Bailing out on NBC’s Teacher Town Hall

I’m sorry to report that I spent about 20 minutes of the 2 hours with NBS’s Education Nation’s Teacher Town Hall yesterday, and then found that the lack of focus of discussion made my brain ache, so I sort of bailed out on it for other things. I imagine I was not alone, nor do I doubt I was alone in thinking just how Charter School-centered much of things seemed to be. Or was I just seeing what I thought I would be seeing? That might be possible.

I tried my hand at about eight to ten chat posts, but none of them got through the logjam of comments. Some were great. Some were not-so-great, but honestly, the wave of information was just too much to assimilate and make sense of, and therefore, for me, it was a fairly meaningless venture.

But I am sure NBC will make a big deal of the backchannel chat room, which had thousands of teachers in it. A lot of folks on Twitter reminded us that many of us do that kind of backchannel conversing about education and schooling every single day on blogs, on Twitter and elsewhere. So if you felt empowered by the NBC experience, come join the mix.

So, I am not sure what to make of the Teacher Town Hall. It’s nice that so many educators rose up and got involved. That’s good. But there were too many of us to have any real message being heard, in my opinion.  And why did I get the sense that maybe someone was filtering the chat room comments? Is that possible? Of course, it is, but I am not sure if that was the case.

So, now I brace myself for the next wave of post-Waiting for Superman media frenzy and continue my work of planning out engaging lessons, helping my young students become better writers and readers, and finding ways to continue to push myself as a professional. I suspect you are probably doing the same, and making a difference in the lives of your students.

So, I applaud you. And maybe that voice won’t get lost in the mix.

Peace (in reflection),

Kevin

Education Nation Summit Today

NBC News Education Nation Logo

I signed up to participate in today’s Education Nation Teacher Summit, did you? (It’s at noon, est) And now I might have a family conflict — a birthday party for my youngest son that I may or may not need to stay for — and I just listened to a video message from NBC anchor Brian Williams explaining that the ideas of the teachers will be brought forth to the upcoming Education Summit that NBC is hosting.

I should hope so, because it does feel as if teachers are getting the short end of the rope with all of the media coverage around education. The New Yorker had a great piece by Nicholas Leamann called ‘Schoolwork‘ that argues that schools are improving and students are learning more than ever before, but that you would never know it by reading newspapers and watching television news. Leamnn goes on to note that there are still troubles in urban districts that are the result of socio-economic-political reasons but that to make grand statements about the failure of education is misguided.

This is a great quote from that piece:

Education is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution; the creation of the world’s first system of universal public education—from kindergarten through high school—and of mass higher education is one of the great achievements of American democracy. It embodies a faith in the capabilities of ordinary people that the Founders simply didn’t have.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/09/27/100927taco_talk_lemann#ixzz10czt1GNW

And my friend, Bill Ferriter, wrote a powerful piece in response to Oprah, NBC and others in the recent media blitz that seems to target public school teachers. Bill vents some anger and makes the point that education reform has consistently not done what it has promised to do, and the fingers keep getting pointed to us, the classroom teachers.

Bill write:

Instead, you’re content to patronize the American schoolteacher. You’ll celebrate the mythology well enough—praising the matronly, apple-wielding women who you learned from—and then ignore the reality that your unwillingness to believe that we might just know something about how to save our schools has destroyed any chance that our schools will be saved.

I’ll try to participate today, if I can, although I wonder about how one voice might affect the nation. But perhaps, as we tell our own kids, one voice added to more voices creates a call for action, and that means that teachers (and not just our unions) need to be involved more deeply in changes that are to take place in how we teach and what we teach.

You know, I was reading this short piece by Roald Dahl about how he went about writing stories, and creating characters. He was writing this piece to kid readers. But he made clear that every narrative needs a villain, and the more you can cast that character as the one to despise, the better, because then when that villain gets its due, you can cheer. I worry that we teachers are being cast as the villains here in this emerging national narrative. We may not all be heroes, but we’re not villains either, and it is the kids who get lost in this kind of debate, I fear.

Peace (in making change),
Kevin

Envisioning the non-Fossil Fuel Future

My students are in the midst of a class project in which they envision a time when we move away from fossil fuels as the source of energy for transportation vehicles. The Vehicles of the Future project is something I often do at the start of the year, but this year, we are tying it into our discussions around the Gulf Oil Spill and our work at the Voices on the Gulf website.

We had some rich conversations this week around our reliance on oil and gas, and why that was, and what were some of the positives and negatives of living in a society that relied so heavily on these non-renewable energy sources. Then, they got to work with their creative ideas.

This Wordle image is the result of using an AnswerGarden prompt, where students submitted their proposed alternative energy source. You’ll notice a wide array of products.

I am trying to determine now if I want them to podcast their descriptive writing with their illustrations, or whether there is a better way to go about it. I might do Voicethread, if I can things set up for them do the voice easily enough. Hmm.

Peace (in the future),
Kevin

Observations from an Open House

I went to my son’s Open House last night. He’s in seventh grade and goes to a different school district than where I teach, so I am always curious to know what other teachers are doing.

First of all, he has an energetic team of teachers, for sure.I wish they had more of an online presence so I could see what is going on from home (only one of the team has a website) and I wish they had an online homework site, like we do. But, we can’t have everything we want, and overall, I was impressed by the experience and enthusiasm of the team.

The science teacher spent five years living on a Tall Ship off the coast of California, working with classes of kids who visited for five days at time to explore the ocean. She’s admittedly marine-biases, but who cares … she has a passion for science.

The English teacher is also his homeroom teacher, and her class seemed a bit cluttered, in a good way, and it looks like there is a lot of Mark Twain on the curriculum for the year ahead. That’s a good thing. She talked a bit too fast for my liking, and asked us to multitask (filling out forms while trying to listen), so I am not sure I got half of what she said. I hope my son does better at listening than I did.

