Monday, June 30, 2008

Backpacking Adventures

This past weekend Josh and I had planned to go backpacking in Yosemite. It is rare that we actually plan a backpacking trip. Generally, we pick a place and go with little planning. In the past, this lack of planning has caused us to hike ridiculous routes in which the elevation increased 4000 feet in two miles, not brought ample food and forgotten essential equipment. For these reasons, we decided to plan, and plan we did. We had the perfect route, a checklist of food and equipment, and even planned out what we would have for each meal. Last Thursday morning we left smokey Sonoma, and headed to what we thought would be beautiful Yosemite. Given the fires throughout California we did check Yosemite's website, and they did not mention fires or smokey conditions as of Thursday morning.

The trip there was awful. Google directions brought us through small towns where you prayed to God that your car wouldn't break down. We missed a turn, got lost, but continued to stay positive given our destination. As we got closer to Yosemite and the smoke was still everywhere in sight I began to get a little nervous. Finally, we arrived near our trail head in Yosemite.

This is what Yosemite looked like last Thursday. We chatted with a park ranger who told us that there was fire about a mile from where we were going to begin our hike. "The trails are still open, but the air quality is not too good." No kidding. We turned around and started driving away. Josh and I were both quiet and disappointed. Finally, we pulled it together and tried to come up with another plan. We had everything in the car we needed to go backpacking, therefore, we must go somewhere. After some brainstorming we came up with Tahoe since that is where Kam (Josh's sister) works or Lassen.

Once we were in cell phone range we got through to Kamren. She told us Tahoe was fine. Twenty minutes later she called us back to report it was a little smokey. We had her look up the conditions at Lassen, and their website immediately said, "smokey conditions," and advised against strenuous hikes. How helpful. We didn't have to drive all the way to Lassen to discover the smoke ourselves. Despite some smoke, we drove to Tahoe. After nine hours of driving, we reached Mountain Camp, where Kam works. It was smokey. Not as bad as Yosemite, but not ideal.

One of Kam's coworkers helped us plan out a new route. We were set. We had a map, a plan, and all of our supplies. We drove to a trail head about 10 miles from Mt. Camp, and set off into Desolation Wilderness. We were ready.

This is us looking ready. We hiked about four miles towards Lake Sylvia. The hike was a nice gradual climb to a beautiful lake surrounded by granite walls. We stopped at the lake for awhile and enjoyed the peacefulness and serenity of it for about five minutes. Then we continued on. We then went off the trail as instructed by Kam's friend, and followed the creek up to a second small lake that was a steep 1200-1400 feet climb. It was beautiful, and we thought about setting up our tent there, but it was still mid-afternoon, and we thought we could make it over the peak that was ahead of us, and down to Aloha Lake, which was on the other side of the peak. We rested for a bit before we set off to climb the peak. And then, we climbed. It reminded me a lot of Half Dome, but without the cables to hold on to.
After many near falls, and what seemed like hours, me made it to the top of the peak. It was incredible, and at the same time disheartening. We essentially climbed up to a cliff, with no way down.

It was absolutely beautiful; however, we could find no way down to the lake. Even if we found a more gradual way down, the mountain was covered in snow. After realizing that there was no way down, we made the difficult descent back down to Sylvia Lake.

We set up our tent here, and relaxed for the rest of the evening. Our second attempt at a backpacking trip was again, not what we expected. We decided not to press our luck anymore, and Saturday morning hiked out, and drove back to Kamren's camp. Despite the many changes in our plan, we still had a great time. I'm sure we will get to do our original plan in Yosemite soon, probably less prepared than we were this time, but we will get there.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Camping in Santa Barbara

