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The Question of Research

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on January 21st, 2008

magnifyingHow will our students develop the habit of research? Not the work behind the dreaded research paper that sends them to the library in droves every six weeks for an assigned term paper, but research that is spontaneous, ongoing and comes out of an authentic desire to know. Research that is timely and relevant to the learner.

When I am curious about something that has caught my attention, I usually know where to go and I love the journey. I thumb through books, magazines, and newspapers and search the Net. Wikipedia is usually my first stop when seeking information on a concept I don’t get.

How does social networking fit into this scheme? Sometimes I bring up my ideas to my husband, who is a scholar and avid news wonk. Sometimes I share my questions with professional colleagues I know and distant fellow travelers on the Net. Lately I turn to Twitter. Tweets that crawl along the side of my browser often arouse my curiosity to follow up and research more. A few times I have tweeted a query and received guidance from the kindness of strangers and those I know in the face-to-face world.

When do students have the luxury of following their own curiosities? They are shoved from assignment to assignment. My students are in a program of study that requires a portfolio of three “research” papers based on ethical and social issues that arise from IT news. I love reading IT news. Well, it scared me that after two months of teaching the class few had a habit of reading the news. What to do?

I set up a blog and asked them, in their first post to write about what IT issues were bugging them. Their topics ranged from “RFID: Scary Advancements” to “Spoofing” to “Swiping our Info Away” and to questions around encryption security. Next they were asked to go back to their RSS feed readers that they had set up as instructed. It was time to start building the habit of reading the IT news and making connections to it. I told them to find IT news that caught their attention and share their point of view about it in the blog. They did that, and added snippits from the article along with a link back to the original. Blogging the news is a standing weekly assignment that is not formally assessed. There is no grade assigned for the blogs, no mark on their report card. It’s simply a habit that I would like to see them develop. It is sort of taking root. There are hundreds of posts on a myriad of topics.

My next challenge is to twofold: turning them on to how to follow through on further research around their passion in IT developments and how to craft their writing for the readership they desire to attract. You see, like their teacher, they are quite new to the blogisphere. They have not yet fully participated in regularly commenting on other’s blogs. They have not yet developed a following of active readers who participate in their ideas. That’s the next step. But it starts with personal research. I listened to a podcast on Teachers Teaching Teachers, “A Few Sides of the Research Elephant“. Paul Allison of the NYCWP hosts the show and has long been an inspiration to my teaching. He has the luxury of allowing his students to follow their passions through their freewrites. That leads to a course of personal research and rewrites that end up posted in student blogs. It’s a wonderful model. I guess my goal is to spark the place inside my students that allows them to find their passion within the constraints of the content I am obliged to guide them through this year and next. Then, to share with them how to start that journey through books, magazines, newspapers, the Web and making contact with humans who are in the worlds of their research. The Internet has brought all of that to my lap wherever I am–as long as there’s broadband to hook up to. What a wonderful world!

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Teaching Effective Writing

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on January 20th, 2008

When I heard Linda Christensen will be the keynote address speaker at the upcoming NYCWP Stack of BooksTeacher-to-Teacher conference, I ordered her book Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word on Amazon (http://tinyurl.com/yo7xmt). Hoping I’ll get some ideas on how to get my 7th Graders involved in taking a position on a cause. Since I teach technology, I want them to understand the collateral effects of all our new technologies on the environment. Ideally, they will be in communication with their peers around the world (perhaps through iEARN forums) and collaborate on gathering data about what is happening. Together, the students can organize and start to do something about raising awareness of the issues and taking steps towards solving the problems .

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The Ebb and Flow of Semesters

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on January 19th, 2008

Teen Talk LogoAs one semester comes to a close and I prepare to meet a new group of students I am filled with anticipation of how to improve my teaching methods and allow the students to develop their own personal learning networks vis a vis the Internet. I’ve been paying much more attention to teachers in Twitter and edubloggers lately–especially (Chris Lehman, Clay Burell, Jo McLeay, and David Jakes). I even revisited Facebook to see what all the buzz was about and friended a number of folks well worth following. I’ve participated in a spontaneous Quick-in, Quick-out international podcast while grabbing a bite to eat in the teachers room this week, made numerous Trailfire marks, been meeting face-to-face and tweeting with my fellow NYC Writing Project colleagues (follow NYCWP on Twitter), and intant messaging with Thalysia Knoppel, a teacher at our twin school in The Netherlands to get up to date on our twinning project, The Richness Within. What will it all add up to? How will my teaching change this term? What are realistic goals? I could go on and on. What’s the short list?

