Friday, June 29, 2012

What I Learned at MEC

Every summer the Marianist Education Consortium holds a workshop for its schools. A colleague and I were asked to take part in the planning of, and later to be presenters at this summer's workshop, which ended last Thursday. We, along with two other teachers from our school, attend the workshop with about 40 other teachers and administrators from the other schools under the Marianist Provence of the United States. The theme of the workshop this year was "Marianist Education in the 21st Century." (And now you know why they wanted to talk to me about it.)

While I was initially apprehensive about the whole thing, I ended up having a good time. Much of the focus was on new technology in the classroom and how we use it. At the same time, we are reminded to maintain the Marianist charisms.
If you have ever spent any length of time in conversation with me you know I have some strong opinions about this stuff. I came back with a lot to think about. I have my notes, so you may see more posts on this in the next few weeks.

First and foremost, those of us who use this stuff in their teaching need to do a better job teaching other teachers, and we need to do a better job teaching it to our students. It's easy for us to look at kid with an iPhone and say "Wow. They figured it out." And we let that assumption stick whenever technology comes up. We make the assumption that they can figure it out on their own and then wonder why they make bad choices with it. A lot of them don't understand how it works. We know this when we see them not only fail to cover themselves when they act inappropriately, but by the fact that they think it's okay to do so in the first place. There is no difference between what you type into Facebook and what you say to someone's face, and they only hear that after they have already done it, so often it's a habit. We turn into the nagging teachers telling them to stop doing something they like to do. (There are plenty of adults who need to learn the same lessons.)

When we fail teach how to use this technology the majority of students, for the most part, get the technology and the ethics wrong.

We need to teach them balance, said one of the presenters, and to be present to the people who are physically around them. And she was absolutely right. It is true that the ability to have persistent connection to the internet is causing a problem for a lot of our kids. But we can teach them to be present to each other through these connections, just as we can teach them to be present to those around them. One of the brothers in a discussion panel reminded us that while students now will mess around with cell phones during class, they used to doodle in their notebooks.

The difference is that teachers didn't confiscate the pencil.

There is a gap in understanding between teachers and students on these issues, and until we fix it, students are going to continue getting lost and continue getting hurt.

What did I learn at MEC? We have a lot of work to do, and I think the "we" just went up in number.

(Below is the edited version of one of the presentations we made. It's missing some things you only get in the commentary, but you get the point.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I'm Moving

Next year I'm teaching economics and AP macro. Do you know what that means? Seniors. Only seniors.  It is the policy of the current administration to "contain" (that was the word my dean used) the seniors in A hall as best they can. Senioritis is highly contagious, after all. Teaching seniors carried with it the possibility of leaving D20, from which this blog takes its name. I made it known that I wanted to stay, but I have been dreading a certain phone call all summer.

That call came today....Did I mention that I'm glad I'm still a teacher? There is a new dean in town, and I must say I could not be happier with the choice. The best part? (For me, anyway. I mean, besides the fact that I'm still a teacher...) There is now a certain newly-vacant classroom which was offered to me today....

Several months ago someone asked me If I had my pick of rooms in the building, which one would I want? My answer apparently is not a common one to that question. I know about it because I spent a week or so subbing in it when I first started teaching. It was on one of those days that I took this photo.
This is the room I was offered. Apparently, people don't like this room. The dean was actually surprised when I said I would take it.

It's in the basement under the old gym. It used to be the band hall. Now it's mine. I don't know If I will change the name of this site or not. Oh, and did I mention that my wife and I are also buying a house?

It's going to be a busy summer. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Glad I'm Still A Teacher

A few weeks ago I applied for a position at my school that, while it would bring me new and interesting responsibilities, would have meant leaving the classroom. I applied for the job with encouragement from unexpected corners and with the belief that, when there was work to be done, I was not comfortable sitting back and volunteering nothing. As part of the application process, I wrote a letter to the administration outlining what I felt I could bring to the job. As I re-read that letter now, I think it just as easily applies to what I'm already doing.

I considered publishing the whole letter here, but the reader must forgive my embarrassment and be content with the partial text that I have included below.
I am very much the product of Nolan Catholic. I discerned my vocation here. I met my wife here. My commitment to the mission of this school began while I was a student here and it has continued into my adult life. I began teaching here as a substitute and then as a part-time teacher in 2008. I continued to work as a substitute after my position was eliminated the next year and came back as a part-time teacher in 2010. Including this year, my first as a full time teacher, I have taught four different subjects, assisted with a fifth, and I am slated to take over two new subjects next year. I was raised a Roman Catholic and while I have struggled with my faith in the past, I was married in the Catholic Church and I served as a conformation sponsor to one of my students this year.
I thought that I wanted this job. Then a week ago, a chance conversation with a former student on Facebook led me to put together a video of an ecology field trip to Big Bend in 2010. I spent a few hours on the project, most of that finding and sorting the images and video I had of the trip. When I finished, I didn't want the new job anymore. It wasn't just that trip, it was every assignment, every good day and bad day in the classroom with my kids over the last three years. And while I will never do those things again, you can never repeat exactly the experiences you have in a classroom. I would have lost the classroom; at least for most of the day.

