A Teachable Moment

Back in February of 1990? my 6th grade daughter came home from school with science homework on earthquakes.

That was extremely upsetting to me!


Because that was the year of the San Francisco earthquake in October of 1989 during the World Series. It is known as the World Series Earthquake and the Quake of ’89. Everyone was talking about it, it was on the news, in the newspapers, in magazines, and there were many news specials on it.

Why didn’t my daughter’s science teacher take that opportunity, the perfect “teachable moment,” to study about earthquakes?

Right now we have another teachable moment due to the earthquake in Japan and the resulting Tsunami.

And for us techies, a chance to show other teachers all the resources that we have today for instant information in addition to those in 1989.

And most of those new resources are due to the Internet.

One of them is Twitter. We were getting information from people in Japan via Twitter while we were asked to keep from making phone calls to keep the phone lines open.

And some teachers were immediately taking advantage of the “teachable moment” and also letting us know about it via Twitter: from @surreallyno: Changing my lesson plans for today : kids blogging and writing messages for Japanese kids

Most of the resources below were culled from Twitter:

An animation of the tsunami that rippled across the globe http://j.mp/h9kySz

Satellite Photos of Japan, Before and After the Quake and Tsunami

Map of Damage From the Japanese Earthquake (the New York Times)

The Best Sites For Learning About The Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

Cybrary Man’s Educational Web Sites

Another new resource since 1989 is podcasts – here is information from the CNN Student News podcast, made available through iTunes:

Special edition of CNN Student News reports on devastating earthquake that struck Japan over the weekend. http://tinyurl.com/6e6lqzh

CNN Student News resources to go along with special edition of CNN Student News about Japanese earthquake – http://www.cnn.com/studentnews/

How Tsunamis Work

Tsunami Ripples Across Globe: Animated Video

And of course there is YouTube:

“Japan Earthquake: before and after” http://bit.ly/eLSuoQ via ABC News


I ran across the blog for the American Historical Association: The Professional Association for all Historians by accident while looking for a specific article on the web, and was impressed with the content they provide for history teachers.

American Historical Association
The Professional Association for all Historians

Examples of content they highlight.

January 29th is both the day of Thomas Paine’s birth in 1737 and Robert Frost’s death in 1963. So the EDSITEment calendar links to two different lesson plans: “Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy” (for Paine) and “Poems That Tell a Story: Narrative and Persona in the Poetry of Robert Frost.”

Their blog points out these TED Talks as examples of others that can be found there dealing with history.

TED Talks – http://www.ted.com/

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin speaks on what we can learn from past U.S. presidents
Steven Johnson explains the effects the London cholera outbreak in 1854 had on science and society
Peter Hirshberg takes a look at the history of media and technology in his talk from 2008

Marc Pachter discusses “The Art of the Interview,” after he spent time talking to individuals from “recent American history” for a National Portrait Gallery series he put together

They highlight EDSITEment as a good resource for history teachers


EDSITEment’s Advanced Placement U.S. History Lesson Plans
The Bill of Rights
An EDSITEment Tour of the National Mall
The Statue of Liberty

And… EDSITEment has partnered with Thinkfinity


Another site they point out in their blog

Museum Box
Check out the Thomas Clarkson Box. Clarkson was a figure in the Abolition movement, and Museum Box uses him as an example for how to use the site.

Why do school reformers think Superman will be a great teacher, and why are they waiting for him?

How many of you have sat in a college class taught by a professor who knows the content backwards and forwards but can’t explain it in a way that the students understand?

How many of you have sat in a college or graduate class with some of the “brightest” students who couldn’t help anyone else in class? They knew the material but had no idea how to explain it to anyone else.

When I started college many, many years ago I was in pre-engineering. I was not one of the “brightest” in the math and science courses I was taking, but I found that other students were coming to me for help instead of the 4.0 students. That was when I found I had a “gift” for teaching, being able to explain not only how I solved a problem but what they might have done wrong. This was something that many of the more gifted students weren’t able to do, if you didn’t understand how they solved a problem they didn’t now how to show you a different way.

Why do school reformers think that the local pharmacist can teach high school chemistry? What does he/she know about motivating students that don’t want to learn, about classroom management, and about creating interesting lessons that captivate students and make them excited about learning? I didn’t have a minor in chemistry (I ended up majoring in math and physics) but I taught it for many years and did a good enough job that I was a finalist for ND Teacher of the Year. Now I am not “highly qualified” enough to be able to teach chemistry.

Do you really have to have a master’s degree in math to teach elementary math, pre-algebra or algebra? How many of us have taught something that is so new that it isn’t even being taught in college?

I have a motto on my web site that explains my views about Waiting for Superman.

Those who can, Teach
Those who can’t do something much less important

This year marks 25 years since I started doing stats for North Dakota state basketball tournaments hosted by Minot. A former student of mine, Jim Edwards, and I wrote our own statistics program in Pascal on an Apple //e computer with an Imagewriter dot-matrix printer.

