Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Today, our assembly was a science assembly. It was loud and exciting. The presenter was enthusiastic and engaging. And the students were totally enthralled by every minute. But I observed something interesting with them.
You see, in our classroom, Christine and I work to make sure that all of our students know how to be active learners. They are expected to do what they need to do in order to stay focused, be productive, and remain engaged. That means that they sometimes move around the room. Sometimes they grab a laptop in the middle of a lesson. Sometimes they get reference books or a Franklin Speller. There are fidget toys and highlighters, a Relaxation Station and a water fountain. Whatever they need to do to learn, they do. Without asking. Without disturbing everyone else. Without making a scene.
So back to the assembly. There we are, sitting in the gym with the rest of the fourth and fifth graders. We got into the room last so we were sitting in the back. And once the assembly began, the children began to take care of themselves. Some of them moved to the very back and knelt so they could see. Some students actually stood in the back of the room. Two students were video taping the whole assembly so they were moving around the edge of the room throughout the presentation. One student ran back to the room for his glasses. Two students started a very quiet conversation about energy while they were learning. I am sitting behind all of the students watching. And I am feeling proud. They are engaged. They are excited. They are learning. And they are doing what they need to do without disturbing the other students or the presenter. And then I saw the shocked faces of the other teachers in the room. And I realized that our students no longer fit into the "school mold."
We have gotten our students to be active learners. We have taught them the importance of advocating for their education. But now we are going to send them off to middle school where there might be teachers who find their behavior insubordinate. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. Do we stop teaching them to learn, regardless of what it takes? Do we spend the rest of the year teaching them to fit back into the "school mold"? Or do we just hope that they can teach their teachers next year that, just because they are standing in the back of the room or playing with a fidget toy, does not mean they are not learning? What do you think?
Images: 'Guess the shape'
Sunday, March 8, 2009
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a local tri-state area conference called The Celebration of Teaching and Learning. This conference, which takes place in Manhattan, is run by our local PBS station, Channel 13/WNET, WLIW21. It has major sponsorship in Chase, National Education Association, New York State United Teachers, SMART Technologies, and United Federation of Teachers. They describe themselves this way:
"What is the Celebration of Teaching & Learning? One prominent educator has dubbed it the “World’s Fair of Education.” We try to make it the place where the best thinkers and practitioners come together to play a role in shaping the future of schools. From that perspective, then, the Celebration is where knowledge meets inspiration."
This is my third year attending. In past years I have had the honor of hearing Al Gore, Tim Russert, Margaret Spelling, Majora Carter, Jean Michel Cousteau, and Jane Goodall, to name a few. I have also learned from Will Richardson, Alan November, David Warlick, and many other people from the educational technology arena.
So this year I was quite excited to attend. And to add to my enthusiasm, I was able to share the conference with Christine Southard, Karen Janowski, Ann Oro, and some other school colleagues. Always makes a conference more exciting to share.
Here are some of my highlights from the conference.
The Electric Company:
It's back and it's catchy. While the cast entertained us, a little girl of about 9 sat in front of us singing all the songs and bopping to the music. It obviously reached her.
"Quit, Complain or Innovate"
Marco showed us how using GarageBand to create songs can visually demonstrate fractions to the students. I really must get a Mac for my classroom.
- "The student is either the recipient of information or the producer of information. Let's make them the producers."
- "Video is a tool for liberation."
- "Ask yourself, 'What is an educated person?' and strive to teach to that."
- "Nouns vs. Verbs - The Thing vs. The Purpose of the Thing - Teach Verbs not Nouns"
Sir Kenneth Robinson
"How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything"
At our second plenary session, Sir Kenneth blew me away. He has such an entertaining way of delivering a message. If you haven't seen his TedTalk yet, you must. This speech hit me so hard we did our Conversations show all about it this week. Look for it on ettconversations.blogspot.com.
- "Schools are killing creativity."
- "Start making teaching creativity most important."
- "Our students use technology differently than we do and it's time to start understanding how." (The example he gave for this was wearing a watch. Children don't wear watches because the time is all around them - phones, IPods, tv, computers, etc.)
Governer David Patterson
He was a last minute addition to the schedule. His speech was given totally from memory.
"Developing Strengths and Abilities in People on the Autism Spectrum"
- "Use the obsession children with autism have and expand that obsession to expand their horizons." (The example she gave was take an obsession with drawing horses and expand it to drawing the barn and the other animals and...)
- "There needs to be much more emphasis on developing a child's area of strength instead of just hammering away at the deficits."
Yes, seeing Winnie Cooper from the Wonder Years was exciting. But she has written math resource books aimed at middle school girls and she has a powerful message for them. Check out Math Doesn't Suck and Kiss My Math.
- "Smart is sexy."
- "One teacher is all it takes to turn a child around."
- "We don't see beautiful girls as math experts. We need to be aware of our stereotypes of the math nerd in order to bring girls into the math world."
Bill Gates, Sr.
He spoke about the need to equalize education.
- "Prepare every child for college, even if they choose not to go."
- "Bring collaboration into the school setting so teachers and administrators can work together to help each child succeed."
- "Be a learner in your classroom. Show the children you are interested in learning."
- "Enjoy what you do."
Other Big Excitement from the Conference
- I am a shameless fan of famous people. I didn't really know that about myself but I had two (yes two) conversations with Meredith Brokaw (Tom's wife). She's a lovely, gracious lady who willingly talked with me. I am still excited by that. I also spoke with Neil Shapiro, Danica McKellar, and Marco Torres. Be still my heart.
- Christine and I got to spend time with Ann Oro (first time meeting f2f), Karen Janowksi, and Lucy Gray. Saturday was a great lunch.
- Each plenary session started with an Adobe Youth Voices video. Love those videos.
- Our students came on Saturday. We won The Chase Multimedia in the Classroom Award so they got tickets to come. They heard Temple Grandin, got their picture taken for the Google Blog, and were generally excited by the whole event. This was a day they will never forget.
- I met some other twitter friends. I love meeting people face to face.
All in all, this conference was eye opening, reaffirming, exciting. I highly recommend it to all next year. Even though it is run by a NYS PBS station, it is open to everyone. In fact, we were told there were people from all 50 states of the United States and some provinces in Canada. Hopefully, I will see you there next year.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
But last week, I got so excited by one conversation we had that I was determined to blog about it so it could be saved for posterity. Or at least saved for longer than it takes to walk from my car to my classroom. So here is the great thinking.
Christine and I have worked together for over three years. But three years ago we really began the transformation of our classroom. It was three years ago that we learned about Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, rss feeds, and delicious. And it was then that we began to spread our wings. So how have we transformed?