Wednesday, May 23, 2012

It's the Merry Month of May

My apologies to all the readers.   I have had difficulties in accessing my own blog to publish new material.  It seems with the addition of the new iPad and trying to connect my iPhone, iPad and computer so they would talk to each other I had to change account names and passwords.  I've gotten so frustrated that on several occasions I have shut down the system to try again another day.  Today I won.

Now to the merry month of May.  If you have never taught in the public and I suspect private schools (K-12) you will understand that beginning in May the students start looking forward to summer vacation, the end of school, summer camp, seeing grandma, no homework and a vast amount of other thoughts.  The old saying, "No more school.  No more books.  No more teacher's dirty looks," is very apt.

I remember although it was many years ago Jo Tyllia telling me to teach everything by Thanksgiving and then review.  I thought she was crazy and didn't pay much attention.  But she was correct--you teach how to learn, how to write your papers, how to turn in assignments, and all the details of "doing" learning and then as the year progressive as a teacher you just plug in the subjects.  It is more difficult then it sounds.  But by May the students know you well and have learned how to "press your buttons" as well and discipline in the classroom breaks down.  

I doubt if any one class could take honors in "loosing their cool."  Even the bands and choral groups, once they had given their spring concert found it hard to look at new music and preparing for the next year was impossible.  It was time to pass out music that was fun and different.  If I were teaching music now, today, I would have pass out some R & R stuff--easy stuff but which they could play LOUD.  For the choral groups, some music from GLEE.  Maybe I could bring in a parent who could teach the choral groups some new dance steps.  Yeah!

But still my point is that May and June, until the end of school, is a difficult time to teach.  Saying, "take out your social studies text" or "who has their assignment ready for the class," doesn't excite the learning nerves.  They are jaded at this point.

I know of one high school civic teacher who every year brings in guest speakers such as the mayor, a city council person, someone from each of the political parties.  She says that just having a different face up in front of the room helps keeps their attention.  And indeed some learning is accomplished.  Another high school teacher of English does improvisations of plots they have study during the year.  The kids really enjoy this part and I have heard a few high school students say they try to take Ms. Smith in the spring just for this part of her class.  

Grade school teachers as well have to come up with new ideas to keep their student's attention.  I wonder what some of my old colleagues are doing now with the advent of computers in the classroom.  I know I would be having some "search" questions for my students to do....'when you are done with your assignments'.  You can't stop teaching to the curriculum and standards have to be met but there are various ways to motivate students.

But I have another point to make today.  I see evidence of this problem in the local and national news, that of school administrators who are also getting tired and looking forward to not having students around for a while.  Case in point, a middle school administrator called one parent and said, "please come and pick up your daughter--she is not dress appropriately for school."  Oh, dear!  Two weeks to go and the daughter is sitting in the principal's office.  The picture of the girl was posted in another blog by the mother (who happens to be a journalist) and I could find nothing inappropriate.  But to be fair perhaps the school had a school uniform, I don't know.

The there was the young boy who had his haircut designed with the face of his favorite sport figure on the back of his head.  He was expelled from school and I suppose he might be allowed back if he shaved his head.  This case baffles me.  I've seen many students in school with....shall we say....interesting hairdos?  I for one as a teacher is not going call a parent and say their student needs a better haircut.  'Tis a puzzlement.

This is my opinion but it seems to me that we are having more and more black and white decisions in the schools.  A child does something and they are expelled.  They say something and they are expelled.  They wear something and they are expelled.  In some cases a teacher has said something and she/he is put on administrative leave.  There are no hearings that make the paper or the news, just the end result of expulsion or administrative leave.  Perhaps the administration needs a break as well from the stress of teaching and learning....and administrating.   It's the merry month of May.

Hang in there, teachers.  Thanks for making it this far.  Only a few weeks to go.  Suck it in and give it your all.  And..again, Thanks for this year.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

New Ways of Teaching

I opened my iPad the other day intent upon learning or relearning some mathematics.  I was in one of those moods where if I learned something new I would feel better about myself.  I had just finished Anna Quindlen's  Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake,  a book about life after fifty, perhaps, even about growing older.  Having just had a birthday (79) I was feeling a bit down in the dumps about my self and Quindlen's last chapter didn't help me much.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  So I decided I would learn something that I had forgotten or perhaps learn something new.

In a different tack entirely, a friend of mine, Kaitlyn Cole,  sent me a web site (blog) that was reviewing twelve schools that were using the Khan Academy learning materials with what seems like some success.  Here, you can read it too.  Take a moment to visit some of these school(s) and districts.  You have to be impressed.  One of the things that struck me from this blog was the fact that someone in each of these schools or districts has a good sense of the use of technology overall.  Their web sites are well done, inviting parents to participate and the sites are easily traveled.  In most of them I found references to Google apps and videos to help students complete their work and assignments.  How cool is that?  In any of these twelve schools, if a parent wanted to get involved with their children's education all they had to do was get on-line and check in.  

