Sunday, March 30, 2014

Eduvox 1.1

"All my originals ideas are borrowed ideas infused with my creativity & style."

Dear Katie,

As you sift through the deluge of educational opinion and advice on the Internet (including my own), here are some blog posts that I believe deliver practical ideas and/or sound advice from voices other than my own.  Enjoy!

My favorite blog post from my vice-principal in Chester.  Although Brad Currie (@bcurrie5) is more known in education for his Saturday morning twitter chat #satchat and has expertise in the use of social media impact on schools, this post is about how not to use email/memos and why you should approach someone if you have an issue with them. Not only true for teaching, but for life. Cleverly written from the perspective of a memo. 

Katie, it is a LIE that older teachers have run out of ideas or are just looking to retire and that younger teachers are more enthusiastic and have fresh, new ideas and should be the ones you follow.  Your mentor should not be the teacher who just received tenure a year or two ago, but a true veteran who can deliver guidance from their wealth of successes and failures.   

This is a blog post from @nkellogg who I just started to follow on Twitter.  Its the initial post he made to his blog and is a wonderful reminder that experience matters.

You know I love using games in my classroom as a motivational tool.  @mrmatera blogged about some wonderful games he has incorporated into his classroom (He also addressed ideas on gamifying the classroom, if you do not know what this is, delve deeper into his blog).  Think I'm going to try a few of these out myself.

Uncle Kevin

(Twitter names are given if you wish to follow them)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

MTV & Short Attention Spans (Dear Katie V2 #13)

Dear Katie,

I am an MTV child.  I was a middle school kid when MTV hit the airwaves.  I stayed up to watch "World Premier Videos."  On New Year's Eve, 1983, I was at a friend's house and if I remember correctly, we turned the TV to MTV at midnight so we could watch the first showing of Van Halen's, "Jump" video.

When I was in college in the late 80's, a professor of mine noted that he heard when making a music video, the creators attempt to change the scenes every 3 seconds in order to hold a viewer's attention.  I never forgot this, and have always thought of ways to incorporate this fact into the classroom, and later in this piece I will give you some practical examples.

We live in a world that has gone far beyond MTV.

Cell phones give people 24/7 connection with each other.

Twitter and texting encourages conciseness.  

Websites link us from one page to another, creating a journey for us that by the time we have completed our "surfing" of the topic we last looked up, it is far different than what we originally intended to learn about.

The remote control allows us to quickly click through station after station of the thousands of choices people have through their cable providers.

The problem is that we expect attention spans somehow to miraculously increase when students enter the classroom.  Too often we feel safer running classrooms "the way it has always been done".

Our students live in a 21 Century World,
but we often have our classrooms constructed and run 
not much different then in the 19th Century.

Don't say, "when I was a kid, I could sit through 45 minutes of a lecture".  Or "in the past, people could sit through hours of lectures".  Why fight the lack of attention, why not find ways to work within it?  Our job is to reach kids, get them to think, and sometimes doing so "isn't safe".  Do not seek to do things "how they have always been done".  Be creative, try, don't worry about failure.

Your job is to reach kids.  
Don't plan lessons and activities that fall into the comfort zone
 of your fellow teachers.

My "MTV" class

1) I open with music, a slide show detailing upcoming assignments, the lesson topic and a list of the activities we will accomplish that day, and a current event story.

2) Students complete a review activity to reinforce previous learning.

3) The main lesson, within it we go back and forth between me lecturing, reading an article as a class, discussion, group sharing, researching on the iPad, etc. It is rare that we are focused on the same activity for more than 7-8 minutes.  So within the main lesson, there may be several more transitions.

4) Concluding activity, something that allows you to assess if your students "got it".

Two points to remember:

1) NEVER spend your whole class lecturing.

2) My class has several transitions within it.  The one difficulty for the young teacher with this is that misbehavior increases with each transition.  It just emphasizes the need to establish classroom rules and adherence to them early and consistently, as well as being prepared for each lesson.

As you probably have learned about life...when you are enjoying what you are doing, time flies by, and when you are bored, 5 minutes feels like 5 hours.

It is no surprise that with a class where activities and events abound that I have students who respond:

 "Ahh, that's it, but we just came into your class." 

Music to my ears!

Uncle Kevin

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Do You Teach? (Dear Katie V2 #12)

Dear Katie,

When I was in third grade, I remember walking across town to the middle school to watch some of my teachers take on the 8th graders in basketball and volleyball.  I remember my principal, a former gym teacher, going all out in the volleyball game and twisting his ankle in the process.  And I remembered that one day, I wanted to play in that game against the teachers.

A few days ago, I played for the faculty team against the students in a charity basketball game.  We only had 8 teachers in the game, but many more were in the gym that day, sitting among the students, and cheering both teams on.  One teacher allowed herself to be duct taped to a wall.  In my time as a teacher, I have squared off against students in Softball, Basketball, Trivia Games, and Donkey Basketball.

Kids remember things like that.

