Saturday, October 27, 2007

Signs

Seeing relationships between things that are not connected is man's way of attempting to understand the world. This is basically what Gestalt psychology is all about. Pattern recognition in man allowed early hunters to recognize animal behavior and survive in a tough environment. This ability that all people have, has developed in a variety of strange ways. Seeing symbols is one thing that has grown out of man's attempt at patterning the world.
I don't know if all of that ties into what I am about to share, but it seems to in a broader sense. Or it could just be wishful thinking. I have, what Native Americans in the old western movies would call, a spirit guide. This is an animal that represents my connection to the universe. Sounds weird, I know. It is almost embarrassing for me to admit that I even consider this a possibility. I must be admitting it because I am putting it into words...
The first time this ever crossed my mind was shortly after I turned 21. I was driving home from college after I was informed that my mom had just lost her battle with cancer. I was screaming at God, demanding to know how he could take away someone so wonderful and leave such a terrible person like myself behind. Angry at the world, I insisted that I be given some sort of sign that my mother was ok. As I am driving down this little two lane road in the middle of nowhere, I looked up to see a hawk fly across my path.
At the time, I was pretty low, but I can't really say that I took it as anything more than a bird was flying. I am still surprised that I even remember it.
Time passed, and like they say, I healed. But life is like a roller coaster with many ups and downs. It always seemed that after that first time, whenever I was low I would see a hawk and know that everything would be alright. Of course, I expanded my "spirit guide" to encompass all large birds of prey, because when you are searching for a positive you want to grab onto as much as possible. Red-tailed hawks stretched out to include osprey, and bald eagles.
I can't really say that there is any real connection between my sightings and positive life experiences, because it is more of a feeling, not a concrete, measurable object. Just like I can't really describe the depth of my love for my wife or my children. I know it is there, because I can feel it, but defining it is pointless for someone who doesn't believe me.
All of this brings me to today. I have been upset lately, feeling the work world is all stacked up against me. Probably this is just paranoia, but it has certainly felt as real as walking into a brick wall every day. I was with my youngest son, driving back home from a birthday party for a classmate of his when I saw some movement on the side of the road. It was a red-tailed hawk, standing there devouring his prey. I had to pull the truck over into the next driveway and watch. Sammy wanted to go over to him and get a closer look, but I talked him out of it considering how close it was to the road.
Does it mean anything? To the rational world, no. Thank goodness I am rarely rational, because I have to take the hawk as a sign of hope. Life is wonderful, but don't we all need a sign every now and then that tells us tomorrow will be better? I think it is wrong to define the experience or think about what the sighting could mean for me. It is enough for me just to know that things will be better.
Friedrich Nietzsche must have been a terribly unhappy person, or he enjoyed making others unhappy with his dark thoughts about man and his emotions. I think he was wrong. Man needs hope, or at least this one man does.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Passion

This week I am going to teach a group of teachers about blogs and wikis. I am very excited about this opportunity because right now it is a passion of mine. I know these technologies are not new, but in many ways they are new to me. It wasn't always this way, I always thought, why do I want to do this? I don't need this blog and wiki stuff as a part of my technology tool list.

But, I was wrong. It is hard for many people to admit when they are wrong. It is not particularly easy for me, but I have found that if I don't admit it, I can't put it behind me and move on. I think this is an important idea because I am not that much different from anyone else who has ever asked, why do this new thing? The question should always be, why NOT do this new thing? When I was younger, that type of thinking always got me into trouble. Hopefully, now I can control my questioning techniques to make the, "Why not?" question a positive experience.

I read an article this weekend about finding your passions. I strongly believe that everyone must have a passion. For me, things change rapidly. My family is a constant passion in my life, but I often need other things to make living with me bearable. When I don't have some sort of side project, I literately feel like something is missing.

Recently, I created a King Tut thing for 2nd grade, and a Lorax debate for 3rd. I loved it! I felt like I was contributing something, I was modeling the type of thing I want my teachers to try, and I had a chance to be creative. The only problem is that after these projects are completed, I am looking for another distraction. Something I can be passionate about.

Along comes this blogs and wiki class. I really am excited. I love my blog and think that blogs can have great value for just about any class (maybe not this particular blog, but I see the potentional). I think wikis are a great collaboration tool and I recently did a research activity with all of my fifth grade students using a wiki as a group recording page. While you may not see the best example of student writing ever, you will see a collaborative effort of almost 200 students who were forced to adapt quickly to get anything on the page at all. They had to talk to each other and plan how they were going to do the project, they had to research information, decide who was going to input the info on the the wiki page and they had about 30 minutes to make it happen. There was some seriously valuable learning going on. After the activity, many students came up to me and asked me if they could work on it outside of computer lab time. I was like, "Yes!"- to the question, and to the idea that they wanted to extend learning outside of the normal confines of learning. I was impressed. They did all the work, but I got a chance to be the finger pointing the way.

I think some of the greatest things that human beings have ever created came about as a group of people set to work with one focus in mind. They shared, they collaborated- this is what makes blogs and wikis so wonderful. The chance to be a part of something bigger than anything you alone could achieve.

