Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Have You Told Them Thanks Yet?

Image from here 

Today with 15 minutes left before the end of the day, as my students were packing their things, writing in their assignment notebook, I cleared my throat and told them I would like to make an announcement.  With 23 sets of eyes on me, all waiting for something cool to come out of my mouth, I stammered, "I would like to tell you something..."  Silence.  I kept going, "Every day, I tell my husband when he asks about my day about you.  Every day I tell my husband how I have the nicest kids, the kids that make me so proud.  I share the funny stories, the things you accomplish and the community we share.  Every day I tell him that.  But I don't tell you and I should.  So thank you for being that class that I can tell people about.  Thank you for being that class where I can step out of the room for a moment and know that you continue to work without me there.  For helping each other, for staying engaged and focused and for thinking school is not boring."    And then I stopped because I got emotional as pregnant women tend to do.  And the kids smiled and I told them it was time to go and so they did.

Have you taken the time to tell your students how they make you feel?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Your Child's Teacher; Who Cares What Parents Think?

Image from here

Yesterday I fired my OB.  The uneasy feeling every time I saw him could not be dismissed and I figured now was better than later.  His lack of concern for my well-being, his nonchalant attitude about having twins, his lack of communication all led to this decision and after I made it, I was relieved.  Sure I have to start with a brand-new OB at 16 weeks, but I think it is worth it.  So why do I share this bit of info?  Because I couldn't stop thinking about how much it had to do with the role a teacher plays in a child's life.  In fact, a child's teacher is one of the only things we have absolutely no say in as parents, one of the only areas in our life we are left without a voice.

In America, a child is assigned a classroom teacher at the elementary level and that teacher is the biggest educational influence that year.  Parents have usually no say in who that teacher is and have to place their faith in the hands of the previous grade level teachers and the principal.  Sure they can ask for a placement but I wonder how many principals actually honor it?  Now don't get me wrong, I can understand why every single parent doesn't get to pick their teacher -talk about a popularity contest - but still, shouldn't there be room for some sort of input?  After all, that teacher can make or break the future of this child's education and ultimate fulfillment in life.

Most of the time the placement of the child works seamlessly and there are no parent complaints, but sometimes it fails.  Sometimes the teacher's style of teaching, of communicating, of caring for that child flies in the face of what the parent believes in and that uneasy feeling crops up.  Sometimes a principal is involved, sometimes, the parent just sucks it up and hopes for a better one next year.  But is this right?  Should parents have to wait a whole year to get to a new teacher?  Shouldn't they be able to have a say in what type of teacher their child gets at the very least?  The type of nurturer and mind-shaper they think will benefit their child.

I think one of our downfalls in our schools is that we think we are the only child-experts.  That because we have taught for  amount of years we know what is best for children even if a parent doesn't agree.  I think that needs to change.  We need to allow parent input in placement, ask them about communication style, about homework and classroom management, ask them what type of environment their child will flourish in and then place that child accordingly.  Don't make it about the teacher; make it about the child and allow for choice in this sacred cow of the American school system.  I fired my OB, why can't parents at least decide who gets hired for their child?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Surprise; The Biggest Obstacle in The Classroom Isn't Your Students

Image from here 

Nor is it what happens to them outside of the classroom... it is you.  Perhaps a simplistic view of the world but think about it for a moment; how much does our mood affect the moods of our students?  How much does our body movement, our choice of words and even our inflection affect those we are surrounded by?  And that doesn't even mention the choices we make as far as how the classroom is run and what type of curriculum we teach.  So while there are many outside factors that do play a significant role in how a student performs in school, the one consistent factor is you and how you choose to be with your students.

Every day you have control over:
  • The expression on your face
  • The tone of your voice
  • The words you use
  • Your body  language and its hidden signals
  • Who you give attention to
  • How you give attention
  • How do you get attention
  • How much control you cling to
  • The respect you give
  • How you speak to other people in front of your students
  • How disruptions and unexpected events are handled
  • How curriculum is taught
  • How much choice your students have
  • How you handle students who fail to meet expectations
  • How you handle students who are distracted
  • Anything that has to do with the flow of your classroom
And the list could continue.  Think about all those choices.  Think about the effect each one of them can possibly have on a student and then think of what you can change.  We do have a lot of power.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yes It Is All About the Children But It Also Has To Be About the Teachers


I agree that education is all about the children, after all, they are the ones we serve, both as individuals and as communities.  Those children we send into our educational system, whether it be public, private or home schooled are indeed what a great education is about.  But at some point we gave up our dignity as educators.  We got so infatuated with believing that it is all for the children that we forgot that we need decent work environments to sustain us.  That we need to be a little bit about ourselves as well.

