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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Kindle DX Not Ready For College (certainly not k-12)


I've always held fast to my mantra - if the technology does not make your life simpler, then it it bad technology (at least for you).

I've been skeptical of the electronic book since it was introduced as a solution for school textbooks. 

There is something fundamentally different in reading to read, and reading to learn.

I've tried to read books on my phone, a Kindle, and on an iPad.  For me, using one of these devices for actually studying and learning would not make my simpler or even more convenient.  Therefore, I do not see it as good technology FOR ME.

I also don't see it as a good idea for k-12 schools to use...at least for now. 


I see ebooks (and their readers) as a "tech-for-the-sake-of-tech" issue and not a way to make learning more appealing to students.  Making things more difficult to accomplish is a poor method of motivation for students who must be coaxed into playing school to start with.  To me, it is that simple.

Do I think iPads, iPod Touches, and mobile devices can be used in k-12 schools.  Absolutely, just not as a replacement for a textbook.  I think for reference, reinforcement (through games, quizzes, etc.) these devices serve a great purpose.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Right / Left Brain Question

I admit, that in many situations, I am slow on the uptake.

I have been reading and listening for nearly 20 years (rather steadily) about the logical left and creative right sides of the brain.  I've read Gardner's theories, I've become a fan of Willingham over the past couple of years. 

I also insert Godin's Linchpin in the mix as well as the Heath brothers Switch book and Robinson's TEDtalk.  There are probably 40-50 books I have read that deal with the issue of left or right brain ideas.

So it is no accident that I would wake up this morning, recalling a dream from last night.  I was recording videos of interviews of actors who won the award of the "greatest, most creative people on the planet" or something like that.  I was recording these actors to show my students how they could be more creative people and gain an advantage over their peers in years to come.  How to be Linchpins, I suppose.

Will Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert Deniro, Betty White, and other people I don't recall were all part of my dream.  [NOTE: this week I watch Betty White on SNL, Meet the Parents, Seinfeld's Standup video-I'm Telling You for the Last Time, and right before I went to sleep I read about Will Smith's son starring in the new Karate Kid -- weird, huh?]

So here is what they said in response to a question of "You are all so creative. You make everything you do seem so spontaneous and effortless.  What is your secret to your creativity?"

Their answer, in unison (I thought that was creative of my brain as it dreamed) was "WE ARE GREAT MEMORIZERS."

Their ability to memorize (very boring, left-brain stuff) scripts, music, and jokes is what allows them to trick us into thinking they are creative. The scripts and lyrics they memorize become second-nature, and they get multiple takes to get it right.  But we don't see the work that goes on behind the scenes.  These performers are not conducting extemporaneous demonstrations of creativity.

Granted it was a dream - my dream, but it made me question all the compartmentalizing that goes on with rational/creative, right vs. left brain, emotional/rational (Heath), schools teaching the creativity out of kids, and how we are in an avalanche of "let's be more creative in school" as a counter-attack to governmental school reform

Many of counter-reformers admire the creativity of the fine arts artistry of actors, musicians, singers, and others - as do I.  But they have one thing in common, it seems to me.  They learned how to use the logical, left, rational side of the brain, and still must do so, in order to arrive at the creativity we admire so much. 

Perhaps we should develop to a "both/and" argument instead of framing our frustration in "either/or" terms.  This might also be why Willingham makes more sense to me than most educational theorists.

What do you think?

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Keown Falls Hike 5.22.10

Friday, May 21, 2010

Julie Frayre (L) & Caitlin Brush (R)

Julie & Caitlin both ran track at Shorter College for the past four years. Because of the academic and athletic abilities, they earned a combined $174,000 to get their college degrees.

They came to talk to my 7th graders about how they can do it too. How to get ready in high school, have dedication to your dreams and goals, and don't let anyone (including yourself) tell you that you can't do it.

Thanks ladies. You were terrific.

From R. Murry

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

ZooBurst - Online PopUp Books

Yes, I will be writing stories for my ELL kids with this tool next year.


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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Former Students - My Expert Speakers For My 7th Graders

Nguyet Tran

Sarah Sajwani

I have had several former students/athletes come to my class throughout the year.  I love it for many reasons:

  1. I get to catch up with my kids, and continue to help them.
  2. I get to see some results of my work (and the work of other teachers).
  3. I learn about the world from them - This year's students have been to South Africa, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Pakistan, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Rome, Germany, France, Boston, and all of the Southeast United States.
  4. My current students get to see first-hand that it is POSSIBLE for them to "make it" too. 
  5. Other teachers, get to meet these wonderful people, and know that what they do counts in the lives of the children they teach.
The two young ladies above, Nguyet (from Vietnam) and Sarah (from Pakistan) came to tag-team.  Both of the them moved to the United States when they were six years old.  They met in Dalton in 7th grade (that's when I met them).  They became good friends then. 