The math teacher seems nice, and knowledgeable. This is her first year at the school after spending ten years teaching math at a nearby urban school district. She seemed happy to be here, and her calm demeanor will be probably go a long way in there.

The computer teacher is a former sixth grade teacher, and is a bundle of hyper energy (compliment). I’m not all that impressed that the curriculum is so Microsoft-centered (Publisher, Powerpoint, Excel), and asked about Open Source. But he seemed ready to galvanize the classroom teachers around using technology, and the school has a fair share of it: two rolling laptops, two labs (with a third being built), and a boatload of new desktops that are being distributed to classrooms.

The social studies teacher also seems great, with a focus on world politics, and she has her own weblog. We chatted briefly about her wanting to have students publish more work, as opposed to her posting assignments and resources. Maybe I can help her with that.

My son is a reluctant singer in school chorus, so maybe as little said about that is best.

I think he’ll have a good year.

Peace (in the house),
Kevin

Tracy Hosts Day in a Sentence, as transition

dayinsentenceiconOver at Tracy’s blog, Leading from the Heart, she has posted this week’s call for Days in a Sentence, but with a theme of transitions (See her picture to understand the big transition coming in the next few months).

How can you capture a moment, or a phase, of transition in a reflective sentence? Come join Tracy and us and add your own thoughts to this week’s Day in a Sentence.

Also, I am going to be “transitioning” Day in a Sentence over to Bonnie (of Digital Bonnie), letting her do most of the hosting and asking for help with co-hosting this year.

When Bonnie and I first took over Day in a Sentence from The Reflective Teacher a few years ago, we saw it as a way for the two of us and volunteers from you to host the concept. But mostly, my blog became the launching site. Now, we are going to shift to let Bonnie’s blog become the main launching site. I hope you continue to follow us, and contribute, there.

Peace (in transitions),
Kevin

Dream Scenes, complete


The deadline for students to complete their Dream Scene digital story projects came yesterday and, with me shouting out “20 minutes” and “seven minutes” in my teacherly count-down mode, every single student (except one) finished up their projects on time. Phew. That’s about 80 digital stories, with me scrambling around on my flash drive to get a copy of them all.

I decided to use my classroom Flickr account to host the videos, since I can put each class into a set, and then the sets into a collection, and then embed the sets right into our classroom blog for parents to view, and for classes to see each other’s dreams.

Here, I gathered up some of the music-themed dreams, since I have a soft spot for budding musicians.

Peace (in the dreams),
Kevin

Some results of my State of Technology Survey

Thanks to everyone who took part in my sample State of Technology Survey yesterday. I am working on a survey for my students as part of a year-long inquiry project that will be examining how young people may be using technology out of school and if they bring those skills to the table when composing and creating inside of school.

There were 92 people who took part in my survey, mostly via Twitter and my blog, but also through my network of National Writing Project technology liaisons. So, the results are somewhat skewed in favor of us techies. What I wanted to know was whether the survey w0rked and if folks had any suggestions for improving it (they did — thank you).

A few things jump out at me. First, unlike many of our students who use cell phones and mobile devices as the source of their technology (this is something I want to find out from my own survey), we adults still are mostly straddled to our desktops/laptops for our technology. Second, not too many of us are doing online gaming, which is a huge part of technology in the lives of some kids (and a lot of boys). Finally, we spend more than three hours per day with the screen. If you think about that, that is a lot of time.

Here are some of the data graphs:

I also asked an open-ended question about why one would use technology. There were plenty of answers around ease of use, and being connected, but here are a few other responses that jumped out at me.

* Technology opens up my options for expressing myself.  I like options so I choose technology.  I would probably use technology that I feel comfortable with, in order to get my point across more clearly.
* I’m more efficient in conveying my thoughts via technological tools, and since most of the school I’ve taken lately has been via distance, I prefer to collaborate on projects online (via things like GoogleDocs) than in isolation. Also, I like the social nature of doing projects with technology, with a wider sense of authorship and audience.
* Using technology makes my projects come to life. I am not an artist, but I can do a project with tech that lets me be creative in other ways than the typical projects that are assigned- which you need to have artistic skills to do well on.
* I’ve worked in technology use since 1984. It provides me a common language with many students. Though other purposes and ends may be met, technology is a guaranteed end of the world they will inhabit once they leave my classroom
* Why wouldn’t you use technology?  Technology allows me to write, edit, revise and display information in a very unique and professional way.
* It makes sense to have the tools in the palm of your hand (especially when using perhaps an iPod touch or iPad). It keeps me connected with the rest of the world, and mostly it is how I do business.
* I can’t imagine doing anything without a computer these days, be it word processing, research, getting feedback, the visual component you can add, the interactivity available using different technologies…
* Technology is exciting. When I went to school we did not even have calculators. Students today will be using technology at work not even invented today. We have to make them aware of everything that is out there. How do we prepare them for the real world otherwise.

Peace (in the data),
Kevin

Get Paid to Write about Tech/Ed

I want to pass along this note from my friends and colleagues at Instructify, where I write reviews of educational tech sites and apps. I often tell friends that my work writing for Instructify pays for a few date nights with my wife, and it does.  I also learn a whole lot from both the writing, and the reading, at the site.

Do you have a great instructional technology idea that you want to share with your fellow educators? Are you a good writer? Instructify is looking for practicing teachers and media specialists to write feature-length (1,500 word) articles on technology integration. If you write something we can use, we’ll publish it on Instructify and LEARN NC, and pay you $200 for your trouble.For full details, please see our feature writing guidelines.

Peace (in the writing),
Kevin