I remember I stopped by a soccer game my first two weeks I was at my current school 15 years ago.  I didn't know many of the kids on the team yet, but I wanted to get to know them.  The next day at school, one of the players on the field came up to me and said, "Thanks for coming to the game yesterday."

Kids notice.

An older teacher who I respect told me as I began my teaching career, "Remember, you don't teach history, you teach children".  If you go into teaching for the job security, salary, benefits, and summer off and rush out the door as soon as your contract allows, I can promise you the years will go slowly by as you drudgingly look forward to retirement.  Start when you are in your first years teaching, because as you have a family, it will be harder to find the time for the kids in your school.  Do not be the teacher that people wonder if you even like kids.  Teaching is more than a job; you assist parents in preparing  their children to pursue their happiness.

Kids know if you teach only for the paycheck, or if you teach for them.

Here are some practical tips:

1) Arrange and decorate your classroom so kids are comfortable in it.   Make your comfort secondary.

2) Say "Hi" to kids in the hall by name.

3) When there are events at your school, attend some of them.  Participate in staff/student competitions with zeal.

4) Congratulate and encourage kids in their passions and pursuits outside of your classroom.

5) Eat lunch with students in the cafeteria, or go outside during recess and play with the kids even if it is not your duty.

6) Have pictures of your family or your hobbies around the room.  Bring you family to after school events.  Allow them to see you as a real person.

At no time did I mention anything about the subject I teach.  But I will tell you what, my investing time in getting to know them, playing with, allowing them to see I am a real person, earns me dividends when I am teaching them history.

They are interested in what I have to say, because I am interested in them.

What frightens me is that the push in current educational trends is to see students as a quantifiable product.  I do not teach underwear that I have to drop my "Inspected by 9" slip in the packing for quality assurance, but I teach kids who have highs and lows and bring them into my classroom.  I teach kids who could have different attitudes everyday and are unpredictable.  I teach kids who may understand a difficult concept, and then struggle on ones that are easier.  Why?  Could be a combination of things?  And if I didn't take the time to know them, I wouldn't have a clue why.

Why each kid achieves and struggles is for a different set reasons from each other, not because the stitching machine ran out of thread thus ruining a gross of underwear that was running through the processing machine.

I don't teach underwear.

I teach kids.

And they can be wonderful and frustrating, interested and bored, happy and sad, and I can have each one of these in my classroom at once.

And I wouldn't miss out on teaching kids for anything in the world.

Uncle Kevin

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Christian Parents of Public School Students Have a Job to Do

Once again, I step away from my role as educator in the classroom and place myself in my role as a parent.  The primary audience for this blog post are Christian parents who send their children to public schools who need some encouragement in their decision but more importantly, to prod them to action.

Although the Christian parent of a public school student is my intended audience, I believe a Christian who sends their kids to a Christian school or home schools them, and even non-Christian parents could glean some ideas from this post.

Don't ever sit on the sidelines of your child's education.

The curriculum of the public school isn't anti-Christian, I would put it as "the curriculum of the public school is NOT Christian", nor should it be.  As a Christian parent, would you want a person of another faith indoctrinating your child on their beliefs?  The reality is we live in a pluralistic society and we have to learn to operate within it, without losing the essence of who we are as individuals.  And so do our children.

Another issue is the bias of the teacher.  One of my proudest moments as a teacher was when I took a poll of the kids on how they thought I voted for president.  The final tally was 52% for one and 48% for the other.  The goal of a teacher is not to indoctrinate, but to get kids to think.  You do that by being fair and presenting both sides of an issue. 

Will teachers present issues that are against what you teach in the home?  Absolutely.  What is your response?  You should be commended for knowing your child's teacher is teaching something different than what you present at home.  It means that your child and you are involved in meaningful conversations. 

For example, what do you do when your child's teacher presents evolution?  Are you able to discuss with your child your view on that topic from a Christian worldview.  If your child's response is "Evolution didn't create life, God did", I am glad he/she has an understanding that God is the primary cause of the universe, but what about secondary causes?  If your child can only explain God as primary cause or only dogmatically demonstrate an unwillingness (or worse, an ignorance) to even discuss or think through the secondary causes (discovering the God's laws that govern physical space and time), then Bill Nye is right in his criticism of Christians when it comes to science. 

I am not saying that there aren't teachers who teach with a strong bias.  But I will not accept the notion that sending your child to Christian school or homeschooling are the only two solutions for the Christian.  In a Christian school and even in homeschooling curriculum, you have TONS of questions of theology.  Will topics be presented in a Reformed, Arminian, Middle Knowledge, or Openness View of God?  Are they Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox?  What is their view of justification and sanctification?  Do they hold a Dispensational or Covenantal view?  Are they Pentecostals, Charismatics, Cessationists, or somewhere in between?  Are the high church or low church?  What is their belief of leadership in the church?  What is their view of scripture?  Do they believe intellectualism is an important part of loving God or does it quench the Spirit?  And so on...Do you ask?  Do you care?  

"It doesn't matter, it's Christian" is NOT a sound answer.

