Monday, November 03, 2003


Internet Public Library at is an excellent beginning place for students who will use the WWW for research. As the name implies, it uses library standards to sort and organize sites and resources.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Robert McCloskey, 88, of 'Make Way for Ducklings,' Is Dead
This headline and link to the obituary by Eleanor Bau in the New York Times Online sucked the wind out of me for a moment. Just last Friday, my wife, daughter, and I met for lunch in Boston and then we wandered over to the Public Gardens, where McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings is set.

We saw the bronze sculpture of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings honoring McCloskey and his book, and noticed, as we did, a family with toddlers, sitting on the bench across from the sculpture, a new copy of Make Way for Ducklings in Hand, reading from the book, and comparing the illustrations to the sculpture.

We also took a ride around the Public Garden Pond in the Swan paddle boats; as it curved around a small island in the pond, we watched this season's ducklings teeter-waddle about, slipping among rocks, hectically dropping into and out of the pond. And even as we left, a an ice-cream truck was parked on the corner of Boyleston and Arlington Streets, the back of which featured the famed image from the book, of the police officer with a hand held up and whistle blown, stopping traffic so Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings could cross the street and enter the Public Gardens.

So the news comes when thoughts of McCloskey are still fresh because his work was literally alive for us just days ago.

I think maybe we'll head to Maine for some blueberries soon.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

summer at the pool over the phone

Summer at the Pool
I called home late yesterday afternoon, and got no answer. So then I tried my wife's cell phone. I wanted to give her some news about an appointment we've been trying to arrange. When she answered, I could hear in the background: kids laughing and talking, parents calling out, a life guard whistle, the sound of feet walking in short, fast steps through the shallow puddles that form at the edge of the pool, the sort of twangy hard thump of the diving board, followed by a splash, my daughter and her friend rustling in the beach bag that was very likely hooked over the back of the chair my wife was sitting on as we talked.

Yesterday was hot and a little bit humind in the Boston area, and the town pool was the place to be. As we talked, I could almost smell the chlorine.

Monday, June 09, 2003

New Blog: Teaching Writing in an Online World
I began a new blog, Teaching Writing in an Online World that I started a few days ago as a way to experiment with using a blog in TechNotes. TechNotes is a newsletter with tips on teaching writing, focusing mostly on technology.

I first created TWOW because this blog, Odds and Ends, has drifted into being a place for me just to post short essays on, well, odds and ends. TWOW will be predominately about issues that in some way connect teaching writing in a time when networked computers are increasingly the default writing technology.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Odorless Supermarkets

Tuesday night I went with my wife and two daughters to the supermarket. We were in the neighborhood and decided on a whim to get some ice-cream to make sundaes, and a few other odds and ends. We entered the store and diverged in teams of two. I trailed along behind my 12 year old, who made a beeline for the bread section; she loves crusty breads, baguettes, that kind of thing. It's a favorite snack (along with snap peas, go figure).

So as she ran ahead, towards the bread, I flashed on an image of me having done the same kind of thing when I was her age, skittering ahead of my mother to where we were heading in the grocery store to select and make a case for the variant of the staple that I liked best (or disliked least in some cases). The flashback was strong, I remembered the store, a neighborhood market, with worn and warped wooden floors, and shelves that seemed more loosely grouped than regimented by product rows. But the thing I remembered most in that flashback, were the odors from that old store.

When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time in grocery stores that had odors, places where you could smell the food the minute you walked in. So on Tuesday night, as I stood there in the supermarket, with its garish lights, and abundance, was the absence of scent. Even in the bread section, there was no smell of fresh baked bread. Even in the vegetable section, where fruits and vegetables are laid out, there was no odor of fresh vegetables. And forget about meats and cheeses, which are shrinkwrapped, boxed, cellophaned and styrofoamed into odorless units. Between the packaging, the cavernous size of more and more supermarkets, and the air conditioning, 1/3 of the intimacy and sensuality of food shopping (texture and taste being the other two thirds) evaporates. I think it literally evaporates into the large cavernous spaces of the modern supermarket, with its broad expanses and conditioned air. The odors are either locked in plastic or pushed out by filtered air.

Stores should be clean, of course, but shopping for food shouldn't be so sterile, so plastic, so distant from the olfactory pleasures food can offer.

This summer, if you find a small neighborhood grocery store with good produce, meats, and cheeses, breathe deep, and remember that scent, a mixture of earth and green and fruit, the smell of tomatoes, of an orange's pectin, of arugula, of corn, the flavors of cheese in the air, that sort of tangy sweet muskiness of combined meat odors, that all together mix and give the store its own perfume. Remember that scent the next time you stand in a large supermarket and can't smell anything.

