May 30, 2012

Pewaukee in Color

Pewaukee's Asa Clark Middle School French I class

Earlier this month, I wrote about Nichole Robertson's beautiful book, Paris in Color (read my post here). Inspired by Nichole's lovely images, I have featured my own gray, yellow, and pink  photos on this blog.  Last week, Ms. Robertson introduced a fantastic composition of her photos, arranged as a map of Paris.  She invited readers to leave comments on her Facebook page to win a print of her map.  I was so excited and honored to be chosen. My students are excited too!  We will proudly display our print in the classroom next year.  Using my Une Année à Paris website, French I and II students "move" to Paris for the year. One of their first tasks is to choose an apartment in a specific arrondissement.  Next year, they can use this beautiful poster to inspire their choices!  Merci, Nichole!

May 29, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

Milwaukee's historical Oriental Theatre
Last night, my husband and I went on a date to the historic Oriental Theatre on Milwaukee's East Side. The Oriental is one of two Landmark cinemas in the Milwaukee area that feature foreign language and art house films.  It is always a treat for me to go to the Oriental. I love the nostalgic movie house built in 1927; it feels like stepping back in time.  This is where my mom and dad had their first date (They saw South Pacific). I lived on the East Side for several years, and as much as I love our home in Lake Country, I still feel connected to the eclectic energy of downtown.  Eric is a great sport about going to French films, even though he doesn't speak the language.  He says he enjoys them even more now that he's been to Paris and to Quebec.  I suspect the fact that the Oriental now serves wine and cocktails in the cinema might help too :)

Unfortunately, the film we chose left us feeling uneasy.  Monsieur Lazhar is the story of an Algerian restaurant owner, hired to fill a post in a Montreal elementary school where a teacher has committed suicide. Later, we learn that the teacher, Martine Lachance, was being investigated for having inappropriate contact with her students. She had been tutoring Simon, a troubled young boy who didn't like being hugged. Simon blames himself for Martine's suicide and is certain that she planned for him to be the one to find her hanging in the classroom. We also discover that Bachir Lazhar is seeking asylum in Canada after his wife and children were killed by Algerian terrorists. Bachir does not have a teaching background, but his wife was a teacher in Algeria.  Bachir's methods are outdated, yet he manages to transcend his own loss to relate to his students and to help them to cope with their grief and anger.

As an educator, I was hoping to leave the cinema with a renewed feeling that teachers really do make a difference in students' lives.  I wanted to feel re-energized like when I saw Dead Poets' Society, Les Choristes, and Dangerous Minds.  Yet, in each of these films, even though the teachers are loved and respected by their students, they are all fired in the end. Philip French's Guardian review of Monsieur Lazhar asserts that: "The end sends you out of the cinema in a positive frame of mind, but it's neither triumphalist nor unrealistic. Some teachers will learn from it. All teachers will find it a reaffirmation of their vocation." I am not sure I agree with Mr. French. I left feeling troubled by an apparent cinematic paradox between truly connecting with students and crossing the line of appropriate methods.

On a side note, I was also puzzled that students in the film addressed their teachers by their first names, even though the film is titled Monsieur Lazhar.  I was horrified that a teacher would choose to end her life in her classroom where her students would be haunted by the image. I was fascinated by the different accents and vocabulary demonstrated by the film's Canadian and Algerian cast. And finally, as silly as it seems, I was distracted by the girls' plaid uniforms, the same skirts I wore in grade school! 

Our next movie date will be June 9 when Les Intouchables comes to the Oriental. Based on the review in the NY Times and the trailer we saw last night, I suspect this will be a more appropriately funny, feel-good date movie!

May 27, 2012

Ma Vie en Rose

This week, I celebrate the girliest of colors: Pink!

When I was a little girl, I always wore pink... Now, I'm partial to basic black.
I may not be that little girl anymore, but I'm still attracted to "La Vie en rose"...

