COETAIL Final Project – Flipped programming

There is often a satisfaction that goes along with things coming full circle, not so in this case.

flickr photo shared by Andrew_D_Hurley under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license
flickr photo shared by Andrew_D_Hurley under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

First of all, I don’t like that my “official” COETAIL journey is coming to an end. In some weird way I will miss the stress of writing weekly blog posts and pushing myself to try new things. But even though the official journey may be coming to an end, I have a feeling that my not-official COETAIL journey will never end. I always strive to be a lifelong learner so I’m sure this will not be the end of COETAIL for me.

The second reason it doesn’t feel good is a bit more troubling. If you haven’t done so yet I encourage you to go back and read your first COETAIL blog post. If it’s anything like mine it will be a cringe-worthy experience and that’s how I feel about this last blog post. But don’t leave yet, I think my final project is actually pretty good, no, it’s really good, I just can’t say the same about the way I’m reporting about my final project.

I could bring up lots of excuses explaining why my video and final post aren’t as good as they should be but I won’t. Instead I’m inviting you to check out my final project and if you look past all the imperfections I hope you will see what was really there: a project that was redefining for both students and teacher.

UbD

 

Video

Images

flickr photo by albertogp123 https://flickr.com/photos/albertogp123/5843577306 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

All other images Public Domain

Dear Future COETAILer …

I’m not in the business of handing out advice, I rarely offer advice even when people ask for it. But I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to offer future COETAILers some advice as they embark on their journey …

flickr photo shared by GotCredit under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license
flickr photo shared by GotCredit under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Dear Future COETAILer,

Congratulations! You have decided to embark on the most wonderful, insane, exciting, and challenging experience of your life. But don’t fret. There are other crazies here and we welcome you with open arms.

I know you didn’t ask for advice but I’m giving it anyway. Here are the 5 most important things I think you should know before you become an overly busy mate, an absentee parent, and a kick ass teacher:

 

  1. Don’t do it in a recruiting year, unless of course you thrive on less than 5 hours of sleep per night, aging ungracefully, or torturing yourself for the attention. All these big events like looking for jobs, getting married, having kids or buying a new house require such attention and focus that you won’t feel like you’re COETAILing at your peak ability. My COETAIL network allowed me to finesse my resume into something amazing but that network won’t disappear after you finish Course 5 so you can call on them at any point. So, maybe you can do it during a recruiting year, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
  2. You get out what you put in. If you want to suck, then you’ll suck. If you want to ace every rubric then you will. But either way, you’ll get out what you put in. If you are keen to read, learn, and challenge your preconceptions, then this is a great program for you and you’ll be fine. If you, occasionally like to “call it in” and coast a bit, you may want to get a degree in Yoga-ing. This program demands a lot. But the rewards are amazing. The built in network of advice-givers, work sharers, and blog posters is invaluable.
  3. Take the college credit! If it’s still offered—do it! It doesn’t cost all that much more and it’s worth having in the
    flickr photo shared by Tax Credits under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license
    flickr photo shared by Tax Credits under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

    bag. For me, I’m having one of those “I-told-you-so” moments because it’s this program that is helping my bride inch ever closer to me on the pay scale! But seriously, if not just to move you along the pay scale, the college credit can be used towards the purchase of a new house, I mean, it can be used towards more degrees. And in teaching, more degrees means more congratulatory flowers at staff meetings or more acronyms on your email signature line. But for most of us—it’s clout! It’s the kind of clout that sets you apart from the next Joe Shmoe trying to get your dream job!

  4. Try to convince colleagues to join you in this wild ride! Well, it’s not really a wild ride, it’s more like a sweat lodge or torture chamber of awesomeness! COETAIL is a program best done with others. I mean, that’s kind of the structure of the program. But sometimes, all the differences we share can affect our moving in a forward direction… not to mention the time zone conundrum. Try to convince a few suckers to join you on this journey because that face-to-face interaction brings ease to your chaotic life. Chatting with a colleague about COETAIL projects while filling up on caffeine or avoiding writing report cards, helps to solidify some of the concepts you’re working on in the COETAIL universe.
  5. Share your ideas, learning, and your projects with the colleagues and administrators at your school. They’re busy just like you… so don’t email them. Sit down to a face-to-face to share your learning and how it may benefit your school community. Trust me—they are eager to try some of this stuff too, but they don’t even know where to begin. Show them how you’ve done some of these things and brainstorm ways these ideas can be integrated in to how you do things at your school. Trust me… they’ll thank you!