The quickest retort to any educator who stands up and fights for change is "You are against the children."  We are not allowed as teachers to ask for better pay, because some believe that the money will then be taken away from the students.  We are not allowed to ask for respect in a profession that gives little otherwise, because teachers are public servants funded by the tax payers and we should just be happy that we have a job.  We are not allowed to point out that we do work more than 8 to 3 every day and most of us do not get the summers off because that doesn't fit with the box that society has created for us as lazy, indulgent, and taking an easy job.  But most of all, we are not allowed to say that yes, indeed, it is about the children, but it is also about the teachers.

As teachers we cannot be all about the children if we do not have work environments that support and nurture us.  Communities that rally around us.  Governments willing to pay us a better wage.  If we fight for change we must not be for the children, but instead selfish and demanding.  However, those children that we all serve, deserve to have teachers that don't need to work an extra job on top of the 60 hours many of us put in.  Teachers that do not spend their own money on extra supplies because otherwise the students will suffer.  Teachers that are respected because they do make it all about the children.  So yes, I agree, education is all about the children but it also about those teachers that prop them up to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Females Shouldn't Be Principals and Other Idiotic Statements Overheard in Education

Not too long ago I heard someone (a female someone) say that they were not sure that a female principal would make a good fit at an elementary school.  Now mind you, this wasn't any particular female principal, just the general notion that females really don't have a place running a school.  When I probed a little deeper there seemed to be a notion that with all these female teachers that tend to flock to elementary levels (5 years old through 11 years old) there is a need for a strong male to keep us all in line.  After I picked my jaw off the floor I went home and could not stop thinking about it.

So I present to you the arguments I have come across when I hear negative talk of female principals running a school:

  • Women are ruled by their emotions and we all know how women get when they have PMS.
  • Women tend to cause more drama, not able to distinguish between fairness and friendship.
  • All those women in a school need a strong male role model to be ruled by.
  • All those boys in our schools need a strong role model to look up to it.
  • Women may be good at organizing but they are much too nice to make hard decisions.
  • Demanding parents will be able to run a female principal right over.

And this isn't a single person voicing these opinions; this is permeated into the general school culture.  Why else do we not hear these types of blanket statements made about male principals?  What is holding all of us organized, fair, capable women back from being principals?  Are we just too nice to hold a position of power or will our emotions truly get the better of us?  Please enlighten me so we can stop the nonsense.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

It Is Not About the Gadgets - Why Every Teacher Should Have to Integrate Tech Into Their Classroom

