The Wonderful World of Filtering…

In the early days of the Internet at my school students surfed the web without the limitations of filters. I constantly had to make sure students were on task and not looking at web sites about Beavis and Butthead or the Simpsons. Then I found a student on a web site that contained pictures of people who had been killed in a variety of different ways. He was showing it off to some other equally immature ninth graders. A couple of students displayed a little distress at the images. At that point, I found myself an avid promoter of filtering.

Ten years later it seems like it is going too far.  I understand the concern regarding the tons of inappropriate stuff “out there” in Internet land.  As a parent myself, I certainly don’t want my kids to access to this stuff.  However, where does it stop?  My district just recently blocked Flickr, a site I’ve been using for both personal and school-related photographs.  I have made links from my world history web site to photographs taken at school. We will be starting up a big project focusing events around the world from the last 20 years or so and I was going to point my students to Flickr to view photographs of some of these regions.  So why did it get blocked?  Well, Flickr has evolved into one of the higher quality photography sites and some users have included nudity in their online libraries.  This raises another host of questions, is nudity porn?  Or does that not even matter in a high school setting?  We do live in a society where sexuality is demonized, but violence is cool.

So I’m frustrated.  Should we block less and monitor more?  Teach correct Internet usage better? Or just accept losing the THOUSANDS of appropriate, helpful, and educational photos of Flickr and videos of YouTube in exchange for alleged safety (sounds a little like the Patriot Act).  Throw in the fact that even the moderately tech savvy kids can easily find a “proxy” server at home to get around filter at school.  So where are we at?

Anyone else facing filtering issues at school?


Why I Blog.

Over a month ago, Julie over at School of Blog tagged me to respond this question. The short answer is either just because or I don’t know. I have a love/hate relationship with this thing. Some days I contemplate retiring it or deleting it altogether. Other days I wish I had more time to add to it. I can have a string of 10 posts in a week or have just a couple posts in a three month window. Sometimes I feel it is self indulgent, other times it gives me a place to rant, share, and enjoy successes.

So I guess this list is going to reflect the reasons why I don’t delete it. Why I continue on…

  1. I like a space to call my own. I am constantly thinking about new ideas and events in my everyday professional life. I have lots of fires going, this is the one place I can be a teacher, educational technologist, web designer, consultant, geek, and family guy. I can say and do what I want. Within reason of course. When I started, I decided to use my real name so I have significant limits about what I say and how I say some things.
  2. The community. As classroom teachers we are often isolated from one another. Blogging has given me access to a community of teachers and educational technologists far greater then I could have imagined. I’ve watched first year teachers mature into experienced teachers. I saw the early ideas of blogging blossum into what we have today.
  3. Sharing. Since I started teaching, I’ve made a point of sharing anything I could. Here I can not only share ideas, experiences, and specific resources, I can also talk about them. Within the community we can have a conversation about an idea or a topic.
  4. Writing practice. I have always struggled with writing. Since graduating college in 1994, there have been fewer and fewer reasons to actually write. Now that the MA is finally done, I need the excuse. Blogging gives me a chance to put together coherent thoughts (mostly), defend positions, and simply type out what I’m thinking at the time.
  5. Practicing what I preach. I have been lucky enough to be involved in technology staff development since I started teaching. In the last couple years, the influx of Web 2.0 technologies has influenced my interests and has transformed my teaching. Keeping a blog helps me experience what I encourage others to do. I do see the value.

OK, after thinking about it some more, it looks like I do like this thing. It has been saved once again.

I’m not going to tag anyone since I waited so long to finally do it, but if you would like to think about this questions, please consider yourself tagged.

The Big Push

As a history major and now a history teacher, I’ve read a lot of history books.  While I have found most of them fascinating, only a handful are written in an engaging assessable manner that I could actually use them with high school students.  Adam Hochschild is probably my favorite historian.  First his King Leopold’s Ghost captivated me as he described the colonization and exploitation of the Belgium Congo.  Next he provided a true understanding of what life was like in the Soviet Union under Stalin in Unquiet Ghost.  I’ve used excerpts of both books with my classes over the years.  He has another book (Bury the Chains) that I have, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Hochschild’s next book is on World War I (one of my favorite subjects).  He recently compared the Battle of Somme with the current war in Iraq:

“The Big Push” is a phrase that came into the language with another troop surge that was supposed to bring another war to victory. For months beforehand, the Big Push was how British cabinet ministers, propagandists, generals, and foot soldiers talked about the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

The First World War had been in a deadly stalemate for the better part of two years. A string of horrific battles had revealed the huge toll of trench warfare: Defenders could partially protect themselves by building deeper trenches, concrete pillboxes, and reinforced dugouts far underground. But when you went “over the top” of the trench to attack, you were disastrously vulnerable — out in the open, exposed to deadly, sweeping machine-gun fire as you clambered slowly across barbed wire and bypassed water-filled artillery-shell craters.