And so there it is folks, my 5 pieces of helpful, if I do say so myself, advice that will lead you on the road to success (unless you succumb to insanity first!). If you consider my advice, stay organized, and get the work done—you’ll complete the program and Jeff will send you a fancy dancy COETAIL sticker. See… I told you it was worth it!

Good luck!

 

 

 

Mea Culpa …

… Mea Maxima Culpa

I spent my formative years in Belgium being educated by Jesuits. As much as I hated it at the time they did provide me with a solid education and 3 years of forced labor in a Latin class allows me to pull out smart-sounding quotes like “Mea Maxima Culpa”. If you run it through Google Translate you’ll see that I’m really just trying to come up with a fancy way of saying “I screwed up”. The fact that I screwed up became painfully obvious when I looked at the rubric for the “Community Engagement”, I clearly haven’t done what’s outlined (and what I should have read about 3 months ago) so since I’m obviously not meeting the requirements I’m doing what any sensible person would do, I’m going to …

Double Down!

Photo Credit: 13skies via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: 13skies via Compfight cc

Before I double down I’m just going to come clean and say that I didn’t have “sustained interactions with others on a variety of social media platforms” and I didn’t do most of the other things that are included on the Community Engagement rubric, so Brandon or Chrissy don’t feel bad when you enter a sub-par grade on my gradesheet because I deserve it. But here’s where I’m doubling down: when I think about Community Engagement as a direct result of COETAIL I think I’ve done some amazing things over the past few months, they just don’t fit neatly into the rubric. So here’s my challenge to our instructors and anyone else who’s involved with COETAIL: I’m going to share some examples of thing’s I’ve done over the past few months and I’ll let you decide if those are any less valuable than the example that was given in the Community Engagement rubric.

Digital Citizenship

A few months ago I gave a presentation to the High School faculty about digital citizenship, I talked about the importance of citing images and harnessing the power of social media and Wikipedia. None of this happened on social media but the presentation definitely got a conversation started and that conversation is still going on. Here are just 2 initial reactions to the presentation:

 

digcit2

digcit1

 

 

 

Course 3

I know, I know, Course 3 finished a long time ago but for me it was the perfect example of the power of my PLN. I created an infographic resume for my Course 3 final project and asked my PLN for feedback. The responses I got from my PLN let to a new and improved version of my infographic and even now I’m still fielding questions from other COETAILers about that infographic so it really is on-going. Here’s just a snippet of the conversation about the infographic:

course31

 

Students

We all get frustrated by meetings, report cards, unit plans and all those other fun things that come along with teaching but in the end there’s really only one reason we’re in this profession: students. Students are at the core of what we do and one of the main reasons I started COETAIL was to create a better experience for my students. For me this is the ultimate form of community engagement, I have connected students who are active on Twitter and who will have an advantage when they get around to applying to colleges. Twitter has become a requirement for all of my students, some students see it as a burden but other really run with it. Here’s a screenshot from one of my grade 9 students:

students1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

Do I deserve a 4 on the rubric? No. Did I engage my community? Absolutely! Are there bonus points available for thinking outside of the rubric? I don’t know. I always tell my students that it’s not about the grade and I’m taking the same approach here. Even though I didn’t check all the required boxed I do feel like I reached and engaged with my community and no grade is ever going to change that.

 

 

Course 5 Final(ly) Project

Introduction

Well, it’s been a long time in the making but I finally have a plan for my final COETAIL project. The past few months have been a wild ride: going through units, coming up with ideas and rejecting ideas, elation and despair. I thought I had a few solid ideas at the end of Course 4 but after a lot of consideration I decided to take a different approach to my final project. I still don’t know if that was a really good or a really bad decision, I guess I’ll know in a couple of months when it’s all over. I will say one thing: it’s liberating to have finally figured out what I’m going to do for my final project.

PD and PLNs

Photo Credit: niyam bhushan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: niyam bhushan via Compfight cc

I am lucky to be at a school that puts a lot of emphasis on Professional Development. In theory we have about 2 hours dedicated to PD every week but in reality a lot of that time gets eaten up with department meetings, divisional meetings, report card writing, … Twice a year though we have something called learning institutes, 3-4 sessions where a large group of teachers (20-30) gets to learn more about a specific topic. But even the learning institutes were in need of a little refresh because the same topics just kept showing up year after year so for this last session teachers got to form their own small PLN to explore a topic of their own choosing. When I saw a group of teachers was getting together to explore flipped learning my decision for my final COETAIL project was made.