Small stores with fresh vegetables, with cheeses and meats that hang by cord above the counters where you order your slices and cuts, with baskets of beans that you scoop into bags on your own, with stacks of potatoes and beets; small stores with lower ceiling, narrower aisles, those are places where you can still smell food when you walk in, where you can look at it, ask about it, get small tastes of this and that. If you've a store like that in your neighborhood, visit it often.

And shop there too, buy something, keep it in place. Your food will taste better if you do.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003


My Aunt Lucille sent me a clipping from the Hartford Courant that she had saved for 34 years. It's a picture of me when I was ten, getting a golf lesson from the golf pro at Goodwin Park, a municipal golf course in Hartford, CT, where I grew up. The year was 1969; the lessons were sponsored by the Police Atheletic League (PAL). Victoria Rd., where we lived, was the last street in Hartford before you entered Whethersfield, if you walked west, the street lead into Goodwin Park. If you entered the park there was a skating pond, with an ice-house, a picnic pavillion just near it, and then just beyond the picnic pavillion, a path to the club house of the golf course. Goodwin park has two courses, an 18 hole course and a nine hole hacker's course -- mostly flat and straight, the hacker's course, with no water and I think no sand traps, but I can't remember for sure.

The path to the club house wasn't marked really, but essentially one walked up between the 18th hole of the 18 hole course and the 1st hole of the nine hole course.

And that's what I did that summer, I'd walk up Victoria Rd., past the pond, through the picnic grounds, between the fairways of holes 18 and 1, and get a golf lesson. For a few years after that, until I started high school, I played golf almost every day in the summer, nine holes in the morning and nine in the afternoon on many days. It was only 50 cents a round for city residents.

I played most often with a kid from the neighborhood named Brian Sherry. One of Brian's arms ended about where his elbow would've been -- a birth defect -- but he played all kinds of sports -- golf, football, baseball. In baseball he'd gotten real good as a fielder and could quickly snag a ball, tuck his glove under his short arm, pull his hand out of the glove and get the ball to the infield. In football he often quarter backed, and in golf we swung away.

I think those summers, between when I was 10 and 13, were some of the most idyllic I've yet lived.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Teaching Writing is Hard Enough

Steve Krause (see link to his Blog on the left), kicked off a discussion on TechRhet, an email discussion list for teachers and others interested in the intersection of technology and rhetoric, about whether instructors of writing in first year college writing courses will really be able to have students create compositions using richer multimedia. His wondering was sparked by attending the 2003 Computers and Writing conference, where numerous sessions described how instructors had students creating Flash projects or doing work in iMovies.

What strikes me most profoundly, even more so than the merits of teaching iMovie in a writing class (and I think one can make a case for including an iMovie in the course), or the issue of technology and access, or even the issue of how long it might take a teacher to get up to speed on the technology and to understand it deeply enough to teach it, is simply this: it's hard enough teaching students simply how to write everyday prose well.

It's hard writing even a few good paragraphs for a Blog, or an email message, or an essay. Organizing one's thoughts along the relatively uncluttered interface of a blank page, whether the page is paper or pixel, is hard to teach, and hard to do, without adding the complicating factors of different interfaces and modes of composing (audio, visual, moving image). Again, it's not that these things can't be used, nor that students might not benefit from using them or learning them.

But it's much more work to write with more than words. Even doing a simple, text only, linking to nodes hypertext is more work than writing a standard linear essay, if only because of what goes into learning and doing the protocols and mechanics of linking.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Having Gone Off Line
Not for lack of access (I had my laptop with its built in modem and a phone line handy.), I was off line for four whole days. Instead of connecting and keeping my email inbox lean by copiously deleting, or logging in here, I spent a few days hanging out with family, not doing much of nothing except hanging out, playing cards, eating a bunch, running errands here and there. Most of the work I do, and many of my social connections, are conducted by email. So when I was off line, I was gone for three days from the world where I spend most of my working hours.

The fun part of taking a simple break from work, with no planned events or things to do, was in getting away from a job with deadlines to meet, meetings to go to, and other planned events or things to do. I shucked that skin for a while. For a while the prospect of living that way continuously, without having anything in particular that I had to do, seemed appealing.

