Saturday, January 21, 2012

A successful week

This past week was a really busy one, but in a good way.

Friday evening through Monday afternoon, I shot a convention. A few months ago, I got the referral through a friend, and I quoted a real price (though on the low end, as I was kind of unsure of myself), and they agreed!

I'd been nervous about it for a long time. First, because it was such a long event--over 30 hours of coverage! Second, because I haven't done a ton of event shooting lately. I did a one-day conference last August (for a pittance, but I guess it was good experience; unfortunately I never heard from the company about the photos afterward), and I did a lot of events back in 2009. This company was very clear and upfront about what they wanted in terms of the photos that they wanted, and so I was nervous about being able to achieve everything. Third, some of the events were smaller, evening events that might require flash, which is always a gamble depending on the venue.

The weekend was indeed very busy; I shattered any previous records of time shooting and photos shot--Saturday and Sunday were each fourteen hours, and my shot total for the weekend was more than four thousand. But it was also a lot of fun--lots of different things to see and photograph, and everyone I met or came in contact with (either listening to a lecture or actually speaking to) was genuinely friendly and really nice.

The first evening venue was a nightmare for flash (huge ballroom), and I felt like a failure. However, looking it up later, I discovered that there really is no way to light that kind of space without a lot of equipment placed all around the room, so it wasn't just me being unaware. The second evening venue was a higher-than-normal-but-not-ballroom white ceilings, so bounce flash was perfect. 

Overall, a lot of the work was capturing people doing various things, which is what I love to do and which is what I do best.

Once the events were over, I worked really hard on the photos. For a few hours on Friday night, and then at least six hours on Monday, eight on Tuesday, and three each on Wednesday and Thursday, I edited them down to a more manageable number, and did basic fixes. (The white balance in a convention hall is a nightmare! Every place you turn, the lighting is different.)

On Friday, I dropped off the disc of photos in person. I'd emailed some to them earlier in the week as well, as previews. The person I'd been working with said they LOVED them, that they were so much better than the photos from the previous year's convention, and that her boss couldn't stop raving about my pics, and they might want me at an event later in the year! 

Y'all, this is so amazing. To get such positive reviews of a huge photo project like this one feels incredible! For one, it was a relief that I captured what they wanted. And two, it was/is extremely validating to hear from a big client like this that they loved my work! Three, of course, is that this is a huge reference/experience to have on my photo resume. Fourth, the best--there could be huge potential for future work not just from them, but from referrals of people at the convention or in the company. They already offered to write a testimonial on my photography site!

So I am crossing my fingers that more good things might come out of this excellent weekend! What a great way to start off 2012!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Technology vs Teachers, part 3

(Part 3 of 3. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here)


Many students are being “left behind”, even in this age of widespread education reform. And that’s with teachers and the same classroom! Take the teacher presence out of the classroom experience—why would you expect the students to succeed? 

Yes, the online course requirement will surely “allow students to take subjects that were not otherwise available at their schools and familiarize them with learning online, something [Superintendent Luna] said was increasingly common in college.” (NYT article)

Even when I was in college at the turn of the millennium, several of my classes had an online component. Over email, we would discuss readings from class and share our reflections. However, I can firmly say that it was too slow and impersonal to feel the same as an in-person discussion. There are certainly elements that can complement or reinforce things from a class, but I do not agree that “learning” online (as opposed to practice or reinforcement) is something that happens in college, nor should it. 

I asked my college-age sister about her experience with online components to classes. She said they have discussion groups and can look at the syllabus or other class information, and for one there's even a webcam feature, which is a neat way to do modern 'office hours' or class discussion.

Online learning still requires a teacher somewhere. What it means is that those teachers might be responsible for even more students than a standard classroom, with all the attending grading and other time. Plus there is less person-to-person contact, which makes it more difficult and time-consuming to discuss a complex concept with a student. If you had the option of stopping by a student’s desk for a few minutes to review their work as they were working, and sending a series of twenty emails over three days, which would be the best use of everyone’s time? 

Not to mention the ease of distraction; we adults have all lost hours to the internet when we were “supposed” to be doing other things. Kids are going to be no different! Who will be there to keep them on track in class?

