Sunday, May 30, 2010

Should Public Education Be Free?

I have been listening to Chris Anderson's book Free: the Future of a Radical Price. In the book he talks about the perceived value of free. The perception of free is often something without value. Of course this is something we sometimes ignore because of our experience of "free" sites we use on the internet.

I have often thought that more of the public would be interested in public education if they had to go to their local schools to pay their taxes. (In Missouri property tax helps pay for local schools.) This would make the person paying actually see the connection between schools and taxes. Obviously the problem is there are a lot of people that don't pay property taxes directly.

Recently my jr. high team was creating a supplies list for next year's students. I made a comment about the expense of the list, I thought it was pretty low compared to some of the other grades. The other teacher told me that he knew of a school that just collected money from students to buy supplies. Then the teachers use the money to buy supplies for the whole class.

What would happen if we required our parents to give $30 dollars to the school at the beginning of the year for supplies? Would parents value their children's education more if they had to write out a check?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Won't Teach Facebook in Class

Facebook has become an educational pain in the butt. There are lots of good arguments about why students should be educated about it, especially the privacy issues that keep cropping up. Still, I won't teach it.

The first reason,  Facebook is blocked at my school. I have no opportunity to leverage it as a learning tool. I can't even use it to promote the work our students create there.

I find very little usefulness for myself in Facebook. It isn't that I am less social than others that are online, I just use other tools like Twitter. Therefor, it would take a lot of my time to learn how to not only use it fully, but to know how to make it private.

The last reason is what convinced me to not teach Facebook. I am not the parent of my students. I am tired of being the social site police for my school. Parents need to take responsibility for their own children when they are online at home.

I will still teach digital citizenship at school, but I am done with Facebook.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Here There Be Dragons

I am fortunate because I have great conversations with intelligent educators through blogging and twitter. One theme that is revisited over and over again is the lack of "professionalism" in education. Many of my friends and acquaintances online are dynamic educators in their settings with a large percentage of them involved in leading professional development sessions. It is easy to forget these are not the norm.

Much of the conversations we share have to do with technology. Much of that deals with how we can disseminate the use of tech through our faculty. Again, I am not having these conversations with the average teacher.

There is often a conversation about how we, the teachers that use technology in our classrooms, have a difficult time getting other teachers and admin in our buildings or districts to see the value of using the tools technology offers. Does it have something to do with technology?

I came across this tweet by Gary Stager on my Twitter feed Friday. I questioned him about that, honestly I did not understand what he was trying to say. I asked him if there was an entry barrier to the teachers that didn't "get" technology.

I have thought about this for several days. Gary, you are absolutely right. We should no longer make excuses for teachers that choose to stay ignorant of the advancements in education. We have allowed them the comfort of the cycle of poor teaching, teaching the same ineffective way they were taught because that is what they know.

It is no longer enough for us to allow the teaching profession to wallow in what is known and comfortable, we need to push them into the unknown. We need to place them in the unexplored territory and allow them to fight the dragon known as change.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maybe an Inch Deep Isn't Bad After All

Yesterday as I was checking out the apps I had downloaded for my new iPad a thought occurred to me I never use a productivity application to its fullest capabilities. I learn to use what I need to do when I need to do it, nothing more. This made me think: Is there something wrong with using only part of a tool if it fulfills my needs?

 I realize that it is a ridiculous question. My next thought was what if curriculum is the same way? Do students really need to have a deep understanding of every objective?  Is a basic understanding of plants good enough or do we really need to know the names of all the parts? Can't we look up what we don't know?

I understand that some knowledge is very necessary, but can you say that about most of your curriculum? Do the students really need to "deeply understand" all of it? If we spent more time teaching critical thinking, problem solving, and information vetting they could find the answers they need. Shouldn't we stop wasting their time focusing on the trivial?

Let's get back to teach curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Are We Having Real Conversations Using New Media?

Two days ago I became aware of a flurry of commenting being done on Mary Beth Hertz's blog Philly Teacher. Two posts in particular make me think about conversations: Politics and Education and Encouraging Dialogue.I would suggest you read the posts and comments in their entirety before you keep reading here.

