Monday, September 24, 2007

What I don't really understand is why I can act as a technology bridge for programs on a desktop computer (even if its new to me), but when it comes to handhelds they frustrate me to no end. I've used desktop computers for twentyfive years since the district first got Apples for the classroom. I've always had no problems working with new programs and figuring out how to do things. This is my fourth year with a Palm handheld and I still can't figure out how to do things on the Palm. The operating systems don't seem that different, but I just can't get it to do the things I need to do.
I don't know if its because of my technophobia of cell phones, well not technophobia really, just a hatred of phones in general. I have always looked at the telephone as an evil invasive machine and cell phones just magnify the opportunities for people to contact you anywhere, anytime (one of the reasons I hate phones). I will not own a cell phone. My dislike and discomfort for cell phones could be transferring to handhelds, but none of the reasons I hate phones are used on my handheld. I just don't seem to be able to navigate around handhelds and I can't figure out why.
I wouldn't think the fact its a different operating system would be a problem. I've started with Apple DOS to Windows 3.0 and 3.1. Changed to MacIntosh OS 6-9 and Windows 95. Messed with Windows NT and now we use XP with a few new machines on Vista (no Macs in the building for the last three years) Always been able to figure out the system in a couple of hours. I have spent weeks of effort trying to figure out my Palms and get no where. I can use it like a Gameboy and that's about as far as it gets.
Frustration City.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back in the Saddle / Troubles of Paradise

Its been a long time so let me catch up on what's been happening.
1. I changed rooms. I went from one side of the building to the other. The new room wasn't in the best of condition so I spent the month of June fixing it up. The new room is great three times the floor space and five times the cabinent space, but most cabinents don't have locks. :< But overall huge improvement.
2. New principal-- enough said. Anytime you have a change in bosses there is lots involved, even when they wait a year to see what works before they put in 'changes'.
3. New curriculum for my 8th grade classes (now there are two different ones) and I'm having to run to keep up on things.
4. Lots and lots of technical difficulties. Power problems in the new room, wiring challenges, hard drive crashes (including mine :O), ghostings that didn't copy drivers for essential equipment, new program bugs that I don't know the solution to,and new student scripts that don't map drives that have to be mapped.

Most of the problems have been worked out or around but it's been more than a challenge. As a result I haven't had much time or energy to keep up some things and this blog was one of them. But we should be back on a more regular basis.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Techno savages II

We are using a program called CarBuilder in my eighth grade class. It allows them to change parts of a car using different choices (normally between 6 - 15 choices per item. They can change the chassis (which determines the seats), the engine, transmission, fuel tank, shocks (both front and rear), brakes, steering, tires, paint, wheels, body shape, window shape. By experimenting with changes they learn how those changes affect the car's performance in aerodynamics, road handling, and quarter mile drag acceleration.
Unfortunately most of my students are stuck on trying to make their cars "look good" instead of perform well. They would rather have a design they like than get the mileage over 8 miles to the gallon. They care more about the rims than the type of tire they use and how it transfers the power into motion. They haven't formed the linkage between one and the other, but it's very hard to get them to think about it. They would rather get an F and have a car that "looks good" than make changes to make it fuel efficient.
I find it very frustrating that they won't make the changes and that even though I made a rubric that gave them specific changes to make, half of them just won't try to make those changes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

One of the biggest things on my mind has been School 2.0. For anyone who hasn't heard of this already this is school changing from the 1.0 Industrial Age Instructional model to a new version, An Information Age collaboration model if you will. There is a lot of discussion that ebbs and flows in the blog universe, sometimes its general, sometimes its focused. To me it seems there are three major areas of change.
I. Technology has enabled a multitude of new tools that can be used for instructional tasks, both online as Web 2.0 (a whole other discussion), and for just within the classroom. Teacher must learn to adapt their content presentation skills to assimilate these tools in a day to day fashion in order to help prepare students for their own use of these tools in their lives.
II. The exponential increase in information and the freedom of access to that information means that students must be taught not just the tools for access but new skills for evaluating the quality, reliability, and usefulness of that information. Students can no longer accept that it's OK because it's in the book mentality. (An attitude that at least one of my teachers in high school hated anyway) They must also how to avoid falling into the temptations and distractions that run side by side with this information access. Playing games, watching videos, looking up friends in My Space, Text Messaging buddies across the room... Banning these things from the classroom avoids them but does not teach the students necessary skills that will help keep them on task as adults in the workplace.
III. The classroom itself and teaching methods need to be restructured. Not just to take advantage to the new tools and opportunities they offer, but because of the new
model' of students we are receiving in the class. Before the 1st day of school our students have been conditioned and preprogrammed to deal with technology that is rapidly changing. We have to accept that we are using a different type of raw material now and the machinery needs to be remodeled to not only deal with that, but to create the new product that is needed also. (Oops Machine Age reference)