Of course, if the respite became the routine, appeal would turn to ennui pretty quick. I was reminded especially of that by a piece in today's New York Times that looked at how many people have opted -- or have been forced to opt -- out of the job market. These are people who, unable to find jobs, have decided to stay home, or go back to school, or are living off savings.

One person interviewed remarked on how much he missed work, on having a work life, an office to go to, people to work with, projects to work on, challenges to meet, problems to solve.

The paycheck matters, but so too does the work, the place of work.

As much as I enjoyed, and wouldn't mind a few more days of just hanging out, I'm glad I'm going back to work tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Flirting With Spring
The cold air's arrived and Boston's flirtation with warm, spring-like weather has ended. Cold tonight, and tomorrow, and perhaps some sleet and freezing rain on into Friday. This after a chilling-to-the-bone snow whipped winter. This after days of nonstop rain and only day or so of ice-cream weather. And you know, I really think that whiplash change of elements is kind of cool, maybe a bit psychically cruel, especially if one leaves the house in warm weather clothing and then has to shiver their way home at night.

As much as I really want to see a string of days where it's possible to walk comfortably barefoot in the squishy-cool damp grass of a newly green spring lawn, the kind you get on that day when suddenly the trees have budded and the crocuses and tulips startle your vision, as much as I want that, I don't mind these flirtations with warmth followed by the return of cold and dreary skys.

Weather should be coy. It's one of New England's charms, that weather changes by the minute.

And too, there's something not-dreary about otherwise dreary weather. There's beauty in the gray and fog of rain, the drenching cold of sleet, especially if you're dressed right for it and are out it in the weather on foot. And really especially if you can walk in the woods, or across an open field, away from sidewalks that hug traffic, away from sidewalks where the pedestrian is so easily beseiged by walls of water when cars speed through those long thick puddles that collect at the road's edge.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

A Convention of Clowns. Really
I came to St. Louis yesterday afternoon and stopped by my hotel to get check in and eat lunch before heading off to a meeting with members of the Meramec English Department. I was a bit tired, a little groggy, and encumbered of the usual stress that comes from being in airport, where every one is a suspected terrorist and treated accordingly so.

I trudged off the shuttle, but as I made way to the registration desk, I was passed by a clown. A real clown, with baggy clown, a red clown nose, purple fuzzy clown hair and with an oversized clown flower in her oversized clown jacket. And coming towards me, from the opposite directions, were two more clowns, chatting, checking the time. And to my left, seated in the lobby couches, hunched over a something I could see, but conversing away like three business executives planning a presentation, were yet more clowns.

And they all had badges. I'd stumbled into a clown convention.

And just the site it of it all, with the juxtaposition of so much color and clown clothes on people who were being, well, so convention-like, rather than clown like, was better than a seeing a clown in performance mode. It was wonderfully funny.

And so I felt better, just by the sight of it all.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Classic Reader
Here's a pretty cool site, that was passed on to me from a colleague at work. It's an interesting experiment in a (so far) free online reader of classic (aka public domain) texts. Registering at the site is easy; providing email is optional, so you don't have to worry about spam and marketing materials. Registering creates an account on the site so you can write and store annotations on the texts. If you're interested in this kind of stuff for distance education, or computer-based classrooms, or just to see an alternative form that digital publishing might take, give this site a look-see:

----Original Message Follows----

At this site you can read, search, and annotate great works of literature by authors such as Dickens, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and many others. The collection currently contains 743 books and 1041 short stories by 211 authors. New works are added to the collection on a regular basis, many at the suggestion of readers. The works are split into seven categories: fiction, nonfiction, children, poetry, Shakespeare, short stories and drama.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Talking to Teachers
I really enjoy talking to teachers. At the OAH conference today I had lunch with a number of historians, good and dedicated scholars who also really cared about teaching history well. I was struck by the amount of though and care they put it into engaging students in history. Their goal, across the board was simply this: to have students do history, not memorize history.

That's such an important distinction. They want students to think about history, about exploring the past, and about learning from it so that they can understand it deeply and relate what they learn to their lives now.

History for these scholars isn't just a list of dates and causes, but rather is, to put it crudely, critcal immersion in the past. The people here that I've met want their students to viscerally experience the past and the struggles, passions, and day to day life of it.

It's all very vibrant and exciting.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Doing History

I'm at the Organization of American Historians conference in Memphis, TN. One of the things I'm hearing in sessions and conversations is the distinction some historians make when they teach. Instead of teaching history --i.e. telling students about history via lectures-- there's an effort to have students do history --having students engage history the way historians do. So there's a growing emphasis on primary documents, on field work, on historical thinking, while at the same time trying to have students read and learn history.