This past weekend Josh and I went to a friend's wedding in Santa Barbara. A few months ago, Josh had the brilliant idea that we should camp on the coast after the wedding. We both envisioned a peaceful campground on a beach that we would go to after attending what we knew would be a beautiful wedding. Things turned out to be slightly different than we had imagined. We arrived at Gaviota State Beach Campground (about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara). Our welcome to the campground was a young man who looked to be about 16. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I am going to say it was his first day on the job. As we pulled up to the booth he looked at us as though we were the first to arrive at the packed state beach. He said, "uh, camping?" It might not have been that articulate. We then drove another 100 yards to the "campsite." And by campsite, I mean a large parking lot with many tents splattered all over the place. Our reserved spot was filled with a city of tents and people. Josh and I just stared. It turns out that a rather large family set up camp and decided to use our 10 feet by 10 feet reserved space. In the spirit of generosity the man whose family set up a city on our spot offered to help us move the picnic table so we could set up our tent. I thought Josh was going to lose it, but I guess after reading Thich Nhat Hanh's, Peace is Every Step he was able to take a few deep breaths. To make a long story short, we set up the tent, used Olay facial wipes to clean ourselves off, put on our pretty clothes and headed to the wedding. Here is a picture of our tent (while it was still standing):

Note the amount of tents nearby. Also, the fire pit was almost inside our tent. Probably not safe.

The wedding was indeed beautiful. We had so much fun and I got to witness Josh's break dancing skills. Pretty remarkable. Obviously he learned the skills from me. After the wedding we returned to our campsite ready to crash, and instead found that our tent has actually crashed. With up to 50 mile per hour gusts of wind, our tent had blown over. Furthermore, smoke and ash from nearby campfires blew into our tent. At that point we decided the campground wasn't meant to be. Josh packed up the tent, and at 1 am we began driving north in hopes of finding a cheap hotel. It turns out that every hotel along the 101 was full on Saturday evening. Josh, being the trooper that he is, drove us all the way to Santa Cruz. We pulled up to Kam and Anne's house (his sister and her wife) around 5 am. The take aways from this adventure are:
1) Don't try to camp when attending a wedding. It's just never a good idea.
2) Don't try to camp on a large parking lot.
3) Don't camp when large signs say "no refunds due to wind."

Summer in Sonoma

To be honest, I thought I would stop blogging after my technology course. Now that I don't have to blog, I actually want to blog.

Josh and I have been renting a cottage in Sonoma for a little over a week now. Our place is so cute and incredibly peaceful. We decided to rent this place because I am working on my Master's at Sonoma State and wanted to take a few classes this summer. Despite the classes, I still feel like I am on vacation. My morning are what I have dreamt about this past school-year- sleeping in, sipping tea, doing yoga on our patio and relaxing until around noon. Then, I usually go for a run or a bike ride. After all of this is done, I do attempt to do some school work, but given the fact that my class doesn't start until 4 it is very easy to procrastinate. I love our schedule here.

Life in Sonoma is fabulous. Josh and I might just stay here for the year. If only we were both (consultants like some of our friends), we could just work from our cottage.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Final Thoughts on Tech Class

Taking UCB's Extended Ed's Integrating Technologies into the Classroom was far more interesting and helpful than I imagined. The original reason the I signed up for the class was, well, I had to to clear my Level II Mild/Moderate Special Education Credential. So, when I signed up I was actually irked that I had to take yet another class. However, after the first class I realized that the class was actually going to force me to become comfortable with using technology in the classroom, and have fun at the same time. This was a good a thing.

The first valuable thing that I learned is how much you can do with Google. Setting up an IGoogle page was fabulous. I now keep my daily schedule on on my IGoogle page, along with my favorite websites, Google chat, as well as my Gmail. I love IGoogle! Next, learning how to create Google Presentations was very helpful. I found it easier than using Power Point. Learning this tool was helpful because now I can try using this when leading professional developments instead of Power Point. I also liked the activity we did in class with Google Presentations. Creating postcards is a great activity that could also be done in the classroom. I know my students would love doing this activity.

Next, I was glad that we went over many websites that my students are already using, such as MySpace, Facebook, and blogging. It is so important to understand these websites for both personal knowledge, and to understand what our students are getting into. I also found it helpful to read articles on web safety for children. I thought this information was very important, and it is something that we must explicitly teach our students because the web can be a dangerous place.

Being introduced to podcasts was also great. I love the variety of podcastst that are out there, and I especially love NPR's podcasts. This is another great tool teachers can use in the classroom. We can play lectures, or even record our own podcasts for students to listen to.

