Last week, I attended New Teacher Camp at the Boy’s Latin Charter School in Philadelphia. I attended a session called Creating a Great EdTech College Course run by MaryBeth Hertz and Alice Lesnick. There was a really interesting discussion with a bit of a debate about too much emphasis on tools. I was particularly interested in this discussion because I teach a Graduate Technology Course. I am always looking for ways to improve my class, and often wonder if I am getting it right.
My class is very tool heavy. I get the whole pedagogy side, trust me. Here’s my thought. If I have about 35-40 hours total for a technology class, I am going for the tools. Why? If they don’t know about the tools, how can they use them? Many of my students have never used anything other than the Office Suite of products and email. They do not use social media, other than Facebook for personal use. They have never heard of wikis, blogs, Twitter, Google apps, and oh, so, many more. Many have digital cameras, but have never taken the photos from the camera to the computer. Uploading them to a site is a whole new adventure. So, yes, for me it’s really about the tools. I feel that when I immerse my students in an environment where they have to learn to navigate tools and get a bit messy, it helps them get over their fear of breaking the computer. My main goal is to enable them to feel confident enough to tinker on their own and investigate new tools when they are introduced. Of course, as I introduce the tools, they are required to develop lessons or we discuss how to use them to develop critical thinking and collaboration skills. They also read articles and reflect on blog posts on our class ning.
After the session at #ntcamp, I was really questioning if I was helping my students, or if I was doing it all wrong and doing them a disservice. I decided to ask them. We had a discussion about the session at ntcamp about building a great edtech course. Then, I asked them to write a reflection about our class. They had a choice to post it on the ning or hand in a hard copy. I wanted them to have the option, since the ning is more public. The last night of class, I came home with a few hard copies and knew that the others were waiting for me on the ning. I love getting feedback from my students about my classes because it helps me grow as an educator. That being said, I can honestly say I was not ready to read their reflections. I was feeling very anxious, so I decided to leave them for the next day. On my way to bed, I checked my email one last time, and got one of the nicest notes I have ever received from a student:
Thank you for satisfying my thirst for technology (you’ll understand if you read my blog);
Thank you for being one of the two greatest teachers I will ever remember;
Thank you for always believing in me and my potential;
Thank you for treating everyone the same but minding our individual strength, potentials and personalities;
I feel very sad you won’t be teaching us next year;
You are a great teacher and I hope you know that. I hope every student knew/knows how lucky they were/are to have you as a teacher.
Some comments from the reflections:
“Before I took this course….I was intimidated by the thought of just sitting behind a computer and avoided it as much as I could… This technology course has given me the confidence to try things out on the computer…. Maybe someday I will be one of the teachers who will be urging my school to embrace the transformative power of technology!”
“Overall, learning a bunch of news tricks and tools was more beneficial for me. I now have time to go back and play on my own time with the new sites I learned about. So much about teaching involves figuring things out on your own because everybody’s teaching style is unique.”
“I was very scared to take this class. As I have said in previous blogs, I am not a very tech savvy person, and I get very intimidated by technology. This class has opened my eyes to a whole new world of technology. When I go to professional development meetings, they are always saying how we have to get students attention, and use technology in the classroom more often. I always found this a struggle because I didn’t know how to use technology, or understand how it worked in a classroom environment, besides just letting them use a computer to type on and to do research.”
Needless to say, I was happy that my students felt they learned to embrace technology and not be afraid. Through our discussion about #ntcamp, they also learned that it is not just about the tool, but about how the tool is used to enhance student learning. Many times as teachers, we question what we are doing and if we are doing it right, at least I do. And, when we do get it right it is like some secret that must be guarded closely, lest others think we are tooting our own horn. This does feel like that, but I am sharing this because there is so much negative press about teachers. We need to start celebrating our joy-filled moments so others can celebrate them too.
Now, I need your help. I realize there is always room for improvement and I am hoping to make my class better through my choice of articles. This way, I will be able to expose my students to more theory. I am on a mission to find some really good articles about the theory behind using technology. Is it effective? Why do we use it? Maybe you can help me with that?
Today, I came back from teaching a technology class and opened my Tweetdeck. I was stunned to see my name added to a contest. People are supposed to go to that list and vote for the most influential educational tweeters. Really. No lie. First, let me say that I have major issues with lists. I never even created any twitter lists because it felt too exclusive to me. What do these lists prove? Why do we have them? So, imagine how embarrassed I feel being added to a list where I am being compared to some real powerhouse thinkers and doers.
I just want to be a better me.
