Archive | January, 2012

[REVIEW] Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

26 Jan

I remember buying all of the books in the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar (including Sideways Arithmetic) from my Scholastic book order at school. I loved how they made me laugh when I read them because they were so silly.

I wanted to do Sideways Stories from Wayside School with my third grade book club class last year, but I couldn’t find it at home, so I went to the library and borrowed a copy. The next week, half of my class received the book as a Christmas present from their teacher at school (they all had the same teacher). I guess she thought they would enjoy it, too. And we were both right. Most of the kids, even those that did not normally enjoy reading (i.e., the boys), had started reading the book during snack time. They were laughing so hard that they had to show their friends what they were reading. I had never seen most of them so excited about a book before.

Just what was in this book that made the kids laugh so hard? They were probably laughing at the kid with the raincoats, but I liked the nonsense of school life that this books brings to light. Like the story of the three Erics, where one Eric was called “Fat” because the other two actually were fat, even though “Fat Eric” was actually skinny.

All the short vignettes that make up this book have something to say about life and human nature. My favorites are the one about the boy who couldn’t help but pull the two beautiful long pigtails in front of him (always made me want to pull pigtails ever since I read this as an elementary schooler) and the boy who smiled and smiled all day. Everyone wanted to know why, but he wouldn’t tell them. Finally, he said, “You need a reason to be sad. You don’t need a reason to be happy.”

I was surprised to find such profound insight in a book for kids, especially one that was just supposed to be funny. I doubt most kids would understand some of them until they are older, but there are some playground truths that kids understand already, which may be part of why they find the book funny.

Can be read with interest by at least second to fifth grade, although once middle school hits, the kids might feign disinterest just for the heck of it. That’s okay, because Sachar writes great books for middle schoolers and high schoolers, too. Contains: Gross things, scary teachers, nonsensical school. 

Education in the 21st Century

22 Jan

The New York Times had a couple of interesting articles recently about the changing needs of students in education and how education has been changing (or not) in recent years in response to those changes.

When I graduated college, I had absolutely no desire to go back to school. Now that I’ve been out of school for a while, though, I have a different attitude towards my own education and education in general. I agree with much of what Lawrence Summers says in “What You (Really) Need to Know,” and it has had an effect on my own educational choices. I also appreciated his reference to The Canterbury Tales, since as a freshman English major, I had to memorize the first 18 lines in Middle English. It was one of the more interesting (and surprisingly useful) parts of my undergraduate education, but other parts were closer to what is described in “Blogs vs. Term Papers.”

I think the reasoning behind making students write term papers is valid, but I was one of those students who hated writing papers all through college, and I chose my classes based on how many pages I would be required to write. I didn’t enjoy the in-class tests much either, although at least I could get those over with faster.

I didn’t realize until much later that while I enjoyed (and still enjoy) learning, I had a hard time seeing the point in much of what I was expected to do in college. I don’t think any of my time was wasted in college, but I think it would have been less painful had I understood how what I was doing was going to help me in the long run.

When I was in Japan, I had no trouble studying eight hours a day for the JLPT because I had a specific goal in mind–to pass the test, and more importantly, to be able to communicate with the people around me. Even now, starting my MLIS degree, I am a lot more motivated to do the work because I can see the real-life applications of my assignments. I care much more about education that is, as Dr. Summers put it, “more about how to process and use information and less about imparting it.”

Now that I’m on the teaching side, I get frustrated when my students turn in organized, formulaic essays that look polished, but don’t show much thought. I can tell that they don’t enjoy writing them, and I don’t like having to read and grade them, either. I want to show them that writing is not a chore, and I don’t want them to have to wait until after graduating from college to figure that out (like I did).

They have been taught to start and end paragraphs a certain way, and the smart ones quickly figure out the most painless way to write one. Most are more concerned about how many sentences they have to have in each paragraph than about what they are actually trying to say. Their teachers at school rarely encourage them to think deeper than that; instead, the teachers praise them for being able to follow directions, so these students end up thinking that writing is about following formulas.

