Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Not About Learning Styles... It's About Good Teaching

More evidence to support my previous post...

Education: Learning Styles Debunked from ScienceDaily.com

Idea of Learning Styles in Education Further Derided by Psychology Researchers from Change.org

This research does not mean that we shouldn't use various methods and media to deliver content to our students. It just means that we shouldn't try to limit ourselves due to the labeling process that the learning styles movement has been pushing for the past decade or so.

Good teachers use audio, video, group activities, critical thinking, and many other methods throughout their teaching. It is the combination of these that makes a teacher effective. It isn't about reaching the "auditory" or "kinesthetic" or "visual" learner. Rather, we should strive to reach ALL students through auditory, visual, and kinesthetic means. In the end, we all learn from the information we gather through each of the senses, not just one sense, as the learning styles theory would have us believe.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Lesson for Our Students from Iran

This is why social networking is such a powerful tool. I'm humbled to think of the power it holds. I just might share this story with my students in the morning to demonstrate how far Facebook can take them. The truth is that, aside from occasionally organizing group work, they use it for silly banter and even online bullying. It isn't that these activities aren't important for developing 21st Century social skills, it's just that social networking can do so much more!

December 7th commemorates an important day for Americans; Pearl Harbor Day. In Iran, the date has a different significance. It is 16 Azar, AKA National Student Day. An Academia.org article explains that on this day students on university campuses around Iran stage demonstrations to show solidarity for the three students who were killed while protesting the Shah in 1953. Traditionally, these protests have included some anti-American sentiment, but this year was different.

Iranian university student protesters from Tehran Bureau

First, there was the deeply questioned reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June that led students to question whether their votes were truly counted. Then, in the protests that followed the announcement of the controversial election results, millions worldwide witnessed the violent death of young protester Neda Agha Soltan. It was posted on YouTube and distributed virally for days. This year, instead of targeting America, Iranian university students directed their 16 Azar protests at their own government.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Flickr.com by Daniella Zalcman

Neda Agha Soltan from Flickr.com by GlenFa

The Iranian government issued notice to the media just before December 7 that their licenses were suspended for three days to prevent reporting on the protests. The government also orchestrated a "wave of arrests," as it is put in a Tehran Bureau article, of student leaders in the days leading up to 16 Azar, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Largely due to social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, university students are more organized than ever.

Videos of student protests that started on December 7 are all over YouTube.



These are the kind of global events that we need to show our students so they can understand the true power of social networking.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

BACKchannel, feedBACK, bounce BACK

BACKchannel
Steve Anderson (@web20classroom) published a blog post recently about the role of backchannel at professional conferences.

So what does the term "backchannel" mean? Wikipedia explains:

The term "backchannel" generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

Twitter is also widely used today by audiences to create backchannels at technology conferences. When audience members add an event hashtag to their tweets (for example, #w2e was the hashtag used for the Web 2.0 Expo New York in 2009), anyone can run a Twitter search to review all the backchannel tweets related to that event.


As mentioned above, Twitter is the most common backchannel tool. (If you're on Twitter, you can find me at @KerryHawk02.) Critics of backchannel discussions contend that they are rude and disruptive. That is the primary focus of Anderson's blog post, although he disagrees and is a big proponent of backchannel. He has links to several examples of backchannel causing problems at conferences.

The other hand, proponents of backchannel assert that backchannel conversations offer audience members a chance to critique and fact check the information they are receiving in real time. That got me thinking...

feedBACK
How often do we give our students an opportunity to critique and fact check the activities and information we present to them every day? Student feedback, positive and negative, shouldn't be something we shy away from. In an effort to get more feedback from my freshmen, I have one student each day post a comment on our class blog reflecting on their work AND my teaching that day. It isn't in real time, like backchannel is, but the blog instructions require that students include what they liked or disliked about the class that day. Whenever a student offers a critique, I acknowledge it and thank them for the feedback on the grading rubric the next day. I want them to know that their opinion matters to me. Here are some excerpts (positive and negative):

The explorer's chart was due today. You had to fill in each explorer's sponsering country, job, and their greatest achievment. It helped me get a better understanding about each of the explorer's, but I think that we should've gone over it more slowly because I missed a lot of the information because we were going so fast. While we were going over the chart, we filled in the exploration routes of some of the explorer's on our maps. -Alexa B. 10/22/09