Their parents knew that without moving here, their children would not have the POSSIBILITIES of a good life had they stayed in their home country.

Sarah's story - Her father and mother moved when Sarah was 6 (1994) because tuition for school in Pakistan was too expensive for them to pay for her and her younger brother.  They would have to make a decision on which one could have an education...daughter (and risk her safety), but then she could teach her younger brother - or son (and keep daughter from learning). Their decision? Come to the United States and educate them both.  They came with $20, no knowledge of the English language, and a dream.

My students asked how they made it.  Sarah said, "Sacrifice, friends, and hard work."  She just graduated from Emory University.  She heard Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger give her Commencement Address.

Sarah showed pictures of her homeland, and city of Karachi.  She told my kids, "Don't let anyone tell you that you are not able to go to college. You can find a way.  You are fortunate to be here.  Your parents want you to be successful.  There is always a way.  You can get money through loans, grants, and good grades.  Take advantage of the opportunities you have because you are here."

Nguyet's story - Her father fought for the South Vietnamese against Ho Chi Minh's communist armies.  He was a Prisoner of War for six years.  He told his daughter he lived on rodents, cockroaches, beatings, and hope.  When he was released, his communist guards asked him if he learned anything.  His response, "Yes I have.  You are jerks." 

He lost everything. He was homeless in Saigon.  He was starving and sick.  He was begging, when a lady came by.  He asked her for medicine.  She had no medicine, but she had compassion.  She went home and stole medicine from her family to take to the man.  This is how Nguyet's parents met.

Yes - there were some tears shed when she told that story.

Nguyet's shared some more.  "In communist Vietnam, the government wants to control everything in your life.  The first child a couple has is free.  If a second child is born within three years, there is a 'fee' the parents must pay to the government.  No one intentionally has a third child, because the 'fee' is more than anyone can pay.  So the parents usually kill off the third child at birth."

She continued, "We moved to Vermont in 1994, I was six years old.  My family rented a single room in a house.  I slept with my sister in a single bed, my brother had his own bed, and my parents shared a bed."  She paused..."My parents were making $3.50-$4.00 an hour.  My daddy collected cans and bottles to buy a carton of eggs so we could eat."  She paused longer...

I stopped her.  I asked the class to do some critical thinking.  A real ESSENTIAL QUESTION was coming.  The ONLY TRUE "ESSENTIAL QUESTION" I HAVE EVER ASKED.

Class, I said, "How many children could a Vietnamese couple have."

"Two," several students replied.

"How many?" I asked again.

"Two, Mr Murry," said one student.

I just stared at them, and softly said, "Someone please use some critical thinking, before Nguyet continues."

One student slightly gasped, "Uuuhhh, you were a third child." 

Then another student said, "Wow.  You shouldn't be...and he stopped."


That's right - Nguyet, this beautiful young lady, born to most other Vietnamese families would have been killed the moment of her birth.  But I was fortunate enough to be her teacher. 

Nguyet's father died at the age of 71 on April 30, 2009.  He was 51 when Nguyet was born.  He worked for six years of her life to be one of the former Vietnamese soldiers to be allowed to seek refuge in the United States.  Nguyet had to put college on hold for a year when her father became sick, and the months that followed his death to work with attorneys, medical people, and others to make sure all bills were covered by insurance.  She was 20 years old, doing adult things for her mother, who speaks little English. 

Nguyet started college at Berry College, then returned to Dalton State, and will finish her degree at Kennesaw State University next year.

Both girls are going to be nurses: Sarah wants to work in Geriatrics, Nguyet wants to work in Pediatrics. 

Fortunate will be the person who is born under Nguyet's care and finishes their time with Sarah.  How do I know?  Because I know them as one in the middle of those time periods. 

I am a lucky man to have taught the kids I have.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lookouts Game with some students from Adventure Club

Track Cookout 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Teaching Middle-Schoolers Etiquette

We have 12 days of school remaining, and it is always a challenge to keep middle school students focused on learning.  After all, these kids have grown up with "high-stakes" testing since they started school.  They have been led to believe that once that big test is over, the learning has ended.  I can't say I blame them for arriving at this conclusion.

