Swimming Against The Conformity Current

I started my Saturday morning off as I start many of my Saturday mornings.  I typically wake up (always a good start…) grab some coffee and work my way to my spare bedroom/office and jump into #SATCHAT with my other buddies who share a passion for sharing and learning.

After concluding my chat time and regrouping for my work for the day today (aka, refilling my coffee cup), I went back and reread the posts from the morning’s chat.  A post from Pernille Ripp caught my eye:

@pernilleripp
Thanks go to @PernilleRipp and #SATCHAT (2/7/15)

Of course I had to click on the link (goo.gl/lBKJqk) and I invite you to do the same.  Her words spoke to me as if she were “Killing Me Softly With (Her) Song” .  I don’t often add comments to a post; I’m not much for the Redundancy Chamber.  But given that I’d had the following experience just the previous afternoon, I was compelled to respond.

I wrote on Pernille’s Blog:

(A brief recap: My co-teacher and I designed a unit length project using ExplainEverything using all the electronic materials the students are given (aka handed) on their classroom wiki, in their iBook, and possibly some Internet research (beyond minimal). Their assignment: create an ExplainEverything project using 3-4 slides per unit from their learning goal rubric where they identify and synthesize their understanding of the topics presented. Their first unit had 17 learning goals. Upon presentation of the project to them, they immediately did the math and said…51 to 68 slides!!!??? and under their breath… are they crazy????)

If you went to Pernille’s blog and read my response, which I hope you will take the time to do, you will read a bit more about the question my Gen-Ed HS Biology co-teacher and I were asked:

If doing this kind of work is so important, then why is this class, our class the only one doing it?  Why isn’t every teacher making us do this kind of work, to work so hard, in all of our classes?

The truth is that I ask myself this kind of question every day.  Why aren’t teachers in our high school asking the students perform creative knowledge constructing projects every single day? Why do we ask so very little of our students? 

To be fair, which is a code I live by every day (and some days better than others), some of the teachers in my building are doing incredible work.  But it still begs the question asked to us by our student:  Why isn’t every teacher asking us to work this hard?

As I said in my post to Pernille, I had to hold my tongue.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student what I’ve experienced in my co-teaching classes.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student of the multiple or even many conversations I’ve had with my building colleagues about changing their craft to include projects like the one I created and (to her credit) my co-teacher has supported. (This has been a bumpy journey; bringing a project like this into a classroom for the first time is filled with unforeseen bumps in the road, despite my months of planning. And she has been a terrific co-pilot, pointing out how we can tweak the implementation here and there to make the process less stressful for the students. God bless her…) But I couldn’t possibly tell my student the words I’ve been told In conversation after conversation; the words that strike frustration and disbelief to my heart:

“I don’t have time. I’m too busy with (insert your excuse of choice here) and (insert your other excuse of choice here) to put all that time and energy into changing what I do.”

During this morning’s #SATCHAT as with many other Twitter Chats I follow, someone inevitably goes down the road of ‘providing teachers with professional development…..”.

Which brings me to my question of the day:

What does it take to have/inspire/cause a teacher to swim against the Conformity Current?

I wish I was writing because I knew the answer.  I wish I could say that the tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of dollars my district has spent on iPad training for our staff was the answer. I wish I could say that getting teachers (yes, even new teachers) to swim against the conformity current had an answer I could provide.  But the sad truth is that I don’t.

Before I close, I will share with you where I find the inspiration and courage to fight the good fight, as my friend Courtney Pepe would say (@iPadQueen2012), everyday.

For health reasons, I was home last spring, away from my classroom, and missing my work.  I was using Twitter to stay current on my political addictions and I decided to see what was going on in the educational arena.  Of course, you know the ending to this part of the story; I found my courage and inspiration from the millions of you out there who support and encourage us to do what’s best for kids everyday; to fight the good fight.  And if needed, to swim hard against the Conformity Current.

In swimming against the Conformity Current with the support of my Twitter friends and colleagues, I was no longer alone in the fight but supported by hundreds of others with a greater vision like mine: that kids won’t have to just do worksheets and multiple choice tests, but will have to put their minds to work and create new understandings and possibly change the world in the process.  Now… How Cool Is That?

