Whatever Works – Don’t Fight It!

A middle school teacher that I worked with last year said “whatever works, don’t fight it” when we would talk about all the different things we tried in our classes.   She was referring to how she was engaging her students. Willing to try just about anything, she maintained throughout the year that she was going to keep doing what was working for her.

Because what I was doing wasn’t working, I’ve revamped the plans for one district. The thing is, I wasn’t being effective. It wasn’t bringing on change or improvement. The teachers involved needed something different. It’s difficult to stop something that you were convinced is going to work and to go at it from another angle.

Whatever works, don’t fight it

So, where did this new plan come from? If you look back at my post after Educon, you’ll see that I am thinking that sharing stories is a fantastic way to bring improvement to our classrooms. In order to make this list, I listened to stories from and read and studied information from Kern Kelley, Helen Barrett, the collective wisdom of http://1to1schools.net/ and countless articles and pieces of research.

Here’s the new plan as it stands now (subject to change):

  1. It’s not a tech initiative, it’s a learning initiative
  2. Digital Portfolios (using Google Sites)
  3. Managing the 1:1 Classroom
  4. Starting a student leadership team in grades 5-8
  5. Sharing success stories with colleagues
  6. Parent/Community training and showcases

The thing is though, that this new set of objectives may still not bring on enough improvement and discussion to satisfy the participants. Part of me feels like there isn’t anything wrong with trying to help and ultimately not making a change,  and part of me feels extremely concerned. Each teacher and group of students is unique. How would you cope / deal / discuss / decide what your next step was?

1.       It’s not a tech initiative, it’s a learning initiative

2.       Digital Portfolios using Google Sites

3.       *Managing the 1:1 Classroom  –

4.       Starting a student leadership team in grades 5-8

5.     Sharing success stories with colleagues

6.     Parent/Community training and showcases

The Purpose of Education

This post is my contribution to an ongoing project organized by purpos/ed, “a non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?“  It is an honor to have my post included among the other amazing bloggers that have also contributed their responses at http://purposed.org.uk/archives/.

The purpose of education is to help students develop a lifelong love of learning.

Don’t you remember what school was like at age 6 and 7? I do. I had teachers that liked to have us explore, play, laugh and smile. I wanted to go to school and I wanted to learn.

I see this in my second grader. There is no “boring”. There is no memorization of facts. She wants to research topics she interested in and report them to her classmates. She reads, write, draws, thinks and discusses.

What happened between 2nd and 3rd grade?

My 3rd grader's bookcase

An appreciation and love for learning at school is something that is absent from the life of my 3rd grader. At homework time, she says:

  • Mom, I can’t draw my comic figures for this report, I have to do it the right way.
  • Mom, I can’t ask my teacher that, she might get mad at me.
  • Mom, I can’t use the computer for my spelling lists, I have to do this worksheet.
  • Mom, I can’t read that book, I have to read this one.
  • Mom, I hate homework.
  • Mom, I don’t like school
  • Mom, school is boring.

It goes on everyday, seven days a week. (Yes, she has homework seven days a week.)

What should we do? Or, how can we help? (Or what should I do and how can I help?)

Do our pre-service and in-service teachers getting enough experience, training and time for:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-awareness
  • The ability to reflect

Because if we can encourage all of this in our teachers, there is a glimmer of hope that they will model them well for our children.

I admit I am critical of those that work with my two girls. Shouldn’t I be? But, I acknowledge that perhaps some are not prepared in the sense that their education and experiences didn’t give them the opportunities to develop enthusiasm, empathy, respect, self-confidence, self-awareness and the ability to reflect.

We need passionate teachers. We need to cultivate a love of learning in all our students. I believe that before test scores rise, more children graduate from high school, and more graduates go to college, we need to focus on the purpose of education – nurturing a love of learning.

Looking for Skype partners

The Supervisor of Technology from Montclair Public Schools contacted me earlier this week looking for ways to spark interest in collaborations with the students in Watchung Science and Technology Elementary School. The Principal of the schools, Peter Turnamian, had reached out to her regarding a project they were working on. (The school serves 460 students in grades K-5.  Their primary language is English.)

The question the students are looking to discuss via Skype is “How are we all connected?”  The primary objective for this project is to increase cultural awareness for students.

We know we have the following invaluable Skype resources:

But if you are interested in kick-starting this discussion, please fill out the following form so that someone from Watchung Science and Technology Elementary School can contact you directly.

Please click on the form to complete it.

Students Speak about Authentic Project Based Learing at #TMNJ11

Students from the TEAM Academy Present at #TMNJ11

Yesterday was the inaugural TeachMeetNJ. The event was organized by Jason Bedell and Mike Ritzius. I was pleased to be able to offer the space in the building I work at (CMSCE, Rutgers). I was equally pleased that the wireless held up all day.

Since I was helping Shelly Krause with registration in the morning and making sure all the rooms were set up correctly, I actually only got to one session during the day (and moderated another as well). I do, however, want to share with you the story the students from the TEAM Academy in Newark, NJ shared with us.

Kristen Sigler is the Technology Teacher (5th-8th grade) at the TEAM Academy, a KIPP Charter School in Newark, NJ. She has designed her program using the Project Based Learning (PBL) approach. Her Google Site, Play, Design, Share, lists the options that the students have developed on their own for their course of study.

If you are not that familiar with PBL, take a look at the video the students from the TEAM Academy created.

Camden School District teacher chats with Team Academy student

The three students that facilitated the session were amazing. Using https://sites.google.com/site/teachmeetnj2018iclass/ to guide us through the session, students had us work collaboratively to brainstorm ideas on possible projects. They then introduced the group to Prezi. They articulated how they designed their PBLs and what they learned from the experience. They really worked the room making sure those that needed help received it all while chatting with the participants.

On the class Google Site, Ms. Sigler lists the skills the students have acquired through these PBLs:

  1. Utilize Microsoft Office
  2. Locate and learn how to use web based applications.
  3. Collaborate through web 2.0 applications.
  4. Research reliable websites and cite them using MLA format.
  5. Research and apply the best practices for building a positive digital footprint.
First time with an iPad? No problem

Most of what the students chatted about with us was how self directed they had become. Osamu spoke about how she went to office hours with Ms. Sigler because she wanted to, and now she is a tech teacher in the building. All the students made a point of discussing where you can go when you don’t know how to do something. They talked about Youtube as a valuable resource for them. “The resources are endless”, said one of the students referring to the wealth of information available to them on the web.

These students and their teacher really did a fantastic job yesterday. I truly appreciated their enthusiasm and knowledge. Their presentation at #TMNJ11 was a success!