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July 2013

State Textbook Committee – Or in a Gilt Cage…

I might be learning how Dulce feels….

Drove down to Austin today for the State Textbook Committee and have already met a few more of the committee members. We're at the Hilton Austin Airport, and I don't think there is much close around. Dinner wasn't bad, but there aren't a lot of choices…. I think the same choices as for lunch. I'm also not sure that the waiter is used to someone who eats so slow.

By the way, the traffic on I35 was slow. Most of the trip was 40, if we were moving. North look slower, so I'm not looking forward to the drive home. Yes, I could have flown. But I have a lot of stuff that I honestly need. Ask any diabetic.

I took the Tollway around Austin, and the speed limit was 80, but my poor Escape wasn't happy with that. It likes 75.

Nice room, nice hotel. We start at 8:00 tomorrow.

Detroit Schools

I went to Osborne High School (I think it has an e), in 1976. (Typed wrong on Facebook, need to fix it). I was a sophomore. At the time, Osborne has classes going on from 7:00 am until 9:00 pm at night, and both teachers and students were on flex schedules to make it work. The enrollment is MUCH smaller now and I think that campus is being shut down. One of my current administrators went to the high school next door, at the same time and it was equally as big.

We had college track classes, I know, I took them. In fact, I was in my 2nd year of Latin there, and the teacher was terrific. It was probably the only class I was challenged in, but I was going to a really tough school in Ft. Wayne Indiana at the time and was on the varsity debate team. His college had college prep – he went to college on a football scholarship.

I was treated very well by everyone, both students and staff. In fact, much better then in Jackson, MS, the next year.

So when one of the major news magazines started a series on Detroit, I decided to see if it were feasible for me to go back to Detroit and teach there. I went and looked several times, including last summer.

Yes, I could go back as a remedial math teacher. Teaching computer science? Not so much. In fact, I saw very few openings for college prep type teachers. Not even math college prep level. I also found very few schools were teaching those programs.

Now I'm in Dallas ISD. We have college prep teachers on every campus. Not computer science always, but certainly AP level math teachers. We have to offer four years of math.

That doesn't seem to be happening in Detroit, and Detroit's issues are not going to get any better if they are not offering college prep to their students.

And I'm not one of those teachers that think that every child is going to college. However, the option has to be there. I think you are not serving your community well if that option is not on the table.

Detroit Bankruptcy and Pensions

One of the ways teachers are compensated is through pensions. Yes, I know a lot of teachers who work well beyond retirement age – many of the really good teachers in our building are in their late 60's and 70's. A few years back, we had a teacher die just before her retirement date. In fact, we had her visitation on the day her retirement party was scheduled. She'd been with our district for 37 years. She was a dynamic teacher who had a lot of students who were very much attached to her.

The whole pension thing is a gamble on both ends – the entity provided the pension is hoping I will die before they have to pay me. I'm gambling that I will actually get that pension and that the money will actually be there.

What really bothers me though, is when the rules are changed mid-stream – it's happened here in Texas – so far, most of the rules have been grandfathered, but not always. It is not fair to tell me when I am 24 that part of my compensation is a pension and then change that pension when I'm 35, 45, or worse yet, in my 60's.

So yes, it's very bothersome to see that pensions maybe affected by government entity going bankrupt. It's bad enough when it is a private sector business. Another reason not to have your pay and retirement coming from the same place.

New toy, maybe – Acer Iconia W3

It is a full computer in a tablet form factor. $299 price point without a keyboard. It is definitely an ipad killer, probably a Surface RT and maybe Pro killer. I would still like a pen with this form factor. I also think it is a Chromebook killer.

I think it would make a nice option for elementary and middle school 1:1, I would spend a bit more for high school and give them a bigger screen and a real keyboard.

Cons: no real usb ports, need a micro hub and battery power.

Pros: Small, we will on battery life, they claim 8 hours. Runs real programs. Touchscreen but I would buy without.

