Teaching: The Struggle

One of the major reasons I wanted to be a part of the ILT program is because I want to be involved in ways that help make the lives of teachers easier while still allowing them to teach passionately and with fidelity.

Recently, I read an article that one of my colleagues posted on Facebook titled “Nearly Half of Teachers Struggling with Mental Health, Studies Suggest” and I found it very interesting. The study mentioned was actually held in Scotland, I think it reflects an international crisis that nobody is really looking at deeply. Especially in America, where so many are ready to point out that the education system is failing, we should be looking at helping to improve the quality of lives and work environment for the core of the education system: teachers. I realize that teachers are the professionals, but that does not mean that they should be given all of the blame and pressure to succeed.

I truly believe that the general public has no idea what kind of stress teaching has on people who have to be “on” and directly responsible for other people’s success all day long, while having usually less than an hour at a time (an hour and a half at most) to plan and complete paperwork (grading, data reflection, IEPs/ELL documentation), are constantly old they’re ineffective, all the while feeling guilty that they are not doing enough for their students.

I think we need to start focusing on how we can POSITIVELY change the education system beginning with teacher morale. We need to help teachers feel more valued, not set them up to fail, by giving them respect and more time to reflect on and plan effective instruction throughout the day. This may require hiring more teachers, or at the very least increasing teacher wages to do the work that they do.

 

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Marine Nude Scandal: A Lesson in Responsibility

Earlier this month, the news broke that the Marine Corp. was investigating branch members use of Facebook to post pictures of female service members in the nude. The Department of Defense is now investigating other military branches that may have been involved with “sharing and soliciting” nude photos of military women. The article explains that these photos posted to social media were considered “wins” and goes on to say that the Marine-run page “had hundreds of these “wins,” as members took requests for photos of specific women, identified them by name and rank, and targeted them with sexual, violent comments.”

This is obviously abhorrent, and raises a lot of questions about our culture and the consistent display of sexual dominance over women. Any branch of the military is male-dominated, so why do these particular men feel it important to widely, humiliatingly, assert power over these women who are simply there for a common cause: to defend and protect the country that they love? Because that is what this is. It is an assertion of power. It isn’t just “boys being boys” because these are men. And while men are certainly entitled sexual thoughts, desires, and impulses, they should not be targeting women and taking pictures of them when they are vulnerable, when they have no other choice but to trust their environment and fellow service members.

There are many people who feel that feminism is a useless cause that brings nothing but hysteria. To those people I say: this is why we need feminism. Because even though words, and subliminal actions, and toxic thoughts, and pictures posted on a Facebook group does not physically hurt someone, it is naive to say that these things do not harm our mothers, our sisters, and our society.

I think this also raises an interesting question about responsibility when it comes to social media and technology. We often think of middle school students when we think of cyber bullying, but do we think of full grown men with a Facebook account? Even the issue of “revenge porn” has an element of purpose–to humiliate someone who you perceived wronged you. But this? The only motive here seems to be, as I’ve said before, an assertion of dominance over people who should be respected and viewed as equals.

 

 

 

 

 

My Tribe: Critical Friend Group

Every Monday morning, the students who attend my middle school get to sleep in and show up to school at 9 a.m. While students are rubbing the sleep from their eyes, the teachers at my school at there early to analyze data, reflect on best practices, and tweak lesson plans. This time of the week used to be focused mainly on assessments, until at some point last year, our administrators, with the help of our teacher-librarian decided that we would also use this time to form critical friend groups.

At first, hearing the word “critical” was not something I wanted to throw into the mix of an early Monday morning meeting, but then I learned what the purpose of these groups truly were: to examine student progress and effective strategies through discussion of colleagues. I was excited to get the chance pick my co-workers brains and find out what they were doing in their own classrooms–what worked for them and what they were struggling with.

For project number two of my Social Media and Digital Culture class, we’ve been asked to create an online networked learning space where people can participate, share, and learn about any given topic. I’ve decided to create one around effective writing instruction, as this is something that we teachers struggle with. Having listened closely in our previous CFG groups, I feel I’ve targeted a consistent issue that we all have the same fears and issue with. How do you make writing instruction effective and rigorous, but also make the process seem less daunting and more enjoyable from the student viewpoint? That’s just one of the questions that will lead the NLS.

So, this is my community. This is my tribe. My tribe is other teachers who could use a space to share and organize strategies, professional content, original content, etc. They are the people that I work closely with, and enjoy having these conversations with, but it is not limited to these people. Hopefully, this online community can be an extension of our insightful, reflective conversations held on Monday mornings.