Beyond Flipped learning

As soon as I decided to work with flipped learning I also realized that I would have to do more than just record and post a few videos for my students so I looked at ways I could build on the basic idea of a flipped classroom. Here are some of my initial ideas:

  • Students need to be accountable for watching the videos
  • Students should be able to work through the unit at their own pace but should also be responsible for hitting certain checkpoints and deadlines
  • There should be additional activities for struggling and advanced students
  • Students should get lots of formative feedback during the unit to make sure they’re on track
  • Students should be able to collaborate outside of the classroom
  • Students should be able to complete this unit independently
  • Students should be able to complete this unit outside the classroom
  • Students should use technology in an innovative way to demonstrate their learning.

Lots of ideas and lots of refining still to be done but it was a start. All I needed to do now was find a suitable unit and start planning it out.

Cup of Java

Photo Credit: simona.photo via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: simona.photo via Compfight cc

One thing I’ve learned being married to a coffee-aficionado is that there are more ways than I care to count to brew a cup of coffee. We must have at least 5 different contraptions in our house to brew a cup of coffee, all these contraptions use a different process but they do have a few common ingredients: ground coffee, water and heat; to produce the final cup of coffee there are also some optional ingredients like cream and sugar. It seems like it’s meant to be: I can apply the same principles to my introductory Java programming unit. Students have to use a set of common ingredients, they can choose from a few optional ingredients and they choose whatever method works best for them to make their coffee. Here’s a list of my key ingredients for this project:

  • Instructional videos
  • Short formative quizzes
  • Exercises
  • Teacher contact time

Here are the optional ingredients:

  • Worksheets
  • Online collaboration space
  • Remedial activities
  • Enrichment activities

I haven’t put that much thought into the different processes yet but some possible processes include:

  • Students work individually
  • Students work in groups (by ability or mixed)
  • Students work with the teacher

Summative assessment?

Photo Credit: Kovah.de via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kovah.de via Compfight cc

By giving students all these different ingredients and processes it’s pretty obvious that there will be a big variety of coffee being brewed. My big challenge at this point is figuring out how to do the summative assessment for this unit. Do I require all students to brew a simple cup of black coffee or do I give students the freedom to brew anything their heart desires, as long as it’s some sort of coffee? I haven’t figured this one out yet and I think the answer will become clear as we work our way through the unit. If you have any suggestions about assessing this unit I would love to hear your thoughts. Right now though I have to get to hair and make-up before I start recording my videos.

Course 4 Final Project

Photo Credit: andres.thor via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: andres.thor via Compfight cc

It’s going to be a fun semester: Teaching 5 different classes, setting up a new STEM team, packing up our lives to move (don’t know where yet) and to top it all of let’s just throw in a final project for COETAIL. What was I thinking!?

I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m still not convinced about my ideas but I think they will be a good starting point for my Course 5 project.

Idea 1

  • Describe the project: What will your students do? One of the most important things for my robotics students is documenting their complete design process. Over the past few years we’ve gone through lots of different methods to do this documentation and we’ve used things like Word, OneNote, Twitter and YouTube. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages but so far none of them have done exactly what I’ve wanted them to do. I want students to use something like Storify to document their design process
  • How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL? Students will have a wide range of technologies to pull from to document their progress. They will also have to collaborate with their group members so they will have to share their progress online so other group members can pull from their information as well.
  • What goals do you hope to achieve with this project? I hope to see more student engagement in the documentation process and also hope to see more collaboration between group members.
  • Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project? This project would be easily transferable to any other unit, if successful I could use it in lots of other units.
  • What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit? My biggest concern is that in order for this to be successful all group members have to be actively engaged in the documentation process. Most students are also not used to documenting things in real-time, they usually wait until the end of a lesson or unit to create their documentation.
  • What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you? I will have to let students take charge of the documentation process, it’s about letting them choose what works best for them, it’s not about what works best for me.
  • What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students? Most students will include visuals in their documentation so they will need some basic visual literacy skills. They will also have to take ownership of the documentation, the success of this depends on all students documenting their progress in real-time, not at the end of the day or unit.

