Category Archives: Teaching

underwaterocean

Diving and Drowning… An exploration from under the surface.

It is Sunday night. A night wherein I sit and wonder what I am doing as of late, and if anyone will see the shift I am trying to make in my classroom.

This fall… well, I am certain these ideas were planted several months ago… I made a promise to just teach and do what I knew in my heart was right for the kids. So, I made the dive into the depths of collaborating around the globe, and set my sights on lofty goals, including a paperless, project-oriented English 9 classroom and a gamified computer-information-systems course. And things are going well. So much so that I cannot keep up. Students are engaged. They want more. Only with my current schedule… I cannot keep up.

I dove into great things because that’s what we do as teachers. We take risks. We want what’s best for our kids. And I stay under the water, submerged, by choice. Under the surface, in the depths of innovation and change, there is a brilliant scene unfolding.

And I wonder how long I will be able to stay here, without coming up for air.

Someone tell me I will soon develop gills. I don’t want to leave this adventure.

Learning. Roots and Wings.

Another week goes by, and another change. Spread Your Wings Into The Earth

Now I am not sure how to describe in any small modicum of space the journey I have been on in the last six years as an educator, or how messed up our school culture has become due to lack of attention, but I will say that some of this post is about coming back to what I know is right after a long road down a path that was very misguided. So, some of the learning this week has been about getting back to roots… and giving students wings.

It is the “research paper unit.”
It is an obligatory part of the 9th grade curriculum.
Only this time the other teachers and I looked at each other, and without words, knew we could not do it the same way as it has been done in the past. The final product will not be the same ole “research paper.”

So, we let all of the students pick their own topic. We let them decide from where to procure their research. And we let the entire process define the teachable moments.

And we have *finally* had good amounts of failure. And I say this enthusiastically. By taking away the “step-by-step how to write a research paper” lock-step, we allowed for stumbles. Students have made wrong turns when researching. Students have formed guided questions that lacked enough direction for adequate research. I could go on and on. It’s these failures and trip-ups that have given way to significant positive growth. Über cognizant of my role as a facilitator for quality research, quality inquiry and idea development, I am not going to answer the “just-give-me-the-answer” questions for them. And it’s working. They are getting better all the time.

We, my colleagues and I, know we have done the right thing shifting away from the assumed rote curriculum because the students are getting “involved.” Their brains are hurting. They are coming to us for questions, clarification… They are pushing (and at times begging) for us just to give them the right answer, as the current school culture has them trained to do… But we are not. Will not. The learning processes happening are just too good. And our students are in turn revising their thought processes, finding a way, making strides.

The unit is affording genuine conversations on topics to which students are drawn. The research practices opened up conversations on digital literacy, informational literacy, and time management. The students are learning more than just “the research paper.” The end product is simply a by-product of a thoughtful learning experience. Next week, the plan is to develop a creative way to present or promote their research; it may be an application, a digital story/documentary, a photo essay, etc. etc.

The “research paper unit,” one of the historically most dreaded units in 9th grade English. It’s not known to be adventurous like the Odyssey, or suspenseful like “Most Dangerous Game,” or creative like writing a personal narrative. It just was one of those things that has to be done. But this time around it’s different. A some-kind-of-wonderful different.

coffee mug

My Take-Away from Macul 2013

coffee mugMacul Conference 2013 ended about 10 days ago. While I have been attending and/or working the conference for over 13 years, I will say without a doubt – that this conference ranks right at the top. There were enough quotables, sessions, events, and memories to take with me for a long time. But the most powerful, moving idea that the conference produced for me was to take permission to do what is right for kids and learning. No. Matter. What.

For the past several years, my job (and its duties) has been spun around, renamed, reallocated, redefined, and flipped on end. For a while, I was a walking contradiction. Asked to just be a “teacher,” and then undercut when teaching. Asked to carryout specific tasks, and then not supported when doing so. And something got lost. I became so “obedient” to the system – I lost the perspective of what was RIGHT. My colleagues looked at me differently – I was looking at me differently.

So much change brought forth an uncertainty. To whom do I listen? To whom do I give my time? Do I leave the classroom? Do I stay? Do I try and make a leap somewhere? And I became unhappy.

I had fallen so far away from what I love to do that I was actually convincing myself that maybe I should leave. Colleagues have said, “You are too talented to teach.” What does that mean????? “Too talented to teach.” I was approaching my graduates with fervor, earnestness, and a desire to know what I did that made those past classes so great. Why they miss yearbook class… Why we still stay in touch… What did I do right, and why was it so fun? The graduates gave their feedback. But it was Macul ’13 that brought it home.

