Monday, June 29, 2015

In Which We Are Introduced to My New School

On August 10 I will be starting a new school year with new students at a new school. But what does that really mean? Every year we get new students. Every year is a new school year. The only really new thing is the school I will be working at - Meridian School in Round Rock Texas.

I interviewed for this school so I've actually stood in the building before. I even met a teacher from this school at SXSWEdu. He enlightened me about the fact that the school was K-12 (and not just an elementary school). I even suggested this school to another teacher-friend of mine and he not only applied for a job; he was hired to work there.

But my accepting the job is less than 2 weeks old and I haven't been able to go to the school since to see what it looks like or even finish all of the paperwork for the job application. Yet on August 10th there will be students walking into my classroom. It is NOT too early to start putting together my teaching strategy.

Meridian School. I am a retired Naval Officer and have taken many hours of navigation classes and have spent hours on the bridge navigating ships around the globe. So I know what a meridian is. But why meridian for the name of the school? I looked to see if there were other meanings to the word meridian and I found that there was one that I really liked (whether this meaning is the one meant by our school's founders, I'll have to wait to see):

 "Meridian - Any of the pathways along which the body's vital energy flows according to the theory behind acupuncture."

If I am to be a truly effective teacher I will want to know how to help the energy flow of my students along their meridian from head to heart to hand and back again.

During the next 6 weeks I will be writing posts about my preparations for this school, the school year, and my students. I will be discussing how I set up my room, how I design my calendar, how I design my first week's lessons to support a collaborative environment, what my parent/student/teacher communication plan will look like, what technology I will have and what choices I will make for the use of that technology, and much more.

I am a teacher who will be having inquiry, collaboration, questioning, and design at the heart of all that we do. All of those discussions and suggestions I've had with teachers (in my role as a coach) over the last three years will have meant nothing if I don't attempt to replicate those practices that I have talked (and written) about with such enthusiasm.

Come along with me on this trip of discovery. Discovery about who I really am; what I really believe; and, what I am ready to practice with my students.

Friday, June 26, 2015

I'm Not a Techie

Technology Cow via http://goo.gl/XR2MYi
In 1976 I went to the University of South Carolina to be a dual Math and Computer Science major. I got my math degree but gave up on computers after spending hours at the card punch machine at late hours on the university's one computer (that also had to do research and university business).

In 1985 to 1987 I attended the Naval Postgraduate School where I majored in Weapons Systems Engineering. I got a masters in engineering and the equivalent of a bachelors in physics while studying robotics. I worked on an IBM AT and an IBM XT for the robot work and I had a computer built to my specs for home where I could connect to the school's mainframe.

In 1992 I finished my masters in education and I co-taught a computers in the classroom course at Old Dominion University. We used the Apple IIE and I got to see teachers experience the world wide web (and accidentally find porn sites).

In 2008 I started work at Manor New Technology HS and the first question I was asked was whether I was a Mac or a PC person. I had never had a Mac but I knew the correct answer - give me a Mac! A couple of years later we added iPads to our repertoire.

During the years 2008 to present I actively reached out to like-minded teachers who were on Twitter, used Macs and iPads, and were discussing the future of education. So many of my first Twitter friends have become, what I like to call, Twitter Gods! They go to all of the cool conferences, hang out with all of the coolest people, and write books and have well-followed blogs. And many (most?) of them are techies. But not me.

That's right. I'm not a techie. I appreciate technology. I use technology to help me work more efficiently. I love discussing the latest apps, the latest websites, or a great blog post. But I'm not a techie. I still want to be where all of the "cool kids" are like SXSW, ISTE, or Ipadpalooza. But you know what? I can't afford to go to these conferences and I'm not in technology at a school district so I can't expect anyone to help me financially. Because I'm not a techie.