Today we are still using the same program running on an Apple ][gs computer (see photo).

Computers used for official statistics at ND State BB tournaments

However, we have replaced the printer with a Macbook that captures the data that used to be sent to a printer. Once we have captured the printer output we paste it into a Word template and print to various networked printers around the building. We then create a PDF document and upload that to our web site <http://minottournaments.com>.

Press box and the catwalk access to it high in the MSU Dome

When we first started doing the stats for the state tournaments we had to run copies of the statistics to the press box located at the top of the dome, at least five flights of stairs. (Actually we got my son and his friends to do that for us 🙂 ). When he got older and didn’t want to this any longer, we started having them drop a rope down with a clipboard, so we only had to go up two flights of stairs, but on the other side of the dome. Years later we set up a fax machine in the press box, and carried a copy machine up for them to use during the tournament. Now we just print 10 to 15 copies to a networked printer located there.

A view from the catwalk getting to the press box

We are often asked why we don’t rewrite the program to run on a more current computer. There is no need to, as the program does everything we need it to and works fast enough on the Apple ][gs. We have even stockpiled several backup computer systems in case our current system quits working.

We are also asked why we don’t use one of the basketball statistics programs available for Windows XP or Mac OS X. There are several reasons – (1) the programs we have seen require clicking on a screen using a mouse, require taking eyes off the action on the court. Our program is written so all the input is from the keyboard, not even a return key required – a basket by player number 14 is entered as 214 and a missed shot by s14. (2) these program are written for season long stats by one team, ours is written for tournament stats for eight different teams so the press has the data for the all tournament teams.

Basically, why fix something that still works?

Back in early 1970’s when I had this cartoon posted on my classroom bulletin board and taught FORTRAN programming using punch cards, we thought technology was changing fast.

I use this cartoon during the early stages of presentations and workshops to emphasize that we will always be struggling to stay ahead of new technologies.

The last slide of the cartoon is the punch line, with the date of 1971.

I first read a Tweet from @wfryer about his blog post “Outsourcing school district IT staff” and clicked on the link right away. From the title it sounded like Wes was in favor of this (he wasn’t), and my blood pressure rose quite rapidly.

I started writing this before I read the entire blog post, and now realize that they were hiring the IT people back through an outside vendor. Blood pressure dropping slightly 🙂 I don’t know how the school can save money – maybe they can save some by not paying benefits – but in our area small schools pay around $65 per hour for outside tech support and we can hire good people for a lot less than that.

My point is this – we do things a lot differently in a school district than the business world does. When I hire a new tech, it usually takes them a year to get up to speed on all the software we support, our network infrastructure, how we image new computers, back up teachers data, etc.

Years ago I had an open forum where local business leaders and their IT directors were present. One of the IT people talked about how efficient their operation was, how secure they made all their workstations. In their environment each computer is used by one person, and that computer just has the software on it that person needs.

I asked him if he would be willing to let us send one classroom of students over each period during one school day. The first hour it would be a class of 9th graders learning how to do MS Word. The next hour we would send over a class of 10th graders learning Excel. The 3rd hour it would be a classroom of students learning DreamWeaver – ooohh – you don’t have that on your computers? Well we need it by 3rd hour tomorrow! The 4th hour would be students using the web, and they need to get to YouTube and Facebook. You have that blocked? Can’t you bypass your filter for this class? We will need Adobe InDesign for the 5th hour class, a video editing program for 6th hour, and Photoshop Elements for 7th hour.

You can’t do that? We do that every day, for 6,800 students in 19 buildings….

I have had the option to hire outside tech support from vendors for our busy season (July-September) but have declined because it would take way too much time to get them up to speed on how we do our setups, etc.

So how can a school or district outsource this support to a vendor?

Many non-educators, in charge of technology and networks, forget their purpose – to help educate the students! They are more worried about network security, filtering, viruses, etc. than they are providing a good educational experience for the students in the school. I compare their kind of support to that of a custodian who doesn’t want the kids to come back in the fall because they will mess up all the floors and rooms he/she spent he summer cleaning. They forget the purpose of the school!

I feel that you need to attract good people for your tech support staff, people who understand that the purpose of what we do is to provide learning opportunities to our students, pay them a fair wage, provide them with the tools they need to do their job, and give them ownership in what they do for our district.

I could go on and on, but I feel my blood pressure starting to drop.


I am actually testing the Skitch screen capture program, which I am very impressed with. With just a few clicks I was able to capture this picture from YouTube, add some text to it, and create the code to embed it into this WordPress blog post.

Bonnie (Duhamel) Kemper is the mother of Josh Duhamel, who was on Ellen this past week. Josh caught his mother (a retired Minot teacher) chewing gum when she was on national TV and pointed this out to Ellen, who walked into the audience and asked her to spit it out.

The clip can be found on YouTube

YouTube - Josh Duhamel at Ellen DeGeneres [Part 2] 1/29/2010
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!