One of my favorite activities was using Shutterfly to create a digital photobook. This was fun to do as an adult, and would be a great activity for students to do. I also enjoyed working with Inspiration to create graphic organizers. It is a wonderful resource that I will continue to use since I love to create visuals for students and teachers. Next, creating a Hotlist through Filamentality was also a great tool to have as an educator. I was able to create a Hotlist about ADHD that both students and teachers can use to learn more about ADHD. Making a Hotlist is such a wonderful web-based activity that students will love. I definitely plan on using these activities in the future.

I must say, one of the more entertaining activities was creating a Utube video with my partner Jodi. The experience itself was fun, and I'm sure my students will love to do this. I am shocked that anyone can put almost anything on the Internet. I am very excited to help my students create Utube videos.

Finally, creating Webquests through Questgarden was time consuming, but definitely a great activity to use with students.

If I had to pick one acivitiy that was the most valuable, and the one which I will use the most it will most likely be creating Hotlists. They are fun, easy, and can be very informative.

Overall, I thought the class was incredibly helpful. I think all teachers should take this class because it was so informative. I will definitely be using many of the above mentioned activities and websites with my students. I only wish that I had more time to spend working on some of the above mentioned projects. Considering I am taking two classes through Sonoma State as well as this technology course, I didn't have enought time to spend really examining and playing around with more of the websites. Ideally, I would have loved to have taken this class when I wasn't taking other classes at the same time. That being said, it was a great class!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Right Brain Rising

Daniel Pink's recent book, A Whole New Mind, begins with an intriguing chapter called, "Right Brain Rising." In this chapter, Pink discusses the progression in thinking about how the left and right brain each operate. His chapter begins as he tells the story of how he decided to become part of a study on brain imaging. The study involved looking at images of the brain at work, and at rest. In the past scientists and doctors have used machines that were able to take brain images. The old machines were able to create what look like portraits. With recent advances in technology, now scientists can use functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), which captures the brain in action. Researchers ask subjects to do various activities such as humming tunes, looking at pictures, and listening to songs. The FMRI tracks the parts of the brain to which the blood flows. This new technology has allowed doctors and researchers to learn more about the human experience- "from dyslexia in children, to the mechanisms of Alzheimers to how parents respond to a baby's cries." (pg. 9)

After Pink described the research that he took part in, he went on to discuss the new advances in our knowledge of the brain. The corpus callosum divides the brain into two parts, the left and right hemisphere. Until recently, many people believed that left side was the crucial side, and the right side was not as important. However, in the 1950s, Roger Sperry did a study on patients who had their corpus callsums removed. By studying these patients, Sperry realized that although humans have two separate hemispheres, he found the right hemisphere wasn't inferior to the left. The two halves were just different.

So, the next question that Pink asks is what are the functions of each part of the brain?

Let's look at the differences of the left and ride side of the brain.

