Thursday, February 25, 2010

I've long been concerned that online learning will attempt to replace real time teachers in the classroom. While it may be possible to effectively deliver instruction via a computer program, I am not sold that this will completely replace all the peripheral skills learned in school. Teaching middle school students, I wonder about the self-motivation part as well - will the average adolescent truly be self-driven enough to make it through a prescribed program without teacher intervention and drive.

This week, I am experiencing up close and personal what online learning can look like in a 7th grade math classroom. My district purchased Compass Learning this school year for teachers to use for remediation and instruction. It has been used sporadically at best district wide, with little training and support as to how this tool can be used to support instruction.

Finally, I decided maybe it would be a way to grab the attention of my students, especially those driven by technology, those who tune me out, and those who are struggling wiht the more traditional approach to learning we typically engage in. My language arts partner has been using it some in her classes and has praised its potential.

For my regular math class, I chose to assign a folder of review materials, topics we had covered at some point during the year, but ones students were still struggling with. These basic concepts varied from expressions to balancing equations, but were all review. Day 3 of the experiment and I am not any clearer on how I feel about the program than initially. Student scores on the quizzes are varied, high to low. Some students seem engaged, others look like zombies staring at a screen, just clicking their way through the program.

For my prealgebra classes, I assigned them 3 folders of assignments, one of which was new material we were going to be covering next in class. The other 2 folders were practice of concepts we had already covered, but that are typically topics students need extra practice on. Students are whizzing their way through, scoring well for the most part. However, students have asked if I will be teaching these concepts are well. They don't feel like they have grasped the material adequately from the online lessons.

It started as an experiment, and I can't give the results until it is done. However, the jury is still out. I miss teaching them, they miss the interaction with me and each other, and I wonder how deep an understanding of the topics they are really getting.

Are we ready for computers to replace teachers? Are we ready for a generation educated by a machine, just clicking multiple choice answers?

Friday, February 19, 2010

We are teaching and learning on the edge of what will be potentially the largest change in education ever seen. Sure, things are different now than in years past, but overall, educational practices have remained stagnant for much too long. School is a give and get setting. Teachers give information, students get information. This paradigm has not changed in the typical school setting since rocks were used to write in dirt.

What will schools look like 10 years from now? 20? even 50? Will we learn to be educators instead of disseminators of knowledge? What role will technology play in the schools of tomorrow?

Today's students are multi-taskers who expect everything to be exciting, engaging and motivating. They demand that their teachers be up-to-date with technology, utilizing it for communication between educators and students, but more importantly, they want technology to be a part of everything they learn. They want to work with other students creating their own paths of knowledge, designing, building, molding the old and the new. They are not satisfied with the here and the now of passive learning, but instead they want to be active and involved.

I see tomorrow's students as the pioneers of a new journey. I see them exploring their own truths and finding their own solutions. I see them excited and involved.

My concern is will our society withstand this transformation. Will be still share a common wealth of knowledge, a basis for what is considered to be an educated individual? Or will that common body of what we have come to expect all to know change?

Will technology isolate individuals into their own little worlds, unable to interact in real time with each other? Will we become a world of computers and screens, only communicating virtually with one another?

What role will teachers have in this new education system? Will we become just the facilitators of learning, independent paths of knowledge pursued by each child?

and perhaps most importantly, how in the world we will ever standardize test all this???? insert dripping sarcasm here :P

