Model Teaching

9 May 2007

In my own life, I have often rebelled against hypocrisy very strongly, to the point where if I received good advice which was not being followed by the person giving the advice, I would disregard it. And I know I am not alone. Nothing creates antagonism and taints a student-teacher relationship more. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen teachers instantly turn entire classes against them by doing things such as forcefully and vehemently demanding that we should know such and such information while he/she (the teacher) has made it very obvious that they only know the information because they have the teacher’s edition and are reading from it. Teaching starts with modeling the behaviors you want to see in your students.

What kinds of things do we want to see in students? Collaboration, kindness, encouraging each other, etc… To obtain these goals, we must ourselves be collaborative, kind, and encouraging. We cannot remain in isolation, yelling at our students in a solitary classroom to “do better” and “pay attention and learn.”

If you are having difficulty breaking out of this traditional mold of antagonistic teaching, I would like to direct you to Anne Davis. Anne is a model teacher. Not only did she take the time to be one of many guest lecturers for my Education Technology class (not to slight the other guests in any way), but she recently posted this blog in which she linked to all of my and my classmates blogs and encouraged others to read and comment on our blogs, in addition to commenting on all of the blogs herself. I cannot imagine how fortunate her students are to have her as a teacher when she has reached out so much to those of us who are not even in her class.

So for all of you pre-service teachers, take notes. For all of you current teachers, here is a good example to improve what I am sure is already excellent teaching. And for all of you looking to hand out awards for excellence in teaching, Anne has my vote.

(P.S., did anyone else get a kick out of me linking to Anne linking to me?)

For my educational technology class we were required to use Tapped-In as a way to meet and communicate with professionals in the educational field who are savvy technology users.  Pre-service teachers such as myself posted questions, comments, links, and ideas about all things teaching.

Using Tapped-In was an interesting experience.  The pros are obvious: access to a pool of professionals at the top of the field and the cutting edge of educational technology.  We were able to read each others responses and learn how other pre-service teachers felt about teaching issues and we were able to see how professionals interact and what they had to contribute.    In terms of access, resources, and learning Tapped-In was an excellent tool.  And the forum was private to prevent any naivety coming back to haunt us.  Another perk was that when people responded to threads in folders the threads move to the top of the folder for easy finding.

Cons: interface.  Tapped-In required several links to get to the discussion board and there were a massive amount of folders and links cluttering up the page.  There was a real time chat feature which took up the bottom half of the screen and operated independently of the forum and links.  To sign out of chat you had to scroll down through all the text at the top (which could be quite a bit of scrolling) and find the small “disable chat” button in the bottom left.  Talk about unintuitive.  This removes the chat box and gives you the entire screen.  There is an option to essentially unhinge the chat box but all this does is create a new window and leave what amounts to a stain where it used to be and doesn’t increase usability (in fact it made things more difficult).

What does all of this mean?  It means I was less inclined to use it.  It was like finding needles in haystacks in terms of getting to threads and finding ones that were relevant to me.   This is a great resource which is cumbersome and inhibitive and I would be interested to see if there are better options around.

Will Richardson recently wrote a blog discussing what he has read so far in Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder and he presented a quote which I felt deserved “insight from the front lines” as it were. Here is the the quote reprinted:

The implicit lesson is unmistakable: Knowing is something done by individuals. It is something that happens inside of your brain. The mark of knowing is being able to fill in a paper with the right answers. Knowledge could not get any less social. In fact, in those circumstances when knowledge is social we call it cheating.

Nor could the disconnect get much wider between the official state view of education and how our children are learning. In most American households, the computer on which students do their homework is likely to be connected to the Net. Even if their teachers let them use only approved sources on the Web, chances are good that any particular student, including your son or daughter, has four or five instant messaging sessions open as he or she does homework. They have their friends with them as they learn…

One thing is for sure: When our kids become teachers, they’re not going to be administering tests to students sitting in a neat grid of separated desks with the shades down.

I am not sure he is going to be right, at least in terms of current children growing up and changing the system. As Sylvia Martinez pointed out in a comment, education is a hard and unchanging concept in our society. But I think it is more than that. Students are taught that IM and group work are not learning, they are distractions and cheating, which causes disassociation. IM and the internet become antithetical to learning, they are fun and anyone who has ever been through a public education system knows that learning is anything but fun (not to say that it shouldn’t be, it’s just not). In order for students to change the system, they have to learn that there are multiple ways of teaching and learning and not just The Lecture. There are teachers and educators out there right now who are working to change this (Will Richardson being one of them), but until they are able to convert the entire education system to new ways of teaching the majority of teachers will continue with the old ways.

