Sunday, April 29, 2012

We Need a New Curriculum

I have been reading a lot these past few weeks, both on my Kindle (2) and my iPad (2).  Both devices have their advantageous.  I like the feel of the Kindle however, I have a very nice leather cover for it, so that could bias my thoughts,  although the Kindle battery lasts much longer.  Of course the Kindle does not have color so that is probably why it lasts longer.

But then the iPad is easy to read in low light conditions because of the back lighting--which of course, means that the battery lasts for about ten hours at best. It's okay as long as I remember to plug it in in the evening to be ready the next day.  The advantage seems to go to the iPad in that it can do more then be a reading device.  But reading is what I do most of the time.

Before I share what I am reading on the devices, you might be interested in knowing that I still buy books, paperbacks and hardcopies.  I just bought a book of poetry by Joseph Green, entitled, That Thread Still Connecting Us.  Joe is an old friend and a much deeper thinker and observer of life then I am.  While I am not a great reader of poetry I do find Joe's poetry thought provoking.  He makes me think.

And then I bought a paperback copy of Betty Friedan's The Fountain of Age. The interesting part of this book is that it is signed by the author, Betty, herself.  Well, that's not the only interesting thing about this copy--I bought it for one cent.  Brand new for one penny.  With postage I paid under four bucks.  The internet is a fascinating place.  Some bookstore wanted to clear some shelves and sold me a book for one cent.  I had a hardcopy of this book once upon a time but I must have lent it out to someone.  For those who are contemplating retirement, this is a must read.  For those having sleeping problems it probably also could be helpful.  It's mostly about research and those that prosper in retirement.  I couldn't get either of those books on e-books.

But then I was given the book, Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson.  I have a fondness for Apple products so I am looking forward to discovering much information about Mr. Jobs. I may report back to you on this reading.

The Steve Jobs book was given to me for a recent birthday--I'm approaching my eighties in age so I went out to learn about growing older by buying the book by Anna Quindlen, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.  It is some reflections about growing older and feeling comfortable about oneself.  I could use some advice in this area.  

Along with these books I am still reading The Dyslexic Advantage and finding it uplifting, valuable and comforting.  You mean there are others like me with the same problems?  I do wish I had read this book many years ago except it was only recently written.  We know so much more about people and kids who have this learning difference.  A couple of years ago I would have written, learning problems.  Perhaps it is not a learning problem but a teaching problem.  How should we teach kids who have dyslexia?  

I have given up on several books--I use to think it a sin not to finish a book but in recent years I don't have the time to struggle through and I am feeling better with putting some books aside.  The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  I suspect that I am not a good enough philosopher to follow Mr. Taleb's thoughts and have gotten lost too many times even with re-reading of sections so I have put this book aside. 

Another book I have decided to forego for the moment is Sherry Turkle's Alone Together.  Why we expect more from Technology and Less from Each Other.  It is a wonderful book and Ms. Turkle is one of my favorite sociologist but unfortunately for both of us I think the world is changing the goal posts too fast.  Her definition of robots may be a bit old and a new definition may be needed.  My iPad is a robot of sorts.  It does things for me, reminds me of what I need to do each day, keeps track of information that I will need and a host of other things that could be considered robotique behavior.  So I have reluctantly put her book down.....well, actually I have swiped it into my iCloud.  Isn't that a kick?  I now can keep things in a cloud somewhere.  To retrieve at a moment's notice, a finger tip retrieval.  It just boggles my mind.

Which is why I have titled this blog, We Need A New Curriculum.  What we are teaching in the schools in many places is old fashion, knowledge of little worth.  I have thought at different times about what I have learned that I don't use anymore or that that knowledge has become archaic.  I know how to clean and use Rapidograph pens for graphic work but for my needs present day drawing apps do the job as well.....and I don't have to clean those pen points.  I'm a happy man but it is a skill that I have no need for.