 

Idea 2

  • Describe the project: What will your students do? Students will create a flipped video and infographic for a specific sensor in their sensors unit for robotics.
  • How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL? Students will collaborate and will share their resources with robotics students in other countries as well. Students will also need some basic visual literacy skills to complete this project.
  • What goals do you hope to achieve with this project? Increased visual literacy skills from students and a demonstration of deep understanding of the subject matter through the creation of these resources.
  • Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project? This project pulls from a lot of things we have covered in the COETAIL courses (visual literacy, collaboration, sharing, copyright, …) and it will force students to think long and hard about the content since it’s being shared with an authentic audience, not just their teacher.
  • What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit? My main concern is students not feeling comfortable sharing with a global audience, maybe they are ESL or they don’t feel their work is good enough to share. The other concern is what do you do with material that isn’t good enough to share or contains factual errors?
  • What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you? Just like the first project it will require me to “let go” and let students take charge. In upcoming years I will also be pulling from these student created materials instead of creating my own.
  • What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students? It’s a new way for students to demonstrate their learning. They will also have to get used to the idea of the resources they create being used by other students both locally and possibly globally.

I plan to spend a lot more time thinking about my final project and refining my ideas over the holiday but I think either one of these would be a solid starting point. I’m really looking forward to see how this project evolves over the next months.

Showdown in SA – Part Deux

IMG_20151206_1653158 months ago Angela (@alanglands) and I engaged in a showdown over whether or not schools should limit a student’s access to the web. As our fourth course winds its way to completion this week’s conversation topic led us to an interesting debate at the dinner table and we have found ourselves in a second showdown in SA.

Again, we are co-writing this blog in response to the topic: reflect on your own use of devices in the classroom. Like last time, we’ll break this topic in to 5 rounds to which TEAM GREEN vs. TEAM BLUE will debate. Since we’re asking you to be our judge, we’ll ask you to vote in one of our comments sections so the winner will again be pardoned from some menial house chores (as well as well-deserved bragging rights!) May the best spouse win!

Round 1: Distractions

Team Green: Students and teachers don’t need any more distractions. Giving unlimited access to devices just gives students another reason to get distracted. Full access to devices will also distract others and disrupt lessons when and if students move around the classroom in the middle of a lesson to pick up a device to investigate something

Team Blue: Like students and teachers of years past we’re all distracted at some point or another. Now we’re not doodling a crush’s name on our notebook or daydreaming about becoming one of the high school students in a John Hughes film. Why not just fill our void, sort out our distractions, and move on to the task at hand?

Round 2: Less interaction

Team Green: We should be maximizing the time students interact with each other, not the time they spend on their devices. A big part of school, especially elementary school, is learning social skills and interacting with peers during times like lunch and recess. Some of this vital interaction time will disappear if students are on devices all the time. If we go the way of limitless devices– we might as well run online classes

Team Blue: Kids are just connected nowadays. We old fogies just have to deal with this new world. A big part of school, especially elementary school, is learning how to be social with one another an interacting effectively with your peers. Students can do this by commenting and liking posts or collaborating on computer tasks–have you seen how much children talk when technology is involved?

Round 3: Tech envy

Team Green: If you give students access any time, anywhere, and for any reason, they will start going beyond school devices and begin using their own personal devices. By doing this, school could turn into a competition of who can bring in the latest and greatest device. If you only allow access on school devices it is equal for all students, even those without any cool personal devices. This is incredibly important in environments where the haves and the have-nots come together in one learning environment.

Team Blue: We can’t avoid envy in school. No matter how schools focus on uniformity: uniforms, haircuts, shoes, devices we can never fully scratch out envy. Humans are envious by nature. Whether we’re eyeing our friend’s date, current hairstyle, car, or job, we’re often envious of our peers. Envy can promote further hard work and diligence to achieve what the Jones’ have. If we don’t allow students to feel envious and teach them how to survive these challenges are we preparing them for life outside of our sheltered school bubble?

Round 4: Instant access

Team Green: Why do students need instant access? What’s wrong with waiting for a teacher to give you the thumbs-up before they have the chance to look up the answer? It’s important that we teach students the value of patience. Like the saying goes: “patience is a virtue.”

