Wednesday, October 19, 2011

adventures in blogging

today, our APUSH students began blogging for the first time. i admit, their first blog post was a little constraining. i was asking them to answer an APUSH essay question. but i feel as if this situation was controlled enough to give them guidelines. we went over some general thoughts about blogging and then i turned them loose. so for 35 minutes they wrote about the political views of jefferson and hamilton and they tried to prove a point. then i stopped them. we moved on.
but i told them that they could revise as many times as they liked. i am going to "grade" the essay on what exists when i visit their blog. so they can go back and edit it all they want. i am also giving them "points" for having a peer and an adult comment on the essay. i figure they've got to develop an audience so why not begin to build that in with their first post?
i know that they won't be able to type their ap essays. i also know that they won't be able to revise over time. so, ap wise, i don't know that it is that authentic of an assignment. what i do know is that they will think about jefferson and hamilton a little more. they will think about their writing and revise it. they will discuss this writing with others. they will have comments about their writing that maybe offer suggestions and encouragement. and they will begin a journey into a public forum that will have a real audience.
so, here's hoping the journey is a pleasant one. i'll let you know.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Waterworld and a good classroom are alike

"I have to be honest. After 17 years of teaching, I can't tell you how to teach. I can't even really describe what is the best way to do something." These are the words I wanted to say to our student teacher (ST) the other day. But I didn't say them. I mean, I kind of said them. But not really.
And of course, we all know what good teaching looks like. We can tell who the "good" teachers are and who the "bad" teachers are can't we? We knew when we were in school. You remember then? "Man, this teacher is bad..." we thought to ourselves. District administrators think they know who is good. They have these neat reports to go on. They have TEST SCORES for crying out loud. Parents surely know. They can see reports and TEST SCORES online and in the paper. Sometimes parents even complain about their kids' teachers to other parents. Surely we all know what good teaching looks and sounds like.
But ST and I were having a conversation and she was asking me what I would do if I were going to teach such and such lesson. And I wanted to tell her that whatever I said would and should make little difference to her. Because I can't tell HER how to teach. Because she is different than I am. She is busy finding a voice and a rhythm in the classroom. I have one. For better or for worse. So when she asks me how I would do something I try to give her some suggestions based on my experience. But they are merely suggestions. And when she asks how she should approach something, I usually say "However you want. Do whatever you want." And then she looks at me like she wants to kill me. I get it. I get that a lot.
So I was thinking about it just a little bit ago, trying to come up with some words of wisdom for ST. And that's when it hit me. Kevin Costner.
And it began to make sense. It's scary sometimes the way my brain works.
You remember that movie that Costner made back in the nineties called Waterworld? Well, Waterworld and a good classroom lesson have a lot in common. And I can sum it up in one word. Fluidity.
You see, there was a lot of water in that movie. It was a fluid environment. Always changing.
And a good classroom lesson? Led by a good teacher? That also has fluidity.
I've seen a lot of teachers over the years. Those teachers used a variety of methods in a variety of lessons. And the best teachers and the best lessons flowed. There was learning going on and the students were often caught up in the moment. Learning sometimes in spite of themselves. The lesson wasn't forced. It was fluid. Constantly changing but with some kind of internal rhythm.
So I can't really tell ST how to teach. I can only describe what it feels like when you see it done. I can't say "this will work for you." Everyone has a different style and good teachers have figured their style out. They know when to shift gears. They know when to apply pressure. They know when to coast for a bit. And good teachers also know when to abandon ship and try something else.
ST is doing a great job and I try to tell her and I try to help her when she needs help. But she has to figure out the fluidity of the lessons on her own. What works for me probably wouldn't work for her. So tomorrow I'm going to start calling her KC and she will continue to look at me like I'm crazy. But again, I'm used to that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Perils of Project Based Learning