Nothing was due today in class except for our presentations on the Native American tribe we chose. My group chose the Aleut tribe, and I enjoyed the assignment. I learned a lot from doing this presentation, about the Aleut culture, and what they ate, and where they were located. I liked that we used Google Docs for the powerpoint, because the collaboration feature makes it really easy to do during groups. -Jon R. 11/18/09


In class we finished taking notes on the posters. Everyone got in the small groups of 3-4, and dictated the information that they wrote to the group. Each of the posters were about the Spanish explorers, their background, and goals/accomplishments. Personally I thought the whole process took way to long and I did not like it at all, but if I think about it I would rather do that than take notes from the board. -Jackie T. 12/3/09


Mrs. Gallagher prepared a few slides with information about section divide up into different topics with pictures and links to videos. She would talk about the stuff on the slide and then show a video or point to a picture. The information was easy to understand because it was presented in a way you can visualize. I liked this activity because it wasn't just taking notes, it was watching the videos and listening to the teacher as well. -Nicole A. 12/7/09


bounce BACK
Their opinions have helped me tweek my lesson plans and project designs already this year. Why wait for the end of the year to hand out a student feedback form? Immediate responses are more valid and more likely to prompt you to make real changes to your lesson plans. Digest the criticism, bounce back, and move forward.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Don't Diss Interdisc

Don't Diss Interdisc













After three colleagues and I presented a mock grant application in our graduate class this evening, which focused on "Innovation Through Technology and Interdisciplinary Studies," I really spent some time thinking about the value of interdisciplinary work, especially at the high school level. Accordingly, I decided to do some further reading on the topic.

Michael Streich, a teacher, historian, and experienced traveler, wrote a short and well-thought-out article on Suite101.com. The benefits to the teachers involved are notable:

Collaborative teaching exercises enrich the curriculum and allow teachers to share in a meaningful experience, bringing together diverse expertise and enhancing collegial respect.


The benefits of interdisciplinary work to students are even more important. Shelly Blake-Plock (AKA TeachPaperless) wrote a blog post in February about improvisation in the classroom. He explained that sometimes the kids, when permitted to go on a tangent every now and then, come up with better ideas than we, as teachers, could have ever imagined when we were writing up our lesson plans the night before. When we let the kids do this, interdisciplinary connections happen naturally. He argues that improvising while teaching shouldn't be thought of as scary uncharted territory:

Rather, improvising puts you on the hot seat; it lifts the energy level and immediacy of your class discussions; and, with the use of immediately accessible Internet resources, it demonstrates to the students in an authentic and representational way the power of history, the natural interdisciplinary quality of comparative analysis, and the value of being able to access and distinguish valid and documented support for one's position in a discussion.


As usual, Will Richardson is a forward thinker. In a blog post from way back in 2006, he contends that he wants his legacy and value in the world to be based on the work that he has done in collaboration with others, not based on his expertise in a certain area as proven by the letters he has accumulated after his name.

My point here is to talk about how this relates to the whole teacher as learner discussion in that we are now living in a world where collective intelligence is becoming more powerful and relevant to being a learner, but we’re educating our kids in classrooms still under this idea of experts at the front of the room. ...You can believe me or not…your choice. But you can believe me based on my track record and my participation as a learner in the community, not simply based on the letters after my name or the diplomas on my wall.


These are the opinions of only three well-respected educators, but I agree. Interdisciplinary education is important because we are preparing our students for a world with complex issues that require a multi-perspective approach. Without showing them how the different areas of study relate to one another, we are not meeting the needs of our 21st Century learners.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Connected... But Not Making Connections

Our students, whether we like it or not, are VERY connected. They are connected via Facebook and MySpace, text message and IM, and even email in some cases (although they view email as a tool for those of us who are "old"). But what does "being connected" mean? Are they learning anything from these connections? Have they mastered any information or skills through all of this networking?

I recently read two different blogs with interesting graphics that got me thinking about this.

First, Dean Shareski (an edu-blogger I have referenced in past posts) wrote Why Audience Matters. He quoted a member of his PLN, Chris Lehmann, who asked, "When having audience is no longer novel, simply having one is no longer motivating. We still must help kids have something powerful to say."

He illustrated the point with a cartoon by Hugh MacLeod (MacLeod doesn't always use kid-friendly language...just a warning).