Even among the group that discusses this (which is small compared to the group of all educators)there really is not a real specific set of tasks that must be done. That is what all the discussion is about. But I don't think the specific set can truly be reached. There is too much change that is happening too fast. By the time you narrow it down to a specific set, everything will have changed too much to fit that set. Maybe that's part of the problem, most educators were raised when the industrial age model worked, that's the way we were trained to think, just like my Machine Age reference before. In order to deal with the needs of the new students coming in we have to think in Information Age ways not Industrial ways, I'm not sure a true fix will occur unless the teachers are retaught in a major way. Right now we are in transition and maybe the true change will have to be produced by the next generation trying to fix the system which was unable to adapt quick enough in their thinking no matter how hard they tried. I find this thought to be depressing and terrifying both. Depressing because if I cannot change I will fail, terrifying in that an entire generation will be lost before true adaptive change may occur. I can foresee nothing good happening with that.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Time Flies -- Hodgepodge Thoughts

Until I looked at the date on my last post I hadn't realized how long it has been. Time flies when you are doing all that testing. Not that the kids were tested in my class, but they were tested some days in my room, resulting in my having to take my class elsewhere. But Lisa (testing coordinator)really tries hard to make sure I don't move unless she absolutely need the room. I normally act all grumpy, but she does excellent job of rescheduling around my classes. Thanks, Lisa!!
Baseball season started up, especially Double-A here in Wichita, which means the Wranglers are off and running. It hovered between 33 and 40 degrees all weekend and it was COLD. I prepared for it but its a bummer when you buy a hot hot dog and its cold before you get to your seat. I still had ice left at the end of the game so I guess its a mixed blessing. I have front row seats behind home plate and just to the left so I can see all the corners of the plate between the batter and the catcher. Perfect! The Wranglers normally look very rough at the start but this year they look more like they have in May not in April. I take this as a great sign of things to come. They aren't as polished as June but hey not even the Majors are this time of year.
The kids' comments on my class blogs are starting to show improvement in some of their writing. About half of them are writing more and the quality is getting better. The last 8th grade blog comments actually stunned me when I saw who was writing the best comments. Way to go guys!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Reading Meme

Picked this meme up from Coach Brown at A Passion For Teaching and Opinions and Ms. Cornelius at Shrewdness of Apes.

*Look at the list of books below.
*Bold the ones you’ve read.
*Italicize the ones you want to read.
*Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
– ah yes High school lit during the days of feminism I got more girls angry at me over this book than anything else that I’ve ever done. Which is saying a lot.
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)

5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)- Frodo lives
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)- I try to read this series at least once a year
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien) – I even own the Simillarion and Farmer Giles of Ham
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)- If I didn’t read it the students in my class would have burned me at the stake.
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
– See 11.
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling) See 11
17. Fall on Your Knees(Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King) – I must confess I don’t like Stephen King ( Yes I heard those gasps)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(Rowling)- see 11
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien) Hated the spiders in the wood loved the trolls
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Marte)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) –
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)

30. Tuesdays with Morrie(Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert) – Great Series although I don’t like the ones by the son as much. I loved his White Death
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) -
34. 1984 (Orwell) Classic from school
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)-
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)

37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay) Had a lot of trouble dozing off through most of this one.
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible -. I like the newer translations better than the King James
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) Could not put it down was fascinated with the extra details.
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) –50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)

55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)- See 11
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)-
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy) zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice) –
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving) the second strangest book I’ve ever read.
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) -
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck) –
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind) –
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)

87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth(Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
is there a junior high that doesn’t teach this book?
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)
101. Jurassic Park –
102. Learn Me Good

