A sad fact

I posted to this blog 10 times last month.  The last time I posted that much in any month was in 2011.

I know all the reasons why I stopped blogging regularly.  Some of them were valid and others not so valid. There is nothing I can do about the past, though.  I just hope I can sustain writing here more often now.   Somehow, I think I will.

June Reading

I am amazed to see how much I read this month.  Of course, we drove from New Mexico to Illinois, and I was a passenger most of the time.  And I wasn’t working before the trip and only two hours a day since then.  But in spite of all that, I am impressed!

Non-fiction this month was restricted to just one book: When It Was Great by Jim Sinay and Wid Bastian.  I don’t gamble and I have never been to Vegas, but I found Sinay’s description of the Las Vegas I saw in movies and on TV as a teenager was pretty interesting.

The fiction list is considerably longer:

  • Death by Request by Jaden Skye was a fun read.  I have read a number of books in this series, and I always enjoy them.  It seems like Skye needs to slow down and do a more thorough edit before she pushes the publish button.  But putting that aside, the story was good.  It is a light read.  I will keep reading the series.
  • Louisiana Hotshot by Julie Smith was a truly enjoyable book.  I loved the characters, and the story was good.  I had tried reading another of Smith’s books but couldn’t get into it.  Now that I have finished this one, I think I will go back and give the other one a try.
  • Leave No Stone Unturned by Julie Glidewell was a fun read.  I enjoyed reading about an older woman who had a life.  Most of the light mysteries I have been reading are about twenty-somethings.  There is nothing wrong with that, but this was a nice change.
  • Dead Wrong by Leighann Dobbs was another fun one.  The basic story is a bit predictable, but the Blackmore sisters had a way of making it fresh.
  • You Know Who I Am by Diane Patterson was a really unusual book.  At least I thought so.  And it was unusual in a good way.  Drusilla Thorne is a complicated character unlike any I have come across before.  The story was good and it really kept me guessing.  I just got the second book in this series and plan to start reading it soon.
  • Don’t Be a Stranger by A.R. Winters was fun.  Valerie Inkerman is a private investigator — sort of.  When her roommate gets accused of murder, she gets a chance to put her skills to the test.  The mystery itself was a good one.
  • The Case of the Flashing Fashion Queen by N. L. Wilson was another book with a slightly older main character.  It was a really good book with interesting characters. Sometimes it seemed a little far-fetched, but it was still good.
  • Deadly Stillwater by Roger Stelljes was the first book in this series that I have read.  At times I wished I had read the first two books before reading this one, just so I could better understand why some of the characters didn’t like McRyan and his crew.  It wasn’t really a problem, though, as the book stands well on its own.  This was a very interesting story, and it was told well.  I highly recommend it.
  • Castle Cay by Lee Hanson was a complicated story with interesting characters.  I like Julie O’Hara.  Sometimes I felt that the author’s use of flashbacks wasn’t a good idea, but overall I liked even that part of it.  I hope to read more in this series.
  • Agents of Change by Guy Harrison was one I started and put down and then eventually picked up again.  I finally finished it.  I still haven ‘t really decided how I feel about it.  The book is broken into two parts, and I think the first part was easier to read and follow.  The second part was more confusing.  I am not usually into conspiracy theory stuff, but this one had its moments.
  • Buried in Benidorm by L.H. Thomson was a great book.  I loved the way Thomson described Spain.  I haven’t read many books that take place there, so that part of it was fun.  Max Castillo, the main character, was really great.  I have known many former priests; Castillo and his struggles seemed authentic.  The only complaint that I have at all about the book is that Castillo did a Sherlock Holmes and had to bring all the characters together for the big reveal.  Like Holmes, the guilty party wasn’t obvious to anyone but the detective himself.  But that is a small price to pay for a really enjoyable book.

I read three pieces of shorter fiction:

  • Run Girl by Eva Hudson was actually longer than one of the books I listed as fiction, but I am too lazy to move this one or the other.  The book is set in London, and I really enjoyed the detail Hudson included.  As I have probably said before, I read books set in places I don’t know in order to learn about the place.  Hudson allowed me to learn a lot about the city.  The story was interesting, and I enjoyed the FBI agent main character.
  • John Carter and the Giant of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs was probably my least favorite John Carter book to date.  I am not sure why.  The fault may be mine as I started it and then abandoned it for a while before finally finishing it.  It was an OK read, though.
  • “In a Grove” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa is a short story written in 1922.  It was the basis for Akira Kurosawa’s Rashōmon.  It is a fascinating story.

After all that, I only listened to one audiobook this month: The Mad King by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I really enjoyed it.  Since I am not in the car more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time these days, I don’t know how many more audiobooks I will actually finish in the coming months.  Guess we’ll see.  But I will definitely go back to LibriVox to get more when I run out of  books I have already downloaded.

