Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thoughts on Co-Teaching a Class

At our school this year we are experimenting with ways to improve the educational experience of our math students. This experiment deals with two math teachers teaching the subjects of Algebra and Geometry to the same group of 9th graders. The students, as of right now, will stay with these two teachers until they have completed the state mandated mathematics objectives for both subjects. The hope, and expectation, placed on this experiment is a deeper understanding of the foundational math skills required of all students taking 4 years of mathematics in high school. This will, in turn, improve the results of our students when they take the state mandated tests at the end of the year.

What I haven't told you is that this experiment is going on in my classroom and my co-teacher and I are the teachers mentioned above. So, we have completed almost three weeks of school and here are my early observations:

1. Planning is now something that is done with two perspectives. That may sound obvious but how many times have you said, "oh, I forgot about that." Now, one of us is bound to have thought through a particular angle that might have been missed by a single teacher. Also, I am finding that we are able to plan much farther out in the calendar. We will get together, for example, tomorrow and go through the basic nuts and bolts for the next three weeks of our second project while evaluating the end of our first project which wraps up this coming week.

2. Grading can now be done more expeditiously. As a matter of fact we are finding that I really like grading tests and quizzes (which is a very long process because I go through every problem for every student to see their work and evaluate their thought process), and my co-teacher doesn't mind doing the daily homework, classwork grading (things I hate to do and which would always end up piling up on my desk). This may change after a while, but for now, I think we're both happy.

3. We are starting to have an almost husband/wife relationship in front of the students. What I mean by this is that we play off each other's thoughts, we do the whole "good cop/bad cop" thing, and we feel comfortable poking fun at each other. This has led to times when one of us is not feeling like dealing with a certain situation in class and the other naturally steps in to take control of the task at hand. We have also caught students asking one of us for permission, not getting it, and then coming over and asking the other one of us for permission; a classic child/parent scenario.

4. Our pairing is especially good because of our age, and experience, difference. My co-teacher is in her 2nd full year as a teacher, is working on her Master's in Math Education, and is recognized by our district and the University of Texas' UTEACH program as an exceptionally gifted teacher. I've been teaching since 1992 and have taught in a variety of situations. Her hard driving, go-get-em approach is nicely tempered with my even-handed, seasoned approach to teaching. Between the two of us we are able to find a sensible middle ground in all that we do.

Working with another teacher in "your classroom" can be a bit disconcerting, at first. There needs to be a willingness by both teachers to collaborate on all decisions. As with all good teams, egos must be put aside so that progress can happen. Because, the progress we are really talking about is the progress of our students. The state, superintendent, principal, and parents don't care which teacher does what in the classroom as long as the students are successful. And, that is what we are seeing in OUR classroom. Learning is happening and I'm excited about the possibilities.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Should We Worry About Twitter Safety?

Surprise by Khayal on Flickr ccAs an educator I am always cognizant of perceptions by parents, school district personnel, and the local community. That runs the gamut from anything I might buy at the local liquor store to what web sites I go to on the school computers.

So, I am also very careful about social media and my interaction with students. I, literally, am friends with one student on Facebook from my current school and one student from a previous school. On Twitter I only follow one student and I have blocked all other students. Because I do have access, even as limited as it is, with students I am extra careful about what I post and what comments or links I interact with.

Many of you reading this will think I am overly worried. Those who know how conservative my school district is may be surprised I actually interact with any students on Facebook or Twitter. In fact, there are several of our teachers who have lots of interaction with their students, although we have (as a staff) witnessed what can happen when a parent becomes concerned with what is being said between a teacher and a student.

As an advocate of social media for teachers, especially Twitter, I was saddened to witness a friend of my wife's problems. It seems her Twitter stream was hijacked and replaced with a pornographic site. If you went to the original site you would get a message that the site was not found. This resulted in the real woman taking her site down. If, however, you went to the the new Twitter ID found in the original woman's twitter stream you would go to a site that looked just like the original site but all of the links and tweets were related to pornographic material.

Has this happened before? You bet. Had my wife or I witnessed it happening? Not at that time. And it really got our attention. I started to think about a teacher who might be using Twitter with students and suddenly the students are being offered an education in things most parents would not welcome.

Would these same parents be understanding? - "Oh, no problem. That happens." -OR- Would these parents crucify the teacher for "exposing our child to pornography?" Would the school administration be supportive? - "He is an outstanding teacher and we are sorry this happened. You can be sure that we will look into the matter and it will not happen again." -OR- Would the administration hang the teacher out to dry ?- "He was warned about using social media in the classroom."

Even though I am at the end of my second year on Twitter, I think that we are still too early in the life cycle of this site to be sure whether what happened that day is something to worry about. Still, I would hope one would not blindly jump into the stream and offer up Twitter interaction with students without, first, considering all of the possible scenarios. I would also hope that you would have a dialogue with your administration and staff so that every teacher is fully educated about the wonders (and the possible horrors) of using social media with your students. I know we had this discussion at our school.

I would also hope you are having ongoing discussions with your students about what they post and how their comments can come back to haunt them in future years.

Getting back to my original theme; no matter how good we are with improving the knowledge level of our teachers and students, that does not mean that your Twitter stream won't get hijacked.

At my school, at least, I feel confident that we will have the full support of our administration should any problem arise.