Friday, January 18, 2013

Allow Teachers the Chance to Be Excellent

Everybody wants excellent teachers.  Parents want their kids to have the best teachers, politicians claim to want teachers to be excellent, communities want their schools to have excellent teachers, and teachers themselves want to be excellent at what they do.  Regardless of how we feel about how to reach this goal, the desire for excellent teachers seems to be a universal desire.

Every teacher certification program spends time teaching us Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  (I used the term 'teacher certification program' and not 'teacher preparation program' because I'm not familiar with what gets cut when 4 year college programs get squeezed into crash-course 5-week teacher prep programs like those offered by Teach For America.)  It's widely accepted that people cannot reach the higher levels of the Hierarchy without having their needs met at the lower levels.  We're taught this so that we can help our students learn.  Students who are hungry, sleep-deprived, unhealthy, etc. cannot learn until those needs are met.

Yesterday I was reminded of Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs by this Tweet from R. Turner:

Teacher basic needs

The answer is obvious. Teachers, just like any other people, cannot be effective at anything without having their basic needs met.  I got thinking about Maslow, his Hierarchy and how it relates to teachers in today's education culture.

When we look at the Hierarchy, the qualities we find in excellent teachers like creativity, problem-solving, and lack of prejudice (objectivity) are all found at the top.  In order to reach that top teachers must have the needs below them met.

As we look at the needs below the top, we start to see some of the things that the reform movement of the last decade has targeted: teacher job security, respect of the teaching profession, resources available to teachers in schools.  It's clear that teachers are incapable of reaching their full potential without these necessities. 

The question we've got to ask then is, "What is the purpose of this reform movement?"  Either those pushing for these reforms believe that excellent teaching does not include objectivity, problem-solving, and creativity, or there is a motive other than excellent teaching behind their policies. 

Either way, we need to look in a different direction if we are to provide our students with the excellent education they deserve. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

First Grade #anyqs Cookie Eating Contest

This morning I got asked by one of the first grade teachers in my building if I would be willing to come into her classroom and teach a math lesson.  After hearing me talk about the need to step away from our textbooks, have more math discussion, and encourage students to develop the questions, she wanted to see what that would look like in first grade.  Of course, I happily accepted.

Immediately I started brainstorming how I could put together an #anyqs type video that was simple enough to bring about first grade discussion on addition and subtraction.  It's not often that I get the chance to work with our younger elementary students in the classroom.  The last time was over 10 years ago.  I don't remember much about that lesson on measurement other than making one student cry when I told him to stop sticking his measuring tape up his nose.

I enlisted the help of my wife, son, and daughter.  My wife held the video camera and let us borrow two plates of cookies that she baked for her high-school science classes. (We did eat a few of them before giving them back, but it was for a good cause.)  My kids played starring roles.

Here's what I came up with:

I'll pause it a few times during the lesson to see if we can get some good mathematical discussion going.

Let me know what you think.  Any changes you'd suggest?  I've done a ton of this type of lesson w/ my fifth graders before, but this is my first shot at doing it in the primary grades.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I'm Not an EdTech Guy

I'm often referred to as a "tech guy" or an "ed-tech guy" in my building.  I use a lot of technology in my class.  My 5h grade students maintain a class wiki, blog regularly, use web 2.0 tools on a daily basis, create podcasts and videos, network with each other on Edmodo, and spend plenty of class time working on-line.
Image:  twobee/

But I am not an ed-tech guy.

I don't spend much time planning on how to integrate technology into my classroom any more.  There was a time when I did.  I was an ed-tech guy then.  I'd take my kids to the computer lab and teach them how to use web 2.0 tools for the sake of using 21st century technology.

Now, I just share the tools that are needed for my students to learn and share their learning with others.  The technology isn't the focus any more.  It's just the way things are done in the 21st century.  We don't spend time planning how electricity can be incorporated into our lessons.  It's just there if we need it.  Technology needs to be the same way.

Last week one of my students came to me and proudly showed off two new origami animals he invented.  I was really impressed and told him that he should draw step-by-step directions to share.  I told him he could probably sell such a book if he created a few more animals.  His creations were really good.  He told me that he would rather make a video because he'd be much better at explaining things verbally.

That's when I showed him how to use the digital camera we have to shoot video, upload to MyBrainShark, and embed the video in his blog.

During the same day, I had a few students who were researching important events in the history of manned flight.  They were drawing a timeline by hand in one of the student's notebooks with the events on it.  They asked me to borrow one of our digital cameras in order to take a picture of it to post on the wiki when they finished.  That's when I took them over to a free computer and introduced them to TimeToast and XTimeline.

When we get right down to it, learning hasn't changed in the 21st Century.  Collaboration, investigation, trial and error, getting feedback from others, and all of the other great ways that we learn are still great ways to learn- just like they were when Plato was learning from Socrates.

How we are able to do those things has changed, and that's where we need to adapt as teachers in order to prepare our students for the world in which they are going to be living.  But our attention still needs to be on the learning and not on the technology.

So, please stop calling me an ed-tech guy.  That's not my focus.

I'm a learning guy who helps my students navigate the world in which they are living.