Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Cry!

Hear me now, oh thou bleak and unbearable world
Thou art base and debauched as can be!
And a knight with his valors all bravely unfurled
Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!

I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of LaMancha,
My destiny calls, and I go!
And the wild winds of fortune
Shall carry me onward ... To wither so ever they blow ...
Wither so ever they blow ...
Onward to glory I go!

The musical "Man of La Mancha" was written by Dale Wasserman, with lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wish You Were Here

So, so you think you can tell;
Heaven from Hell, Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?
                                                -Pink Floyd

If someone were to walk into your classroom and ask you to produce evidence of the learning taking place in your classroom, what would you show them?

          ·         Would you point to test scores?
          ·         Would you point to posters on the wall?
          ·         Would you hand them a portfolio of writings?
          ·         Would it be completed worksheets?
          ·         Would it be essays?

What are the true artifacts of learning?

Learning is defined by Merriam-Webster as follows:
         1.       to gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience 
          2.       to come to be able 
          3.       to come to realize 
          4.       to come to know 
          5.       to acquire knowledge or skill or a behavioral tendency

So, I ask again: What are the true artifacts of learning?

The true artifacts of learning are produced over an extended period of time, years in most cases depending upon the subject or material. Learning is retained beyond next week’s test, or mid-term, or final; learning surfaces years down the line. So, is there nothing you can show a person who asks for evidence?

I believe there is and it is quite simple: Desire, curiosity, and an internal drive to do well in your learners. So, when someone walks in and asks for evidence you don’t point to papers or web pages; point to your learners and observe them.

Ask these questions:
          1.       Are they engaged?
          2.       Is their motivation internal or external?
          3.       Are they pausing to consider or rushing to finish?
          4.       Are they sharing their ideas and asking for others?
          5.       Are they asking, seeking, and unsatisfied?
          6.       Are they accepting or questioning what you say?

The true artifacts of learning are the learners. Tell me, what do your learners look like?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Times Are They a-Changin'?

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'. – Bob Dylan

I’m not exactly sure what is going on; seriously, I am perplexed, befuddled, confused, even struck dumb by what I see going on among teachers. That’s not really correct; it’s more a question of what I don’t see going on.

Before I became a teacher I worked in retail; I managed a few hardware stores and even owned one for a few years. It may come as a surprise to some, though it really shouldn’t, that magazines exist that talk about the hardware industry. They discuss trends and tools; give advice about what is going on in the industry and what we should be doing. When I was younger still I worked as a forklift mechanic for a beverage company. Even then magazines such as “Fleet Owner” were around and I read them because I didn’t want to be a mechanic forever. One day I hoped to move up in the company. Regardless of what jobs I’ve held in my life, I’ve always tried to find ways to be better. It was irrelevant what the job was, it was a case of wanting to be the best at whatever I did.

Teaching and education must be the most written about professions and industries on the planet. The number of magazines, books, and companies engaged in supporting the industry are amazing. That doesn’t include the vast number of blogs created by people engaged in the field; I don’t have any idea how many there are, but tens of thousands wouldn’t surprise me. Teachers can find thousands of videos on YouTube about education; created by an incredibly diverse group and covering nearly any aspect of education you can imagine.

Of course, it’s not possible for one person to keep track of all this, but as teachers we should be actively engaged in trying to find the best resources and incorporating their wisdom into making us better at our vocation. Each day I read various blogs and have rarely had a day when I didn’t find something that could contribute to making me better or give my learners a greater chance for authentic learning. Tools like Google Reader help, but the greatest resource has proven to be the blogs themselves. The blogs consistently share links to resources and ideas that excite me and keep my enthusiasm up about learning.

The problem is that many of my colleagues don’t do the same thing. “I just don’t have time” is the common refrain I hear. I try to share everything I find that inspires me, but I’ve come to believe that most of those e-mails I send are falling on deaf ears (eyes?). I feel as if they’ve just stopped listening. I want to believe them when they say they don’t have time, but I’m slowly beginning to believe that they just don’t care. They aren’t concerned at getting better or staying current; being a teacher has become a job instead of a calling. The reward they are looking for comes every other Friday in an envelope instead of every day in the learning of a child.

It may be frustration on my part that is causing me to feel this way. I realize it might just be they don’t agree with me; that what I’m sharing doesn’t fit into their view. Some may say it’s my lack of humility that is at the root of the disappointment I feel in them. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t think I am because of how many out there seem to agree with what I’m saying (or preaching as I was told). In fact, much of what I’m saying has been influenced by their writings and work.

