5 questions: Steve Dembo

[This is a new feature here at Dangerously Irrelevant, meant to help us get to know some edubloggers a little better. If you’d like to be featured sometime, drop me a note.]

Name: Steve Dembo

Blog: www.teach42.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/teach42

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teach42

1. What's something that recently caught your attention from your personal learning network, RSS reader, Twitter feed, etc.?

Lately, I've been very focused in on the iPad, and many people in my PLN have shared some interesting insights with respects to it.  It has become a tangible representation of so many polarizing issues, from 1:1 initiatives, to digital books (textbooks and otherwise), as well as the role of technology in education.  While only a few are doing the exploring, the initial comments create conversations that ripple outwards, increasing in size and momentum as more and more people chime in.

2. Besides your own blog and Dangerously Irrelevant, what are 3 blogs that you'd recommend to a school administrator who’s new to the education blogosphere?

  • http://www.practicaltheory.org/serendipity
  • http://www.thethinkingstick.com
  • http://blog.mrmeyer.com
  • 3. What is a digital technology tool that you can't live without (and why)?

    The iPhone.  It has truly become my digital hub for an incredibly diverse number of things.  I use it to read and respond to emails, both work and personal.  I use it to manage my various calendars and to wake me up in the morning while traveling.  It entertains me through movies and music, as well as serving as an e-reader in a pinch.  I take notes on it, set reminders, and store my passwords there.  I use it to log how many calories I consume each day and it connects to my shoes to keep track of how far I run (and have lost 25 pounds thanks to these two).  While away from a WiFi network, I use it to provide internet to both my laptop and iPad.  It keeps me connected to my instant messenger while away from my computer, and provides me with easy ways to keep up with Facebook and Twitter.  It is my news reader, my digital camera, and digital photo album.  I have ordered books with it and played music on it.  I am playing Scrabble-like games with 15 people right now.  It is my mobile reference stations as well as entertainment console.  It is a distinct pleasure watching my son practice his letters, numbers, shapes and colors through the games I have provided him. /  / Oh yeah.  And it makes phone calls too.

    4. How do (or would) you respond to someone who says 'The kids know more about technology than I do. How do I handle this?'

    I'd say that's a wonderful problem to have.  The key to remember here is that just because one knows how to use a application, program or piece of hardware, doesn't mean they know how to do so effectively.  When to use and when NOT to use it.  What students may have in natural aptitude, they lack in experience. They may be experts at social networking, but don't know where to draw the line.  They may know how to edit video, but not how to use it to tell a compelling story.  They may know how to create a Powerpoint, but not communicate their learning effectively.  The main thing to keep in mind is that there is much more to an exemplary use of technology... than just the technological aspects of it.   /  / Educators don't need to have more technical skills than the students.  They need to be able to guide them into effective usage of those skills.

    5. How do (or would) you respond to someone who says 'Students have to learn the basics first. Only then can they work on 21st century skills.'?

    In some sense I agree, but only to a point.  The issue is when students are being directed to a point that the instruction becomes a shell that students are unable to break out of.  For example, if you provide step by step instructions along with a clear description of what exactly you want the students to create, they will likely be able to provide you exactly the results you requested.  However, change just one or two variables, and they will have extreme difficulty adapting.  Part of 21st century skills is being able to look at problems analytically and determining the best course of action.  When failure is encountered, being able to take it in stride, make adjustments and try from a different angle.  In many situations, a heavy focus on what is known as 'basic skills' can be a detriment to the sort of flexibility students need to succeed in these situations.  By focusing on the larger concepts instead of the basic skills, students are better equipped to be able to transfer the same ideas to new problems that they may encounter.

    Thanks, Steve, for sharing your thoughts with us!

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    Originally Poe envisioned a parrot, not a raven

    Quoth the parrot — "Nevermore."

    The Green Parrot by Vincent van Gogh, 1886
    Culture & Religion

    By his mid-30s, Edgar Allan Poe was not only weary by the hardships of poverty, but also regularly intoxicated — by more than just macabre visions. Despite this, the Gothic writer lucidly insisted that there was still a method to his madness when it came to devising poems.

    In an essay titled "The Philosophy of Composition," published in 1846 in Graham's Magazine, Poe divulged how his creative process worked, particularly in regard to his most famous poem: "No one point in [The Raven's] composition is rerferrible either to accident or intuition… the work proceeded step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem."

    That said, contrary to the popular idea that Edgar Allan Poe penned his poems in single bursts of inspiration, The Raven did not pour out from his quivering quill in one fell swoop. Rather it came about through a calculative process — one that included making some pretty notable changes, even to its avian subject.

    As an example of how his mind worked, Poe describes in his essay that originally the bird that flew across the dreary scene immortalized in the poem was actually… a parrot.

    Poe had pondered ways he could have his one word refrain, "nevermore," continuously repeated throughout the poem. With that aim, he instantly thought of a parrot because it was a creature capable of uttering words. However, as quickly as Poe had found his feathered literary device, he became concerned with the bird's form on top of its important function.

    And as it turns out, the parrot, a pretty resplendent bird, did not perch so well in Poe's mind because it didn't fit the mood he was going for—melancholy, "the most legitimate of all the poetical tones." In solving this dilemma in terms of imagery, he made adjustments to its plumage, altogether transforming the parrot — bestowing it with a black raiment.

    "Very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone," Poe explained in his piece in Graham's. "I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven — the bird of ill omen — monotonously repeating the one word, 'Nevermore,' at the conclusion of each stanza, in a poem of melancholy tone…"

    It was with these aesthetic calculations that Poe ousted the colorful bird that first flew into his mind, and welcomed the darker one that fluttered in:

    In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
    Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
    Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
    Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
    By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore…

    The details of the poem — including the bird's appearance — needed to all blend together, like a recipe, to bring out the somber concept he was trying to convey: the descent into madness of a bereaved lover, a man lamenting the loss of a beautiful woman named Lenore. With that in mind, quoth the parrot — "nevermore" just doesn't have the same grave effect.

    * * *

    If you'd like to read more about Edgar Allan Poe, click here to review how his contemporaries tried to defame him in an attempt to thwart his success.

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