Time and effort are not the only barriers to a new generation of technologically enhanced learning (to borrow phrasing from Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach). Why would students who are interested in collaboration and technology go into the teaching sector where standardized testing puts a damper on creativity, hours are long, pay is minimal, and technology often is little more than the ability to connect to the school website because it is the only unblocked site? Why not just go straight into computer science or the business world where collaboration and technology and creativity are valued and well paid? Take my college for example. I attend the College of William and Mary, a prestigious public school which has an education program which is tied for 50th in the United States. Out of 5-6000 undergrads, there are less than 100 elementary education majors (secondary education is comparable, and I am probably being generous with these numbers). Within my technology class of around 16 students, 1-3 of them knew that Wikipedia was a wiki, though considerably more than that are familiar and use Wikipedia fairly frequently. I am by no means trying to disparage my classmates, and Professor Nussbaum-Beach and the numerous guest lecturers have educated everyone on wikis, rather I am pointing out that knowledge of available technology was minimal going into the program at a top rated college. And can a course which only meets twice a week for 50 minutes during one semester really change practices? My fingers are crossed but my doubts remain.

My cynicism says it won’t happen (at least not in the near future) but my idealism says it should happen. So for all of you reading this, join the increasing numbers of edu-bloggers and start petitioning your friends, your neighbors, your representatives, and your teachers current and past to start moving education forward instead of further entrenching our schools in a model which has never effectively worked. Fund education and praise the teaching profession even if you recognize not all teachers are excellent. And tell your children that IM is not just for fun, but for social learning.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to teach a lesson plan of my own design to three students from the class which I observe as part of learning to be a teacher.  (If you are interested in reading the lesson I taught from, it is available as a document here and is labeled “Tech Lesson Plan,” but don’t confuse it with the “Lesson Plan Idea” linked on the side, the idea I started with is not really at all related to where I ended up for a variety of reasons.)  The lesson was designed to allow students to explore probability and bar graphs.  I used the bar graph and spinner provided free by the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives from here and taught the students in the computer lab.  One note, I intended to amend my lesson plan to allow for a culminating wiki where students could compare their observations and learning with that of other students to create and continuously building probability resource.  However, I was faced with the “problem” of my group being so engaged by the spinner and initial portion of the lesson plan that it became apparent that I was better off letting them experiment with spinner variables than trying to introduce another technology.  They were so engrossed that they asked to skip lunch to keep manipulating the spinner and when I told them they had to eat they instead demanded the url of the site so that they could go home and use it.  They even enjoyed creating the bar graph, although I only had them do this initially; it didn’t make sense to me for them to continue to create and alter a manual bar graph when the spinner creates its own bar graph automatically.  That way the students could work on graphing skills initially and then focus only on probability for the rest of the lesson.

While teaching I noticed that having one computer per child was ideal and allowed for individual exploration and customized learning.  (I went to teach and saw that I wrote 4-8 per computer on my lesson plan and couldn’t believe my own audacity, more than 2 would probably bee undesirable.)  I also became uncertain as to how much a wiki would really augment their learning; as much as I want them to collaborate, the limitations of probability knowledge for third graders no longer seems enough to fill a wiki.  Maybe if the wiki was school wide and covered different levels it might work but my focus turned out to be rather limiting.

In summary, this lesson was really helpful in allowing me to see how technology affects students and to discover the limitations imposed by only sporadically using technology instead of incorporating it seamlessly into the curriculum for the year.  And it was really exciting to see students so engaged.

I just finished reading “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms” by Will Richardson.  It was an easy and engaging read and I would recommend it for anyone interested in the internet, even if you are not a parent, teacher, or student.  Richardson aptly walks the reader through the what, how, and why of collaboration and web publishing from an educational stand point (again, this book is appropriate for anyone, the educational tie-ins are interesting in their own right and the tools and methods are for everybody).

