Friday, December 17, 2010
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
One of the things I hear about all the time in my position is, “I don’t have time to…” fill in the blank with whatever technology it is that I’m trying to help teachers learn. It’s probably the single most irksome thing that I deal with, and I’d be happy to tell you why.
When we ask ourselves what we want educationally for our students and our own children, “lifelong learning” appears near the top of every list in some form or another. Why, then, are we as a collective group of educators NOT modeling this very behavior?
How did it ever become acceptable for an educator to refuse to learn something vital to their students? How many times have you heard that it is important for teachers to model the behavior they expect from students? What message does it send, then, when we say we don’t have time to learn something that is critical to our students’ education?
Maybe the last point is where I lose some of you; you don’t agree that technology is an important part of the education for all students, and so you have been holding out on learning new skills in the hope that it will just go away, like so many other educational initiatives. Two things are wrong with that logic; one is that I don’t believe anyone can argue that at least SOME of their students would benefit from the use of technology in the classroom (and if even one student needs it, you should be using it), and the other is that this is not an educational initiative-it’s the way the world operates now. It’s time to catch up with it. Just because teaching hasn’t changed much in the last several decades doesn’t mean that most other professions haven’t. If anyone would like to debate this issue, I welcome the discourse.
I should clarify what I mean when I say “use technology”. I don’t want anyone to use technology in a classroom if it doesn’t have an impact on the learning. Sometimes the impact comes in the form of motivation when using a “cool” tool, but that’s not what I advocate. Nor do I advocate automating tasks to free up time. Sitting students at a computer to do drill-and-kill types of activities is NOT good technology integration. Yes, the instant feedback offered by many of these sites and programs is supported by research, but true integration goes much deeper.
Good technology integration uses appropriate tools to accomplish tasks that students couldn’t do without it; it helps them to think more deeply about subjects, interact with peers and experts all over the world, create and publish authentic work that is both useful and relevant, interact with the world when disabilities would otherwise be a roadblock, analyze information that was once held by one person in the room, provide access to all the world’s knowledge collectively, and the list goes on. Hopefully the difference between these approaches is clear.
Back to my argument-how is it acceptable practice for teachers to refuse or avoid learning how to empower students with these tools?
When I was in college studying to become a teacher, my professors made a point to remind us that we would not have much of a life outside of school; that if we were there for the summers, we needed to choose another career. It was made painfully obvious to us that continuing to learn would be an integral part of our professions. New things are discovered all the time. Maps change, books are rewritten, scientific discoveries are made, opinions change, and on and on. This should not be news to anyone. Why, then, is it acceptable to keep up on whether or not we call it Istanbul or Constantinople, but still not know the difference between a blog and a wiki? Let me put the period on this point by asking another question; when you go to the doctor, do you expect him or her to be using the latest advances in medical technology, or would you be fine with them pulling out a jar of leeches to suck out the evil spirits causing your ails?
Now let’s talk about the ‘time’ issue. When you consider all the things that technology can do-from removing roadblocks to providing a platform for expression, thought, and growth-it should be the top priority for every educator when they budget their time.
I am a former fifth and sixth grade teacher. Believe me, I understand the fact that there are hundreds of things teachers are responsible for above and beyond simply working with kids. We’ve all seen the comparisons of what we do today vs. what we did a hundred years ago. Sometimes it feels we are solely responsible for the upbringing of an entire generation. I get that. But, when you look at all of the tools at your disposal to accomplish the impossible, how is it that we tend to overlook the fact that technology may be our greatest “multi-tool” for getting there? Time is precious to all of us, and technology can help you accomplish more in less time, and with better results. So when we look at how to spend our time, we should recognize that learning how to better use the technology tools at our disposal is maybe the most efficient use of it.
Teaching is an art, and technology can provide an entirely new and vast set of brushes, let alone canvas on which to paint your learning experiences. The time to embrace that concept is long overdue.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I wish I were friends with Dennis Miller. I’m having trouble coming up with words strong enough to properly convey my frustration, anger even, with the current situation in America’s schools. The comedian known for his rants would be able to put things in perspective with some colorful choice words and scathing criticism. However, I’m just a guy working for a school system in central Kansas and this is not HBO. My audience includes children, for crying out loud.
So let me just say, “Only in America”. Only in America can a company grow so large, become so greedy, and be so irresponsible with their finances that they are actually rewarded for it. Yes, rewarded. Here we have not just companies, but entire industries that are so corrupt or fiscally irresponsible that we-the very people who made the top executives rich in the first place for doing such a horrible job-have to give them even more money so that they can continue ripping us off and making bad financial decisions.
These spoiled brats, er, companies, nearly drove the entire country into a depression. They caused people across the country to lose jobs. They caused people all over the world to lose jobs, as the United States economic health is closely tied with the success of markets worldwide. They helped tons of people part with their hard earned money-with financial tricks that would be considered criminal in most places. They made good and honest people think they finally had a chance at the American dream, only to see their house sold from underneath them, their finances and dreams shattered.
What does our country do when bullies push us around, lie to us, deceive us, all for their own gain? We give them money. WHAT?
