Category Archives: community

Short Bits: Nuance

For now, in order to get in the habit of blogging, I’m going with pieces I am calling “short bits.” Basically, what I am thinking about it. Sheri Edwards, the blogging mentor to us all, calls them blog shorts and has a wonderful introduction here.  So, my short bits are blog shorts.

This one is simply about the seeming lack of nuance in all sorts of places, due I think, in large part to our continued distraction with media. We want quick answers and memes to share, diving into the ever flowing stream of stuff, generating quick comments but never really digging deeper than the surface. We label things good and bad, and certainly there are examples of both of those in the world, but there are also nuances of good and bad. Events are often more complicated than they seem. Zero tolerance policies almost never work. And, teachers and students and content and pedagogy overlap in complex ways that do not always lend themselves to easy charts or frameworks or continuums or, for that matter, 280 characters on Twitter.  Whenever someone says you should ALWAYS or NEVER, I want to shout, “It depends!”

But, in the interest of seeing nuances myself,  there ARE good conversations going on within communities, including Twitter. The #clmooc has made long term use of the web to connect around creativity and collaboration. I am sorry I missed the #clmooc book discussion about affinity communities online. Participation in these kinds of groups allows users to access  the power behind the tools when wielded with a mission of authentic connection.


Connecting with Local Community: One Tiny Step

I am a white cisgender woman of privilege.

I am reminded of this every day when I leave my house to run errands in my town.

I live on the edge of one of the poorest communities in Virginia, surrounded by people of color who have no privilege at all. Their lives, their economies, were and still mostly are controlled by white people.

The county in which my town is located includes a segregation academy that, while it now claims to be racially diverse and posts pictures of mixed race groups of happy children on its website, did not finally admit African American students until 1984. Hmmm…the same year that Ralph Northam admits to putting on black face. This is not history. This is now.

I am beginning to find my niche in this community through work with the local 4H coordinator. It is nothing…a small drop…but for a few hours this past month, I was able to connect with some local kids over circuits and coding. I was able to provide some STEM-related fun and learning but the real opportunity was the it gave me a chance to listen to and share with them.

Confronting the Digital Divide One Kid A Time

I like on the edge of a small, impoverished, underserved town* in a county southeast of Richmond. During a Halloween “trunk and treat” event at the local library, I met the local 4H coordinator for the county who came over to check out my Makey Makey screaming pumpkins and talking hat. I followed up because I have been looking for a way to connect with the kids in my town. It turns out that 4H has a coding curriculum that we could use as the basis for a SPIN (Special Interest) club, a short term group around a specific topic. I agreed to facilitate six sessions around STEM to be held at the town’s community center, which is housed in the former elementary school in the heart of some of the worst poverty.

While the 4H curriculum is good and provides “unplugged” activities that don’t require Internet and computer access, we are fortunate to have decent Internet access, my collection of Makey Makey, and a few laptops including a couple that I bring with me. I ended up creating my own curriculum to take advantage of that access.

During the first week, we experimented with circuits using copper tape and playdoh with batteries and leds. On Tuesday of this week, we spent our hour connecting the Makey Makey to Scratch and making simple switches. One of the five participants had experience with the Makey Makey. The others caught on quickly.

Today was the big day, at least in my mind, as I knew I only had an hour to get them hooked on Scratch. So, we dove in and made a simple game using Barb Ericson’s tutorial.  I had three incredibly motivated students who had zero experience with coding and Scratch. but were eager to make their game.

They played my sample game when they arrived so they had an idea of what they would be creating. We worked through each step, and they were also able to customize their games by choosing their own sprites and backdrops. We still have some work to do but you can see their games here:

One of the boys, the same one who had worked with the Makey Makey, was able to move forward more independently by following the slides in the printed packet so I could work closely with the other two who needed more direct support. By the end of an hour, all three had working games that kept score. Whew!

I’m worried that they didn’t really have to time to process what we were doing, and I want to take time next Tuesday to review the various pieces that we put together. We will make the games harder and add some sounds, I think.