The second blog I read that mentioned similar ideas is called I Don't Need Your Network by Will Richardson. He asks a lot of great questions in this post, but what really meant the most to me was this image of a classroom:


Richardson asks, "I wonder how many educators look at that picture and think 'OMG, puhleeeese let me teach in that classroom!' (I suspect not many.)" As much as I love the 1:1 computer ratio, I wonder how it detracts from the human connections and social skills (NOT social networking skills) that are essential for success in the adult workforce.

Sometimes it can seem daunting to teach content, skills, technology, and manners (which I think we should teach, by the way) all at the same time. Imagine how our students feel as they sit in the classroom. They must feel like the last kid left on a losing team in a game of dodgeball, pelted from all sides with an overwhelming amount of information.

YIKES! (Image reused with permission from The Met Online)

So is being connected enough?

I say, "NO!"

We need to also teach our students how to maintain those connections and develop relationships. Sure, they can learn from the Internet, but they can't live their lives behind a computer screen (or a mobile touch screen). It isn't healthy or normal, and it would mean they are missing out on the riches that face-to-face interaction provide in our lives.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Learning Styles" & "Differentiation": Buzzwords Debunked!

I like this video. It confirms a theory I have had for a while. Most of the job interviews in education that I have been a part of, either as an interviewer or interviewee, have involved at least one question about learning styles and differentiated instruction. I have always been a bit critical. In one of my former districts there was relentless training on learning these topics. They paid top dollar for experts and consultants to run workshops. Quite often, I seemed to find that I was already doing some version of the teaching strategies they preached. Sure, I may have added some enhancers from the workshops, but nothing I would really consider ground-breaking. I've taught both heterogeneous and homogeneous classes. I've had classes with special education aids and one-on-ones, while a self-reliant future valedictorian sat two rows over. In the end, isn't it just about delivering a message effectively to all students? Shouldn't teacher find several ways to explain information to her students so that they can understand it from different perspectives anyway?

Daniel Willingham is an expert. He argues that there is no such thing as learning styles.


Willingham does a nice job of debunking these education buzzwords and getting to what should be the meat of educational practice. He is also the author of Why Don't Students Like School?.


Bill Evers, who has an impressive background in education, wrote a great review of the book.

As you read the book (you can get a preview on Amazon.com), you may find yourself nodding your head in agreement. It is as if he is stating the obvious, but it is stuff that we have been misinterpreting because we are so programmed to think that learning styles and differentiation are the key. It isn't about learning styles. Instead, it is about conveying the information in a way that will make our students feel successful. ALL students will have to work hard and think hard in order to improve and develop their minds, but sometimes they need a task that teaches content and is fun enough to keep them motivated along the way. Usually, that means mixing traditional teaching strategies with innovative ones. Like, have students draw symbols of the ideas you discuss, instead of taking notes the traditional way. Or introduce a new topic by showing a series of images and ask the students to make connections between those images, instead of simply standing at the front of the room and telling them about the new topic.

This is why each student doesn't need a differentiated lesson specifically tailored to him. All students need good teaching. Good teaching utilizes several ways to present and explain ideas to all students, rather than finding the one way each student needs the idea explained to him.

Good teaching is good teaching.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Conversation With a Friend

I was over a college girlfriend's house today so our little ones (her's is 17 months and mine will be a year old in a week) could have a playdate.... and so we could catch up over a glass of wine.

We asked each other about our families, about our marriages, we laughed about the milestones our babies are meeting... and then the conversation turned to work. I asked her and she, as a nurse, talked about the demands that have come with the latest flu season. In turn, I talked about the new demands that come with 21st Century Skills in education. Her mom was a teacher in a private Catholic school before she retired a few years ago. So, she thought she had a good understanding of the workload and philosophy behind teaching in K-12 education.

Well, needless to say, I re-educated her.

I explained how research is not what it used to be. I explained how my 9th graders are designing websites, not merely writing papers. They are creating web-based presentations with embedded video clips and then sharing their research with their peers in other classes. She responded, "Well, they learned how to do that in their technology class, right?" My answer was, "Well, no. They have a class that teaches them the really important basics, but often the other subject-area teachers are doing double duty. In my case that means teaching history and web design."

I wish I had this video to show her during our conversation.