Educators like David Warlick, Scott McLeod, Larry Ferlazzo, Richard Byrne, Audrey Watters, Wesley Fryer, Vicki Davis, Kathleen McClaskey, Michael Wesch, and countless others contribute almost daily to my becoming better and so helping the learners I influence experience authentic learning. My thinking and views have altered as I was writing my dissertation due to the influence of these people and many more. I try to share my thoughts and those of others with my colleagues, but nobody is listening.

Almost every day I wonder, “Why I keep trying?”

I keep trying to help them learn because that is my calling now. I still love working with my learners, but I have now devoted myself to helping the Master Learners. I need to leave the classroom and find a position where I can influence them; where I can change the way they look at their jobs. I want them to stop seeing students and see “Learners”; I want them to stop being teachers and become “Master Learners”.

Have I set an impossible task?

Am I Don Quixote tilting at windmills?

Maybe I am, but I intend to be the Greater Fool of education. I believe I have the perfect blend of ego and self-delusion to change the colossus that is education. I’m heartened by the knowledge that I’m not alone. There are others, like those I've listed above, that believe the same things. I’m going to keep fighting, keep trying, until I either succeed or die. If you happen to find this and you want to be part of the change contact me, contact the others, get involved. We can change the system if we work together.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Greater Fool

I want to be the “Greater Fool.” “The Greater Fool is actually an economic term; it’s a patsy. For the rest of us to profit we need a Greater Fool, someone who will buy long and sell short. Most people spend their lives trying not to be the Greater Fool. We toss him the hot potato; we dive for his seat when the music stops. The Greater Fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by Greater Fools. (AaronSorkin, The Newsroom)”

I have spent the last six months writing my dissertation in an attempt to earn my Ph.D. I had completed the course work and this “product” was all that was left. The research and writing perfectly exemplified the process of learning. As I wrote, revised, researched, wrote, and revised I noticed a change in many ideas I had regarding the current educational paradigm. Like all of you I’ve attended conferences, read books authored by “experts”, watched countless videos, and read far too many blog posts by ordinary teachers and educational observers (that’s the beauty of blogs, though) in an attempt to find the key that would lead to the sorely needed change. There’s certainly no shortage of people able to point out the problems, but solutions are in short supply.

Technology is crucial in the solution, but not in the way I had always envisioned. I championed the delivery of content through technology. A wide variety of programs are available to deliver content and provide students with exercises intended to assess student learning. This allows students to progress at their own pace and teachers to monitor skills and concepts that were causing problems. Along with these purchased tools, the web is filled with “educational” games, videos, and countless other sources of information. These resources have their value and should not be discounted, but that is not the most effective way technology supports learning.

I slowly came to the realization that the solution is simple in theory. All that needs to be done is to change the labels we have used since the dawn of organized public education truly began during the Industrial Revolution. “Student” must be changed to “learner” and “teacher” must be changed to “master learner” (thank you David Warlick for solving that particular label). Changing the label is simple, changing the mindset to truly reflect those new labels is the hard part (perhaps the impossible part), but that is now my mission.

Along with the change in labels comes a change in the primary way technology is to be used. “Learning by doing” has been around forever, but doing what? Technology provides the learner the mechanism for doing; technology allows the learner to create something that lives forever, something that is theirs forever, something that the entire world can see. This places a burden on the learner, a burden they place upon themselves because they realize that what they are doing is not something their master learner alone will see. Parents, friends, and generations to come will be able to see what they create. Suddenly the awesomeness of that realization hits them and they give their best effort because they don’t want to look foolish; suddenly they have an audience.

They realize the “reward” is no longer a number or letter recorded in a grade book; their reward is the value placed on their work by anyone that might view it. It’s no longer just one person arbitrarily determining the value, but anyone with an internet connection. I have seen the effect this has. It’s one thing for me to tell them they did a good job, now people they’ve never met are commenting. They’re checking YouTube daily to see how many views they have, if new comments have been made, or if people are distributing their work.

Learners create something that has value and technology provides the “display case” for their creation.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Is there anybody out there?

I've got a little black book with my poems in
Got a bag with a toothbrush and a comb
When I'm a good dog they sometimes throw me a bone 
                                                Roger Waters

I've had a revelation; an epiphany, if you will, about changing the current paradigm in education. It can’t be done. Sorry. I wish I could pretend it was otherwise, but it isn’t. Every once in awhile we might make some tiny progress, change a mind or two, but overall there just isn’t anything to be done.