Yesterday I attended an excellent session: "Reaching with Technology: Approaches to Increasing Involvement through Instructional Technology."


The session opened with Bradley Austin, of Salem State College describing a teacher outreach project he worked on while at Ohio State. The Goldberg project is designed to have college historians work collaboratively with high school historians, with an eye toward helping both groups improve the teaching of history. Technology played a role in outreach --a WWW site was used for online meetings, file sharing and so on. What Bradley showed, however, was how things don't always go as planned, and talked about what the Goldberg team learned from the first year to the second of the project. And really it came down to discovering a better model of hybrid teaching -- part face to face and part distance. The first year, there was too much distance and the beginning face to face was overwhelming, with too much technology training. The second year, the program was reorganized, with more face to face, and more direct contact from teacher to teacher in the program. Everything Bradley described as working with colleagues also holds true when teachers work with students, and many of the teachers are taking the kinds of online activities and interactions they had with one another and are doing the same things with their students. So this was a tale of obstacles overcome. The Goldberg project WWW site is at


John Tully from Ohio State described how he uses not only primary documents, but primary artifacts --posters, art, and other images (which are plentiful on the WWW --see for example, that National Archives at Instead of just reading a textbook, and gliding by an image or map that might be in the book, he gives students primary sources and asks that they "read" those, that they think critically about them. He provides them the kinds of questions historians ask. The process has students investigating the images and not passively reading what someone else thinks of the image. John found that this process, which takes advantage of the multimedia age students grow up in, has helped students become interested in history and wanting to read about it. Their questions and thinking about the images spark their interest and curiosity. And their work on the images is part of the course's grading economy; students get tests and assignments where image analysis plays an important role.

David Stricklin of Lyon College described a very neat project where students did fieldwork, interviewed people, did historical research, and then worked together to create a radio documentary. Why that? The idea was to get them to synthesize and present all their data and research in a format that required them to think carefully about how to present the information, to think creatively. But radio was used instead of say a WWW site because they had access to a some cassette editing equipment and some tape recorders, but not a computers for doing a WWW site. It was a great assignment --students produced their show and played it for the community -- and an ingenuous reminder that multimedia doesn't necessarily have to be WWW-based and with images. A lot can be done with just voice, sound, and recording.

Peter Rutkoff lead us on an overview and tour of North by South, an ongoing research project that follows African American migration patterns from south to north. Students visit a southern city, and then the northern city that African Americans migrated to. They do interviews, visit sites, and look to see how the movements affected African American culture. Very cool, very smart. And with a very nice WWW site at Peter focus on the field trips, and he takes students to places he hasn't been, to explore things he doesn't know yet. By doing this, it's clear to student that they're co-investigators, explorers. Peter, like David in his project, are more coach and consultant than fonts of all knowing. But here's the kicker: Peter doesn't know a thing about building WWW sites, HTML, or any of those things. However, his students do. So he comments on the site's design, but the entire site was designed and built by students, who again, like David's students, made very sophisticated and smart decisions about how to organize and integrate and present intelligent very detailed and complicated research.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Argument and War
In addition to working as the Director of New Media for a college textbook company, I also teach first year college writing as an adjunct about once a year. I'm not teaching now, but I wonder what I would be teaching about the rhetoric around the war if I were teaching now.

I think the trick would be helping students write persuasively even when I fundamentally disagreed with their positions. And as part of that, sharing my opinions and thoughts during class discussions in a way that doesn't make students believe they have to adopt them. It's a delicate balancing point that I know many teachers are trying to find.

Jonathan Zimmerman had an op. ed. in Sunday's Boston Globe (No point in linking; you have to pay to get it now.) where he pointed out that people tend to believe that if they make a good argument, others, being reasonable, will agree. And when people don't agree, we tend to view them as unreasonable, even suspect, even evil or looney or against us. Both the left and the right in this debate fall into that trap. They forget that reasonable people can disagree, and they see anyone who disagrees with them as defacto unreasonable. So Zimmerman reminds us:

Both sides, then, are operating in profoundly bad faith: they each presume that decent, knowledgeable people will agree with them. But the true democratic faith, the one that John Dewey proclaimed, teaches us that decent people disagree -- often profoundly -- about the same knowledge. Now, more than ever, it's a lesson that all of us need to learn.

I think if I was teaching now, I'd try to teach my students that. So they'd listen to one another, and then discuss differences without attacking motives and personalities.