What I have floating through my head is something that really bothers me. What if we are not really having conversations with Twitter or with blogging/commenting? Can true conversations take place when we limit ourselves to delayed back and forth dialogue? A large percentage of communication takes place through body language and we sure can't see each other when we are typing responses. I wonder if the personae I project online misrepresents who I really am (and I rarely filter anything, ask my wife ;)

The back and forth dialogue on Mary Beth's blog would suggest that no real conversation is taking place in several of the threads. It seems to be more of an outlasting match. Is there a better way to handle these moments?

Could this lack of connecting conversations explain why we still covet face-to-face conversations and are willing to spend our time and money to attend conferences?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Where do we draw the line on commenting?

I use Feedjit a lot as a way to monitor where traffic to my class page is coming from.  Its not perfect, although I have to say that overall I think it provides a good free service.   Its been a way of locating classroom blogs and I really believe the importance in paying dues and acknowledging sites that are promoting yours. 

Its also been the source of three sites that have 'riled' me over the past three years.

The first was in 2009 from a blog in the USA.  It was directly critical of the semantics emanating from my class page.  I know that my language can be a bit loose at times, it always has.   At first I was offended by the criticism that I read, and it was very negative.  However I effectively took the bait and commented back. That's what the sites author was after and they took it upon themselves to launch a series of posts criticising the work that my students were publishing online.  On behalf of the students I suppose that I took offence that someone should criticise them, and tried to stand up for them on their behalf.  The funny thing was having done that, to little effect (except as I said fuelling the 'fire' of the other blogger) we had a class discussing about it.  One of the students in my classroom during that discussion likened it to name calling in the classroom.  They said "Mr Webb why don't you just ignore them so they get bored and go away and bother someone else?"   I just sat there and had one of those moments of clarity thinking "uh-huh".

A few weeks ago I found another linking site to my class page taking the work, taking one piece of work from one of the students in my class and using that as the basis for the critique of teaching, students and the New Zealand education system.  I felt it prudent not to respond in a similar vein to the point the child had made about "ignoring" them.  So the other day I received this comment from the author of the same site, which was left in a form of a comment on my class page.   Again as I felt it wasn't in the correct context I chose not to publish it, but felt it was worth repeating here:

"Is it wise to get young children all worried about things like global warming? Especially when it isn't scientifically proven. I worry that such teaching is merely going to raise a generation of neurotic overly anxious young people who have little hope for the future.  It seems wrong to inflict such concerns on the young who lack the maturity to process it. Childhood should be a time of joy in learning not taking on the concerns of the adult world."

As I say I believe the person leaving the comment was looking for a reaction for their site.  Its taken a piece of work from an individual student, completely out of context I believe and made some assumptions, and judged a particular student for it.  I know on some class sites that comments are automatically published, and possibly I could have published this, but where do we as 'gate keepers' for our site draw the line?

Did I do the right thing in choosing not to publish this comment? Has anyone else had similar experiences?
Should I have discussed this with the student concerned or the classroom? In opening our students up for the greater community by publishing it online do we take the good with the bad?

Myles Webb/NZ Waikato

Friday, May 14, 2010

Learning How to Fish

 Fly Fishing the Beaverhead River, Montana by Circumerro

I've taken up a new hobby, fishing! Although I have lived around water all my life I have never been that interested in fishing. I went a couple times when I was young, but I was never "hooked".

The church I attend has a lot of men that love to do outdoor activities. They hunt, fish, and some even trap. Since I prefer sleeping in hunting is generally out of the question. I decided that I could take up fishing since it can be relatively inexpensive. (I spent about $40 dollars on a rod/reel, tackle box, and some lures.) The most expensive part so far has been the fishing licenses.Oklahoma non resident license is $42!!!

Since deciding I have been fishing five times so for. Four times I accompanied a more accomplished fisherman and once I went on my own. The only time I didn't catch at least one fish was when I was by myself. Last night three of us caught 77 white bass. It was a good night.

Until I have a lot more experience I will always be more successful when I fish with someone else with experience. They don't catch the fish for me, they simply model where, when, and how to fish. I become successful emulating them. What implications does this have for my classroom?