Sunday, October 23, 2011

6 best reasons to attend #edcampGR

#1 Derek Braman- Derek is a 5th great teacher in Kentwood. He loves learning and gives his kids great lessons that are both hands-on and tech-based. Derek teaches an after school club in the programming software Kodu. Derek is also a fun person who loves Star Wars (what else do I need to say about him). If you are an elementary or middle school teacher you need to get to know Derek.

#2 Ira Socol- Ira is a former New York City policeman, architect, and is now getting his doctorate in education from MSU. He is a writer or books and blogs. His expertise is in UDL and the history of education. He dreams of education that is personalized and meaningful for every student. Ira questions just about everything about the system of education. When you talk to Ira you will see a different perspective and that is a good thing.

#3 David Britten-David is a former military officer and current superintendent. David has a no nonsense approach that is focused on students. He cares about students and authentic learning. He will not let politicians' mandates get in the way of what he knows is best for his students. If you are an administrator you definitely could learn from David. 

#4 Andy Losik- Andy is an elementary technology teacher and former Michigan edu-tech teacher of the year. Andy has tons of experience using technology to support learning at the elementary level and is always willing to share his expertise with others.

#5 Deanna Rolffs- Deanna is a school improvement consultant at KISD. She is an expert on using data to improve instruction and standards based assessment. I think Deanna's greatest skill is her ability to listen and facilitate difficult topics. She is a truly caring person.

#6 Ron Houtman- Ron is the Wizard behind the screen of edcampGR. He is the brains and the organizer of this event. Ron is an educational technology integrator. Basically Ron knows just about everything about how to effectively use technology for student learning. Ron is also kind and helpful-basically loved by everyone.

The best thing about these people is that I call them all my friends. Many of them I "knew" online before we ever met face to face but I definitely am glad to have met them and have grown from the knowledge and support of each of them.They may not really be "the best" reasons to come to edcampGR because I could have picked Ben Rimes, Melanie Gray, Dan Spencer, David Coffey, Brooke Storms, or Sarah Wood instead. The point is that there is going to be a great group of motivated, passionate educators that you should meet and learn with at edcampGR.

So mark your calendar for November 5th, register, and join the conversations!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Imperialism in my classroom today

I wanted to introduce imperialism and colonialism to my students in a way that would make an emotional impression so I had my principal and IT people come in and take away all of their laptops. We are a brand new school that is 1:1 laptops and the students love them.

I told the students that there was a board meeting and they decided that one of the new programs in the vocational school in our building needed them more than we did. So because of budget cuts our students were losing their computers and might get new ones next year.

It worked wonderfully. Some of them got mad. Some got emotional. Some started texting their friends or parents about it. Students choose to come to our school from 20 districts in our county. So many of them said "why should we even come here?" or "I am going to go back to my home district." One of my favorite responses came from a student from a rural district who was very upset, "I am a farmer and this is the only technology I have. You can't take it away from me!"

Once they were loaded on a cart and taken away I tried to continue teaching but the students kept interrupting with questions and complaints. I then asked them how it would feel to go home and have someone meet them at the door and tell them this was not their house and to leave. I then asked them how to think about how it must have felt to be Chinese, African, or Native American and have Europeans do just that.

In one class a few students had some hints that it was not real and refused to turn in their laptops in "protest." There were two groups of protesters. One group sat on the floor in the middle of my room, but when I called them out individually they all turned in their computer. The other group was off to the side of the room and refused to give up their computers. This led to a good discussion afterwards of protesting and how they have been trained by schooling to be obedient and compliant.

When I revealed that they were getting their computers back some students just thought it was a joke. I think they got the connection after we talked about it as we gave them their computers back and specifically talked about colonization. We then looked at this slide and did "Knows and Need to Knows" (part of the PBL process).

This is where I have one question about the PBL process. The students were so excited after the simulation but by the time we got done with KNTK's I felt like they were almost lulled to sleep. To me we lost all of our momentum as a class and went from excited to bored.

My plan is to try to re-capture some energy tomorrow by scrapping my planned mercantile simulation and instead leading a "research session" on Libya and Quidaffi. I am hoping the spontaneity of it will generate some enthusiasm because I don't know where we will end up and want students to pursue it however they choose to.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I am a biased teacher

Interesting conversation started yesterday in #sschat on Twitter started by a question from Jamie Josephson:

by David Shankbone
Some people see #OccupyWallStreet as undetermined in importance and too politically biased to discuss or promote. This turned into a somewhat heated discussion about the role of person politics in the classroom. It is a complicated question. On the one hand, I do not believe it is our job as educators to teach children a specific political agenda such as who to vote for. On the other hand we do teach children about morality and many things in history and current events are clearly wrong.

I may be in the minority now days but I still believe that some things are morally wrong. My personal beliefs stem from my religious faith which I never try to use with students. But I believe that society does hold many actions as wrong that are universally agreed upon regardless of the reasons why (religious, human rights, good of society, etc).

Therefore I think that teachers have a responsibility to teach that some things are clearly wrong. For example, slavery, human rights abuse, murder, genocide, corruption, racism, and theft. There are also many subjects that are open to debate as to their morality: abortion, stem-cell use, just war, and cloning to name a few.   Although I have strong opinions about these subjects as well, I would not push my "agenda" onto students. I would present facts of both sides of these issues and let students decide for themselves.

Some ideas may be hard to decide which camp they fall into as this seems to be determined by societal norms. For example women rights would not be considered important in some countries where genital mutilation is still widely practiced. Gay marriage is still a very controversial subject in the United States. So whose role is it to decide which camp controversial things fall into? I would argue that teachers should make this decision in light of their community that they teach in.

Many social studies teachers argue that no politics (personal or any outside agenda) should enter the classroom to influence students. I think that they are lying to themselves. First of all teachers influence students by the resources that they choose to use or not use. I plan to have students look at these charts about the reasoning behind #occupywallstreet. I also plan to have them search the hashtag on Flickr and see what messages they find. Just by choosing this resource I am influencing the conclusions that students will come to. I feel it is more honest to let students know your view point and feel free to disagree with it than to pretend that you do not have one. Students are not stupid and recognize us as experts on events and they know that we have an opinion. I see no value in hiding it from them.

If you use a textbook then you are really giving students a biased, European centric view of history.There is no such thing as an unbiased viewpoint. So rather than seek to be unbiased, teachers should teach students to identify bias and evaluate it. Biases do not automatically make something wrong or untrue. It is an important skill to name a bias and then be able to interpret whether or not the bias corrupts an idea or argument.

Of course we share our biases all the time. How many teachers present a balanced view with the positive side of Bin Laden, Hitler, slavery, or Nazism? No one does because these are outside of the United States and easy to condemn. On the other hand many schools still promote Christopher Columbus as a hero. Is there really a positive side to a greedy conqueror who maimed, killed, and enslaved?

Some historical people are more complicated such as Thomas Jefferson who wrote some of the most beautiful language of equality and human rights while at the same time was a slave owner who had an affair with one of his slaves. We should tell both sides of the story when they exist. But sometimes there really is no positive side to the history and one historical figure (or group) is the abuser and the other is the victim.

So bring some personal viewpoints into the classroom and let students know that you are against some things: corporate greed and abuse, unfair immigration laws, slavery, or human rights abuse. At the same time be prepared to play the devil's advocate at times. Students already know that you are biased anyway. Let them analyze your biases and decide for themselves what they think is true, right, and just.