Tag Archives: fallblogchallenge2010


Blog Challenge #6

Before I begin this blog post, let me make it perfectly clear that I am NOT a fan of ketchup, catsup, catchup, or any other variation of that tomato condiment. I think ketchup on eggs is disgusting, ketchup on a good steak is an insult, and I’m not even a fan of ketchup on fries. Okay, every once and a while I do enjoy a little bit of ketchup on a patty melt with toasted sourdough bread smothered in cheese and grilled onions, but THAT’S IT! So if this startling revelation causes you to want to unfollow me, unfriend me, or write a lengthy scathing rebuttal comment, so be it.

But this blog post isn’t about ketchup. It’s about writing and the struggle to put words on a screen – specifically blogging. In this week’s Fall Blog Challenge Melanie Holtsman has given us the topic “Your Life as a Writer”. Well let me tell you about mine.

I love writing. I also hate writing. I love the creative process of crafting a good sentence, clearly expressing a thought, sharing an experience, or telling a good story. I enjoy assembling a puzzle of words to give my readers a picture of what I’m thinking. When I’ve got a good train of thought going and my fingers are flying across the keys, filling the page, well, there’s nothing better than that.  Until that train comes to a screeching halt.

It can happen at anytime. Sometimes in the middle of paragraph or even in the middle of a sentence. I’m going along just fine then all of a sudden – nothing. It’s gone. Like someone just flipped a switch and all I see is a flashing cursor. Blink. Blink. Blink. I can almost hear it blinking. And I sit there, reaching for that one thought that up until a moment ago was right within my grasp. Meanwhile that cursor just blinks at me, mocking me, saying, “Hello! McFly! You gonna stare at this screen all day or are you gonna write something here?” I hate that.

It’s times like this that I think about some of the other bloggers I follow. You know the ones I’m talking about. They write just about every day, sometimes even twice a day. Their posts are clean, clear, and brilliantly written, and I wonder, “How they do it?” Their thoughts just seem to effortlessly flow on to the page like water down a spillway, while my thoughts flow more like…well…like ketchup.

Ever try to get ketchup out of a bottle? Sometimes you sit there whacking the end of the bottle all day and nothing comes out. Other times you just tip the bottle a little bit and the red stuff pours out all over the plate. It’s unpredictable. You never know. That’s what writing is like for me. There are times when my thoughts pour out all over the page, but there are other times when I can sit there all day agonizing over a blank screen, hitting my head, hoping for that one little thought that won’t come out.

If this has never happened to you, and you’re one of those people who can write whatever you want whenever you want, then let me tell you how envious I am of your ability. You have a real gift. But if you’re like me and can’t seem to shake those thoughts out of your head or spend hours struggling to piece together just the right words, know that I feel your pain.  I wish I had some proven technique to cure writer’s block but I don’t. Walk away from it for a bit. Listen to music. Bake something. Do whatever it is that works for you. Then, when you hit that sweet spot and your thoughts are flowing freely, take advantage of it. Don’t waste the opportunity. Write. It’s a great feeling while it lasts.

Look to the Stars

NOTE: Okay Melanie, go ahead and deduct 10 percent for being late, but rather than giving me an incomplete please allow me to catch up on my Fall Blog Challenge posts.

Blog Challenge #4: What book has made the biggest impact on your life?

My MacBook of course. This is not just a computer. My 2007 15 inch MacBook Pro is more like my right arm. It’s a tool I use daily for work, fun, and to keep me connected. I’m afraid to think of all the hours I’ve spent tapping away at this keyboard, but I do know that I’m already on my 4th battery. I’m hoping this little workhorse will remain faithful through the end of this school year when I can finally afford to give it a well deserved rest. The new Lion OS looks pretty interesting.

Blog Challenge #5: Small Moments

Living in the greater Los Angeles area of Southern California you don’t get to see a lot of stars – of the astronomical type at least. So when I got to go along with our 6th grade up to Palomar Mountain for a week of Outdoor Education, I knew we were going to be in for treat.

The first night up at camp, after the evening campfire, the instructors took my group up to an open area and had everyone lie down on their back. “Wait five minutes for your eyes to adjust.” they directed us. After a few minutes, the number of visible dots in the sky went from hundreds to thousands. The cloud of the Milky Way galaxy stretched across the sky. It’s amazing what you can see when you get away from the light pollution of the city and go up where air is clear.



The pictures above give you a little idea of what we were able to see, but even a 30 second high ISO exposure doesn’t match what we saw our own eyes.

After our eyes adjusted, the instructor started pointing out planets, stars, and star clusters. I pulled out my StarWalk app on the iPad, put it in red “night vision” mode, and used it to help kids identify constellations. We even got to get a close up look at Jupiter and Saturn through the camp’s 12 inch telescope.

Just like our 7th Grade Catalina Island trip back in September, this was another one of those “Get Real” moments. I hope the kids were able to appreciate it as much as I did.

To see a few more pictures from our outdoor ed trip, visit my Flickr Photoset: Palomar Mt.

Don’t Fear the Fractions

Blog Challenge #3: Math! (Ahhhhhhhh!!!!)

NOTE: I’m running about a week behind on the challenge. With a little encouragement hopefully I can get caught up.

There are few things that bring more fear into the mind of a parent than when their child asks them the question…

“Can you help me with my Math?”