I believe that you must find the passion in life. It is there waiting for you to discover it. Never question why you should do something, say, "Why not!" Give something new a try. You never know where it will take you. Maybe you will find that piece of something that fills your empty space.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Not a good day...

I am not sure what I expected when I decided to change the way I do everything in my job. Maybe I thought that simply because I was doing the right thing for the students that it would be easier to take the negative backlash from the teachers. I was wrong.

I have mentally prepared for every discussion that I could have with any person regarding my new philosophy, but the difference is preparing for battle, and being engaged in battle. You practice on the football field, but when it is game time, it hurts when you get tackled -even though you know it is coming.

Could be that it is just a bad day for me. I'll get over it. This year is still better than last year, or the year before... because I really feel like I am making a difference. That maybe I am helping students and even a few teachers with technology. Last year and before, by this time the routine of the year set in and I felt left behind. Everyday felt at least a little like this; slogging through an endless muddy field with no direction.

Now, most days are exciting and I feel like I am accomplishing something. It is hard for me to let things go, even small things can really get under my skin. But I am going to try to rise above it, and continue on the path that I have set for myself. Hopefully, this is just one little thing that will amount to nothing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fun With Technology 2

I was talking with my gifted resource teacher (GRT) at my school and she was telling me how she was going to do a lesson with the Lorax. She wanted to do something with point of view, enivronment etc., and asked me if I would help.

The cool thing was that I planned with my GRT using Instant Messenger. Here is her exact entry (I had to copy it to make sure I wouldn't forget), "The depth and complexity pieces include: language of the discipline (big words about the environment); details (facts); patterns; trends, ethics, rules, big ideas, across disciplines, unanswered questions, relate over time; multiple perspectives." This activity is for a gifted cluster group of 3rd graders.

So, what I came up with was a debate. I took parts of The Lorax and added some of my own material to create a script. Next, I searched Flickr.com for pictures and then recorded myself reading the script and used the flickr pictures as a slide show in Window Movie Maker. Below is basically the result (The web page is a little more attractive for my school- didn't seem important here);

Environmental Debate
The Lorax vs The Once-ler

How will cutting down the Truffula trees impact the future?
Lorax Once-ler

What do you think about the thneeds?
Once-ler Lorax

Why are you so passionate about Truffula trees and or thneeds?
Once-ler Lorax

Is it ethical to chop down truffula trees?
Once-ler Lorax

Should there be rules to make sure that people get thneeds and we save the truffula trees?
Once-ler Lorax

There must be some way save the Truffula trees and make Thneeds…
Lorax Once-ler

I had a great time making it but it did take quite a bit of time. I even spent about 3 to 4 hours of my birthday working on it. That is not a complaint. It just goes to show how much fun it was for me to make.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Collaboration vs. Competition

I know my posts have been a bit more infrequent lately, but I have not given up on it. Not at all. Thursday night I woke up at 2am thinking about my next post. I suppose my subconscious mind had been turning things over for a while, and just like the oven timer, the ding that told me the idea was ready, woke me up. No matter how strong the urge, I try to resist the impulse to jump out of bed to get my thoughts out there. I just can't afford to lose the sleep with 3 young kids to chase around.

I think that there is a societal battle over the concepts of competition and collaboration in our schools. America's system of capitalism breeds the competitive individual better than any other in the world. We now have a group of people whose only thought is to get ahead at any cost. To be a winner. Forget everyone along the way, because the game of life is about self promotion, not helping everyone else to get ahead. This is having a negative impact on education.

This drive to be the best has helped America to be great, but it can also destroy us. We have many problems and no one person can solve any of them. It is going to take the cooperative work of many people to make things better. The world is very complex and many hands will be needed to fix it.

Educators should recognize the importance of collaboration, but this is not always the case. Schools are still built around competition. I mean, really, what are grades all about? Finding out which students are best so they can go to better colleges and universities. Teachers want to be recognized, too. Would they really share their super special lesson that will make them stand out for a Teacher of the Year nomination?

Certainly, it is difficult to create a collaborative environment in a classroom. You would have to change just about every aspect of the classroom to truly embrace cooperative learning among students. The concept of social learning is not new, and neither is collaboration, but it just seems to be the opposite of what a successful person would do. Successful, independent people don't need help.

We can not have students collaborate in school because we can not get teachers to collaborate in school. It is always nice to know that you are not the only person to recognize this problem, but it is also scary because it means the problem is much larger than just me, in my little part of the world.

Part of the problem is not that teachers are unwilling to work together, but they don't know how to collaborate. If they can not collaborate among their peers, how can they support that learning model with students?

There is a big push in schools to use cooperative learning and project based learning, but from what I am seeing, these ideas are not being widely adopted. Perhaps these collaborative learning models are hard to incorporate because of the demands of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). If you are required to hit 20 specific areas outlined in the standards of learning in a subject for a major end of the year test, you must teach and re-teach those topics. Three or four times in a year. You can not rely on the hit and miss proposition of project based learning. The student may have a much better understanding of the work completed in the project, but having holes in knowledge is not acceptable under NCLB.