While I think that it is important for students to know how to write a 5-paragraph essay, I think it’s also important for them to be able to express themselves in an engaging and interesting way. As a long-time participant of Nanowrimo, I have over the years collected different ways to foster free-form writing, and I can see how writing blogs would be beneficial for students in helping them to enjoy the process of writing.

At the same time, I see how many students who have a poor grasp of basic writing skills have an even harder time writing effectively in non-traditional writing situations. For those students, having a structure to follow helps them write longer and more coherent paragraphs and essays. I believe it is the job of the teacher to provide the structure for good writing and then encourage the students to make the writing their own.

When I was in high school, I had a hard time with the SAT Writing test, so my parents sent me to the Princeton Review to help improve my writing score. I learned how to write an essay in 20 minutes that was basically all organization with very little content. Their formula did help me improve my score, and I think this kind of organization helps especially with standardized writing tests where there is a time limit. However, looking back, I think that I would have been able to get a higher score on my essay had I been encouraged to do more than just write to their formula.

I have been a long-time believer that nothing can replace reading when it comes to building vocabulary, but recently, I have come to see how reading can encourage students to write better, too. Had I realized this connection earlier, I may have had more confidence in my own writing and not depended so much on the formula that Princeton Review taught me. Reading not only expands the imagination, but it also exposes students to new words and sentence structures that they would not otherwise even think about using.

One of the best writers in my class has a hard time with grammar, but she can write vivid descriptions with varied sentence structures (two things that the CST graders value highly when scoring writing tests). My students who don’t read as much might have better grammar and spelling, but they tend to produce cookie-cutter sentences that are not nearly as interesting to read. These students would get points for organization, but may lose points for not being engaging (like I suspect happened with my own writing test).

When I was growing up, I always loved reading, but I was always content to let others struggle through the process of actually doing the writing. The idea of writing a 20-page term paper is still daunting to me, but I enjoy writing a lot more now than I ever thought I would.

[REVIEW] From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

17 Jan

Newbery Medal Award Winner From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is about sixth-grader Claudia Kincaid, who decides to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art because she thinks she is treated unfairly at home. Her 9-year-old brother, Jamie, provides the funds for her plan to live comfortably away from home, but with little knowledge of the world outside of the suburb where they grew up, the siblings quickly find that $24.43 doesn’t go very far, even in the days where an ice cream sundae only cost 40 cents. Mrs. Frankweiler’s part in their adventures begins when the children find out that an angel statue recently acquired by the museum was bought from the eccentric collector. Their search to solve the mystery of the angel leads them to a visit to Mrs. Frankweiler’s “mixed-up files,” where the children learn more than just the secret of the mysterious statue. She sends them home with a secret and leaves them thinking more about their lives.

I never actually read this book as a child, but I remember that part of my class read it in fourth grade because we did a musical about it. Go figure. Being a child of immigrants in Los Angeles, it was my first exposure to songs like “New York, New York,” and my first time hearing about Rockefeller Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I finally read the book last summer and thought that since it would interest both boys and girls, it would be a good book to read with my fourth grade class. Unfortunately, I forgot to take into consideration the level of the vocabulary and grammar knowledge that was needed to understand the book. I know I often enjoyed books where I didn’t understand everything, but reading a book for fun and reading it for a class are completely different things. Most of my students had trouble with words like “injustice,” “tyrannies,” and “commuting suburb.” And Claudia was probably the first grammar Nazi they encountered in literature. They barely understand subject verb agreement. I don’t expect them to understand her problems with ending a sentence with a preposition or with using phrases like “hide out in.”

(Claudia was not entirely correct, by the way. It is in fact acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition most of the time, as long as you leave out unnecessary prepositions. Don’t believe me? Here’s a video from Merriam-Webster, along with a bunch of other fun English and grammar videos. In the case of “hide out in,” “hide out” is a phrasal verb, so it makes sense to double the prepositions.)