Only being marginally knowledgeable on it, I don't think if my wife and I did homeschool we would ever chose ABeka or Bob Jones curriculum because of theological differences and approaches that those schools take on a variety of issues.  I'm speaking for my family here, it may be the best fit for yours.  I would agree that the homeschooling and Christian school parent will have an easier time discovering satisfying solutions to these issues and the public school parent has a lot of work to do to plug the holes.

A few months ago, a former student of mine asked me to look over some examples of history homeschooling curriculum for her children.  I'm sure she asked other friends who homeschooled their children, searched reviews of websites, and then approached me, her aging, former history teacher.  I was impressed with the research she had already completed and the direction she felt was best for her children.  She is a parent actively involved in her children's education, kudos to her.

Just like the public school parent cannot be lackadaisical in their approach neither can the Christian school or homeschooling parent.  Passing off that responsibility to a Christian School teacher or a homeschool DVD curriculum isn't the solution either.

The point is this...

Every parent MUST be involved in their child's education.

Maybe I'm naive, but I believe that God is sovereign; He is in control.  It is not a "Let Go and Let God" approach either.  It is a firm belief that God will bless and guide my efforts as my children come to me with a variety of issues, because He can.  I'm not as concerned about curriculum then preparing them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and MIND, and to love their neighbor as themselves.  I want them to be able to answer questions like this:

How do we discern truth from falsehood?

How do you draw conclusions or determine what course of action is best?

How do you recognize bias?

What is the appropriate response to a disagreement with another person?  

How do you express your point of you in a loving way while still standing for what you believe?  

How does God affect our views of both the humanities and sciences?

I'm glad I will have the opportunity to address the issues while they live under my roof rather than through sporadic phone calls while they are in college or in the workplace.  My hope is that I can, in word and deed, express my Christian faith to them.  I want them to deeply drink of the water of truth flowing from these words of Paul:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Presentations and Story Telling

There’s a first time for everything, and yesterday, for the first time in 22 years of teaching, I presented at a conference.  It wasn’t a solo, which was probably a good thing.  I was teamed up with the two science teachers on the 7th grade team and we explained our Biome Zoo Project that we’ve created and implemented over the past 10 years. We had an hour block, so we presented for 32 minutes.  We started out with the philosophy behind the project; with all the push for students to gain knowledge in science and math, there is still a place for the humanities. The humanities and science both play a role in understanding the world around us.

From there we explained the nuts and bolts of the project, displayed student projects, explained how this project is a lead in to our Cultural Diversity Day.  We concluded the presentation with a brief clip of one of the better student presentations in the past few years.  Questions and answers lasted the remainder of the half hour.

I attended another session.  It was on a real-world project; students were to develop a solution to a real life problem (hunger, environmental, etc.).  Students were then judged on their solution and were rewarded with an actual Skype discussion with an expert in the field in which that they chose to find a solution.  The project was intriguing.  The presentation was filled with data to persuade those of us in the session that the project was a measure of the teachers moving past content and addressing their ability to teach their students 21st century competencies (collaboration, effective communication, researching, etc.).  Also, we were led to links where we could find the rubrics used in quantifying their conclusions.  The presenters talked for about 55 minutes with about 5 for questions.

There were no examples provided, nor really explained, just the data that said it worked. (and an offer that were invited to come and watch the project in action).  I am not saying it was a bad presentation, it wasn’t.  It was well prepared and delivered.  And by some of the questions asked, it was compelling for some of the attendees.  For me the presentation confirmed one of my foundational educational beliefs...

There is still a place for the humanities in the 21st Century

When anyone gives a presentation, what you are saying is, “You should try what we do, it’s great!”  You then must provide proof to your audience to affirm that statement.  We provided anecdotal evidence while the other was more scientific.  Maybe it’s because I have always been partial to the humanities, but give me examples over data any day.  Hearing stories of how students work, seeing completed projects, watching student presentations allow the listener to think how their students would do completing the same thing.  It allows them to begin tweaking the project so it works in their classroom.

Can we really quantify every human experience?  If we can put a number on everything we do as people, are we humans or robots?  There is a place for empirical evidence and data, but my students are more complex than that and behave in ways that are difficult to quantify.  

Success in life is much more than just some score on a test.  

Success in life can be achieved even by students who are not deemed “proficient” on some standardized test.  

Can my ability as a teacher really come down to a number?

Can my reason for a project really be explained by a bar graph?

A colleague turned to me when the presentation was over and asked if our Biome Zoo Project addressed the same 21st Century Competencies that was shared in the session. It did, not because we had that in our minds when we were developing it, but a good project designed by a teacher should naturally achieve those objectives for the student.  

From the earliest of times, the storyteller has been valued as playing an important role in society.  It’s why we are still drawn to great novels.  Numbers can be used to provide evidence for choosing a particular course of action, but if you want to motivate someone, tell stories of students producing dynamic works of both visual and performing arts, demonstrating their understanding of cultural and scientific information, and overcoming challenges.  Show me the works they produced.

Providing student data can convince me your way is right, 
but telling me stories inspires me to dream and moves me to act.