I have not really answered any questions, and probably thought up a few more, but I think this is a real problem. We have the brain power to fix our problems, but we lack the focus to complete the task. We can only make school a better place to learn if teachers work together and show the students how to do the same. These are skills the world needs.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Peter

I have decided this year that I will split my time between my school's two computer labs. It has kept me hopping, but allowed my to work with all of the students in kindergarten through 5th grade. One week I am with the kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes, and the next week I am with 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes.

Last week I was with the older groups. A kindergarten class came into the lab and one of the children came up to the teacher and said,"Where's Peter?"

She said, "Peter, who?"

The little boy said, "You know, the Peter Guy?"

He was talking about me! I am the "Peter Guy." I am sure that he meant computer guy, but the point is that I was missed, and it meant enough to the child to ask where I was. I was touched. I must be doing something right- for a change.

So while, "You can Call Me Al," I will now answer to Peter as well.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Technology Helper

Who couldn't use a little help with technology?

Yesterday we had our neighbors over for dinner. Their kids played with our kids and Dee asked me about web pages. She is a new teacher at a local high school and has become interested in communicating with her students in a new way.

So, I gave her my, "Google is awesome," speech. Shared Blogger- because I love it, and Google Page Creator- because it is more flexible. After a few minutes of discussion over pizza (no pizza wars last night), she was ready. I helper sign up for a Google mail account and in no time she was posting her first blog entry, adding links and creating her own web page.

I wish everyone was that easy to work with because my job would be so much easier. I have been thinking about how all of this happened and I think I may have some ideas about it. The things that made this such a smooth transition for Dee that other teachers are missing in a reverse top 5 list;

5. She has been out of teaching for a few years and has rediscovered her passion for teaching.
4. She sees that students have new abilities and can be reached in different ways.
3. She has real world technology experiences- she has skills developed outside of teaching.
2. She is open to new ideas.
1. She cares more about the students she teaches than she does for the status quo of what her coworkers consider quality education.

I might have missed something, but the important thing to me was that I saw in Dee more interest in technology in one night than I have seen in many of my coworkers in years. Kind of scary. Dee was nervous about it. I think she is still working out exactly how she will use her new tools for teaching, but she will use them. I am excited for her, and her students.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Amusing Myself with Technology

I love technology because it allows me to express myself in many different ways. I don't have a fear of technology and sometimes use it as an outlet for fun. I am easily amused, so it really doesn't take much for me to have a good time.

Yesterday, I had an idea. Well, I had more than one idea, because they often come in bunches, but one that I thought was good enough to act on.

Second grade classes have an Egypt unit. It is almost time for Egypt week to begin. I have been having a dialogue with my gifted resource teacher for a few weeks about this idea that we came up with for an Egypt room. It is an empty room that we are working on, with second grade teachers, where classes can come in and do different Egypt related activities. My area is concerned with - guess what? Technology!

So I was thinking about how I could add some life to the "Egypt Room." I have been playing with web cams and had a brain storm. Video Egypt FAQs with King Tut. I thought it would be fun for the students- and for me. The only problem was the Eye Liner. How in the world do the ladies get that mess off?

Here is a list of the Questions and the Video Responses that I threw together yesterday afternoon;

Introduction-
video

What are hieroglyphics?
video

How did Ancient Egypt influence the daily life in the United States?
video

How did they make the Step Pyramid?
video

What is the Sphinx?
video

How did you (King Tut) die?
video

What can you tell us about mummification?
video

Is there a symbol for the Ancient Egyptian Religion?
video

This was a fun little project. I am sure it could have been much better, but I had the urge and tried to pull it all together fast. I hope it makes you laugh. I know I did.
:-)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Technology in Education- Part6

Part5
My New Motto (final in series)

For some reason, I have thought that as a final entry in this series I should have something about my overall theme. I think it must be because media has ingrained in me the need to sum things up in as few words as possible. Some sort of catch phrase or something.

Unfotuately, I was not able to come up with my own. However, I decided that the new IBM commercials fit my new mind set about instructional technology.

"Stop talking. Start doing."

The only problem is that the comercials I want to link to are not on YouTube. The only videos not on YouTube. Strange. I wish I could link to the commercials because the website is lame.

The idea behind the commercials is that people talk about innovation, but what they need is to do something about innovation.

This is what I have come to believe is the most important thing I missed so far as a computer resource teacher. I have always tried to communicate about technology in education, but I neglected the action. Not because I was avoiding it but because I thought that was what I needed to do.

Conversations rarely convince people that they are wrong; actions, and experiences do. I used to spend a lot of time trying to communicate with people via email. It didn't work. Deleted and ignored I continued to struggle with using communication skills that didn't make it to the intended audience.

Now I can't be ignored. I am doing everything. If I can reach one person now, that is one person more than I reached before. I am in motion, demonstrating, modeling, teaching, making things happen.

I am finished talking to those those who won't listen.