Two authors that I wish were here somewhere Chris Stasheff – I consider his Wizard in Spite of Himself a true classic of fantasy fiction, and Rick Cook, mainly pulp type fantasy fiction but I love his blend of computers and magic.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Deal with the Savages

I've been thinking a lot lately about the problems I have with my 8th graders, who are a somewhat unique group when it comes to technology. They've grown up with technology and they all really like to use it, which is par for the course. But when it comes to learning something new or using a new tool they are very resistant. If they haven't done it before they really do not want to do anything new. What this means is they love to listen to music and take pictures with the camera, but they don't like having to organize pictures into a video or write out a script. They also have no clue towards most technology vocabulary, even stuff I know they've been using since 6th grade in my class. There are a few kids that have web access of their own at home who are classic digital natives, but the rest are basically clueless about most web technologies, and they don't want to learn how to use it.
I guess its more a sub-culture thing because they can't interact (web wise) except at school. They tend to be more like people who were not born into technology. When I taught classes 10 years ago to other teachers on how to use Office or the Web they would act a lot like this. If they had never done it they would resist trying to learn it and need step by step help, but the second time we did something they would take to it really well with a minimum of help needed, even though it was a new task.
I've taken to following a three step procedure with my 8th graders whenever we try something new:
1st I show them a PowerPoint and explain how to use the program.
2nd We show them previously done examples and "play" with the program/tool.
3rd We give them a quickie assignment that is simple and easy to succeed with. This "quickie" will probably take two to three days while they become comfortable with the program. After doing those three things, then and only then, will they be ready to proceed with the task I really wanted for them to learn/perform. Of course it takes a lot of time to get them through these steps. But I have found I can't take any shortcuts with them without a huge amount of whining and giving up.
Do other people find they have to do this with people that are not 'comfortable' with learning the new technologies? I wonder what steps other trainers have found to succeed.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ranting on the Perils of NCLB

Talk about left hand and right hand not knowing what they are doing. Three years ago I had to fill out a survey questionairre to determine if I was "highly qualified" in the subject that I teach. One week after filling it out and sending it in I was told I had not sent it and I had to do it again. This time I walked it downtown and was shuttled from one board office to another until finally I got to the one lady who was keeping the questionairres to find out: "Oh, I have the other questionairre I just haven't processed it because Technology teachers can't be "highly qualified" in Kansas. There are no state standards in Technology." Apparently that is a requirement before you can be highly qualified.
Now three years later, my principal gets a memo that I have "failed to fill out the paperwork to be "highly qualified" and I must attend a mandatory meeting at 7:15 downtown to be shown how to complete the paperwork correctly. Meanwhile the state still has no standards and most of the other teachers on the "Corrective Non-compliance List" are in the same boat I am. They are the other Technology teachers.
What is the deal? Do these administrators not understand why "highly qualified" can't be reached? Why do they react like we are slime trying to crawl under the radar?(I was offended by the tone of the memo) Nothing has changed or my subject coordinator would have been all over it having us fill out the paperwork. (He's great about doing that stuff). I'm going to have to write up lesson plans for 1st hour (there is no way the meeting will get done and I'll be back before class starts)and fill out a bunch of paperwork that will end up being put on a shelf because it can't be processed because the state doesnt' have standards for the area I teach. If these administrators don't know this when they are "in charge" of this matter then why are they in charge?
I know I'm raging against the machine, but It's been an exhausting week and next week is even more of the same. I just hosted my school's chess tournament, (which went very well because I had wonderful help). Special ed and ESOL started testing this week for the KSCA's (state level tests) using my room during my planning period. Next week the rest of the school starts the KSCA's and I'm teaching technology in a regular classroom while they use my lab for testing. I'm dealing with it! But this memo is a flashpoint moment. I don't need some administrator acting like I haven't done my job and setting up a meeting to tell me to do it right when its already been done and it's all for nothing because there are no standards to be highly qualified in! (more raving)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Random Thoughts