I loved the pink umbrellas and towels at the Royal Hawaiian
Waikiki Beach, Honolulu (Oahu, Hawaii - Honeymoon 2005)

The sailor in me can never resist a pink sky:
"Pink sky at night, sailors' delight!"

Pink sky in Paris

Pink skies from our deck in Okauchee Lake

Pink sea & sky in Chatham, Cape Cod
My favorite pink skies are from the deck of Sail la Vie.

 And I still love Pretty in Pink (after all, I did grow up in the 80's)!
"Isn't she pretty in pink?" - Psychedelic Furs

May 15, 2012

A New Role: Tech Coach

As the 2011-2012 school year winds down, I am already looking forward to next year and my new role as PHS Tech Coach ! 

Technology plays a central role in the lives of today's students.  They use technology seamlessly to acquire information, to organize, to collaborate, to create, and to communicate. I am proud to be working in the Pewaukee School District where we are committed to leveraging technology to enhance student engagement and learning. I have been teaching in Pewaukee since 1994, but I have never settled for what I have always done.  I am passionate about learning through experience, travel, and connecting with people around the world, either in person or via technology.

Why technology? In his work Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (2001), Marc Prensky assigns the term digital native to students who grew up with the technological advances of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. The term draws the analogy to a country's natives for whom the local language and customs are natural, compared with immigrants who must adapt to a region's customs. As a teacher of a "foreign language", this concept of digital native vs. digital immigrant is very interesting to me. I have been fascinated by the ways that people learn world languages. The "old" method of repeating words and phrases, memorizing passages and conversations in the target language is no longer viewed as effective. In fact, as of the mid-1990's, non-native-speaking world language majors who aspire to teach are required to complete at least six weeks of residency in a country where the target language is spoken. Personally, I can attest that this residency, further travel, and immersion in the language and culture were the key to developing my skills and confidence in speaking French.

Our students are certainly digital natives, accustomed to being connected at all times, but do I consider myself a digital native or a digital immigrant? Like much of my generation (Gen-X), I did not grow up with a computer. It wasn't until I signed up for my first computer class that I was truly exposed  to this foreign culture. My first (and last) computer class attempted to teach me binary code (or whatever those 0's and 1's were). The final exam for this course was to write a program to center my name in all caps at the top of a page. Why did I need to learn this when I could simple press "Caps Lock", center my carriage, and back-space once for every two letters in my name? So, I blissfully buried myself in French, British, and American literature for the next nine years, writing all of my papers, even my substantial master's thesis, on a typewriter. I was content and had no desire to change my ways when I began my student teaching in 1994. My cooperating teacher challenged me to invest the five minutes that it would take for me to learn to use MS Windows, and although I was apprehensive, I've never looked back.

Eighteen years of teaching have passed since I finally accepted the role of technology in my own life, and more importantly, in the lives of the "citizens" of my classroom. Today, in this digital society, I view myself as quite "proficient" in technology. I use computers and mobile devices daily in my classroom and in my personal life. My iPhone has replaced my agenda, post-its, land-line, cds, dvds, photo albums, recipe books, etc. I carry e-mail and Internet browsing capabilities with me everywhere I go. Facebook has become an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family, while LinkedIn and Twitter have become integral to my Personal/Professional Learning Network.  My lessons integrate technology through use of videos, podcasts, Skype, Web 2.0 applications,  mobile apps, etc. 

Although I have embraced this digital culture wholeheartedly, I still feel fundamentally different from my students in the way I view technology. I have grown to appreciate and even love the capabilities that technology offers in my personal and professional lives; however, like an immigrant, I still tell stories about "the old country" where I might not have walked five miles to school in the snow, but where I still get excited about new notebooks and pens as a school year begins.

