Thursday, September 29, 2011

Parties that don’t know each other

One thing was very apparent from EdCampSFBay, people have extremely high hopes for the future of technology and education.

Either that or they were totally na├»ve.  Part of that is because tech people were at a conference with teachers. 

I got the same feeling at the first District Technology Meeting only it wasn’t necessarily bright and cheery because the money clearly shows that iPads are not coming to a classroom near you in Ukiah.  In fact, simple wi-fi seems to be years away at Ukiah High School.  Funding is clearly preventing technological progress within Ukiah Unified, although that’s not what I gathered most from the meeting.

What resounded with me more than anything was the assumption that teachers know tech.  With districts pushing technology more and more I’m finding that teachers that have not grown up with it are not necessarily finding it as acceptable as many might think.  It’s not only new, it’s time consuming, sometimes unreliable, and often “trendy”.  And while those of us who grew up with technology have no problem adjusting to the culture surrounding technology, some who don’t constantly work with it create a cost/benefit mentality that veers into the negative, which in turn makes any implementation more difficult.  Teachers want to know how to make their classrooms more efficient, not trendy.  They want stuff that works all the time.  Working most of the time means back up lessons which means more prep time which means lessons don’t flow as well.  And while we see wikis and Glogsters and Twitter hashtags, a huge population of teachers are still seeing Microsoft Word, EZ Grade Pro, and e-mail.  And no, you can’t assume that teachers know even half the functionality of THOSE tools.  Contrary to popular belief, most teachers were NOT taught how to use technology in almost any capacity when doing teacher training.  To put it plainly; they are too old. 

That’s not a knock mind you.  Let’s remember that started teaching in 2001.  A teacher five years out from me would have hardly had Internet in their college classes, and a teacher ten years out would have probably had none.  It’s not simply changing the tools, the culture of technology needs to change within classrooms and that’s not an easy thing to do.  Techies need to realize that the number one priority for teachers is student based, and teachers need to realize that the technology does not just appear out of thin air and work.  Technology takes massive amounts of time and work, often without borders of the punch card or time clock.  And Ukiah Unified is massively understaffed for technology (as in everything else) allowing for more potential for small hiccups.  It’s amazing that everything runs as smoothly as it does, and teachers are quick to forget that. 

I intend to attend more District Tech meetings in the future and I’m still very interested in bringing Ukiah Unified more up to date in the realm of technology.   

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Week Sauce

This week ended with a Ukiah versus Willits football game.  That wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it wasn’t for the fact that Ms. Coach Brown is a Willits teacher and roamed the sidelines for the Wolverines, while Coach Brown roamed the sidelines of the mighty Ukiah Wildcats.  We were victorious (of course) and thankfully my wife and I are not the type to rub it in.    Still, it’s fun to watch the kid’s reactions when they see us rooting against each other’s school.

Homecoming is upon us again, although this year I have yet to see the demanding focus on the activities that I’ve seen in years past.  Only one or two students are coming in with energy drinks and red eyes from their post-midnight float fixings.  But the signs are there that Homecoming Week will be as “spirited” as ever, and I’ll be in the thick of it trying to sell my loyalty to the highest bidder.  Hey, a brotha’s got to eat.

And hopefully a brotha doesn’t get sick.  The first round of absences from cough n’ cold is now in full effect and I’m starting to wake up with the scratchy throat that is the sign of my immune system getting attacked.  Part of it is that I’m only pulling five to six hours of sleep at night because my brain won’t shut down.  If I can get back into a normal sleep pattern I should be fine. 

Speaking of sick, here is a sure way to annoy a teacher.  Pull a kid out for a week due to injury or illness.  At the end of that week, call the school and demand six weeks worth of work because the student is apparently too sick or injured to attend to his education.  Oh, and it needs to be done by tomorrow.  Then get mad at the teacher when the work isn’t what mom or dad was expecting.  Then top it off by having that poor sick or injured kid (who can’t attend school) go to the football game to frolic with friends.  Sympathy level from teacher equals zero.

