Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Schools That Learn: Reflections

As a teacher, I feel most in control within the walls of my classroom. When I closed that door every morning, I am able to shut out all the criticisms, negativity and the failures of yesterday and execute my plans for a new day. Peter Senge's Schools That Learn covers the intricacies and complexities of the existing system of education but the portion that speaks to me the most is the about the classroom. There are powers to be that are simply beyond my control but my daily interactions with my students is where I can make a difference so that's where I will start my work.

Chapter III starts off with the design and creation of a learning classroom - what a concept! Imagine a classroom that is constantly evolving and causing students to be learning, thinking and productive interactions with or without a teacher standing in the front of the room (102). I was once told that the majority of a good teacher's work is outside the classroom during preparation and once class starts, the students are the ones hard at work! As I read on in the chapter, I find myself longing after the classroom described as "dynamic", "interactive", and most importantly "passionate".

Many of Carol Ann Kenerson's words (110-1116) echoed in my head as I considered my own classroom and the discrepancy between my ideals and the reality. I want to know "how". HOW do I transfer my passion of learning to my students? HOW do I foster intrinsic motivation and gear my students away from their obsession with grades? HOW do I train my students to look away from me and look to each other as contant resources? HOW do I overcome the challenges and resist the tendency to "revert to old ways and habits" (114)? HOW do I inspire?

Is there a cookbook for teaching? Although all my questions seem to have started with "how" - does any one have the secret one-size-fits-all recipe? If there really was a "HOW-TO" book out there, I doubt I will buy into any of it. Why not, you ask? Because my classroom is dynamic - the recipe is everchanging. So I've been asking the wrong questions...

Too many times, I've been driven by my curriculum and find myself teaching Social Studies rather than 12 year olds. Kenerson wrote, "A classroom is saturated with interests, desires and talents..." (111) I was so convicted by this sentence - in the name of "teaching", I am guilty of quenching these passions... the very passions that I vowed to foster! What an eye-opening realization... now I just need to fix it.

Lastly, I thought Kenerson's method of encouraging student interests was too idealistic at first, but brillant. She spoke about tapping into the students personal interests and talents and bring the old show-and-tell to a new level. Imagine a classroom full of teachers and learners alike and everyone's role changes every day... including mine.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Land Bridge Theory: Flash Project

This is a flash animation of the popular Land Bridge Theory - enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Salon #5: Are Free Tools Worth the Price?

"Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this and that" - Neil Postman

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Salon #4: Technology and Social Studies

"Technologies as tools that amplify and extend fundamental human capacities to observe, understand and communicate about the world- tools that give us rich data, help us manipulate and think about it, and connect us with others around it in new and powerful ways." - Bill Tally

The article titled “Digital Technology and the End of Social Studies Education” was the trigger of our discussion in Salon #4 with Brenda. Author Bill Tally raised thoughtful criticisms of the realities of education, revealed undeniable descriptions of technology integration into classrooms, put forth challenging questions for readers to consider, but most importantly he deposited hope and faith that “technologies do have a role in making social studies teaching and learning more lively, more rigorous, and more grounded in problems that matter to students and their communities”.

At first, I was convicted by Tally’s description of teachers today who uses technology to do exactly what they’ve done for years – for example, showing a video clip from the Internet rather than putting on a VHS or using the SmartBoard to give notes just as if it was a blackboard with the same set of notes in chalk. Throughout the article and discussed during the salon, I was inspired to go beyond the superficial use of technology in the classroom but be reminded of the “why” and “to what end” rather than being obsessed with the “how”. I questioned myself about the reason why I’m teaching students American History and I came up with a few good answers. First of all, I want to cultivate patriotic and responsible citizens for the sake of the future – so gaining an appreciation of the nation’s foundation is a good way to start. Secondly, I want to promote understanding of themes in society – the cause and effect, the triumphs and failures, the rights and responsibilities, the chronology of struggles, long term and short. Lastly, I want to inspire future historians and makers of the next chapters of history.

Doesn’t that sound great? I think so! Yet, I’m sad to report that the reality of my classroom is far from these ideals.

Unlike the ideas celebrated in Tally’s article, I cannot “slow down” or “dig deeper” in my teaching – on the contrary, I need to constantly rush through the curriculum as fast as I can before June to prepare my students with basic facts and ready for 8th grade Social Studies teachers to pick up exactly where we left off on the timeline and inject more knowledge to fill in as many blanks as possible to get them all ready for the New York State assessment exam at the end of the year, which includes both 7th and 8th grade material. So how do I reconcile what I want to achieve as an educator and what I am able to do in the classroom? Is “deeper learning” better at such a young age? Tally criticized many poor assignments given in which recipe rubrics and points given for following specific requirements. I am guilty of giving such rubrics and I also agree that micromanaging student “creative” projects will get me closer to my goals as a teacher. Yet, in order to be “fair” in order to make grading 120 projects manageable and save myself from biased judgment of “creativity”, I am forced to issue such rubrics.

In the article, Tally also addresses common WebQuests that serves as a web-based scavenger hunt for students to gather information and fill in a worksheet. Unfortunately, I too am guilty of this poor design. So I looked at the Museum Box project and was immediately floored – meaning, I was fascinated by the brilliancy of this activity. The project does not want students to spit back information on a worksheet or answer questions about a document – rather asks them to gather, digest and present information for others to access. What is your message and how can you explain all of it on a six-sided cube. According to Tally’s list of “human capacities to observe, understand and communicate about the world”, the museum box encourage students to take ownership of their design and give them means to be creative by allowing them to select their mediums (e.g. document, video, images, etc.) of presenting information. Students will likely come across more information that can be included on each cube so the project also foster students’ ability to dissect and digest the information – to understand it fully and eliminate unnecessary aspects when creating the final presentation. I think the Museum Box definitely require students to utilize analysis and synthesis skills according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. I guess my only question would be, if this was an assignment given to students, how do I grade it? Is it back to the detailed rubric? If so, how many points do I give for “creativity”? The ultimate question in my mind is how to measure true creativity in Social Studies education?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lost Generation: AARP Poetry Contest Winner

This is probably the most amazing and thoughtful poem I've read in a long time - enjoy.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Final Version: BubbleShare Tutorial

This is the final version of the BubbleShare Tutorial - Enjoy!

Draft: BubbleShare Tutorial

This is my first tutorial using ScreenToaster - it took a while to get use to and the sound mysteriously disappeared on my second try, but here's the raw copy of my sample tutorial on how to use BubbleShare. Stay tune for a completely edited version...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Flash Assignment Proposal: The Beringia Project

There are so many lessons I wish I can make a flash animation for and I have to start somewhere - so here's the proposal for my first attempt at creating a flash animation to help me explain the infamous Land Bridge Theory to my 7th grade students! Hopefully I'll be able to share the final product with you soon - stay tuned...