  • My 11th grade bloggers (Information Technology in a Global Society) will learn to write compelling posts that attract commentaries rather than hit-and-run traffic.
  • My 8th graders will adopt blogging and commenting in the elgg as a preferred mode of expression over MySpace banter.
  • My 7th graders (have yet to meet them) will engage in an authentic collaboration with their age-mates in Australia (Students of Jo McLeay).
  • My mixed-grade after-school YouthCaN group’s wiki will transform into an international collaboration.

As I learn to use the tools to their best advantage, my students will follow. First I need to bring shape to my PLN. Any advice on aggregating everything I read into one easy to reach place?

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Making use of Podcasts in the ITGS Classroom

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on November 17th, 2007

RSS+MP3MP3 players are ubiquitous in the high school environment, but believe me, the kids in my school are not tuning in to podcasts. Are they anywhere? I’d love to hear some stories. Anyway, even though the NYCDOE forbids students to carry cellphones and music players, at class change kids are quick on the draw to pop their tell-tale white ear buds in at the drop of a hat to catch a tune while passing classes. There has been press about the educational uses of iPods.  Librarians throughout the NYC school system discuss on their listserv the uses of iPods in their school libraries.  But what does it take to get students to actually listen to podcasts?

I have a 30G video iPod with absolutely no music on it. Not sure what that says about me, but I am fond of listening to  select podcasts when I’m on the go.  I regularly listen to a number of IT podcasts. Cranky Geeks and Security Now are two of them that come to mind that I would like to share with my ITGS students. I hesitate because as listen to Security Now this morning I find myself pausing the podcast to Google the key terms discussed. It occurs to me, that’s what I want my students to do. I want them to be active participants in their own education. Oh how they love to ask questions during a mini-lesson. While listening to a podcast they can multi-task as they ask and answer their own questions while listening.

I can tell by classroom demeanor that my ITGS students are keenly interested in IT security. I think they would love the episode of Security Now that I listened to this morning. But would they? How long can someone sustain a interest in listening when there is so much that is new and unfamiliar? Each time Steve Gibson and Leo Leporte introduced a new product or concept in the show I was too often asking myself, “What’s that?”  What keeps me listening is that I Google the terms as I listen, and pause the pundits while I catch up enough to follow the thread of their conversations. Would my students take the time to do that? Would they enjoy it? I’m not sure. So today I made a Trailfire of my searching to be a companion to the podcast. (Trailfire is a mashup tool that allows the web surfer to leave virtual notes in the margins of the webpages she visits and store the trail of notes for later access or to share with others. It even allows a wiki feature to invite others to interject their notes into the “mother” trail.) I will ask my students to listen to the podcast  and follow along with Trailfire. Maybe then they will get hooked on this mode of learning.

Please share your experiences of using podcasts in the classroom.

Image Credits: “RSS + MP3 V.2″ by Alan Joyce
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

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Who benefits from assessments?

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on July 17th, 2007

For the longest time, the part of my job I liked the least has been assessing student work–formative and summative assessments. The course is over. Students have left for summer vacation. Who benefits from these summative assessments? At my school, teachers labor over writing anecdotal comments for each student–reflecting on what the student is consistently doing well and identifying one concrete action the student can take to improve. Who benefits from these comments? At the end of June when vacation starts, is the student focused on what he/she can do to improve? I don’t think so. But still, we labor over these comments. They are misplaced. These comments are best used at the start of the next school year.