Today, the staff of our school was having one of our first PLC meetings of the year. We were running through the business at hand, discussing some of the things that we have needed to get together and discuss. It was during this meeting that one of our new teachers, a lateral entry teacher, asked an innocent enough question. She asked simply, "I've got projects coming up next week and I was wondering if you guys would help me out by grading them in your classes, too?"
Now let me state a couple of things about our school before I go any further. We think of ourselves as a project based school. Our students are constantly working on projects and problems of some kind. We were featured in an ASCD production based on PBLs! Secondly, we just finished a round of projects with the freshmen where all the teachers who taught freshmen spent part of their day grading freshmen projects. Thirdly, I work with an awesome bunch of people who will do anything to help kids become better students. And finally, we the teachers, have great autonomy at our school when it comes to curriculum and how we do things in our classes. But back to my story.
I watched the reactions of the rest of my colleagues in that office when our new teacher asked the question. I watched their reactions and I know what they were thinking. You see, I know, because I was thinking the same thing. I was thinking- "Why do I need to give up more time in my class? I can barely get through all I have to do now. Why would I want to spend another day on projects?" I watched those thoughts ripple across the office in the body language and facial expressions of the other teachers. I watched it, I thought it, and then I paused and thought about it.
Where did this feeling come from? Why was my immediate knee-jerk reaction to scream foul and begin to think about lost time? Well, I suspect that for each of us it might have been something different. For me, it was the years and years of trying to squeeze an impossible amount of US History into a ridiculously finite amount of classroom instruction time. Coupled with the fact that US History was a high-stakes End of Course testing area where the results would be splashed on webpages, newspapers, and government reports. Or maybe it is that belief that all of us have that our subject is so important that there is no way, under any circumstances, we would give up time away from our state curriculum. Or maybe it is the desire to protect our own projects and our own pacing. Maybe it's just the stress we feel to teach, to the best of our ability our subject matter day in and day out. Whatever it was. I felt it and I saw it. And then something funny happened.
I thought to myself. Screw it. It's one day. We'll figure it out. And I watched as the other teachers began to do the same thing. My colleagues began to think about helping out too. You could see it again. Visibly. People who were quiet and tense became people who were not. They had all decided to help out. All this, of course, took place in just a few seconds. I don't even know if other people noticed. But I did. I noticed and spoke to me about many things but most importantly about the cool people I work with. We have all been programmed by time on task, end of course tests, ap tests, curriculum standards, pacing guides, etc... and for just a second all of that won. But then it didn't. Everyone started to talk about it and we all agreed that we could help out the new teacher. You know, the one who hadn't been programmed like we had. The lateral entry teacher. The one who asked an innocent question and expected nothing but her compatriots to help her out. And we will. Because projects are important to us. And today, maybe just for a second, we realized that and decided to take a stand for something other than quantitative testing.
And it just reinforced what I already know.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