In the end, Macul 2013 reminded me that a good teacher has nothing to fear. We are a strong collaborative group of highly talented individuals trying to grow the next generation. To instill confidence and passion into our students. To be that change we want to see in the world.

To say the past few years have been difficult would be an understatement. But this past week or so was such a gift. To watch colleagues in action. To remind oneself of what really makes teachers, including myself, happy. I look forward going forth in confidence knowing that I may shake the system; I may be called on the carpet to justify my actions; I will be going against a culture of routine homework assignments, grades, and procedural practices to do what’s right for kids. I wholly and fully welcome that conversation. It is overdue. Way overdue.

Back to the classroom with cleaner goggles on. Clarity. Perspective. Rejuvenation. Affirmation. And a deep desire to connect with my kids so the last few weeks of school, I can push the envelope and challenge them to grow even more.

I will leave this post with a special thank you to the CUE Macul Roadtrip team. I am indebted to them for their collegiality and pushing teachers everywhere to be the best for kids. Thank you.

Addendum

My latest trip out of the state was interesting. My husband and I flew to San Antonio to take part in the National Association of Secondary School Principals conference. I had a great time networking with administrators from different states. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with administrators from Michigan and getting to discuss some more local issues in a removed environment. These experiences alone made the conference worthwhile.

But Will Richardson’s latest post, Urgent: 21st Century Skills for Educators (and others) First, brought me back to a thought I had while I was amidst the conference and presenters. There was little technology present, appropriate modeling of tech networking, or even discussion regarding its implications for learning.

As Will states,

And worse, it was painfully obvious by their death by PowerPoint presentation styles that their own adoption of technology as a communication tool not to mention a networked learning tool left a great deal to be desired. The governors, the state superintendents, the consultants…from none of them did I get the sense that they could give a great response to a request to model their uses of technology to teach and learn effectively, especially in the context of networks.

I, too, had this overwhelming sense of “what is education to do if our leaders don’t know the basics?” I watched day-in and day-out as presenters used overhead machines, read off powerpoints, and spoke of email as if it was still the fastest (and latest and greatest) tool for communication.

No, Will, you are not a snob. There are many of us who are asking ourselves the same questions on frequent basis.

I also just experienced a session at Macul where a gentleman gave a presentation on Web2.0 technologies. I had heard of all of them before, but instead of walking out, I sat through it. Now, it was obvious that his “inclusion” of technology into the classroom had been praised by his administration. He had received accolades for his efforts. But I sat through the presentation on edge, slightly – no truly – uncomfortable. Uncomfortable for two reasons: the first being that there was an attentive audience, the second was because all of this demonstrations and tech tools facilitated only recall. He only reached Bloom’s basic level of taxonomy, knowledge, with all of this technology. He was awarded for simply getting tech into the classroom… not for the level of critical thinking he was (or wasn’t) providing the kids.

Now, maybe I am the snob. But technology for the sake of technology doesn’t create 21st Century Learning Skills. An electronic flash card is still a flash card. If his intent was to show different activities for different levels of learning, he greatly missed the target.

Everyday I go to work, I am so grateful my district leaders have vision and an open office to discuss pedagogy (including technology integration) daily. But I worry about the whole of the US educational system. I worry about the kind of citizens we are creating. Sheltering them too much, not teaching them appropriate skills, and using the technology just to say we did…. the horizon at times looks so far away.

The system is so hard to change. What will it take?

Head is FULL.

After sitting through sessions all day… there is one thing I know. Every attendee should also receive a play day right after this conference. What good does it do to learn all of these great technologies, if one can’t take a day (or two) and put pieces together?

Today I heard a session on using cellphones in the classroom – which isn’t new, but NEW was the amount of tools created specifically for the cellphone and collaboration. (all links are posted on my delicious acct.) I was actually excited again about revisiting this tool. Now, I just need the time to sit down and put a plan of action together.

And, let’s face it, I let a year or two pass- did not update my Moodle version. Same goes for other software… and now, I am burned by hours of time. Time to install, time to set up preferences, time to restart the whole program into the classroom. Back-ups and restores.

So, as I sit here excited about everything I can take with me today, there is also a heavy sigh that comes with the renewed interest.

Ugh.