The San Francisco Giants are done.  Time to keep an eye on Arizona Fall Ball and wait for Pitchers and Catchers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011



This is a QR code.  For those educators that are now getting the urge to take their laptop to a self check-out station at Safeway to scan it, I say to you “you are not far off”.  It is in fact a type of bar code that when scanned takes you to some sort of Internet media.  If you look at many magazines, you’ll see them featured next to advertisements.  If you scan them using a smart phone app (I use Scan for iPhone) a video or website will pop up.  It’s cute technology, though not really that new.

I got a couple of ideas for QR Codes from EdCamp San Francisco Bay.  A session revolving around Flipped Classrooms had excellent ideas for incorporating QR’s by having them on a projection screen linking to videos that progressively help students solve a problem (this was for AP Chemistry).  Students could work at their own pace and the technology was already in their hands (smart phone), technology that is constantly getting a bad rap in the classroom.  I could see something like this with students engaging in analyzing multiple documents in progression or something similar.  Scavenger hunt style document quests that could incorporate media are not a stretch either.  In a perfect world students would take the work home simply by scanning the code and, viola, it’s on the device they use the most in life.  Problem?  Only the super-motivated will even bother. 

Like most pieces of technology, there are people that are overboard and people that are detractors.  Techno-maniacs get so worked up about the value of the gizmo that they start to lose the aspect of the tool being the tool, and actually assess value on something that is massively overblown.  On that “overboard” link there are ideas that don’t need QR codes, or that become more complex if QR codes are introduced.  Detractors refuse to believe that technology will make a bit of difference in the overall pedagogy of their classroom, and therefore call anything new a “fad”.

I plan to use my first QR with APUSH students analyzing Paul Revere’s “Boston Massacre” engraving.  I’ll stick the picture on the white board and put up the QR code linked to the public picture file within Dropbox.  Students can then scan it to their smart phones or tablets (some have them) and zoom in for a more through look at the document.  Yes, it is worth it for them to look real hard.  There are some very interesting things in Revere’s engraving.  We’ll see if the little extra work is really worth doing.   

Whooping Cough, another way to lose money

For a year the state of California has been warning parents to immunize their children against Whooping Cough or they would be held out of school.  Well that day is now upon us.  Those students not immunized by this Wednesday will be told to stay home, and those that come to school will be pulled out of class and sent home. 

Besides the obvious problem with kids missing their studies, consider that schools are looking at losing out on state funding because districts get their money based on Average Daily Attendance, the number of days a student attends their classes.  As of right now, Ukiah Unified is looking at losing $45,000 A DAY if all the current students that don’t have the vaccination are told to stay home. 


Once again the schools are going to get punished for something parents need to be responsible for.  And in a time when money is at an absolute premium, Ukiah High School could lose a year’s worth of their site budget in a total of two days.  Something doesn’t seem to ring correct with that statement, but I’m assuming that when the law was passed, the politicians failed to see that not everyone in the state was going to follow their mandate.  Now the schools are looking at taking another financial hit. 


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Almost Progress Report time

It’s nuts how quick time passes.  Progress reports are here and the end of our first month in the classroom has passed.  Pretty soon the dreaded Homecoming will take shape, then basketball season will be here.  Holy cow I’m getting old. 

This is probably the best start I’ve had in a couple of years, not that I’m looking to jinx anything.  For some reason this year has the feeling of a fresher start.  Looking around the district, that’s not necessarily true in all capacities.  This week included a couple of meetings with groups and people that gave a “state of the district” report and it is seeming more and more like we are all teaching while Rome burns down in flames.  Part of the discontent is towards the district, part is towards the Union (which raised my fees again), and a whole lot of it is towards the state.  I’ve realized that my mood is significantly better when I don’t think to the crap that is outside of the classroom and remain focused on kids.  That’s why I quit being a rep for the union.  In fact, that’s why quite a few younger high school teachers quit the union.  I think we had a choice; put our energy towards our profession and kids, or put it towards liars and politicians.  Easy choice. 