I don’t expect to read nearly so much in July.  Or ever again, probably.  But you never know!

Sparky Linux

I know it is probably not of a lot of interest to most folks, but I have started using Sparky Linux, and I can’t help but write this post singing its praises!

I have been using Linux in various forms for years.  It has gotten increasingly easier to use, and I have really enjoyed playing with different distros.  I may be done shopping around, though, if this last three days using Sparky Linux is any indication.

First off, I have a Lenovo X220. It is a great little machine but not the newest or fanciest anymore.  I put a solid state drive in soon after I got it in December.  Using Linux Mint Debian, it would boot in about 13 seconds.  Now with Sparky, that is down to about 7 seconds.  And it doesn’t slow down from there.  It seems to be lighter and more responsive.

There has been no drama with this install.    I love it.  If you use Linux or are curious about it, check Sparky Linux out.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Be the change…

My reading this evening took me to a blog I hadn’t seen before: iLearn.iEducate.  I like what I saw.  One post that particularly struck me was one called Teachers Are the Real Change Agents.

He says:

In schools, teachers are often stuck in their classrooms and work in isolation. They get very little time to collaborate with their peers and must use up their personal time to get better at their jobs. That leaves teachers no time to voice their opinions on the challenges that they face in the classroom every day. Still, new policies imposed on teachers only limit a teacher’s creative freedom and ability to help students learn. This is what leads to burnout and teachers quickly leaving the profession.

That has been the case everywhere I have worked.  We don’t have enough time to learn from each other.  Sometimes it seems like a conscious decision on the part of the schools, and other times it is more a lack of planning and prioritizing.  I don’t think collaboration is valued very much in education.  Or maybe some people are afraid of it.  But whatever the cause, it has to change if we want to keep good teachers in the classroom and help all teachers become better at what they do.  Just talking with another teacher about what we are trying to do in the classroom is so eye-opening, so affirming, such an education that it should be built into every week — if not every day.

Shaw concludes his post with these words:

If we want lasting and meaningful reform, it’s time to listen to teachers and let them drive the change.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’d forgetten…

how much I enjoy teaching ESL.  My new class is a joy.  I have eleven students, all women.  They are motivated and work hard.  But we laugh a lot, too.  I really look forward to preparing for class and to being there.

Of course, I have only had two classes with these ladies.  It may be that before the class ends in August I am not so enthusiastic.  But I doubt it.  Teaching ESL, even with a fairly rigid curriculum like I have in this class, is fun.  Especially when you are teaching adults.

Suggested reading

To give you an idea of how out of things I have been for the last few years, I had never read Educationalchemy until today.  But now that I have found it, I will be reading it regularly.

I got there today from another reading list at The Treehorn Express.  The article I went to read was The Education Revolution will Not Be Standardized: The “Moral Imperative” of Testing Refusal.

The article presents a very strong argument.  It starts:

Let me start by suggesting something key that has not been articulated widely enough: All standardized testing is high stakes testing. If there were no stakes involved, why would corporate reformers and testing companies lobby tooth and nail to ensure standardized tests remain a central cornerstone of all education policies? At stake are billions of dollars for testing and data mining companies. The collection, ownership, and (mis)use of private student data is at stake. The future of students who are denied meaningful quality education in lieu of skill-drill and kill instruction is at stake. The use of testing data to assume the “value” of children according to race, culture, language and class is at stake.

I especially like that second sentence:

If there were no stakes involved, why would corporate reformers and testing companies lobby tooth and nail to ensure standardized tests remain a central cornerstone of all education policies?

Why, indeed?

The author then goes on to say:

Ending testing is the not the goal of the revolution -it’s the key strategy for making revolution possible. To the mainstream media who distort the narrative to our testing refusal critics we must make clear: We are not “anti-testing” because we wish to shield our children from “difficult tasks” (though evidence that standardized testing causes unreasonable anxiety and emotional problems for children is well-documented and is worthy of serious address), nor are we are we afraid of evaluating teacher performance. We refuse the tests to deny them the data that makes the destruction of public education possible. Standardized testing costs monies that otherwise could be spent on libraries, counselors, and programs (or how about even food?). Standardized testing is directly connected with higher drop-out rates, behavioral and emotional distresses and the subsequent school-to-prison pipeline. Its tentacles directly and indirectly correlate with many other service sector neoliberal policies that are simultaneously dehumanizing us, disenfranchising our communities, and profiting the billionaire private sector monopolies.

The entire post is quite interesting, and I encourage you to check it out.

It took me a while to find out who writes the blog, but it turns out it is a professor of education.  She has credentials.  And it seems to me she knows what she is talking about.