“[Ms. Rosenbaum] said she was mystified by the requirement that students take online courses. She is taking some classes online as she works toward her master’s degree, and said they left her uninspired and less informed than in-person classes. Ms. Rosenbaum said she could not fathom how students would have the discipline to sit in front of their computers and follow along when she had to work each minute to keep them engaged in person.”” (NYT article)

Discipline is the number-one issue that most teachers face—more so than even curriculum. When you’re teaching in a classroom, you can see who is with you and who is lost, not just by how many hands are raised, but also by eye contact, body language, and facial expression. All that nuance is lost when everyone is communicating only through the computer.

Perhaps one reason that it may work better in college is that the students are there more voluntarily, and they are independently trying to work for their own grades. It’s difficult enough to engage a 17 year old who cares more about upcoming graduation than concentrating on their math teacher. Plus, college professors have a high expectation of their students—a lot more passive listening and note-taking, fewer assignments, longer essays, more in-depth exams. If you do the work, you pass; if you don’t, you fail. High schools are more politically motivated to pass their students. I know the middle schools I taught at sure were.

Sometimes I tend to think that all kids hate school and think that teachers are dumb. But they understand that they need good teachers and good schools to help them do their best. Kids want to learn and want to succeed. (At least, until the system beats it out of them.) Kids know better than anyone if their teacher is really invested, and kids want good teaching more than anyone else. 

“Last year at Post Falls High School, 600 students — about half of the school — staged a lunchtime walkout to protest the new rules. Some carried signs that read: “We need teachers, not computers.”
Having a new laptop “is not my favorite idea,” said Sam Hunts, a sophomore in Ms. Rosenbaum’s English class who has a blond mohawk. “I’d rather learn from a teacher.”” (NYT article)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Technology vs Teachers, part 2

(part 2 of 3 in response to the NYT article about Idaho--see Part 1 here)


Students do not learn critical thinking from looking at a website or searching for something on Google. Students do not learn critical thinking from watching a video on YouTube. Students do not automatically become good writers by reading blogs and tweeting. 

All of those tools do not, cannot, should not replace teachers and teaching. They are just that—TOOLS—that good teachers can use to guide students in developing their critical thinking and reading skills. Teachers are what make the difference. Teachers provide essential direction and feedback to students, leading students to making significant connections between the outside world and their own, and helping them read, write, and talk about it in a meaningful manner.

 “Teachers don't just teach the curriculum; they process it, they analyze it knowing their students' skills.  They invest their time in it so that students will want to invest their own.  They make it meaningful, relevant, and they make it fun.  Technology can help with that, but it shouldn't replace.  Teachers do more than just teach; they shape, they mold, they model behavior, and they connect.  Often that connection is worth more than any curriculum.  Worth more than any computer program.” (

Teachers have various kinds of curriculum resources that they must present to their students. But each teacher puts their own spin or emphasis on what they teach. Teachers and students aren’t widgets, or robots, and they aren’t all on the same level—within a class or across grades. There must be some element of customization to take student achievement level into account, let alone student interest level. Certainly, technology can aid in both of those. 

"No technology is good or bad by itself; it's what you do with it," James Gee, an Arizona State University professor who has studied the use of video games in education, said. "Games are turning out just like books. Handing a kid a book doesn't make them better students or more literate. And the same gap can develop with technology." (

There have been good teachers for as long as teachers have existed. Good teachers will continue to do good teaching with or without technology. Surely, all teachers should have the means and capacity to incorporate technology appropriately into their classrooms. Surely, there are still teachers who turn on a video to placate students.

As teachers are asked to do more and more with less time and less money, is it really a good idea to force one kind of resource in schools? Not even a specific curriculum or standard list with actual content, but just technology? Does it become yet another pro-forma part of what teachers must do, like bulletin board displays and micro-managed wording about objectives, aims, teaching points, etc—just use the computer for the computer’s sake? Will there be any allowance for teacher style and comfort, or will they be forced to use it all the time every day? Who will be the judge of a good use of technology vs bad? 

A couple days ago, Dr. John B. King, Jr., the NY Ed Commissioner, sent an email to all teachers, asking everyone to begin using the new Common Core standards and exemplars in their classroom.

“In every ELA classroom (or any classroom where literacy plays a significant role), the Common Core calls for thoughtful learning experiences around rigorous texts – you should conduct close readings of those texts with your students and ask deep and thought-provoking, evidence-based questions about the texts to facilitate evidence-dependent conversations and build students’ ability to marshal arguments about the texts.” 