Team Blue: Oh please! How many times have you been out with your friends and a debate ensues where everyone pulls out their device to add credence to their argument or answer a question? Um… yeah, every day! If this is one of the ways in which students are getting and sharing information, let’s teach in to it! Fellow educators, don’t be upset watching the students try to get information as you blab on… you know you do it. Heck, you might even be doing it now.

Round 5: Creating Overly Reliant Children

Team Green: If we are building schools in which students’ thinking and learning is completely engrossed with technology, how are kids to fare when the power is out, the internet goes down, or there are just no devices around? It’s important that we teach kids how to work in technology-free environments so they can learn alternative skills. We teach students multiple strategies to solve a problem. Why wouldn’t we challenge them to utilize other tools besides technology? Like my mom always said, “Kid, you’ve gotta have a back up plan.”

Team Blue: We don’t know the future world these kids will grow up to work and be part of. Right now, their environments are technology rich at every corner. They can tweet on a plane, update their Facebook status on a bus, and Skype their family on safari in Krurger (oh wait… that was me!) But you get my drift, right? Students live in a connected world. Why are we trying to fight a losing battle?

Can dreams come true?

Introduction

flickr photo shared by BruceTurner under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license
flickr photo shared by BruceTurner under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

This week is going to be easy, just have to answer two simple questions: “Will education as we know it change because of technology? Where and how will you be teaching in 5, 10, 15 years time?” First question: Uh, yes! Second question: If my plan of winning the lottery pans out I will be in my micro-brewery just outside of Edinburgh teaching a captive audience the basics of brewing while sipping my latest batch of IPA. OK OK, I need to give this a bit more thought but I’m not changing my answer to number 2, I’m not giving up my dream.

Dreams VS. Reality

South Africa is well-known for it’s wines but what most people don’t know is that craft beers have really exploded here over the past couple of years. I’ve been able to reconnect with my passion for home-brewing and I’ve been able to connect with like minded home-brewers. It’s not really surprising that a lot of my fellow home-brew enthusiasts share my dream of opening up their own micro brewery but the reality is that it won’t happen for most of us. Unfortunately I think the same is true for technology in education, there are a dreams that might come true in a few schools but for most schools the reality will be very different from those dreams.

Dreams

flickr photo shared by nicole.pierce.photography ♥ under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license
flickr photo shared by nicole.pierce.photography ♥ under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Let’s start with the fun stuff, the dreams. I’m going to look at just two things where I can see technology making a big impact in education:

  • Personalized instruction: Technology will allow us to create a custom program for each one of our students. Specialized software will learn about our students’ personal learning styles and preferences and will deliver instruction that best fits the students’ needs.
  • Collaboration: Collaboration will become more and more important, technology will be able to take collaboration to the next level. Students will no longer be limited to the physical constraints of the classroom or school when it comes to collaboration, instead they will be able to connect with like-minded students world-wide.

Reality

The reality is that we already have the technology to make all of this happen and this technology isn’t new. Skype for example was founded in 2003, more than 12 years ago, Kahn Academy was founded in 2006, more than 9 years ago. We have the technology, we just aren’t using it effectively. I remember my last year as a tech teacher in Kenya, it was 2004 and we were trying out this new thing called “integration”. That was more than 10 years ago and if I’m being honest it’s sobering to see how slow the progress has been since then. Yes, lots of schools have tech coaches and one-to-one programs but how many of those schools are taking it to the M or R levels when you consider the SAMR model? The answer unfortunately is “not nearly enough”.

Conclusion

Thinking about the future makes me happy and sad all at the same time. I’m happy to see the amazing possibilities that technology has opened up for our students but at the same time I’m sad to see how little of that technology is being used effectively by schools. The potential is huge but we’re not tapping into nearly enough of that potential, we can keep talking until we’re blue in the face but unless something like COETAIL becomes required for people enrolled in teacher credential programs we’ll be stuck with a few lone nuts doing amazing things in a few schools.

WTF!?

Introduction

flickr photo shared by laura pasquini under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license
flickr photo shared by laura pasquini under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Recruiting is a stressful time, looking at schools and job postings, submitting applications, waiting to get an invitation for an interview and then hoping you don’t screw up that interview. Most of the questions in those interviews are pretty standard questions so I came up with a fool-proof algorithm for my interviews:

  • Listen to question
  • Is it a standard question?
    • No -> come up with a clever answer
    • Yes ->
      • Find standard answer in memory
      • Press play
      • Repeat until interview is over

404 Error

But then a strange thing happened last week during an interview, I couldn’t come up with my standard response to one of those standard questions: What would I see if I walked into one of your classes? I was checking my memory for the answer but I kept getting the same 404 error: answer not found. I had to come up with a clever answer on the fly and as I was answering the questions the same thought kept popping into my head: fun, students have fun in my class. So why couldn’t I just say it, why are we so scared to say that kids have fun in our classrooms? Is it not possible to learn while having fun?