On the blog are links to a presentation on what led up to the Common Core Standards and another one on Standardized Testing.  Check them out if you are even remotely interested in what is happening in our schools.

The author refers to a book by Chris Hedges called Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt.  It looks like it would be worth a read, too.

Teaching and technology

I was looking for something interesting to read this morning, and I came across a blog, The Treehorn Express.  Phil Cullen, the blogger, frequently posts an annotated bibliography of readings about education.  In one of those posts I ran a cross a link to a Chronicle of Higher Ed post entitled Why Technology Will Never Fix Education by Kentaro Toyama.

In the article, Toyama talks about work he did in India.  He says:

Over time, I came to think of this as technology’s Law of Amplification: While technology helps education where it’s already doing well, technology does little for mediocre educational systems; and in dysfunctional schools, it can cause outright harm.

I was interested enough to keep reading.  And what he says was worth my time.  He goes on to state:

The Law of Amplification’s least appreciated consequence, however, is that technology on its own amplifies underlying socioeconomic inequalities. To begin with, the rich will always be able to afford more technology, and low-cost technology in no way solves that. There is no digital keeping up with the Joneses.

and:

So what is to be done? Unfortunately, there is no technological fix, and that is perhaps the hardest lesson of amplification. More technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is nontechnological: Either resolve the underlying inequities first, or create policies that favor the less advantaged.

I know that in the school I most recently worked at, a charter high school with a largely at-risk student population, we were always encouraged to get and use technology.  In the math program, we had software that ran the program for us.  That was supplemented by more software to practice more skills and ipad apps to allow students to play math games and do more creative kinds of math activities.  For some students, this worked pretty well, but for others it really didn’t. Even though our teachers are all very dedicated and very good, technology didn’t solve the problems most of the kids have with math.

Part of the problem is just what Toyama says it is:

The real obstacle in education remains student motivation.

Many of our students don’t see a lot of value in learning math. (Unless it has to do with money.  Then they not only see the value but can do pretty well with it!)  Until they want to learn math, all the technology in the world isn’t going to make much of a difference.

And how do we get them to want to learn it?  A big part of the answer to that one, I think, is to move it off the worksheet or the computer screen and make it real.  Until they can see potential application, most of our students don’t care if they learn it or not.

Can technology help make students see the application of math in their lives?  Of course.  Does it?  Not yet.  At least not in my experience.

And technology can’t change the fact that many of our students are or have been homeless, that almost every single one qualifies for free lunch, and that they have a ton of problems in their lives that make education seem even more irrelevant.  Technology isn’t going to bring them out of poverty or give them stable home lives, and most of them can’t really see that education might be able to do it, either.  Until something changes the reality of their lives, education is always going to be a challenge.

Back to work

Well, retirement was short lived.  I start teaching an ESL class on Thursday.  It is only one class right now – ten hours a week for seven and a half weeks.  But if I want to, I will be able to teach more in the fall.

I have to admit that I am excited about this.  It has been a few years since I taught ESL, and I am ready to go back to it.

So expect this blog to change its focus a little as I get back into the field.  Hopefully it will encourage me to post more frequently and with more substance.  We’ll see, I guess.

A good trip

My husband, son and I have been on the road for a week now, traveling from southwestern New Mexico to southern Illinois and back.  Actually, we aren’t back yet.  It was a 2 and a half day drive to be there almost 3 whole days, now to drive back for a little more than two and a half days.  It was worth it, though.  We got to see my mother and my daughter — the main people we went to see.  We also saw one of my brothers and both sisters-in-law.

My mother is 88 years old, almost 89.  There won’t be many more of these trips to see her.  Her health is good, but she is getting old.  Things don’t work the way they used to.  (Of course, that is something I can relate to, too!) My dad passed away last summer, so I am more aware of how quickly her situation could change than I used to be.

As I sit in a motel room in Bartlesville, OK writing this, I am tired but happy.  It has been a good trip!

Update on my Kobo

I had written recently about the fact that my ereader had died and I was wondering if I needed one or not.  Last night, I was getting ready to throw it away when I decided one last time to see if I could get it to work.  It was broken already, so what harm could I do?  So I used a little more force to try to get the internal SD card out, and I was rewarded with it flying out and on to the table.  Then it was a matter of getting an image file to replace the corrupted one I had.  It took very little time once I got the file.

So now it is up and running fine.  And I find I am more angry with Kobo than I was before.  They basically had told me it was too old and couldn’t be fixed.  And yet I fixed it with the help of some folks over at mobilereads and a new SD card that cost me $5.

But now that I have done this, I am thinking about trying to put Debian on it.  My husband would be ecstatic if I did!  Guess we’ll have to see if I am brave enough to try that.