Sperry discovered that the left hemisphere reasoned sequentially, excelled at analysis, and handled words. He then found that the right hemisphere reasoned holistically, recognized patterns, and interpreted emotions and nonverbal expressions. Pink then breaks it down more specifically, and states that the left hemisphere controls the ride side of the body, and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. For example, if you tap your left foot, the right hemisphere was responsible for that action.
Next, Pink states that the left hemisphere is sequential, and right hemisphere is simultaneous. An example of this is when you read. The left hemisphere reads words from left to right. While the left brain is decoding each word, the right hemisphere is interpreting things simultaneously. This right side of our brain allows us to see many things at once. Scientists believe that the right hemisphere allows us to recognize faces.
Next, and what I personally think is an amazing difference between the two hemispheres of the brain, is that the left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context. For example, lets imagine that you and your significant other make plans to have friends over for dinner. You tell your friends, and significant other to come over around 6:30. You also instruct your significant other to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home from work. When you significant other shows up at 7, you are there with your friends. When your significant other walks in the door, he immediately says, "oh, I'll go to the store to get the wine." Almost all brains, would understand that he is going to the wine store down the road. Your left brain interpreted the literal meaning of the words. However, the right brain understood another aspect of the exchange. The words, "I'll go to the store," were not neutral. The rolling of your eyes at that fact that he is late, and without wine, signals that you are angry.
The concept is incredibly intriguing, especially as a learning specialists who works with students with Autism. A person with damage to one aspect of the brain, let's say the right for example, would not realize that the person is angry with their significant other. The person would only understand that someone was going to the store. As more and more research is coming out about Autism, this makes a lot of sense. Many students on the Autistic Spectrum cannot read nonverbal language, don't understand metaphors, and have a difficult time interpreting social interactions.
Finally, Pink states that the left hemisphere analyzes detail; the right hemisphere synthesizes the big picture. Basically, the right hemisphere takes details and puts them together. Again, when I think about students that I work with on the Autism Spectrum, they generally have difficulty synthesizing what they learn. Many Autistic children can memorize details and facts, but can't synthesize the information. This could indicate that their right hemisphere is not being activated as much as people without Autism. Again, research on Autism is very new, so it will be interesting to learn exactly what is happening in the brains of students with Autism.
Pink ends this chapter by stating that how our cerebral hemisphere operates dictates how we live our lives. He says some people are more comfortable with "logical, sequential, computer-like reasoning." Others are more comfortable with holistic, intuitive and non-linear reasoning." Most likely, the hemisphere that a person is most comfortable with, will dictate what type of job a person gets. He labels the first group of people, L-directed thinkers, and the second group R-directed thinkers. His final paragraph of this chapter states that our society used to prioritize L-directed thinkers. However, now he states R-directed thinkers are what our society needs more of, and is focusing on. The premise of his book is that R-directed thinkers will now determine who "soars or stumbles" in our society.
This chapter is very interesting, and I think it's very appropriate to think about in terms of our educational system. We focus on things such as standardized test which prioritize L-directed thinking. Instead, to help our students to be successful, we also need to encourage our students to be R-directed thinkers. According to Pink's theory, it is essential that we inspire our students to be creative, and develop their R-directed thinking skills.

image credits:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Copyright and Fair Use

Wow, copyright and fair use is incredibly confusing, especially in the world of education. As teachers, we need to be very careful that we understand copyright and fair use. After reading all four copyright articles, "Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines," "A Visit to Copyright Bay," "Stanford University Libraries: Copyright and Fair Use," and "Keeping it Legal," I still got a few answers wrong when I took the copyright quiz. So, after going back and rereading each article, I think I have a better understanding of copy right and fair use. As educators, it is so important that we understand these laws since we are in such a digital age, and have access to books, music, films and pictures at our fingertips.

First, the "Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines," was fairly straightforward and easy to navigate. There is a clear definition of copyright, which states that, "A copyright is a property right attached to an original work of art or literature." This protects an author, or creator from having people copy his original material. It also mentions that copyright does not protect thoughts or ideas. The article discusses that copyright covers seven broad categories which includes:
literary works, musical works, dramatic works, pantomimed and choreographed works, pictoral, graphics, and sculptural works, motion pictures, and finally, sound recordings.

However, copyrighted materials may be used if its within the public domain, someone has been given permission to use the work, there's a legal exception, or fair use. Fair use is particularly important to educators. It lets teachers and students know when they can use copyrighted material. Educators must consider the purpose of use, the nature of the work, the proportion of the material used, and its effect on marketability. The article points out that because we are now in a digitized age, educators must be very careful with copyright issues. The article encourages teachers to think about ethics when making decisions. The article gives teachers three questions to think about regarding fair use. They include: 1) Will the expression by the author be used? 2) Is the expression protected by copyright laws? 3) Will the use go beyond fair use. These guidelines are very helpful for educators to think about. Finally, one of the most helpful parts of this article is the fair use chart for teachers.

I found the article titled, "A Visit to Copyright Bay," far more difficult to navigate than the above article. I did like the breakdown of exactly what Fair Use is all about. For example, when examining purpose and character, one should ask themselves, is the work intended to be used in an educational setting? When looking at nature of work, the article asks you to think about whether or not the work was created for the use of criticism, comment or educational purposes.

When it comes to fair use and multimedia, things become rather tricky. The web says that many times it comes down to a teacher going through the fair use questions, but if they make the wrong choice, they may end up in court. It does state that as a rule of thumb, students and teachers may include some multimedia in a display, performance, or lecture. There are certain time limits and size requirements that go with using copyrighted material.