I won't bore you with other examples of knowledge that have become obsolete in my mind but I do wonder about the residue of such knowledge--does it change my mind?  What happens to all that knowledge that i don't use?  Is its only result is to make me feel old?  Perhaps.  How do we decide what is important to our society and what should we be teaching our kids?  I think John Dewey is right--that we have to impart our learnings to the young so that they can continue moving on.  But perhaps that is why the young sometimes think that we seniors don't know anything.  Anna Quindlen writes about what she wants to impart to her children who already have different values and needs.  So... does needs predict the curriculum?  

I am raising these questions in my mind just for me but I am asking you for assistance.  As I plug along with my ipad I wonder what the kids are using them for.  I would like to have some iPads rewired (reprogramed?) so that I could keep track of some young students as to what they use the iPads for, where do they go on the web, how are they using the information instead of learning it?  

In a way I have a humorous vision in my head as I remember teaching geography to my fifth grade many years ago.  But imagine if you will that my students had the latest iPhone 4S in their pockets at that time.  I stand in the front of the room in front of a flip chart map of the United States and I ask the students in my class, "Point out Washington, DC, the other Washington."  I can visualize  half the class pulling out their phones and saying, "Siri, Where is Washington DC?" and Siri responds by saying, "Here is Washington DC" and a map appears with a pin point sticking out of a map. The fast kids in class will swoosh smaller the map and raise their hand knowing that it is on the east coast.  My kids would have done that--it was not cheating, it was knowing how learn something.

So should that be our curriculum?  Learning how to Learn?  We learn what we need to learn?  I can see the American Legion getting upset if we don't learn all the wars?  As a teacher can I have the kids Google each war?  Or do they have to read about it in the textbook?  

As a senior, an elder, I am learning much on my idevisces. I have a new way to check my navigation on my small sailboat.  But I can also swipe that chart on my iPad and see things that were not on my paper charts.  It's a new day.   Some schools are already using the Khan Academy material in their classrooms instead of a textbook.  I wish I were teaching again just to try this procedure in my classroom.  I bet some kids are moving right alone and having fun at the same time.  I can see myself being a learning coach, not a sage on the stage as some see us.  

I can imagine a private school where the middle school students all have iPads and the teacher is saying, "Take out your iPads and find the intersection that has the most accidents in our city.  Then tweet to your learning partner and discuss how you would improve that intersection to make it safer.  When you are happy with your answer, e-mail me your answer with supporting data.  Tweet me if you have a problem.  Understood?  Good."  

Oh my, I would love to be in that classroom.  I think John Dewey would like it as well.

And thanks to those teachers graduating with teaching certificates that know how to use all the new technology in the classroom.  We need you!  And thanks for being a teacher.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ready for the downbeat?

As is happening all around this county teachers are being laid off because of budget restraints.  The classes keep getting larger and larger.  In one city the entire high school faculty were let go for not having improved student scores.  It turned out that this high school had only eighty-six students--but it was an alternative school for kids who couldn't exist in a regular high school.  "Okay, send in the next squad of teachers."  Sad.

However, there was a local story in the news of a teacher who alleged choked a student and hit him in the face.  Please note the word "alleged" in that previous sentence.  But I found it interesting that all the news outlets had headlines saying 'teacher chokes student'.  However, when reading further into the some find that the students who observed this altercation didn't see it as a choking, rather a pushing to get two students apart that had been disrupting the class.  And once again, this happening happened in an alternative high school for students who have difficulty working in our society.  Interesting story--I wonder how it will come out and exactly what is the real story here.

So while I mused (I like the word, 'muse'.  It has a nice sound and covers a lot of ground like thinking, contemplating, meditating and reflecting--if you go back to the old English definitions it also includes 'time wasting.'  Yes, I like muse and I did a lot of musing about this story.  I thought about students who disrupt class and care not a wig for the rest of the people in the class.  I've had some of these types of students both in the grade school and in college.  And then a thought stuck me--I've never had a disruptive student in band or choir.  Interesting.

Okay, some philosophic garble for a moment.  One of the most fundamental questions you can ask yourself in philosophy is......Are we an individual or are we a member of a group, society?  Can individuals get along by themselves or do we have to work with others to succeed?  This question of individual or group is basic to how we think.  It directs our basic behavior and thought.   So what do you believe?  Are we individuals or are we a social animal?