I don’t want to be the next great presenter at technology conferences. I don’t want to be on the best of, most influential, top ten of any list. I just want to learn, to be a better teacher for my students. I want to fail less better. Yes fail better, so I learn and grow as an educator. I want to figure out a way to try and maintain my enthusiasm throughout the school year when apathy surrounds me and sucks me down it’s dark hole. I want to help my students to answer the how do I do this? What if? Why does that happen? How can I make it better? kind of questions on their own.
Twitter helps me do that. When I come home, I know that if I sign onto twitter there will be many outstanding educators trying to do the same thing I am. To re-energize for the next day, to search for ideas, share successes and failures, talk about our kids, goof around or yes, sometimes even get serious.
So can we stop with the lists? Do we really need them? We know who influences us, do we need others to tell us that?
I attended the keynote speech at ISTE 2010. I am still wrestling with what happened during the Twitter backchannel of the keynote. The speaker, Jean-François Rischard, spoke about global problem solving and the critical role of educators and technology for education. I believe most of his speech was based on his book, High-Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them. When he walked on stage, he looked a bit nervous and all I could think was that it takes a very brave person to stand up in front of a crowd that big on the opening day of a major conference. The Wells Fargo Theater has a 5,000 fixed-seat capacity and it looked to me like all seats were filled.
When he began, Mr. Rischard showed a Power-Point slide and began using some mathematical terms and formulas that made me wish I had more mathematical knowledge. Although, what he said was over my head, I was able to understand the core of his message, that we have major global challenges that need to be solved quickly. I was interested to learn more.
While Mr. Rischard was presenting, I was keeping an eye on the Twitter backchannel. It was not a pretty sight. Things started to turn pretty ugly, pretty quickly. Many commented negatively on his PowerPoint Slides, his lack of energy and his lack of connection to the audience. Reading the negative tweets reminded me of a blog post I had recently read by Danah Boyd, “spectacle at Web2.0 Expo… from my perspective.” In her post, she describes what it felt like to be on stage presenting and know that she had somehow lost the audience. She talked about hearing laughter at moments when there should have been none. It forced her to rush through her speech, just to be done as quickly as possible. She stated, “The Twitter stream had become the center of attention, not the speaker. Not me.” Her post really stuck with me, and I couldn’t help but realize that I was witnessing the same type of situation. Thinking about that, I tweeted out a tweet to try and divert the attention back to the speaker. I am not sure if it helped, but I felt it was something I needed to do.
There are at least two sides to every story. Did the speaker lack savvy presentation skills? Maybe. When presenting at a conference filled with tech savvy presenters, is that important? Maybe. Is it an affront to the message of fostering a growth in technology in education? Maybe.
Here’s my issue. The message the speaker was trying to convey was a very serious one. Do we always need bells and whistles in a presentation? When we don’t get that, can we get past it and pay attention, really listen? Maybe I am way off base, but isn’t the backchannel supposed to be a critical engagement about the message the speaker is trying to convey and not about the speaker himself? Don’t we do a disservice to ourselves and the speaker when engaging in a bashchannel and not a true backchannel?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Am I way off base? Maybe? Maybe not?
In one week, edcamp Philly will become a reality!
What is edcamp Philly?
Edcamp Philly is an unconference that will take place on Saturday, May, 22 at Drexel University. It is a day where educators from across the United States will engage in conversations about education. The participants drive the day. The participants set the agenda. The participants choose what sessions they would like to attend. It is that simple. Or is it?
Many times in the past few months, people have been giving me weird looks and asking me questions about my involvement in the organization of edcamp Philly. Wait, they say, let me get this straight, you are not getting paid to do this? Then why? I have been thinking about those questions a lot. Why did I get involved in edcamp? It’s funny, but the notion of monetary reward did not even enter my mind. Really. The true reward for me has been experiencing the fun and energy that comes from working with a group of motivated and intelligent teachers, a group of teachers that care about kids, their fellow educators, and the state of education in general.
As I was watching this video, I realized that my involvement in edcamp is exactly what he talks about in his book. I am motivated by the sense of autonomy I am experiencing. I am part of a creative team that is completely self-directed. We make the decisions in a collaborative atmosphere, filled with the respect that we are equal in our desire, to create a space for educators to celebrate their own autonomy and expertise. A space that is about mastery, about mastering our craft, about learning and growing together. A space that is fun and free, where the rule of economics does not even enter the arena. Edcamp was organized to enable educators to feel a sense of purpose. As educators, we need to move forward with a sense of purpose, to make the educational experiences of our students an experience that we, ourselves, crave. According to Pink, we thrive when we experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Hopefully, edcamp will be a start, a place where the conversations will help to move us in that direction.
