured out that even the experts could not stop the fading, they stopped excavating the warriors. They are waiting to dig up the many thousands more (that they know are still underground) until they have found a technology to prevent the fading. They have consulted experts from around the world. What ideas do you have that might prevent the warriors’ colors from fading? How would you test your ideas?smrestorations.jpg

Snapsnack 4: Most people in the Chinese villages have never had  “land line” telephones. Your grandparents probably still have one, even if your family does not. The people in the villages do have cell phones.  Knowing what it takes to put “land line” telephones into homes vs. making cell phones work in the countryside, why do you suppose most villagers never had landlines? What do you know about the economic level of people in the Chinese countryside villages? What happened in China during the years since cell phones were invented? Can you think of reasons why the villagers’ phones are mostly cell phones?

The picture below shows a village home. What can you tell about what jobs people have in villages?


Snapsnack 5: There are web sites that do not work in China because of censorship, but people still “see” them. YouTube does not work on computers, but it does work on smart phones that have web browsers. Some sites do not work, but people pay to “get around” the censorship using a proxy server service. The cost is about $50/year. Teachers even pay it so they can use some sites with their students. Do you know of censorship that people “get around” or rules that people ignore? What is your definition of a rule that is “made to be broken” vs. one that should be respected and followed?

I hope to share more soon. For now, stay warm — those of you in the northern hemisphere.

December 16, 2009

Creating a Vision

Filed under: Misc. — Candace Hackett Shively @ 4:02 pm

Our eyes cry out for images. Images grab us, connect us, and tell us the real story. We see color before words, faces and light before that. Vision is central to our understanding and growth.

In a classroom, images provide ways to dig inside our brains and find nuance,  sometimes beyond the subtleties even the richest English vocabulary can conjure. Lynell Burmark provides the concise research substantiation for including the visual in everything we teach in her blog post “Teaching Students, Not Just Standards, With Visual Literacy.” And I wholeheartedly agree with her. But I also know many teachers who have never experienced things visually because they personally are highly verbal and simply learn well from print.  Perhaps their own visual school experience was limited to the emergency evacuation map and classroom rules, laminated in perpetual faded form. To meet the requirements of the administration or suggestions of  teacher ed programs, these visually starved teachers hang a few things on bulletin boards “for the visual kids” and call it done. In their defense, they may not “see” the need for anything more. This is where they can call upon their students to help, and this may be the easiest first foray into creating a learning community that moves away from a teacher-expert to a shared learning model.

How do I do this, you ask?

Ideally, you would completely change how you present the unit, but let’s keep it simpler for you this first time. Teach the lessons much as you have before (I can’t believe I am saying this), but shift them enough that you can take time each day to Create a Vision. Perhaps instead of one of the quizzes, you can “get a grade” from students by their contributions to the Vision. Here is a brainstormed step-by-step. I hope others will comment with steps and ideas, too.

1. Be honest. Tell the kids what you are doing: This unit we are going to Create a Vision together as we learn.

2. Strip the bulletin boards and start fresh.

3. Open the cupboards where you have any old art materials, and turn the classroom computer (if you only have one) so it is a walk-up station facing the kids, maybe at the side of the room so you can see what they are doing.

4. Beg, borrow, or buy a new printer cartridge for sharing paper-based Visions created on the computer.

5. Beg, borrow, or plead for a projector to connect to the computer for sharing electronic Visions.

6. As you teach, have students create a Vision of what they learned. This can happen every day or two in class. With very young students, show them how first. It can be as simple as selecting an image from Google Images or from CompFight (reviewed here – for images without copyright concerns!) that “explains” what we learned today and helps us remember it or as detailed as a concept map (both visual and verbal) or as creative as a “poster.” Those who like to draw or create collages can use paper, but t does not have the lasting portability of an electronic vision. There are tons of free, online tool options. Here are just some of those we have reviewed on TeachersFirst.

My favorite ones (lately): – reviewed here and with an example below. Concept maps/grphic organizers made by YOU- can be shared, done collaboratively, and ADDED to or changed as the unit progresses– revisiting the vision!

Glogster EDU- reviewed here. Online tool to make electronic (or printable) “posters.” Can have all the glitz and trashy look of a preteen jewlry store. Certain to appeal both to students who have not yet developed visual “taste” and those who HAVE.

Diagrammr- reviewed here– no membership needed, very quick, but does not save for return visits

Voicethread- reviewed here– images with narration!