Image from here 

I once sat on an interview committee in which the candidate p[proudly proclaimed that to integrate technology her students would use word processors and publish their work in a monthly book.  My toes instantly curled.  It wasn't so much that she had used the words "word processor" but rather that she thought tech integration meant to have students type on a computer and then publish their work, that that would make them ready for this century of jobs.  So a couple of things come to mind whenever we discuss tech integration in schools.
  • Students have often more seamlessly integrated technology into their lives than their teachers and didn't even need to take a class on it.  
  • We chalk this up to them being digital natives or because they have an interest in it.  Yet not all children are digital natives and most of them have had role models that show how to use the technology.  They also know that tech is valuable and can add to their lives rather than detract from something else.  
  • Some teachers assume that clicking on a SmartBoard or having students type their papers mean that they are "integrating" tech.  This is one very limited usage of tech, in fact, it doesn't really count as integration.  True integration is when a student decides to film a video to show whet they have learned rather than create a poster.  True integration is when students have ideas and fearlessness to use technology to show their learning as a natural extension of the classroom.  Not to type a paper.  
  • There seems to be no urgency when it comes to actual technology integration into the classroom, but more of an urgency on how to buy the flashiest gadgets and then offer limited training or support.  How often do we hear about a district that has spent too much money on 30 SmartBoards, 100 iPads and how they will be placed in the hands of the students to enhance their learning?  How often do we then hear about the support they will offer their teachers or how those products will actually be used to enhance learning?  There seems to be an assumption that if you give they will use it effectively, which we all know is not true.  Some teachers might, but most will use it superficially and after a while the product will languish, unused, outdated, and just another relic of someone's hastily thought out idea.
  • Some teachers feel that integrating technology is optional.  Integrating technology is no more optional than teaching how to use a pencil.  And while many may find that extreme, we cannot equip our students with the skills they need to be successful learners and teachers without teaching them to use technology properly.  Many schools see typing as a necessity but then cannot bring that view into how to stay safe on the internet, how to search properly on a computer and myriads of other things that technology can offer us.  How to use computers effectively is now a life-skill and as teachers it is our job to equip students with these.
  • Teachers who have been labeled "techie" teachers are sometimes viewed as a one-trick pony, that is all they are passionate about and therefore they cannot possibly have an effective classroom.  I certainly am one of the techie-teachers in my classroom but many are surprised at how little we use tech on a day to day basis.  That is not to say we don't use it, because we do, but we also do many other things.  In fact, using a tech tool is just one option my students have to show their learning.  What I do practice is fearlessness in tech usage and that I pass on to my students.  Not that they always need to use some sort of tool, we use our pencils more than a computer, but that they can effectively use whatever whenever they need to.
  • Teachers think they have a choice in their classroom.  I am sorry but the choice should not be teachers' anymore; every school should have an effective technology integration curriculum to offer students the skills they need.  We do not have a choice in teaching literacy or math and should not be given one when it comes to technology.  This is not about what WE want the kids to know but what the KIDS need to know.
And I am sure I could continue the list, however, these are my main concerns.  We cannot afford to not focus on proper technology integration in our schools.  It is not about the gadgets, it is not about the typing, it is how to use technology tools fearlessly, respectfully, and effectively.  All things every teachers should be teaching, no excuses.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Teach a Child to Blog...Common Concerns with Student Blogging Answered

You teach a child to blog and the whole world opens up to them.  And yet, with that whole wide world comes a whole lot of responsibility.  Some of the more frequent questions I receive is how I keep my students safe when they blog, how do I prevent cyber bullying, and how do I convince parents that this is worthwhile.  While I may not have all of the answers or any quick fix solutions, I do have a lot of passion for this.

First things first; student safety is paramount.  I use Kidblog for this reason.  It allows me to control who sees our posts, who comments, and also how open I want our account to be.  But I don't just give students their account information...there is a lot of preparation before then:
  • We talk at length about blogging, why it is important to us, why it is a privilege.  
  • We visit other student blogs and we discuss whether we agree with their posts, with their etiquette and we decide how we want to represent ourselves.  
  • We discuss what constitutes an actual blog post and what we share with the world.  We discuss the difference between Edmodo and Kidblog, and there are many.
  • I show them scary videos of giving out information on the internet to strangers, we discuss how the Internet is like the mall.  
  • We talk, reflect and then have further discussions before we even do our first mouse click.  we create a paper blog to get a feel for commenting and I show my own blog to show them the power of blogging.  
  • And this isn't an only at the beginning of the year conversation, it is an always conversation. We always discuss safety, we always practice it, and we remind each other whenever need be.
Then there is the ugly reality of cyber bullying, and yes we face it head on and battle it.  I have never had another child bully a classmate through blogging.  They revere it too much.  That is not to say that all of my students love each other, they don't, they are 10 years olds, but they do respect each other.  And I think that is the most important ingredient to prevent cyber-bullying; respect.  We respect each other, and the differences we may have.  We respect the privilege that it is to have a blog, to have a voice to the world.  We discuss how this is a big deal and how we would never want to hurt someone purposely or even shine ourselves in that light.  There is no anonymity on our blog, I make sure of that, and the students would have to sign their name to any comment that they leave.  While they may not always get a long we still have a sense of community that we work hard on achieving and maintaining from the very first moment we are together.  I love my students as if they were my own kids and I think they feel that we are a family.  That feeling takes us far.