Classroom management has been no problem.  Couple of hyperactive kids that occasionally need the “calm down” glare, and the few cell phones is all I’ve been dealing with.  My attendance is ok but not great.  My “I won’t hassle you until I see a consistent pattern” tardy policy seems to be working ok except for six students.  Those students were warned that the next tardy gets an attendance contract.  We’ll see how that breaks the vibe of the class because Seniors hate to be treated like little children.  But my relationship with the kids is actually quite good.

Class attitudes are starting to develop.  One class is so mellow that it borders on freaky quiet.  Two classes are completely engaged.  One class seems like they are disinterested then nails out really good work.  And my APUSH class has a group of students that are focused, pleasant, and full of outstanding potential; not only as students but also has people. 

Fall is just around the corner and we’ll see what happens when Homecoming kicks in.  Yay.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflected for 9/11

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even think of breaking stride to discuss a lot about September 11th.  I’ve been so wrapped up in hitting objectives, staying on the calendar, and prepping using differentiated techniques that I lost perspective of the whole point of teaching the Social Sciences; to teach what has happened and learn from it.  So I stopped everything on Friday and taught the very abbreviated story of September 11, 2001.

I talked about the Soviet-Afghan war, Bin Laden’s rise to fame, the planning of the “Planes Operation”, the reasons Bin Laden used for the attack, and then the story of the day itself,  from the World Trade Center to the Pentagon to United Flight 93.  Then I discussed the aftermath; the chirping, “The Pile”, the line at the Armory, and how the world changed on that day.  Every period ended up being pretty powerful, and the first two times I tried to explain the families lining up at the Armory I had trouble maintaining complete composure.  Those memories are raw and rough. 

You’d be amazed at the number of students who didn’t know the “big deal” or haven’t seen the footage.  Many don’t know what’s behind Middle East anger or the past practices of Bin Laden and the Taliban.  Many don’t know that a lot of Muslims have died at the hands of Bin Laden, and that his crusade was a disgusting combination of sick egotistical zeal and a dislike of societal evolution.  Some cried, many thanked me, and I think everyone will have no problem that I stopped the class to discuss a very important day.

You should talk about September 11th with your kids.  But remember to also focus on those shining moments of true courage.  The passengers on United 93, the first responders and fire fighters at the World Trade Center, the men and women that ran into the fires of the Pentagon, and the many single souls that offered a hand to those in need on that fateful day.  The kids need to hear those stories too.  Because when the story is told down the road, their kids are going to have to remember that even the worst days hold moments of great humanity.     

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

New Flip, same result

I assigned the Flip assignment (see previous post) on Friday and the only notice I received that there was any technical problem was from a student who couldn’t find the video that was right in front of them.  That was on Monday night.  On Tuesday morning I watched four students attempt to bring up the video on the school’s eleven year old computers 15 minutes before class was to start.  Some students didn’t follow the directions and simply gave up fast fowarding to the right part of the video.  In the end the usual happened; those that really wanted access to the assignment did it.  Those that didn’t care that much, didn’t.  Remember those four students?  Yeah, they pretty much do the same thing with text reads too.

The engagement was there still.  I had them do an group collaboration with questions and did some exchanging, and it was obvious who was carrying who.  In the end, those that were going to be engaged were, as usual, engaged.  Those that chose not to be weren’t.  Realize that I didn’t expect some monumental change or some spike in engagement simply because I assigned a seven minute video clip.  However I did watch the concept mastery objectives for some reinforcement of the theory of Production Possibilities Curves.  Nope.  Not there either. 

So the result was the same as giving any other assignment to students to do outside of the classroom.  I realize that the atmosphere and tone of the class need to be more consistent for it to really work, and I also realize that it can’t hurt to mix up the work that students do outside of class.  But at the same time we need to make sure that when we talk ed tech, the “sage on the stage” is always going to matter more than the technology we use as the tool.  And that student motivation might increase with engaging lessons, but that’s more than tech.         

Monday, September 05, 2011

Learning styles may be overrated

Ok FYI, studies like this are not new.  And while NPR’s story about “learning styles” has sparked the discussion of audio/ visual/tactile learners to a new level, much of it is hype by people that like to make kids feel real good.