I would *love* to integrate the Makey Makey by having them create game controllers with switches during the last meeting. I think the town mayor may be stopping by. She helped me connect with the community center director so I invited her to stop by to see what is happening.

This is a small, small step. Three boys who are living in the digital divide and deserve the same access and opportunities of other kids. If there is interest, I am committed to continuing our meetings to explore Scratch and other kinds of programming. At the least, I want to hold a Valentine’s Day Card workshop using this great template from**

*Use whatever adjective you like: our grocery store closed several years ago so our food sources include fast food, one or two restaurants, and a couple dollar type stores. No local access to fresh food including vegetables and meat. The closest full-service store is 8 miles away. It’s a long way for people who also don’t have access to their own or public transportation.

**The wonderful woman who serves as the on site director for the center came to me today asking about how she might add lights to flowers to Valentine’s Day.  I told her I would bring my kit of lights and batteries next week and we could figure out how to make it work!

Why I Pursued ISTE Certification

After the conference in December, I posted a public commitment to being more connected, whether it was blogging or tweeting or pursuing my own professional development. In fact, “walking the walk” is my theme for 2019.

I had already made a private commitment earlier in 2018 when I signed on to participate in one of the first cohorts to complete the ISTE Certification.

I am not a full time educator, but I teach School Technology, a graduate course, for University of Richmond each fall, and I have been experimenting with that course to make it more student centered and exploratory than a typical graduate course. Testing my syllabus against the ISTE Standards for Educators intrigued me.

I am pleased to announce that I have successfully completed the certification process and am now an ISTE Certified Educator. As I had hoped, the process, especially the portfolio, allowed me thinkdeeply about my practice in all aspects of my work both in and out of the classroom.

But, the work doesn’t end with the portfolio and the certification. My video reflection was called “Walking the Walk,” and I professed my commitment to connecting online and with my local community. I live in an underserved community and have been looking for ways to connect. The local 4H director introduced himself at the library Halloween party where I was demonstrating Makey Makey. Now, we are working together to sponsor a STEM special interest group. We start next Tuesday. We will be using some of the activities included in the coding curriculum developed by 4H and Google and also exploring Makey Makey and robots.

I am excited but a little nervous as it has been awhile since I have worked with kids. The group will meet six times, and our first meeting is next Tuesday after school at the local community center. I spent the break doing lesson planning. We will be creating LED-lighted name tags as our first activity. I figured it was an engaging and quick way to assess their existing knowledge. We are also going to do an unplugged activity using cards to code a dance and share it. I will let you know how it goes…wish me luck!

The Inevitable Let Down Or Taking A Day

Our MyrtleI just needed a day, I think, to do not much after months of doing, doing, doing. I had planned to travel today for a last bit of holiday vacation  but slept badly last night and woke late feeling low, not prepared for a long car drive even with a decent book to listen to. I messaged my old friend who was lovely and supportive; thank goodness for old friends, indeed. We’ll meet up tomorrow at an annual get together of other old friends, mostly women I worked with at my first teaching gig in the late 80s, and then spend a few days recuperating from it all with sales shopping and binge watching and at least one movie theater movie, probably Mary, Queen of Scots. I look forward to this annual trek and know it will be restorative, but I just needed a day to make the transition.

One thing I did do was set up my feed reader as part of my general goal of being better connected. I emptied it completely and decided to just start with the people Jen Orr mentioned in her blog post. I recognized all the names as thoughtful people who were doing good work around creativity and equity. It is a good start, I think, and I am trying to keep things sustainable. I plan to have this group as a core of regular reading because I know they will connect me with a wider community and then I can add others to the core list. I hope it is a better strategy than filling the feed with every person I might possibly read and then being overwhelmed by the number of posts.

My organizational efforts  were immediately rewarded with this beautiful prose poem by Sherri Spelic reflecting on the holiday and the coming year, what we bring with us, what we leave behind, what we look forward to.