Archive for January, 2013

It’s true, I miss the kids

Posted: January 25, 2013 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about what I do and do not miss about being in the classroom.

Our beginning of the year bulletin board where our "say something nice" comments were posted after being read each Friday.

Our beginning of the year bulletin board where our “say something nice” comments were posted after being read each Friday.

I have been asked this question a lot lately. I always feel like people want and somehow need to hear teachers, especially teachers of younger students, say how much they love, Love, LOVE the kids. I’m a parent so I get that. While I have thoroughly enjoyed spending years with 10 year olds (and doesn’t that just put a different spin on it), I was never one of those elementary school teachers who just had to be with kids every minute. I think adults are just fine, better than fine even; I married one. I don’t think that anyone with whom I talk would doubt that I enjoy my students immensely. And, let’s think about that “spending years with 10 year olds” statement again. Sometimes it’s just time for a change. Anyone who has ever decided that a perfectly good skirt/shirt/sweater/tie/you-name-it that fits just fine is going in the donation pile knows what I mean here.

And yet, I do find myself missing the kids. A lot. In particular, I miss all the interaction and energy that a vibrant classroom community generates. Classrooms are living, breathing things. They have their own personalities that, if you are doing it right, you may have some say over, but are not totally dictating. It’s a surprise sometimes. You add the ingredients, shake it up a little, or a lot depending on how lucky you feel, and stand back. How great it that? Mostly. Sometimes the recipe is a stinker. It’s that energy and idea that any day could be one of those great days where you really feel like you are part of a group of thinkers that made me want to go to school every day. In some ways this year and this job are new enough that it sometimes seems more like a sabbatical. Time to think about what I have done, what I would do differently. Time to think about those big ideas and to think about the big picture and the long-term, which is part of what drew me to an administrative position in the first place. Now I get to the think about the big idea not just for me, or for 5th grade, or for lower school, but for the entire school.

Since I do miss those 5th graders, I plan on writing about some of our glory days together. There are many things that never got off the “write about this” list. I’m going to try to get through some more this year.

The Thinker

The Thinker photo by flickr user Dano used under creative commons license

So, I’ve participated in a couple of ETMOOC webinars so far. I tried to do an introduction session, but something was up with the connection at school. I very much enjoyed the session about curating content lead by Jeffery Heil. And, just last evening I participated in the first ETMOOC connected learning session with Alec. (I admit I was late for class. Since we had a day off, I actually went all out and cooked many separate and distinct things for dinner and was so busy enjoying it with my family that I had to keep eating some more. It happens.)

Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking about now.

First, during Jeffery Heil’s webinar about curation, I was thinking, how can I get him to come explain these tools to my colleagues? I was familiar with the vast majority of the particular tools but it’s never a waste of time to think about how and why we might use tools to collect, curate, and share content. I especially liked the discussion of curating versus collecting. Personally, I have adopted Evernote as my major collecting and sorting tool. It is the one that has stuck, for me. The webinar reminded me, again, that if I want to contribute more, which I do, I need to recommit myself to either diigo or delicious. I tried to do the diigo thing for a while. Even used it with my class one year. However, since saving the links publically seemed to imply some sort of endorsement, or at least having read it, I put a lot into a generic “read it later” pile and then never did. My system did not work. A few years later, I think that I will try again. Before doing so, I plan to spend some time thinking about how my Evernote and diigo will overlap/intersect. And, I’m going to try using for some professional learning options for colleagues.

Second, last evening, I was, as usual, impressed with Alec’s clear and well planned presentation on connected learning. There are a lot of webinars out there at this point and not all of them end up being led by a pro. The pros stand out. Anyway, there was a lot of information, again lots of review of things I know, but might need to remember to bring to the front of my brain. There are only so many things I can keep at the forefront of my mind at any one time and it’s handy to have that list shaken up a bit. I appreciated the many references to articles and readings. They will be helpful for me as I give background and rationale for new initiatives at my school.

Finally, one of the ideas that I took away from the chat in Alec’s webinar was “hashtags as a new literacy”. This is a key idea to think about now, in my opinion. I would say tagging in a more general sense is a new literacy as that would cover tagging in social bookmarking (Diigo, Delicious), note taking (Evernote), as well as hashtags in Twitter. It reminds me of the ability to think about key words to look up in the old index. It was always interesting to see the students who could generate those related key words, know what topics were related, handle how to expand or narrow a research topic. It speaks to thinking about how ideas are linked. Critical back in the old days and critical now.

So, that’s where I am in my head. My next steps are to try again to add diigo to my standard operating procedures, continue participating in the webinars, and to read what other ETMOOC-ers are writing about their experiences.

Context Change

Posted: January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about the context of teaching. In the fall, I attended an ADVIS event at which Marc Prensky spoke. He’s the guy who coined the term “digital native.” One of the things that I thought was most compelling about what he had to say was his idea that people are not good at, and don’t necessarily like, the idea of change. People are good at adapting, as evidenced by our continued existence. With that in mind, he suggested that it is worth reframing the discussion to be one of adaptation to a new context. So he says it goes like this, “as the context in which we teach changes, it is important to adapt.”

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 2.37.36 PMThen over winter break I read the YA book, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making, by Catherine Valente. Cover art and title aside, I have my doubts as to whether this is really a kid book. I think the title and art work suggest a younger audience than would enjoy it, but moving on. At one point our heroine, September, is getting all cleaned up to enter the city of Pandemonium (it’s a little Phantom Tollbooth-y in some of the plays on words) and is told (p.61):

The wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes as the world changes.

Context and adaptation.

