Video Games Are Not for Girls My Age. No Exceptions.

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 6.55.58 PMI’m the proud owner of a gaming system. It’s a hand-me-down gifted by someone who couldn’t believe we didn’t have a gaming system. It was as if he found out we didn’t have food or had only one pair of socks to share between us. He had extras and gave us an X-Box 360. I wrapped it and put it under the tree–it was a hit. I’ve never owned a gaming system. Correction. I have owned one. Pong. We had advanced Pong, which came with a skeet shooting game–there was a duck option, too, before that’d get you killed by PETA or DCYF, because guns certainly are not cool these days.

I used to hole up behind the couch and wait for my unsuspecting younger brother to play squash or tennis. At just at the right moment, I’d sniper the ball. The ball would disappear, and he’d lose. It was really funny. I was a good shot. The game was too primitive to realize the gun didn’t go with those games.

The good Lord rewarded my malice by never gifting me a gaming system. My brother got a Nintendo, and all of my friends had Ataris, but I had nothing but books. Look where it got me.

So, now that we have a gaming system, I find there are a lot of nifty things I can do with it, like finally get my movies on the flat screen TV we bought when we moved into this house fifteen months ago. I’d have skipped the TV entirely and gone with the books, but turns out that wasn’t one of the choices.

I tried to set up the X-Box myself, but I’m not certified. It seems to be a gender-specific operation for boys from the ages of 3.5 to 30. I’m not in that demographic. Video games are not for girls my age.

Nerd #1 helped me yesterday, but it was taking too long and I was getting upset. If I can calligraphy the Gettysburg Address faster than I can turn on a device and make it work, then someone in Silicon Valley or Japan has to get on the stick and make it more moron proof. It’s just not keeping up with me. I needed a break.

Nerd #2 came to the house today, giving me a hands on tutorial on how to use the controller. It’s a pain in the ass. I painstakingly entered in every single letter of my entire history, arrow by arrow, erasing and starting over more than once. Then I got this gamer ID issued to me–one that I cannot possibly remember. I snapped a picture of it. I don’t think anyone wants to play games with me, but if they do and they don’t shoot me immediately, I’ll need to remember my own name.

Really, though, I don’t want to kill anyone or shoot rainbows out of my butt. I just want to keep my promise. I told Declan he could play Skylanders.

Two hours later, the X-Box is set up. The house is quiet. The boy is watching Netflix–which he was watching on the computer just this morning. But now that he has the Netflix-X-Box, I’m getting to do some work after all. The X-Box 360 has bought me some peace. Just wait until I figure out how to put Skylanders on. It’ll be even quieter.

Declan told me he was going to give me what I wanted for Christmas–world peace and an end to human suffering. Turns out, he has given me an iota of it after all.

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I’ve Lost My Mind. The Tile Will Find It

The TileAll my really smart friends were posting about the Tile. When my really smart friends post, discuss or tweet the same thing, it gets my attention. One of the best ways to be successful in life is to pay attention to the smart folks–it’s carried me this far.

But what was this mystery object–the “Tile?” It looked like little white luggage tag or a piece of bubble gum the package forgot. What’s cool about that? Another couple of people posted. I took a second look. I clicked the link.

It’s a little square that…(gasp)…finds stuff you lose. If Jesus Christ went to Silicon Valley and started iterating solutions that could save my life, he would have made this.

Here is my morning routine:

I get up at 4AM. I write for two hours. Somewhere ten minutes after the last possible minute, I realize I can’t teach in my pajamas. Having just enough time to change, create some bad-hair-day styles, grab a cup of coffee, reach for my keys and bag, I rush out the door.

My keys….

I lose them constantly. Several times a week. I came up with a solution to this. Put them in the same place “every day.” Sadly, though, as I am tackled by boy and dog on my way in the door, “same” doesn’t have the consistency you’d expect when you look up its meaning. Maybe I put them in the “same-ish” place, so I check the top three places. No luck. I run one more lap, checking. I’m late. Every second ticking on the clock is a second I have to make up on the road. Now, I’m not just being a mindless disaster, I’m being a bad citizen. I’m about to speed. If I lose a minute or two more, I’ll be a bad employee–I’ll be late.

