Monday, January 31, 2011

Thank You Sir Ken Robinson

      While attending BlogathonATX I was trying to decide what I would write about next.  Up popped a link to a post by Joe Bower asking for bloggers to respond to one of the following prompts about Sir Ken Robinson:
  • What elements of Sir Ken Robinson's work inspires you?
  • What role should creativity play in education?
  • In what ways does school need to change?
  • How can school broaden its definition of achievement?
  • How can school do a better job of encouraging all children to find their passion?
  • What needs to happen so that school is something to be enjoyed rather than simply endured? 
So, here are some thoughts.  (The following paragraph should be read at an increasingly faster pace)

      Creativity.  That isn't always something schools cherish in the U.S.  If schools could change so that we were encouraging students to be creative in all of their classes then we would see all kinds of achievement from happy, involved students.  These creative, achieving students would increase their passion for learning which would lead students to discovery of new areas of study which would create a new desire to create and achieve and suddenly school would be something that is enjoyed rather than endured!  [I believe I covered all of the prompts in that last paragraph.]

     The most important word in the last 95 words: Creativity.  We, as teachers, have got to let go of our human desire to be in control.  Let the students feel like they are in control and let them create.  In the words of Miss Frizzle: Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!  
    Does this mean that we have to break out the construction paper and markers everyday?  Well, maybe, depending on your grade level and subject.  Let's take playdoh, for example.  If you teach math or science I think you should have a can of playdoh on every desk.  One teacher told me she let the students do what ever they wanted with the playdoh as long as they followed classroom norms set up by the other students.  One girl in her class would come in every day, open the can, and take out her little man she created on the first day of school and he would sit on her desk watching her work.  At the end of class he went back into the can.

     Why math and science teachers?  Well, couldn't they have their students create geometric or arithmetic patterns?  Wouldn't it be fun to create a representation of a linear relationship?  How about probability - "create a way to demonstrate 6 out of 9," for example.  In science they could look at the structure of DNA or atomic structure or rock layers or......  Your, and your student's, imagination is all that is keeping your students from creating with playdoh.

    So, math and science teachers (at EVERY level) I better see playdoh in your school budget for next year.  Or, if you have active parents or a parent committee, ask them to donate playdoh to the cause.  And the cause is ----CREATIVITY!  Thank you Sir Ken Robinson for opening my eyes to the importance of being creative in the classroom.  (Although, to be honest, I AM a little tired of teachers discovering "this great video with this guy with an English accent....)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oh, No, Not Another PD

From LostinNM Flickr CC
                    [Part Two of a two part series - part one found here]
     I've had a couple of weeks to think about my last post and since that time I've been involved in some activities that no one in my school district would consider "Professional Development."  This is in spite of the fact that I have added several things "to my sea bag" (as we Navy folks like to say). 

     The picture at the left is how I think of myself sometimes with this social media stuff.  I'm the old guy out there on my own trying to get the lay of the land.   An interesting and related fact I read about this week is that older educators are embracing social media before the younger teachers.  That's a topic for another blog post down the pike.
So what have I done, professionally, since the last post?  Well there was the Tuesday night #edchat on twitter which continued discussing this very topic.   Before it even got hopping someone put up "Two pages of Twittertools for Teachers" (One and Two).  Thank you, I'll add that to the sea bag.  But no one cares that I've honed my twitter skills - did I really develop professionally?

       Next someone shared a blog post  that got me thinking about how I handle tough questions and discussions when they come up in class.  I've since had time to digest his thoughts and I know I'll better handle situations like this in my classroom.  Thank you, I'll add that to the sea bag.

      I then saw a link to a post by Mathew Campbell about whether assessment hinders learning which led me to a speech by Professor Dylan Wiliam on this subject.  I learned a lot and it made me think.  And, thank you, I'll add that to the sea bag.

     It's  now less than 2 minutes into this hour long #edchat and the conversation is just picking up.  And, remember, the discussion is officially about "Considering education reform - innovations, strategies and methods"

     In the next 58 minutes I will have another 5 to 10 links to online articles or blog posts that I will want to read and comment on.  I'll hear from some of the people considered on the cutting edge of education reform and I'll hear from average, every-day, teachers like myself who have opinions or questions on this topic.  I'll fire off a humorous quip to one of my twitter friends (friends, even though we have never met face-to-face) and I'll dismiss that guy who always seems to have an opinion different than mine with a counter example.  By the time I finish my brain is sore, my back is sore, and my typing skills have improved from having to type 140 characters as fast as I can.