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Packing My Angry Eyes
Yesterday was another sub day. I had doctor appointments out of town so I left my lesson plans, something easy, and prepped my frequent fliers to behave for the sub, whoever it might be. I left Scholastic Math magazines to read in all my math classes, thinking this was fun, easy and something my students do not normally do. I naively thought it was foolproof, and things would go smoothly.
Her note was curt and to the point: Student Z and "never innocent" had caused havoc for her last hour. "Never Innocent" had taken another student's calculator and smashed it to smitherines. But of course, that little misdeed was not enough. The two of them were 'very disruptive' the entire hour and then to add whipped cream to the mess, they raced out of class before the bell even rang.
Part of me is angry, part is disappointed, and part just wants to smash them to smitherines. It is not like they do not know the rules. It is not like they haven't had private conversations with me in the past. It is not like I haven't called home repeatedly on both of them. But the consequences I can dole out are miniscule compared to their persistent and consistent behaviors.
Do I want them suspended? Maybe... But in reality, I know that will make no difference, and at least for Student Z , the time out of school would be a chance to laze around all day, snoozing, watching TV, playing video games. I am not sure what would happen at home for "Never Innocent" but likely, with his parents at work, he would also get a free pass for the day. Neither can afford to be gone academically, or would be likely to make up work missed.
What do I want done then? I have no idea. It is infuriating to me that public education is forced to try and find solutions to these problems. Isn't it enough we are testing kids to death, and blaming teachers for 'failing' them? Why can't law makers see that the problems aren't always as cut and dried as they want to make them?
I know I sound disgruntled and disillusioned, but honestly, I am. I work hard to give kids another chance, and another chance, and another chance.... I try to build those relationships and treat my students fairly and with respect. I try to talk to them one on one, working out the why's for their behaviors, and helping them grow from their mistakes. But sometimes, I need parents to step up to plate and be parents. I need them to carry out consequences for their children's actions. I need them to be the enforcers/reinforcers for what we are doing at school.
Until our societal parameters circle back to respect for adults and authority, until school is valued as the child's JOB at this point in his/her life, until we stop trying to make a one size fit all approach to educating children work, we are doomed.
I started out my day with angry eyes, but they are turning to sad, hopeless ones in a hurry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Despite our best intentions, kids will be kids. Despite our attempts to contain and control them, they will often get out of hand. It happened here yesterday. Not a big deal. Just an 'accident'.

My last hour class has to pick up there chairs onto the tables before they leave so the custodial staff can sweep first thing in the morning. In an effort to get students to the buses on time, I have them do this chore about 2 minutes before the bell rings every day. Unfortunately, they allows them approximately 3o seconds to act like wild animals released from captivity.

In the ensuing hullabaloo yesterday, suddenly, a young man, one of the "never innocent' ones, was on the floor flailing around, groping his groin and moaning. As the bell rings and they escape, I am trying to find out what happened. Apparently, Student Z hit him in his "McNuggets". Of course, now Student Z is gone, setting a Olympic world sprinting record bolting for the stairs. "Never Innocent" is fine and Student Z confessed his sins to the powers that be and got kicked out of my class for the hour today. (don't go there on the inequity of the punishment and the crime.. it wasn't my choice... I have NO say in the matter!)

Starting today, new policy - pick up chairs and stand at your spot until *I* dismiss you when the bell rings. GRRRRRRRR.... I HATE BEING THAT TEACHER. Why can't they just be for that 3o seconds instead of expelling all their pent up energy from the day in one loud bellow? I know they are kids, and they are hyped up from the day, and excited to be escaping the confines of the school walls, but come on... seriously... can't you stand still for 30 seconds without your hand causing bodily harm to another??

Monday, February 15, 2010

House plan projects are well underway, due tomorrow, despite our rocky start and litany of excuses....

I whittled away at their excuses:

I didn't have a measuring tape. (why didn't you borrow one?)
My great aunt's funeral was yesterday. (It was also Kristi's grandma and she managed to get hers done. The woman died last THURSDAY. (this was Tuesday....)You KNEW about the funeral ahead of time.)
My dad said it is too personal. (Ok, that one is just odd and I am going to call dad this evening.)
I didn't know when it was due. (We talked about it every day and it was written on the board.)
There is snow outside my house. (There is snow outside everyone's house. AND, you could have just measured the rooms inside.)
I didn't know whether to measure in inches or feet. (OK, well, no good answer for that one!)
I just didn't do it. I am gonna do it tonight, maybe. (FINE, WHATEVER...)

The most difficult was the "too personal" but finally today, I was able to get in touch with those parents, who were just as confused by that comment as I was. Apparently, that conversation was imaginary between Dad and son.

It's been a tough project this year, though, and I think, will be my last attempt at this. Too many parents drew them for kids or printed copies from originals. But I am working on a new scale project for next year that will tie social studies, language arts and math all together, drawing scale replicas of famous Eastern Hemisphere landmarks. It should be a cool project with more to it than math. Students can research not only the actual dimensions of their landmark, but its history and interesting background.

I am frustrated with the first few projects turned in as well. Several 'A' students have turned them in, happy to be done, ready to hand it over for a grade. When I sat down with them, however, it was obvious students had not looked over the check list I provided, leaving off the most obvious parts, such as the scale it was drawn to! Therein another struggle presents itself: give it back and make them do it correctly, or deduct the points as shown on the sheet they had from square one on the project and they can suffer the consequences of the low grade.

