Saturday, August 28, 2004


I was lucky enough to have Frances, a friend of a friend, staying with me this past week. She is a filmmaker who needed a place to stay for a week in New York, and since I have an empty room right now, I invited her to stay in exchange for talking to me about how to structure a unit on digital video for middle school students.

Like all artists, filmmakers make numerous aesthetic choices, large and small, that transform mere moving pictures into films. Frances helped me understand those choices and brainstorm exercises that would be interesting for middle school students and would help them become more conscious about the process of creating art and communicating through video. We talked about lighting, the rhythm of editing, music, scripting versus improvisation, framing, choosing different types of shots, and much more.

As a writer and poet, and friend to artists of many kinds, I am familiar with this language of choice - it is what links all the arts. When I write a poem, I choose one word over another, one metaphor over another, one rhythm or rhyme or slant-rhyme over another. These choices about form deepen the meaning of the writing, by complementing the words or lying in tension with them.

I have always found teaching to be a creative outlet. During my first few years in teaching, I did very little creative writing of any kind. I felt that the creative space in my brain was filled - sometimes to overflowing - by the challenges of designing curriculum, reaching the turned-off or resistant students, and experimenting with yet another way of maintaining order in my classroom.

The other day, as I looked over a first draft of a unit plan given to me by one of the new science teachers, I asked him to think about whether he would introduce concepts first, then do activities to explore them, or reverse the order and allow the students to explore and observe as an introduction to new concepts. I explained that some teachers generally present the ideas first, others let the kids explore first, many use whichever seems most appropriate for the material, and some mix exploration and explanation in still other ways. By reflecting on the possible ways to organize a unit, and making conscious decisions, the teacher takes the material beyond content so that it communicates something to the student about doing science, thinking science, and being a scientist. And that, it seems to me, is one of the aesthetic choices that define the art of teaching science.


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Computer News
Google plans instant-messaging system, report says

Google Inc. is set to introduce its own instant messaging system, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday, marking the expansion by the Web search leader into text and also voice communications.

Citing unnamed sources "familiar with the service," the Los Angeles Times said that Google's Instant Messaging program would be called Google Talk and could be launched as early as Wednesday.

Google Talk goes beyond text-based instant messaging using a computer keyboard to let users hold voice conversations with other computer users, the newspaper quoted a source as saying.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the company's product plans.

If confirmed, the combined computer text and voice-calling service would put Google in competition with a similar service pioneered by Skype, which has attracted tens of millions of users, especially in Europe, to its own service.

Separately, independent journalist Om Malik on his blog at pointed to technical clues that suggest Google is preparing to run an instant messaging service based on an open-source system known as Jabber.

Jabber technology would allow Google instant message users to connect with established IM systems that also work with Jabber, including America Online's ICQ and Apple Computer Inc.'s iChat, Malik said.

"This is the worst possible news for someone like Skype, because now they will be up against not two but three giants who want to offer a pale-version of Skype," he wrote.

Earlier this week, Google said it was branching out beyond pure search to help users manage e-mail, instant messages, news headlines and music. It introduced a new service called the Google Sidebar, a stand-alone software program that sits on a user's desktop and provides "live" information updates.

Over the past year or so, the company has expanded into e-mail, online maps, personalized news and more.

The product push comes as rivals Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL are all pushing to upgrade existing instant messaging systems and expand into new Internet phone-calling services.

Google's moves take it beyond its roots in Web search and closer to becoming a broad-based Internet media company.

With instant messaging, Google would be breaking into a market in which its major competitors boast tens of millions of subscribers to their established instant messaging services.

America Online, with its AIM and ICQ brands, counts more than 40 million IM users in the United States alone. Yahoo has around 20 million and Microsoft's MSN Messenger numbers some 14 million users, according to recent comScore Media Metrix data.

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5:25 PM  

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