Any comic creation tool: (there are many more–search Teachersfirst for comic and tool)

GoAnimate-reviewed here

Bubblr- reviewed here

Pixton- reviewed here

Other electronic/printable poster makers/ tools for adding text to images:

Automotivator -reviewed here

Captioner- reviewed here

BigHugeLabs Magazine Cover Maker- reviewed here

PicLits- reviewed here

Scrapblog -reviewed here (makes a scrapbook more than a poster)

7. Extend the vision by sharing and revisiting it. Post the student-made visions; put them on the projector as students com in the next day; have students explain them; let others add to them and correct them; rate them; give students stars to mark Favorite visions (even on the  bulleting board). Essentially PLASTER the room and your class’ experience with visions. Ask students to make a “memory book” of visions from the school year (paper or electronic) and email it to themselves or save it for posterity. You will be amazed what they feature as highlights of their learning.


To practice what I preach, here is a concept map for this blog post “lesson,” created with  (I would embed it here, but we need to upgrade WordPress MU to be able to do so….another story…). You can interact more fully with the map here. (I can’t give you access to change it without making you a “friend” on Click to see the full map! Are you getting the vision?


November 5, 2009

The economy strikes again

Filed under: creativity,economy,edtech,education,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 4:39 pm

For the past 18 months or so, I have been a big fan of a certain web 2.0 tool that allowed students to create online books that could be viewed interactively and shared by URL. In a big email push this past week, they revised their user agreement. I read it carefuly, but even my skeptical eye did not catch the fact that they had removed the capability to see the book interactively unless you are actually logged into that “personal” account. No longer can teachers have students create books and share them electronically with family and friends at no cost. No longer can teachers create interactive ways for students to understand new content. No longer can all the teachers to whom we have “plugged” this tool use it with their classdrain.jpges in any functional way.

Some of the other changes related to content ownership are even more disturbing, but this one is the deal breaker right up front. If it is not free, TeachersFirst cannot review and recommend it. The sad thing is that I thought their business model MIGHT actually work: provide the tool for free, but ask parents and teachers to pay if they wanted a printed copy of the book. In an ordinary economy, it should have worked. Seeing your child’s (or grandchild’s) clever writing would be enough for parents to shell out the bucks. The school library or a teacher  might select the very best books created by a class for actual printing and permanent display on school shelves. Even in an era where reading has become more and more electronic and less tactile, people can be overcome by the urge to make a moment in a child’s life “permanent.” It should have worked.

But the economy strikes again. So we will be removing mention of this once-amazing tool for scaffolded or open writing experiences from over 80 reviews on TeachersFirst. Instead of recommending that students create online books, we will recommend another content-authoring tool…until that one dies, too. Let’s hope the economy improves before it sucks all creativity out of learning. There are enough forces at work trying to do just that. Economics should not be one of them.

August 13, 2009

True Values?

Filed under: education,Misc.,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 12:47 pm

bangforbuck.jpgThis one has been hanging in my head during swimming-thinking time for a couple of weeks.

What is the true value of teachers’ graduate work, in particular Master’s Degrees?  A recent study decided it is a poor use of school funds to underwrite teacher graduate degrees by increasing their pay simply for the additional degree. As often happens in education, determining a “bang for the buck” factor for academic achievement invites all sorts of statistical mumbo-jumbo. What is the value of a graduate degree? I can hear the wheels of my quantitative friends spinning as they determine a means to assess “value” of a Master’s degree: What is it worth in private sector HR? What value does it add to productivity (as measured by…)? What additive difference can be demonstrated by the aggregated affect of Master’s degrees in country X as compared to the U.S.? We could spend the day generating ways to evaluate the $$ value of the Master’s degree to a U.S. school district,  fueled by the self-assured procedures for research that WE learned in graduate programs.

I take a different approach. Though not scientific, I prefer to assess the true value of teacher graduate degrees in terms of two things: rigor and passion. Neither is measurable, so bean counters can start laughing now as I venture once more into an analogy.

True Value is what we seek when we visit the hardware store (thus the chain’s trademarked name). We seek fasteners with solid strength, paints that will last, and the right tools to accomplish the task. If we are committed to having our hard work last, we may opt for the paint that costs a bit more or for the stainless steel screws to use near water. The true value often comes from the bit of extra beyond the minimum.

We all want teachers who model passion and entice students into a rigorous love of learning. In the case of the some Master’s degrees, that passion and rigor are the true value of the degree. The teacher who completed it did so out of excitement for at least most of the work. He/she read, wrote, researched, explored, argued, created, and wondered through a series of academic courses and a thesis. That actual thesis may never have a place in his/her second or tenth grade classroom, but the true value of the degree lies in the passion and rigor that do not end with the degree.

We teachers also must admit that not all Master’s degrees are alike. We know people who sat and paid their way through 36 credits and received the special letters after their names. They found programs that were easy and needed their tuition dollars. They worked the system.