Part of me wants perfection from each and every one of them, wants to keep handing it back, over and over until it shines. Another part says wait... they KNEW they had 2 more days of classtime to work, as well as they had the checklist to look at, and models to compare theirs to, but made a conscious decision (is there such a thing as a conscious decision for a 7th grader??) to NOT get the 'A'.

Either way, most of the rest of my week will be spent digging through piles of blueprints, counting squares and measuring walls, assigning points of shame or grandeur.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I've been thinking lately about public education's true purpose.

There seems to be a growing consensus supporting the need for a national curriculum. Personally, I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is supportive, realizing the inequities which exist from school to school, and state to state. Children should be guaranteed comparable, viable access to knowledge, regardless of where they are schooled.

However, looking at the students in my classroom, I see a wide variation in abilities and interests. Should those come into play at all when planning a curriculum? I see the shift nationally for test/data driven instruction as an attempt to even out the playing field, but without consideration for the players themselves. Just as all players on the Little League team will not grow up to play in the Majors, my students will not all need the same skill set when they are adults. Without limiting their possibilties, we have to also acknowledge the discrepancies in innate abilities and work to maximize the potential of all learners.

Given a student driven curriculum is only one piece of the educational puzzle though. Isn't the socialization part of school just as important as the curriculum driven piece? Don't we have an inherent responsibility to teach children how to function in society as well?

As I look at my middle schoolers and picture them as adults in the workplace, I can fairly accurately predict which will be 'good' employees and which will struggle, floundering from one job to another, unable to meet the demands of their boss and the constraints of productive employment.

A student who is consistently tardy to school/class will likely be the same in the work place. The child who comes with no materials (despite the availability of those) will be the carpenter fired for showing up with no tools. Ones who cannot take a directive without a negative reaction will probably be the ones fired for insubordination.

Don't we as public educators, have a responsibility to also actively teach these life skills as well as the prescribed curriculum? How can we assure each child has the best opportunity to be successful in adulthood?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Boredom is a Pattern, NOT a Reality.
We are settled into February, the month that seems the longest in the school year. It's been forever since Christmas break, and even longer until Spring Break. The kids are lulled into a monotonous plodding along pattern, and so am I. It is like we are caught in the horse latitudes with no wind to lift our sails.

February seems to be the month for fights, parent complaints, and excessive absences among both teachers and students. Fuses are short, tempers flare easily. We seem to be looking for direction.

How can I harness all that boredom into something productive?

In math, we are starting our house plan projects where students draw to scale floor plans of their houses. The options of the project allow them to draw elevations or create actual models of their homes. I am hoping to generate excitement in the upcoming project by hanging actual blueprints around my classroom as well as displaying models made by former students. So far it seems to be working :)

Tomorrow will be the true test. Students have had a week to measure their actual houses. How many will 'forget'? How many will have no measurements to begin the project?

What do I do with THOSE kids? It is a struggle, always. Do I send them out, to the office? This seems the easiest option, but the one which is least productive. Do I create an alternative assignment? If so, WHAT? Do I just give them some sort of busy work to keep them out of my hair while I try to help students who ARE working on their projects? What do I do if they won't work on the busy work I give them? How do I assess them accurately and comparably to students who complete the actual project?

More questions than answers, for sure.... but at least my mind is back awake, and I am excited to get my classes going tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In teaching, it seems we constantly walk a fine line between teaching, spoon feeding and helping students become independent learners. I struggle with that walk daily.
My social studies class is, for many students, the first time they have ever really had to STUDY for a test in order to be successful on the written assessment. In the past, either tests are rarely given, or the material has been presented in such a way that tests are redundant, or students are allowed to use their books/notes on the tests. But as students progress to higher and higher levels, more independent learning is necessary.
Try as I may, some students will not study, will not take the time outside class to even look over their notes, much less actually study them. I realize many of them do not have good study habits yet, so I try to teach those skills to them as we work together in class. We make flashcards for vocabulary words. We create outlines, diagrams, and other visual representations of the material together, trying to create meaning and organization to the concepts. I create slide shows with illustrations to help them remember things with a picture.
At some point, however, the ball really IS in their court. I can only use so much time in class to go over concepts repeatedly. For the students who grasp new material easily, this allotted time may be enough. Unfortunately, for others, allocating personal time to actually STUDY is the only path to success.
So I walk that fine line between reviewing one more time, going over the topics one more time, flashing up one more visual, and just expecting them to pass or fail on their own. It truly is a balancing act. Is there such a thing as OVER-teaching? I wonder.... at what point are we causing more problems than solutions? Can we hover too much? Can we guide too much? At what point do we just let go and leave it in their hands?