Meanwhile, the economic meltdown caused by these fat cat pocket stuffers has far-reaching effects on our future for years to come. A recession may be temporary, but the effects it has can be much longer lasting. Allow me to elaborate. I have a son in the first grade. By the time funding at his schools returns to normal, he will be in high school-if he hasn’t already graduated.
Does an entire generation of students deserve to have less than those who came before them, simply because the country in which they live bails out banks and automakers but leaves schools to flail and flounder for every penny?
Add to this sobering thought the FACT that in my state, lawmakers were actually sued a few years ago for not funding education adequately. The lawmakers, like most in their position, denied that this was the case. After all, why buck the trend of spending more to put someone in jail and keep them there than to educate children? They hired an independent study to prove that they were right-those spoiled brats (talking about the students, now from the view of the lawmakers) were getting plenty of money. Do they really think they deserve more?
Things didn’t go according to plan, as the study found inequities in the funding formula, and the courts ordered them to change it. Lawmakers did change it, to their credit, and began funding schools more fairly until-you guessed it-the corporate greed of a few individuals living somewhere outside of reality came crashing down on every man, woman, and child within our borders.
Now, the very people who make the laws in my state are intentionally breaking it. How this is even allowed, I will never understand. Apparently, you can break laws during hard times, but only if you are a legislator who helps to make those very laws. I have heard that being ignorant of the law is no excuse for breaking it. These men and women wrote the laws, know them as well as anyone, and break them routinely. Why do we allow this?
Breaking the law to help yourself during hard times will still land you in jail if you are a working man who is laid off and you have to steal for your family’s food. But, you can be a legislator and steal from children and that is OK.
I can hear their grumbles from Topeka: “These are hard times, after all, and what would you have us do-raise taxes? Then we might not get re-elected!”
Children need more from their schools today than ever before. We are in the midst of a near-crisis mode in education as it is. Schools are beginning to face the fact that they need systemic change to meet the needs of 21st Century Learners. Schools need more of just about everything from counselors to computers.
Instead, we’re taking things away from them. Why? Because it’s apparently more important in our country for big business to continue ripping people off than for our children to learn how to earn an honest living.
These companies may be too big to be allowed to fail, but schools are too important to be allowed to fail.
Only in America.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
But, I’m not a teacher and my blogging isn’t something that will directly affect my students’ learning in my classroom. If it were, you could bet it would be at the top of my to-do list.
If you ask any teacher what they need more than anything, most of the time they won’t say they need more pay. They usually don’t say they need help with things, or more respect from the community for the job they do, or even complain about having too many things to do. Instead, they most often want more time to do the things they know are important.
The question I want to address in this post, then, is: what is stopping the teachers I serve from taking the time they need to do what they think is important-especially when the opportunity presents itself to vote in an entire day to do those things-with pay?
There is a committee of teachers who plan these optional extra days, and they are the ones who suggest the topics for themselves. Yet, when the vote goes out to teachers (which must be approved with a 2/3 majority to pass) they routinely vote it down. This is baffling to me for a number of reasons, but most of all because the biggest complaint I hear is, “I need more time.” Here is an opportunity to have just that-an entire working day’s worth-and they turn it down.
I’m not going to speculate as to the reasons for this discrepancy, instead I am going to discuss the reasons why the trend needs to change.
Let’s look at some facts:
1. Education, as an institution, is very slow to change. Sure, we get new initiatives and the infamous pendulum of various schools of thought swings back and forth as we adjust new research and learning to what we know as best practice-but change happens very slowly.
2. Technology changes very quickly. We have all heard the figures about just HOW often it changes; from the “doubling every 6 years” to the amount of data on the web that is added daily or hourly, to the reports of this or that new gadget available every other week.
3. The world has changed since the models we presently use in most educational settings was established.
The point I’m going to make here is that we already have a LOT of catching up to do, and in the race to be fluent in the 21st Century, we are getting lapped by our students.
Enter the 21st Century Initiative, a movement intended to “…facilitate the emergence of new approaches to learning that draw upon a range of insights in to the human brain, the functioning of human societies, and learning as a community-wide activity.” (http://www.21learn.org/ ) Obviously, there are others out there who recognize the fact that most teachers in America are still teaching in ways that were designed to prepare students for an industrialized, factory-laden society that has all but already disappeared. The global economy has changed, but the way we are preparing students to participate in it hasn’t.
We are looking down the double barrel of a loaded societal shotgun and daring the rest of the world to squeeze the trigger-unless we change-and change quickly.
There are some fundamental things that need to happen in order for this vision to become reality.
Maybe most importantly is the need for support for teachers. They need to feel like they are allowed to deviate from the drill and kill that has become the norm in our test-happy system and practice moving into a more student-centered environment. I think most teachers really want to teach in a way that fits the NETS-T standards; becoming more student centered, problem based, etc.-but feel that if they dip in their test scores, they may lose their jobs.
Unfortunately, this and many of the other things that need to be in place for this movement to take off are out of teachers’ hands. One thing teachers have total control over, however, is how we use our time. Time waits for no one, and we as educators owe it to our students to be more than we are-regardless of how good we are already with the things that worked a century ago. We are way behind, and it’s time to catch up.