Category Archives: thinking out loud

Word of the Year

Last year, my word of the year was balance, but as I reread the blog post, I realized it was leaning more towards this year’s word: Imperfection. My description of balance was to find a middle ground rather than shooting for the extremes. I can eat the cupcake, skip the workout, scroll the threads, all in moderation. Perfection is an extreme and often defined by others who are only to happy to sell you their workbook, workout, or video series that will lead you to your “best” life, a code word for perfect.

I started my year exploring imperfection with the January meditation challenge from Ten Percent Happier. I moved from there to a couple podcasts that also emphasized being good with screwing up. Elizabeth Daly’s How to Fail podcast featured Dawn French, a beloved British comedian, whose new book focuses on all her screw ups. It is aptly titled The Twat Files. If you are familiar with French, it is probably via The Vicar of Dibley, her British comedy series that shows up on PBS now and then.

Dan Harris and Amy Edmondson explored the power of failure on an episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast. I think failure is a bit different from imperfection, more extreme, but I suppose for some people any deviation from their image of perfection represents failure at some level. And knowing that we may not reach that image can also keep us from even trying.

While I was considering imperfection as a potential positive value, I was also in the midst of watching the Australian Open Tennis Championships and the United States Figure Skating Championships, both reminders of the value we place on perfection. In both events, the favorites–those who had gotten closer to perfection than others in the past–struggled, making mistakes, losing their composure, not performing up to expectations. I felt sorry for them as theren really is no room for imperfection in their lives.

I am under no such dark cloud of expectations other than those I might put on myself. So, this year, I resolve to embrace imperfection, to allow myself to learn and explore and create with no expectations of perfection, knowing that, as Austin Kleon suggests, bad art is good, too.

Grumpy Old Lady – Part 1

I reviewed several draft blog posts, and they definitely fall under the category of Grumpy Old Lady rants. Some are of them are of the “you didn’t think of that you young whippersnapper” variety. Others, however, are more serious as they take on inaccurate ideas or practices that have become embedded in the culture of edtech and seem impossible to shake. That makes me grumpy because I feel like people doing the work of ed tech should know better and do better.

Case in point: using the term digital native as a factual concept and the basis for using technology with them in the classroom (“the kids are all using it and love it so teachers have to use it to appeal to them”). I was a little surprised to hear it being bandied about during a recent webinar on AI in K-12 education having thought the community retired it some time ago. I tried a little pushback via a question about equity and access, but the bandwagon had already left for the parade, so the commentator badly paraphrased my question and the speakers mostly dismissed it.

In case you missed it, digital natives, in contrast to digital immigrants, was a thought experiment from 2001 proposed by Marc Prensky, who famously, or rather infamously, suggested that young people were not only naturally better with technology but their exposure from an early age had changed them into fundamentally different human beings. The rest of us were digital immigrants who might learn to eventually speak the language but would always have an accent. The article was pretty quickly debunked and continues to be questioned. But, despite that, the concept evidently lingers.

Admittedly, part of the reason it does so, is because it resonated in 2001 as we were making the big shift from analog to digital technologies. It did seem like young people were more comfortable with digital technologies, with the kids often being the ones to program the VCR or set up the printer. In fact, the first Internet provider in Middlesex County where I was teaching built on a bulletin board network set up by two brothers, both in high school. When I asked them to give a presentation during my technology class, they were in front of their old middle school teachers. Prensky’s article in the flesh just a year or two before it was published.

Then, however, I remember the fourth grader who was on a panel with me and some of her classmates in 2012 or so at a regional conference. We wanted to hear from these “digital natives” and talk with them about how they used technology both in and out of school. One young woman, when asked about her use of tech at home, smiled and said, “I don’t use technology when I’m not in school. I like to be doing things outside.”

I also picture my 89-year-old dad editing digital video for his church and using Bard, Google’s AI bot, to write song introductions to use for the parties he leads at the retirement community. He is also teaching others how to use it, excited about this new frontier.

That neat dichotomy starts to get blurier, doesn’t it?

And then there’s me: a denizen of the analog world who seems able to navigate digital technologies with no problem, often in the position of teaching those much younger than I how to use tech professionally and personally to be more effective and efficient. How did I get where I did considering my frighteningly advanced age?

