Apps-olutely Underwhelmed: My Adventures In App Testing

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A few posts ago, I wrote about my battle with becoming more digitally literate and what I planned to do to become more so. I've actually delved into a few of the apps I vowed I would investigate. Here's an update.

Spotify - Interesting concept. I downloaded it onto my laptop and enjoyed scrolling through what my friends were listening to in real time. I even introduced my ears to some new sounds. But, ultimately, I decided that Spotify isn't for me. First, every time I booted up my computer Spotify kicked in automatically. It took forever to load, but not so long to annoy me. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get the app out of my start up. Second, why I thought I would like Spotify is beyond me because I can't listen to music and do serious work at the same time. My brain isn't wired for that. Third, truth be told, I don't have the opportunity to listen to music all that much except when I'm in  my car, and my car isn't new-fangled enough to allow me easily listen to Spotify. So, I uninstalled it from my computer and went on my merry way.

Livebinder - I tested this out instead of Evernote (which I still plan to give a spin). Maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance, but I found it kind of a pain to use. Laborious and clunky. Too many steps. It's way easier for me to bookmark a site on my Favorites. Instant access to the full page. Granted, if my computer crashes then I've lost my research but I'll deal with that. So, I stopped using it and went on my merry way. - I've been looking for a new way to compile my budget instead of manually plugging data into a spreadsheet. looked promising. But I hesitated when it asked me to turn over my financial account numbers. I know, I know. has the same security as my bank. But I just couldn't punch in the numbers and hand over the data. So, I shut my browser and went on my merry way.

For now, I'm 0 for 3 on app-alicious-ness. I still have a few I want to test out, and new apps are popping up every day.

How about you? What new apps are you excited about? Please share!

Thanks for reading ... It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy

Is MLK Still Relevant? I Hope So!

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Today marks the US celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday. His actual birthday was January 15, but we love to nationalize (standardize?) things here in the States. It's easier and more convenient for the masses, I guess. Had he been allowed to live, King would have celebrated his 84th birthday.

I can't help but wonder how he would view today's civil rights movement, which focuses largely on same-sex marriages. After all, in addition to being a civil rights activist, King was also a Baptist minister. It represents an interesting conflict of interest. Would he support one group but shun another? Just one of those deep and random thoughts that infiltrate my mind from time to time. 

Regardless, there is no denying King's impact on our nation. I often worry that his legacy -  and the legacies of so many other courageous leaders and innovators that have shaped our culture - is being forgotten. So many students are lacking the basic background knowledge they need to actively participate in our society. It makes me sad.

So imagine my surprise and delight when my two kindergartners started talking about MLK last week. They both knew basic details, including why he was assassinated. I visited the classroom of one of them last Friday, and was moved to find her teacher playing a video of King's I Have a Dream speech on the SMARTBoard. The teacher didn't just play the video, but she paused at various moments, checked for comprehension, and highlighted important information. After the video, she asked her students engaging questions and introduced activities that encouraged the kiddos to explore their own dreams.

King's legacy inspires our society to this day, and his fight is more relevant than ever. It's just that his fight has shifted from racial to cultural. We need to find ways to help students make the bigger connection.

Thanks for reading ... It keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Super-Size Your Cultural Literacy Skills By Going Local

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For folks living in the Midwest  - like me - getting to exotic and faraway places isn't easy or cheap. My knowledge of other cultures and the world usually comes from books and movies. Kansas City is smack dab in the middle of the United States, and I often lament the limited choices we have for close adventure: Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Iowa.

"Going Local" is one of the trendiest trends these days, driven by both the need to curb spending and the desire to support the local community. So, I'm going to hop onto the bandwagon by exploring the places and spaces in my own backyard. I read somewhere that if travel  money is tight, whip out a map and make a 200 mile radius around the area where you live, then go explore on a day trip or overnighter. Sounded like a good plan to me, and a great way to increase my local literacy.

My subscription to Missouri Life magazine got me thinking about local cultural literacy. The December issue included an article on the origin of Christmas traditions in Missouri. I was astounded by all of the rich culture we have here right in our state. It's easy to forget the impact that German, French, and Italian cultures have had - and continue to have - on our state.

A fun way that I've increased my knowledge of Kansas City was by taking the Kansas City Gangster Tour. KC has had its share of mob hits, political bosses, and houses of ill repute.

On the adventure agenda this year is a trip to St. Joseph, MO, which boasts the start of the Pony Express in 1860, the final home of Jesse James, and a pivotal role in the Civil War. It is also home to the makers of the Cherry Mash. I also hope to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS, as well as the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, MO.

An added benefit to expanding your cultural literacy skills is that it builds background knowledge, and background knowledge is an essential ingredient in helping students of all reading levels improve their reading comprehension. So bring the kids! And if you're a teacher, explore some local options for field trips.

What about you? How do you plan to expand your cultural horizons this year?

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!

Financial Literacy Means Living Within Your Means

Love me some financial advice from The Simple Dollar! If you  need a quick and easy way to shore up your financial literacy skills, Trent is the way to go.

Should "Smart" Students Get a Free Pass on Serious Behavior Issues If They Can Help Meet AYP?

During the 2011-2012 school year, I worked in a local charter school. I served on the discipline committee, but it always seemed to me that the consequences doled out for poor behavior and/or actions were rather arbitrary, despite the 100+ consequences (No joke!) outlined in the student handbook. Perhaps arbitrary isn't the right word. Bendy. Yes, the discipline policy was bendy.

From where I sat, if a student was considered "smart"  - as in he/she could score Proficient or Advanced on the MAP test - consquences for crimes committeed didn't seem as harsh as say, for a student who committed the same offense but typically scored Below Basic on the state test.

Case in point: There was 5th grade student who verbally threatened his teacher with violence on more than one occasion. He drew graphic pictures of bad things happening to her. All of his words and actions were well-documented in his file. His parents dismissed the behaior, didn't seem at all concerned at the level of violence, and blamed the teacher. I, along with other members of the disciplinary committee, recommended expulsion.

However, because the student was academically bright, the Dean of Academics was hesitant to remove him. You read that right. The Dean of Acadmeics put test scores and the survival of the charter school above a teacher's safety, not to mention the safety of the other students. Instead, the student was promoted to 6th grade at sememster break. This put him in the middle school building and moved him away from the teacher with whom he was obsessed. In the eyes of administration, the problem was solved.

Here's my question: Do smart students with behavior problems perform well on state tests? Or do their behaviors hinder their success? In other words, is it really worth it for a school to overlook serious behavior issues in its chase to meet AYP? I tried to find research on this topic, but came up empty-handed. Most of the the studies I found focused on gifted children and behavior issues. The students I'm talking about aren't gifted, but possess above-average intelligence.

And taking this a step farther, should students be held to different disciplinary standards based on their academic ability, especially in circumstances that warrant long-term suspensions or expulsions?

What do you think?

Thanks for reading ... it keeps your Mind Full of Literacy!