I struggled with this question for many years looking for evidence on both sides of the question.  However, I finally came to the conclusion which is satisfactory for me only that we are a social animal.  We need each other to survive. But once again I caution you--this is my answer, not yours.

You can see the struggle in our society almost every day.  At the moment it is clear to see republicans are in the individual camp while democrats are in the sociality camp.  While I taught grade school it was interesting to see how my parents responded to comments about their child.  I had some parents who liked what I was doing and would reinforce the same values at home as I was doing in the classroom.  We (the parents and I) worked more like a team to help the kids.  But there were other parents who thought otherwise about working as a team.  I know I wrote already about the father who came to pick up his son (one of my students) to go get a haircut in the middle of the day.  Different set of values.

So I suspect you will not be at all surprised that I have been musing about people in our society that shoot other people, who are mad because someone cut them off on the freeway, who refuse to pay taxes for various reasons and some in my own neighborhood that post 'no trespassing' signs.  

Now as a teacher I have to respect those that see themselves as individuals.  But I also have to teach them how to get along with others so they can be themselves.  Does this make sense?  Regardless of what we think we have to get along.  I have to stop at a stop light, pull over for emergency vehicles, and park between the white lines even if I feel that I am unique and am not dependent upon others.  So as a teacher I still have to teach cooperation.

And this is the root of my thinking today.  Because of the major emphasis on No Child Left Behind, we (us teachers) have been working hard to improve kids scores on these tests.  Not a major problem in the rich and successful communities but a major problem in the low rent districts.  But this type of teaching is a bit of a problem.  I have to get my kids to learn this material and EACH kid has to know it to score higher on the test.  And... the kids can't work together to learn this material because they will be tested individually.  Where or what can I teach that will promote working together even for those in the individual camp?  And it struck me--this is why we have to teach music in the schools.  

When I was teaching Band, I never had a discipline problem.  It is rather hard to talk to your neighbor (which was happening that got the teacher accused of choking a student), pass a note, make faces when you are blowing a trumpet..or a clarinet.  If the kids that day were being disruptive in band, all I had to do was say, "Okay now, upper left, ready for the downbeat?" and then I'd wave my arms and they would all start playing.  Each student is playing his/her part in the music but also listening to the others as to speed, volume, attack (on the notes).  

"French Horns, you need to play that part together, same volume with the bells up, you need for your horns to sing.  You've got the most beautiful melody at this point--let me hear you sing!"   

"Okay, band, once again from the top and listen for the horns." I remember something like this last go around once with a beginners band and to have the kids play the selection properly was not only fun but to listen to the kids when THEY knew they had done it right.  The horn players were delighted with themselves but the whole band was happy to have put together something that sounded good.  It was a group effort but it took individuals to do it.  Music is one subject that we can teach in our schools that provides much more then just learning notes and sounds.  

There will be those that say that the same thing can be said about sports.  Everyone has to work together to form a team.  Yes, I can agree but the problem with sports is that it is competitive. The end result is wining.  Work together to win.  And I may be rather biased at this point but not all students like to compete.  I see too many girls sitting watching the game.  

Whereas in bands, choirs, glee clubs students are learning a subject (music) while  also learning to work together as a unit.  It is a value that is valuable in our society whether you be in the individual camp or the social animal camp.

I'm also delighted to see two shows on television that are honoring music--Glee and Smash.  I haven't seen this in a long while--most have been action shows or mystery shows.  Nice to see Glee and Smash being popular.  

So that is my point--we need to teach music, both instrumental and choral in our schools.  Perhaps if we did there would be less violence, less disruptive behavior and more cooperation and understanding of the 'other' whoever they may be.  

This is my idea, my theory.  Someone needs to do some research and see if those schools who teach music have less negative problems in the schools.  Too many other factors that might influence the results but it would be a start.

And to all those music teachers who are still teaching in special school districts, my thanks.  You do an amazing job getting beautiful music from kids and teaching them something also valuable.  Getting along.