So, what did the Allies do? They attacked. At the time, in numbers of men involved, it was history’s largest battle. The plan was to break open the German defense line, send the cavalry gloriously charging through the gap, and turn the tide of the war. The result was a catastrophe.

Read the entire article.

Interesting stuff.

The Carnival of Education: Week 95


I wish I could say I have some sort of connection to the number 95. But I don’t. Do you? Well, I guess we should just get on with the show. What I do have a nice reading list for this week’s 95th Carnival of Education. So welcome to the midway, I hope you enjoy yourself, or at least you learn a thing or two along the way. I had planned to spend the day coming up with a clever approach, but essays and my kids got in my way. So here we go, textbook style (which really contradicts my whole philosophy of teaching, but this is not the time…).

Chapter 1: Teaching and Learning

Creating life long learners is one of the primary goals of hopefully all educators, ChemJerk provides his students with a short tutorial on how to be an educated person. I’ll give one part away – surround yourself with smart people.

Aquiram at Teaching in the 21st Century is doing some great projects but is still concerned about covering the standards. It doesn’t help that an experienced colleague has scrutinized Aquiram’s curricular choices, but offers no real advice or help.

It seems that students either love or hate math. Some students just don’t put in the effort – even when the concepts are actually pretty basic (even for a history teacher like myself). IB a Math Teacher documents the frustration math teachers at his school face when trying to teach the basics of geometry. Denise over at a Home for Homeschoolers gives some practical advice on how to figure out percentages – these concepts actually apply to more then just math!

Have you ever had a student who thinks they understand the topic you are discussing, but doesn’t really have a clue? This college student looks at misconceptions in science education.

Like the rest of the world, trivial and serious distractions take our focus from those pesky lesson plans and state standards. Janet at the Art of Getting By details all of the interuptions to the learning process during the last few months – when is the learning supposed to be taking place?

Homeschooling one’s children is an overwhelming task, but Stephanie of Life Without School gives an insightful and practical look at the process of transitioning from a traditional school setting to homeschooling.

Chapter 2: Aren’t they cute? Stories from the inside.

Apparently the 8 – 12 year olds of the world are starting to act like teenagers – what could be worse??? The Science Goddess talks a little science and a little culture to explain this scarey effect of the modern world.

Those little rascals that grace our classrooms each and every day sometimes surprise us with their words and actions. Elementary History Teacher relates a thoughtful discussion she had with her students about early American colonies and discovers that even a student with his head in his bookbag can actively participate. Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewdness of Apes extracts the dreaded “H” word from a student involved in a verbal altercation. Mister Teacher then creates his own easy button in a short rant about the “holiday” season and the little lovelies who call his classroom home for the day.

Mrs. Bluebird does what every teacher has done at some point or another – bribed her students! Not so fast, she didn’t use the usual fare of candy or extra credit, instead she let them look at anything they wanted under the microscope – how cool is she?

In a bit of a bizarre situation, Education Wonk – the father of our little carnival here, shares the story of a student who is suspended and then expelled for an exchange with another student where he denied the existance of leprechauns. I can’t imagine walking into that conversation or trying to stop that argument.

Chapter 3: Student Achievement (or lack there of)

There comes a time when parents need to cut the cord. Let’s say that in college, the students should probably take on own some of their own responsibilities and leave mom out of it, right? If you are looking for the right way to express this, Mamacita at Scheiss Weekly has some choice words for just such a student..

Many students live and die by their grades, but often they don’t quite get how or why grades are given. Darren at Right on the Left Coast reflects on just that.

In an educational world that is becoming more and more dominated by tests, what do we do with the student who is simply not a good test taker? Who needs to take that responsibility? Right Wing Prof looks at some of the answers.