Between basketball games, parent conferences, secret Valentine's, and all sorts of other stuff I haven't had a lot of time to get much done. I'm the type of person who works on something, then works on something else, then comes back and finishes the 1st thing. Lately, there has been a whole lot of something elses all come up and no coming back to finish. My desk is looking like the bottom of a California mud slide with paper talus instead of mud. Its actually covered my LCD projector. I had a list of things to get done but it was buried about Tuesday and I haven't been able to excavate that far down. How does the shortest month of the year generate the most paperwork? This happens to me every Feb.
New thought. (It was the Feb. that triggered it.)We have finally had a true winter this year. It seems that for the last fifteen years we have a couple of very cold days maybe one bad storm and a few dustings and then a bunch of days of 60, 70, or 80 degree weather. It's a bad enough problem that when I went to buy a coat in November the best I could find was a lined windbreaker, nothing for a true winter. I wonder if the stores will stock something good next year. I have yet to see a true coat on any of my students this year either. There is one here at school but he is not in my class. Most of my kids just wear hoodies and whine about being cold. When I was in Jr. High I wore a parka and sweated to death half the time. Go figure.
Back to the orginal thought. I found my desk calender and changed it from Tuesday to Thursday and actually saw some desktop when I picked it up. Maybe there is hope. Time to put on the hard hat, bring in the backhoe, and get to work.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Musings on the Future

Where to start? I have read so many blogs lately that talk about David Warlick (2 cents Worth) and Web 2.0/School 2.0. So many ideas tumbling around without the peices coming together, they look and sound like they might fit, but I just can't seem to fit the right match to each peice of the jigsaw puzzle. Is it because I haven't been able to see all the peices? Since I do most of my reading at school some of the links, especially to social networking sites (myspace) and photo sites like flickr, are blocked so I don't really know what they do except in a general way. Or is it because the frame of my puzzle is my 'new' curriculum, which is really ten years old with new updated software. Could it be that the new Web tools don't truly fit well with the older ideas? Some of them, like wikis and blogs, I can see putting in to the curriculum like a animation cell going over a photograph. They add new meaning and a slightly different purpose to what was their before. Would this be enough? Are the curricular tasks and goals enough? A lot of what I read about preparing learners for the future makes me think, No this is not enough. I feel like I'm preparing them for the recent past, not for their future.
While I was comfortable and training people, students and staff, for operating with purchased software and using the Internet (what I have come to know now as the Read only Web 1.0) the rest of the world trotted on and is creating itself anew. Last October, a door opened and I glimpsed this new world I had never seen or thought about before. I like the taste of this new world, the feel I get whenever I try to test the waters. But this is taking me off into a new direction and my school district would prefer I follow the old path. If I choose to go the new direction I will have to take the curriculum and use the new tools to meet the goals. This sounds and looks doable until I start thinking about the obstacles that I have to find a way around; the filtering policy, the district's trend of everyone doing the same thing at the same time so that students that are transient don't have any difficulties stepping into a different classroom. Following the goals using the new tools would be a parallel path not an identical one. What to do? The district path is easier and comfortable, the new world, the world of Web 2.0, of online tools, of Creative Commons, feels and sounds enticing. I see the results of these tools where ever I look outside of school. Now that I know they exist I can spot them, they are no longer blurred images in the window as I drive by, unrecognized and unknown. I can see the new path and it seems to follow the Real world, the world outside of school better than the old path I was on. The powers that be have not looked through the door like I have, or they have glimpsed and continued on.
The peices keep moving over and around each other. I pick up one that looks like it will fit, but when I try it its close but something just doesn't let it match to the frame. I can't leave the frame there is no way that would work. How do I get these new peices to work the way I need to make them work. This is going to take a lot of time, thinking, and experimentation. I just can't stop thinking about the puzzle, I know the answer is there, I just need to find that key peice that links the puzzle frame to the Web 2.0 center. Where is it? What is it?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Copyright Wonderings

Lately these days copyright issues have been occupying my mind quite a bit and this morning I got off onto a side track. When did copyright start up? Long, long ago (about the time I started school if you ask my students) an author would write a scroll and if you had a copy, purchased from or given by the author, you would commission a scribe to copy that scroll for you. Sometimes that commission's price would include letting the scribe make their own personal copy that they would then be able to make copies from. Unless you were buying from the original author none of that money ever made it back to the author. Author's were supported by a patron or their own personal finances.
It had to be sometime after the printing press was invented and the scribe evolved into the publisher. Now the author would take the book into the publisher and pay to have it published, the publisher would make multiple copies and either give them to the author to sell, or more commonly, sell them and send the author a share of the proceedings. Protecting this share must be the origin of copyright issues. How and why did this get turned around? What happened to build the 'system' we built today? I think this would be interesting to know. How did a bard's songs that were loved so much they were remembered and sung by the audience evolve to the mp3 copy of today? That would make an interesting show on the Discovery channel I would think.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Blog Comments Away