I realize that the time I spend in France is vital for improving my proficiency in the French language.  I continue to grow and love its culture, its language, and its people. However, I also recognize that I will never be French. Likewise, although I love technology and continue to learn and embrace its possibilities, I will never be a digital native. Yet, I know that as a non-native speaker of French, I am a highly-effective teacher of the French language and culture; as a digital immigrant, I am a highly proficient user of technology and am easily able to communicate with the natives.  I empathize with my fellow immigrants, and am eager to help them to assimilate and thrive in this new culture. I have never liked the term "foreign language", preferring to refer to French, Spanish, Chinese, etc. as "world languages."  In French, the word "étranger" can refer to someone who is either "foreign" or "strange". We are all members of a global community, and it is important to view our diversity not as "strange", but as an asset, a way of expanding our own existences. Technology is no longer a foreign concept. Those of us who were not born into this society can view ourselves as fortunate to have had our own unique experiences with technology while being open to the wonderful potential that immersion in this digital society provides.

I am confident that teachers want to use technology to enhance their lessons and to enrich their students' educational opportunities.  However, I have observed that teachers can be easily overwhelmed by the volume of tools and options available, as well as by the time it takes to explore and try new technology. For several years, I have been a go-to person for my colleagues who have questions about technology or who want to brainstorm ideas about integrating technology into their lessons.  I am certain that teachers would be more willing to use technology in their classrooms if they had a coach who would not only answer their questions, but who would also help them to explore and implement technology.. I recognize that teachers need a technology coach who will work with them to co-create lessons and to support the use of technology in their classrooms.  I envision meeting with individuals and/or departments to support their curricular requirements by co-planning and even co-teaching lessons.

WHY ME? "If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle... Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." - Steve Jobs