Support and access:

  • a scientist for a father who encouraged exploration and education with gifts of a chemistry set, a model airplane and an early Atari;
  • friends in college willing to show this English major how to access the mainframe computer to type her papers;
  • a quick transition from a typewriter to a desktop computer during my first job out of college; and
  • early access to a personal computer via my prized Tandy 1000.

All this access made me comfortable and ready to tackle the computer in the English department office when I began teaching high school in late 1980s. There were also a few desktops available in the library for student use. We were able to do basic work processing and early desktop publishing via The Print Shop software. In a first attempt at technology integration, I helped my students make reading schedule bookmarks to guide them as we read Romeo and Juliet and Great Expectations together. In 1988, I did my first technology workshop when I taught my colleagues to use FrEDWriter.

But, there needed one final step: I married a computer scientist who had early access to this new thing called the Internet. (That’s only one of the reasons I married him.) I was able to leverage the knowledge I gained via his connections to get a grant to provide access to my middle school students in 1996, just as the World Wide Web as we know it was taking off. Many of my students, living in a rural, lower to middle class community did not have gaming systems much less computers and, of course, not the Internet. It was about five years before Prensky described digital natives with this very age group in mind. Perhaps their children would fit the description, but for now, their lack of access kept them from the digital transformations he imagines.

I am neither native nor immigrant, but someone who was fortunate to have support and access to technology, which allowed me to explore and gain comfort and experience with it, leading to my lifelong pursuit of and passion for learning and teaching about educational technology.

Sadly, what Prensky was really describing was the birth of the digital divide. Students living near Cambridge and Palo Alto were able to get the kind of early access that I had that they could leverage to their benefit. Meanwhile their counterparts in less affluent areas often had to wait until they left home for college or jobs to get similar access, playing catch up in this new digital world.

Digital natives has its appeal as do most such generalizations. They are shorthand for larger concepts, glossing over any complexity or potentially varied perspectives. In the webinar, the speaker did not define or explain the term, using it in a way that assumed not only a shared understanding of the concept but, and this is more important and potentially dangerous, a shared belief in the rightness of the concept. Decisions about everything from curriculum design to technology purchases to professional development are being made based on an inaccurate concept. It is an idea that, in the end, can further widen the digital gap by masking inequities.

Comfort Zone? What Comfort Zone?

I joined Ali Manning’s Handmade Book Club this year and completed several challenges. Membership includes the possibility of connecting with other book members in your area. Introverted me would normally avoid a face to face group meeting, but I met a few women in the online community who suggested a meetup. I am proud to say that I agreed, not using my rural location as an excuse, and I spent a wonderful day with three other bookmakers sharing books and stories and creating together. We have a second date on the calendar, and I have homework.

I have seen lots of articles about how hard it is to make friends when you get to be my age. One good way is to connect with people who have similar hobbies, and online communities have made that much easier to do. I have lots of online friends who I will never meet in person. But it was nice to be in the same room with other people. I am looking forward to our next meeting, and there was a talk of a road trip. One aspect that made it successful was our shared interest in book making and other arts and crafts. The hostesses, long term members of the club, took time to create folders of materials for us as they knew we were new to book making and may not have had a stash of materials.

These women are visual artists ways that I am not, and I am looking forward to learning with them. Meanwhile, I am exploring ways to combine my crochet with books, and I created this accordion style book yesterday using two granny squares crocheted with thread.

Crochet Book

Quick Takes

I am ruminating on and drafting a few blog posts but am not ready to commit them to public text quite yet. Here are a couple first sentences and general ideas:

It must be exhausting to be Kim Kardashian. I like scrolling through morning after pictures of the red carpet. That meant almost 180 pictures from the Emmy Awards last night although blessedly my bad Internet stopped loading at 100. It looked very exhausting. I have now heard several celebrities describe themselves as being so completely worn out and depressed even at the height of their fame and fortune when it seemed like they had everything they and everyone else wanted. Rainn Wilson talks about it in Soul Boom; Dan Harris and Glennon Doyle talk about it as part of a recent podcast.

