March 26, 2009

Real 1:1 Learning?

In my classroom every student has their own computer to use for the entire class period everyday. Some call this a 1:1 ratio (computer to student). It is a great blessing for students to not have to share their computers while they are working. Effectively incorporating computers into my approach to teaching is a challenging and wonderfully rewarding experience. People ask me what I teach. To respond “multimedia” seems so inadequate. To say “computers” usually gets an “ah ha” reaction, but it really doesn’t describe what I teach. I teach communication skills using the computer hardware and software as tools.

The computer is a vigorous and powerful teaching tool if used correctly. I can envision a future for education that thrusts the bulk of information dissemination onto the computer and frees up the teacher to guide and assess. Computers provide the opportunity to fine-tune each and every students individualized education plan and tailor a learning experience as unique as each individual. The current “shotgun” lecture approach loses many students in the process. An alternative could be provided by a machine that is more dynamic, more entertaining, more flexible and able to more accurately follow along with the individual learner’s pace.

Of course, the computer is not a teacher, and should not be considered a teacher, ever. The computer is a tool that is very good at presenting information and collecting and returning data that can be used by a human teacher to improve the way the teacher assesses and services the educational needs of their students. Some teachers resist using computers; but then, some teachers resisted using blackboards, then greenboards, then whiteboards, and now smartboards. Hmm. Some people think using technology only gets in the way of the most important part of teaching: the relationship between the teacher and student.

Real 1 to 1 learning occurs when one person sits down with another person and teaches them to learn something. The roles of the teacher and pupil are dynamic, fluid, and can change depending on the level and subject. For example, an child learning a second language while working individually with an adult teacher can at the same time teach the adult something about his or her primary language. Peer to peer education is also a very effective version of 1 to 1 learning. Students working in pairs teaching, reviewing, and reinforcing the material is a great way to learn.

As computers become more commonplace in education the opportunities and advantages that come from their use will help teachers to improve and refine the educational process for students. However, it is the effective use of the technology by the human teachers that is the key to success for the students. The best 1:1 ratio is not computer to student, but person to person. The use of computers can have the positive effect of providing more time for teachers to work individually with students. Computers and technology alone are not the answer, but great tools for teachers to use in education.

March 11, 2009

New Chair?

I realized yesterday that the cushion of my teacher chair was worn out. (My butt was really sore). So I started looking for a new one online at Office Depot. I didn’t get there immediately after school, but was instead interrupted by life. I ran into a colleague who asked where I was off to, and I explained that the cushion of my teacher chair was worn out, and I was on my way to replace it. He explained that because of the configuration in his classroom, and he also teaches using computers, he spends his teaching time standing up.

I finally arrived at Office Depot and went immediately to the chair section. The cheapo chair I selected online was actually made of cheapo vinyl. No thanks. So I had to “test sit” every chair on the floor to find the right fit. I felt like Goldilocks, too hot, too cold, but I couldn’t seem to find “just right.” Part of it was the prices. Have you shopped for chairs lately? They can get very expensive very quickly. And the manufacturer now includes ratings for how many hours you spend in the chair daily, 0-3, 4-6, 7 or more .

As I was test sitting I was considering all of the available information on each chair including: building materials, number of legs, high back vs. low back, degree of tilt, and overall comfort. I was especially careful to be considerate of the number of hours I sit during the day. Teaching computer classes requires a great deal of both demonstration and organization, both of which are best completed while in a comfortably seated position. My current chair is old and quite worn out. Much like Martin Crane’s (Frasier) lounge chair, my old friend is being held together by gaffer's tape.

There were many fine choices and my behind was in barker lounger bliss more than once, when all of a sudden it struck me, what the heck was I doing there? Was I actually trying to support myself spending less time teaching? Sure, I have a legitimate need to sit during class that extends beyond simply resting my feet, but was I actually prepared to purchase a king’s throne that would inadvertently keep me from doing my job? My butt is sore, and I deserve to be comfortable during the day. I need a new chair to support my teaching.

No, I don’t. I don’t need anything in my classroom that is going to distract from my main purpose: teach the students to learn. Instead of being comfortable behind my desk, I need to spend more time moving around the classroom. Instead of students coming to me, I need to go to them. Yes, I will still need to be behind my desk for computer-based demonstrations, but maybe I can raise the legs of my desk so that I too can stand like my colleague. Be careful my teacher friends of anything that distracts you from your purpose, even chairs.

March 06, 2009

Late Work?

The overarching goal of education is that kids LEARN the material, and let’s face it, not all kids learn at the same pace. I have a unique approach to late work. I encourage students to turn their work in early by offering extra credit incentives. I do charge a 5% penalty to work that is turned in late, but I always accept late work so long as I can grade it before the end of the official grading period. Of course teachers should penalize laziness and irresponsibility, but sometimes that type of behavior can be confused within a struggling student.

I teach heterogeneous classes. My classroom is filled with not just all high school grade levels, but an even broader variety of learning styles and speeds. Some students are very quick in some areas of study, but can be very slow to absorb other aspects of the curriculum. One of my goals is that ALL students learn the curriculum, and giving them an out by making a zero an option is not a sound practice in my opinion. Yes, some students do fall short and will fail to submit all of their work, but those students are the rare exception.

When I assign a major project that will take more that a few days to complete I offer all of the students an early turn in option. If the student turns in their completed project three days early, I offer the 15% extra credit; if two days early, 10% extra credit; if 1 day early 5% extra credit. Then I offer the early birds an addition opportunity to earn points by encouraging them to become a helper. A finished student who helps a struggling student submit their completed work by the due date gets additional flat rate extra credit points.

For students who are tardy in their submission I do charge a 5% late fee. But this fee does not grow with the number of days it takes to complete the work. There are many reasons why students do not turn their work in on time. Only one of those reasons is laziness. Telling a student that they can either turn the work in on time, or not, gives the languid student permission to not complete their work. If they are not completing the work, they probably are not learning, or at least, I can’t tell if they are learning.

I have to admit that assessment is my least favorite part of teaching. I really enjoy reviewing the students work and offering them constructive criticism. But I hate the hours upon hours that it takes to grade, and having to write the same note over and over and over again on multiple students’ rubrics. But assessment is a fundamentally important aspect of education. We need to know what the students need to learn and when they have learned it. Yes, it makes me cranky to grade late work, but my crankiness is less important then the students’ learning the material.