What I am is an education nerd. I love talking about curriculum and pedagogy. I love finding ways to help kids enjoy learning. I try new things in the classroom and want teachers to be better because our kids deserve the best teachers they can have. And if that means a cool app that improves inquiry and helps a student go deeper with their learning, then I'm all on board. But if a teacher has the latest bells and whistles tool, but can't reach the kids, then I don't want to hear about it.

Too many education conferences are focusing on those "precious" things called technology. Teachers by the hundreds are attending these and hanging out on the vendor floor with stars in their eyes. But what about learning about becoming a better teacher! What about finding ways to get students more involved with the content?

I just finished 3 weeks where I spent 11 of the 15 work days in front of teachers wanting to learn about PBL. They designed projects built on their content standards. And they designed these projects to help students make connections to the learning. Not once did I suggest an app, some software, or any hardware. Because I'm not a techie.

What I did do was help them understand how to turn the verbs written into their standards into some real-world, authentic, activity or problem. If, through examining this authentic problem their students might need some sort of technology we'd discuss that but technology was never at the center of the discussion. Because these were teachers - not techies.

It is 2015. It is time to FINALLY get to the point where we were at Manor New Tech 7 years ago - technology is the invisible tool. It is a tool. That is all. A tool. Like a pencil or pen. Like a chalk board, a white board, or a SMART board. A tool. We need to be tool masters not techies. What tool do we need to use to successfully complete this task? Whatever tool works best.

Can we finally stop sucking on the technology teat at education conferences? Probably not. But can we please get principals to the point where they see technology as just a tool? Then, and only then, will we be able to push teachers away from their "precious."

We just might get back to where we were in 1976 when I graduated from high school - we used the best tools that we had available. It just happened to be that it was a stick of chalk and a chalk board - although some of the rich kids could afford a Smith Corona electric typewriter - now THAT was cool!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Writing To Stay Awake (and an anti-gun rant)

It just turned midnight and I decided that I've got nothing better to do than sit here and write a post. I'm at the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) airport with a few thousand others who have ended up spending the night due to flight cancellations.

It seems that the remnants from Tropical Storm Bill hit the area pretty hard. My flight was cancelled around 2 this afternoon while I was sitting in Columbia SC training a great group of teachers from the Richland 2 school district.

By the time I arrived here in Dallas, and was able to contact some hotels, it was already too late to find a room at the inn. Or, at least, a room within shuttle distance. I could have rented a car and driven a ways and gotten a room. But I would have had to turn around and be back here at 6 AM. Just as easy to stay here.

When I finally had time to sit down and pause, I was hit by the news of the shooting in Charleston, SC. The Twitter feed (#CharlestonShooting) had a lot of information but the point that kept coming up was that this was a white man killing a bunch of innocent black people while they were in church!

This should be treated as an act of terrorism. How can the gun proponents keep turning their collective heads? Why do they keep falling back on this "right to bear arms?" What about the right to go to church without some nut blowing your brains out?

I used to say that people should be forced to keep all of their weapons in a municipal armory. I said that they should have to check out their weapons for some specific reason and return them immediately upon finishing that specific reason. And, "going to a church and killing a black person" should NOT be a valid reason to check out your guns!

That seemed, even to me, a bit extreme. Well, it doesn't seem like much of an extreme anymore. Why, in 2015, do people need to carry guns? So they can shoot back at crazy people shooting at them? Really? How many innocent (and non-gun carrying folks) will get caught in the crossfire? I can't think of a single person who I would trust firing a weapon to protect me. The odds of me being hit by my good Samaritan are higher than I like.

But as long as it is legal to...sigh...It's time to do something about the legality of gun possession. Let's go to the extreme left and adjust from there. Give it 10 years or so for people to think about what it means to be a gun owner. During that time let's make gun possession, outside of one's property lines, illegal. Poof! You can have your guns but keep them on your land and don't take them from your land.

If we went to that extreme and then promised gun owners that the issue of gun possession would be re-evaluated in 10 years, everyone would have time to think about it without, pardon the pun, a gun being held against our heads.

Rant Complete. You may carry on with your day.