I always say "everything that matters in life is a social studies issue."  That's why, along with the advice and support of my team of teachers, I decided to take the last, frequently interrupted, days of school to have our students learn simple social skills.

Here's what is planned:

  1. How to introduce yourself to adults (teachers).
  2. How to introduce your friends to teachers.
  3. Using body language to your advantage.
  4. Interacting with people who are in positions of authority.
There may be time for a few other things too.

Here's what I have noticed:

  1. My students want to know why this is important. - MY ANSWER: You may be able to do a job, you may be qualified, skilled, and capable - but if you lack these skills, you will not have an OPPORTUNITY to prove your value.  On a more immediately relevant issue, your future teachers will judge you based on the way you carry yourself. Learn these skills, and you will have teachers on your side much quicker than if you don't use these skills to your advantage.
  2. My students "rebel" at practicing the "speech" - until they start saying it and finding that they can master these skills rather quickly.  In class, we rotate around the room and practice.  "Excuse me.  Hello, Mr. Murry.  My name is _______.  I have heard good things about you from other students, and I wanted to meet you personally.  Thank you for allowing me to say hello.  I hope you have a terrific day."  I started walking down the halls with my students, and asking other teachers if a student could introduce himself.  Teachers are loving it.  My kids are seeing immediate feedback in the form of a smiling teacher who tells them how impressed they are when they hear a student say their own name clearly, and have the courage to look an adult in the eye as they speak.
  3. The eye contact is very difficult for my students.  The majority of my kids are from Latin American countries, and eye contact can be seen as challenging their parents' authority.  As Jaime Escalante said of the English language, "English is the language of opportunity," I believe eye contact is the body language of opportunity for my kids.
I have scheduled a trip to the 8th grade hallway next week, so our team of kids can meet their future teachers.  They will have to introduce themselves and a friend to at least 4 teachers.  The 8th grade teachers are looking forward to it.  They are great about allowing me to bring their future students to visit at the end of the year.

In preparation for our "field trip" down the 8th grade corridor, I am recording my classes and showing the students their video on TV (as a whole class activity).  I wondered if this would be a good idea, but the kids are really good to each other about being supportive and helpful.  In just two days, the teachers on the hallway are already discussing the possibility of starting next year with these lessons to set expectations, but more importantly to demonstrate that our students will set themselves apart from other students (much like Ron Clark discusses in his book and speeches). 

Once we have enough videos demonstrating a proper delivery, I will post instructional videos here.

Anyone have other etiquette habits they teach?

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6th period video picture and file

6th Period Teacher Training

This is a test for teachers.

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Slope Intercept Rap

video, pictures, files


This is a test to show how to use Posterous.

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Download now or preview on posterous
training.ppt (5713 KB)


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video examples

Testing for 4th period

Mr. Kratz, Mrs. Mooney, Mrs. Ott, Mr. Nobles are in class.

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Saturday, May 08, 2010

Ben Zander - I only teach A students

Could this work?

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Gifts To My Students - 2010 Edition

There are 15 days of school remaining form us this year. Actually it's 14 and a half, for those who really want to get out.  I'm not usually one of them.  I do not enjoy the 8-10 weeks off without students.  I know that sounds strange, but I get bored and restless.

Anyway, I shared a TED Talk with my classes today.  Ben Zander's Music and Passion talk. 


The setting.  Our school finished the CRCT state testing last week.  Our 7th grade Social Studies classes watch Sarafina in the days that immediately follow the end of the test.  I really like the movie, set in South Africa's apartheid era.  It is a musical.  The first song of the movie, the kids laugh.  The second song, they moan.  The third song, they are on the edge of the seats.  It is good.

At the end of the movie, Sarafina and Guitar (two students) discuss the possibility of having the school concert after the concert hall is burned down, their teacher is killed (or jumped out of a 10th story prison window), and they have been arrested and brutalized.  Sarafina says to Guitar, "I want to sing our song...just once."

Beautiful! Oh, that we could have that courage in life - to dare to "sing our song" at least once.

So here are my Gifts for my students, as you move on (but never away):

Gift #1 - FIND YOUR SONG - In earlier grades, when someone asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you were excited to tell them.  By the time I saw you, your answer was mostly, "I don't know."  Either too embarrassed to express your dream, or beaten down by the number of times you were told you couldn't, many lost your "song," your purpose in life.  That one thing that deep in your heart you know you are meant to do. Find your song once again.