Finally, the apprehension of parents.  I have been incredibly lucky with my parent support but I have also worked hard for that.  I have been completely transparent with the purpose and scope of our blogging.  I have shown them examples and the direction in which I want to take the students.  The communication is paramount to the success.  I am not trying to exploit the works or thoughts of their children, and I am not bringing them into danger.  They know I work hard to keep them safe and I think many of them appreciate the inherent internet safety message that these students embrace.  But there is an opt out; blogging is not mandatory, nor is it part of their trimester report card grades.  I have never had anyone take the option, they hear about it before they come to my room, and it is highlight for many.  Parents understand that and I think they love seeing their child's thoughts on so many times, their growth as a writer, and  how their child is handling the responsibility.

Student blogging has changed the way I view my students and their voice.  It is now an essential part of our classroom, our community, and of our curriculum.  We revere, we tame it, and we use it properly; sometimes for fun and sometimes for serious study.  There is no one solution to everything but there are several ingredients that have to be present if student blogging should be successful; respect, communication, transparency, and expectations.  With those in place you will go far.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You Know Those Kids in 5th, They Become Those Kids in 6th...

My 5th grade team met with some of the 6th grade team at the middle school, one of those rare occurrences where everyone's schedule just meshes and you finally get to sit down and discuss expectations.  Hallelujah!  While the whole meeting was a gem to be a part of, one thing that struck me was that the kids who are struggling in elementary are the kids that end up struggling in middle school.  Simple conclusion, yes, but think about the impact of that...

Those kids who have problems handing in work, or don't know how to ask for help, or who sit back and wait for someone else to figure it out, they keep doing it in middle school.  Those kids who don't show up to school, or show up with half of their things, who seem unaffected when we ask where their work is, or why they didn't finish something.  Who horse around, who get in trouble at the blink of an eye, those kids that the whole school seems to know.  Sure ,those kids come to us like that in 5th, much like they came to their teachers in 4th the same way, and yet I wonder; what are we doing to change their habits?

The age old system of losing recess, docking points for late assignments, a stern talking to, parent phone calls, and drill and kill don't seem to be putting these kids on a different path.  Neither does compassion and community, showing that you care and giving them extra time.  We don't seem to be having many eureka moments.  So what can we change?  How can we intervene differently?  How can we stop the cycle?  That's what I left wondering after today.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Found 8 Students on Facebook...

It finally happened; in a passing conversation my principal mentioned Facebook and one of our students.  Curious I jumped onto my account typed in the name and there it was; his profile for the whole world to see.  No protection, no privacy, but all the information you could want about this 10 year old kid.  I noticed he had more than 800 friends and so I scrolled through and sure enough about 8 more of our 5th graders showed up and even some 4th and 3rd graders.  Yes, I felt like a creepy stalker but also I couldn't help but think why hadn't anyone taught them about their privacy settings?  I shouldn't be able to see his pictures, his walls, his friends

This post is not to debate the merits of Facebook.  I think a lot of 5th graders are on there, whether they should be or not.  It is to discuss how we are not able to teach them the safety lessons they need when we stick our head in the sand and pretend they are not.  I have written about it before and it continues to irk me.  As a school we do internet safety, sure, which mainly teaches the kids how scary the Internet is, instead of devoting our time to teaching them how to use the internet properly.

Now some may argue that it really is the job of a parent, but with Facebook changing its privacy policy more times than I change shoes, can you blame them if they are as confused as their kids?  So I propose that we as teachers figure out a way to teach the safety and proper privacy policy of Facebook.  Maybe not in younger grades than 5th although my searching found 8 year olds on there, but there needs to be some sort of open discussion.  There needs to be some sort of acknowledgement that these young kids are on there and that we need to teach them to do it right.

I have used Edmodo with my students and my students are probably more internet savvy than most other 4th or 5th graders.  And while I like Edmodo one drawback is that my students don't have control over their own settings.  I set it all up so that they are protected.  I decide what they can post and who they can post to.  Edmodo is a step yes, but it is not enough simply because it is not the wide-open world of Facebook  We don't expect kids to learn how to drive by keeping them on a bumper-padded closed course either?  Instead, we take them into the real world and navigate it with them, we need to do that with Facebook.  Facebook comes with such immense responsibility; why are we skirting ours when it comes to teaching safety?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is Blogging Worth Our Time?

