Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Recovering Classtime

We’ve all heard it: “I don’t have enough classtime to…” Hobby teaching and veiled blame arguments on standardized testing aside, here are a few thoughts on ways to recover your “classtime” as inspired, in part, by some great conversations Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation.

First and foremost, internalize the following:

  • The focus should be on learning, not the dispensation of information.
    • If you are “teaching stuff ” that should be quickly recalled with no real connections, your role has been replaced by Google, Wikipedia, WolframAlpha, and myriad web-based tools.
  • Time is actually the variable in learning.
    • If you didn’t already believe this on some level, you would never assign homework.
  • Your classroom’s walls are permeable (thanks David Jakes).
    • The simple fact is human beings look for connections everywhere and the internet has made this abundantly possible. Your kids are doing it already. It’s time to tap that vast resource.
  • Textbooks do not equal curricula. Curricula is the means by which we facilitate learning.
    • If your principal told you all the textbooks in your school were being recalled and would never be replaced, what would that do to your lesson planning and, as a result your classes? Also, textbooks, in many cases, are a waste of money especially if you only “cover” and/or use 25%-40% of the material in them. at $80-$100 a book, that’s lots of waste. While we are on the topic of “coverage,” stop using that way of thinking. We are not applying coats of paint here. That kind of thinking leads us back to the for
  • Technology is an essential tool for your work and student learning, not the point of learning.
    • We don’t talk about book, paper, or whiteboard-infused/based/integrated lessons. Stop talking about technology-infused/based/integrated lessons. Seriously. Stop…Stop saying that you did a PowerPoint lesson. You don’t say you did a whiteboard/chalkboard lesson.
  • You don’t (and can’t) know it all. You are a learner in all this.
    • We expect that our kids will be life-long learners we should be too. While you may be an “expert” in your area, you can’t know it all. -Sorry to bruise your ego.
  • Leverage the power of the connected learning world by building a personal/professional learning network and find those people who are doing what you do and can make you better.
    • Since each of us can’t know it all, it makes sense to connect with others who have something to contribute.

Now, with that said, just because time is the variable for your classroom does not mean that you have to be on duty all the time. In fact, many of these suggestions are ways for you to clone parts of yourself so you can be in multiple places at multiple times. We’ve long dreamed (even in jest) of that technology, but it is here. It has been in multiple forms for some time now.

Basic

  • Stop going over your class policies and procedures, rules and regulations, etc. and put them on the web. It doesn’t matter the tool you use (email, Google Docs, a wiki, EtherPad, a blog, -whatever). Make an agreement with your kids that you won’t read the policies if they’ll read them themselves. You can invent whatever way to document and record that they and their parents have read it. At worst have them email you -give them the format of the email response if you want and have them reply to you.
    • Estimated time recovered: 1-2 class periods.
  • Post your PowerPoints online, especially if you find yourself turning your back to your kids and reading the stupid thing.
    • Use free web applications like SlideShare and Prezi.
    • Estimated time recovered: Any class period you do this.

Intermediate

  • Clone yourself on the Internet and record and post your lectures/content delivery.
    • Assign that as your kids’ “homework” and do the work you’ve always wanted to do with your kids in your classroom. You’ll be able to differentiate and work with kids individually, in small groups, or as a large group as needed.
    • If kids don’t have computer/Internet access, have them download it to their phones, iPods, or put it on a DVD.
      • Here’s some examples from a couple of teachers in Woodland Park, Colorado.
    • Estimated time recovered: Any class period you do this.
  • Outsource yourself to the Internet.

The few, not exhaustive, ideas are just some ways to get you thinking about ways you can recover classtime. I’d wager that if you decide to turn your kids loose with many of these tools, you’ll find the entire nature of your class and the learning you and your students experience will fundamentally change.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frame of Reference

The rather lengthy educational biography has a point… 

I’ve spent almost all of my life in the formalized world of American education. I entered education, like many people, around age 5. I have very few memories of my early years in school. In fact I don’t remember much before 6th grade. I’m not sure why, but I have very few contextual experiences which jog my mind for those early years. My family moved around quite a bit and the four consecutive years of high school were the longest stretch I ever attended in one school -so I’ve been told.

