Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Mistake of Waiting

I feel a great deal of pressure to master a program before I teach it. Why? Traditionally the teacher is the master of the curriculum, and has well crafted lesson plans that have stood the test of time. My biology teacher from high school had a lesson book that he had his daily lessons handwritten in, and he followed them year after year.

But as computer teachers, we don't have a textbook, or a curriculum, and the landscape of applications and how people use them changes daily. So how do we master our craft before teaching it to the kids?

I think I will just start teaching Sketchup in just over a week and a half. I don't have more than a beginner's skill level with it, but I know why I want to teach it. It teaches, math, art, and critical thinking. And so we shall start. My criteria will be simple. I will tell the kids how I know this is great application for them to learn. I will then tell them I haven't mastered it, and my lesson plans are kind of loosey goosey at this point.

Here is what they will do:

Meeting Expectations: Follow and reproduce the simple lessons from the Google Sketchup Channel on Youtube.

Fully Meeting Expectaions: Create the world's best doghouse, and put it somewhere nice on earth.

Exceeds Expectations: Re-design the classroom. In another video on youtube, Rip Van Winkle wakes after 100 years. He is out of place in the modern workplace, hospitals have advanced beyond his recognition, but he feels at home in schools because nothing much has changed there. So, lets get the kids together, and tell us how class should look so that they would best learn.

If they can prove they know more than I do about the program, good. If they can do something with it, build something with it, that's great.

It's ok not to be able to know all the buttons and switches. Its ok as the teacher to be shown by a student that you don't know it all.

You don't need to know it all to start a good idea. You just need to know why its a good idea. You can figure out the rest as you go.

Leap, and the net shall appear.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Excitement Over Something We Already Have

Yesterday I had plans to do a power point presentation on using SharePoint websites for virtual classrooms. During the first workshop on Learning Disabled Students one of our staff members talked about how some students have written output problems. I mentioned that MS Word 2003 has built in voice recognition software. That means you talk, and MS Word types, (after you train the computer first). They were astounded, as no one had heard this feature existed in MS Word. It is not as good as some of the third party software titles out there that do speech to text better, but it is something we already have on our computers. No added cost; no waiting for installation or implementation. Some of the student services people thought that this was something they will implement immediately.

How can we get the word out about these features on commonly used pieces of software that will help our students? I will do my part, and blog it!

I think my next pro-d will be about professional reading. If all the teachers in my staff subscribed to one blog each on the topic of their field of education, we would be the most up-to-date middle school in the Province. Plus, by subscribing to blogs, we would be learning in small, easy to digest bites. Middle school practice is designed for people to share out information, and so one good idea can get spread through a team and then a whole staff very quickly.

We shouldn't stop reading books. We should just start reading blogs.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Remembering Terry Fox

Terry Fox is from my home town. I went to the same junior high school that he went to. I had one of his teachers as my principal. I went to the high school named after him.

In 1977 Terry Fox lost his leg to cancer. He decided to run across Canada to raise money and awareness about cancer. He planned to run a marathon a day (Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world) from East to West. On one leg. He wanted to raise 1 dollar for every Canadian. In 1980 that was 24 million dollars. He didn't make it all the way across Canada as cancer once again reared its ugly head. This time it had spread to his lungs.

He died in June of 1981. Every September since 1981, all across Canada and all around the world, people run in his memory. Tomorrow is the Port Coquitlam Terry Fox run. Our schools will be running later this month, all across Canada. To date his run has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research.

Help tell the story about Terry Fox.

Triumph of the Common Man

I love the "diamond in the rough." I love the story of Forrest Gump. The olympics was great to watch, but to compete at the olympics, you must be born with gifts AND you must work hard to attain excellence. I love the underdog who was not given the gifts at birth, but through grit and determination, from the sweat of their brows and the strength of their backs, a common man achieves excellence.

I love the story of Paul Potts

I love the story of Andrew Johnson:

When Simon asked him how what he will do about being bullied. Andrew simply grins and shrugs and says "carry on singing."

Courage never comes first. This is what I want all my middle school students to know. Find the thing that makes your heart spark, pursue it relentlessly, and when you come to your first fork in the road, where you can truly shine or fall flat, you seldom get to feel courageous at the outset. Act courageous, and courage comes afterwards.

We can use the internet to bring the courageous and the exceptional into our classrooms. We can inspire our students to treat lessons and assignments as stepping stones to greatness.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Getting Away with It - NOT!

I ran across a former summer school student from this past summer's remedial science course. She was a challenge, as she was often interrupting class with her talkative nature. She is not mean, not spiteful, and usually turned her work in. She asked me if I knew that she was sometimes texting in class? I did. I told her she wasn't the only one texting either. But, I told her I knew she was never texting during a test, and that she never cheated on an assignment. She also asked if I ever noticed that she sometimes ate chips in class. I said that the litter under her chair was a dead give away. Boy, did she go red in the face. I also told her that I knew she started dating one of the boys towards the end of classes. She went even redder!

She told me that she thought I was a good teacher, and that I was nicer to her than some of her previous teachers. I asked her if I had to be tougher on kids, and that if I had been tougher on her would she have perfomed better. She said no, and that she would have done less work for me. She has always been honest with me, so I find no reason to doubt her now.

I guess with a tough crowd, you pick your battles. She was producing, and she was passing. Maybe next year I won't let students text each other, but it doesn't seem much different than kids whispering quietly to each other, and it disrupts people less than note passing. Also 90 minutes is a long class time to go without a break, especially for early morning classes where many students skip breakfast. Maybe we need to find a place where the kids can eat and work at the mid point outside the science lab for safety sake.

But, maybe the best lesson was that she learned that teachers see more than they let on. Perhaps we ought to periodically let our students know that sometimes we don't sweat the small stuff, but that they aren't really getting away with anything.