Thursday, February 26, 2009

6 Things That Make Me Happy

A lovely meme and easy, too...I was tagged by TJ Shay to share 6 things that make me happy. I find it pretty easy to feel happy. Here are six of the things that make me so.

1. Cuddling with my kids.
2. Sleeping late
3. Summer break
4. A good cup of coffee in the morning
5. A hot shower
6. Cool, but not cold, weather

I am going to tag some of my students for this meme. My fourth graders have been working on a group blog this year. The content has been sliding downhill a bit. They need some direction, and I like this meme. Please, consider yourself tagged if you'd like to share.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Act Smart

I was talking with my husband who is going through yet another "career change." I put it in quotes because, really, he has never had a career. He is an amazingly talented person who can do so many things really well, but he just hasn't found the way to make any of his avocations into a vocation.
As we were talking about how hard his new business is I shared with him some thoughts about changing his approach in order to become successful. He agreed, but he felt that it wasn't what came naturally to him.
So, I countered, just act that way.
ACT the way you want to be. Fake it til you make it. It's simple.

It made me think of an incident with a student. I had started to present an assignment for the lab and heard some moaning and groaning (I know, unbelievable!). I told them never mind, just act like you like what we're doing.
Later that night I received an email from one of the kids. She said, "I don't have to act like I like what we're doing anymore. I LOVE it. "
What a great actress. She convinced herself.

Friday, February 13, 2009

More on What Matters....How about READING?!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I'm a dinosaur, I admit it. I still believe that reading is and will always be a core value. No links, this is just an off-the-top-of-my-head post, but I know I've seen articles listing reasons why reading will not be an important skill in the future. All information will be accessible in non-written formats.
I don't believe it. I never will. Call it my inability to embrace change, call it what you will. I believe that reading matters BIG TIME. 
One of my defining interests as a teacher is literacy. I would love to see all kids love reading. I think every classroom in every school should give kids time to read.
To Read. 

I'd like to see reading textbooks become extinct. Sheesh. There are so many good books to read to kids and for kids to read. The idea of a reading textbook? It makes no sense. ( I spent over a hundred dollars on my daughter's reading textbooks for school this year. Can you imagine if every parent spent that money, instead, to build a classroom's library or to build their child's at-home library?)
Real readers read. Real readers talk about and share books with others. Some real readers do related extension activities depending on who they are and how much they liked the book. 
 Real readers hang out in places like bookstores and libraries. Real readers enjoy stories and most enjoy hearing stories read aloud, even after they can read themselves.  Real readers get emotionally involved with characters. They think about the characters and the story beyond the time they are reading. Real readers go back and re-read things. Real readers don't need outside incentives to read. The incentive is the joy of the story. For young children, it's the warmth of cuddling with a special adult who reads aloud. 
Until children have been "hooked" on reading, what about giving them outside incentives to read? I'm ok with that. Whatever makes readers of our children is fine with me. What I don't want to see in schools are activities that make reading something inauthentic. I've seen too many children who believe that reading is something you do in school, that it has no real value in their lives. 
Building a classroom community that centers around authentic reading is actually fairly easy. To me, literacy, the whole, is more important than all the pieces and parts our schools seem to spend so much time teaching. Reading matters. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What Matters? Part 3: Students

How much importance do we give to what matters to our students?
I've seen and heard all kinds of responses to this question. In my experience the best teachers are interested in knowing what matters to their students. I believe that students have much to teach me and each other. I learn from my students every day. I truly value student voice and wish to explore the interests that my students bring with them into the classroom. 
However, I also feel that as an adult teaching children, it is my responsibility to guide them. The teacher has the role of guiding the class and setting up the environment. I guess I believe in student-centered learning with the teacher directing things, but in a way where the students are empowered. 
In my opinion, the younger the students are when they realize that their ideas, interests and feelings matter in their education, the better. I student taught with a truly impressive 4th/5th grade teacher. He did many little things that made a big impression on me and, I'm sure, on his students. One thing that I learned from watching him teach was the way he put greater emphasis on questions than on answers. He frequently set up situations and gave assignments where the students were required to question: question each other, question the texts, question their parents. 
Children are naturally curious (think of the three-year old's favorite sentence: Why?). But, in many cases it seems that the structure of our schooling, instead of building on this natural curiosity and directing it toward learning, stifles it. Instead of learning to ask deeper questions (although what is deeper than Why?) students are learning to stop asking questions at all.
In my current experience, I am finding that by the time they are in the upper grades, the students have become passive. They are waiting to be taught instead of actively seeking to learn. 