I’ve always had a problem with the idea that all kids somehow learn differently.  In fact, I’d go so far to say that the learning styles issue came about more as a crux for children that happened to not like their teacher and were too lazy to sit and focus.  “Oh, you can’t simply instruct my kid for ten minutes.  He’s a learner by touch.”  “My child is not a visual learner.  You need to get him an audio book or a recording of the book.”  Uh huh.  And have we investigated the real reason why his reading skills are down, like pulling your kid’s ass away from World of Warcraft?  In my own reflection on my favorite teachers, I found that all of them had different teaching styles that had one thing in common; they were damn good teachers. 

This is not to say that I don’t think that varied learning styles shouldn’t be used in the classroom.  Mixing it up gets students interested, introduces them to new ways to addressing problems and finding solutions, and promotes higher levels of thinking.  Variety is not only the spice of life, it is the sign of a good learning environment.   

the idea that every kid needs a learning style tailored to meet their every need is not practical and does little to prepare students for a world that could care about learning styles.  I can’t say that I’m sad that this convenient excuse is finally getting some legitimate detractors.   

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Gonna Flip it (Updated 9/3)

So this weekend I’m going to Flip my classroom. 
For those of you not totally in the Educational Technology game (or the Ed Fad game for that matter), “Flipping” the classroom is creating or linking of videos for kids to watch in short snippets outside of class, then making your entire class time full of hands-on-activity and engagement.  It’s what Khan Academy is supposed to be all about; direction at home, concept engagement and mastery at school.  I’m going to give it a try.
This weekend I’m assigning a seven minute portion of this video from Economics USA regarding the overall increase of a Production Possibilities Curve related to the Great Depression and World War One (10:17 to 17:00 if you are dying to know).  It’s old but effective, explaining the basic principals while guiding you through history, and doing it in a short period of time.  On Tuesday I’ll get them into groups and have them break down the video, then attempt to get them to try and increase a PPC for the current Great Recession.  Then we’ll come back together and discuss.
It doesn’t take much for me to buy into good educational technology.  If I find a tool that works in the classroom, I use it.  I don’t screw around.  The concept of “flipping” is niggling me in an odd way though.  Something is just seeming too faddy and almost techno-elitist in how people are espousing its virtue.  Here’s four questions I have for the currently active “flippers”.
1.  It is insisted that constant student engagement is better than the “sage on stage” method of direct instruction.  Then how to you justify the generations of students that have successfully been instructed by good teachers through some direct instruction?  We’ve all had teachers that have the gift of the spoken word and have been effective at teaching students necessary content.  And the teacher “knows” that content is being taught to a student instead of guessing through self-directed learning.
2.  Speaking of bad power points and lecturing; isn’t a video the student watches at home basically the same thing?  What’s the difference between my 15 minute power point at school and the 15 minute power point at home?  I mean besides the fact that I’m right there to help answer questions.  Isn’t that direct instruction?
3.  What not reading?  Flipping classrooms seems to be all about the video experience while seemingly totally ignoring reading.  Is this a wise course of action?  I saw a comment on Twitter that insisted that no reading should ever be assigned without something interactive attached to it.  Aren’t we downplaying the importance of the read word?
4.  And finally, what happens when students don’t have Internet?  I’ve asked this a dozen times and I either get ignored or I get “well all children need to have Internet to be successful in the 21st Century environment.  The government needs to make Internet penetration in this country a priority for all students or we are doing them a massive disservice.”  Yeah, thanks for the public policy message but that still fails to answer my question.  How do you flip a class when half the kids don’t have online access?
Now the one class I’m flipping is full of AP students, a vast majority of which are middle, upper class students that I’m very sure have some access to the Net.  The concepts are not difficult, the video won’t be long, the class side of the lesson is engaging.  We shall see.    

(Update 9/3)
So there was no initial blow back from my demanding of an outside video online.  We'll see out Monday works out.  In the meantime, check out Robert's discussion around the perils of "Flipping" a classroom.  He states my worries in a much more eloquent way with excellent questions about everything from technology to testing to support.  It's more than worth a read.