TMI

My robotics class is probably the one where students are most likely to say that they “have fun” so I took a look to see what makes this class “fun”. The answer was simple: TMI

  • Think, Make, Improve: it’s a very simplified version of the design cycle but it’s important that students have a frame of reference within which they can play and discover. My favorite thing about this version of the design cycle is “Improve”, the expectation is that your will not get it right the first time, or even the second or third time, you can always improve, and it’s OK if it’s not perfect the first time.

    Too Much Information
    Too Much Information
  • Too Much Information: it’s amazing how we stifle our student’s creativity and enthusiasm by giving them too much information. The first time I taught robotics I gave my students the following assignment: design and build a robot that drives on a table and uses 2 ultrasonic sensors to detect the edge of the table, when it detects the edge of the table it should turn around so it doesn’t fall of the table. Sure enough, every group created a robot that hit all the criteria and I could check all the boxes in the rubric but there was no room for creativity. The assignment is a lot simpler now: create a robot that doesn’t fall of the table. It gives students the freedom to explore different options and they are coming up with solutions that I would have never thought of myself. There is definitely more failure now but giving students the option to play around and explore for themselves has made the learning more profound than it was before.
  • Too Many Interruptions: We all have this innate urge to prevent our students from making mistakes and we usually try to stop or re-direct them before they make a mistake. I’ve worked very hard at allowing my students to make mistakes because they learn way more from their mistakes than they do from me telling them they’re about to make a mistake. It’s just like playing: kids make mistakes and they figure out a way to fix the mistake. So let’s do the same in our classrooms: allow students to fail, let them learn from their mistakes.

Conclusion: WTF!?

flickr photo shared by netzkobold under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license
flickr photo shared by netzkobold under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In conclusion I’d like to encourage every educator to ask themselves this: WTF, Where’s The Fun? Learning can be fun and learning should be fun. Yes, we need to set some boundaries and we need to direct the play but there’s no reason play can’t be part of the learning process. So the next time you’re planning a project for your students let them explore, let them fail, let them play, I think you’ll be surprised to see where it takes them.

 

 

PBL: a love letter

No fancy links or pictures this week, just a love letter …

 

Dear Project, Problem and Challenge Based Learning,

I received some disturbing news about you this week: according to the COETAIL readings you’re considered to be part of “The Past“. As you know I consider myself to be a pretty progressive educator so I’ve had to think long and hard about our relationship. I like you…a lot, but maybe it’s time for me to move on.

I remember the first time I saw you, I was just browsing and then I came across your profile. I didn’t want to click it, I had been disappointed too many times before by promises of increased student performance and higher engagement but something made me click that link and I’m glad I did. I spent hours that first night reading everything on your profile, clicking every link and finding out as much as I could. I finally gathered up enough courage to ask you out, I made sure my classroom was set up perfectly and was nervous when I introduced you to my students. Sure, like any first date it was a bit awkward, I didn’t always know what to do or say but it was obvious by the end of the lesson that we’d be seeing each other again.

And that’s why I’m having such a hard time, if anything my feelings for you have grown stronger over the years. Every time you step into my classroom I discover something new and there’s never a dull moment when you’re around. Quite frankly I don’t know what I would do if you weren’t around any more. Just so you know how much I appreciate you I made a list of some of the things I love about you:

  • You bring authentic learning into my classroom. It’s not about memorizing, it’s not about worksheets, it’s about students working together to solve real problems. Just the other day the Middle School librarian walked in and asked if I could help her to 3D print some card holders to clip on to the new library shelves. I’ll admit, I was tempted but then you stepped in and a few days later we had students interviewing the librarian, measuring shelves and paper, designing in 3D software and printing card holders. Students collaborating to solve an authentic problem, I couldn’t have done it without you.
  • Students are truly engaged. Sure, you take a long time to get ready but it’s worth every second because as soon as you walk into that classroom you have every student’s attention, you have a way to show just enough skin to pull every student in. Some people might say it can get messy but anyone who’s willing to look a bit deeper will see that the mess is created by students who are engaged and excited about what they’re learning.
  • Menage à trois, quatre, cinq… We all have our dirty little secrets and I’m not afraid to talk about ours. We started out in an exclusive relationship but after a while other parties became involved. We asked students to design and build a drag racer and all of a sudden they had pulled in Math and Science to calculate things like gear ratios and top speeds. I was scared when Math and Science showed up but after giving them a chance I saw how much they added to every project and it’s even come to a point now where I’m looking for others and inviting them to the party.

