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David Anthony Colarusso - Sadly not Havoc Dinosaur
Intermittent musings on the law, science, education, technology, design, and life. Also, I build things: furniture, software, reasoned arguments... To learn more about that, click a persona below for my eponymous website.

Archive for May, 2007

A Year in Review, My Fulbright

by David Colarusso - May 27th, 2007

The following is an abbreviated version of the final narrative report I submitted for my Fulbright Teacher Exchange. I have taken the liberty of adding hyperlinks where appropriate. For those of you who didn’t know, I am currently on exchange from Lexington High School in Massachusetts to Broughton High School in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Over two years ago I decided to apply for the Fulbright teacher exchange. Having taught for several years and already holding a Masters in Education, I was looking for new ways to improve my craft. Absent a clear predictive model of human learning, teaching remains more art than science. So I’ve come to believe that beyond a mastery of ones subject and minimal educational training, collecting diverse professional experience remains the surest path to improved teaching. We teachers learn by doing. I applied for an exchange confident teaching abroad would improve my professional skill set, expanding both my experience and perspective. I am happy to say, the exchange has exceeded my expectations.

The most pleasant surprise has been the ease with which I found both social and professional acceptance. Excepting the occasional behavior problems and technical headaches present in all schools, I would be tempted to call my exchange experience ideal. This is not to say it was all smooth sailing, only that I faced the same challenges as my colleagues. Some of these were new to me, and I can’t say that I was always the teacher I would have liked to be. However, I know that upon my return to the States, I will be at least three times the teacher I was. Making this possible was the support and understanding of my exchange school and its highly capable and professional educators.

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“You’ve Got Mail.”

by David Colarusso - May 25th, 2007

So some five months after the problem first appeared, and two days after my blog made some waves, I finally have a proper school login and email. I’d like to think that last bit of timing was coincidental, but whatever the cause, agitation or patience, I can now send and receive school emails. This may not seem like a big deal, but email is how the faculty communicates. Announcements, meeting plans, collaborative efforts, almost all internal communication is handled via email. This meant I was always hearing about things right before they happened when people asked “Aren’t you heading over to such and such a meeting?”

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Complications Blogging My Job: What Aren’t We Talking About?

by David Colarusso - May 24th, 2007

I started blogging about work back in January, and despite previous whole-school emails pointing to my website, yesterday’s triggered my first visit from senior management. It was an unfortunate case of differing interpretations, and I’ll get to that soon. First, some background. Feel free to skip ahead if you’re a subscriber.

Background: Several months ago, Edinburgh schools upgraded their IT infrastructure as part of a new contract with BT Synergy. This meant newer computers and faster networks. Unfortunately, it also came with some headaches. These served as the source for January’s “Refresh Rant.” I commended our internal tech gurus and bemoaned the fact that the new contract moved support off-site, placing it in a centralized pay-as-you-go-BT-run help center. I shared other teachers’ complaints, and I backed up my analysis with a few colorful examples of my own.

A few days later I started running into filtering problems. Namely, YouTube was blocked. This was problematic because I was using it in class. So I posted “The Firewall’s Chill” an argument for why we should allow access to such sites. Interestingly, this apparent change in policy was inadvertently caused by the afore mentioned upgrade. Our in-house staff hadn’t been given the permissions/training necessary to implement nuanced filtering. Consequently, we were left with a blunt instrument and teachers subject to the same filters as students.

Fast forward to March and two major IT incidents–a security breach and a downed network. Happening almost simultaneously and right before parents’ night, I blogged about these under the title, “When it rains.” The downed network seemed the more unfortunate of the two, as the school was left in the dark about it’s status far too long. Our management team followed protocol, reporting the problem to BT, only to go the better part of a day without reply. That’s right, BT wasn’t answering the phone.

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Accounting for Brain Gym

by David Colarusso - May 23rd, 2007

A few months ago a colleague told me about Brain Gym. She had been to the first of two training sessions. So I tagged along for the second, were I was told tracing a figure eight in the air would improve my students’ reading comprehension. Brain Gym is a trademarked set of exercises “designed” to promote learning skills in students. At its heart is the idea that directed low-impact physical activity can help foster focus and improve student attention. This is probably true. Working with eleven year olds, I have found getting them up and moving is an important part of the day, without which attention suffers. Brain Gym, however, is in the business of selling this idea, and they push the claim that their activities can do more: improve spelling, memory, reading comprehension…. After a little digging, we’ve established a lower limit on how much money is being wasted by Scottish schools on this pseudoscientific snake oil. Over the past five years, it’s been at least £127,579.45, and the real number is likely a couple of times larger. Below I’ll discuss how we arrived at this number, and I’ll even suggest a free alternative to help prevent future loss.

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Second Life in the Secondary Curriculum

by David Colarusso - May 22nd, 2007

Kate Farrell’s a good friend of mine, and this talk was an expanded version of something she delivered back at BarCampScotland in March. For those of you who don’t know “Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by a total of 6,615,666 people from around the globe.” Kate’s take on Second Life is much like Robertson’s take on gaming. It’s about meeting learners where they are and engaging them. There is a nice flattening effect here too, very Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat.

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