Exhibit A: My first year at the school, I bought the wonderful, multi-media authoring software, Media Blender. The 5th grade teacher suggested having students write multimedia science reports. I asked the students to brainstorm ideas for topics. After I read the topics: sharks, frogs, volcanoes, etc., I asked them to write down some of their questions about these topics. I got faced with a roomful of blank stares. Questions? Why would we write questions? What do you mean?
"Well," I tried, "what is it you want to know about frogs or sharks or volcanoes? What do you want to learn?" Again, blank stares. Finally, one of the students set me straight by telling me that they just chose what they thought would make a good report. 
I decided, then, to scrap the science reports and let them create multimedia projects on whatever topic was of interest to them. It could be anything at all, as long as it was appropriate for school. 
Two Things
One- I worried that this was a bad move on my part. I never "teach tech" as in just teaching how to use a software program. Was this a case of teaching tech or was it an example of letting students explore their interests?
Two- Although many of the projects were not academic in terms of content, the class was highly engaged, highly motivated, collaborating beautifully, problem solving, creating and expressing themselves in a variety of ways. Was this or was it not worthwhile? 
The projects ranged in topic from American Idol and Survivor to fashion, sharks and comets. I had more than one parent come to me to ask what we were doing, they had never seen their child so excited about a school project before. 

Since that time I have devised and used a number of student interest surveys as a way to use student voices as part of my planning. Of course, that is only one of a number of different ways that I listen to and get to know my students. Truthfully, I have been a bit disappointed with the surveys. They write things like, "We want to learn whatever you want us to learn."  This may be general immaturity or just apathy, maybe boredom or disinterest in the survey, but I tend to think it is also a failure of our school's approach in the younger grades. By the time they are in the upper grades, the students have learned to think of learning as a carrying out of the teacher's plan. To me, this is something we should be looking at school wide, as teachers and as parents. Do we want to ignite a spark or put out the flame entirely?

On a somewhat related, but somewhat unrelated note, I thought I would share a video my first grade students made about what matters to them. We submitted it to the website (it's number 426). I love the simple truth of what is important in their lives: family, friends, pets and maybe money. I want my students to learn that what they think and feel is important, whatever their ages. Their voices matter to me.

I'm Sharing :)

Since one of my New Year's resolutions was to share more, I am going to push myself out of my comfort zone and post my ADE application video here. Why is this a big deal? 
I am pretty sensitive and maybe a little bit shy. I haven't told anyone except my husband (and you people) that I even applied to ADE. It was a big stretch when I shared  it in another post.

It makes me feel vulnerable. If I don't tell anyone, then I don't have to tell anyone if I don't make the cut. I am working on changing that way of looking at things. Instead of feeling vulnerable and exposed, which comes from a feeling of self-doubt, and, if I'm not accepted, to take it hard, as a personal and professional failure, I would like to get to the point where I embrace everything as an opportunity to learn and grow and to possibly help someone else in some way.
Okay, therapy session over. Here's my video.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Twitter Fable

Actually, it's a true tale, not a fable. You can decide for yourself the moral of the story. 
I am fairly liberal with my follow-backs on twitter. If the person is any type of educator or seems (based on their tweets and other stats) fairly interesting, not trying to sell me something(a big one) nor on a quest to follow thousands nor playing some sort of follow-and-seek game, I usually follow back. 
Anyhow, I got followed a while back by a guy whose name I'm not going to use in this story. I'm not sure why I decided not to reciprocate the follow, but I didn't. I couldn't tell much about him from his profile or picture. Definitely had a sense of humor, not following many people at all. Wondered why he followed me. Maybe a fluke?
I noticed, though, that he was quick to @me in response to any of my computer question tweets. Recognizing his worth in my network, I quickly corrected my earlier non-follow-back. I still had no idea what value I brought to him, nor why he chose to follow me. It was pretty obvious that he wasn't a teacher, and, aside from being a family-man with a sense of humor who was quick to help me with computer-related questions, I didn't know much about him. 
Recently, I tweeted asking for help with a server problem. He dm'ed (direct messaged) me and told me he could help me but easier to ichat than to dm back and forth in twitter
As we started chatting he made the disclaimer that although he worked for Apple, he wasn't helping me as an employee of Apple. 
Fine by me!
Not only was I able, after our brief chat, to fix the specific issue, but I gained a better overall understanding of the server. I have been in-over-my-head with the server for years. Reading through the big, fat training manuals has not helped me understand one thing. 
Later, out of curiosity, I googled him. He is a senior engineer for Apple. 

I still have no idea why he follows me! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Critical Mass

Have we reached a stage of critical mass in EdTech?
Has the hundredth monkey caught on to new ways of learning, teaching, schooling?
I believe the answer is undoubtedly "yes." 

I mean, it is 2009. Ed Tech is kind of old news. 

Some personal anecdotes:
1. FETC.  Swarming with people. The exhibit floor packed with the newest, cool thing. And it is only one conference of many happening all over the world, all the time. 

2. One of the teachers at my school told me that she thought about getting a Master's degree in educational technology and doing a job like mine, but why would she? She said that young teachers entering the profession have no need for someone to help them integrate technology in the classroom. They have always used computers and naturally integrate it in their classrooms. 