I’ll think twice before using an older “classic” with my students from now on. I find that books that were written for a particular age group tend to contain references that make things interesting for readers of that time period, but those same references make it harder for future generations to understand. My fifth graders usually find difficult concepts interesting, even if they don’t understand them completely, but I will need to be more careful about these things in the future with my younger students…

I think girls will like reading about the smart and resourceful Claudia, but there is plenty in the book for both genders. Kids about 3rd grade and up will enjoy the adventure and mystery in this story about runaway siblings. Be warned: Scholastic tells me that the reading grade level is about 6.8, and I agree with them.

(I do wonder if kids in Konigsburg’s day had a better vocabulary because they had fewer options of entertainment and read more, though.)

Newbery Medal Award Winners, 1922-present

16 Jan

I didn’t notice that Newbery was only spelled with one “r” until one of my fourth graders pointed it out to me last year… Books I’ve read are marked with an asterisk (*), favorites are marked with a heart (♥) at the end. I’ve read a number of them recently with my students, so I’ll link to reviews of those once I’ve posted them.

(from the ALA/ALSC site)

2012: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Farrar Straus Giroux)
2011: Moon over Manifest 
by Clare Vanderpool (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
*2010: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean (HarperCollins)
2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)
2007: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan (Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson)
2006: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)
2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
*2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press) ♥
2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (Hyperion Books for Children)
*2002: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin) ♥
2001: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Dial)
2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte)
*1999: Holes by Louis Sachar (Frances Foster)
1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic)
*1997: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg (Jean Karl/Atheneum) ♥
*1996: The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman (Clarion)
*1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins)
*1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton)
1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (Jackson/Orchard)
*1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Atheneum)
*1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (Little, Brown)
*1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Houghton)
1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman (Harper)
1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (Clarion)
1987: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow)
*1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (Harper)
1985: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (Greenwillow)
*1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (Morrow)
*1983: Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt (Atheneum)
1982: A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard (Harcourt)
*1981: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (Crowell) ♥
1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos (Scribner)
*1979: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Dutton) ♥♥♥
*1978: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (Crowell)
1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (Dial)
*1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper (McElderry/Atheneum) ♥
1975: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton (Macmillan)
1974: The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (Bradbury)
*1973: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (Harper)
1972: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (Atheneum)
*1971: Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (Viking)
*1970: Sounder by William H. Armstrong (Harper)
*1969: The High King by Lloyd Alexander (Holt)
*1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum)
1967: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (Follett)
1966: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (Farrar)
1965: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (Atheneum)
1964: It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville (Harper)
*1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar) ♥
1962: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
*1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (Houghton)
1960: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
*1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
1958: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (Crowell)
1957: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen (Harcourt)
*1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (Houghton)
1955: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (Harper)
1954: …And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
1953: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (Viking)
1952: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (Harcourt)
1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (Dutton)
1950: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (Doubleday)
1949: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (Rand McNally)
1948: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (Viking)
1947: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (Viking)
1946: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (Lippincott)
1945: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Viking)
1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Houghton)
1943: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Viking)
1942: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds (Dodd)
1941: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (Macmillan)
1940: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty (Viking)
1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (Rinehart)
1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy (Viking)
1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (Viking)
1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (Macmillan)
1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon (Viking)
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs (Little, Brown)
1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis (Winston)
1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Longmans)
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan)
1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (Macmillan)
1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (Macmillan)
1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Dutton)
1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James (Scribner)
1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (Dutton)
1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (Doubleday)
1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes (Little, Brown)
1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Stokes)
1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (Liveright)

Also, here are the Newbery Honor books that I have read (from most recent winner to oldest):

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury Children’s Books) ♥
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)
Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath (Farrar Straus Giroux)
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins) ♥
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow/Morrow) ♥♥
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (Clarion)
The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer (Jackson/Orchard) ♥♥
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (Jackson/Orchard)
Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle (Jackson/Orchard)
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt (Atheneum)
Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz (Putnam)
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (Morrow)
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar)
Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary (Morrow)
Dragonwings by Laurence Yep (Harper)
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (McElderry/Atheneum) ♥
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Atheneum)
The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander (Holt)
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (Dutton)
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson (Harper)
Banner In The Sky by James Ullman (Lippincott)
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Harper) ♥
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth S. Gannett (Random House) ♥♥♥
Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Harper)
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater (Little, Brown)

Los Angeles Central Library

13 Jan

(Going on a cruise for MLK weekend, so moderated comments won’t show up until Monday!)

