WordCamp Seattle

I’m at WordCamp Seattle today. If you’re here too, come say hi to me! I look like this:

Photo on 2013-06-08 at 09.11

But without crossed eyes. And less grouchy. Oh, and also, my non-teacher name is Shannon.

My husband Toby is here too. He looks like this:

shannon0357But he obviously didn’t take this photo today, so he’s actually wearing a beanie hat and a red lumberjack flannel shirt.


A Tale of Two Articles

Ever since I learned that you could make your living as a nonfiction writer, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter.

I had a few plum internships, my final one sending me to the Florida Times-Union. The job was stressful and enjoyable, but two main articles stick in my mind seven years later.

The first is essentially the reason I left journalism.

Cause of death released for pair.

My metro editor deserves mad props for giving this story to a metro intern rather than one of the other three cops and courts reporters. Except that I didn’t really want to call a family to tell them their parents were buried alive. At all. Ever. Calling them was the biggest regret I have in my reporting career. My and my editor’s choices were questioned by the alternate weekly, and even by our conservative editorial board. As a human, I do not regret my choices. I can see how a journalist might disagree with me.

Earlier that month, I called L. Patrick Gray’s son to add to the AP’s obituary. L. Patrick Gray was in charge of the FBI during the Deep Throat scandal in 1972-73. Ed Gray called me back as I was leaving the Jacksonville Police Department, where I had just finished sifting through the police reports for the day. I sat in the lobby, a bit unprepared for his call. I asked him all the questions I usually asked for obituary stories, about his life, about their last times together, etc. I figured the AP would have all the Watergate and Deep Throat details. Plus, my knowledge of post-1920 history was woefully minimal (nice work, Stevenson High School), and I didn’t want to look like an idiot.

As our interview reached its end, I thanked Ed for his time and expressed my sympathies. Ed cleared his throat; he’d ostensibly been talking to reporters for the bulk of the day. “Thank you,” he said. “You know, you’re the first reporter I’ve talked to all day who has actually asked me about my father.”


I’m glad I’m no longer a reporter, but I still love nonfiction. I hope you join me in 2012 for the Sibert Challenge. More information to come.


Do you have an old iPod?

I’ve buried this as an old post because I don’t want my students to see it when they stop by our website. Look below for a sweet opportunity to help my fabulous students!

This year, I’m looking to expand our listening library. We are already fortunate enough to have three computers and a bunch of cassette players, but I think we’re ready to step into the digital age. I’d LOVE to unveil a brand-spanking new listening library as a holiday gift for them this year!

My students are honestly perplexed by tape players, and I can’t say that I blame them. For our highly visual kids, the idea of not knowing what track/chapter they’re on is crazy, and the idea of flipping over a cassette seems odd. I think we’re ready for iPods. Plus, we mostly use our listening library for picture books, and I think it’s time to provide chapter book listening opportunities as well.

I know a lot of charitable organizations are looking for your assistance this year. If you’re already feeling pulled in many directions, perhaps you could think of my request as one of environmental recycling rather than charity.

So do you have any old iPods? I know I’ll be chipping in three of my own, but I’d love for us to have a few more. I’m not aiming for a full class set of 25, but on the off chance that we receive extra, rest assured I’ll pass them along to my teammates.

I’ve done the math — if you send us your iPod in a small padded envelope, you won’t even need to go to the post office, just slap on $1.50 in stamps. (probably less for an iPod nano. I weighed my first-gen iPod touch using the sweet scale Scott Porad got us for our wedding.)

We don’t need fancy iPods. In fact, if you got us a new one, I’d probably actually be a little disappointed because that $100 would be better spent on books or saved for an iPad.

So why haven’t I asked before? Our district has just recently become more open to technology. Having non-school-purchased tools in the past was frowned upon. Now is the perfect time!

What will you get in return?

  • Personal thank yous on this site, in your inbox, and in your mailbox.
  • Recognition on a sweet, official plaque in the listening library.
  • The satisfaction of knowing that your iPod isn’t leeching chemicals in a landfill or sitting on a lonely Goodwill shelf.
  • My students’ eternal devotion (they really love and attach themselves to people who support our class)
I hope you’ll consider our classroom as a loving home for your out-dated iPod. If you’ve packed your device up, please send it here:
WIldwood Elementary
2405 S. 300th Street
Federal Way, WA 98003
Thank you so much in advance.

