Category Archives: tinkering

Turkey Update

Earlier this year, I wrote about the problem of our wandering turkeys. They were attracted across the street to scavenge from our neighbor’s bird feeder. Part of it was our fault: we had stopped regular feedings as they seemed to find enough in their wandering so their explorations got farther and farther afield. They found leftover greens in the overgrown vegetable garden and then discovered the feeder.

I am happy to say that the turkeys have been successfully “trained” to stay near the house and the barn yard rather than wandering down front. They get fed twice a day, once in a penned area and once at their very own turkey-level bird feeder and sometimes a third time just to make sure they are close by and come when they are called. They are, by no means, pets, and one of them, in particular, is aggressive so I carry a big stick as we walk along to wherever I am going to spread the food.

For those of you who are having trouble imagining these birds, here they are at their sunflower seed feeder. The tapping is loud so it is hard to hear the happy sort of chirp they make.

Farm Life: Authentic Problem Solving


The last two farm animals left after having both pigs and chickens on the farm are two Royal Palm turkeys. Both males, they are at least five years old, surviving several hens and a couple of their hatch mates. I don’t think much would mess with them at this point. We allow them to roam and had mostly stopped feeding them every day, just kitchen compost and scraps. But, we discovered they have been heading down to the front of the property and across the street where our neighbors put up a bird feeder on a low hanger, turkey level. They have managed to avoid being hit by a car on the road and always seem to come home to roost.

They are, however, a nuisance to our neighbor, eating all the food and just generally making a mess. So, we have spent the last week or so trying to keep them away from the road by encouraging them to stay in the house and barnyard. It mostly means feeding them pretty regularly so they stick close by.

I thought we were doing pretty well until we walked down the driveway yesterday and found them busy cleaning out the feeder across the street. We called to them but they pretty much ignored us. Our neighbor helped by appearing with a broom, and they followed us home.

We could pen them up but it is a challenge since they can fly enough to get over a high fence so we need a canopy. And, it seems mean as they do like to wander. That is our last resort although we may work on a pen to use when we are going to be away.

Today’s new strategy: fight feeder with feeder. We’re going to fill a feeder and put it close to the ground the way our neighbor does. That way, they can eat right out of it. And, we are going to loan our neighbor a higher crook for their feeder so it becomes less attractive.

This is real-world problem solving with trial and error. And, of course, trying to think like a turkey helps as well.




Missing the Point

I missed the point of today’s Google Doodle because I was so busy looking at the gears and never saw the monster’s head above water. One of my current making projects is to build an automaton. I want to use it to make my Strawbees amusement park ride turn around:

Amuse Yourself

I have two prototypes but neither one works very well. I started with this post from Makezine and then checked out the Exploratorium site as well. I think my main issue is with using kabob skewers that are hard to attach to the cam and cam follower. I’m on the hunt for bamboo skewers and will also dig out the glue gun to just make everything a bit sturdier.

A Pragmatist In a Progressive World

This year, I have the opportunity to be part of an online professional learning community.  While I will be taking on the role of facilitator, I believe this will be as much a learning experience for me as well as for the other participants.  And, the opportunity has already gotten me thinking about where I fit into the sometimes confusing but always intriguing world of “educational technology.”

Here’s what I know:

Educational technology is about much more than just technology.  In a way, technology is the easy part.  It’s easy for me to show you how to use a flip camera to capture video or a digital microscope to find Abraham Lincoln on a penny.  It’s easy for me to post a link to a wonderful interactive website.  And while all these things may be cool, most teachers want more than just cool.  They want to know that the time and energy it is going to take them to set up microscopes or plug in projectors or to have them or their students create videos will have some positive influence on their students and their learning.  That’s the hard part: helping teachers figure out how to use these technologies in powerful ways in their classrooms.  So, while I may like to explore new technologies myself, my focus with others is on the educational part.  How/why/when to use those computers and gadgets and websites to improve teaching and learning.  This might seem like an elementary idea, but I still go to lots of “educational technology” presentations at conferences where the heavy emphasis is on the technology rather than the education.

Here’s what else I know:

I have a deeply held bias. I believe that technology offers ways to improve teaching and learning.  Even if it’s only because it engages the kids in ways that textbooks and lectures and worksheets do not.  And, most of the educators I talk to seem to share this two-part belief with me.  Part one: technology engages kids.  Part two: engaged kids are better learners.  But they also share a concern about doing it the right way.  They don’t want to just use technology for technology’s sake.  And, I find myself working with them in very practical ways.  Have you thought about using a smartboard to let your kids interact with a sentence?  Do you know that you can put a video in a powerpoint presentation to show to your kids?  Have you accessed the data from the student response system to better differentiate instruction? Have you considered having your students create a digital video or multimedia presentation as an alternative assessment?

I also use this practical approach when I work with technology coaches and school administrators in helping them to encourage technology use.  I’ve created a presentation called Strategies for the Non-Choir.  It draws from Rogers’ work in diffusions of innovations as well as Mishra and Koehler’s Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) model to provide coaches with ideas for how to approach the early and late majority adopters who, according to Rogers, make up some 68% of the population.  I talk to the coaches about the need to consider the relative advantage of a technology as well as how compatible it is with what the strategies already used by a teacher.  In addition, as part of the workshop, we play the TPACK game where we match technologies, pedagogies, and content areas to come up with ideas for using technology in the classroom.