3. I applied to ADE. In my own mind, I keep current with what is going on in Ed Tech and education in general and have, for years, been passionate about teaching (which was why I got into the tech stuff in the first place.) I spent a lot of last night viewing the application videos of my competitors and was pretty blown away by some of them. It made me feel two different things: first, it made me go "wow." There are some hugely impressive people out there. When I see what other people are doing and the quality of some of the videos, I feel like I am lagging behind. On the flip side of that thought, I feel like, well, if I'm behind, then the big picture as far as EdTech must be pretty solid. 

And then I look around my school. Papers, desks in rows facing forward to look at the teacher, who is almost always an adult, text books (that cost a fortune. I know, remember I'm a parent at the (private) school, too. We buy all our books.) Oh, to think what technology we could afford if we pooled our textbook money! 
I know, I know, it's not about the tech. But, at the same time, it is about the tech! It's not just the stuff, the gadgets and tools, the coolest flashy fun thing, but, at the same time, it is. How do I explain? I think it's about an attitude. An attitude about teaching, an attitude about learning, an attitude about kids. It's about letting go and trying something new, letting the students have some control. What I tried to convey in my ADE video was that it was a certain attitude about learning and motivation that drove me into the EdTech world in the first place. I always had the passion as an educator. It was only natural that I would get into technology. Because I look to the students to teach me about how to teach them. 
Which brings me back to my little anecdotes. I have to admit I was bothered by the young teacher telling me that my job is unnecessary. Not just because she was calling me old & in the way, but it is the attitude that disturbs me. This attitude, from a teacher," I can't learn from you" really bothers me. She's not the only teacher at my school who has insinuated this to me in one way or another. I find it hard to understand how a teacher could have that closed-minded attitude about learning

My questions-
Is the job of ed tech coordinator becoming obsolete and, if so, how soon? Is that a good thing, indicative of arriving, as opposed to striving? Is the Ed Tech teacher who alleviates the need for an Ed Tech teacher, a sign of a job well done?
I don't think that my school has arrived. We've grown, but it's slow going. I feel stuck, and I don't think it's all my fault. And I'm not sure what to do about it. 

Because technology in education is not the end, it's not THE GOAL. The goal is authentic, student-centered... I can't even finish this sentence because it's all starting to sound like buzzwords to me.  
I've been there for the journey. I've seen education before tech, during tech and now, where tech has reached critical mass. 
There were great teachers doing great things before a computer ever entered a classroom. And having all the latest, greatest gadgets will not change the fundamental values of the teacher. 
How do we get there? How do we let students lead us into the future? How do we put aside our egos and let ourselves learn from anyone? Isn't that the path?

Monday, February 2, 2009

What Matters? Part 2: Discussion

Instead of trying to sort through my own answers to the bottomless question of what really matters in education, I decided to create a Voicethread. Please don't be intimidated by the broad scope of the question. Leave more than one comment if you like. I am just excited to hear your thoughts on the subject. Thank you!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Matters? Part 1: Reflection

Background info: I write blog posts in my mind all the time. I'm a much better thinker-writer than a real, sit down and type on the keys writer. One of my recent "mind posts" has been about what really matters in education. Typical of these free-flowing thought-posts (they are QUITE brilliant by the way), the ideas follow a winding path with many tangents and dead-ends. 
Funny that as I was reading some blogs tonight, also a long and winding road what with all the hyperlinks to click, I stumbled upon David Warlick's recent posts "Should it Matter?" and "More on What Matters," reflections of his after Educon2.1

I also recently read Clay Burell's spot-on post on, "Reading Despite Teaching or How the Hulk led me to Hamlet."  Reading is high on my list of what matters, and Clay has a way of sharing his stories that helps you see clearly the silliness of schooliness.                                                   
Both of these pieces intersected in many places with the thoughts I've been thinking. 
I  feel compelled to add a disclaimer here lest you imagine that I am comparing myself as a writer or thinker to the likes of Warlick or Burell. No, I'm most certainly not. 

But isn't that the beauty of asking what matters? Isn't what matters to me, an ordinary teacher, as important as what matters to those who have risen to the ranks of leaders in education? Isn't that the very essence of web2.0? 
I start with my thoughts about education, based largely on my own experience. I explore my thoughts as I attempt to write a coherent post. As I try to communicate, I find myself in a different place. I never know, when I start writing, where the path will lead. Others can read and respond, draw me out, question me, challenge me, help me along.... I can read the blogs of others, too. It's a different type of experience than reading a book. It's immediate, accessible. I can leave a comment!
These early-stage thoughts that I refer to as my mind-blog-post can be compared to a spring that is hidden underground. As the spring bubbles to the surface, it meets with greater bodies of water, at which point it becomes visible, yet changed as it merges with the river. 
That, to me, is the learning process that I find taking place through this process of writing, reading and interacting through blogs and other networks. 

Now I'm nowhere near where I thought I'd be when I started this post. What do I do? Do I leave it here and write part 2 later? Do I keep going, trying to get back to what I thought I wanted to say about what matters? 
I think I'll opt for Part 2. In the meantime, I want to ask you to think about what matters. What really, truly matters about learning, going to school, educating kids, even being human? There are, of course, no right or wrong answers- just the conversation.