Qualifications: résumé  As a professional educator with over twenty years of experience in secondary and higher education, I have committed myself to continual improvement and enrichment.  As an 18-year veteran of the Pewaukee School District, I have embraced the PSD Core Competencies, integrating them into my lessons and my professional practices.
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: All of my course projects and assessments have been revised to challenge students to use the French language in contextual, relevant ways. French I and II students are participating in a simulated residency in Paris: Une Année à Paris. Students are also encouraged to use strategies such as circumlocution to express themselves when specific vocabulary is unknown, and to evaluate technology for its reliability, validity, and relevance. 
  • Creativity & Innovation: Creativity and innovation are some of my strongest attributes as a teacher. Although I have been teaching French for many years, I have never settled for what I have done previously.  I constantly reflect upon my lessons and strive to improve the quality of  the instruction and materials that I provide.  I have explored tools that are available (including Web 2.0, mobile applications, and Livemocha), and when I haven't found the ideal tool for the task, I have made my own materials and websites.  I also encourage my students to express their own innovation by creating videos and multimedia presentations that go beyond PowerPoint.  The ability to create with language takes learning  to a much higher level of critical thinking, and elevates students’ interest and enthusiasm for the language and culture.
  • Collaboration: "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller.  In addition to collaborating with the rest of the World Language department and with other teachers in the building, my own collaboration has extended beyond the Pewaukee campus.  This year, I collaborated with a superintendent/PhD candidate as an example for his dissertation on how teachers leverage technology to connect with their students 24/7.  I have also developed a Personal Learning Network (PLN) by using social media.  I participate in #langchats on Twitter, and have shared ideas and materials with World Language and Ed Tech colleagues across the country and abroad.  My students are also encouraged to collaborate with their peers on projects, in daily class conversations, and by using social media.
  • Citizenship: All World Language courses strive to help students become global citizens by comparing and contrasting world cultures. Students of languages become increasingly more aware and respectful of global diversity. Last year, I encouraged my Current Issues students to work on a service project for Healing Haiti.  Their contribution of $300 purchased four beds in a new orphanage for victims of the 2010 earthquake. My students are also taught to view the Internet as a global connection, and are therefore expected to display respectful global cyber citizenship.
  • Communication: Communication is the ultimate goal of any language. Coursework, activities, and assessments challenge students to develop all four modes of communication.  Technology such as Skype and other social media have also played a key role in providing students with opportunities to communicate, not only with their teachers and peers in Pewaukee, but with professionals, alumni, and French-speakers around the world. I will encourage  my colleagues to communicate with other experts in their disciplines by helping them to set up their own Personal/Professional Learning Networks.  Social media has revolutionized the way people connect with each other.   I have made a concerted effort to explore a variety of social media platforms, and to model appropriate content and responsible use.  I have come to appreciate how Facebook allows me to stay in touch and reconnect with family and friends, as well as with former students and PHS alumni.  LinkedIn and Twitter have been valuable tools to connect me with like-minded professionals, to collaborate and share ideas.  I have connected with over 600 world language teachers and educators who are using technology, as well as with leaders in the field of education (Robert Marzano, Ian Jukes, Ken O'Connor, etc.).  I would like to help my colleagues set up their own Professional/Personal Learning Networks to share ideas with fellow educators in their own disciplines.  I am also willing to set up Twitter lists by subject so that teachers don't have to seek out their own experts and professionals.  
  • Information Technology:  I am a risk-taker and a trail-blazer in the use of instructional technology. I experiment with different media, learning management systems, and tools for creating with technology. I encourage my students to evaluate the best tools for their intended purposes. Students have used numerous Web 2.0 tools. Technology such as mobile devices, cell phones, laptops, and mobile applications change the way teachers teach and students learn. Technology has become portable, allowing learning to occur anywhere, any time.  Students read, write, create, collaborate, research, and practice. Technology helps provide differentiated instruction by motivating reluctant learners, supporting struggling learners, and challenging advanced learners. I created a Google Doc and a website to share ideas about mobile learning (, and have presented at local, regional, and national conferences.  I have taught Moodle and Google apps courses for the PSD Academy of Excellence, and continue to be available to my colleague whenever they need technical advice. I will continue to assist teachers in their own professional development and to collaborate with colleagues to brainstorm ideas and to troubleshoot technology issues.
  • College & Career Readiness: The ability to communicate in languages other than English empowers students to be more marketable in the workforce. This has been the focus of all of my classes, including the Business French class.  Professionals from various career fields who have Skyped or visited our students have universally affirmed that knowledge of languages makes a candidate more successful.  Students have recognized that speaking multiple languages saves companies’ money and allows for opportunities for travel and advancement. Another vital skill for all students to master is the effective and responsible use of technology.  Students need to learn how to acquire information from reputable sources, to evaluate information and tech tools, and to leverage technology to communicate and create content.
By helping educators leverage technology and optimize our Pewaukee 1:1 laptop initiative,  I hope to further empower teachers and students to authentically meet the PSD Core Competencies.

In addition to my degrees and experience, all the credits that I have taken to renew my teaching licenses since 1994 have been focused on technology and differentiation, including courses in blogging, Moodle, Assessment for Learning, virtual teaching, and Google Apps. I have also attended and presented at several state, regional, and national conferences: 
  • Technology in Education Symposium (TIES) - Minneapolis 2009  
  • Wisconsin Association of Foreign Languages Teacher (WAFLT) Summer Leadership Conference -  Madison 2010  
  • Milwaukee Digital Media Conference - Milwaukee Art Museum 2010  
  • Great Lakes 1:1 Conference - Milwaukee 2010 (presenter)  
  • WAFLT Annual Convention - Appleton 2011 (presenter)  
  • Central States Conference for Teachers of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL)  - Milwaukee 2012 (presenter)  
  • American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) National Conference - Chicago 2012 (presenter)
Future Plans: I am interested pursuing a graduate degree in instructional technology. Cardinal Stritch University offers an  Instruction Technology Coordinator Program: This program requires a Cornerstone/Capstone course to evaluate proficiencies. The rest of the program is combination of proficiency demonstrations through portfolios and online coursework, and leads to an administrative license of Instructional Technology Coordinator. 

I am eager to begin planning for my new role next year.  It will be important to find a balance between teaching my regular classes (French I-V) and serving as PHS Tech Coach, but I'm up for the challenge!  I hope to live up to the words of another Wisconsin coach, Vince Lombardi: "Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen.  The ones who win get inside the players and motivate!" 