Search terms

Welp, nothing but good news on the SEO front.

  1. I no longer receive the bulk of my traffic from Hot Cheetos searches. Takis, however, are another matter.
  2. Someone, somewhere, concocts even more insane Google search phrases than me.
  3. Whoever they are, they have a good taste in authors.

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

This weekend, I had the excellent experience of attending the WSASCD conference in SeaTac. Some of the sessions were lovely, some were frankly ill-prepared, but the session that sticks with me, particularly as a teacher who is dipping her big toe in the world of web technology, was a session on Digital Natives and Immigrants. It just so happened to be led by FW’s very own Tech Ninja Hannah Gbenro, the Hannah formerly known as Pena.

I wasn’t familiar with the term “digital immigrant,” and I honestly thought I was going to be talking about students from poverty who come to our schools with no experience with technology. Instead, we talked about the (often age-related) digital divide between teachers and students as well as between tech-saavy teachers and tech-wary teachers.

A few comments and ideas have been sticking in my mind.

1. “Teachers take changes in stride. But technology is the only change I’ve seen teachers actually be afraid of.” ~Ryan Patterson, Wildwood & Camelot librarian

Our librarian said this early in the conversation, and at first I rolled my eyes a bit. Some teachers, after all, grouse over ANY small or large change to the curriculum or the system. Once I got the grouchiness out, I realized, by and large, he was right. Our teachers aren’t necessarily freaked out about power standards, they’re freaking out about applying the power standards to our new (crazy-buggy) online grade book system. Lately, when we talk about the MSP, the conversation focuses largely on the transition to computer-administered testing. I haven’t read any research or articles on why technology shifts seem to be so stressful, have you?

2. Digital learners aren’t spastic, short-attention span techies they’re often stereotyped as; they actually absorb information differently.

I find myself often frustrated when I pass information like links or log-in information along to teachers and they repeatedly ask me to explain the information or remind them how to log in or access a particular resource. Hannah talked about the actual differences in modes of learning between people who are digital natives and those who are digital immigrants. For example, traditional educators often appreciate information to be disseminated in a logical order or sequentially. I’ve been thinking about how I can make information accessible, not overwhelming, when I send out my Book of the Week lesson plans.

3. In education, technology isn’t fully integrated, it’s still an event.

I’m absolutely guilty of this. But I think this is something systemic in education, not just related to our in-class technology. For example, whenever I use an iMovie as part of a presentation or mention cataloging book titles in a LibraryThing account, I’ve noticed staff members sometimes get hung up on the technology I used to present the information. “But how did you DO that?” “That’s SO AMAZING! It must have taken so much TIME!” “There’s NO WAY I can do this because I have no clue what you did technologically in your talk.” I know they mean it (usually) in a complimentary way, but it often frustrates me because I worry they’ve let this wonder distract from the main message/information I was trying to share.

This lack of full integration was evident even within the conference itself. Plenty of people were taking notes on iPads, but (until I mentioned it), I was the only person tweeting. The ideas and learning we were exchanging at the conference weren’t being shared with the enormous global network of educators who are grappling with the same issues we addressed this weekend!

A total of three people used the #wsascd hashtag the entire weekend. The WSASCD blog hasn’t been touched since 2009. Google searches for “WSASCD Conference Recap” and the like came up empty.

But outside the education realm, this integration is more and more simply a part of how professional communities share ideas. I’m not just talking about my tech-oriented friends riffing on digital photography and computer programming. My other friends also share information about design conferences, fashion exhibitions, and travel.

I do want to distinguish here that each of the people I linked to aren’t sharing their information simply in an effort to overshare how awesome they think they are, they are looking to connect with others to develop professional learning communities that are mutually beneficial.

So what could this technology integration look like at a future conference? Here’s what I experienced when I went to WordCamp Portland last month. The conference was attended by people on an extremely wide continuum of technological ability. Many folks were web developers, but others were designers, advertisers, and people like me who just create content.