In June 2010 I started to blog, a journey I will not bore you with here.  Since then I have updated my blog, now blogs, almost on a daily basis, letting my thoughts, mistakes and achievements flow freely.  Most of it here has been education related with snippets of my personal life shining through.  The change in my life has been dramatic from the smallest things such as constantly thinking about whether I can blog about something or not, to large things like the time I have dedicated (thus losing it other places), the connections I have made, the conversations I have been engaged in and even the criticism I have faced from strangers and friends alike.  So I wonder whether it is worth it?

Is blogging and baring your soul really worth it to anyone?  Can we outweigh the negatives, the backlashes we may create in our professional lives all in the name of transparency?  Can we say the time spent blogging has been worth it when I look at my daughter and see how she seems to be growing in front of me?  The self-doubt created on whether I made my mind clear or if I just said something I shouldn't have?  The scrutiny faced by others when we put it all out there?  Is it all worth it?

I started to blog because I needed to reflect on my journey as a changing educator, I blog now to keep myself honest, to reach others, to connect, and to perhaps change education.  But am I really doing that? Is my investment worth it?  Or are the goals too lofty? Can we really change education by blogging about it?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10 Easy Things You Can Change in Your Classroom Today

Let's be honest, most teachers at the halfway point in the year are feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the great ideas they want to implement.  Our students are grooving, perhaps even getting a little too rambunctious, the routines are in place and yet it seems like there are so many things on our plate.  So I present to you 10 simple things to change to make your life a little easier....
  1. Assign jobs.  I have jobs for everything and they change weekly.  My students take attendance, pass back papers, run messages and help pick up the classroom.  They love to help, they know it is expected, and together we take care of our room.  I don't have to hound people to do their jobs, at most I give them a reminder but it is a lot easier for me to say "Do your job" than remind 23 students to sign in every day.
  2. Be on a need to know basis.  My students don't need to ask for permission to go to the bathroom or get a drink, just let me know either through a raised hand, a look or a gesture.  Class keeps going, students take care of themselves, everybody is happy.
  3. Have extras.  This year has been the needy year for markers and calculators.  Instead of asking whether they can borrow something students just grab whatever they need, put it back when they are done.  If they accidentally take it home, so be it.  I will have to find more then.
  4. If you can, plan right away.  After my morning math class my students leave for recess.  I take that opportunity to finish correcting fact tests and plan the next day's lessons.  This works much better for me since what they are secure in or not is fresh in my mind.  The next morning the lesson is ready to go and we are picking up right where we left off, reveiwing, securing and deepening our knowledge.
  5. Keep a Google Calendar.  On our classroom blog we have a Google calendar where I put everything related to the classroom as soon as I know.  If I am gone from the classroom, it's on there, if we have a large project due it is on there.  Parents know I update it faithfully and go there to answer their questions regarding upcoming events.  This has cut back on a lot of confusion and questions from everyone, plus I refer to it in later years.
  6. In fact, have a classroom blog.  Our blog is our hub of activity; upcoming events, extra project information, pictures, videos - all have a home on our classroom blog.  The students post there sometimes, I post often, and parents have a place where they can go for the information they need.  I showcase it on orientation and encourage them to add it to an RSS feed or get the email updates, this has cut back paper copies by a huge amount.
  7. Ask your students.  This has to be my mantra for our classroom.  Winter is here, colds are all around us and I am pregnant - all reasons that lead to less creativity in lesson planning.  Yet my students are still amzingly creative and have no problem sharing their ideas.  The problem lies in that we forget to ask.  So take 10 minutes at the beginning of a lesson and ask them what they would like to explore, what would they like to create and then actually listen to their ideas.  I promise you, you will not be dissapointed.  (And yes it can fit into your standards and goals no problem - those don't dictate the path you take).
  8. Dance a little.  This time of year can be rather depressing, particularly with winter in Wisconsin, so to bring in a little bit of fun and a little bit of sun, we take 4 minutes to dance.  The students pick the song (I usually check the lyrics) and then we crank it up.  We get back to work right after with a smile on our face and tensions gone.
  9. Ask your papers where they want to go.  I used to have a very strict organizational system that required me to do a lot of thinking of where I put things.  I cannot tell you how much time I spent trying to remember where I had organized something to.  So one summer I decided to let my papers tell me where they wanted to go.  Those places now have trays in them for said papers and everything is in its place.  By letting your subconscious mind create your organizational system, things seems to stay organized.
  10. Follow the one minute rule.  I am a procrastinator when it comes to filing or dropping things off.  It seems like I always have something more urgent to do than to take care of whatever I have in my hand.  So now I live by the 1 minute rule; if it can be done in 1 minute, do it right away!  My room is cleaner, my emails are more quickly answered, and I feel on top of things.  I even do this at home, what a difference it makes in a home with a toddler!
So there you are; 10 easy things you can do right now to, indeed, make your life easier.  Do you have mroe to add, please do share.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