So, I am very much a pragmatist, trying to work with teachers where I find them, helping them use technologies in ways that support what they are doing in their classrooms.  This is a viewpoint that is often in direct opposition to the visionaries in the educational technology blogosphere.  They tend to be progressives who are looking past the current times to a different world where powerful technologies support student-centered, constructivist learning.  One of my favorites, Tim over at Assorted Stuff, summarizes the viewpoint quite nicely, I think:

The powerful tools we now have available make it possible to go way beyond simple reinforcing what we’re already doing. They provide communications links that enable teachers and students to connect with and learn from the world.

If all we do with the computers and networks put in our schools over the past decade is multiply the status quo, then we’ve wasted a lot of money, time and effort.

I know much of the crap I write is very idealistic, maybe even unrealistic. But while we are making small incremental changes, it would be nice to keep a vision of what education could and should be in the viewfinders.

I don’t disagree with Tim.  And I admire his idealism. I am also always inspired by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach. One of Sheryl’s most recent posts over at 21st Century Learning gives some great examples of how are kids are learning to learn on their own, and she calls to us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on creating a learning environment for them.  I try to keep her vision in my mind and for awhile I move into that progressive world.

But then I go to a school or talk to a teacher and hear about the sorts of barriers–time, access, not to mention high-stakes testing–that they face and how excited they get when someone gives them an interactive whiteboard or even just a projector and the pragmatist returns.   To borrow a phrase from Tyack and Cuban, we are “tinkering toward utopia.”  I think I’m more the tinkerer, standing with a wrench in my hand, rather than the utopian, envisioning the future.

Learning Welsh

Just spent some time creating the header image for this wordpress template. I chose the picture of the wolf that my husband snapped along the Bow Parkway in Banff National Park last summer. We had a wonderful trip, which I documented on Google Maps.

Now, I’m working on maps of England and Wales for a trip I’m going to take this fall with my parents. I know I ask this every time I plan a trip, but how DID we plan trips before the web? And, now that Google has added collaboration to its maps, I was able to share it with my parents so they could add their places and see what I had in mind. I haven’t investigated to see what kind of Internet access there is to see how easy it will be to upload photos and even edit the map.

I would have gotten further on the Wales map this morning, but the database I was using crashed and has yet to come back up. It is Sunday and Easter at that so I guess it’s not a surprise. But, it is a reminder that, while the information is generally available at your finger tips, we must be careful about taking it for granted. Networks still go down, as Oprah learned in a very public way recently.

That being said, I’m still excited about the possibilities of Google Maps for organizing learning in almost every content area class. Over at the VSTE Ning site, Mike Scott, an ITRT from Botetourt County, commented that he thought it should be illegal to teach geography with using Google Earth. I agree…and ditto for lots of other content. My content area is English, and I have had a blast plotting my literary and historical tour of England. I have only just started assigning different markers to different themes. For now, the yellow markers are sites related to Llywelyn the Great, a great Welsh warlord who brought Wales as close as it had ever been to independence from England. He was married to King James’ illegitimate daughter, Joan, and their lives are fictionalized in Here Be Dragons, by Sharon Kay Penman. I prefer learning history from historical fiction. Penman’s work is generally accurate and she generally provides notes about can be documented and what she embellished. And, through the story, I learn more than just names and dates. I get a real sense of what it was like to live in Wales in the 13th century.

I can also learn Welsh online from the BBC. I was tagged as rank beginner when I took the placement quiz and was directed to Colin and Cumberland, a pretty impressive interactive website. I particularly like the speech bubbles you can add to the video in either English or Welsh. Here’s what I’ve learned so far: Bore da is “good morning,” and hwyl is “goodbye.” And, hwyl is pronounced hoyle. Who would have guessed?

I also discovered that the BBC runs a Welsh-language radio station that can be streamed over the web. It’s a testament to universal web design that I was able to pick out the play box and open up the BBC player that offers the various program choices.

As I poked around the web collecting Welsh related resources and toyed with the idea of actually learning Welsh, I was reminded of a classmate I had in an adult learning course I took in the fall of 2006. (I used this blog to reflect on my course experiences.) As part of the course, each student developed a learning contract that outlined what they would be learning over the course of the semester. After much wrestling, this particular classmate went from an academic topic to learning French for a trip she was going to take. She basically immersed herself in French from words on the refrigerator to email exchanges with a French colleague, learning about both the language and the culture. She made a commitment to herself to learn it, and she did.

But, even as I think about doing the same for learning Welsh, I hesitate. I’m busy with my dissertation and other projects. Could I really commit to this? Write a personal learning contract? One of the things we discussed in the course was the difficulty of making time for our own learning. And, in this case, I would not even have the pressure of a class. Just me and a desire to at least understand Welsh. For now, I’m going to tinker with the BBC website. I’d be happy just to be able to accurately pronounce Welsh words even if I don’t know what they mean. That’s a feat in itself I think.

I’ll close before I start waxing too rhapsodically about the wonderfulness of the web to support learning. Well, how about just one more chorus before I go to bed. I’m reading “The Living” by Annie Dillard, which is set in the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century. Dillard lived in the area for 5 years and the novel is historically accurate, even painstakingly so, according to this interview with her. As I’ve confessed before, I love to read; I also love the way the web allows me to explore behind the scenes, to understand both the author and her content in deeper ways.