Why is it this simple question can cause a grown adult to break out in a cold sweat, frantically check their Blackberry searching for somewhere they need to be, and stammer out a reply like, “Uh…I’d really like to help you right now…but…uh…I’ve got this thing I…uh…really need to get done…you know?”

What is it about math that can turn a peaceful evening at home into a scene from a Halloween horror movie? Instead of yelling, “Don’t open that door!” Parents are yelling, “Don’t open that Math book!” Scarier still is the message being sent to kids. The message that math is something to be feared. Math is hard. Mom & Dad don’t get it. How can I ever be expected to understand it? Why should I even try?

This is a situation that many teachers face. At school kids are quick to give up on their work or not try at all because they’ve been conditioned to think that math is hard, frustrating, and no fun. What can teachers do to change this? Since people on the Internet seem to be fond of lists, here’s a list of ways to help kids (and parents) understand math and maybe even see that it can be fun.

1. Paper Slide Videos – Help kids learn by making them the teacher. All you need is a flip cam, some paper, and markers. Divide kids into small groups and have them make short videos explaining how to solve math problems. Maybe do a new one each week. Eventually you’ll have a library of tutorial videos that you can post online to teach kids (and parents) how to do the homework.

2. Math Explanations from Discovery Education – Don’t have time for kids to make a video? Those with Discovery Streaming can search a library of 10,148 pre-made videos that explain everything from adding and subtracting to graphing quadratic functions. Find a video that goes with your lesson and give kids a link they can watch at home. Just select “Math Explanation” as the media type when you search.

3. Wolfram Alpha – Need help figuring out a problem or want to check your work? Try using Wolfram Alpha.

4. Online Resources from your textbook company – This year we purchased new math curriculum. Along with the book we also got access to an online version of the text along with additional resources for teaching and review. Houghton Mifflin has some resources at their site freely available to everyone. Just select your grade level.

5. NextVista for Learning – this site currently  has 112 math videos created by students and teachers for students and teachers. If you make a great Paper Slide video, contact the Next Vista’s founder, Rushton Hurley and he might just add it to the list.

6. WebMath – Yet another site to help you check your work and solve all sorts of math problems.

Got any other great sites to take the FEAR out of math? Add a comment, drop me a line, let me know. I’d love to add it to the list.

My Class Poll

Blog Challenge #2: Ask a Question. Get an Answer.

NOTE: Class polls are a great way to get your kids thinking, and with web tools like Google Forms, you can get them thinking nationally or even globally.

If anyone ever asks you why a teacher would want a PLN (Professional Learning Network) here’s one thing you can throw back at them. “Did you ever want to ask the world a question?”

Our third grade did. They wanted to know what the world had for breakfast on April 1st, 2009. We created a Google form then I sent the link out on Twitter saying, “Let’s show this teacher the power of our newtork.” Twenty-four hours later we had over 400 responses which I painstakingly added one by one to a Google Map. (Read more about it: It’s All About the Network)

Last year while the Winter Olympics were in full swing, our third grade wanted to know about your favorite winter Olympic sport. This time we used a new tool called Map-A-List to take the location data from the form to automatically generate a map of the responses. (If you’d like to learn to do this yourself look at “Collaborative Maps“.)

In both surveys, the class was able to get global results in 24 hours – something that was unthinkable when I was in school. Kids couldn’t wait to check the map as the responses came in. A lesson about the Olympics quickly became a lesson in geography. Math and graphing were added as the results were tallied. Which sport was the most popular?  Students were able to compare their class responses with people in other states and countries. Their teacher was even able to pose thinking questions like…

“Barbara in New Zealand ate Muesli and tinned peaches. What are tinned peaches?”
“Why do you think different sports are popular in different places?”
“Why do you think most of the people who answered our survey live in English speaking countries?”

She then led the class discussion as students worked to find the answers. All this learning from one simple question.

What would YOU ask the world?

My Life as a Reader

Blog Challenge #1: Write about your life as a reader.

NOTE: I tend to take writing prompts in a somewhat skewed direction. I know this might not be exactly what the challenge is asking me to write about, but hey it’s MY blog.

That’s right. I’m an iPad. Of course I’m talented, versatile, and everybody wants me. But for this blog post today I want to focus on “My Life as a Reader” – eReader that is.

My free iBooks app is a good way to buy novels for reading in your spare time, but you did you know you don’t have to buy books from the iTunes store in order to use it?  Just about any PDF file can be added to my bookshelves. This is pretty simple to do. Just add the PDF file you want to your iTunes Library.

When you click on BOOKS in your iTunes library, you’ll see the PDF file you added listed there.

Then, the next time you sync me, that file will show up on your bookshelf in iBooks. My owner, Dennis, has found this feature very useful. Here are just a few ways this has helped him…

  • Load all your PDF manuals on your iPad. Dennis has found it pretty convenient to flip through pages of software and product manuals on the iPad rather than printing them out or flipping back and fourth between windows on his computer.
  • Free public domain eBooks are available online. Sites like Planet eBook and PlanetPDF have many public domain titles available for download. Our 6th grade teacher is using “Around the World in 80 Days” for literature class.  Kids can go online to these sites and download it for free.
  • Upload copies of your own documents or things you just want to have handy. Dennis has loaded several PDF’s  of documents and resources like the NET-S Profiles for Students and a few others. If he needs it quick, the iPad is definately faster than waiting for the computer to boot up.

As you can see, my “Life as a Reader” is full of possibilities. Give it a try. Then you can go back to playing Angry Birds.