P.S.  Thank you for choosing to Swim Against The Conformity Current and inspiring me every day.

Are gamers perceived as braver teachers?

Some may say that my understanding (or lack thereof) of video games is a generational thing.  No, I’m not a 35 year old gamer who thinks he is the conquerer of the Armageddon of knowledge and inspiration.  I’ve been to a few rodeos in my day and as I’m prone to say to those who doubt my perspective, “I’ve learned to… sip…brandy…”.  Some things really do take time to develop. Using my time to beat a game seems pointless to me.  It seems even more pointless because I don’t see the transfer of focus required of gaming making my students more focused and goal oriented.  But it does beg the question:  Does gaming make for braver teachers?

OK- clearly I’m biased.  My frustration with gaming is this:  as a high school math teacher, I am presented with classrooms of students who need to be told exactly what to do next.  Now this may be an occurrence that is only happening within my own small realm, but I suspect not.  What does this have to do with gaming? When I watch the diligence with which my students pursue success within a game (the research, the collaboration between them, the undefinable self-driven effort they dedicate to beating a game), I wonder where all that energy for learning goes once they hit the classroom.  Why can they muster hours and hours of focus, day after day, to just beating a game? Clearly the answer is to bring gaming into the classroom; #gamification.  This, of course, makes perfect sense because who doesn’t like to do things that are fun?

Again, don’t misunderstand me.  I understand that gaming is fun.  I understand the social side of it.  I really do.  I promise. But as a teacher, as an aspiring administrator, I can’t help but feel immense frustration that as educators, we don’t absolutely embrace this idea of using gaming to provide a platform for exploration within our classrooms.  Many of us continue to take our classes through the same old teacher led drudgery that’s been around since…. I was a kid.  So the question I’ve been asking myself is, Why are some teachers brave?

I have a sense of even greater frustration when I see new teachers who can’t muster the bravery to really tackle this new pedagogy.  Perhaps I’ve always had this innovator streak in me.  My mother could never understand how or why I was always willing to propose a better way to do something.  I have always had the inquisitor gene.  Can we do this better? Is there a tweak that will make this idea pop?  As I wrote in my previous post, given the time, I was able to embrace the brisk and engaging world of Twitter.  Twitter has great classroom applications.  For example, using Twitter to conduct a formative assessment or online discussion.  Or sending reminders or posting a video on your favorite polynomial video. (Sorry… it’s the math in me… 🙂

Perhaps its because being ‘brave’, being willing to bring a new idea to the table requires the disruptor personality factor.  (I can assure you that my parents understood that oh too well!)  More often than not, I was surrounded by non-disruptors.  Same old, same old was fine and why do we need to find a new or better way that takes me away from the same old, same old…

Twitter changed that.  Twitter connects me with other disruptors and encourages me to be brave; it keeps me from giving up when I feel unheard.  Twitter keeps me inspired and makes me look for ways to accomplish things, all sorts of things.  It even connects me to others who think that Minecraft has a place in the math and physics classrooms.  Really, How Cool Is That?

PLNs: My Digital Transformation

As I was perusing the Table of Contents for a purchase of a Kindle edition book this morning, I stopped and fixated my eyes on one particular chapter’s title: Apps and Personal Relationships.  As an aspiring administrator, I, like many others, read an inordinate amount of material covering a wide range of topics; from assessments and proposal writing to leadership and walkthroughs.  But this title put the words ‘Apps’ and ‘Personal Relationships’ in the same sentence.

It was at that moment that I realized my Twitter PLNs had made a drastic change in my perception of digital relationships.  Some of my readers may be surprised to know that I’ve been a tech person long before tech was cool.  I bought an Apple Macintosh computer instead of a PC in 1985 because I couldn’t fathom that the DOS based systems of the PC market could possibly blow away the intuitive operations of the Apple Macintosh.  So much for betting on Gate’s marketing abilities…

My computer obsession had always taken me away from people. I could, then and now, spend countless hours alone at my computer doing any number of things that would probably drive many others crazy.  I’ve taught myself countless programs as a business owner because I couldn’t afford to have a tech come in and handle the process.  Computer literate was a misnomer: I was out in front of almost every business owner I knew.  Few people could understand my consuming obsession with tech.   But even with the advent of the interactive Web 3.0, I was still alone at my computer.  Of course I used email because that is a given communication tool. I used all sorts of programs for marketing, spreadsheets to create cash flows and identify trends.  But much beyond that, I wasn’t really communicating with people outside my normal circle of contacts.  How is it, I wondered, that people can have their faces buried in their phones, chatting and Tweeting to people they’ve never laid eyes on?