    Another way I was educated this week was attending a webinar on Eluminate with Steve Hargadon  about building an open social network.  This was a wonderful experience and, being on Eluminate, allowed for being interactive with Steve either by submitting questions or actually asking questions.  Thank you Web 2.0 Classroom and The Educator's PLN for getting me interested in this.

     All of the thoughts, links, and information will be stored in that sea bag of mine.  Along with all of the other thoughts, links, and information that I've accumulated over the years.  But no one in my district will give me credit for that increase in knowledge.  No one will come up to me and say wow that was really some great stuff last night.  Nope, they are too busy or too dismissive of that "twitter stuff - what did you eat for lunch today?", to take what I learned as being professionally developed.

    What will it take for my school district to decide that developing my skills, professionally, doesn't have to take place in one of the schools in the district while being conducted by one of the employees of the district.  And, professional development doesn't have to cost a ton of money. 

     While I am writing this I am attending Blogathon ATX which is an all day blogging session with a couple of dozen bloggers from all walks of life.   Simultaneously,  I am "attending" Educon 2.3 in Philadelphia (virtually, of course).  I am monitoring the hundreds of tweets from the conference and I have selected live-streamed panels that I will watch.  The conference started last night where I watched the initial lecture and it will continue tomorrow (and I'll be watching and reading tweets).  All of this costs me nothing and all of the information I attain will be added to my sea bag.  But, I won't get a credit because I'm not getting trained professionally.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Oh, No, Not Another PD

Bored     [Part one of a two part series]

     So, (yawn...smack, smack) another rousing day of training at your local school district.  

     This past week #edchat covered a topic that has been near and dear to my heart for a good many years - Professional Development (PD).  
     Why is PD; something so important to our growth as an educator and as a person; feared, loathed, and (often) hated? Maybe it has to do with the quality of the training being conducted, the time that the training is scheduled for, or the fact that the topic is not relevant to work nor life.

     Let's look at these 3 items and how some simple changes to how school districts conduct training can, and will, make growing professionally an enjoyable event.  We start with the notion of quality training.

     As they say, "Quality is in the eye of the beholder."  OK, so they don't say that, but this statement holds many truths.  If someone is attending training that is providing that person with some extraordinarily useful material then, to that person, the training was a success.  Even if no one else got anything out of it.  So, how can we guarantee that everyone sees quality in the training?  If enough options with varying scopes are offered then there is a higher chance that something, of quality, will be available to our trainees.   Well, we could increase the number of people, in district, that are qualified to conduct training and provide incentives for those who can provide unique training.

     Our next problem is when the PD is offered.  The normal times offered by school districts are the 2 weeks just prior to starting school, Monday holidays throughout the school year, and the first 2 weeks just after the school year ends.  What I feel during each of these times and what I hear from the majority of my fellow teachers during these times is that this is when we need to be in the classroom getting things ready for the education that will soon start or has just finished.  This is not the time to be pulled out of the classroom to (going back to the first argument) training that is perceived to be of low quality.

      Last issue is training that is not relevant to the teacher being trained.  It is one thing to have training that is of poor quality.  It is another thing to have great training that is about a subject that is not immediately useful to the teacher in the training session.  This, again, can be eliminated with multiple options for trainees to choose from. 

     Unfortunately, the only remedy identified in this post is to add qualified instructors to the list of people who can conduct training in the school district.  There are other ways.  For example, Teachers could go to trainings in other districts.  They could go to training at professional training sessions being held in the area.  They could go to local conferences being held in the area.  They could go to national conferences.  They could attend training sessions being held at local colleges or universities. 
     Most of the trainings that occur outside of the district get negative reactions from teachers unless there is reimbursement for expenses of travel, meals, and/or lodging.  In my experience the teachers who get to do these types of trainings are those in subject areas that have received grant monies to cover costs like these.   In one district I worked in, travel was first come, first served and the recipients had to conduct training in the district in something learned at the training event.  In another school district they would pay for a substitute but all costs were out of pocket and nothing was reimbursed. 
     In my current school our teachers have the ability to attend many conferences and trainings due to strategically gathered grant monies and other sources.  If training can be justified then we will be financed to attend.  However, with the current fiscal problems going on throughout our land even these opportunities are drying up.  It has gotten to the point, everywhere it seems, that all that is left is - District Professional Development!  NOOooooooooooo..........

     This does NOT have to be the case.  There is this thing called the Internet that provides access to trainings, lectures, and discussions going on all over the world.  Some of these events provide incredibly diverse topics, some a very narrow scope, and some just help make us think and see what else there is out there in the world of education.  There are new ways to teach, new technologies to use,  and new topics to bring to our classrooms.  In the next post I will explore some of these.