Monday, June 15, 2009

Listening with Their Eyes

"These kids just don't listen!"

You may not have said it out loud, but you know you've thought it. Sometimes it seems like the words we say just bounce right off. You might as well be talking to a wall.

It's true. There are times when kids don't hear a word we say, but that doesn't mean they're not listening. Maybe they're listening with their eyes.

In a recent Sunday sermon, this quote was shared:

I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advise you give,
But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
excerpt from 'Sermons We See' by Edgar Guest

When you stand in front of your students what are you telling them? On those rare times they they do listen with their ears, does the message they hear conflict with the one they receive with their eyes?

Like it or not, when they're looking at us they're learning more than just the curriculum. The lessons they learn with their eyes are lessons in character. These lessons are taught continuously and unconsciously - both in and outside the classroom.

Our actions can be a powerful teaching tool when we SHOW our students what to do rather than just telling them. Think about it. When we use our words to say, "This is important." Do our deeds back it up?

Look at the way we teach information literacy and digital citizenship. When we tell kids to go find information on the Internet, do we also model good search techniques in class? Do we demonstrate how to evaluate information for accuracy or bias? We tell them to be sure to respect copyright and to cite ALL their resources for papers & projects, but do we take the time to do the same for our presentations & lectures?

We emphasize good digital citizenship and encourage students to protect themselves online. We warn them that what they post can come back to hurt them later if they are not careful, but do we also exercise those same practices ourselves? Would you want your students to see your Facebook or MySpace page? How would you feel if they started following you on Twitter?

"I'm no role model" - Charles Barkley

Maybe Charles Barkley isn't, but we are. We chose to be when we made the choice to become teachers - I think Teach42 would back me up on this. The students in our room are watching to see if the words they hear from us are more than just hype.

Now I've made a personal choice not to "friend" my students on Facebook and as far as I know none follow me on Twitter, but if by chance one of them happens to see my profile or read my tweets, there's nothing there that should cause me to feel shame or regret. I believe we need to be role models to our students in the way we act in public and online. This doesn't mean we have to be perfect - kids see through that facade right away. It just means we have to be real and make sure that our words and our actions are not sending mixed messages.

And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way
another excerpt from 'Sermons We See' by Edgar Guest
Read the entire poem here.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Final Frontier

Here's another one of those serendipity moments.

A weekend fishing trip up to the Owens Valley yielded an unexpected surprise. If you've ever driven up US 395 you may have noticed those large radio telescopes off to the east between Big Pine & Bishop, CA. For years I've wondered about those and have always wanted to get a closer look and learn more about them. What I never knew, is that 13 miles east of there, tucked up in the hills is another similar array.

Here's the serendipitous part - the day we picked to fish the Owens River just happened to be the same day that CARMA (The Combined Array for Research in Millimeter wave Astronomy) was holding their annual Open House. We followed the signs along the highway, headed east on highway 168 past the big dishes in the valley up into the White Mountains, and found the observatory site and it's 23 "telescopes".

Upon arriving we were greeted by Dr. Mark Hodges from Caltech who started the tour by sharing some information about the array and some of the work being done there. While not as big as the 130 ft dishes in the valley, what these telescopes lack in size, they make up in quantity and precision. The 10 and 3.5 meter dishes here are practically perfect parabolas - the margin of error is about the width of a human hair. By using an array of telescopes they are effectively able to get the same information that could be obtained by a much larger dish. As we toured the facility, Douglas, one of the engineers explained how the racks of computers he designed process terabytes of information received from the array, filter out the noise, and combine it into one "image".

Why take a picture with radio waves?
After munching on free hot dogs provided by the CARMA staff, Eric, one of several astrophysicists on site, explained that while the Hubble Telescope provides stunning visual images, it doesn't give us the whole picture. Radio waves provide much more information about distant stars & galaxies and help scientists determine not just what they look like, but also identify the molecules that make up these distant objects. Also, because radio waves are not affected by visible light, these telescopes can be used 24 hours a day.

What type of research is being done here?
When I asked Eric about his project, he shared that he currently has the 3.5 meter array pointed at a cluster of galaxies and hopes to use the information he gathers to prove the existence of dark matter.

The CARMA array is funded by the National Science Foundation and is a jointly operated by Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Illinois, the University of Maryland, and the University of Chicago. Every 6 months, the NSF accepts research proposals and determines which ones get time to use the array. The allocation of time is a valuable thing because a single "picture" taken by the array can take take several hours. Douglas, one of the CARMA engineers, explained that to get one image, an array of telescopes captures lines of information as the Earth rotates. After about 8 hours these lines create a complete circle and the computers get to work to process the image. "It's like the world's slowest digital camera."

That's me standing next to one of the 10 meter telescopes.

For more information about CARMA, visit their site:

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Simple Solution?

Back in November 2007 I posted a "Not So Simple Solution" demonstrating a fairly complicated way to take projects created in Microsoft PhotoStory3 and make them viewable on Macs.

While brainstorming a way to share our 3rd grade Animal Riddles online (thanks Jennifer Gingerich for the project idea) I tried uploading the wmv files created by PhotoStory directly into Voicethread - AND IT WORKED!

Now we can not only share our students' PhotoStory projects, but putting them on Voicethread allows us the option to let others comment back. Nice!

Below is an example. (Until I get an OK from the teacher I've turned off commenting.)