Fast forward to my computer time today.  As a result of a needed surgery, I’ve had some time off from the daily grind of work.  I found myself drawn to my computer just as I would have been under normal circumstances.  I’ve had time to read great books like “Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times” by Eric Sheninger (2014) and “Teach Like A PIRATE!” by Dave Burgess (2012) to name two.  As engaging as these books were, something was missing. I was tired of the one-way circuit.

I decided to ‘venture’ into the world of Twitter.  I had a Twitter account but, surprise! I only used it to keep up on topics to save me time.  Well, long story short, I dove into the waters, drank the Kool-Aid and have converted from the one-sided world of tech to the two way world of Tweeting!

Now I know to some of you, this will be a ‘Duh…’ moment.  I had dabbled in Tweeting to a parent through a single channel so I could keep her up to date on the progress of her newly placed son in my class.  I ran into some tech issues (like the site being blocked) which soon put an end to my classroom use for the tool.  (When I later mentioned it to a person who was in a place to fix it, Twitter access was restored. Phew!)

Some of you may say that I was reluctant because I am not a millennial. Nothing could be farther from the truth!  To know me is to know that I am not afraid of tackling most anything, least of all a piece of technology!  I guess I just couldn’t wrap my head around why I needed to talk to people I didn’t know…

But, as you can imagine, this story has a happy ending… (Most of my stories do!)… I am a digital convert and discovered the Twitter chat on “Teach Like A PIRATE” (#TLAP) as well as an upcoming Twitter chat/book study on “Digital Leadership”.  I have certain chats logged into my calendar and my husband laughs when I tell him I can’t go to wherever because I have a Twitter chat to get to! I use Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to keep up with the feeds and it is so invigorating that I have trouble resting my brain when we’re off-line!  I often wind up re-reading a section or searching online or writing notes about a great idea.  Sleep often has to take a back seat!

Quite frankly, this has really provided me with a refreshed window of energy.  I’ve met lots of people from around the United States who share my passion for relationship building, engaging instruction and best practices for technology integration. If you haven’t dived into the world of Twitter, absolutely do so.  I have met so many great people, gotten so many great ideas that I just have to say, “How Cool Is That?”  Follow me @chrisduane819 !  See you there!

I don’t understand…

Again, to reiterate, I am an In-Class-Support  high school math teacher.  As an ICS teacher, I am, for better or worse, subject to the class management habits of the teachers with whom I work.

Each of the teachers I work with opens her class with a Warm-up, Do Now, or whatever term you choose.   On more days than not, the students receive their worksheet upon their arrival to class.  Each teacher verbally expresses her desire to have the students complete this opening exercise within the first 5-10 minutes of class while housekeeping items are dealt with.  Sounds reasonable enough, no?

And this  is what I don’t understand: Why do these same teachers then engage students near their desk in a conversation about anything from the change in lunchroom duties, to their plans for the weekend, or the students’ plans for the weekend after just instructing them to complete their Warm-up?

The class slowly erupts into many side conversations, the warm-up isn’t completed by the students, notes are not accessed, prior knowledge is not activated, and the students merely copy down the work the teacher dutifully explains as she questions and leads them through the answers, using the Elmo to display this work on the front whiteboard.

And we want to know why we don’t have student driven learning?

I may have mentioned that I am taking courses toward a Technology Certificate.  In one of our readings about the challenges facing distance learners is that… of all things… most adults went to school where they were passive receivers of information… Go Figure!!! The article I reference was written in 2000-ish… One might assume that things have changed.   [I will add the reference to this as soon as I get back to my desk at home.]

I am here to tell you they have not… and so it goes… until the pedagogy expected at any level begins with the expectation that the teacher will NOT be the ‘sage-on-the-stage’, we will continue to have passive receivers of learning.

Can we have a call for leaders instead of managers?