Tag Archives: teaching

A Different Kind of Tea Party

One of the reasons I love to teach is because I love to learn. During my ed tech class last week, one of my students introduced me to Alice, the programming language, and also talked about Storytelling Alice, the programming language geared towards middle schoolers, particularly girls. I had only a vague knowledge of Alice and none at all of Storytelling Alice. I had hoped to spend some time with both this week, but my own programming got in the way. I also stumbled because Storytelling Alice doesn’t have a Macintosh version. Using it would mean dragging out the Windows machine. But, I ended up doing that anyway since I loaned it to a student so it is up to date and ready to go. So, maybe this weekend…

Meanwhile, in one of those serendipitous events, I got an email today highlighting webinars being sponsored by Georgia Tech that focus on Alice. I was going to email the link to my students but thought there might be a wider audience. Here’s the link to the Tea Party website and the link to the webinar schedule.

Teaching, teaching, teaching

I am teaching three courses this semester. Two are face to face and one is online. I’ve taught the undergraduate face to face course for more than five years. It’s the typical “tech” class that pre-service teachers have always had to take. When I took it some 22 years ago, I learned about using film projectors and got a brief introduction to computers through one class period devoted to logo. Even then, I was hooked, and my final project was created on my Tandy 1000 using a free database program to develop a gradebook.

Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century (how DID I get this old??), and the course covers everything from Inspiration to Google Earth to Quest Atlantis. In more recent semesters, I’ve designed the course around the concept of TPACK–Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge–to help students see the relationship of technology to the other areas of their learning. I like the course and enjoy spending time with 20-somethings who are excited about becoming teachers. I haven’t met with this year’s group yet. Monday is our first class. The section I teach focuses on elementary education and this semester I have several men in the course, which is unusual.

The two other courses–both graduate and both focusing on educational technology–are new to me. One is online and one is face to face. I developed the syllabus for the latter. The former has already been developed and I am working as a facilitator. But, the real difference I’ve discovered is how quickly I can bond with the students. I met with my face to face class last night, and I already love it. I knew some of the participants prior to the class so we settled in pretty well. And for the few I didn’t know, I already feel like I have a sense of how we will work together.

Even though the online course started a day earlier, I still don’t have much of a sense of the students. A few of them have posted to the discussion forums, but none have posted their pictures yet nor completed the audio assignment. So, I have no idea what they look or sound like! I’ve got names and email addresses and that’s it. I’ve been checking in several times a day to see what’s happening and am disappointed when there are no new posts for me to review. It is going to be a slow process and I am eager for Monday morning to come so I’ll at least know what they look like, well that is if they actually post pictures of themselves. The course creator gave them the option of posting any picture and I thought about changing that but didn’t want to immediately go in and start rearranging. So, I’m hoping most of them choose to post their own pictures rather than Marge Simpson or a sports team logo. That tells me something about them, certainly, but doesn’t help me really visualize them.

It promises to be an interesting semester! My face to face grad course participants will be keeping blogs and I’ll be posting more here as well to keep up with them.

One Thousand Miles

During the first two weeks of the new year, I put over 1000 miles on my car, driving around my state to visit five different school divisions.  Three were smaller rural divisions; two were larger suburban divisions. But, they all had several things in common.  All were grappling with challenges related to funding and student achievement.  All were concerned about what the new year and new administration would mean for schools.  And, all were aware that they were doing an impossible job in impossible circumstances.

Yet, all seemed to have a sense of hope and a level of optimism that I certainly didn’t feel as I thought about the impossibilities…if we just work a little harder, find some more resources, increase our own enthusiasm, we can engage the kids in the content and help them learn the state mandated content by the looming deadline.  But, while the test was certainly a driving force in their lives and the lives of their children, they also had personal goals for helping the kids learn to live, work and play successfully in the contemporary world.

They were trying to figure out how to balance all the demands they were juggling, always keeping the students’ needs firmly in mind. And, they were trying to figure out how to balance their own lives and work even while they are sponsoring clubs and staying late to tutor and sitting in the bleachers for the basketball game.  Mostly, they were working very hard.

I was reminded of a post by Chris Lehmann in which he mused about a system that requires martyrdom to function. Chris wrote,

I want to celebrate every teacher who has made this job a calling. Thank you. But my concern is that this nation thinks that building an entire system around martyrdom is the way to go — that if you aren’t spending 80 hours a week and thousands of your own dollars, you can’t be an effective Title I school teacher. (And yes, I know that it’s not THAT much better in the wealthier districts.) We cannot build a national system on the idea that KIPP and TFA and the 60-70 hour work week is acceptable. It’s not.