Students are assessed in various ways all through school. Who benefits from those assessments? For five years I have been teaching in the MYP (Middle Years Program) at BSGE, an IB school in NYC. Our method of assessment is criterion referenced. In the MYP there are no external assessments at the end of the course. This year, all that will change for me because starting in September I will be teaching a course in the DP (Diploma Program) called ITGS (Information Technology in a Global Society). ITGS is offered at the IB level (11th and 12th grades) and students will be tested on their understanding at the end of the 2-year cycle. In preparation, I am reviewing the materials from the training session I attended last month. IB provides a report at the end of each testing cycle. An analysis of how students fared on each examination area is provided. By reviewing the lengthy report that digests the results of student performance worldwide, I can get a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the previous year’s curriculum–worldwide. This information will guide my planning. If I use this information in planning my course, my students will benefit from last year’s assessments. That is a wonderful thing!

What is lacking in most schools is an analysis of the assessment results. Just as we want our students to take stock of what they are doing well and what they need to do to improve, teachers need to do the same. In New York State, high school students sit for NYS Regents Exams. The score on that exam indicates if a student got enough points to pass or fail. Who benefits from this assessment? Where is the analysis? What are teachers to make of the results?


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At risk of failing? How can that be?

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on May 19th, 2007

Engaged StudentsTeaching 7th graders is a treat. Really. (Stop laughing, it’s true.)
They are bright eyed and bushy tailed creatures open to new ideas. It’s
the “Gee wiz, Mrs. Brownstone, that’s cool.” state they are in that
makes them such a joy. How is it then, that when they get down into the academic work, there are some among that
group who are at risk of failing? I’ve become interested in a psychology professor Carol Dweck. (I’ve ordered her book on Amazon–Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.) In a recent article about her work Marina Krakovsky wrote:

Students for whom performance is paramount want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat. So they pursue only activities at which they’re sure to shine—and avoid the sorts of experiences necessary to grow and flourish in any endeavor. Students with learning goals, on the other hand, take necessary risks and don’t worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn. Dweck’s insight launched a new field of educational psychology—achievement goal theory. STANFORD Magazine: March/April 2007 > Features > Mind-set Research

What does it take to change their mindset to be goal oriented? And to be able to try to reach that goal? I have been having a frustrating time with one of my 7th grade classes. It seems that there are around half who are able to engage in inquiry learning and sustain their interest in learning when they leave the classroom and work unassisted at home. The other half are not working well in the classroom in small groups and rarely do much quality work at home. Friday I asked the students if they thought that there were some students in the school who were just plain “smart” that they were born with a gift and everything comes easy to them. Many hands went up.

Dweck explains. People with performance goals, she reasoned, think
intelligence is fixed from birth. People with learning goals have a
growth mind-set about intelligence, believing it can be developed.
(Among themselves, psychologists call the growth mind-set an
“incremental theory,” and use the term “entity
theory” for the fixed mind-set.) STANFORD Magazine: March/April 2007 > Features > Mind-set Research

It’s their mind-set that I must change. I must teach them to think differently about their And here I thought I was teaching design technology.

Culture can play a large role in shaping our beliefs, Dweck says. A
college physics teacher recently wrote to Dweck that in India, where
she was educated, there was no notion that you had to be a genius or
even particularly smart to learn physics. “The assumption was
that everyone could do it, and, for the most part, they did.” But
what if you’re raised with a fixed mind-set about
physics—or foreign languages or music? Not to worry: Dweck has
shown that you can change the mind-set itself. STANFORD Magazine: March/April 2007 > Features > Mind-set Research

I have begun giving cues that are about putting in more effort, and trying harder. It sounds so strange to say that because I have unlearned that lingo. In my school (BSGE) we try to make our comments to the students grounded in the specifics of their work. We make a positive statement about what is working, what is going well, with reference to something specific they did. Then, we make one statement that starts something like this: “To reach a higher level of achievement you need to do X.” “X” is never “try harder”; it is always a very specific action they need to take on their next project.

The most dramatic proof comes from a recent study by Dweck and Lisa
Sorich Blackwell of low-achieving seventh graders. All students
participated in sessions on study skills, the brain and the like; in
addition, one group attended a neutral session on memory while the
other learned that intelligence, like a muscle, grows stronger through
exercise. Training students to adopt a growth mind-set about
intelligence had a catalytic effect on motivation and math grades;
students in the control group showed no improvement despite all the
other interventions.