return to the world of blogging and how candy can save us all

try not to pass out from the shock. it's a blog update. of course, the passing out would require that someone was actually reading this blog at some point. i imagine you all eagerly checking lunchbyteblog every day, anxiously waiting another post. you must be forlorn by now. resigned to the fact that this blog has become something promised but never delivered upon. i follow in the footsteps of chinese democracy, duke nukem forever, and indiana jones and the crystal skull. hopefully though, this update won't suck as much as those bits of vaporware when they were finally and sadly released.
what makes the long hiatus all the more confusing is that, for the longest time, i have considered myself a writer. i spent time in college studying writing. i wrote for the college paper. i have, over the years, written thousands of poems and have written quite a few in the time spent away from this blog. but i have written nary an update.
that changes today.
for my "return to the world of blogging" post, i would like to talk about candy. yes, candy. you see there's a big ol' honkin bag of assorted candies in the office area of our school. i discovered it today. and there are things in this huge bag called 'sassy tarts' that look and taste suspiciously like sweet tarts. except they're not sweet. they're sassy.
so i discovered these sassy tarts during lunch and proceeded to make my way back into the office several times during the afternoon to eat a few more of these sassy tarts. they were sweet and i was sassy and all was right with the world.
until the end of the day.
that's when i went looking for another package of sassy tarts and found out that they had all disappeared. gone. there were none left. zero. zilch. none.
now i am absolutely sure that i didn't eat all of them. but there were none to be found when i wanted more. i was crestfallen and dumbfounded. what had happened to the sassy tarts? where did they all go?
and then it hit me. someone else was eating the sassy tarts. someone else had been captivated by them. someone else was eating the candy and they liked it. someone else kept coming back for more. maybe several someone elses.
so then i wandered back to my classroom and began to have a conversation with the student teacher that had been assigned to our school this semester. she was worried about classroom management and she was wondering how to deal with a particular us history class. we discussed several strategies and i ended the discussion by telling her she had to find out what worked for her. what worked for me may not work for her. she had to find a way to deal with distractions that was true to herself and her way of thinking. then i reminded her about what had happened during her lesson today.
during parts of the lesson, some guys were joking around and she had to admonish them several times. they weren't being mean or really disrespectful. they just weren't all together with her. to be honest, they weren't really engaged. but she got their attention and gave them the assignment and they got to work. and then they were quiet. i pointed this out to her during the lesson. they were working and suddenly engaged. and when they were engaged, they were concentrating and into it. they liked it.
and then it struck me that engagement and candy were the same thing. this is what the kids had wandered into the room to find. they wanted the metaphorical sassy tarts. sure, there was a big honkin' bag of candy (ways to teach) out there but they didn't want those other pieces of candy (instructional strategies). those pieces of candy had no appeal to these students. they had tried them all before. what appealed to those students at that moment was something new and novel. the student teacher had stumbled onto what was going to engage them and in that moment had solved her discipline problems for the rest of the day. and if she can learn from that moment, maybe she has begun to solve them for the rest of her time with us.
engagement equals candy. and students will keep coming back for more if we can only get them hooked in the first place.

ps. the student teacher is doing a fine job. we all struggle at times with certain classes. she is learning how to "do" this teaching thing. so are we all.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

update

I haven't written anything in a while so I thought I would give everyone a quick update. As usual, there is a lot happening. My school is in the middle of our recruitment period where we travel around to all the middle schools in the area and give our spiel to the 8th graders who are going to be making their decisions about what high school they would like to attend. This is uncharted territory for me and I'm trying to learn on the fly what appeals to the mind of an 8th grader. We are giving them an honest look at what goes on in our school and trying to help them make informed decisions. I try to make the presentation funny and I try to appeal to their sense of different. I think that we have a different school and that our kids stand out because they have unique ways of looking at the world. Those are the kinds of kids we are attracting and the kinds of kids we want to continue to attract. We want students that are going to try to make a difference in the world. I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, February 21, 2011

funding

wouldn't it be great if public schools had the funding that they needed? as i sit here writing, i'm working on several grant proposals and trying to dream up ways to raise money for our school. we are a public school in north carolina and, like in most states, our state is facing a huge budget deficit for next year. rather than address a tax code that hasn't been changed since the great depression, our legislature is currently considering cutting state employee pay. the future is not very bright for more funding for public schools.
so, we are looking for alternative sources for funding. in schools, a little bit can often go a long way and we already fund raise for quite a few of our programs. we also are constantly on the look-out for grants and other programs that can infuse a little bit of cash into our coffers.
as a new school (this is our 6th year of existence), we are always in need of money to help us with our ideas. we get excited when we get a new couch or some signs advertising our existence around here. so, i know i have talked about funding before, but i'm wondering how other schools raise money for their programs. where does the money come from?