It does a great job of explaining the justification and importance of 21st Century Skills. Not only that, for those members of society who aren't in the education bubble, it explains what 21st Century Skills are. After viewing this short 6 minute clip, few would argue that these skills aren't essential. In fact, I think even my most critical friends would have to admit that they wish their teachers had been so forward thinking.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bloom's Taxonomy for Web 2.0

Another great discovery from my PLN on Twitter! Thanks to Eric Sheninger (NHMS_Principal)

Check out this link! It is an article that adapts Bloom's Taxonomy to Web 2.0. the author, Andrew Churches, has an award winning wiki called Educational Origami. His work is impressive. About halfway down the page, there is a great flowchart that applies higher order thinking to web 2.0 projects and activities.



The rest of the article breaks down what the verbs in the chart mean and how they work with these higher (or lower) order thinking skills. In each lesson and project I design for my students, I try to make sure that I hit at least one of the top three categories. It's hard to do every day in every lesson, but this chart is inspiring!

A few stand-outs:
Tagging and Searching = Even though Churches classifies these under Remembering, which is a lower order thinking skill, I like how tagging forces students to choose one-word key ideas to identify their images, podcasts, and blogs. Similarly, searching using Google, Alta Vista, or some other engine requires them to narrow their question to a few key terms. This process of simplification really helps kids understand exactly what they are learning.

Annotating = Identifying and evaluating resources is important. After facilitating a few research projects already this year, it has become increasingly evident that we think our students know more about the Internet than they really do. I had honors sophomores submitting About.com as a source for they National History Day projects, even after we had lengthy discussions about the importance of using scholarly sources.

Publishing = Churches notes, "whether via the web or from home computers, publishing in text, media or digital formats is increasing. Again this requires a huge overview of not only the content being published, but the process and product." This is the biggest reason we are in the midst of a Project Based Learning initiative at Reading Public Schools. When our students are instructed to publish their work to the web or to other classes, they should hold themselves to a higher standard. They need to conduct research using a wide range of sources, they need to be mindful of copyright restrictions when pulling images from the Internet, and they need to report the information in an organized and accurate way. Of course, if we could get them to work this way for every project, it would be great. But a PBL assignment is a great start.

Perhaps all teachers should take a look at this NEW Bloom's Taxonomy flow chart every time they tweek an old lesson or design a new one.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is Cheating Bad Anymore?


That was a silly student-created video on cheating, but the rest of this blog is serious.

One of the assistant principals at the high school sent around this article from the San Francisco Chronicle. It's a long article, but worth reading if you are interested. There were a few statements that really stood out to me, though.

Drugs for Studying
Pope says use of stimulants is on the rise in high school, and more and more kids are using them to take the SAT. As in the debate over the use of steroids in sports, some students don't feel it's morally wrong - because it's still your brain at work - and are ignoring the health risks of taking a drug not meant for them, with no monitoring of dosage or side effects by a doctor. Pope says when she wrote "Doing School" (published in 2001), "it was No-Doz and caffeine. Now, especially in the past five years, it has switched to Adderall, Ritalin and illegal stimulants."

I knew plenty of classmates in college who used Adderall, Ritalin, etc. that wasn't prescribed to them for studying purposes. The would pull all-nighters, take the exam, and then crash. Often the results were actually pretty good. When the payoff a student is seeking is actually achieved, what is to stop her from taking the drugs again for the same purpose? I'm saddened that this practice has spread to high schools; saddened, but not surprised.

Splitting Up the Work Isn't Cheating
"We call it the morning scramble," says Pope. "In the morning at a high school, you see a ton of kids sitting around copying each other's homework. Because a percentage of their grade is based on their turning in their homework. And a lot of these kids are doing so many classes and after-school activities that there's no way they could possibly do all the work required of them. So kids don't even count that as cheating. That's just sort of survival for them: divvying up the work. That's why they're IM-ing (instant messaging) all the time while they're doing homework. It's another way of divvying up the work. It's a way of ensuring that you get it done. It doesn't matter how you do it, just get it done and get it in."