So I make the call… I go into the bedroom. My husband is fast asleep. Not for long. I tiptoe, but when I tiptoe, two things happen. I trip over something I forgot to pick up, then I smash my hip on the side of the bed sneaking around–there is a spare key in my nightstand. Bash. Now, he is awake. I snatch the key, trying to keep up the shattered illusion of silence. I sprint out the door.

Bad citizen. Bad employee. Bad wife. After school, I find my keys on the dresser where I remember I left them. I could’ve saved a whole ton of stress.

I clicked on the video for “The Tile” and watched an actor just like me–maybe it is me, and I lost my mind as well–looking for all her stuff. Keys, computer, bike…Tile had it covered.

“What if you lose your phone?” said my very smart friend. She knows me too well. Tile had that covered, too. You can log in with a friend’s phone. It gives “hot/cold” signals until you find what’s missing. Heck, I may just put tiles on some of Declan’s toys and use this as a game.

Thinking differently requires me to come up with solutions for problems that don’t plague the average person. I carry a notebook to scribble ideas so I won’t forget them. I can do the actual writing later on and relax. Now that I’m not afraid of losing my stuff or my mind, I will rest a bit easier. Maybe even relax and enjoy another cup of coffee in the morning.

A normal person would say, “Why don’t you just get organized?” I do try. But once in a while–okay, a lot–keys get lost in the mix. In working with visionaries that provide solutions in the EdTech space for over a year now, I’ve come to appreciate entrepreneurs who envision solutions to my problems before I even know I have them. This situation’s a bit different. I knew I needed something, but short of drugs, never expected a solution. Bravo!  You can check out Tile here.

If this works for me, I’m going to recommend Nick and Mike–the Tile Guys–bring this out of Techland into schools. I’ll tie Tiles to my kids’ backpacks, notebooks, pencils…heck, I’ll even safety-pin them to the shirt of the occasional freshman or two who never seems to be able to find my class when he’s supposed to. Thanks, Nick and Mike.  Every time I find my keys or my students, I’ll think of you.

[image: 9to5mac.com]

 

School’s Out: Will My Grammar Return?

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 11.09.37 PMSchool’s out for summer. But will my grammar return?  Will I be left with words and phrases like “conversating,” “presentating” and whatever you call the verb tense that includes “be gettin’?” Will I recognize that nouns and verbs combine to make complete sentences, and will I continue to acknowledge people with affirmations like “aiiight,” and “s’up” always nodding up, never down…

Grammar’s an important part of my life. I write. I articulate. I appreciate crisp, clean sentences and the proper Oxford comma. But has teaching high school ruined my grammar…or can I credit this problem to Silicon Valley? Not sure. I deal with high school students who are busy trying to out-cool each other with the number of non-achievements they can rack up–the dreaded anthem of mediocrity, “I’m passing,” or worse “I’m only failing four subjects,” followed by a slew of misspelled congratulatory texts from friends. HIgh school students ruined my ability to formulate a grammatically correct idea.

I’m honored to work with the Silicon Valley group–they are certainly geniuses and have knowledge of grammar, but they lack time. “We get a lot of email.” Yeah, I thought, “What’s your point?” “A lot” isn’t like my childhood pen pal return stack…it’s a lot. My friend Heather coined the phrase, “Heather’s inbox…where words go to die.” Okay, it’s a lot. I (not so) quickly learned to ping, text, email and communicate the shortest way possible–grammar be damned. Thanks to Silicon Valley these posts are 50x shorter…no longer lauded by fans of Tolstoy but appreciated by you. Thanks be to the Golden Gate Bridge, I even think in sentence fragments these days. As if my brain needed to be more scattered.

So, I’m trying to decide which group at the polar extreme destroyed my grammar more efficiently. The high school group doesn’t know any better, and certainly doesn’t care. When I point out some travesty of the English language, nine times out of ten I’ll get “Huh?”  Silicon Valley certainly knows the back and front end of Warner’s English Grammar and Composition but spends too much time coding, pitching, or creating companies to note grammatical conventions– a classic case of American exceptionalism, and for good reason. But grammar is grammar–on either side of the divide.