However, one aspect particularly caught my attention while reading, and that was the shoddy editing.  Ever since I have been in college I have been highly disappointed by textbook authors who take the time to tweak the material in their books enough to require a new edition which costs amazing amounts and yet has flagrant spelling, punctuation, formatting, grammar, and/or usage errors.   I will give some examples from Richardson’s book:

“Export as MP” instead of “MP3” on page 121.   “the file resulting file size will be bigger” where “the file” at the beginning does not belong page 123.  There are sporadic examples of misplaced commas etc… but there are also more glaring problems with the text, such as using RSS as “Rich Site Summary” in the introduction and as “Really Simple Syndication” in the chapter on RSS (both are correct but refer to different versions, see wikipedia for more).  This is a problem because the book is aimed at those who are less than savvy with technology, it shows a gap in his awareness of his audience.   And audience awareness is something he preaches frequently in the book.

To the point.  I enjoyed the book and though poor editing pains me, I recognize that it could be worse than a few clumsy sentences and points of confusion.  I am using Richardson’s book to encourage wikis to be used in all aspects of writing.  For instance, Richardson could, for future editions of his book maybe, put his book in a wiki (dividing it up by chapter or page or whatever) and have either the internet community or a select group of peers come in and edit his book.  Maybe he’ll even let me edit it.  The changes could be clarification questions and grammar/spelling/punctuation fixes or they could be contributions and supplementation by others with experience in the edu-tech field.  Ideally, in terms of wiki purity, the book could be started by Richardson and then continuously written by others and be an open, editable, free resource for everyone.  However, the book is designed for people who are not using the tools already and who would probably be more comfortable using a hard copy book (vs. ebook) to learn about it, so a traditional book makes sense.  Also, I recognize that Richardson is a teacher and might like to have some spare income for food.

WOT

20 April 2007

WOT is a social networking device designed to enhance internet safety and reliability. I downloaded Wot yesterday as a browser extension for Firefox and am intrigued. WOT allows you to check the reliability of a website based on user feedback, so that when you go to a website the WOT icon shows whether or not other users view the website as safe and reliable based on a general trustworthiness meter, reliability as a business partner, as a keeper of personal information, and as a safe destination for children. WOT also integrates with search engines such as Google so that you can choose the best site and not waste your time with unreliable sites. There are other features and security measures to avoid manipulation of the system, and you can read about those on WOT’s website: http://www.mywot.com/en/wot/home/.

For education purposes, this is a great tool. First, it makes the internet safer to browse. If your school has not blocked a site, WOT can notify students and teachers who are browsing that the site is unreliable and IT can be notified. It can also help teachers creating lesson plans at home who don’t have time to peruse an entire site which may have a questionable area, such as editorials which are less wholesome than the part which the teacher explored. Teachers will be able to see immediately whether the site is safe for kids. Finally, it can be used as a way to bring both educators and students into technology. The internet is a lot less scary and mythical when you are able to leave feedback and know that others are doing the same. It serves as a way to “tame the beast” and make the resources and technology your own instead of allowing them to alienate.

Edutopia Video

13 February 2007

The video I watched on Edutopia was “Starting Over In Oakland” and it was a documentary on parent involvment according to the label provided by Edutopia.  The video started off with a group of principals talking about how underfunded and dangerous Oakland schools were when they arrived.  They then talked to prospective principals who were applying to start new schools or something under an education initiative which created 12 new schools.  Then one principal or prospective principal is followed and discusses his school and talks about how they are planning an overnight trip open to the entire school (only about 100 end up looking to go) to the sierra mountains.

As you can tell by my diction, I am a little confused by the video and not really sure what it was about.  Parents were mentioned for about five seconds (“these parents really do care”) and I didn’t understand how the schools were set up because they had enrollment and waiting lists.  All I really took out of it came from the beginning where they discussed ceiling tiles falling on children, eight foot high grass, and homicides within a block of the school and kids walking through the police tape to get to school.  This was not too surprising, I am well aware of that there are neglected schools out there.  But I was rather impressed that Oakland actually was doing something to stop this, even if they video didn’t quite convey to me what it was that was being done to fix it.  That gives me hope that schools across the country might follow suit and get funding and update.

Starting Over In Oakland 

I am somewhere in between a computer geek and a regular user.  I understand most of the basics of internet and computer use but frequently have to look up things like alt codes and I know how to apply html code but don’t know any off the top of my head.  I am comfortable finding and using open source software but am not competent enough to edit or contribute to it.  I’ve been using computers since elementary school, both in and out of the classroom.  I have used macs and PCs but am more comfortable on a PC and though I don’t care much for microsoft I don’t have the skills to use any other platform efficiently.  Blackboard, projectors, powerpoint, and VCRs are about all the technology I’ve had in the class room, with the occasional laser disc.