This actually happened to me earlier in the school year. I gave a quiz for which students could bring their notes. I let them type the notes with the caveat that I would check them to ensure they hadn't shared with one another or copied and pasted from the text. I discovered, after everyone had taken the quiz, a group of 5 students who had split up the work. When I confronted them, they were shocked that I considered it cheating. Even several of the parents blatantly told me that they did not consider their children's actions something that would qualify as cheating. After more discussion and research, I found out that many many more students had done the same thing. Rather than ask the kids to tell on each other (and create a culture of distrust among the students), I decided to throw out the entire quiz. Yup, I was willing to be the bad guy in order to send a clear message. My decision was only made after much consultation with other teachers. More controversy erupted from that decision. Once again, I heard from many parents who didn't see the cheating as a good enough reason to justify throwing out the quiz, even though they admitted that, overall, it was not a valid assessment of the students' knowledge or skills under the circumstances. Each parent's argument was based on the concept that his/her child would lose points toward the overall grade. It is all about grades. Integrity seems to take a back seat to the grades.

It's the GOOD Kids Who are Doing It
It used to be that cheating was done by the few, and most often they were the weaker students who couldn't get good grades on their own. There was fear of reprisal and shame if apprehended. Today, there is no stigma left. It is accepted as a normal part of school life, and is more likely to be done by the good students, who are fully capable of getting high marks without cheating. "It's not the dumb kids who cheat," one Bay Area prep school student told me. "It's the kids with a 4.6 grade-point average who are under so much pressure to keep their grades up and get into the best colleges. They're the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to cheat without getting caught."

The anecdote from my own teaching is based on an honors level class. I know that they are the ones under the most pressure and likely to do whatever it takes to succeed, even if it means cheating. On the other hand, there is a little part of me that is proud of them for working together and taking care of one another. Some students feel like they are living their lives in a pressure cooker. If a friend can help release some of the steam and relieve a little pressure, isn't that person a good friend?

Technology Has Taken Cheating to a New Level
Technology has made cheating easier and more sophisticated. But Pirouz says it's not causing the rise in cheating. "Cheaters are causing the rise. Technology is a catalyst, but text-message cheating is big because the cheaters are sending out the message. Some people keep their integrity, but some fall into the trap when it's suggested."

The Internet has provided all sorts of shortcuts for cheaters. They have Wikipedia at their fingertips, and thousands of ready-made term papers available for downloading from sites like Cheaters. com, Schoolsucks.com and Schoolpapers.com.


The role technology plays in cheating is HUGE! The conflict I feel is that I love technology and what it makes possible for me to do in my classroom and for my students to learn. Networking tools make it possible for my students to do group projects without ever meeting face to face. They also make it possible for them to text answers to each other during tests. How do we strike a balance?

How do we help students to understand why cheating is wrong when society rewards them based on results, not methodology?

How can we punish kids who are just trying to help each other out when they recognize a friend at the brink of a breakdown?

Tough questions.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Wikis & YouTube for Snowboarders!

My mission this year has been to integrate as much technology as possible in an effective way in my classroom. I have started class blogs, had freshmen create websites based on research, and encouraged sophomores to publish their work on wikis and VoiceThread. But I thought I might share how I have integrated some of my "techie" skills into my personal life, as well.

My husband, Jimmy, is an avid fisherman, surfer, and snowboarder. In the past few years he has gotten really good at the latter. He kind of had to get better to hang with me and my family. We have been pretty dedicated skiers our whole lives. So, in his quest to get better and learn more about the sport, Jimmy has become a certified snowboard pro and is now training other snowboard pros at our home mountain, Attitash.

In an effort to communicate with his snowboarding buddies in the off season, he asked me if there is a way they could network more efficiently than over email. Immediately, I thought "WIKI"!!! So, he ran the idea by some of the guys and one of them took the lead and set up their wiki.

Here is the result of their combined efforts:
Attitash Riders

They started conversation threads about all kinds of things: park features, training, connections to the America Association of Snowbard Instructors, etc. He logs on every single night after our daughter is in bed, while I'm checking our Ning, to check what others have posted and share with them.

A couple of nights ago he wanted to take it to the next level and start posting videos and pics. So I showed him how to make a YouTube account and then embed videos into his wiki. He has hopes that other wiki members will start doing this so they can deconstruct each others skills through a training method called "movement analysis." It's like PD for snowboarders!

Here's a video of me skiing a pretty steep and narrow chute at Steamboat, Colorado in February 2008. Jimmy uploaded it to his new YouTube account and then added it to his wiki:



Technology can even enhance outdoor sports! We live in an awesome time!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Teacher v. Technology


Anyone and everyone who has had a child or grandchild within the past decade knows what Baby Einstein is.