Gift #2 - DARE TO SING YOUR SONG...AT LEAST ONCE - Thoreau wrote, "M[ost] men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them." That is sad, to have a dream and never act upon it.  They are desperate to sing out the song that is within them, but they fear something; something so great that heartache, depression, sadness, and despair seems better to them than what they might face if the melody of their heart was set free.

Gift #3 - YOU CAN RID YOURSELF OF ENEMIES IN TWO WAYS - The easy answer, the answer from our warped popular culture of movies and music, is to get rid of your enemies by killing them.  That's the coward's way my friends.  That is the way for the unthinking, lazy people of the world.  We do not rid the world of hate by being more hateful.  We do not rid our lives of enemies by killing them; it only makes their friends our new enemies, and multiplies our problems.  We rid our lives of enemies but making our enemies our friends. Many will say I'm naive in this...so be it. I'm singing my song, not theirs.

Gift #4 - YOU CAN RISE ABOVE YOUR RAISING - I've had many students tell me that they will need to drop out of school because it would be disrespectful of them to have more education than their parents.  The majority of the 5000+ students I have taught are from Latin America.  They love their families, and respect for their parents sometimes hinders them from achieving their highest level of happiness.  Listen, students, I have spoken with many of your parents who brought you here.  You are here because your parents wanted you to rise above their opportunities.  Do not disappoint them.  They risked much to get you here.  You are their song. Become the beautiful melody they dreamed you would become.

Gift #5 - YOU WILL STRUGGLE - I promise you that life will not always be easy.  You will begin to face many difficult decisions very soon.  You seek to be unique, yet you want to fit in.  You want to do the right thing, but what may be popular might not be right (and you know it). The friends you have today may not be as close in a few days, a few years, or a few decades. It will be difficult for you when you, or they, move on.  You will have to decide what you are willing to tolerate from others, and which is more important - your reputation and character or acceptance by peers.  You know, and you know you know, the right thing to do.  Have the courage to do it.

Gift #6 - EVERYBODY IS NOT DOING IT - Whatever "it" is, not everybody is involved in "it."  Drugs, drinking, sex, crime, whatever - if you choose to avoid these things, you do not need to feel lonely in your decision.  There are people who will understand.  Not just adults, but kids your age too. Imagine what our community would really be like if everyone was doing it.  Do not be coerced by those not as knowledgeable as you are now.

Gift #7 - OUR RELATIONSHIP HAS CHANGED - I have been blessed to have you as my students. We have spent nearly 180 hours together over the past 10 months.  We have laughed, worked, struggled, cried, cheered, and thought together.  In a few days, you will no longer be my students.  You will be my KIDS.  My promise to all my former students (my kids) is that I'm available.  I have been to weddings, quinceaneras, funerals, and delivery rooms; games, plays, graduations, and celebrations. If I know about it, and know you want me there, I'll do what I can to continue to support you, because you are My Kids.

Gift #8 - PURSUE YOUR HAPPINESS - It does not matter to me (within ethical, legal and moral limits) what you choose to be and do with your life.  Some of you will become doctors or lawyers or nurses or teachers or business people.  Others may go on to become musicians, marketers, actors, or dancers.  What does matter to me is that you find what you believe will make YOU happy, not someone else.  You cannot love those around you unless you are filled with love to give.  You cannot be filled with love to give until you love the life you live.  Pursue the things that make you truly happy, and you will come to love your life, yourself, and those around you.

Gift #9 - DO NOT SETTLE FOR BEING GOOD WHEN YOU CAN ACHIEVE GREATNESS - Being good at something really isn't very hard.  You can mimic others and be good at something.  Just copy what others do and you'll be considered "good" at it.  Until you begin to create something in addition to doing the good things, you cannot become great.  To become great, you must love what you do.  You will have a "natural ability" to see more than one way to do the things you do.  You will have the ability to "see" in your imagination things that will work (and things that will not work) before you even try them.  You will "know" why you do what you choose to do about something.  To be great, you must follow your passion, pursue your happiness, sing you own song.  Otherwise, you will just be frustrated in life.