This article was helpful, but I found the text format much more helpful than the graphic link.

The Stanford website was helpful, but also had some of the same information as the above two sites. One thing that I liked about this site was that it goes into detail about getting permission to use copyrighted information.

Finally, I enjoyed the last website because it gave specific examples, and talked about whether or not fair use applied. This was very helpful.

Copyright and fair use is a difficult topic. When in doubt, teachers should check these websites, and ask appropriate questions to figure out fair use.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Podcasts that I like

WBGO podcast: Autism tales and Special Needs
This podcast talks about various stories regarding students with Autism and other disabilities. This specific podcast is called "Interview about the Drive for Rebecca." This podcast is very helpful because it educates parents about disabilities. They frequently feature different families who share stories about their children who have disabilities. During this podcast, the father talks about how he advocated for his child to receive adequate services. He lets parents know that they must know their rights, and what they are entitled to. He also recommends that parents have an advocate or lawyer to keep them informed. The father also feels that private schools and public schools need to come together to share information about how to best educate students with Autism and other disabilities. This podcast is a phenomenal resource for parents and educators. I would recommend this podcast because it gives wonderful advice and support for families and teachers who work with students with disabilities.

Education Podcast with John Merrow
This specific podcast talked about new initiatives in New Orleans in regards to public schools. John Merrow interviewed the superintendent of New Orleans about public education in New Orleans. This specific podcast discussed the new schools, technologies, and teachers in New Orleans. I really enjoyed this podcast, and John Merrow has many interesting podcasts in regards to education. They benefit educators, teachers, and anyone who is interested public education. I was especially interested in the remarks made about the amount of Teach for America teachers who are now working in New Orleans since I am a TFA alum. The superintendent felt that even if TFA teachers only stay in a school for a few years, it will benefit rebuilding schools in New Orleans. I would definitely recommend education podcasts with John Merrow to educators. John Merrow asks great questions, that challenge all people that he interviews. It provides information that may not have otherwise been heard. For example, from this podcast, I learned about the vision of the New Orleans superintendent, and his plans for New Orleans public education.

NPR Education Podcast
This podcast discussed the concept of giving all children a laptop. I love NPR's podcasts about education. They cover a wide variety of topics. This podcasts talks about how there are large amounts of children in the US and abroad who do not have access to computers and/or the Internet. This podcast discusses how students can use the laptops to work together on the laptops. Birmingham, Alabama is attempting to get laptops to all students in their city. NPR Education podcasts always have new and interesting interviews, and topics in regards to education. I would definitely recommend NPR Education Podcast to all teachers, parents, and those who are interested in education to get the latest in education news.

NPR Technology Podcast
Again, I love NPR. They have the latest in technology news. This specific podcast discusses a few architects who want to build houses that float in Dubai. The architects wants to use the coastline to build houses, restaurants, and shopping centers. Due to global warming, these architects say that it is imperative that we think outside the box, and create developments on water. The architects argue that anything you can build on land, you can build on water. This concept is a possible solution for the rising sea levels that are currently occurring. Again, I would recommend this podcast to all people who are interested in fascinating ideas and new technologies. It keeps you up to date on new projects that are taking place around the world.

Special Needs Kids Podcast
This is an interesting podcast, which provides families and students with information about IEPs. It seems incredibly helpful for parents who are new to IEPs, and gives them important facts about IEPs, and special education. I found the first part of this particular podcast slightly boring. The first 6 minutes was spent making small talk between the interviewer and the interviewee. This podcast spent way too long sharing unexciting stories. Originally, I was excited about this podcast, but then it turned in to two women sharing stories that were not very helpful for parents or teachers for kids who have "special needs." I definitely got pretty bored about 20 minutes into this podcast. It is possible that there are better Special Needs podcasts, and I chose a boring one, but I've got to say, as a busy professional, I didn't appreciate the small talk. The podcast would be good for parents who want to listen to other parents who have special needs talk about their concerns. It seemed to more of a venue for parents to vent about the difficulties of having a student with special needs, than a place to actually give solutions to problems.

Overall, I must say, I love NPR and the John Merrow podcasts that best. They are the most informative and helpful to educators and parents.