If you have watched or listened to any new within the past 24 hours, you also know about a refund that the Baby Einstein company has decided to offer in response to accusations that their products (mostly the videos) are not, in fact, educational. The experts seem to agree that no amount of time in front of any video will teach a baby as much about language, shapes, colors, animals, and human social skills as one-on-one time with parents and other caretakers.

After listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation do a 30 minute segment on this topic, I did some reflection:

How much does technology matter in my classroom?

How much to I matter?

If you are interested, listen to the NPR broadcast. It was an excellent segment and the guests got into a rather heated debate on the topic.


If you don't have time to listen, just check out the summary at NPR.org.

In light of a recent blog I posted about students creating websites and using the Internet databases available at our school library to complete a research project, I wonder if it is about the technology at all. Could my students have accomplished this project without having me, a human presence to answer questions and give directions, in the computer lab with them? Would a set of typed directions and instructional videos that provided the same information have done the same job?

With all of the emphasis on technology integration in education, how important is the human factor?

Monday, October 26, 2009

President Obama's Speech to America's Students... one month later

I'm sure you remember the controversy over President Obama's speech, which was broadcast nationwide, to America's primary and secondary school students. That day I did not have a class at the time the President was delivering his speech. But I had several students in my class that met soon after who seemed to think there wasn't anything political about his words at all. One student called it "an academic pep talk."

If you care to watch the 19 minute speech, here is the video.


You can go to WhiteHouse.gov for a transcript of the speech as well.

Now it has been one month... did his speech make a difference?
Are our students working harder because they have a better understanding of long term goals, a point President Obama tried to amplify?
Are our students seizing the opportunity to learn from their errors, or are they still arguing with their teachers to get a couple more points added to a test grade?
Are our students persevering because they feel a patriotic responsibility to do well in school?

I think I can predict the answers to those questions, and they aren't the answers I would have hoped for a month ago. Put aside the political debate over whether it was proper for our President to address our children directly. Even staunch Republicans who disagree with most of President Obama's decisions can't disagree with this quote:

"The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best."

My questions to you are these:
How do we make this message more lasting?
How do we get our students to understand the connection between trying hard in school and making a lasting contribution to our global society?
How do we inspire this generation to put in the time it takes to acquire the knowledge and skills we know they need when they have grown accustomed to "Googling" every little problem they encounter?

I have a few ideas, but I'm only one teacher in one classroom. What are your ideas?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trying to be a Renaissance (Wo)Man

It seems that we teachers do a heck of a lot more than teach. When I decided to become an educator I was thrilled with the idea teaching events and ideologies from history to students. In reality, this job is sooooooo much more than that!

Here's my list of roles that a teacher has to take on everyday. By no means should it be considered an exhaustive list:

teacher
expert in (insert subject area here)
counselor
student
friend
parent
colleague
techie

The last category has been my latest endeavor. How can I learn more about how to use technology, social networking, file sharing, etc. in my classroom? I've really been stretching myself this year.

My latest effort seems to have paid off. There are a few links below to some websites that my freshman honors students created over the past few weeks. I decided to look at the Renaissance from a different angle. Once we discussed what a "Renaissance Man" is, I asked them to find a person from today or from a period in history besides the Renaissance that had those characteristics. Then they had to conduct research and come up with an annotated bibliography with at least 10 sources. Instead of writing a traditional research paper, they had to create a website with images, videos, and sometimes even polls.

Here were some of the results:

Jennifer Lopez

Thomas Jefferson

Paul Newman

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Ronald Reagan

While some are better than others, and I tried to provide a cross section, the kids really did a nice job reporting the information. In the mean time, they had a pretty good time typing paragraphs on a website rather than into a Word document. On his class blog, one student said "I liked how we did a website rather than a paper because it makes it so much more interesting and fun. Also now the world can see our research and use it." I swear I did NOT feed him that line. He typed it on his own in his blog! I have to admit, I enjoy grading websites more than grading research papers any way. That doesn't mean that I won't assign research papers throughout the year, but this was a great way to teach the freshman how to research using the tools at the RMHS library and integrate a little technology at the same time.

Not only that, but the project was easier to manage than one might expect. I hope you enjoy clicking through the websites. I know my students will be thrilled to see any comments you are willing to share. Thanks for helping me celebrate a little success as I try to embrace this new "techie" role.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"If you're a lawyer, why would you want to stay in teaching?"