For kindergarten through 1st semester of my 8th grade year, I went to public schools. Second semester of my 8th grade year I went to a parochial Catholic school. I hated the change in the middle of the school year, but my dad wanted me to go to a “good” school and this particular parochial school fed into one of Columbus, Ohio’s best high schools, Bishop Watterson High School. The school’s profile reads that it is a “comprehensive, co-educational, Catholic school for grades 9-12…A large majority of parents are college educated, business and professional people…The curriculum is largely college preparatory. More than 98% of graduates enter four-year or two year colleges and universities.” The Student Handbook dives deeper into the school’s philosophy, beliefs, and mission. Although I, at first, I reluctantly attended Watterson, I grew to like it. I was challenged -sometimes too much, I thought, and I found places to connect like the theater. I wasn’t a stellar student, but I wasn’t average or below. The further I got from Watterson, the better I remembered it.

I went on to Colorado State University (CSU) and earned my Bachelor’s in English and completed my coursework secondary teaching license there. Again, I wasn’t a stellar student and was only below average for the first year or two. I eventually made it to the Dean’s list my last few semesters, but that was when the courses got really interesting and engaging. Most of the teachers I had now have a * next to their name indicating emeritus status. I wouldn’t consider myself old, but that doesn’t help. I can’t recall any of the names of my education teachers and when I look over the faculty pages, no one rings a bell. I completed my student teaching at a high school in Fort Collins, CO where CSU is located.

After graduating from CSU, I began teaching at a high school in northern El Paso County, Colorado. I began as an English teacher and through a series of improbable events ended up teaching technology classes as well as coaching basketball -neither of which I had done before in any meaningful capacity. During that time I went to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) for my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Educational Computing and Technology. They call it Instructional Technology now. That degree and the work I had done teaching allowed me to become the school’s technology coordinator and later the database administrator for the district.

Later, I completed the coursework for my principal’s license from the University of Denver and moved into the assistant principalship at two different high schools also in El Paso County, but in two different districts. Now I’m working on the development and implementation of digital/online high school for my district and that’s where my frame of reference comes into play.

I consider myself a lifelong learner and have even explained my moving about in education as a restless desire to improve. I used to mean improvement for myself, but now I reference it in the larger frame of education. I know education can be better. I have hope that we, as a global community, can effect the changes that our kids need. But…it’s our (my) frame of reference that keeps getting in the way. The path that I took to get here is not all that unusual in terms of the schooling progression. Each step, however, contributed to my frame of reference and reinforced the historical traditions that informed (and continues to inform) it. My frame is common, not in a pedantic way, but in a shared experience way. It worked for me so it must work for my (our) kid(s) now, right?

If you’ve read any of the other entries here, you know that’s not what I think. Einstein has been attributed to say “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” That means we have to step outside our frame of reference. When I look at my frame of reference I see the fingerprints of traditional educational history all over it. We live in a very different, accelerated, connected, dynamic, (fill in your own flat-world adjective) time in history when our traditional frames can’t stand up to the expectations of the future. It’s that tension that scares the wits out of most people who have connections of any sort to the educational community.

To drop another name, George Washington is reported to have said “One of the difficulties in bringing about change in an organization is that you must do so through the persons who have been most successful in that organization, no matter how faulty the system or organization is. To such persons, you see, it is the best of all possible organizations, because look who was selected by it and look who succeeded most in it. Yet these are the very people through whom we must bring about improvements.” We all have had some measure of success and many of us (educators, parents, community members, policy makers, etc.) succeeded most, but that doesn’t mean our kids will if we do nothing to alter our current trajectory.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments