Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Month: June 2010 (page 2 of 2)

I don’t know how to use a fax machine

Today I had to ask for help using technology.  I know, I’m supposed to be embarrassed, I am the expert at my school on using technology, but really there are things I don’t know how to do.  I don’t know how to use a fax machine.  They were never a technology I considered useful, and in today’s world of email, I consider them somewhat archaic.

In any case, I had to send a fax today because it was the only way I could send this particular piece of information to a government ministry, don’t get me started on that.  I went to the front office and asked our really wonderful administrative assistant if she could help me.  Her jaw dropped, and the jaw of a colleague who was standing nearby dropped as well.  "You don’t know how to use a fax machine? But you’re like Mr. Technology! You should know this!"

My colleague patiently showed me how to send a fax, a skill I’m sure I’ll promptly forget.  It looks pretty easy but given that I have to send about 1 fax every year, it’s not a skill I get to practice often and I’ll probably have to ask again next year.  When my colleague finished showing me how to use our school’s photocopier, which I discovered doubles as a fax machine, I was happy and thanked her.  She did a fist-pump, exclaimed, "Yes! I showed Mr. Wees something with technology," and then went on to give the administrative assistant a high-five.  They were both excited that they got to show me something.

Now keep in mind, these are grown adults, and their reaction might not be the same as your students’ reaction, but let me ask the question: How do you think your kids would react if they got to teach you something?  Do you think that they would remember that experience? Would it be worth not looking like the expert for a couple of minutes?

The Relationship Between Accountability and Creativity

Imagine this graph represents the possible relationships between accountability and creativity.

Accountability vs Creativity  graph

Where would you put the activities you do as a school?  Here are some examples of activities some school do, and where I think they lie on the accountability vs creativity scale.

Accountability vs Creativity with some ideas

What you may notice about this graph is that, for the most part, activities which hold schools and students highly accountability are not associated generally with creativity and that activities which are highly creative can fall short of being very accountable.  It’s not a perfect graph, and I think that some of the examples could be moved, but the idea I think is pretty clear: the more you increase accountability, the less flexible the activity, and hence the less ability for students to be creative while completing the activity.

Accountability in this sense means how the activity and the student’s performance of that activity, is shared with the student, the teachers, the school, and the wider community.  Standardized tests are considered a “highly accountability” activity simply because everyone has access to how well pretty much any school did, and educators within those schools generally have access to their individual marks, and of course students get feedback about how well they did.

Creative activities to me are generally areas where the student has a lot of choice on how the activity will be completed, and how they will complete the activity.  These are often the types of activities that I think students will actually be able to do once they finish their education, and according to Sir Ken Robinson, our schools fail to provide opportunities to students to do them.

There are a few activities which fall with higher accountability and decent ability for students to be creative, and we often find that these activities are not ones which are done by most schools.  Anyway, I’m sure the model I have up there is imperfect, so I invite you to follow this link to this collaborative Google drawing I’ve started, and we can add other activities to this chart.

Why you should give kids a second chance

Yesterday we had a community service day.  It worked wonderfully, and everyone who came participated really well.  The first thing that I noticed was how different the students looked when they were working in this different context.  The people who were normally stars of the classroom were not necessarily stars for the community service, and visa versa.  Some of the best and hardest workers were students who often do not work in the classroom well by themselves without lots of reinforcement.

The day was wonderfully productive and we accomplished a lot.  The volunteer organizer for the community garden begged us to come back because she said the amount of work we accomplished during the day was tremendous.  

This activity really built a lot of community spirit and brought us all closer together.  It was totally worth the effort we put into it as teachers organizing and showing leadership by modelling what types of behaviour we were expecting from the students.  In other words, all of the teachers involved worked hard too.

Community Service

Unfortunately some of our boys didn’t come for this day.  They apparently used Facebook and attempted to organize a mini-revolt and 7 of them did not attend the day at all.  They were noticeably missing, many of the students who attended the event complained about the fact that a group of the boys were missing.  Their decision not to come for the day certainly frustrated we teachers, and we decided that we had to come up with an appropriate way for the students to make restitution for what they had done.

Fortunately for us, all 7 of those students attended school the following day, hoping to participate in our afternoon party in the park.  First their homeroom teacher gave them a 20 minute lecture on how their lack of participation in the previous day’s event affected the entire school and then we put them straight to work, as the morning we had planned some school-wide service, working on our own community garden project.  