“Study skills and
learning skills are inert until they’re powered by an active
ingredient,” Dweck explains. Students may know how to study, but
won’t want to if they believe their efforts are futile. “If
you target that belief, you can see more benefit than you have any
reason to hope for.” STANFORD Magazine: March/April 2007 > Features > Mind-set Research

Looking forward to reading Dweck’s book. I want to help these children. I’m growing weary from my futile efforts thus far.


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Learning Yiddish at 96::Max Talks

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on March 26th, 2007

icon for podpress  Max Talks: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download (140)

Max and Eli

Max Matt December 25th 1910-March 23, 2007
A celebration of his life.

In this podcast Max talks to the piano player about his army days at Camp Shelby, Mississippi in February 1941 and his favorite tune, “Blue Moon”. After a brief cut of the tune, Max continues to talk about learning Yiddish at ninety-six and muses about answering an ad in the Yiddish Forward for a mohel in Uganda. This was recorded at a family gathering for Eli Debs’ 70th birthday in 2006. (It is a bit difficult to hear Max over all the sounds of dinner and music, but if you turn up the volume on your computer, you will be fine.)

Max touched many lives in his long journey from the Ukraine to Romania to Montreal to Conneticut. Family and friends are urged to leave comments, memories, and stories in the comment section below.

Max, we’ll miss you.

Listen to podcast by clicking the icon below. (N.B. it is not necessary to have an iPod for listening to podcasts.)

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Multiculturalism: The Richness Within

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on January 7th, 2007

The project’s aim is to connect three secondary schools in the US and three secondary schools [in ]The Netherlands. The participating schools have a mixed and multi cultural school population. During the two-year project students and teachers will work and learn together in Twin-projects, as well as in collaborative setting in Learning Circles. The aim is to become aware of the richness within multi cultural (school) communities. The themes of the Learning Circles will be set by the participating schools within the domain of ‘a multicultural society’, identifying and building respect for differences and similarities. All learning activities are connected to the formal learning in schools and informal learning outside schools. To create ownership of learning the details within the framework of the project will be set in close collaboration with the participating schools, teachers and students. –twin schools | 2006-2007 | LC The richness within

My, how time flies! This project is upon us. Front and center. It seems like only yesterday that we met at the NYC iEARN offices to plan our Learning Circle, The Richness Within. Bob Hoffman from iEARN Netherlands presented Wendy Nelson Kauffman, Bridgette Francis and I with an opportunity to plan a two-year collaboration with schools in The Netherlands. I was to follow up with a multimedia introduction of myself. Must say, I have not done that, and the time is upon me. I will do that first thing, early this week. I’ll take this time tonight to blog about the project to get me focused.

The topic of the exchange is multiculturalism. There are three multicultural schools in the U.S. and three in the Netherlands that will participate:

What does it mean for each school to claim to be multicultural? At the Baccalaureate School for Global Education (BSGE) it would be odd to “not” be multicultural because we are in Queens, NY, likely one of the most polyglot areas in the U.S.A. I have been teaching in NYC schools for 11 years and never have I seen such cultural diversity before teaching at BSGE. Here, multiculturalism is taken for granted. When I met Wendy Nelson Kauffman from Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield, CT, I learned that her school was designed to be a magnet school in order to provide an opportunity for a multicultural educational experience in an area where neighborhood schools reflect the racial make-up of those areas and tend to me mono-cultural. According to Bridgette, a teacher from College of Staten Island High School for International Studies, her school was created to break the stereotypical view that Staten Island is “white”. What does this all mean? Each school is multicultural–one is reflective of the community, one buses students in, and another designed to focus on the diversity of the area.

Well, the situations in the Netherlands’ schools will most likely present three more variations on the theme. According to Bob Hoffman, of iEARN Nederland there are “white” schools and “black” schools. Multicultural schools are a recent phenomenon. So goes the idea of the “liberal Dutch”. What does multicultural look like in the Netherlands? How does it compare to our U.S. schools? I predict that we will find as many differences among our U.S. schools, as we may in the Netherlands schools.

One of the ideas in our school’s mission statement says:

Our goal is to foster a spirit of imaginative, independent thinking
as we deepen our consciousness of global citizenship and respect
for other cultures. We believe that our school community,
through our thoughts and actions, can make the world a better
place. –Mission Statement

What will this exchange reveal about us? To what extent are we meeting the above stated goal? I wonder. What I hope to learn through this exchange is how students at our various schools understand the value of a multicultural experience. How much of their own personal identity is tied to a race, culture, religion, national origin?