Chapter 4: Educational Policy Studies

This chapter seems to be packed full, so we are going to take the bulleted list approach to promote efficiency (I know, a concept rarely found when discussing educational policy – call me a visionary :).

Chapter 5: Educational Technology

OK, this chapter is one of my creation and as the host for this week, I am hijacking this final section. I have a strong interest in bringing technology tools into the classroom. All of the educators who have participated in this Carnival or the Carnivals of the past use blogs for themselves, but do they bring this tool to their students? If not, why? Our students are using it and will be expected to use it when they leave us for the “real world.” The Internet has become significantly more user friendly in the last couple of years. Web 2.0 or the read/write web has really opened up what we can do instructionally with our students. In one of my recent posts, I share a great explanation of Web 2.0. In the spirit of Web 2.0, I am going to start sharing practical ways to use technology. Please come back and check it out. The first cool tool I’ll be demostrating will be using WordPress for a classroom web site.

If you haven’t read the The World is Flat, you probably should. Two teachers are in the midst of working collaboratively with students across the world. Vicki Davis has just started her Classroom is Flat project where her students in Georgia are working with students in Bangladesh. Chris Craft is doing a similar project with another school in Peru. Both are using wikis as the collaborative tool to connect the students. Should be interesting to watch these two projects evolve.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a post from David Warlick who looks at some testing we need to be paying attention to.


This has been quite the experience. Thanks to EdWonk who must stay up pretty late on most Tuesday nights. You can access previous editions of the Carnival of Education here.

If you are interested in hosting a future edition of the Carnival of Education, please contact EdWonk at edwonk [at] educationwonks [dot] org.

Deadline for submissions for next weeks Carnival of Education will be Tues. Dec. 5 by midnight eastern standard time.

Submissions should be sent to historyiselementary [at] yahoo [dot] com or the carnival submission form.


Carnival of Education

The 94th Carnival of Education is on display over at EdWonk’s site today. As usual, a nice selection of ideas and reflections. EdWonk and I started blogging about the same time just over two years ago. While I haven’t always submitted items to the carnival, I’ve always read through it. I really think this has helped building the teacher blog community.

This week look at the post by Ms. Cornelius of A Shrewdness of Ape – she discusses student excuses. Classic (as usual for her!).

As part of the unveiling of the new WordPress site and my re-entry into semi-regular blogging, I am finally stepping up and hosting the 95th Carnival of Education. If you would live to submit an entry, please e-mail it to me at danmcdowell @ gmail dot com. Or use the submission form. I need the entries by Tuesday, November 28 at 8:00 pm EST and 5:00 pm PST.

Tolerance by Example

When I was in high school there were some situations throughout the world that helped shape my world view. One of the most powerful examples of injustice of the time was South Africa. Apartheid epitomized the worst people could be. The movie Cry Freedom (about Steven Biko) is still one of my favorites. In my high school Amnesty International club, a bulk of our letters were sent to South Africa about various political prisoners. I watch from my safe little corner of suburbia as that terrible system was dismantled and cheered. It was a joy to watch Nelson Mandela become president.

Yesterday a student gave me an article from the newspaper I had missed online, South Africa bill aproves same sex marriages. I was intrigued, the student said it related to what we were currently studying – we are in the midst of our Imperialism unit and my students are writing poems that contradict the White Man’s Burden by Rudyard Kipling. She pointed to the following quote:

“When we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust painful past, by declaring that never again shall it be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis of color, creed, culture and sex,” Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula declared (CNN, November 16, 2006).

Wow. Now this is still a controversial law that many South Africans oppose (mostly on religious grounds) and throughout Africa gays and lesbians are often attacked for revealing their sexual orientation, but the message is clear.  South Africa has seen terrible discrimination and their vow to never relive any part of that past is enlightening and encouraging.  Regardless of your personal opinion on same sex marriage you have to admire the bigger point South Africa is making.

Welcome to My New Home

After using Blogger for the life of my blog, I have decided to move over to WordPress.  I was planning to hold off on the move until I was able to modify an exisiting template to have a similar look and feel to the rest of my site, but I think I just have to move in now and change the design as time allows.

I will go into a lot more detail as to why WordPress is the way to go in an upcoming post.  This change also signifies my semi-regular return to blogging.