 

 

 

Learning with Vialogues

For a recent assignment in my Information and Learning Technologies class (for which this website and blog was created), I chose to check out an educational sharing website called Vialogues.com. I chose it because at the beginning of the course we were asked to create an account for it, and it seemed like an interesting and easy way to teach video literacy. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I believe that technological literacy is the future (hence, the grad program of choice), and if standardized tests like PARCC are any indication, students will be expected to collect information and compare the structure of written text versus visual text for much of their educational lives. After all, aren’t they both core resources in terms of research?

Here is my humble review of the website and how I think it could be used:

Purpose:

The purpose of the website is to create discussion through video. A moderator can post their own video, or a pre-existing one, and then add questions, polls, or comments throughout the video. After deciding whether the video is private or public, your audience or group members can contribute to the discussion by responding and adding comments of their own.

Thoughts:

  • One feature that I really like is that anytime you post a question or comment, the time of the video when posted appears at the beginning of text, so your viewers can easily return to that point of the video at any time to respond to that question or comment. This will definitely be handy for students who need to watch a couple of times in order to fully process the information. For example, I created a vialogues discussion with an Edgar Allan Poe biography. One of my questions was about to explain how Tuberculosis, although never having contracted it himself,  greatly affected Poe’s life. Although I posted this question early in the biography, my students will be able to return to the very first mention of TB after having watched the entire video with this question in mind.
  • I also like that you can post polls with multiple choice answers. I see this as purely fun, although I suppose it could be used as practice for students to evaluate the text with pre-determined responses. At the end of my Poe biography video, I created a poll asking which actor they thought should play him in a movie (choices were Daniel Radcliffe, Johnny Depp, Jared Leto, and Kit Harrington. Even though John Cusak has played Poe before, I left him out as I tragically do not think my 8th graders would know who the hell I was talking about).
  • As a moderator, a teacher can create specific groups by adding a title, video, and a collective of usernames. This will come in handy so that I can have each class start a fresh conversation for each of my blocks.

Overall:

I think Vialogues is a great educational tool and I’m excited about using it. Once my students get signed up and logged on, they can participate in discussions from videos I post or even post their own videos and get feedback from other students. As a lesson, it’ll be an awesome way to present content and questions for students who can then move at their own pace. This is great for my mission to help teachers save time and avoid hassle while providing engaging, differentiated, technology-based learning to their students. It’s also a great sub-plan as it is a shiny new tool to get caught up in while watching a video and answer rigorous questions instead of throwing erasers at the sub (true story).

Here’s the Edgar Allan Poe biography vialogue I created for my class this week! Feel free to take a look at how the discussion works and answer questions or leave comments to get a feel for it.

Connectivism: Does Learning Always Mean Gaining Knowledge?

Best practice. What does it look like?

It seems as though teachers are constantly tweaking their classroom philosophy, seeking the “sweet spot” between student-centered learning and rigorous content delivery.

But what about a philosophy that focuses on HOW content is delivered, not so much the what or the whom? This philosophy is called “connectivism.” Connectivism is a learning theory which dares to suggest that meaningful learning can occur through a network of peers sharing resources online. *Cue teachers’ collective sighs after vehemently admonishing students for using Wikipedia as a resource.* This is controversial for a few reasons, none as much as the idea that acquiring knowledge isn’t necessary through connectivism.

So then, what IS acquired? Here are my thoughts:

When connectivism proposes that knowledge is not acquired, it means that knowledge acquisition is and should not be the end goal of education. One’s knowledge is not something fixed or to be obtained, but is to be constantly changed, built on, or altered in some way–not necessarily “acquired.” The focus then is on facilitating how the learner learns and not what.

In this way, connectivism truly IS student-centered learning. Students are seeking out and learning from peers. They may have to do some follow-up and fact checking. This will surely irk the many teachers who are enraged at the idea of a student referencing Wikipedia, but if there’s one thing teachers are familiar with, it’s need for change. That includes our mindset.

Structured learning typical of education today relies too much on students to acquire and regurgitate information which is a really ineffective way for a student to engage in and retain what is learned. As an educator, I often try to incorporate an opportunity for student inquiry in my curriculum, which I think is an essential concept to connectivism. I think what is gained through connectivism instead is the process of and ability to constantly alter your perception of truth and knowledge through the process of inquiry, research, and sharing.

In a way, connectivism actually calls to mind many ways students currently learn. Given resources, inquiry based, student-led, peer reviewed, fact-checked research are all pretty common in any area or subject of teaching. I think what makes this theory controversial is that it is so much harder to assess than learning acquisition. How do we hold students and ourselves as teachers accountable? As soon as we get a better grasp how to give direct, effective feedback to our students on how well they can engage in a process, rather than acquire and regurgitate knowledge, then we will be ready to embrace connectivism as a 21st century learning theory.