You see the problem isn't a question of creating a new program or policy. We don’t need to have an in-service where we discuss our school culture or examine test scores. We don’t need to buy this or that. There isn't any magical piece of software out there that is going to solve our problem or some brilliant observer of the world of education that can come in and give us the magic bullet of education.

Sorry you wasted all that money on college. That Masters degree looks nice in that frame on your wall. Then there’s that Ph.D. you worked so hard for; it’s beautiful in its frame and being called doctor is really cool, but it’s really not going to change anything except what you’re paid (which is pretty cool, come to think of it). I know, through it all, you thought you were going to change things; you had dreams that you would be “The One” and that the Matrix would do as you willed.

I’m not saying you should give up; hop on your donkey, level that lance, and head for the nearest windmill. I’m sure Cervantes would be proud.

You see the problem is that you've set an impossible task for yourself because what you really need to do is travel around the country, you've already got the donkey and lance, and speak to each teacher individually. You need to convince them that what they are doing isn't preparing their kids for the 21st Century world they are about to enter. In fact, what they are learning, if they’re learning, will have little or no bearing on what the world will ask of them.

I know you think you’re teaching them to read, but you’re not. The best you can hope for is to instill in them the desire to read; if you do that then they will do the rest. That spelling test you give every Friday isn't measuring anything other than their ability to memorize how to spell words, but you know, deep down inside, that spell check is going to take care of that for them in the future. Heck, the language may change to the point that “idk” becomes the norm rather than the exception. The word “you” may just be replaced by a letter, who knows? If the point of writing is communicating, then one must ask, “What is the media they will be using?”

Math, you say, everybody uses math! You can’t argue with that, but is your time better spent teaching them how to use a calculator? Nobody “balances their checkbook” anymore; it’s all done with cards and a website. I’m sure there’s an app for their smart phone that can do whatever they need. Besides, I can’t remember the last time I needed to use the Quadratic Equation or Pythagorean Theorem. They don’t even have to count my change at Kmart properly anymore (of course I can’t remember the last time I used actual money at Kmart).

Science and social studies? Give me a break. Writing an essay on the causes of the Civil War is not going to help them learn about the complex issues surrounding the start of that most tragic event in our history. I know proper citizenship requires all Americans to know our history and many issues today’s young people will face require understanding certain scientific ideas, but are they actually learning? Do you know? Can you know? Do you care?

I am proud to say that I have instilled the love of learning in a few students over the years, because that is fundamentally what I should be doing. If I can make them curious they will learn because they want to learn. I’m not a teacher; I’m a Master Learner. I’m a guide if I do my job correctly. That is the fundamental change that must be made. Teaching is something I do; learning is what they do.

It’s the hard truth that most learning is incidental (or accidental) and I should create an atmosphere of exploration. I should not try to follow a set of standards. No, I should appear along the path of their learning with a little road map helping them overcome the occasional fallen tree or surging stream; I should be there with a rope or a raft when they need it. I should be behind them so I don’t block their view, so I can whisper the encouragement they might occasionally need. I should embrace the world they live in instead of trying to make them fit in my world. My world is past; their world is what I need to understand.

I need a firmware update. The entire system of education needs a firmware update. Unfortunately, nobody out there is set up to automatically receive updates at 3:00 a.m. It’s 3:00 a.m. and everybody is asleep.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ass Sniffing?

Dustin Hoffman said, "If a lot of dogs are on the beach, the first thing they do is smell each other's ass. The information that's gotten somehow makes pacifists out of all of them. I've thought, 'If only we smelled each other's asses, there wouldn't be any war.'"

I think more people would watch C-Span if this were the case with people. Imagine the UN if, at the beginning of each day, the delegates all walked around and sniffed each other's asses the world would be a better place.

Maybe we need to let the terrorists smell our ass; if you smell someone's ass it will definitely affect your relationship. How can you smell someone's ass and then fight them? Ass sniffing establishes a bond that people are missing.

If, before you were going to fight, you were required to sniff another's ass; there would be much less fighting. Just something to think about.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

California district can't afford to use new $105M school -

California district can't afford to use new $105M school - "RIVERSIDE, Calif. — In a sign of just how deep economic and budget problems have grown in the nation's largest state, a gleaming new high school built at a cost of $105 million will sit unused for at least a year because education officials say they don't have money to operate it."