I don't want to be a part-time teacher again.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Facebook Feedback

In a few weeks, I'm supposed to present at a workshop for Marianist educators on social media (among other things). In the course of preparing for one of those presentations, I posed a question to my students via my classroom Facebook page. After some prodding, I got some good material, which will defiantly be used in a presentation and which I will probably write about here later.

These were the first two answers.
I got long, well-thought-out answers from these kids. They mentioned things that had not occurred to me before, and they prodded my thinking in new directions. Fascinating. I may write that post as I work on the presentation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

That's Kinda The Point...

The other night I was...I almost said "killing time," but I know better...let's say I was waiting on something. I have a particularly creative student, and if you are a regular here, you know who I'm talking about. That student has a public website that I look at from time to time. This seemed like as good a time as any. It was a good thing that my coffee had run out by the time I got to the post I am about to share. Had I been drinking anything, it would have been sprayed across my laptop.
I ended up laughing so hard I choked. The photos she mentioned stem from an incident when I lent my phone to several students so they could photograph something in the vein of Everett C. Marm. Before you panic, know that iOS has shortcut that allows you to use the camera without unlocking it. It was, for all intents and purposes, a digital camera and nothing more without the password.

[Side note: I considered keeping a compact digital camera in my classroom in case the need came up again (besides, stick an EyeFi card in one and you now have a dedicated whiteboard camera.) But discovered that my phone is arguably a better camera than the one I had at home.]

As I recall, I was in the middle of checking over my US History final exam when the exchange took place. It was about 20 minutes before I realized they still weren't back with my phone. (Insert feeling of dread here.) The photos, when they did come back, were quite silly. I would post them here, but that would be breaking the rules.

It would also be breaking the rules for me to link to her site. Which is a shame, she is a talented photographer. But there is no way to stop her from linking to my site. 
One of the original uses of my site was to share photos of her work in my classroom. (Whiteboard art is up there with sand castles, it can be amazing, but it's not going to stick around.) I didn't tell her to link to my site. And I won't tell her to stop. How would you go about preventing someone from sharing something that by its nature is infinitely copyable? (How's that working out for you, RIAA?) That's kinda the point of the internet, isn't it?

If we are supposed to be teaching them how to use it, let's do that.

Keeping that in mind, I'll take this opportunity to post some of her work that I haven't shared yet.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Big Bend 2010

In the Spring of 2010, I was lucky enough to be asked to chaperone a field trip to Big Bend National Park. It was the not the first or last time I've been on that trip, but it was particularly memorable for several reasons. The video below was cobbled together from photos and video taken on my iPhone at the time. I hadn't done anything with the footage (probably because it wasn't any good) until one of the students who had been on that trip wrote something on Facebook that made me remember it.

This video is for the students who rode in my car, for the students who didn't, and especially for the other chaperones on the trip, and of course for Mrs. Browning, who has carried on the work of my old teacher and made it her own. Thank you for making this trip a memorable one. 
Keep in mind, I shot this on an iPhone 3GS and I shot it BEFORE my time with the broadcast program. I see myself making the same mistakes we chided our students for making, so if you're going to laugh, do it at the content, not my crappy camerawork. Watching it only makes me wish I had captured more, and with better equipment.

I should mention that I included one photo that I did not take (the one with me in it) and that was courtesy of Mr. William Baker. Mr. Baker took several photos of me on that trip, and looking over them again today, I don't believe I have thanked him quite enough....yet.

Friday, June 1, 2012

This Job Makes You Paranoid

Some teachers need to share their personal cell phone numbers with their students. These are coaches, club moderators, and yearbook advisers. They need to know if a student isn't going to make a game, goes missing on a field trip, or can't get a piece of equipment to work properly. These teachers are on a special list with the administration, and they are also very trusting.

I am not one of those teachers. While I advocate for new ways of teachers and students to communicate, like through Facebook, I make sure that those communication channels fall within the rules of my school. I also have a good idea of where to draw the line. I will never, for instance, suggest that teachers should disclose their home addresses. While I do advocate for Google Voice, a service that would allow telephone communication while keeping the teacher's personal phone numbers private. (Google Voice is not yet approved.)

I go to some lengths to protect those channels that are not approved, like personal phone numbers, and to keep private the information that both professionalism and concerns for my personal sanity require. While I cannot think of everything, and knowing that my students are by no means stupid, I choose to behave...cautiously.

That caution has led to exchanges such as this one. (The phone number was new to me.)
May I always be blessed with patient and understanding friends.