Staff Development

I'm lucky enough to be doing an online staff development with St. Scholastica – it's a course on teaching with App Inventor – and this is the college I went to last summer for Tapestry.

I love the model and really wish the AP College Board people would take a look at it. I hate, HATE, HATE, the 1 week and even 2 day College Board Workshop format and I've even taught it once. Way too much material in too short a time frame and no way to absorb it all. Gridworld has been done in a similar fashion but not quite as well as what I am seeing so far.

They have combined a traditional online course with Google Handouts and have assigned us to PLN groups of 10 for discussion. We haven't had our first group yet, so I can't tell you how that works out. They are also having weekly large group hangouts – and if you miss it record it for later viewing.

I like the interactivity they have done so far, and the fact that the material is spaced out over a long time period rather than expecting us as teachers to learn an entire year's material in one week. I have trouble with that concept and I've been teaching this stuff for 21 years, gone to over 10 of those workshops and taught one.

And yes, I'll keep complaining about staff development until it gets fixed.


CSTA’s annual conference has no exhibit hall. It does have industry sponsorship though and that has generally meant that there were some industry speakers. There was not a specific quid pro quo though.


Alfred is blogging about conferences, and his perspective has been as a paid "booth babe".

As a teacher, and one from a poor school district -- I usually have to foot at least half my bill, if not all of it -- I have to be reallly choosy when it comes to professional conferences.

I've been to CSTA twice, and like it the best.  I went last year when it was in California and when it was a one day in San Antonio -- flew in the morning and out that evening via Southwest Airlines.  Both on my own dime.  Very low key, packed with good stuff.

My next favorite conference is Grace Hopper, been once and came back very optimistic and recharged.  Wanted to go last year, but my principal nixed it and he was right.  Too early in the school year.  

TCEA is my next favorite, but there is a huge problem with it -- too many days, not enough computer science and expensive.  However, I'm trying to fix the not enough computer science and put in proposals for a Robotics and a CS talk.  Last year I did a robotics one and a bunch of years back did a CS one.  (Remember, I've been doing the CS teacher thing for 21 years, I should be contributing).  Whem I've been lucky someone has foot part of the bill -- district had scholarships for about half twice, and Lego Education paid room last year.

SIGCSE is at the wrong time, usually right before our spring break whih my district won't let us take off.  It was even in Dallas and I couldn't get away for it because of that.

I have been to SIGSCE once.  It was good.   

TCEA isn't at a great time either.  Most CS teachers don't go to it precisely because of the timing.  More would go if it were in the summer -- but then the ones that say that don't make it to CSTA either.

My biggest problem with CSTA, is the price point, though I could probably find some place near to the conference center to stay at and commute.  Just didn't work out this year.


I've been spending the last couple of weeks learning Wordpress. I've taken a website – that was originally done in Front Page and am converting it to Word Press. My goal, is to allow the user to update the most important parts of the website with her phone, on the fly.

Today, with the help of some free Plug-Ins, I've finally gotten there.

I also know more about Wordpress than I ever intended to know, and have barely scratched the surface <smile>

I am going to have my students do one of their websites with it – and am going to insist that they create their own child templates and style sheets so they finally get the point of CSS.

And if you need a site converted, I'm quite good at it now.

Got my RigRunner Installed

A RigRunner is a cool little device that allows you to make your ham radios plug and play. Here is mine:

And it's actually pretty small.

I had to connect it to the existing cable that I had powering my mobile rig, then connect the rigs and USB to it. I was lucky, Texas Towers had an MFG power cable that already had the power poles on it, so that a) saved a step, and b) showed me what I was shooting for.

I added power poles to my cable for my HF rig, and now have two mobile rigs in the car powered up, while charging my cell phone.

I can take any DC power cord now, and power Anderson Power Pole on it and plug into this thing, and might very well do that.

One added plus, is all I have to do , is pull the red DC cable and I know the power is off.

Another pat on my back, is I did a NASA splice, just like I make my robot kiddos do.