I could keep going, there are so many things I like about you but the bottom line is still that you’re now considered part of “The Past”. I can’t bring myself to replacing you, you’ve done so much for me and my students.As far as I’m concerned your beauty is timeless and you’ll always have a place in my classroom. So instead of dumping you I’m proposing a new paradigm for our relationship: Just like you’ve pulled in other subjects I might start pulling in some things from “The Present” and “The Future” and if our past experience is anything to go by these new things will only make it better for the students and I know that’s really what both of us want.

Love always,

Rob

Damn you COETAIL!

Stress!!!

flickr photo shared by sun dazed under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license
flickr photo shared by sun dazed under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

We all deal with stress in different ways and for me the stress of recruiting has been a mix of back pain and sleepless nights. So when I went to bed with an aching back I was actually excited because I knew I would have a good night of sleep. A lot of that stress disappeared about two weeks ago: a week off, finished course 3 with some infographics to use for recruiting, first interviews done and some exciting job prospects opened up. All good until I started working on Course 4 and boom, all my stress is back. So … damn you COETAIL!

Traffic lights

By Smooth_O (talk · contribs) (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Smooth_O (talk · contribs) (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
It all started with an innocent design brief in my Design Technology class: Create a working set of traffic lights. Most students used a cheap microprocessor (Arduino Uno) and a few LEDs to create their traffic lights but this project really wasn’t about the traffic lights, it was about all the thinking and all the questions that came out of this project. Just a little background: traffic lights often go out in South Africa and it usually causes chaos on the roads. Here are some things students were talking about after creating their traffic lights:

  • I wonder if you could use this to fix all the traffic lights.
  • I wonder how much it would cost to install this on all the traffic lights in Johannesburg.
  • I wonder how much money it would save if traffic lights didn’t break any more.
  • I wonder if the government knows it’s this easy to fix the traffic lights.
  • I wonder if any countries actually use this for their traffic lights.

Other Subjects

All I could see was connections: Go ask your Math teacher, go ask your Economics teacher, go ask you Social Studies teacher, go ask … You get the idea, this simple little project tied into pretty much every other subject but those connections were never made because there’s no time, it doesn’t fit with the current unit, we don’t have planning time, … How I wish I was in a position where I could work with other teachers to have a project like this be part of their class.That’s been happening a lot lately, I keep seeing these connections to other subjects and I end up being frustrated because it’s so hard to make them a reality. I want to reach out to other teachers and pull them in but as most of you know, there never seems to be enough time to actually do it.

Breaking Out

Then I started my readings for Course 4, and all it did was make me realize more and more that I don’t want to be stuck inside my technology box any more, I want to go into the Math box, the Science box, the PE box and show them how much better their box would be with the right technology in the right place, and gasp, how amazing would it be if we tore down some of the walls between the boxes or even just punched a few holes into the walls. I want to show teachers the difference between a unit at the Substitution level and a unit at the Redefining level. I want to show teachers that using technology is vastly different from authentically integrating and embedding technology. I want to help teachers take the next step and take it to a new level.

New Beginnings

change-671374_640I am definitely not claiming that I’m always redefining my units by using technology but I am claiming that I sometimes redefine them, I am claiming that I can see the difference between S, A, M and R in my classes and I am claiming that I see lots of ways to get beyond S and A in other subjects as well. And that’s where the renewed stress comes in: a few weeks into the job search I’m realizing that maybe I need to look for a different type of job, maybe it’s time to break out of the technology box and go play in some of the other boxes. I’m still on the fence but I’m seriously considering moving into more of a tech-coach kind of position.

So … damn you COETAIL! for making me re-think my whole recruiting plan this late in the game. And also: thank you COETAIL! for making me re-think my whole recruiting plan before I sign on the dotted line.