But Are We Teaching Them HOW To Learn? A 1:1 Perspective

“Is this right?”. Ah, the question all high school English teachers fear hearing, yet we are confronted by it often. I first fell in love with the idea of teaching English in the classroom because I knew that it would be a space for students to challenge themselves and their thinking, become better writers, and understand that there was no such thing as a right air wrong answer as long as they had some proof to back it up. So, as I continue to hear students continue to ask me, “is this right?” as they work on group projects in our 1:1 building, I am seeing first hand that there must be an urgency in teaching our students HOW to learn. 

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Our culture has a fear of failure. We fear providing the wrong answer because we think that it will show our weakness; however, I can’t think of one success story that didn’t include a failed attempt or a thousand. Somewhere along the way, it seems that this fear has been passed down to our students, and it’s often apparent that if they don’t “get it right”, then they are considered a failure. WE NEED TO STOP THIS NOW!

Our district has been fortunate enough to provide iPads to every student, and I can’t even begin to explain how much it has changed the classroom environment for the better (I’ll leave that to another post), but we are certainly in a transitional phase where I’m finding many students to get confused when I tell them that I am no longer the master of the classroom. The device that each of my students posess in their hands has more knowledge and information than ever given before, and our students aren’t used to this. Rather than creating inquiry questions that lead to other questions, many of my students still look to me to provide them with the quick answer so that they can go on with their day. These past two months have showed me that new ways of thinking require new ways of teaching students HOW to think and how to become lifelong learners. It is our job, as facilitators in the classroom, to show students how to ask the right questions and to believe that the work that they are doing is on target with learning goals rather than just being “right”. 

Two years from now, I think that our 1:1 school will be changed for the better and much further ahead of the curve than many, and this transitional stage of going from pencils and books to tablets is already proving to enhance learning, thinking, and discussion in brilliant ways; but as Spider-Man’s Aunt (Uncle?) once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and now is the time to change our culture of fear into a culture of risk takers. Will Richardson recently wrote an article entitled, “Students First, Not Stuff” which discusses the importance of teaching digital literacy to students. That being said, we have an urgent goal to reframe what is being “taught” in our classroom and focusing on “individual passions, inquiry, creation, sharing, patient problem solving, and innovation.” (Richardson). However, this can’t all be done over night, and having seen 1:1 in action for the past two months, I certainly understand this. But the push to move toward new ways of learning, whether you have tablets or zero technology, couldn’t be more urgent than ever.  Students need to feel comfortable taking risks and answering their own question as to whether their response/finding is right or wrong. When that happens, life long learning begins!

We Are All Worthy Of Sharing: Lessons from MACUL 2013

Whenever I go to a conference, I try to get a feel for its theme; I gather all of the information I gleaned and attempt to sum it up in a few short words so that it all seems to make sense. This past week, I was able to attend the 2013 MACUL (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) Conference in Detroit. The conference was two jam-packed days filled to the brim with educators who have a passion for sharing their love of learning and technology. Attendees from the conference head home with a wealth of knowledge, and a tool belt filled with new ways to make connections with students. This year’s theme, to me, was, “Your story is worth sharing, so TELL IT!”. From the opening to the closing keynote, educators from across the state (and outside of it as well) shared their stories of triumph, success, risk, and failure all in the good name of education. 

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At the opening keynote, Kevin Honeycutt made it his mission to inform educators that now is the most important time for outsiders to hear our stories. They need to see what is actually happening in the classroom from our own eyes because the folks who are trying to tell our story (politicians) aren’t telling it right. This was a bold statement made by Mr. Honeycutt, and for that, he received a round of applause. 

Leaving the main conference center, empowered with ideas on how to share my teaching story, I then headed to a session on blogging hosted by The Nerdy Teacher himself, Nick Provenzano. In his session, Nick spoke about the importance of blogging for personal reflection, but also in claiming our own little space on the internet. “Start a blog. Realize that you are worthy of sharing,” he stated. Ain’t that the truth. 

And so now I’ve come to this thought: there are hundreds of thousands of educators who wake up every single morning with hopes to change the world one student at a time. Each of these educators has something to add to make our profession even better. This thought motivates me, and this is why I will dust off the blog page and get crackin’. One idea could snowball into something huge, and we need to realize the impact we make on a daily basis.

So, although MACUL is a techy convention, I certainly learned that the technology is just a way to get our story out there; it doesn’t matter what we use, we just need to tell our story. We are ALL worthy of sharing!!

The Unselfish Act of Contribution and Collaboration

I signed on to Twitter in the summer of 2010 and immediatley became a lover of this social network. It was so different from Facebook because I could see what the world had to say about topics that I was interested in. My favorite band? There were a bunch of people talking about Phish summer tour. A book I just finished reading? I found the author. So on I went being enamored with my new found form of social networking viewing the power of connections. But was I participating? Not really. At most, up until about a year ago, I would consider myself to be a stage one Twitter user: a reader and a retweeter, but often times too nervous to come up with anything I thought to be clever enough to contribute.

As I continued using Twitter to see what people were sharing with each other, I also started following educators from around the country speaking about best practices in the classroom. Never before have I had a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips. The blogs that had been posted by everyday educators were some of the most mindful and thought provoking points made on education that I had ever before seen. In one week of reading articles, blogs, journals, and watching videos, I received years worth of professional development. And it was all available online! I was beginning to realize that Twitter is a place where teachers can get together, celebrate their passions, and collaborate together to continuously evolve education. 