As I was reading this article in the Washington Post, I literally welled up with tears. The author, Sarah Fine, is probably about two years younger than me, but she has faced similarly insensitive questions. You don't have to read the whole article. This excerpt says it all:

"Why teach?" they ask.

Do my lawyer and consultant friends find themselves having to explain why they chose their professions? I doubt it. Everyone seems to know why they do what they do. When people ask me about teaching, however, what they really seem to mean is that it's unfathomable that anyone with real talent would want to stay in the classroom for long. Teaching is an admirable and, well, necessary profession, they say, but it's not for the ambitious. "It's just so nice," was the most recent version I heard, from a businesswoman sitting next to me on a plane.

I used to think I was being oversensitive. Not so. One of my former colleagues, now a program director for Teach for America, has to defend her goal of becoming a principal: "When I tell people I want to do it, they're like, 'Really? You really still want to do that?' " Another friend describes her struggle to make peace with the fact that a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession. "I want to be able to do big things and be recognized for them," she says. "In the world we live in, teaching doesn't cut it."

I often feel the same way. Teaching is a grueling job, and without the kind of social recognition that accompanies professions such as medicine and law, it is even harder for ambitious young people like me to stick with it.


Since I graduated from law school in the top ten in my class and passed the Massachusetts Bar Exam, I have faced a lot of people with this attitude.

"Why teach?" Here is my answer.

I teach because I love history and the lessons it provides for all of us. If I can be a part of those lessons, I'm honored to do so.

I teach because I get to spend my time with teenagers. They are an amazing mix of serious and hilarious, complicated and simple, egocentric and global-minded.

I teach because I get to laugh (and I mean really hard) every single day at my job.

I teach because I'm pretty OK at it. I work hard on my lessons, units, and projects. The products my students come up with as a result are sometimes less than impressive, but sometimes they knock my socks off. For me, that is an amazing reward.

Over and over I have heard friends and family members say, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." It stings when people say this.

But I've also seen professionals try to quit their career to become teachers. They want a job with the summers off. They want to be able to get out of work at 3pm every day. A teacher with this attitude burns out quickly and soon someone else's name is posted on the wall outside his former classroom. It doesn't take long for these people to discover that it is hard work with no glamorous recognition. We teachers do a full 12 months worth of work in 9 and half, plus we often take graduate level classes at night and throughout the summer months.

I teach because I can.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Children Sing Obama Songs in School: Inspiration or Indoctrination?

I found an interesting opinion blog at The Griot. The author reflects on whether the video showing young grade-school age children singing about President Obama is a way to indoctrinate those young minds, or inspire them. The author, Charisse Carney-Nunes, was a guest at the New Jersey school when the students performed the song. She contends that the song was simply a form of "civic expression," something lacking in American schools. She argues, "It is a widely accepted notion that instruction related to democratic citizenship has declined in our schools in recent years. Educators pressured by such issues as budget woes, the requirements of No Child Left Behind and high stakes testing have understandably increased their instructional time in core subjects like math and reading. "Softer subjects" like civics, social studies and art have taken a back seat."

Her interview with Inside Edition provides some insight into her perspective.



Equally interesting were the comments at the bottom of the blog. Although some are outlandish and even racist, others are cogent. The second commenter, Chris, argues, "A citizenry that is fully informed does not allow its children to sing homage to a standing politician." Chris goes on the explain that politicians only deserve such praise after history has determined their long-term worth.

Glenn Beck, the controversial commentator from FoxNews, leads the charge claiming the performance of this song by small children is, in fact, indoctrination.



While I am willing to acknowledge that Glenn Beck may not be a likeable guy, he makes some interesting points.

As a social studies teacher, this situation has captured my attention. I feel obligated to inform my students about the political process, political controversy, and to let them make their own informed decisions. Perhaps as a result of my great efforts to remain unbiased as I present the information to my students, I often find myself agreeing with both sides and disagreeing with both sides. This is true for a lot of issues in the news recently: healthcare, Afghanistan, Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, etc.

I love that Charisse Carney-Nunes is championing more creativity, history, and civics education in our schools. This is truly a cause dear to my heart. However, I am also concerned that these young children may not have had the opportunity to form their own opinions of President Obama.

I'm curious about what you think about this Obama-song-situation. Especially those of you who work with a younger population.

Thanks in advance for your comments!