Gift #10 - ACHIEVING YOUR GOALS IS NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DO, IT IS ABOUT WHAT YOU CHOOSE TO NOT DO - If you want to be the best at a sport (anything) you must decide to practice.  Everyone knows that.  That's good.  But what everyone does not know, what few people are willing to accept, is that there are more things you must choose not to do, than things you must do.  It is called discipline.  Discipline is what leads you to great.  Example: I once coached a good runner (a hurdler).  He practiced during the season for 6 years to get good at his craft.  He worked hard every practice.  He worked in the summer, when no one else in the area did.  He was alone, but kept on practicing. He was good.  He became great during his fifth year of practice.  Why? Because that was the year he decided to NOT DO some things.  He chose not to play other sports (which people did not understand, because he was good at them).  He chose not to go out with friends during his Junior and Senior years of high school.  He chose not to date, and only went to Homecoming and Prom and not every weekend as his "date nights" in high school.  He chose to not go to bed late, and stay on the computer or phone with friends.  Why did he do this? Because he used the time he would have spent dating, playing other sports, and talking on the phone to practice running and hurdling. He watched hours of videos (of him and professionals). Were those other things he gave up "bad things?"  Not at all, but they would not get him to his goal of running in college.  Did it work?  Yes it did.  He earned over $60,000 dollars in college scholarships to run in college and get an education.  He set three school records at his college, traveled all over the country, ran against some of the fastest runners in history, received an NCAA ring for competing in the East Regional Championships, graduated college, is now teaching, and coaching track in high school. He is my son.

Gift #11 - WHEN YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, NO ONE WILL STOP YOU, AND MANY PEOPLE WILL HELP YOU - There is something special about a person who is really passionate about something.  They can tell you everything about the thing they are interested in.  They can tell you things you didn't know about it, and things you don't want to know about it.  One young man in 7th grade entered a contest of his teachers to create a logo for their grade-level T-shirts.  He won.  His design was printed on nearly 500 shirts in his school.  One of the coaches saw the design and talked to the student about making a t-shirt design for their football team. A basketball coach did the same.  When the company that printed the shirts asked where the designs were coming from, they contacted the kid and asked if he could make some other designs for other schools.  At the age of 13 he was making t-shirt designs for more than seven schools in his area.  He was making three designs a month.  He also made enough money to buy himself a computer and software to learn to do even more.  The company asked him to do other work.  He was earning about $1000 dollars a month in the 8th grade.  He did this through high school.  His junior year, he became a part of the Youth Apprenticeship Program and worked a half-day at a local advertising company. His final two years of high school he was earning nearly $18,000 a year.  He went to college, but continued to work for the advertising company.  At the age of 20, he bought his own house, with no financial assistance from his parents.  He graduated from college in four years with a Business degree in marketing. He had people who saw his talent, but more than that, saw he was serious about what he did, and strangers helped him get to do what he loves to do.  He is my other son.

Gift #12 - YOU ARE MY KIDS (see #7) - I will help you when I can, like I did with my own boys.  I have written recommendation letters, made phone calls to colleges, met with college coaches. I have counseled hundreds of former students through difficult decisions. I will help you too.  I know many people who can help you.  BUT, you must understand the price that comes with my help.  It is a expensive to you.  I will expect that you will share your experiences with me.  I may ask that you share your experiences with my future students.  And this is the most difficult thing I will expect in return -- I will demand evidence that one day in the future, you will help someone else.  You must not pay me back, but you must pay it forward.  You must make your world a better place, where people help each other become better people, who in turn will continue to help others too.  This may sound easy, but it is not.  You will someday have to help someone who is helpless.  You will have to give hope to someone who is hopeless.  Trust me, it is not easy to hear the stories you will hear.  Your heart will break.  Your mind will change.  Your life will be different.  It will cost you hours of sleep wondering if they will be okay.  It will require you to give your time, money, influence, and thinking to more than yourself.  You cannot be selfish.  On the other hand, I will tell you - IT IS WORTH IT. 

RECALL - Remember in Hotel Rwanda, when Paul said all that mattered was "family?" Then he had to save the lives of his close friends.  Then he had to help the orphans.  Then he didn't get on the truck because he "could not leave these people to die."  Remember?  His life changed.  His worldview changed when he found the helpless and hopeless. 

We are in this life together.  We rise, we fall together.  I cannot be the best me, without you.  You cannot be the best you, without others. You cannot rid your life of hate by being more hateful. You rid your life of hate with more love.  You cannot get rid of prejudice by judging others before you are willing to know their situation. You do not end violence by striking first. You do not end poverty by becoming poorer.  We are here at this time, because there is something you must do for someone else before your time is over.

ASSIGNMENT - If you haven't seen it, watch the movie Pay It Forward sometime soon.  If you think you are too young to make a difference, think again.  Make the eyes of someone else shine. 

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tweet from @KHirt

Science Project: Hair clippings to help w/ Oil Spills - Anybody got the guts to shave your head to protect the environment? http://www.matteroftrust.org/

Sent from Echofon - http://echofon.com/

From R. Murry

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