Seeds are tiny parcels of possibility. The next three months are the best time in a gardeners’ life as all is possibility. We inventory our stash and peruse the catalogs, choosing, planning, and, most importantly, imagining. Beatrix Potter and Edwin Way Teale both write about seeds, and NPR had an excellent story about a long running experiment that involves seeds.

I was born in 1962 just as the Vietnam War was ratcheting up. Browsing this list of wars involving the United States, I discovered that there were very few years in my life when the United States was not in some kind of conflict, with just a short break after the end of Vietnam when we were licking our wounds and there was little appetite for war. It didn’t last long: by 1982, we were fighting Lebanon and then invading Grenada the next year.

In the face of the current round of horrific death and destruction in the Middle East, I find myself back in my hippie days, thinking less about taking sides and more about how to get to lasting peace. My senior year in college I made peace collages, photocopied them, and then pasted them around campus. It was an odd gesture perhaps but a memory of imagining a better world if people would just practice peace. It seemed simple, a change in mindset. I may have been inspired by Another Mother For Peace‘s campaign against the Vietnam War and their famous logo. Sometime after my own campaign and college career ended, I connected with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the ice cream makers and activists, at an event in Vermont where I learned about their effort called 1% for Peace. The goal was to redirect 1% of the military budget to peace-oriented activities. Sadly, the bumper sticker didn’t really work well as it made people think you were *only* 1% for peace.

So, that is a sample of what has been rattling around in my brain. The last bit is probably the closest to a complete thought. I will leave you with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

An Apology to Mr. Teale

As I mentioned, I am reading naturalist Edwin Way Teale‘s Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year. I took him to task just a bit for suggesting that winter is a pause in the turning of the wheel, arguing that the life of a gardener and her garden doesn’t stop, neither for that matter does the wheel of life. This time of year, especially, we are treated to birds taking advantage of our feeders and shrubbery. The cardinals are a favorite.

While I still might quibble over the word “pause,” Teale makes my argument for me in the entry for January 7. He writes eloquently about life being everywhere even on the coldest winter day:

Protected by sweaters and a leather jacket against the biting blasts of the north wind, I walk along the hillside this afternoon. Snow lies drifted among the wild cherries. Where the wind has swept bare the ground, the soil is frozen and rocklike. On this day of bleak cold, the earth seems dead. Yet every northern field and hillside, like a child, has the seeds and power of growth locked within. From cocoon to bur, on a winter’s day, there is everywhere life, dormant but waiting (p. 3).

Circle of the seasons, p. 3

He goes on to describe how some seeds and bulbs actually require a period of cold in order to thrive. For instance, tulips and lilacs signalled spring in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. So, when I moved to Virginia and started my own garden, that is what I planted. I quickly discovered, however, that we lived on the very edge of their range and growing them was challenging. It just didn’t get cold enough.

Now, as the climate warms and the plant hardiness zones shift northward, those spring favorites may become less common in Pennsylvania as well. Developed in the early to mid 20th century, the plant hardiness zones attempt to identify the average minimum temperature a zone. Changes to the existing zones were announced in November 2023 making changes to the 2012 maps. While I continue to garden in Zone 7b, my parents’ zone changed from 6b to 7a, making them warmer by 5 degrees, which may be just enough to discourage the tulips and lilacs from blooming. You can check out your zone on the interactive map. It provides your 2012 and 2023 zones for reference.

Part of the reason my lilacs struggled in Virginia was also the heat and humidity we experience in the summer. They survived but certainly did not thrive, already weakened by a too-warm winter. The American Horticultural Society developed a heat zone map that looks at the other end of the thermometer and what the high temperatures for each zone are.

Gardeners were not surprised when the new maps were released last fall. We have been seeing the changes in our own backyards for some time now. Collards, a staple of southern cooking, may be the canaries in the coal mine. The tradition is that you only pick collards after the first frost. It sweetens them up. But, lately, the frost has come later and later, and one recent year, we weren’t sure it would happen by Thanksgiving. There would be a hole on many holiday tables.

I am grateful to be able to live here on the farm, my own bit of nature to observe, my own bit of wilderness to tend. It affords me a golden opportunity to look closely and connect to the turning wheel of the seasons.