Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 as a PBL theme

I just posted on TeachPaperless about why I will not be teaching 9/11 tomorrow. That does not mean that students will not learn about it eventually. It might take us all year in Global Studies to get the background to truly begin to understand it.

As I will have the same students next year for American History I am thinking that 9/11and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would make a great PBL theme for the whole year. It could be connected to almost everything in our history.

  • The terrorist acts on civilians could be compared to other attacks on civilians such as the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Wounded Knee Massacre or the My Lai Massacre.
By Rolling Thunder at de.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

  • The propaganda of WMD to justify a preemptive strike against Iraq could be compared to other propaganda in history. The use of patriotism for war to distract people from domestic and economic problems is another theme in US history.

  • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be compared with the many other conflicts in our history. The parallels with Vietnam are numerous. 

  • The history of Afghanistan can only be understood in the context of the Cold War and the Soviet Union. 

  • Our setting up governments in Iraq and Afghanistan could be compared to puppet governments in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America under the guise of "keeping out the Reds" while we protected our rights to pilfer countries of their natural resources.

  • The torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib could lead to a discussion on civil rights and who has rights under our Constitution. Not to mention the high percentage of minorities who serve in our armed forces and fight the politicians' wars. 

  • The question of the motives of the terrorists leads to complicated discussions of imperialism, puppet dictators paid for oil, and centuries of hate between Jews, Muslims, and Christians dating back to the Crusades.
What would you add to this list?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Time, relationships, consensus, and other ramblings

I have read a couple of posts that resonated with me lately from Chris Lehmann and Clarence Fisher about teachers having enough time to prepare and plan together. The emphasis was not on preparing for any individual lesson but on planning as a team for the big picture of how your school will work and innovation. I agree that time is being taken away from many staffs as it costs money.

By Bogenfruend

My new job started so different from my previous jobs and I would guess different from most of your experiences. For  my first job I was hired around a week before school started to teach five classes with no textbooks or prepared materials. My second job I also was hired right before school started. In my experience this is the norm. Some of you may even be waiting to hear about a job right now. This is often unavoidable as schools do not know enrollment or people change positions at the last moment leaving vacancies. But this is a terrible way to run an organization.

Our team at our new school has been truly blessed with adequate time (there is no such thing as too much time!) We started working together after spring break and had three weeks of extra work time in the summer. We did not have students or any "teaching" duties during this time. We received PBL and other training. We worked hard on curriculum, created a handbook, and planned an orientation for students the first week of school. We also got to know each other by traveling to Indiana for a couple of days visiting another New Tech school, a summer barbeque, and lots of shared meals.

If you were a fly on the wall in our "office" you might at times think we were "wasting" time talking about our children, dogs, or the Tigers. But this was valuable time spent getting to know and trust each other. We were strangers in April, but now are a team that knows and understands each other and is growing together. I can not imagine starting a new school if I was just hired last week and did not know anyone.

I feel some of our results are impressive. One member of our team was not released by his district until school ended in June. When he joined us we made very fast progress. We looked at Standards Based Grading as a team for one day and decided to implement it fully. We wrote a mission and vision statement in two hours. We were able to make many decisions that typically a staff might argue about for months very quickly.

I think this happened for a couple of reasons. First we all choose to work at this school to be a part of the movement to change schools. We all came with a framework of wanting change, cutting edge practices, and the best learning environment for students. We do not have any teachers who resist and fight changes that might be found  at a traditional school. Also we are starting a school "from scratch." We all have backgrounds in traditional schools and we all have received the same excellent PBL training. The teamwork and trust we have in each other is exciting.

Finally my principal is a great example of a empowering leader. She does not tell us how to do things. Decisions are made by consensus. Yes, all five of us must listen to each other and agree for something to happen. This has led to many passionate discussions but because we respect each other and the overall goals that we have, we reach agreements rather quickly.

And this is my favorite thing about this job: professionalism and academic freedom. I never feel "managed" by my principal but feel like an equal partner who has different responsibilities. The responsibility of being a part of every decision and truly having my voice heard has been reinvigorating to me.

The best part of this starts in two days when it is my turn. I get to share the responsibility in my classroom with students and give them a greater voice in their education than they have ever had before. I know that I have pushed my principal and team in ways that they would not have expected. I anticipate how my students will push me in ways I can not predict. I have never been so excited for school to start!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Has your school started yet?

Evey year I am reminded of how important education is in the state of Michigan. I am willing to bet all of you that live in other states started school this week or earlier. Public schools in Michigan (with the exception of year round schools which are not that common) are required by law to start after Labor Day.

Every Labor Day you can walk the Mackinaw Bridge. Photo by A snapshot of our lives

What is the great educational reasoning for this? Tourism, of course! In 2005 businesses and chambers of commerce lobbied to extend summer vacation through Labor Day to encourage families to travel and take vacations. House Bill 4803 was passed banning schools from starting until after Labor Day.

Now teachers can start before Labor Day so pretty much every teacher in the state had PD days this week to keep the school year from going longer into June. I guess they don't care about teachers' tourism money ;)

It also does not apply to sports as fall teams have been practicing for weeks and most football teams are playing their second game of the season today.

Now I don't really know if this affects students' learning all that much and I personally don't care about the starting date a whole lot.

What it does show to me is how ridiculous politicians are when they meddle in education and that they are flat out liars when they say they care about kids and make decisions based on business motives. (Don't even get me started on how our current governor has cut business taxes and school funding this year!)

So I hope everyone is off to a great start of the year and we teachers in Michigan will join you next week when we have permission from politicians and business leaders to begin.