Yesterday, I went with the seniors’ group at my church to visit the L.A. Central Library.

20120113-124110.jpg

Since I only work in the afternoons, I can usually join them for the field trips they take in the mornings. I wasn’t planning on going to so many, but I love field trips! They’ve kind of adopted me as their mascot…

The last time I went to the central library was when I was in sixth grade researching patents for a project called Invent America. I think they had just reopened with the new Tom Bradley wing then, but I don’t remember much from that trip.

We didn’t have much time to browse yesterday, so I definitely want to go back and look around some more. I just have to remember to go on a weekend or stay for less than three hours. Parking was about $25 yesterday because they start charging every 10 minutes after three hours!

My (Physical) Bookshelf

11 Jan

Ever since I saw Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” I have wanted a library like the one Belle gets in the Beast’s castle:

Beauty and the Beast Library

But until I have more money/space/books, I will just have to settle for this:

Right after buying the second of these bookcases, I heard a piece on NPR that lamented the “death of the book” and the redesigned BILLY bookcase.

The latest distress signal being sounded on the chat sites I share with my bookish friends is that IKEA is about to introduce an updated version of its classic BILLY bookcase — some 10 of which totter to overflowing in my own basement. Anticipating “the death of the book,” IKEA has redesigned the good old BILLY with deeper shelves and glass doors, thus transforming it from a bookcase into a tchotchke cabinet.

-Maureen Corrigan, ‘The Swerve': Ideas That Rooted The Renaissance

This is why they didn’t have the beech anymore, and this is why I have two different colors. (I saw the add-on doors at IKEA when I saw the second one, and they didn’t even close properly. :mad:)

Teamwork

9 Jan

I may be in the minority here, but I have always enjoyed teamwork. I like having people cover for my weaknesses, and it’s always nice to have people to bounce ideas off of. I feel like working with other people to complete a project lets me focus on my strengths, and encourages others to do the same, resulting in a better product than if I were to do the whole thing on my own.

The problem with teamwork in an online environment is that you don’t know the people you’re working with. When I have been involved in team projects in the past, even if my team members were not my friends, I have usually had a good idea of their strengths and weakness. I know who will do their part without being asked and who will need some extra reminders to finish their work on time. For me, this comes naturally from observing people in the classroom, and I’ve gotten to practice it even more as a teacher watching my students interact with the material and each other.

But with an online team, there is no real opportunity to see how a person acts outside of the team setting or outside of a particular class unless you create it. I actually purposefully did not sign up for LIBR 202 because I saw from looking at the course information that I would be required to work in teams, and I wanted a chance to get used to online learning before having to do teamwork online as well. After listening to some lectures specifically about teamwork, though, it doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore.

Dr. Ken Haycock of SJSU’s School of Library and Information Science says that the key to a successful team is having a group goal with individual accountability. This means that there has to be a consensus within the team about what it hopes to achieve with a system of accountability like a peer assessment at the end to make sure everyone does their part. I have participated in goal setting and performance evaluation meetings in the past, and while I think they are definitely helpful in improving the final result, I think that it is also very important to get to know your team members in order to facilitate planning and the decision-making process when coming up with the goal and the accountability system.

In an online context, this means that I read as much of the discussions and posts in a forum or on the class website as I can, even if I’m not directly involved in the conversation. I try to participate in discussions and contribute to the online communities I am a part of. Sometimes trying to balance an online and a “real” social life can get a little overwhelming, but I’ve been recharging and gathering new material for about a year now, so I’m ready to get back into it!