5 Steps to Letting Go and Learning More

Yesterday I had the wonderful privilege to give a webinar for SimpleK12 on the topic of student centered learning.  I am not an expert on this topic, far from it, but I am someone who has done it by following her own instincts and now can marvel at the classroom I get to be a part of.  The webinar was very short and we had a lot of questions, the biggest one being, "How do I get started?"  So here are the first 5 steps I took to give my students more control:

  1. Search your heart.  Before you let go of certain aspects of the classroom you have to figure out what you can live with.  Can you live with more noise?  More movement?  More conversation?  Someone asked me if it was a lot more work to teach in a student-centered classroom to which I answered no, it is the same amount of work as I put in before but now I do it in school rather than outside of it.  If you cannot handle more noise you may want to dig a little deeper and try to figure out why, it may be that you fear students will goof off or get off task, which yes that still happens but much less frequently.  If they are engaged they will work.
  2. Tell the kids why.  Too often we make decisions and never tell students what led us to those decisions.  Every year I start out with a discussion of why our classroom is the way it is and how I envision it to run.  I set high expectations for my students who are always surprised at the environment and I let them ask questions.  One thing that inevitably comes up is whether they can earn rewards (nope) so I politely discuss why they should not expect that from me.  That also includes limited homework (if they work hard in school I don't need to take up their time outside of school), no letter grades except for on report cards (we have conversations and feedback instead), and no punishment (no lost recesses here most of the time).
  3. Then let them talk. I tell the students this is our room and that they need to decide what type of learning environment they want to be a part of.  This conversation is totally student-run, they brainstorm in small groups and then share their results.  They do not post a list of rules or even vote.  We discuss, decide and then move on to bigger things.  Throughout the year we re-visit our expectations and tweak them if we have to.  The level of responsibility and buy-in to the classroom immediately increases without me having to beg for it.
  4. I challenge them.  Every year, I have some sort of team challenge right after they have set the rules to see whether they can figure out how to work together.  This year it was the amazing Bloxes challenge that brought my students together and got them excited.  Throughout the year we do mini-challenges to continue working on teamwork and expectations for the classroom. Different students step up as leaders, again without my direction, and they share the success of the challenge together.  And challenges doesn't have to be anything crazy, it can be to give them an extra science lesson to explore whatever they want.  Teachers think there is no time for this sort of thing but there is, because our engagement level is higher we get through our curriculum quicker which gives us time to explore.  The biggest time waster in a classroom is usually the teacher talking at the students - how much do you really need to talk?
  5. I ask the kids.  No single thing is more important in our classroom than the voice of the students.  How do they want to learn something, how can we improve, what are we missing?   All of these questions pop up on a regular basis and they add so much to our curriculum.  I know what the goals of learning need to be but the students can certainly work on how we will get there.  Even at an elementary level these kids have incredible ideas and methods for covering curriculum thus getting natural buy-in (no carrot and stick needed) and increasing their enthusiasm for school.
This is how I get started in my classroom every year.  I didn't read a book that told me to do these things, instead I asked, "Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?"  That answer is now a resounding yes!  We do a lot of hands-on learning, student-led exploration, and try to keep school fun no matter what we are doing.  I love coming to school, I love my students, and I am proud of what they accomplish every day.  


Saturday, February 4, 2012

All Hail the Rambunctious Girls - What Will Ever Come of Them?