Notice there’s nothing in there about technology. There’s no suggestion or requirement to use a computer, an interactive game, or smartboard. The Common Core wants students to go in depth, to THINK, and it allows that teachers are the ones responsible for getting the kids there. It’s about talking and writing, on a deep level, which is what leads to critical thinking, not just the blanket use of technology. 

Anyone can pull up a video on the internet. Not just anyone can incorporate that into a meaningful lesson, with thoughtful work from students before and after, as part of a complex curriculum. “… Ms. Rosenbaum [an Idaho teacher] did use a computer and projector to show a YouTube video of the devastation caused by bombing in World War II. She said that while technology had a role to play, her method of teaching was timeless. “I’m teaching them to think deeply, to think. A computer can’t do that.”” (NYTarticle)

I asked @19Pencils (the twitter account for, an educational new/sharing website) for a response to the Idaho article: “High tech doesn't make straight A students. And high tech doesn't replace good teaching. It's a tool. High tech also makes vast assumptions of staff, IT dept, etc. Student gains are only as good as the support.”

Technology is a tool, and an important one, but the critical piece is the teacher.

Technology vs Teachers, part 1

(I split my response into three chunks because it was so long)
Last week, the New York Times published an article about Idaho’s new state initiative, which will give every student and every teacher a laptop, and make two online credits a graduation requirement for high school students. 

At first blush, it sounds like a good idea. Kids need to be connected! Kids need to learn technological literacy! Teachers need to harness the power of online resources! Schools need modern tools!

But then the details of the program begin to sound irresponsible and dictatorial, rather than inspirational and helpful.

First, all this technology will be *required*. “Teachers are resisting, saying that they prefer to employ technology as it suits their own teaching methods and styles. Some feel they are judged on how much they make use of technology, regardless of whether it improves learning.” After all, the computer is not the teacher. And you know there will be older teachers who don’t understand technology, who will either forsake it entirely, or use it in an inefficient manner.

Two, with education budgets spiraling into freefall, Idaho will use tens of millions of dollars to provide the physical resources as well as the necessary training for the 15,148 teachers in the state. Idaho already has the 2nd lowest per-pupil spending in the nation. Is there really enough money to spare to focus so much on one aspect of school? 

“Mr. Luna, the superintendent, said training was the most essential part of the plan. He said millions of dollars would be set aside for this but that the details were still being worked out.” Is it fair to divert money that could pay teachers a more livable wage (starting salary is now a mere $30,000, though there is another new reform called Students Come First, which attempts to increase teacher pay, including pay-for-performance) to instead pay for computers that may or may not be used to their best advantage?


To me, the most disturbing part is that the state leaders don’t seem to understand how school or students work.

“For his part, Governor Otter said that putting technology into students’ hands was the only way to prepare them for the work force. Giving them easy access to a wealth of facts and resources online allows them to develop critical thinking skills, he said, which is what employers want the most.

"When asked about the quantity of unreliable information on the Internet, he said this also worked in favor of better learning. “There may be a lot of misinformation,” he said, “but that information, whether right or wrong, will generate critical thinking for them as they find the truth.””

This frightens and angers me—that the governor believes students will magically acquire critical thinking just from having access to Wikipedia? When teachers around the country already fight a losing battle over internet-printed “essays” in all grades and subjects?

“Schulte (2002) reported the results of a Rutgers University study based on 4,500 high school students from 25 high schools around the country. The study found that 72 percent of the students admitted to  “seriously cheating on a written work” and more than half had “copied portions of a paper from the Internet without citing the source.”

Donald McCabe, the founder of the Center for Academic Integrity, is quoted as saying that “…cheating is starting younger—in elementary school in fact. And by the time students hit middle and high school, cheating is, for many, like gym class and lunch period, just part of the fabric of how things are….What’s changed is technology. It’s made cheating so easy. And the vast realms of information on the truly, worldwide Web are so readily available. Who could resist?” (in Schulte, 2002).” (

Now think about how much the digital world has changed since 2002!

Now, to their credit, perhaps some of the Idaho teacher training might be about teaching responsible web use, to ensure students do not plagiarize, and making it clear that teachers will be able to catch them and enact appropriate consequences. 

(I am very doubtful of that, however; as more and more it seems like parents feel like they have the right to defend and enable their children, regardless of the behavior; schools feel more and more pressure to bow to parents’ will rather than adhering to the code of conduct.) 

Let’s hope at the least there is a state-wide teacher membership to Turn It In!

[continue reading Part 2]

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Guess What!!!!