Going back to the hardware store, what is the true value of a a sit-and-pay degree vs. a rigorous, passionate graduate degree? It’s the same as the difference between a weak wrench that looks OK in the boxed set but will fail under torque and the one that is guaranteed for life. The latter can be returned after abuse by neglect, water, and greasy hands, but it will be replaced if it bends even a few degrees (sorry—pun).

If there is a decision to be made about paying for graduate degrees, it should be based on the true value of the degree in terms of rigor and passion that will last. If there are weak degrees on the shelf of our academic hardware stores, let’s pressure the suppliers and vendors to change their offerings. Why do some of you offer  inferior merchandise?

And teachers, let’s be honest. By purchasing the degrees without true value, what values are we modeling for our kids? Demand true value. Then expect that you should be paid for it.

March 2, 2009

Blowing and Drifting

Filed under: about me,education,Misc.,musing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:23 pm

snowdriftWhere I am today, the wind is howling in a classic nor’easter, with snow swirling into near white-outs. As always happens to me when the natural world is doing something noteworthy, I find myself drawing analogies connected to what I witness in nature. Today’s musing: Is education the response to intellectual “whiteout,” a way to prevent students from  blowing and drifting?

A recent New York Times article underscored the pragmatic trends in education during tough economic times. Specifically they cite the priority of technological, scientific, and employment needs that have pushed aside the liberal arts into pockets within “elitist” colleges. The Times further points out that the proponents of the humanities have not successfully marketed their field as essential to the future of the U.S. and the world.

Marketing the humanities?  Hmmm.

To prevent minds for blowing and drifting, do we steer students to science and technology where their efforts can be measured and their products fill practical needs in society? If we do so to the exclusion of the study of history, literature, writing, the arts, and even philosophy, will the winds abate and the snows settle into sparkling mounds of freshness?

You can tell by my questioning where I stand. I am an unabashed proponent of the liberal arts.  Without the ability to bounce new ideas off each other, to question, muse, and say the unexpected using an unexpected turn of phrase, we cannot stop the blowing and drifting of young minds and press ahead to a sparkling world. Indeed, we NEED some blowing and drifting of thought or we risk hardened, stale, brown-grey piles of crusty snow formed by plowing those once-sparkly flakes too quickly into the places where they are “supposed” to go.  I have no problem with the value of pragmatism. I believe it is in the process of questioning and making connections and oxymorons out of the scientific and measurable that we turn blowing and drifting into the striking patterns we see on the hillsides of thought. This is blowing and drifting allowed to follow and create new patterns. And I would maintain that without the liberal arts, without people seeing analogies and wondering aloud, the scientists would be stuck in crusty snow mounds that age and melt from the underside into cinder-filled storm sewers long after the rest of the winter has thawed.

I hope we can allow education to appreciate some blowing and drifting, veering entirely neither to white-out nor plow-hedges. We need everyone’s ideas — stirred by a little blowing and drifting.

February 20, 2009

Slippery Reality

Filed under: economy,education,musing,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:33 pm

SlipperyTwenty or thirty years from now, electronic libraries will be full of cyber-volumes about the opening decade of the 21st century and the confluence of events that turned the world sideways like an iPhone display: the flood of web 2.0, September 11, wars, and unprecedented economic distress. We certainly have no satellite view today. We cannot even feel the tilt well enough to know which end is up. We have all this information, and we can find out nothing.

I just finished editing another set of small tidbits to throw into the Web of information and ideas about the economy: some pages for parents on how to help children and teens cope during tough economic times and some for teachers on how to help all of us learn more about these complex systems. But even collecting and synthesizing good information from reliable sources is a slippery reality. When it comes down to it, nothing we write is any better than the reliable sources we trust — trust just because someone else we trust already trusted them. Even a savvy web user can only use the tests of reputation, references, credentials, and (gulp) Google ranking to decide who to believe. If my network says it’s reliable, I guess I can trust it.

As educators we know that we must help our students learn to compare information, assess it, compile it,  and convey it, but there are days like today when I wonder if we are simply helping them build a false sense of reality. I watch the news and I wonder which “authority” or “expert”  will fall tomorrow, which economic scheme will prove false, which report on the stateus of Afghanistan will be mistaken. I especially wonder what the state of the economy really is. No one knows. And this time Google does not help. There does not seem to be an algorithm for ranking such a total abstraction.

I am afraid I am left simply wondering what they will say in twenty or thirty years about all of us who are driven by the shepherds of the news media and the Internet. Reality is slippery, and we are supposed to help our students navigate it when we do not understand it ourselves. But someone trusts us because someone else they trust trusted us.