Before I arrived, last-minute changes to the schedule were reflected on the website. When I registered, there was a line on my nametag for me to include my Twitter handle (I’m @MsHoughton) and/or web address. The first page of the program included the hashtag to use when Tweeting so other people could search for tweets related to the conference (in this case, #wcpdx, for WordCamp Portland). Throughout the day, people uploaded images, quotes, and wrote blog posts from the conference.

Weeks later, people were still posting reflection posts. You can see mine here and here. (Full disclosure: I actually wound up speaking about educators and technology at the conference.) Mine are positively vapid compared to some of the in-depth multi-post analyses some folks shared.

So think about that for a minute, administrators. These attendees were INDEPENDENTLY choosing to write lengthy, thoughtful reflections on their experiences at a conference. They were then reading, commenting on, and reposting sometimes DOZENS of additional reflections. Can you IMAGINE the power if more teachers were doing that? My coworker saw me typing up the first draft of this blog post during a break and she asked, “Oh, are you doing a reflection for your National Boards?” “No, it’s just… um, what I do when I attend a conference,” I replied.

4. A principal from the Fife school district really got me thinking. “There’s a level of arrogance I hear so often when someone is talking to me about technology. They don’t need to insult my gray hair, they can just talk down to me about what I can’t do.”

Yes, I selected the picture because I can almost HEAR the gentlemen pictured snidely talking about their superior skills in technology. A further case in point: my comment from #3 above could also be construed as pompous. “Oh, look at me. I’m such a hip, rad teacher keeping it real and sharing a wealth of information with my digital network. Why didn’t youuuuuu do it too? It’s probably because I’m hip and rad and you’re really not.” And to many within the education world, I’m sure it could totally be taken that way (particularly if I were a jerk to begin with. Which I don’t think I am.)

I think that part of this principal’s comment could be attributed to some measure of oversensitivity. After all, I know I’m always pretty defensive if I feel like I’m behind or somehow doing something “wrong.” But I also think she has a HUGE point.

Please allow me to overgeneralize for a moment. I say this because I’ve spent the majority of my life among an overwhelmingly science-and-technology-inclined crowd and I love them, but I admit many come across as jerks. Many of these people are fully aware of their intelligence. They have often been mistreated by people who do not share their gifts. So I wonder if for some of these people, treating folks who struggle with technology is their way of responding to the distain and unkindness they were met with when they were younger. I might also point you to this WIRED article discussing Silicon Valley and folks on the autism spectrum.

Regardless of the cause, this principal was absolutely right that we need to rethink the way we (myself included, if I’m having a particularly stressful day) interact with people still acclimating to technology. That’s part of why I think we need to find out more about the fear (see #1) so many people have about changing technology, so we can then respond to that fear more appropriately.

5. Reality is Broken by JaneMcGonigal is a critical read for today’s educators.

Truly. Read it now. I wanted to jump up and hand everyone at the session a copy.

The book talks a lot about what we can do in the real world so our students (and fellow teachers) will have a chance to experience the fiero (rush of excitement, pride, and accomplishment) they often find in game play but not in their workdays. Can’t handle an entire book right now? That’s fine, you can read just the first five chapters, they’re the ones most relevant to education. Heck, even the intro could be enough. (If you want the intro, e-mail me and I’ll hook you up.)

There’s more that I’m still processing, but I’m interested in your thoughts so far. What am I missing? What do you think I’m totally spot on or absolutely wrong about?

Do what you love for the rest of your life.

If you’ve been in class with me, chance are you’ve heard us talk at our class meeting about the reason we want to do well in school. College and making money often comes up, but the big hope is that we will be able to do what we love for the rest of our lives.

My charming husband Toby is a great example of that. He went to school for digital arts and experimental media, but now he’s a web developer for Cheezburger Network and has some of the raddest coworkers around.

Despite the fact that his degree is totally different from his job, the programming skills he learned at college helped him develop sweet WordPress skills that allowed him to make this site dazzling and (hopefully) useful.

Just look at those uniformly sized book cover icons!

Anyway, I just wanted to publicly thank Toby and remind you why we’re doing this school business.