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 11.12.11 PMTeaching high school ruined my speech and spelling in the short side of a year. Silicon Valley beat the complete sentences out of me in no more than two months. I clearly remember the first sentence fragment I employed in a blog post. It gave me as much anxiety as my first “ain’t” in teaching. Heart palpitations. Literally. But today, I alternate both with double and triple negatives quite freely and without compunction.

And you know what? It feels really, really good. When some kid asks me who’s presentating next and I say, “Not sure. Let’s conversate about that in a minute,” I’m okay. When I look at something I wrote a year or two ago that looks like Herman Melville’s whale died on my desktop, I smile at my linguistic liberation.

Once a while, I use proper grammar, just to practice, just so I can sit in a restaurant with two forks should the need arise. But other than that… I’m free. And freedom…is a good thing.

 

[images: simplygrammar.com and venturegalleries.com]

Cool People Have Business Cards–Not Teachers

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 5.50.30 AMThere. I’ve done it. I’ve ordered business cards.  I promised my partner in crime, a person we’ll call “Shawn,” because that is his name, that I would leave the ranks of losers and get them made. We were at our Educator-Entrepreneur meetup last night. The crowd is getting quite large, especially for a state that barely fits full-sized vehicles.  So large, in fact, that we have stuffed Tazza, our Downcity coffeeshop, to capacity. I didn’t have business cards.  I found myself apologizing.

“Teachers don’t have business cards,” I apologized.  “Only important people have them.”

Even so, it was a good event. Tons of people were meeting, smiling, connecting, and discussing their ventures. Partnerships formed, people pitched products.  Business cards were being thrown down like aces in Vegas. For a minute, I thought I had actually ended up at the casino. I wanted to play, too. But I had no cards. So I had to be like the lady with the drink that always stands behind James Bond and does not play.

Business cards are like little gifts–“Here, I present my awesomeness to you.” Sadly, I came to Christmas unprepared. No awesomeness to present.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 5.50.42 AMIn my old corporate days, I had cards– standard company-issued ones. They were boring, but they served their purpose of making a recent college grad feel important enough to have a card. That card was worth a lot of student loan debt.

In this crowd, those just won’t do. Innovators and entrepreneurs have awesome business cards–ones that give you badges, ones that have shapes, designs, and convert into tiny gadgets. There was even one that ordered me another beverage when mine was running low. I expect no less from entrepreneurs. If you can’t impress me with a business card, how will you impress someone important with a pitch?

The charter school teachers all had cards. They’re on that cutting edge. But public school teachers–not so much. Society doesn’t think we’re very important. If we were important, we wouldn’t have so many people babysitting us filing reports on how we do, and they’d get us cards, too.

It’s a well-known fact that anyone without a business card is inconsequential in the economic and social development of America. There is one exception to this rule. There are, in fact, people who are so cool that they transcend cards. I talked to one such person–he’s a maven of marketing for a Silicon Valley ed tech company, I happen to like quite a lot–Learnist.

“Oh, we don’t have cards. We bump phones.” Well, we in education, do not “bump phones.” In many school districts, they’re not even permitted. It’s quite difficult to bump something that’s not allowed.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 7.34.29 PMMy friends Carrie and Shawn commanded me to make cards, and I obeyed. I feel better already–ready to dial up Arne Duncan and give him some thoughts.

I decided to design my business cards with some of my favorite inspirational quotes. Rumi, the Buddha, C.S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson… I even let my author friend slip in there for a quote, because he’s getting so deep that people make slideshows of his quotes and tweet about them. I’ll put him in for one. Maybe someday he’ll earn another, but not quite yet. These honors don’t come easy. In the mean time, that slot goes to Vince Lombardi.

I wanted to steal my friend Marianne’s card’s quote, “I work because I love this shit,” which I think is the best business card of all times, excepting the one that orders drinks. I didn’t have the cajones. I save bad words for emergencies. Work is usually not an emergency–chaos at times, but not an emergency.