Well, my second group of students have all had their first taste of blogs. My seventh grade at G Wiz 7, my eighth grade at G Wiz 8. I wrote the post and they all wrote comments. Between district policies and the way Blogger2 works I haven't figured out a system where they can write the posts themselves. I'll work something out, but I wanted to get them started slowly. I'm hoping that as they read their comments and comments from others it will motivate them to get better at writing. I have had two students that have already rewritten what their comment contained after they looked at it online; now if I could just figure out how to delete a comment without deleting the blog post.
Its gone very well. I've tried to not censure them for their writing, but we have talked about do's and don'ts. Some of them don't really write a lot and it showed in what they wrote. Strangely enough some of the comments I'm happiest about are the worst ones; in grammar and length. Some of my students that never would write more than a one word answer to an essay question actually wrote sentences. The spelling may be wrong, but this is a big step in their performance. Writing for the Internet may have motivated them just enough to write, something they wouldn't do for me on paper.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hitting the Wall

I knew it would happen eventually and now it has. I've hit a wall, well actually two walls really. I've picked up all these new Web 2.0 tools and have been trying to use them in my technology class. Mainly this has been experimentation with my students being voluntary test subjects. But I've picked up so many tools I can't decide what to try next and I'm forgetting some of them before I get a chance to use them. So I'm hitting a wall of not enough time.
I'm also hitting another wall with trying to find a way to introduce these ideas to my students (who are stuck just understanding Web 1.0) They love the tools, especially after they've used them a couple of times, but they don't visualize the concepts on what this can do for them. They see it as a tool in class not in life. Part of this is only one in three of my students have Internet/computer access at home.
Normally hitting the wall just means I need some time to let the ideas simmer at the back of my brain, then after a while everything pops into place. But new ideas keep popping up and I don't have the time to simmer, ergo frustration city. I'm not happy with the fact that things are going past me that I want and I catch on to them, test them, figure out how to use them, and teach them without being overwhelmed by other choices. I've got twenty-five cents and I'm loose in the candy store with too many choices. Or to follow through with the simmering, I've got four burners on the stove and seven pots to cook in, what to do, what to do, what to do.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Well the new term has started and I've been using the PowerPoints and screencasts that I prepared to make sure my students had some prior knowledge before we started doing an assignment. I post them as I create them on the class website.Mixed results so far, I found out I need to slow down the speed of the PowerPoints so they can read them better. I guess I overestimated their reading ability. I didn't get all of the screencasts made that I want so I am still working on that. Sometimes I worry that I am doing overkill, but since my students last semester didn't have any prior knowledge to build upon I've tried to prepare for anything they need. I'm looking forward to the first video project that they do. Some of the kids take it seriously, some don't, but that's normal in any class. If they can get through the first project without a lot of problems then I'll feel successful.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Old dog learning new tricks

Isn't it amazing how sometimes when you try something new, something you expect to fail and blow up in your face, but you try it and are stunned by how well it works. Today I tried something I had never done before with my eighth graders. Instead of standing up and going orally over three "important" PowerPoints we needed to cover at the start of class I gave them the option of looking at them on their own. I know that sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially with a group that can be talkative and hyper at the drop of a hat. But it worked!! Of course I offered a big carrot, earphones, after a small discussion of responsiblity they could listen to music while they watched the PowerPoints on their own and give me a paragraph summary of each in Microsoft Word, (Same document). I had read some blogs about how a way to increase student learning was to enable students with choices and I thought I would try this with my 8th graders. Am I Suprised! Not only did they get busy and spend most of the time actually watching the PowerPoints and writing their summaries, but I had some students that I know are not the best readers actually ask me about some words (something they had never done in the past.)I kept an eye on the class everyone was staying on task working on the job and almost all of them got two of the three PowerPoints done in one day. If I had done it orally we would have completed one a day barely. Skimming some of the summaries that they wrote,the summaries are better than what I would get the old way too. All it took was linking the PowerPoints to my website and some 99 cent earphones, go figure. The more activities I pick up from reading the blogs online the more excited I get. My classroom is evolving and I l-i-k-e it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Wisdom and Learning