So as I watch Jakob and Theo play, stealing a moment where I can both be a dad (you have NO idea how many breaks I’ve taken in writing this entry) and a principal (I’ve answered about ten emails during the writing too,) I have a call to arms for us all.

Every time we see a teacher celebrated for their Herculean efforts, let’s all be sure to ask the following questions:

  • What can be done to support and sustain you?
  • How can we change the system that more people can be as successful as you?
  • How can we create schools where it does not require Herculean efforts to be a successful teacher?

These and other questions were part of my own thoughts as I drove all those miles.  I’m going to throw out one possible solution for supporting and sustaining.  It’s off the cuff and a band-aid at that, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Why doesn’t planning time count towards professional development?  Every teacher does it, every day.  That means that every day they spend a bit of time in reflection on what they did and what they are going to do.  For most of them, they are alone when they do this reflection, sitting at their desks, jogging around the block or driving to the grocery store.

Most of the teachers I talked to have to turn in some kind of written plan to the office but they do not receive any feedback on it.  No conversation at all, in fact, for something they do every day of the year.  Maybe instead of having them sit through more drive by training, we could have them work together to reflect on their plans, to link their professional learning and growth to their professional practice.  Because they ARE reflecting, thinking all the time about their plans, but they are doing it all on their own time and alone.  Put them together, give them a chance to share, and suddenly all the individual energy comes together.  Rather than having a faculty meeting to tell people things that could be shared via email, have a faculty meeting that starts with the question, “What worked in your classroom today?  What didn’t work?”  Simple questions with complex answers.

You don’t need a consultant or even a model; you just need time for talking.  Time for exploring. Time for learning.  Is that so much to ask?

Cross Post: Check Out Our Voice Threads

I posted this in the VSTE Ning site where my undegraduates are sharing their learning this semester.  But, I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience.

This semester, I added Voice Thread to my course and I’m glad I did. They are all tied to the Standards of Learning, Virginia’s standards. Most of my students are planning to use them as part of their student teaching experience.

Here’s the list with the links:

Simple and Compound Machines: http://voicethread.com/share/207443/

Weather Instruments: http://voicethread.com/share/207433/

Who Eats What: http://voicethread.com/#q.b207433.i1089152<

Magnets: http://voicethread.com/share/213467/

By the way, here’s the one I created for them. It reviews the different tools we have studied and asks them to think about how they can be integrated into the classroom. Please feel free to add your comments:

I’ll end with a thank you to my Twitter buddies who had excellent ideas for how the students can easily allow their students to comment on their threads. I am reminded of the power of my professional learning network and I hope my students are coming to see its power as well.

In Just 45 Minutes…

I head to campus to begin another semester.  I am teaching a course called Designs for Technology Enhanced Learning.  I have taught some version of this course to pre-service teachers for the past five years.  It began as a one-credit class that focused on technical skills, but as the students have become more familiar with the tools, the course has morphed into a two-credit class that focuses more on how to use the tools in the classroom.  I am more excited about teaching the course this semester because I really feel like I have hit my stride with it.

The one area where I am a little concerned is with the additional of a online personal learning network component.  This is clearly something that others are thinking about as well since my first look at Twitter this morning led me to Will Richardson’s post on the subject. I am going to have my students join a the VSTE Ning network and participate for the whole semester.  This assignment replaces the blogging they used to do as I grew discouraged with that assignment over time.  It became increasingly quantitative (x number of posts and x number of comments) and few students seemed to ever realize the potential power of blogs to support their own learning and reflection.  The Ning assignment is much more open ended: get involved in the community on a regular basis.  I have invited Sheryl Nussbaum Beach to come in as a guest speaker since she’s my hero when it comes to these communities.  I’m hoping she can provide some motivation for them to get involved AND stay involved even after the course is over.

The other part of this assignment is that I am hoping it will motivate my own learning and involvement in an online community.  I tend to live on the peripherals of these groups.  I was never much of a “joiner” in the real world and that habit has remained in the virtual one as well.   Like Will, I am very much in the midst of examining my own practices and also looking towards life after my degree is completed.  So, while I am nervous about this assignment, I am also excited to have an opportunity to really engage in an authentic activity with my students.  I’m just hoping they will feel the same way!

And now it’s time to get ready…I’m walking to campus this morning to benefit myself and the environment but that means an early start.  Class begins at 11 and if you want a sample of what we’re doing, here’s my agenda.