I challenge you to join us. To come to a place where autonomy, mastery and purpose will be celebrated!
A few weeks ago Shelly Blake-Plock or @TeachPaperless sent out a tweet on Twitter asking for teachers to pledge to run a paperless classroom on Earth Day. I decided to join him and 1,499 other educators in this venture. Then, I found out that I would be proctoring the standardized test for my English 3 students. We would be testing for about two hours and then run a shortened schedule for the rest of the day, leaving me about 30 minutes in real class time. Even though I couldn’t be completely paperless, I decided to make those 30 minutes paper free.
This mission to go paperless and recognize Earth Day couldn’t have come at a better time. We had tons of snow this year and the front of our school was looking pretty sad. The plows had dug up the lawn in the front and there was litter everywhere. I decided making our school look more presentable was the perfect way to celebrate Earth Day. No big deal, right? Ha, for my students it would be. I could just imagine their responses when I told them we were going to spend our class time cleaning up the school property. I decided to go ahead and plan it anyway. I got some trash bags and gloves from the head of our maintenance department. Believe me, he was thrilled when I told him what I was planning to do with them. I also went to the store and picked up some small boxes of grass seed for the bare spots on the lawn. I decided not to say a word to the kids about my plan because the forecast was calling for rain, and also, I didn’t want to give them too much time to protest.
This morning, we met for testing. It was raining lightly, so I still didn’t tell the kids about my plan. After testing, I checked outside and it was sunny and warm, a beautiful day for clean up. I went to class and we talked a little about earth day. Then I told the kids what I wanted to do. Here are some of the responses:
One of my boys, laughing out loud, “Ha, she wants us to pick up trash!”
Another of the boys, “I kinda like Earth Day and cleaning up.”
One of the girls, “Do you have gloves?”
Another boy grinning, “What has the earth done for me?”
Another, “Come on Leaness, let’s do it.”
I told the kids they didn’t have to participate and could stay inside with another teacher if they felt that strongly about not wanting to clean up, but only one decided to take that offer. Off we went to the front of the school. I distributed the trash bags and gloves. The kids were a little reluctant at first, but then, I started grabbing the nearest litter. I guess they figured if I was going to clean, they couldn’t just stand there and watch me. One of the maintenance staff came out and saw what we were doing. With a great big smile on her face, she thanked us for pitching in and helping. I repeated the process with my next class and got pretty much the same initial response. Even though at first they weren’t thrilled with my little scheme, the kids were really great once they got going. We cleaned all the litter, and a few of the boys spread the grass seed on the bare spots on the lawn. All in all it was a good day! I think the kids had fun once they got over the fact that it wasn’t so “cool” to pick up trash. As we were walking back to class, one of my girls noticed the electrician smoking a cigarette and whispered, “Please don’t throw your cigarette butt on the ground, we just cleaned a whole pile a few minutes ago.” She was respectful when she asked. He just looked and smiled. You know that butt was going in the rocks where the rest had been.
Our Earth day activity was really just a small contribution to recognizing Earth Day. I do hope my kids will think before throwing their trash on the ground, and that just maybe they have gained a little more pride in their school.
I have to say, the school looked much nicer on my way out of the building than it did on my way in.
Last week, all the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island were fired. There has been all kinds of back and forth about the issue. Some, including President Obama, are applauding the bold move. I have to wonder just how the teachers feel. I wonder because I am one of “those” teachers. No, not from that “failing” school, but perhaps from one that is not much different. We struggle. We struggle everyday trying to increase our test scores so we will no longer be labeled as failing or under-performing, but more importantly we struggle to meet the many needs of our kids. So, I wonder how the teachers feel.
Are they wondering what will happen to the girl whose mom is ill with cancer, a girl who worries how she and her mother will survive when there is no income during all those treatments? Are they wondering what will happen to the young man who just lost his mother, only a short time after losing his father? Are they wondering what will happen to the teenage girl who is doing her best to stay in school while taking care of her infant child? Are they wondering about the five or six students who are living in shelters or working several jobs to support themselves? Are they wondering who will be there for “their” kids?
Is anyone wondering who will be there for these kids? You see, I think many times the only thing these kids have is their relationship with a teacher, a teacher that cares about them, not as a test score, but as a person. When did we stop caring about caring? When did we start making test scores more important than kids? When did test scores become the only measure of the success and talents of our students?
Don’t you wonder too?