Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I am not a Racist, am I? Part 1

My entire school just watched, Andre Lee's, I Am Not a Racist, Am I? which argues quite convincingly that racism is an institutional construct.   (movie website). I've taught for now a quarter of a century. That is staggering to me. For all of those years and thousands of kids I've taught, the students who almost always struggle the most are African-American males. Most black boys at my school don't struggle. But of the 4-6 kids who struggle the most, the majority of these kids are almost always black boys.

Why has this persisted at my school?

I'm on a task force to study this more deeply. There are a lot of uncomfortable places this can take us. Charles Murray speaks to this in ways that make me uncomfortable. He posits that IQ is different by race. While he claims to be agnostic on whether this is genetically based, he strongly suggests that there is such a component. I take comfort in the work of Steele and Aronson on stereotype threat which, I feel, negates/ explains away Murray's findings. The saddest finding of Steele and Aronson's work is  that African immigrants to the United States are not at risk of stereotype threat and perform just as well on IQ tests as their white and Asian counterparts. But their children ARE at risk. This seems to disprove any argument that suggests IQ differences are genetic.

The other explanation is that my school is structured in a way that makes it harder for black boys to succeed, in other words, we are structurally racist.  What does that look like? What about the way we teach history, English, math and science, make it more likely for some cohorts to succeed and others to struggle? Some argue that there is no "white" way to teach physics, chemistry, and math.  Indeed, the political right in the United States mocks any attempts to alleviate and address this discrepancy.

I have more thoughts on this.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thanks, James Kennedy

Read James' blog post about his visit to my school.
We had a blast.

Starting Late and Starting New

    I'm late to the tech party. I was somewhat of a skeptic of the big promises of tech 2.0.  For instance,  I used to think podcasts were silly. Who's listening to them? "What's the big deal? To me, it was akin to the proverbial tree falling in a forest.
    Flipping the classroom was something about which I was also skeptical. I saw its merits. But for me, it really came (and still comes) down to what was being flipped? If content was still about recall and regurgitation, it matters little to me if students did this at home or in school. "So, what's the big deal?" I thought.
    To be fully candid, I was never a tech Luddite. I saw utility in some aspects of technology. Since I've never thought that "coverage" was particularly important, the fact that knowledge was a click away strengthened to my response to people who suggested that kids need to "know" certain facts. Still, I've been teaching a long time. This is my 25th year teaching and it wasn't until these last three years that I've become a tech enthusiast.
   The most obvious catalyst is that my school went 1 to 1. Yet, I do not think I would have adopted technology as fully if I also wasn't in the midst of a mid-career change. For at the same time my school went 1-1, I started to teach elementary school after two decades of teaching mostly 8th graders. Brand new kids, brand new school, brand new age group, brand new discipline. I was starting from scratch. I didn't have years of good stuff to get rid of. We all have those lessons, those greatest hits, that we roll out every year. They were all gone. Tabula rasa, baby. Since I had no legacy lessons, I was truly able to start from scratch and rethink my approach.
    I have now moved to teaching high schoolers. In my department, we have worked on revamping a 15-year-old curriculum that is near and dear to its creators' hearts. It is so much harder to change! People care deeply about courses they've honed over years. This course and courses were created before technology really was ubiquitous in the classroom. I am beginning to wonder if we need to start afresh if we ever want to truly leverage tech in our classrooms. I am beginning to feel that tinkering around the edges of classes that were envisioned, created and structured prior to tech will never get us there.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

App Smashing

App Smashing in Elementary School
I originally posted this last year on a now defunct blog, I still think I am prouder of this assignment than of most I've done:One of my favorite things to do in school using technology is "app-smash" What is it? Greg Koluwiec writes:
App Smashing is the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks. App Smashing can provide your students with creative and inspired ways to showcase their learning and allow you to assess their understanding and skills. 

Why app smash?
  1. It requires creative and collaborative thinking.
  2. It asks more from the technology. It maximizes the potential of digital tools by blending their features and functions.
  3. It results in engaging learning.
  4. Most critical to me, students have choices about demonstrating their learning, thus giving them ownership and intrinsic motivation.
How I did it? 
As a culminating project for our study of Maniac Magee, I asked students to capture the six most important moments in Maniac Magee and to make an interactive cube.  I was inspired by Greg Kulowiec's work and found the specific idea for the project form from +Wendy Goodwin's website.
I wrote to the students, “This project should include different photos or images either captured with a digital camera or located online. It should include narration of the pictures triggered by a qr code or by Aurasma.  Your “pictures” can be words in the form of a paragraph or a word cloud such as phoetic. You can write your reaction in a paragraph explaining an important scene.”

To find photos they didn’t take themselves, they used Creative Commons photos from:  Unsplash.com and commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Images.

To make the project interactive, students had to have at least two sides of the cube trigger an image via QR Code or Aurasma. Most students chose to make most sides of the cube interactive.

Apps Used: 

Students also used :
Phoetic, Aurasma, I-Nigma

Friday, May 6, 2016

Tech Training, What's Really the Point ?

At the starts and ends of school years, administrators call on ed tech specialists to train faculty.  And so ed-tech folks like myself dutifully prepare workshops and lessons for teachers. This model, at least where I work, is moderately effective at best.

Ed-Tech should support a school's vision and mission. Teaching tech tips and tricks separate from broader curricular discussions is not going to do much to inform or change teaching practices. We can put the best technology in the world into a classroom and it won't change much at all unless society/ schools/ teachers/ and students rethink what is important in the classroom. Witness the iPad fiasco. 

We have all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips. We have tech tools that can do amazing things. The tech support team with which I work is truly expert. (A new teacher who has worked at Columbia University and Haverford College told me our tech support team is the best she's ever seen. kudos to +FCIT Help ) It matters little as long as the "remember and regurgitate" (R and R model) of education still holds sway. Want proof that is true? AP tests. And yes, I can show people Kahoot and Socrative and other tools to support this R and R model. Kahoot?  Yeah, it's fun. But it changes very little in the end.

However..... if we really want our students to think critically and work creatively and in collaboration....  my goodness, then we could really help.

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