After discovering the MIT OpenCourseWare website and trying to share my excitement about freely accessing all this college level knowledge, I came to a disappointing conclusion. Even though my peers are teachers, my passion for learning things for the sake of knowing them makes me weird. I really would have thought that they could get excited about the idea of taking college course for free, even though there would be no records aside from the knowledge you would learn. I was wrong. It seemed to me this would be learning in its purest form, just for the sake of knowing. I never stopped to think the others would not put it that high on their list of things they truly desired.
After the abrupt letdown of making this discovery, I was thinking about how I define learning, wisdom, and intelligence; and what is learning's most essential components. Wisdom, in my definition, is not just the accumulation of knowledge, but being able to apply that knowledge to a problem or circumstance in a positive way. You can know everything possible about a thing. However, if you can't do anything but rattle it off verbatim, it doesn't seem to be very wise, after all that's trivia, thus trivial.
My three essentials for Learning, in order of importance, are 1. Prior Knowledge 2. Desire to learn 3. Intelligence. I sure many would disagree with my order so let me explain.

Number 1: Prior Knowledge
In my years of teaching <26> I have had classes that were all advanced kids, remedial kids, and of course the normal heterogeneous mix. I have found no matter how smart I thought the group, if they didn't have any prior knowledge of what I was trying to teach, even if it was a somewhat simple task for me, they would struggle and I was in for a very long day. Last semester I actually had a group that had so little prior knowledge about making commercials it took me weeks to get them to where they could put together a video on their own. No vocabulary, no knowledge of the parts of a commercial, how to sell a product, or what a script was; in their minds, commercials were just short little movies for entertainment. Until you give them something they can relate to in their own life, that they can build on it makes no difference how much they want to do it or how smart they are, you are going to have problems getting them to learn.

Number 2: Desire to Learn
Any teacher that has had their own class has known a student who wasn't the brightest light, but would always produce the best work, but not the highest test scores on your exams. It wasn't because they were smart as much as the fact they worked their butts off to succeed. These students had a desire to learn that brought them to success in learning. The same teacher can also name a student who had all the potential in the world, but had no desire to learn in their class and so failed the course. Not because they were stupid, but they made no effort to learn because they didn't want to know.

Number 3: Intelligence
Long ago, when I was getting my first degree at KSU, there was a professor who impressed me so much I took every course he taught. His name was Tom Parish and he had a definition for Intelligence that is the best I have heard in any class, then or since. Intelligence is a measure of the speed you assimilate knowledge. Even after I finished school and started teaching this always has seemed to be a great definition. When multiple intelligence research came out it made even more sense to me. My brother who struggled to make B's in school, has always been able to look at a machine or device, take it apart, and put it back together correctly. While I, who glided through school with A's, have to have a manual with an exploded view or I can't figure out squat. You can have someone who has an extremely high IQ and they do things that are incredibly stupid. Normally this is because they didn't have the prior knowledge they needed and they just tried something only to have it blow up in their face.

Intelligent people with the desire to learn will pick up the knowledge they need for understanding quickly, and then pull even, or surpass the others with the head start of a large prior knowledge base, but they have to accumulate some prior knowledge first, or they don't succeed, no matter how hard they try. Thus I rank them in this order. I would be interested in finding out what others think.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Wow! I had read other bloggers when they talked about the thrill students got from other people writing comments on their blogs and thought to myself, "That'd be cool for my kids." But when I was reading Nancy White's Full Circle Online Interaction Blog and saw her quote from my blog, Whooosh! That was a major thrill, I was so pumped up I couldn't sit still long enough to type a response. Thank You Nancy. While I was walking the adrenaline off, I couldn't wait to set up class blogs for my students for this new semester. I wanted them to feel the rush and excitement. It was nothing like what I expected, it was better. As I was talking to some other teachers about my excitement, they got excited and wanted to create a school-wide blog so we sat down and came up with a topic and then got busy setting up that blog. What was really neat was the group I was with runs the gamut of kids for our school, normal classroom, AVID (college prep), and a special ed teacher (who actually was even more excited about the school blog idea than I was). It's interesting how a little spark at just the right time becomes a flame, let's just hope its perpetual, not a flash fire. More about the school blog later.