What have you learned from your students?

What do you learn from your students?

Learning in a classroom should be two-way…actually how many combinations can you make with 26 people in the room. If teachers are observant, if open channels of communication exist, teachers should be learning from their students’ everyday.

Today I learned the most incredible thing. It might be the most exciting thing I learned all week. You know that song that is played to introduce the Chicago Bull’s players…can you hear it in your head? Nothin’ goin’ on up there…then click here. Ok now that you have the tune in your head – I want to come into the classroom everyday with that music playing, blaring from loudspeakers, with spotlights swerving back and forth. How cool would that be? Yesterday I was telling the kids about how I always dreamed of being able to do that, and today a student (Thanks MC!!) came in with the name of the band and song title. Within 60 seconds I had it downloaded from iTunes and the class was rocking. That made my day. Simple things…

Then within five minutes another student proposed a solution to a problem we were having. We had just finished a collaborative project with a class from VA with 100 kids on our end. Another school was interested in doing the same project with us but my kids voted to take a break and we had to write back that we could not participate. Today a student proposed an idea on how to accomplish the project with a small break-out group of ten students – a solution I never saw from a perspective I never considered. Thanks kids.


Why don’t we include design in our curriculum?

I know, not an origional question.  It was in my head for an hour after school during a workshop on the legalities of IDEA and 504s.  An hour long powerpoint presentation with lots of bullets and text.  Here is a lawyer being paid LOTS of money.  He has a captive audience, they have to be here, and can’t leave.  I guess all the extra time it woyuld have taken to make it more appealing was not worth it.  It was our responsibility to just sit, listen, and learn.  Come to think of it…teachers get paid to “train” a captive audience that has to be there and can’t leave.  They don’t get any extra pay to make the class interesting and spend extra time to design presentations that suck kids in.  I spent four hours picking slides for a 3o minute powerpoint on editorial cartoons.  I could have spent less time on the design and spent four minutes picking my slides. That would have given me alot of extra time.  When your kids are working on presentations of any kind — visual, audio, written — do you spend any time helping them design an engaging presentation?  Can you?  Should you?  All kids should be taught how to create final products that are “sticky.”

Do all teachers model story telling?

Do you tell stories?

Today I told the story about how my dog, who we declared dead last Friday, had actually left my farm and taken over another farm across the valley.  It is a great story about a lost dog, the eccentric man whose farm she had taken over, my chance meeting with an acquaintance who was giving him old cat food to give to my dog, my phone call convincing the man to give me back my dog, and the drive over to his farm and big dog hug he received when he ran across the field to me.  I then followed it up with a reading of the Skeetches by Dr. Seuss as an intro to our unit on editorial cartoons – won’t go into how I connected it here : )  While some teachers never tell a story, and some teachers have their students tell stories, how many teacher’s model storytelling? Sure it’s great that this wave of digital story telling in sweeping the web 2.0 world, I just wonder if the teachers are getting swept up, or just holding the broom.

How to squeeze more blogging into a full schedule?

I really want to blog.  But I normally find myself in a quandary when sitting down to write a post.  Add to my blog or read other blogs.  So I have decided to try a new strategy.  Every day I have lots of questions flowing through my brain. So everyday…every other day…once a week I will try to write down one question I pondered in a post.  Simple title.  Lead with the question.  A few lines about why the question popped into my head.  Done.  I think I can handle that.  Then I will get all warm and fuzzy knowing that I am adding something to the blogosphere and possibly increase my technorati from 1,654,252 to 1,654,253.  I really need to get higher than the guy with the blog dedicated to his three legged cat.  I can dream, I believe it is my destiny.

Dangerous Questions?

The first blog up on my tool bar that I check everyday is Scott Mcleod’s Dangerously Irrelevant. In his last post he referenced an entry from Michael Wesh’s blog in which he asked his students two questions.

I took an informal “raise your hand” survey of my 200 Intro students.

Me: “How many of you do not actually *like* school?”
… just over half(!) raise their hands

Me: “How many of you do not like learning?”
… no hands

I bet that if you asked teachers, students, and parents to respond to the results you would get very different answers. Over at Dangerously Irrelevant Scott wrote:

These two questions would be great conversation starters regarding the difference between school and learning. I wonder how many middle and high schools would see little difference in their results for these two questions. I’m guessing very few…

Maybe I am too shallow but I just got mad. It ticks me off that the first question isn’t one of the first things parents and teachers ask…”Do you like school?” It should also drive lesson planning — “Will my students like this lesson?” I ask my kids when they are working on something — “Do you like what you are writing? No…then stop and let’s change things.” When they are planning a presentation — “Would you like to sit and listen to your own presentation? If no, then stop and change things.” Will students like the lesson you are planning? If no, stop. Stop and change what you were planning. Why would you plan something and make them do something you know they would not enjoy?


Help Wanted – Generalist

I was reading an article today in the New York Times about Google taking on Microsoft. We’ve talked about how it is hard to prepare you now for an job ten years from now. There were a few paragraphs in the article that really made me think about the importance of learning 21st Century skills versus content, and how it might be hard to prepare you for a job six months from now.

Another draw is Google’s embrace of experimentation and open-ended job assignments. Recent college graduates are routinely offered jobs at Google without being told what they will be doing. The company does this partly to keep corporate secrets locked up, but often it also doesn’t know what new hires will be doing.

Christophe Bisciglia, a 27-year-old engineer, qualifies as a seasoned veteran at Google, having worked there for four years. Mr. Bisciglia has done a lot of college recruiting in the last two years and has interviewed more than 100 candidates.