I love the idea that it is not just what one does in a new context, but what one wishes that changes in a that context. And, when I think about it, it seems obvious. My wishes are certainly relative. When it’s close to dinner time, I wish for the dinner fairies to come and cook. When I’m at school, I wish for things like time to meet with teachers to think about new ideas. The good advice continues (still p.61),

And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is not everyone can tell when to launder their wishes. Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to remember to catch the world in its changing and change with it.

Now, if you remove the Fairyland parts, I think the you are left with some real words of wisdom, If you don’t update as the world changes around you, you’re likely to be left with regret. Or, wishes left unattended to can easily become regrets. Word it how you want and feel free to share your version.

So, now I’m wondering which of my wishes need a little laundering. I do not think my new office is Fairlyand, but my office is attached to a new job, a new context. What are my wishes now, in my new context? And, what will I do about them, for as the title of the book suggests, I must get there in a ship of my own making.

As I think about my fellow educators, some of whom are unnerved by this new digital context, I worry that their wishes are the wishes of a long ago time. Being the old guard, the keeper of tradition, starts out being charming and the voice of experience. But if that voice does not adapt at all, how long will it have any influence and at what point does it become simply the voice of the past that gets put aside?

Who wants to be put aside? Ignored? Found to be irrelevant? My guess is no one.

I wonder, is some of this concern about adapting to this new digital context at its core about becoming unrecognizable to oneself or to others? Will one’s toughness, or expertise not be recognized? Some more words from my novel. September says, upon meeting someone who recognizes the wrench she is carrying,

You know my. . . my wrench? [this makes sense in the story, insert me/a name here]

Of course I know it. It was not a wrench when we were last acquainted, but ones friends may change clothes and still one knows them. (p.171)

I believe that excellent teaching may, in fact must, change its clothing, be it room design, delivery, or assessment. The context has changed already. It’s time to launder our wishes lest they become regrets.

An Introduction

Posted: January 17, 2013 in ETMOOC
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So, I’ve been thinking about how to introduce myself. I am taking a massive, open, online course ETMOOC. There are now about 1,500 people signed up. One of the first things to do for the course is to introduce yourself and add your blog to the hub so that others can find you and read along with your thoughts about the course.

I figured that saying that I’m now the Director of Educational Technology after being a teacher for a long time gives a pretty good idea of what I do at work. Plus, there’s this blog that gives some idea. What I always like is when I learn something about what my colleagues do outside of school. All of a sudden they are 3-dimensional people.

I made a little video about a fun adventure my family and I had over the vacation. We went to see the exhibit The Event of a Thread by Ann Hamilton at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. It’s not still there or I would be encouraging anyone who is near by or has free time to go. So, here’s my little video about our day. Click on the image to see my video on vimeo.

Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 11.07.54 AM

So, I’ve been thinking about how some of my lessons changed over time. In a recent post I wrote about coming up with new ideas. One thing that didn’t make the final draft of that post was the idea that sometimes a plan is good the first year, but then a lot better in later years. Here’s an example.

One year, I came up with the idea of having a “descriptive language Olympics” lesson. We were reading Tuck Everlasing and it was spring time and there was going to be some visitor. I remember this because we got an email from the assistant division head asking if any of us were doing anything particularly “outside the box”. When I thought about what I was planning for that next day, I realized it was firmly in the box and decidedly not that interesting. So, out it went.

Why is it that sometimes a simple question like that is all it takes to get me thinking about something better? Could I not ask that question myself? Does this happen to other people too?

Anyway, I believe it was in the shower that I hit upon this idea. There would be 5 events. In groups students would contribute passages from the text that best exemplified the particular kind of figurative writing for the event. I would judge and award 1st place, etc. I made a super-quick PowerPoint with the olympic rings on it and the following categories:

  • mood madness
  • sensory overload
  • figurative language freestyle
  • wonderful words
  • show not tell showcase

How did it go? Well the first year, it was pretty good, if I do say so myself. And, it was too long, too many “events”, and since I wanted to spread the winning around, the judging left a little to be desired.

The next years I tried a few little changes: fewer events for classes that were not that interested, having students come in with passages ready.

Then, last year, I made a bigger change. To be honest, I was partly trying to cut down on the time it took. In the end, the time was not that different, but the outcome was a lot better.

  • Instead of having the students collaborate on what to “enter” into each event, I asked them to enter 3 of 5 events digitally on our class blog for homework. Each entry was to have a passage and an explanation of why it was a good example of the given kind of descriptive writing.
  • Then in class, we discussed how to evaluate each entry (we decided on 10 points available for each entry-5 for the passage choice, 5 for the explanation).
  • The students collaborated on giving the medals to individual entries. No one judged an event in which they entered a passage. The judges posted their decision on the blog.
  • There was a brief and moving medal ceremony at which each judging group called up the winners for gold, silver, and bronze medals. There was cheering etc.
Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

Judging team evaluating entries with scoring notes.

So, why was it better?

  • All students entered passages.
  • Even though everyone had to enter, they had choice about which events to enter.
  • Explaining the passage was added and important.
  • Students were involved in how to evaluate the entries.
  • Students actually did the evaluating. (And, this is the biggest bonus I think. There was a lot of discussion about this. In the end it was often the explanation that won someone the event.)
  • I did less and the students did more.
  • A lot more of the class time involved thinking, collaborating, and communicating. There was a lot less waiting around time.
  • There was more suspense, and everyone had a horse in the race.
  • There was cheering.
  • The winners were spread out across all sorts of people, without me engineering anything.
The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

The medal ceremony. Note different height pedestals.

Medals all around!