[REVIEW] 1001 Cranes by Naomi Hirahara

9 Jan

I’m sure many of you have read or heard of the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, or at least heard of the tradition of folding paper cranes in Japan.

1001 Cranes by Naomi Hirahara takes a look at how that tradition was changed in America by the Japanese Americans and turned into a display used for celebrations, like weddings and anniversaries. Through these displays, 12-year-old Angela Kato learns to come to terms with disruptions in her family, beginning with her parents’ impending divorce. Despite being American through and through for generations, her family still clings to many aspects of the Japanese culture, including an independence to not rely on others and suffering in silence from not “monku” (complaining).

When I started reading the book, I realized that the book takes place in the city where I work now, Gardena, and its environs. I practically grew up in Gardena, and I’ve read a lot of books, but this was the first time that I had ever read a book set in this specific city. Beverly Hills, Hollywood, maybe even Long Beach I can understand, but Gardena? Not that it’s a bad thing. I think more books should be set in places I know. :)

Most of my students live in or near Gardena, and the center where I teach is located there, so this book is perfect for them. I actually work within walking distance of the Buddhist temple that I think is described in the book.

And not only was the main city where I am now, but the city where my sister and I always stop to eat In-N-Out at on our way down from the Bay Area, Kettleman City, is also mentioned when the main character drives down from near Stanford to Gardena with her mom. My sister graduated from Berkeley and is doing a Masters program at CSU East Bay right now, so we’ve taken the trip quite a few times.

I picked up this book when I was browsing the library to find books for my 5th and 6th graders last year, all of whom are Korean American girls. Most, if not all, also have an interest in Japanese culture through their exposure to anime and manga. I’m not Japanese American, either (although many of my friends growing up were), but many parts of the book resonated with my experiences growing up as an Asian American.

You don’t have to be an Asian American girl to get something out of this book, though. Hirahara is a wonderful storyteller, and the pacing and tone will keep even reluctant readers interested. The book also teaches valuable lessons about family and dealing with separation and loss.

This book is especially good for Asian American girls around middle school age, but it can be read by advanced upper elementary readers and can be interesting for high school and beyond. Parents should be aware that it has some adolescent themes (dating, first kiss).

Life Beyond Cyberspace

8 Jan

Did you know?

William Gibson invented the term cyberspace — and this definition for it — in his book Neuromancer, the original cyberpunk novel.

–from the endnotes for Netiquette by Virginia Shea

I think I had heard this somewhere before, but I saw it again in one of my readings for class today, which happened to come from this book.

I have spent about half my life using the internet actively in some form or another, starting with an AOL free trial that I coerced my parents into signing up for before starting high school so that I could email my friends. I learned how to type and use a computer even earlier than that, playing Mavis Beacon and typing up my science fair projects in elementary school on Lotus.

So when I see questions like “Are you comfortable using a mouse?” on the Online Learning Readiness Assessment that I was linked to in my first class for my MLIS degree, I do a double take. Then I think about people like my mom, for whom it is a great accomplishment just to send an email.

The thing is, I don’t even use a mouse anymore. My primary computer has been a laptop for the past ten years. And ever since Apple introduced gestures with multi-touch technology into their products, I’ve been using my trackpad for so much more than just pointing and clicking.

So yes, of course I am comfortable using a mouse. Yes, I use word processing software all the time.

I know the site is just making sure that we have the minimum skills needed to access and complete online courses, but some of the answers made me wish for more… accuracy. Yes, I have my own email account. In fact, I have more than one. I have lots. Yes, I browse the web all the time. I have an iPhone with unlimited data.

The technology around me has become so invisible that I don’t even notice that I’m using it.

I felt like it had been so long since I’d learned new technology that I worried about the information overload I anticipated from learning the different technologies associated with this degree. Just getting this WordPress blog to look the way I wanted it to made me wish for the simpler days before Web 2.0. And then I viewed my blog on my phone, and none of the edits I made mattered anymore.