"Mommy, mommy help...." Thea is hiding in the house and has managed to get herself stuck.  I free her and off she runs; things to do, mommy, things to do.  I look at my little girl, the picture of energy, rambunctiousness, and vitality and I wonder what will school do to her?

At her daycare now she is one of few girls.  She plays with the boys, which suits her perfectly as she likes to climb, explore, and run around.  She also likes to read books and play with dolls but only sometimes.  Most of the time she is on the go, unstoppable, invincible and always headed for adventure.  She is not good at sitting still and being spoken to.  She sometimes wants to help but it does not come natural to her. And yet in two years when she enters school she is expected to embrace quietness, helpfulness, and eagerness to please much like any other girl in our society.  And if she doesn't, she will be flagged.

We speak of how our school system fails boys, much like Josh Stumpenhorst just did in his excellent post, and yet we forget that by making these statements we push girls into the subservient roles we expect of them.  Our traditional classrooms call for quiet compliance and buy-in to whatever we propose.  Girls are trained quicker to fit this pattern than boys.  From an early age society expects girls to be selective with their words, complacent, and eager to help others.  We expect them to do their homework on time, to do whatever we ask of them and to give us whatever we need.  We don't think girls will mind when we take away recess, or when we suggest quiet reading time rather than an activity.  We don't think girls will mind always being the ones we ask for help, mind that they are the ones tasked with mothering other students, mind that we have them so far squeezed into a role that we do  not understand when they fight it.

And yet, Thea is not that girl, and I love her for it.  I see myself in her and I see her personality as a great thing.  She is not one to be quiet, she is nice yes, but she would rather be outside than sit and wait for someone to tell her what to do.  She has ideas, grand ones, filled with ambitious building and tearing down.  There is no plan, she is not meticulous in her details and perhaps she never will be.  How will she fit into the traditional role of a girl?  How will she cope with the pressures to conform that we all place on her.  Boys are not ever viewed as being naughty when they are loud, they are just being boys.  But girls are undisciplined, unruly, when they buck against the traditional role.  Girls confuse us when they don't sit quietly and say please and thank you.  We have such high expectations for our daughters and our female students but maybe we should reevaluate them and stop thinking that all girls are naturally compliant.  Perhaps instead we should wait and see how they turn out and then embrace their personality. Let them be wild, let them be loud, let them be free.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Do High-tech Gadgets Improve Learning - What a Dumb Question

I love Time For Kids; this magazine invokes deep discussion in my classroom, it lets the kid explore career opportunities and it delivers news to us every week.  This week's blaring headline was "Technology Takeover...Schools Nationwide Are Using Technology to Teach Lessons.  But Do High-Tech Gadgets Improve Learning?"  At which I immediately scribbled on a post-it - what a dumb question!

Dumb because the gadget has nothing to do with the learning.  Dumb because any new thing introduced to a classroom could be considered a "gadget" which makes it sound not quite serious, not quite ready to be used by students properly.  Dumb because it has nothing to do with the access to a new tool but rather how you use it.  In fact, you could change this headline to truly show its idiocy thus "Do Paper and Pencils Improve Learning?"  Well no, not really, but how you use them do!  We have all witnessed classrooms where paper and pencils do nothing to enhance the out-dated instruction being lectured.  Many of us have rebelled against the stale classroom by bringing in technology tools to connect our students with the world, to give them the tools they need to succeed, while still using paper and pencils.  So no high-tech gadgets do not improve learning but how you use them can.

Yet this question keeps popping up in media and school conversations.  Can tech gadgets really improve learning or is it all a rueful ploy orchestrated by Apple and its minions to get us to spend more money on it?  Should we be getting rid of textbooks in favor of iPads, will students ever use paper and pencils again, what will becomes of this generation?  Magazines discuss these topics as if technology means a farewell to everything else we hold dear, to everything else we know and trust.  But it doesn't.  Technology adds (if used properly!), technology deepens, and it can enhance.  That can lead to improved learning but only if the facilitator uses it right.  Like with anything else we bring into a classroom, we determine whether it is worth it, or whether it should be forgotten.  We must embrace the future but that the tools of it will be the magic pill.  A poor instructor remains a poor instructor with or without the technology.


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