Monday, February 14, 2011

reflecting on the past while looking to the future

I am sitting in a classroom listening to music. This music is coming from a mix of radio stations that i have created and is being streamed over the internet to the laptop in front of me. The laptop, in turn, is connected to an old marantz "stereophonic receiver" and the receiver is connected to four speakers that are allowing the rest of the class to listen to my music.
I am a teacher and the other people that are in the classroom with me are students. They are all facing computers that line the walls of the classroom. Some stare intently at the computer screens in front of them. Some students are typing, some watching videos, some manipulating things on the screen with their mouse. Some of the students are listening to music of their own through various electronic devices and headphones or earbuds. These are the students that think my music is old. These are the students that may have questionable taste.
As I sit here, I am thinking about the future of education. I am thinking about the future of teachers and schools. And while all of this is swirling through my head I am also thinking about the past. My past specifically. And I am wondering how the events that have shaped my career up to this moment will help me to deal with future challenges.
I knew at a fairly early age that I wanted to be a teacher. My mother was an elementary school teacher and I had many influential teachers growing up. By the time I hit high school I had made up my mind that teaching was the profession for me. So my senior year of high school when I received a teaching scholarship, I accepted it and began a journey that continues today.
I graduated with a degree in Sociology and a History minor and was certified to teach Social Studies in grades 9-12. Finding a job was harder than I imagined and it took me a while to find employment. Eventually I got my first job. Teaching social studies and language arts to a group of 6th graders in Greensboro, NC. From there to here has been a 16 year journey.
Now I sit here in this "redesigned" high school in Newton, NC and I am constantly thinking about what innovation means. What does an innovative school look like? Does it even look like a school? We read the literature and spend time looking at studies and we know with some certainty what schools of the future look like. They look vastly different from the schools that many of us attended. And this is where many people struggle with school change. New schools don't look much like old schools and we have to prepare the communities around these schools for that reality.
So an important part of change is going to be convincing parents, teachers, and other interested parties that schools can be better. Most of us know that but are unsure of what a 21st century school looks like. Change is held back because of our inability to let go of the past. We have a calendar for an agrarian society and a school day fit for an industrial society. We are neither anymore. True education reform will begin when we quit letting our past interfere with our future. Use the past to help create a better tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

this is what i've been saying

just came across this article in my inbox this morning. this is what i've been advocating for:

http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/01/should_michigan_schools_replac.html

what do you think?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

snow day

As I write this post, most of the school districts in our area are out for a "snow day." We have already been out for three days and it looks like we probably won't have students at school tomorrow either. Both teachers and students like "snow days" at first but what we don't like is having to come on a Saturday or losing some of our break to make these days up. I'm wondering in this day and age why we even bother to reschedule classes that are canceled.
With the advent of the internet and web 2.0 tools, is there even a reason to reschedule a day that has been missed because of weather? Couldn't we and shouldn't we be able to place assignments on classroom websites and let students work on these assignments at times that fit their schedules? We could post videos to youtube, have discussions on edmodo, and twitter and text our students all from the comforts of our homes and the students could respond in kind from their homes.
Many schools have virtual learning environments already at use. What would make these "snow days" any different from what a student does in a virtual class with an instructor that is many miles away? Schools could save money by not running buses to make up for the missed days and students and teachers would both benefit by the ability to get work done on these days. Isn't it about time we begin to question why we do things the way we do them? Isn't is about time that districts have the courage to try and challenge the idea of "seat time?" Learning can take place at any time these days and we should begin to acknowledge that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011

the new year is here and with it, some brief thoughts on education.

#1. we really need to rethink schools. from the ground up. the physical design, what the day looks like, what the teachers are doing and what the students are doing. the more i think about it the more i believe that what is really going to make a difference in education are the schools that innovate with regards to all of the above. it's not evolution we need, it's a complete revolution.

#2. for the above to happen, public education needs more $ and a commitment from the local community to make the change happen. if we keep trying to do education on the cheap then we are going to have schools where students are barely prepared. yes, i can teach my students about our national government but taking them to washington, dc and letting them watch it happen and being able to talk to the people who are making it happen is a totally different animal than hearing me talk about it. trips cost money, speakers cost money, and innovation costs money. the state funds don't get us there, people in the community can help.

#3. schools need to do a better job of telling their story. marketing and advertising didn't used to be a part of public education but it certainly is now. social media is a part of it but so are traditional forms of advertising. to get the public to care you have to be able to show them where you are doing well and be able to show them that you have a plan to take care of the things that you aren't doing well.

#4. schools have to engage students, teachers, and parents. i watch my six year old daughter play with an ipad or a dsi and i wonder why school can't be that fun? we need to figure this part of it out and get to it. there are moments when students don't want class to end but they don't come often enough. we have to figure out how to make it happen much more often.

just a few thoughts to think about today. i'll be back with more later.
happy new year to all!