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Learning

“The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn. ”

by John Lubbock

Some quick thoughts about learning and online professional development:

  • Everyone can learn
  • Not everyone learns in the same way
  • Learning is a life-long process
  • I hope to inspire my students to want to learn
  • As a teacher, I should help my students learn how to learn
  • I need to model learning for my students
  • I need to show my students purpose
  • I can learn from my students, too
  • I hope to establish an environment of trust and safety in our classroom
  • Learning has changed with innovation. As educators we need to not only acknowledge this, but embrace it. Our students have!
  • Professional Development has also changed with innovation
  • Online professional development has allowed me to stretch beyond my own community and learn from so many other around the world
  • Online PD allows me to see many more perspectives than just those I see around me
  • Online PD has motivated me so much more than I thought possible!

The long-term challenge: In what ways will I ensure that my beliefs about how students learn are reflected in the classroom?

One step towards this goal is reflecting in my blog and another is participating in the online community for this challenge. The blog provides a place for me to reflect on my goals and review them as necessary. The online community provides a place for me to collaborate, share and reflect with others on the same journey.  While the connection to the classroom may not be blatant, it is still there. The connection is me.  The classroom, the blog, the community – I am a part of all of these things and all of these things are tools to be used to keep the focus when the educational demands become overwhelming.

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“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

by Albert Einstein

I think I could end my blog post there.  Einstein says a great deal about grading without ever knowing it would be taken as a discussion point for us.  Our challenge today in  30 Goals 2011 is “to assess one assignment or project … in a way that doesn’t add a numerical value but has the student seek value in the progress made, the learning achieved, or the work put into it.”  I watched the video (click on the link), read the challenge, and walked away from the computer for most of the rest of the day.

My thoughts and emotions are mixed regarding this challenge.  One side of me laughs at the challenge: how am I going to get my students to even try something if there is no grade to put in the grade book.  Therein lies the problem. Our society has placed such a high value on “the grade,”  the GPA, and the class rank, State testing, ACT, SAT, AP and so much more that learning for the sake of learning and the pride that comes from within is lost. The real loser is the student.

Back to my initial moment of laughter: how am I going to get my students to try something that doesn’t have a numerical value attached to it?  First, I’d like to train them in appreciating “the process” of learning. I want them to see that there is learning in each step of what we do.  My first step began today.  One group of students are finishing a project this week.  I’ve spent time with them setting up their foundational skills, presenting examples, modeling the information, making the theme authentic (in theme and product), presenting the project, and giving the project purpose. Their final leg of the assignment has 2 steps: they are to post their Glogs on edmodo with a comment/abstract plus respond to other posts (with guidelines provided), and complete a google docs evaluation.  The edmodo post allows them to boast about their product and provide positive feedback to others.  It’s an affirming experience.  The google docs evaluation is designed to illicit information about their experience all the way through.  It’s a self-evaluation about their successes, failures, needs, and wants from this project and for future ones.  In the end, my goal is to provide the students opportunities to show value in themselves and others; and, to be able to talk about their experience as something that is valued as much as the end product.

I tried to apply the challenge to something immediately, so it wouldn’t be just a topic to blog about, but one to put into action immediately. I want to find the value in the process just as much as I want my students to do.  I may not fully accomplish this goal for some time, but I’ll be working on it as the challenge continues.  The numbers aren’t going to go away for some time, but there’s still room for value in the process of learning.


Be a Beam

“You cannot force commitment, what you can do…You nudge a little here, inspire a little there, and provide a role model.  Your primary influence is the environment you create.”

by Peter Senge, suggested by John Evans

And so it begins… What? The 30-Day Challenge. It’s a personal challenge with an end goal of better engaging us with our students. The link to the challenge, should you choose to be curious is : Teacher Boot Camp – 30 Goals 2011 .  Those participating will use various media to reflect and support each other with and through various goals. Today’s goal:  Be a Beam.

Shelly Terrell, the foundation for this challenge, describes a beam as a strong, hidden structure that offers support.  She tells us that every day we have the opportunity to approach students as a support or as a wall.  What do we choose? What do I choose?

It’s my hope that I choose every day to be a support to my students. Some days are likely more successful than others.  Do I, however, extend that to my colleagues as well?  It’s easy to do that with the various social media that I participate (twitter, Facebook), because one can choose like-minded professionals to follow/friend.  Colleagues aren’t always those people.  I am hesitant to even say that, because comments have already been misinterpreted and misrepresented from my own Facebook page and spread through areas of my building.  (Really, my FB page is not all that exciting or dramatic – someone, for some reason just found it so.)

With that said, my goal today (and the next 30 days) will be to become that unseen beam for those people with whom I work.  Keep reading, I’ll post at the end of the challenge what I’ve tried.  Will I notice any difference in my colleagues?  It doesn’t matter. I hope I’ll be setting the foundation for better, improved collaboration and collegiality.