“We look for smart generalists, who we can be confident can fulfill any need we have,” he explains. “We hire someone, and who knows what need we’ll have when that person shows up six months later? We move so fast.”

For all you kids who want to work out of textbooks because it will be “easier,” do you really think Mr. Bisciglia would want to hire kids because they can read a chapter and answer the questions at the end? He used Google’s 10% program to develop a class for college students to prepare them for jobs that are changing faster than college curriculum’s. The 10% program allows Google employees to use 10% of their time working on a project of their choice.

His idea was launched last month as Google’s new pilot project at the University of Washington. The class is aimed at creating programming prodigies and revamping the way colleges teach computer science.

“When I interview college students, they have a grasp of computing, but it’s fundamentally different,” Bisciglia said. The youngest of Google’s employees need months of training, he said, because what they’ve learned in school is outdated. The hope is that the class will mitigate that problem.

Remember the video I should you that said what you will learn your Freshman year will be out of date by your senior year? In some fields it seems what you learn in your senior year will be outdated.

Professor Branigan

Outside of parents, who has influenced your life more than anyone else; who had an impact on your life and what was it about that person that meant something to you?

I noticed that many kids started this week’s blog post stating how hard it was to pick one person. It wasn’t for me. I would have had the same answer for the last sixteen years. The person who has had the the greatest impact on my life is Professor George Branigan. I had him in a course called Schooling at Stonehill College. It was, and I know this will sound silly, the first time I actually thought deeply about anything. I had become pretty good at “playing school.” I did the minimum amount of work to get decent grades. In his class I did not have to play school. It actually interested me. All I did every day was to try to figure out why he was wrong — to out think him. He was the first teacher I ever had that actually seemed to think about things and wanted his students to do the same. He never gave any assignments due the next class yet I found myself reading more for his class than any other. Each class seemed to have absolutely no plan, no agenda. Yet somehow by the end I found myself taken on an intellectual journey. I was learning and became totally engaged. I can remember many kids in class being upset because he wasn’t “telling” us what to do. At the end of the semester, he gave us an assignment that truly changed my life. His final exam was “hand one in.” “Hand one in!” Ahhh! I was actually going to be responsible for my own learning. It is the event in my life that defines who I am as a teacher. I have also tried to reproduce his class in my room. A class in which learning takes place in a very individual way, according to one’s own needs and desires. Sometimes I try to find another reason for who I am, but ultimately I always come back to that class. To this day my teaching is influenced by Professor George. As I enter a time in my career in which I am going “2.0” crazy, it is still his influence that makes me think about what I am doing and drives me to constantly improve the learning environment in my classroom. I can guarantee that he would not remember me. I did not transform myself in that one semester. It was slow and took many years. I am far from finished.

So what did I do for that final exam? I took a series of comic strips that he always talked about (Zippy) and interpreted them. I wrote the paper to the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song.

I wonder…

dream.jpgI wonder what kind of change my students will be responsible for creating in the future. As I get older, and teach longer, I find myself thinking about this more and more and find that it is driving me to change the way I teach. What will they do? World leaders, technological innovators, neighborhood activists, loving parents. I strive to have each kid graduate from my class with at least the knowledge that they can change the world, they are not just a member of the audience, they are the writers and directors.

The following is inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abby (1100 A.D.) …

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.

But it, too, seemed immovable.

As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.

And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.

From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.

Some might say that we do too many assignments that require self-reflection. But as the above quote states, we must all be able to change ourselves first, before we start dreaming to change the world we live in. Once we start looking inside ourselves, we also start to study history differently. No longer is Harriet Tubman just a hero for freeing slaves, but we start to think about why she was a great person and then start to internalize some of her characteristics that made her a hero. We take one step closer to being like her, one step closer to changing the world.

I just hope that they don’t wait until the “future” to start creating change.

future.jpgIt is also important to remember that while past-present-& future are all somehow interconnected, the only place from which to change the future is in the NOW. The power for change resides in the present moment, for that is the only place from which our thoughts or actions can actually be changed.

I can’t wait to find out what they will do, and how they will do it.

Are you safe?

Dave Sherman wrote in his blog:

Some people seem to think that school administrators have gone overboard with school security. They think we are spending too much time and money to secure our schools, when we should really be spending our resources on teaching and learning only.

Is this what you think, too? Are we just paranoid that something bad may happen in our schools because there have been a handful of school shootings in the last decade? Should we stop all this security talk? As I write this, I am preparing for our very first lock down drill with our students (see previous post). Is it all a waste of time?

In a report from the NCES they start their findings by saying:

Our nation’s schools should be safe havens for teaching and learning, free of crime and violence. Any instance of crime or violence at school not only affects the individuals involved but also may disrupt the educational process and affect bystanders, the school itself, and the surrounding community (Henry 2000).

Many statistics show that violence in schools are decreasing. The chart below from the NCES report shows the percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported criminal victimization at school during the previous 6 months, by type of victimization:


In talking to adults they believe wholeheartedly that children are at a much higher risk of being a victim of violence today than when they were they were kids. What is the truth? I ask you…do you feel safe in school? Have there been times that you did not feel safe? What were those times. I am looking for some really honest answers to start a discussion. The adults in the building and society have ideas that aren’t always based in reality. What is reality? Is worrying about security a waste of time? Are you safe?

Who I want to be…

Wow…this is so scary.  For any family member of my students or visitor from another state or country….this post, and the similar one on the student blogs takes a lot of courage.  So go ahead, press play.
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