They got the least fun duty, which was shoveling the piles of manure.  They started working on it pretty diligently right away, and it was obvious that the speech from the homeroom teacher was pretty effective.  The rest of the students involved in the community garden were carting away the wheel-barrows full of manure, and these 7 boys worked tirelessly to fill the wheel-barrows.

We paused for a big spirit building activity, then everyone else in the school left for the community picnic at the park, and these 7 boys stayed back with me to continue the work from the morning.  First we had lunch, the same food planned for the picnic, then we started handing out flyers to the houses along the street.  It turned out that we had way more manure than we could actually use, so we offered some of it to residents of the houses on the nearby block.  One of the residents, was so impressed with the boys that she brought out a small treat for them.  The boys felt really uncomfortable accepting the gift, but it was clear from her insistence that they couldn’t say no.

Unexpected reward

After our brief stint handing out flyers, we got to work and moved several dozen wheel-barrows full of manure onto one of our small plots for our garden.  The work wasn’t glamorous but to their credit the boys worked really well.  About an hour and half into the work, they started recognizing that they were enjoying themselves, and I could tell that they were regretting their decision not to join in the work from the previous day, but for the right reasons.  They actually asked if they could continue the work we were doing tomorrow, as they wanted to finish the project.  They seemed to get it, that the work itself was enjoyable, especially in the company of their friends.  Really, everyone of these boys was a superstar that day and showed me just how hard they could work.  I was really impressed with their work ethic and diligence during the day and I let them know as much.  Tomorrow, when we finish our work, I plan on reflecting with them about the experience.  The objective of the reflection will be to find out if the really big lesson will be in fact learned: service in the context of a community is incredibly valuable.

The boys did a tremendous amount of work and taught me a lesson too.  Even a student who has made a big mistake can rectify it and should be given the opportunity to fix their mistake.  Every kid deserves a second chance, and these boys made the most of their second chance.  At the end of the day, we realized that they had move two thirds of the pile themselves, and they really looked like they felt good about themselves.

Learning specialist in technology

This morning I had a great discussion with the director of the IB Primary Years Program at my school.  We talked about my role for next year, and what ways I could help his staff become more comfortable using technology.  My title for next year is "Learning specialist: Technology" which is pretty broadly defined, and I have the luxury of writing my job description.  I may never again get this kind of opportunity to define my own role, so I’m making sure I do it right by involving the primary stake-holders in the process.

First, we both agreed that my role would be primarily helping teachers learn about the appropriate use of technology in their classrooms, and less about teaching students directly.  This would take the form of 1 on 1 instruction with the teacher, small group discussion, co-teaching topics, demoing lessons for teachers, but probably not as much whole faculty instruction.  We both agreed, whole faculty instruction is of limited use: really staff need to all have a direct need for whatever you are presenting for this type of instruction to be effective.

Another exciting aspect of my job next year will be observing teachers.  This may mean I offer pointers on ways they can improve their use of technology, or I may just give positive reinforcement for when lessons are obviously working well.  I will do a lot of observations in the beginning of the year so I can gather information about what is working well already for teachers, and where there are areas which could be improved.  I’ve observed a lot of my colleagues teach (I used to make a practice of watching everyone in my large math department teach), perhaps more than most teachers with my experience, but having this process be more formalized is exciting for me.  It means a move into a more administrative role.  One thing that the director and I both agreed on is that my observations would never be used for punitive measures or for evaluating teachers, only for helping teachers grow professionally.

A great idea that the director had was helping teachers build action research goals for the following year.  Essentially this would look like teachers setting goals individually, or with consultation with me, and then helping the teacher plan their way through the meeting of the goal.  This could take an entire school year, or it could be completed within a few months.  During the year, I would be available as a mentor, or as a training resource as necessary.  What is important about this process to me is that it puts the teachers in charge of their learning in this area, and it is the kind of training which is sustainable.

One of the ways we are going to support goal setting is by having teachers complete a self-assessment form for their use and understanding of technology.  Our self-assessment is planned to focus on use in the classroom, as well as administrative use outside of the classroom.  Part of the form I plan to have them fill out will include will include some specific goals for the teachers to work toward.  This form will be submitted as part of our end of year staff meetings, and then we can revisit the personal goals of the teachers at the beginning of the year.  Here is a sample of the self-assessment form, which is still a work in progress.  This way we can start the year with some positive action the teachers can take, and hopefully focus each teacher’s learning on what they want to work on.

I’m excited about next year: it promises to be a learning experience for myself and for our school.