Sturm und Drang

A friend was asking about my blog. As he was reading the title (or at least trying to correctly pronounce the German), it occurred to me that there may be others out there who also had no idea to what I am referring.  Sturm und Drang, as defined by Merriam-Webster is “a late 18th century German literary movement characterized by works containing rousing action and high emotionalism that often deal with the individual’s revolt against society.”

Most of the time I like to use this term to describe periods of my own personal life.  I find that personally a little amusing. Naming my blog this, to which I ascribe my reflections on teaching and learning, brings the title into a new light. While a part of me envies those who produce “rousing action” and can bring their “high emotionalism” to a productive result, I don’t find myself there at this point.  I am also not an individual known for “revolt[ing] against society.” There are those who might call me a “wannabe,” but I would dare to differ on that account.

I am a passionate individual. Teaching and Learning are two of my passions. I have spent years living and working within my own little ecosystem of the educational world.  I am only now searching and finding ways to expand out of that system and into/within others.  Revolting against society, the educational society, is not my plan: working from within to help myself and others grow is.

While I doubt anyone will find me marching with picket-signs, I do hope that I am becoming someone who fosters action and passion in the classroom, school, District, State, and among each other.

Carrots and Sticks

Rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks. We’ve all used these before, to varying degrees. Honestly, I hadn’t yet thought of them as being part of a “Motivation 2.0” world. Actually, I hadn’t thought of motivation as being demonstrated by various stages in history. There are many things that motivate us, I’m still pondering if these three stages are an over-simplification or not. What I can concur with, is that schools are generally in a Motivation 2.0 stage.

We want our students to be using higher order thinking skills. We have Bloom’s Taxonomy (I confess to attaching it to my lesson plan book every year). We have inquiry-based teaching/lessons/methodology. We know we want to reach a different level of thinking and achievement with our students. The question remains – how do we motivate them?

We motivate with grades, class rank, AP test scores and college credit, pizza or ice cream parties, candy, free homework passes, and so much more. We do dangle the carrots. Why do we do this? We were taught that way, those are the examples we’ve seen, the students respond to this and other similar responses. It’s easier to fall back on “tradition” (long-term effectiveness not in question) than to try and harness that biological drive towards motivation. We appreciate those students who have it, are very thankful to have them in class. But, have we tried to foster this – consciously? Or, do we pat ourselves on the back when it does happen?

Interview with Dan Pink: http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/carrots-and-sticks-are-so-last-century-conversation-author-dan-pink

Performance pay. There’s an idea. Some school districts are using it. It’s another carrot to dangle in front of us to “motivate” us to work harder with our students. It’s a reward before the measurement. Something to work towards. Something new. In difficult economic times, many of us will jump at the hope of an increase in pay (especially when we haven’t had a raise and aren’t getting one).

Measurement. That’s where the questions here lie. How is this determined? What tools are being used? If we use state standardized testing, what about those subjects areas or grade levels that are not tested? One hates to hear the term favoritism, but can that happen? It does in the business world. Would this be used as a punishment as well? It can in the business world as well.

As much as many don’t want to publicly admit, there is a business side to education. The difference is that most educators are not business people. Most of us drawn to education are drawn for reasons besides the pay. Dan Pink said that “educators understand the differences between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation better than almost anyone in American society.” I think there’s truth in that statement. Our reward is different. While we would definitely appreciate a better pay scale (as in many other countries around the world), I think we are the students who had that motivation to learn from the start.

I like something else that Dan Pink said, “Pay people enough so that they are not focused on money, but they are focused on doing their job well.”

I spent the afternoon staring at a computer screen wondering about the motivation behind my decision to join a cadre of 21st Century Skill enthusiasts.  My eyes are tired.  My neck is feeling stiff. I wonder about the group of students I left with a guest teacher. Website after website, log in after log in. What was I doing here?

There was a moment, however, when I took a step back to evaluate what was going on in the room.  This wasn’t just a meeting. This wasn’t just a time to explore various sites.  This was a beginning.

For the next year this group of teachers will explore 21st Century Learning and what that means for our classroom culture and practice. We were spending our time today building a foundation of vocabulary, practice, and collaboration. We were merging the tools available on to a platform from which we can grow, learn, and share.  What started as a tiring experience for the eyes developed into one of the most meaningful collaborative beginnings.

While the technological benefit from being a part of this particular learning cadre is a given, I must say that the human collaborative part of the experience is what really brings everything together. All that we explored today was nothing without that human, collaborative element. It was when we brought ourselves together that the potential of our work started to take form.  Our journey has just begun. I look forward to seeing where it takes us from here.