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 5.50.59 AMSoon, I’ll be able to stuff my pockets with business cards again and give them to every person passing on the street corner. They’ll say, “Wow. She’s cool. What an awesome card.”

My partner in crime disagrees. He says that business cards are not about importance at all. Equating them with social status is absurd, he remonstrated. They are about intention. Do we intend to get beyond the classroom? Do we plan to get out there and meet the game changers? Even be one of them? Do we plan to rot in our classrooms or connect and change the world? That, he said, is why we need business cards. To connect and change the world. He’s probably right.

P.S.  If you are an innovative educator, or an ed tech entrepreneur who wants to meet educators for the purpose of feedback, collaboration, or sharing of ideas, please consider joining us. Contact me here or at dcaseyrowe@gmail.com. You can also find me on Twitter at @runningdmc. You can check out what we are up to on the EdUnderground Website. 

Glitter, Garbage and Gratitude

Yesterday I made a strategic error in lesson planning.  I wanted some old-school fun that disguised learning. Some “edutainment.”  I needed the quickest of projects that showed mastery of the Bill of Rights, synthesized some research, and didn’t look like it sucked. Since the next item on the agenda is Midterm Review–which isn’t a trip to Disneyland even in Casey’s World–I wanted a lesson guaranteed to make us smile.

I got an idea–I would use glitter.

I haven’t really done any of these old-school crayon, glue, glitter projects lately since I got all tech-drunk. Instead, we do blogs and infographics and tweets and comments.  Certainly technology is productive and fun, but in my day we used glue. I am a history teacher, not to mention a relic thereof, so I decided to take off the tech-gloves and unleash some good old-fashioned old-school paper and glue fun. With glitter.

What a disaster.  First off, I remembered why I love tech in the first place.  You don’t have to say a million times to high-schoolers “Scissor safety! Do NOT pretend to cut her hair.”

This isn’t their fault. Despite my decrees and rules that materials should be used appropriately, kids don’t really get enough art time in schools, so hands on supplies become a novelty. They’re excited. I don’t blame them.

When teaching with technology, you don’t have to say, “You are using the glue on your project. Not making hand gloves.” Secretly, I smile at this one, remembering with nostalgia how many times have I slathered Elmer’s glue on my hand, let it dry, and peeled it off saying, “LOOK, I’m MELTING!”  Maybe that’s a bit of an elementary school thing, but when you break out the glue, we’re all kids at heart.

When using technology in the classroom, you certainly do NOT have to say, “Please don’t waste the paper and supplies. I have to buy these myself and they have to last for eight classes. Use them wisely,” as five thousand confetti pieces of various colors and sizes fly through the air because someone needs red.

But the GLITTER.  That was just a Jeff Foxworthy “Here’s your sign!” teaching moment.  At first, it seemed great. Tons of kids passing around bottles and cups of shiny stuff, gluing words like “Freedom of speech” onto little holiday ornaments, synthesizing their  research into holiday decorations.

But then, the mess crept in.

And I remembered why I don’t use glitter.  Probably half of the educational technology out there was inspired by people who used glitter in class. They said, “I’m gonna make an app for that because I am NOT getting glitter all over my clothes again!” And thus, Silicon Valley ed tech was born.

After about five minutes, the hypnotic spell of the glitter wore off, and a kid got the idea that it would look great in the hair of a girl he probably wanted to date. Guys in the 14 to 16-year-old range aren’t smart enough to realize that chucking stuff in the perfectly arranged hair of a girl they like gets them farther from the end goal of her being impressed with him.  So, I had a couple of cases of “misuse of classroom resources,” to deal with followed up by a student “my bad,” the universally accepted apology.

Behavior corrected, I got the projects I wanted.  Things went well for a couple of classes. Then I got a case of the human  .

“Are you out of your MIND? What possessed you to throw that glitter up in the air?”

“Miss, it’s snowing!” Okay, so it hasn’t snowed here. Truth is, I’m getting worried, though I’m enjoying the pink roses in my front yard. I think the Mayas or Al Gore might be right–this weather is freakish.  I decided to be forgiving. In true Arlo Guthrie style, I made him pick up the garbage and get back to work.  And I managed to get a nice project once again.