We’re already moving beyond Web 2.0. Technology is constantly changing, and (especially for Mac users like me), it’s getting more and more intuitive. I’m learning new and more efficient ways to interact with the world around me using technology every day, but most of the time, I don’t realize that I’ve learned something new until I think about it in retrospect.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check my phone. I tell my smart journal Path that I’m awake, and then I check my email and whatever “virtual life” game(s) I am currently playing. My current one is Kawaii Pet Megu, based on the Tamagotchi virtual pets that were popular when I was in middle school. The process reverses at night when I get ready for bed, as I check everything one last time and then tell Path that I’m going to sleep.

Life was definitely not always like this, but I can’t really remember when it became “this.” Was it when I installed Path on my iPhone? When I first got an iPhone? When I first got a computer?

But since I’m already so integrated into cyberspace, it’s not that hard for me to add “check class updates” to my morning (and evening, and basically all day) routine. I usually have multiple browser windows with multiple tabs open on my computer, sometimes on more than one computer. And since a lot of the content for my classes is optimized for mobile browsers, I can do my reading and check the discussion posts whenever I have downtime (waiting in line, etc.) or when I first wake up in the morning and don’t want to put on my glasses to look at the computer…

I still can’t create Word documents and upload them from my phone, though, so I have to actually sit down and do the assignments on my laptop. It takes a little more discipline, but so far, I’ve found that it’s very similar to when I am freelancing. I’m responsible for my own schedule, but I have a deadline when I need to get the product (in this case, the assignment) uploaded or emailed to the client. This is especially true because the majority of my freelance work is done online, and I rarely meet my clients in person.

What is interesting to me is how my attitude toward school has changed from when I was an undergraduate. When I was at Yale, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, and I was just doing what I had to do to get my degree. I chose classes that I thought would be interesting, but in the end, it felt like I was just choosing the lesser of (multiple) evils. I had a great experience in college, but I feel like my attitude toward the academic part of it was not as focused as it could have been.

It’s different now that I have a goal I’m working towards. There are still a lot of uncertainties with where I’ll end up, but I feel like there are so many interesting and exciting possibilities that are available to me once I earn my degree. (I keep staring at the internships page wondering when I’ll get my turn to try a few.) I am pleasantly surprised to find that many of the assignments themselves are encouraging me to really think deeper about why we’re doing all this and how everything connects to the real world. Instead of just completing assignments to get them done, I really have a sense of ownership over everything that I’m producing.

This is only my first week taking online classes, though, and so far, the material has been very interesting and not too challenging. I hope I can remain this positive about my classes when I have to write that paper at the end of the semester…

Goodreads replacement?

7 Jan

Or supplement?

I signed up for Goodreads way back in 2007, and while they make it so easy to keep track of books for you, I never really got into it. I was in Japan at the time, so I didn’t have much access to English books, and my Japanese reading was (and still is) embarrassingly slow. As a result, I collected Japanese books that I wanted to read some day, and I read what I could find at the local library.

Then I pretty much forgot about Goodreads. I had a handful of friends who used it, but I was too overwhelmed alternately by how many and then how few books I was reading to think about updating it.

Fast forward to the end of 2010, when I was looking for books to use in my book club classes. I started making a list of books from school/teacher book lists to skim through, supplemented by books that just looked interesting when I browsed the library.

I ended up with my own system of keeping track of books, but I kept wanting to review the book I just read and read the next book in my pile at the same time. I started a few reviews (which will be the first ones on this blog), but most of the books were library books that needed to be returned, so I read them first. And then when I went to return them, I would find more books to read.

Finally, at the end of summer 2011, I finished up my last pile of books and brought them back to their respective libraries (going when they were closed on purpose and using the book drops so I wouldn’t be able to get new books!) And then I ordered some used books online. And put off reading them.

Anyway, my books are getting dustier by the day, but I am slowly transferring (and updating) my book lists and review notes to this blog. I am trying to write reviews for the books I read before I forget what was in them, but I suspect I will have to check some of them out from the library again…

P.S.–Here’s a link to my neglected Goodreads account in case I ever decide to update it…

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