Is Educational Technology a Solution to Partisan Panic?

Education is constantly in a state of change. I’m finding that currently, the political pendulum is swinging away from valuing the use of technology in schools; the reason being that the Obama-era incentive of funding technology in schools has “not done enough to improve test scores,” therefore deeming it a waste of money. While I could go on and on about the hypocrisy of holding public schools to high-stakes testing standards (and comparing these results to global competitors who only test their best and brightest), and how unfair it is to strip students of a (technology) rich public education, only to hand off said money to charter and home schools who have  zero accountability procedures in place (so testing doesn’t matter now?), I am going to instead focus on an issue that could potentially change the partisan conversation on technology in schools.

I remember sitting on a technology implementation committee at my previous job and suggesting that, since we already had a required computer course (mostly typing and powerpoint), maybe we try to incorporate the hour of code initiative, a non-profit that’s mission is to make coding fun and accessible to younger generations. While surrounded by amazing, progressive people, my idealism was essentially laughed at and the conversation was quickly turned back to the type of tablet we were going to purchase for the district. While I poke fun at the lack of progressive thinking here, I cannot praise this small school district of approximately 600 students enough for valuing the exposure of it’s students to technology by spending money on it in the first place. You see, not only is technology engaging for students, it also opens them up to a whole new kind of literacy. And, make no mistake, technological literacy is the future. Sure, I’m not bringing anything new to the table here, but I’m not sure if people really believe this when they hear it or even say it. Or, they at least aren’t sure what it looks like.

I recently read an article from Wired called “The Next Blue-Collar Job is Coding”. The title speaks for itself, but I encourage you to check it out. In it, Clive Thompson makes the case that people often view coding as something reserved for the likes of ivy-league technological revolutionaries with billion dollar net-worths such as the Zuckerburgs or Spiegels of the world. This is simply not true. The article suggests that coding should be recognized as a skill that could change the way we look at expanding the middle-class job market. As Thompson says:

“These sorts of coders won’t have the deep knowledge to craft wild new algorithms for flash trading or neural networks. Why would they need to? That level of expertise is rarely necessary at a job. But any blue-collar coder will be plenty qualified to sling Java­Script for their local bank. That’s a solidly middle-class job, and middle-class jobs are growing: The national average salary for IT jobs is about $81,000 (more than double the national average for all jobs), and the field is set to expand by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than most other occupations.”

Based on these statistics alone, it’s obvious that IT is the most lucrative job market in America. So why are people like Missouri Governor Eric Greitens who ran, like so many politicians do, on job growth, but is now cutting funding for both higher education and investment in startups?

It goes without saying that job growth might be the number one economic issue for any country. And what’s the number one threat to job growth in our country? Contrary to many Americans’ beliefs, it is not immigration, but automatization. Machines. Computers. Technology.

The answer is staring us in the face, people. So why not look to coding as an option in a time where technology is becoming our job market? Why not look to coding when many in our country are panicked about the loss of blue-collar industry jobs, while just as many are panicked about these industries wrecking our environment? Cybersecurity– another issue plaguing our times and headlines–has become more and more apparent as seen through the 2016 election and through the obvious fact that so many of our household devices (at our convenience and concern) connect to the internet.

This leads back to my initial point about technology education. With job growth, automatization, and cybersecurity all current issues, shouldn’t we be training our future generations how to tap the job market by assuaging these concerns? As Thompson points out, coding could easily be incorporated as an elective in high school or taken as a course at a community college. Yet another generational concern of overwhelming college debt could be minimized by basic html classes. Jobs could be created at just about any business requiring any basic online content, or is in need of cybersecurity, such as a bank.

Education is constantly changing. Technology is constantly changing. Our job market and economy is constantly changing. Maybe we should be more receptive about coding as our country’s evolution amidst our state of constant change. Instead of cutting funding for educational technology, maybe we need to use that money for more effective technology instruction that will come in handy to any generation entering the workforce within the next decade.

Like Thompson says “. . . the real heroes are people who go to work every day and turn out good stuff—whether it’s cars, coal, or code.”  The measure of a truly great country is the size of its middle class, the cornerstone free, indiscriminate, public education of every class.  I think it’s time to give power back to the real heroes here. I think it’s time for our public and our public education to give educational technology and coding a real chance.

*Image and more information from Graphite Publications who also wrote on this issue.