Just this evening, I attended a Google Hangout with folks that I don’t know. Isn’t this what our parents warned us about: not talking to strangers? What mom and dad don’t know, however, is that without the idea of taking risks, nothing will ever change. Through Twitter and volunteer conferences such as EdCamp, passionate educators set out to connect with each other because they understand that education should never be about one person; it needs to be shared with others so that bigger and better ideas can be formed. What I learned from my attendance at our first #MichEd Google Hangout tonight was that not one person attended for selfish reasons. There was no “expert” in the room. It was a bunch of people getting together discussing how to promote and celebrate education that is happening in our great mitten state. We’re looking to share and learn from others because as educators, we understand that synergy means 1+1=3 (thanks, Covey!).

So, my dear friend Twitter. I’m just beginning to understand your power. 

Beta Testin’ a New Lesson (and New Teaching)

What is it about the phrase “beta test” or “pilot program” that seems to put many of us at ease? When testing out a new game or piece of software, knowing that the program is in beta mode seems to give the person the freedom to test it out fearlessly. If the program messes up, THAT’S OK! It’s in Beta!

Today I “beta tested” a lesson using iPads in my 11th grade English class. I could spend an entire blog talking about the lesson, how it went, and how I will fix it, but for right now, I’d like to focus on what I witnessed. Now, I’ve taken my students to the several computer labs that our building holds, and I certainly see the power of using computers in the classroom, but never have I felt masterless of content than when I had 30 students using iPads. As my school prepares for our massive rollout of 1700 of devices for our students next semester, I’m beginning to see what a massive paradigm shift I will be facing in my classroom, and I need to understand that it’s perfectly fine for my students to have all of the information within their tablets. In his essay, “Why School?”, Will Richardson discusses a time when information was scarce and the teacher was the holder of the valuable information. This information is more plentiful than ever before, and thus our role as educators MUST change. It’s been said before that we can no longer be the “Sage on the stage….” blah blah blah, but this couldn’t be more true than what I witnessed as my students searched for their own information and took ownership of their assignment. While using the iPads, i’m learning the importance of timely feedback (and you thought exit slips were quick) and student ownership.

I’m learning that Beta testing not only allows a person to feel fearless, but it also opens their eyes to some innovative ideas. I’ve read countless articles, essays, blogs, and books about the benefits of 1:1 devices in the classroom, but it wasn’t until I was able to actually do this that I could feel a new definition of learning occurring. I look forward to moving on to next semester!

A House of Rock Stars

I don’t know about you, but havingprep first thing in the morning just works for me. As organized as I am trying to be, I have always found myself frantically getting everything together as students come rushing into my classroom. Having prep as the first part of my day allows me to catch my breath, enjoy my coffee, and mentally prepare.

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Prep also gives me a chance to walk the hallways and hear/see/learn the amazing craft of my colleagues.

I wanted to post this a long time ago, but what really hit me this morning as I walked the hallways of my high school is how lucky I am to be in a building that houses educational and professional rock stars! I work among some of the best of the best in education, in ALL departments, who constantly challenge themselves to become better teachers every year. Every teacher has their own style of teaching, and it’s awesome to be able to turn to each of these teachers for guidance and suggestions on a daily basis. We truly have a culture of talented rock stars in this building, and I couldn’t feel more lucky to work with them!

I salute them and am in awe of them on a daily basis. It’s an honor to work and learn from them all.

 

It Can’t Start Until It Begins

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I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day about the creation of classes, and it seemed that both of us agreed that during the summer, a new course can be filled with life, endless possibilites, and, for the most part, connected students. Visions of being thrown into the air like a young Robin Williams cloud my brain, as I continue to scour tweets, blogs, websites, and other professional brians to build the PERFECT class! I think I’ve got it! All of a sudden the theoretical ideas I once had are simply replaced by reality, and I remember that I’m much heavier than a young Robin Williams and I don’t have enough students to carry me, nor do I believe that I have what it takes to connect enough dots to make everything fit together this first time around. Oh, how I miss summer theory!

But then….the bell rings. Class begins. GULP! Here goes…

For the first time in my five years of teaching, the fear has gone away, and I stare at a classroom of 30+ faces who are eager to learn and create but would never admit this. The question that I hope to continue to ask myself all year will be: Does this class still fit my summer theory, and if it doesn’t, what do I need to do to bring it back?

I never want to forget the looks on the faces of my students as I met them for the first time last week. My hope is that the eagerness doesn’t die, as we start to paint this blank canvas that we call a classroom. There have been years that I feared that my class wasn’t going very well, as the canvas began to become covered with ugly paint colors with a broken brush. Rather than seeking out new colors and new ways to cover the damaged (but fixable) canvas, I would continue using the same brush and the same colors, waiting for a new canvas for the next year. That cannot happen this year. I need to remember that if I don’t like how the painitng is looking, there is always a new approach, a new brush stroke to add, and a new way of hanging the art piece. This year, I look forward to handing the paint set to my students and seeing what they can make out of their canvas. I want to listen to their feedback and reflect on daily lessons. I have an idea and vision in my head as to what these new classes should look like, but how could I ever know? The classes hadn’t even started yet. 

The vision has been set, and the ideas have been created. My job this year will be to give my students a map to see if they lead to those same ideas. Hopefully, many will take those ideas further and create new roads. I’m ready to take on the challenge!

Happy 2012-2013! 

Testing to make sure this works!

I’m really excited about getting this year started!