Most of the schools seemed affluent or they were at least in communities that were supportive of the instruction.  One school had forty percent of its population getting free lunch but was still showing increases in test scores.  Pardon me while I ramble a bit--isn't it interesting that we now classify a school or a district by how many kids they have to feed, with the higher number indicating a poorer school while in Finland, ALL students get a hot meal at noon and their schools seem to be doing a better job of preparing kids for life in the real world.  

Still having enough computers or pads (regardless of the brand) for the students to use has to be an expense for the school district.  Can the kids take the iPads home?  Insurance?  To my friend, Ms Cole, we need a blog on how one district is using the Khan Academy and how much do the parents get involved.  Interviews with teachers, parents and students would be helpful.  And here is a tough question, what are the objectives?  Where do they want to go?

However, the twelve schools mentioned seem to be on the right track and making positive use of the internet with material from the Khan Academy.  Which brings me to my experiences of wanting to learn or re-learn something to make me feel better. Now remember, I wasn't feeling very positive about myself at this time.  As a teacher I knew that I should do something that had a high success rate.  Success breeds success--you have heard that from me over many blogs.

So I elected to tap the Show Me Interactive Whiteboard by Easel app.  It came up quickly on my iPad but only in the landscape position.  If you hold your iPad in the upright position we call this the portrait position as appose to the landscape position.  Just want to be sure all of you are with me on this.  Show Me comes up in landscape and gave me a selection of general subject areas starting with Math, science, languages, English, Social Studies and General.  Within these general areas are further categories for you to choose.  I chose Algebra.

Now why did I do that?  I haven't used algebra in years--my last use was in navigational plotting of a sailboat going past a point of land to determine how far off we stood.  By the time I calculated the distance we were long past that point of land.  But that was a time before GPS.  Today I measure the same distance in a moment on my chart screen and think nothing of it.  I have to admit I haven't used what knowledge I gained about algebra in years.  In this instance I was not smart.  But ever onward and upward they say.  I picked a lesson in the pre-algebra category entitled "Roots you need to know."  It's a quick summary of certain roots one should know before starting into algebra....except I didn't even know my roots either genetically or mathematically.  The young voice spoke to me like I knew what she was saying, saying essentially "..there were some roots that I was just going to have to know."  And then she went on with the assumption that what she was saying made sense.  

I found it interesting after a while to realize my old phobias of arithmetic and mathematics could still take a strong hold on me even at my advanced age.  They were familiar tightening of the chest, worried feelings and some sweating of the palms.  Didn't know that could still happen.  And yet, I was in charge.  I could turn off the iPad or better yet, switch to a book that I was enjoying.  But let's reflect for the moment.  What I needed was a good teacher at that moment.  Someone with mathematical knowledge to know where I should start....and it wasn't in "roots you need to know".  Somewhere further back, Roman numerals perhaps.  In stone.

For kicks I decided to see what advance algebra would look like--maybe roots would look easier.  I picked Factorization of Polynomials.  The person explaining how to do this algebraic function didn't mention roots at all.  Maybe i could skip them if they weren't going to be used in the factorization of whatever.

My point, gentle reader, is that I still need an arithmetic teacher to guide me upon this new learning curve.  Where should I start.  I scanned the arithmetic page and found a featured teaching lesson on Imaginary numbers.  Yes, this might be the right place.  Imaginary numbers...

There are several teachers who sometimes follow this thread that are math teachers and I hope they will not feel disrespected in any way.  What I am trying to get is that having the Khan Academy or Show Me apps on your ipad or your computer is not the end all in learning.  We still need teachers who understand where imaginary numbers or specific roots fit into the landscape of learning.  

Good teaching starts with a description of where the learner is to go, what is to be achieved, what the end result will be.  For most of us teachers it is called the objective.  Perhaps this objective can be divided into tasks that once we mastered those tasks we will have achieve our objective.  But good teaching has a third component--an acknowledgement of achievement.  A pat on the back.

Look at it this way.  (1) Here is what I am going to teach you.  (2) Now I am teaching you.  (3) This is what you have learned.  In the medical profession there is a saying in learning to do an operation that goes like this:   See one, do one, teach one.  A little scary but perhaps it fits.

If I had a summary point to all what I have just written it would be that we need to know "What Knowledge is of most Worth."  What should we teach our children?  What do they need to know.  

I think we are approaching a significant crossroads in education.  There is so much to learn, maybe even too much.  Anna Quinden says that so much of what she learned is not true or it is obsolete now.  As we approach the end of our lives some of us oldsters are saying, "Now hold on.  Is this important to a quality of life?"  I think it might behove the Gates Foundation to maybe explore some possible curriculums which might include some of the Khan material.  At least it would give school districts some 'objectives' to shoot for.  But it will have to be, in the final way, what parents want for their children.  We need to pass on the knowledge that is of most importance so they may do more then we did.  

It appears this is already happening--there is this kid out there on the internet that know more about 'roots' then I do.

My thanks to my mathematics teachers who must have had their hands full with me.  However, I seem to have survived and have used math to solve my problems.  Thanks all.