By the end of the day, however, the room was destroyed. I had swept, straightened, and arranged all day. My idea of a peaceful holiday-music craft session with kids who never get to do crafts turned into an energetic “constructive chaos” free for all.  Highly productive, tons of fun, but zero of the holiday zen for which I had hoped.

And the glitter.  Glitter, you may not know, is the only inanimate substance capable of reproducing when let out of the container. I bought one container of gold glitter.  It reproduced like a virus until my room was covered three feet thick. It really did look like a snow globe.  I stepped back. I snapped a picture. I froze the moment in my mind and decided if I couldn’t have snow on the ground for December, this would do just fine.

In the end, I was blessed with a senior who came in and took charge of the cleanup. I don’t think she was very happy, because, although she thinks she wants to be a pharmacist, she seems to be headed down the road of becoming a professional organizer.  We have a deal–I help her get into college and look at papers, and she tells me to clean my desk.  She took charge of that cleanup so efficiently that I felt a pang of guilt.  She then issued a proclamation that I will probably obey:

“Mrs. Casey-Rowe,” she said, “There will be no more glitter in this room.” For a moment in time, she held the authority of Commissioner Gist herself. I’m pretty sure I will obey.

But by the time I left school, I was truly overwhelmed, not by the glitter and mess, but by the tragic news feeds from my home state which had been coming in steadily.

I picked up my son from school, and we ran laps around the gazebo, which we do together if he stays “in the green” and has a good day. He did.

“Look, Mommy. It’s your flower.” On the ground, there was a single newly blossomed dandelion. That’s my university’s flower, and Declan knows that. He became a Rochester fan watching the YellowJackets rock “The Singoff.”

He picked the flower and handed it to me. “It’s for you.”

It matched the gold glitter all over my body. At that moment, I knew that my lesson was good. And that life is good, too. I hope that someone went home and told their parents that they got glitter in their hair, or that they got to glue stuff together. I hope it’s one of those lessons that we don’t do often enough but that they never forget.

I’ll clean up the rest on Monday.

This is the single dandelion Declan found.

This is the single dandelion Declan found.

 

 

Loser for Life: Tales of a Girl without Klout

I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I’ve had some downtime this summer, adventured with family, reconnected with friends, and had a chance to meet a visionary group of people who I predict will change the direction of education. In so doing, I’ve learned about the mysterious world of Silicon Valley startups and had an amazing time in the process.  I’ve even learned a few things about myself.

I’ve learned to text and email in sentence fragments, for example, because (sigh) “no one has time to read an epic—we get a lot of email.” I’m a researcher—a nerd. Our motto is, “to make a short story longer.”  The idea of dangling a participle, cutting emails by seventy percent or ending a thought midstream would have left me seeking treatment not six months ago. Now, I can split infinitives like firewood and carry on two different conversations—in sentence fragments—with the same person across three different platforms, simultaneously. It’s not ADHD. It’s a personal best overlapping with far too much caffeine.

I’ve discovered sites and blogs I never would have known, engaged in conversation with brilliant entrepreneurs, and found new worlds of information enabling me to boldly go where no educator has gone before.  I even took the enterprising step of linking my social media accounts and using the ones I’d left dormant.  I’m up to thirty-three Twitter followers.  Pretty soon the President will take my calls. He certainly sends me enough email. So many people in education fear these things, because they put you under a microscope. Nobody wants to look like stagnant pond-dwelling plankton in front of the world, or worse yet, to be controversial.

I threw caution to the wind—I went nearly public.  Why wouldn’t the world want to hear what I have to say?  I know stuff—I can spell.  Can even learn to write in sentence fragments. I was, indeed, feeling good after “playing tech with the big boys” for a few months.  Like I had a voice in the universe.

So imagine my surprise—my horror—at realizing the entire time the Internet has been rating me—and I am a gigantic loser. Algorithms, scores, numbers, charts, graphs. My pitiful status cemented by math.