May 05, 2012

C'est moi!

I am...
a teacher,
a mentor,
a digital immigrant,
a "trailblazer,"
an "early adopter,"
a colleague,
an adviser,
a coach,
a leader.
Je suis MadameMLH, la prof de français.
Does my career define me?

I am...
a traveler,
a sailor,
a reader,
a writer,
a linguist...
Sometimes I speak and write and think in English.
Sometimes I speak and write and think in French.
Do my interests define me?

I am...
fair with freckles,
a blue-eyed brunette,
Does my physical appearance define me?

I am...
Do my attributes define me?

I am...
a perfectionist...
Do my faults define me?

I am...
a wife,
a sister,
a daughter,
a niece,
an auntie,
a godmother,
a friend...
Do my relationships define me?

For the first year of my life,
I didn't have a name: I was Jane Doe.
Miraculously, I was adopted,
given my name: Melinda Marie Larson.
Melinda: gentle, sweet
Marie: the French variant of Mary
"Star of the Sea,"
A name for a girl who grew up on the water,
 for a woman who remains most content in or upon it.
I was named for my maternal grandmother.
I was named for Mary, the Blessed Mother.
Larson: A noble surname, ethnic and geographic
Son of Lars, Scandinavian for Lawrence,
A laurel, fragrant, ever green,
A wreath to adorn the heads of heroes...
I am child of noble victors,
of Door County Scandinavians.
My name is a gift itself.
I wasn't born into the Larson family.
I was adopted, chosen, given this name.

In high school, I was Mindy, in college, Mel.
When I started teaching, I was Mademoiselle.
I was Mademoiselle for years...
Until in Paris, I was suddenly Madame.
I desired to emulate the eternal Mademoiselle Chanel,
Yet I had become a woman "d'un certain âge."
French civility respectfully elevated my female rank.

In 2005, I was married.
I became Mrs. Eric Horne.
I struggled with social convention, 
with "taking my husband's name."
He was considerate and appreciative.
He was disappointed.
He, too, desired to share his name with me.
I added a hyphen,
The gift of yet another name.

I am Melinda Marie Larson-Horne.

May 03, 2012

Challenge Accepted!

We all spend hours online depicting our lives as we would like them to be perceived.  We have a tendency to show only what we think will be interesting, inspiring, beautiful.  We edit our pictures and our words before we post them on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram.... We create boards on Pinterest depicting our dream homes, vacations, and wardrobes. Yet, real life is far from utopian.  We aren't all airbrushed models, married to perfect husbands, living in spacious homes on the beach, decorated with souvenirs of our travels to exotic locations, shopping in luxury boutiques, dining in style and never gaining a pound. After reading this article by Jess Constable, Ez Pudewa of Creature Comforts issued a challenge to bloggers to write about things we are afraid to share, to write just one brutally honest post...