I was born in the U.S.A. in New Jersey. Both sets of grandparents were immigrants. I was fortunate that they lived within a mile of my home and I got to know them all. I felt a closer kinship to my mother’s parents who were from the Netherlands and spoke “Dutch” around the house, especially when they were trying to be private. I knew my Dutch relatives. They would visit us, and in 1963 my mother took me to Holland. It was different on my father’s side. My father’s mother was from Slovakia and his father from Croatia. They were fluent in many European languages, and yet spoke none around the house. They didn’t display any pride in their heritage and there was a lot of anger about the communist take-over. When I asked my grandfather what nationality he was, he always answered: “It depends. After which war?” My grandmother was appalled when I wanted to visit her birthplace in 1972 and meet her sister and brother. She said: “Why do you want to go there? It’s all communist. They are peasants.” I went anyway, and in the end she was pleased to hear of my adventure. How does my family heritage shape me culturally? If I were a student in my school what would I say I was? When I am asked to think outside of “American” I simply think of my self as white European. So general. What does that say? I think it says a lot about the presumed “dominant culture” that I was born into. But what does that say about my identity?

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Garbage Land — Engineering the City

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on October 17th, 2006

~~Reflections of a teacher on the Future City Competition.

This week, I picked up a copy of Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte because I thought it might shed some light on the work I am doing with my 8th graders in design technology . The big question they are working on is: How does the design of a city’s infrastructures affect the quality of life for it’s citizens?  I’m started reading this morning and found a couple of key paragraphs to share with my budding engineers. On page 10 she introduces a measure of sustainability called “ecological footprint” a concept developed by Canadian regional planners William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel

“Basically, a foot print totals the flows of material and energy required to support any economy or subset of an economy (coffee drinking, for example), then converts those flows into the total land and water surface area that it takes to both provide those resources and assimilate their waste products.  For residents of densely populated cities, that surface area extends well beyond our borders, into the hinterlands.  We don’t grow much, and our water and energy come from afar. Measuring our  footprint, or any other footprint, isn’t necessarily about good and bad; it is about making informed choices.”

When my students start to build the infrastructures of their SimCity simulation they need to be thinking about the impacts that are outside the city and, unfortunately, outside the algorithms of this very smart and well designed game.

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Through 8th Graders’ Eyes

Posted by Madeline Slovenz Brownstone on October 9th, 2006

Walking in, it’s like a wonderland, chocker-block with the most fantastical architectural models, intricate drawings, all imbued with the atmosphere of the promised future. Ahh, the future. Inflatable cities; houses that look like toasters; apartments blocks that look like spiders, this was how architects from the last five decades saw us living. This was how they saw our landscape and our cities and our homes. It did strike me looking at these buildings how impractical most were. How would that door open? Gosh, the bedrooms must be awfully gloomy. Where are the windows? Fire exits? These are the practicalities which the architects seem to ignore for the sake of space-age concepts, and this sacrifice explains why most of their designs exist only now as specimens in a gallery, rather than in reality (although, as barmy as it is, who could resist living in Alison and Peter Smithson’s House of the Future, designed in 1956, given the chance?). Most of them exemplify anarchic architects impinging their visions of a metropolis – a blockbuster city – onto its inhabitants without any real care for them. It seems that most architects would prefer a city devoid of people, a playground where they wouldn’t have to bother about pavements or staircases or the boring bits of civil architecture, and instead fill a city with histrionic, unrestrained eyesores.

Showdown :: ‘Future City’ @ Barbican Art Gallery

Reading this review of an exhibition at a UK gallery makes me think about my class last year (2005-2006). Eighteen groups of 4 students made an exhibition of the models they created of future cities. Each group in turn pitched the advantages of their cities. How can 8th graders get what professional architects don’t! The atmosphere of a promised future through the eyes of 8th graders is full of optimism, opportunity, plans for green technology, care for public transportation, green spaces, cultural and recreational spaces. The kids get it. When do they loose it? What do we do to them in the name of education? I love teaching 7th and 8th graders because they are still awestruck, still optimistic. Where does it go as they age?

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