You guessed it, I found my Klout score—that magical number that defines and quantifies the impact I have in the universe—the ability I have to influence the world. Can I cure cancer? Check my Klout score. Do I have the potential to lead the PTA fundraiser or be a soccer mom?  Klout score? Do I deserve the quantity of oxygen I siphon from the universe on a daily basis? Klout score, please. Now!

At first I thought it was a techie joke, so I played along. No doubt a round-table of geeks and hipsters wearing black, restricting their sugar intake, sitting around old college yearbooks rating people like some B-grade talent show. Payback for getting cut from the football-cheerleading clique; having to be captains of their respective math and chess clubs instead.

Then I discovered this was most certainly not a joke. There are entire industries that take this very seriously. Industries like social media, publicity, and politics. Places where “influence” is critical.  Circles I have grown to like. And they have numerically branded me a loser in public, affixing the lowest of numbers and a big scarlet L to my digital profile. It’s sort of like living in high school…forever.  

To rub it in, Klout, which no doubt knows when I last visited the gynecologist, showed my friends’ scores— my flesh and blood friends as well as the imaginary-digital ones—just to emphasize my bona fide cyber-pariah status, reinforcing that I’m a social washout.  It placed me unfavorably next to my heroes, like the Dalai Lama, who is up in the Kloutosphere, and the President (he won’t take my calls if he sees that number) who scored 99. Regardless of his approval ratings in the latest poll. That’s a lot of Klout.

Apparently, the Kloutier you are, the more “perks” you get.  Perks are free things given to you by people who want to attach to your Klout-tails or who are just impressed by you. I don’t know. I don’t get any perks. I think they’re sending me a bill to cover my Klout-deficit, actually. One lady I read rejoiced when her Klout hit 50—I guess that’s the magic number where you transform from a nonentity into a person. People congratulated her like she won her first Pulitzer or solved the problems in the Middle East without first consulting Jimmy Carter.

I have the least Klout of all my friends. A stat professor friend of mine hovers close to the Dalai Lama, and my entrepreneurial friends are within ten points. I bet my husband’s higher, too–he has more “friends” than me.  If I run the math, that makes me 2.5 to 3 times more of a loser than all my friends.  I suspected as much, (okay, the stat professor surprised me), but it hurts to see it proven. And I’m lucky I’m not a spinster.

Just to rub salt in the wound it asked, “Do you want to post this to your Facebook profile?”  No, I don’t want to tell Facebook I’m the supernova of anti-influence. That I couldn’t convince a born again Christian to love Jesus or a redneck to watch NASCAR. That my digital impact is nonexistent.

It mocked me further, “Casey…you’re right. You are subterranean. It’s been confirmed. No one important likes you. Here are the quarterly numbers. Spin them like FOX News if you like…Social grace, down ten points. Likeability, a modest 10. Optimism, a little higher, cool factor, a stone cold 0. Unfortunately, we can’t measure fashion in negatives. Go back to the punch bowl with the other dweebs.”

I am left to wonder if these numbers are like the old dating system in high school.  If I’m a six or seven, I can date people scoring one point up or down.  A two-point difference is getting shady. THREE POINT SPREAD? That person is “out of your league.” Or is this like the article I saw in The Economist that said that people must marry based on equivalent credit scores. Could my Klout score ruin my marriage? Ahhh, life by the numbers…

I was hoping beyond all hopes that the algorithms would be influenced by the body scanners at the airport. At least there I had a chance to pick up some points.  “Fits through the scanner,” check. “Aged very well,” check. “Totally in shape,” check.  However, it was not to be… I can’t even use my assets (no pun) to promote my inner cool.  How incredibly tragic for me.

So, as I go through life Kloutless and lonely, I would like to thank my sister, who writes for a major online publication.  Because even though she has far, far more Klout than me, she will still read my stuff. And occasionally give me a “like” in order to help me maintain the little Klout I have. Which is truly much more than I deserve.  And I’ll remember the tweet I saw yesterday, “Whenever you get upset at how many followers you have, remember that Jesus only had 12.” If I run that math, I guess I’m not so bad after all.