OK, here goes:
  • I was adopted when I was a year old. It irritates me that people assume I don't know who I am because I don't know my biological parents. Life is not an after-school special. I have no desire to “find my real parents." My “real parents” are Bob and Kay Larson.
  • I read magazines while drying my hair (Sailing, InStyle, Real Simple, Milwaukee Magazine).
  • I believe in “a place for everything and everything in its place," but I still need a junk drawer.
  • My dad passed away on Sept. 18, 1996 of mesothelioma. He was exposed to asbestos as ship’s electrician on the U.S.S. Salt Lake City during WWII. He never regretted his service to our country. I miss my dad everyday. I wish my husband could have known my dad. They would have enjoyed each other’s company.
  • Even though I speak and teach French, I am very proud to be an American. Patriotic music makes me teary, and it bothers me when students don’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance or are disrespectful during the National Anthem.
  • I am willing to share my ideas and resources with colleagues, but I resent it when people take advantage of my kindness.
  • I have size 5.5 flat feet, but I walk better in high heels.
  • I stayed in for recess in 4th grade because my cursive letters weren’t slanting in the right direction. Now I have beautiful penmanship, but I rarely write.
  • My heart melts when Alec and Chase call me “Auntie”. I love them so much! Even though I appear strong and secure in the reality that I will never be able have children, sometimes I still feel that something is missing.  Being adopted, I know what a gift it is to adopt a child, but I also feel selfish knowing that I am content with my life as it is. (Whew...that was a tough one!)
  • I have a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Shaun Cassidy in my basement. I got him when I was 11. I say “hello” to him every time I go downstairs.
  • I am a terrible sleeper. I play word games in my head until I fall asleep, and I never sleep through the night.
  • I can’t eat cake and ice cream on the same plate. The ice cream makes the cake soggy. PS: I prefer cherry pie.
  • I love sailing and spending summer weekends on our boat (Sail la Vie). People often think of sailing as a peaceful, relaxing way to enjoy nature, but I sometimes pray for storms to avoid my fear of our "fluky" Lake Michigan wind and waves. I am both excited and terrified by the idea of sailing off into the sunset someday.
  • I envy people who can run for fun, sing, and play the piano.
Thank you to Ez at Creature Comforts for featuring my post in 
Participating Bloggers: Round 1 (I'm last in the list) - It's an honor! xo!

May 02, 2012

Life in Color

I just purchased Nichole Robertson's lovely book, Paris in Color.  It is pure eye-candy: gorgeous photos of the most ordinary things that seem extraordinarily beautiful in part because they are in Paris, the most beautiful of cities.  Ms. Robertson moved to Paris with her family three years ago.  She describes how, strolling through Paris, the color of a particular chair, door, or vehicle would catch her eye and she would become fixated on that color for the rest of the day.  She began taking a series of photos highlighting each vivid or subtle hue. For even more of Nichole Robertson's beautiful photos, visit her blog, Little Brown Pen, and follow her on Pinterest.

Paris in Color is an inspiration. I have taken countless photos in Paris, mostly the same photos that everyone takes - the requisite cathedrals, Tour Eiffel, Pyramide du Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe. I have deviated from the tourist attractions to photograph flowers and produce in the neighborhood markets, Haussmannian apartments and Mansard roofs, pastries in bakery windows, and glasses of wine. One year, I peered at architecture and landscapes to photograph the entire alphabet.  That Christmas, I offered my friends and families their names as I saw them in Paris. Ms. Robertson's book has inspired me to tune in to Paris' spectrum the next time I visit (in January).

But why limit the project to Paris?  Why not see everyday through rose- (or yellow- or blue-...) colored glasses?  This year, I have been experimenting with a 366-project (it's Leap Year), posting a photo a day to my Tumblr (Une Chose).  In January, I struggled with what to post.  The cold Wisconsin winter was not very inspiring.  I took photos of anything that was interesting in my home, as well as the waning light in the gray sky and the drifts of snow.  When there seemed to be nothing to photograph, I posted photos I took while traveling, especially in Paris.  In February, I chose a theme: love.  I posted photos of hearts and flowers, locks on the Pont des Arts.... In March, I decided to look for photo challenges online. Each day since, I have posted my version of the photo of the day: feelings, shapes, times, etc.

It is finally spring, and my garden is awakening.  A myriad of violet, yellow, blue and white violas have pushed their way through the mulch, the redbud is studded with tiny magenta blossoms.  The delicate green leaves of the hostas, daisies, and columbine are emerging.  The salvia is sending up deep purple spikes.  There is color everywhere! At my desk, I am struck by the lovely red and blue fins of our betta fish, the shades of white and cream in pebbles at the bottle of his fish bowl.  My yellow Marquette travel mug sits next to a stack of powder blue post-its and Ms. Robertson's magnificent book.

Each week, I plan to tune into a particular hue, paying attention to it's presence and impact.  Visit my blog for weekly updates!