After fourteen months of being an hourly contractor, I am officially a full-time regular employee at my job!!

I found out just before Christmas, but it took until this week to get all the details ironed out.

I have a very respectable title, and I will be earning a real, very respectable salary, for the first time in a year and a half! Relative to what I've been making, I will have SO MUCH MONEY!

I am downright giddy thinking about all the possibilities:
--I don't have to put off getting a haircut
--I'll finally be able to really contribute to my Roth IRA and savings account/down payment fund
--I can go out to eat with people more often, and not only order the absolute minimum
--I could buy a new pair of gym shoes for the first time in at least three years
--I'll be able to afford that Europe trip we've been talking about, as well as some other, smaller jaunts
--I might start saving for a camera upgrade (I'd love to go full frame!)

Mostly, I can just relax about money. I've been pretty good about denying myself things (though not as stringent as I could have been, I'm sure) and just thinking poor in general. But now I will have so much more money than I need. I can't believe it.

What a weight off my shoulders!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2012, let's do this

(Isn't it interesting that "twenty-twelve" flows so smoothly off the tongue, while "twenty-eleven" feels so unwieldy?)

The theme for my goals this year all seem to fit in the category of "Get Off My Ass/Get My Shit Together." With that in mind, here goes (organized roughly by topic):

  • Drink at least 16oz of water a day (so far 4 for 4!)
  • Eat at least one piece of fruit a day (totally ridiculous, but there you go)
  • Snack smarter
  • Work out at least twice a week
  • Bike a total of 100 miles
  • Go for a walk (as a habit, not as a single event)
  • Aim for 8 hours of sleep a night (so far 1 for 4, but I am going to bed a little earlier)
  • Donate blood
  • Donate clothes/goods at least twice
  • Volunteer at least twice
  • Knit a vest (since I already crocheted one, and a sweater is scary--sleeves!)
  • Do more writing, as opposed to listing (oops)
  • Fully fund a year's contribution of Roth IRA (has yet to happen since 2003)
  • Do five ideas from my photography idea list
  • Read 4 "classics" (clearly numbers are not a problem for me, so I'm aiming for more Real Literature)
  • Organize/declutter my "hotspots"
  • Visit my Grandma
  • Go somewhere new in the US
  • Go to Europe
  • MOVE
  • Be more present and appreciative
  • Get all the business stuff together (which is a whole separate list, as I mentioned)

Our couple goals, which are very similar to 2011, and obviously there's some overlap to my list:

  • Eat at one new restaurant per month
  • 6 live culture events
  • Go to a Yankees game (we went to a Mets game a couple years ago)
  • Go to at least one UCB show
  • Visit 5 new museums (we have 5 in mind already)
  • Cook together once a month
  • Date night twice a month (can be going to a restaurant or cooking at home, but at a real table)
  • Do household laundry the first weekend of every month 
  • Frame the things that need to be framed, and put them up
  • Paint the shoe shelf thing (we got the paint the same time we got the's sitting on another shelf)
  • Replace our mattress
  • Clean every week (which we've been doing since the fall)
  • Continue our monthly couple portrait

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


new york is a sea of black coats today
jostling, teeming, leaning
into the biting breeze of the dark

collars up, heads down, hands deep
in shallow pockets

cold snakes in, relentless
weathering us whether we like it or not
frozen fingers, numb noses

dash home toward warmth
waiting for light and spring

Monday, January 02, 2012

I am sad about the end of vacation

I've gotten so much done, which feels great.

January is going to be really busy, which makes me a bit nervous. Like I need to gear up. And like I'm not ready for it to start TOMORROW. I don't think I've gotten enough rest. 

Plus I'm all out of sorts about my goals list. I've been working on one, but it doesn't feel complete, or something. But I guess I'll still try to post and get started with them.

We took down our Christmas tree last night, and brought the tree to our nearby park to be mulched this weekend. Happily Mister M agreed to keep the lights we have strung around the living room up for a little while longer, even if it is college-y. :)

I spent a bunch of time today working on some potential new photo sites. That, and the photo business thing, is something that I really need to figure out and get resolved. It's got me all confuzzled. First, should I do it? I would like to talk to a third party about it and find out if I really have the skills, and if the cost of set-up is something worth it for me to do. Then, if I go for it, I'll need to set up some business accounts and other things. And really, I'll need to get my ass in gear about marketing.

But all that is still in the future. Tomorrow is Tuesday, and the real start of a new month. Lots of new things to come.