Year3-Week14: Thoughts from the Educational Trenches

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_friday-duty

Year3-Week14: Thoughts from the Educational Trenches

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_friday-duty

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_friday-duty

I like being an educational grunt on the front lines in the classroom and take some pride that what others theorize about, I have to make happen. It might be a fool’s errand, but you can’t tell me what we’re supposed to be doing in the classroom if you’ve never spend any given week teaching in said classrooms. And it turns out that we tend to NOT plan for student resistance.

Twenty-six students per class and all it takes is two or three students committed to NOT following directions to derail the lesson plan. I have to confess that I tend to assume student buy-in, because the subject is so awesome, that I can be thrown off when students decide that they aren’t going to follow directions. Doh!

I was pleasantly surprised this past week when one third grade class followed directions as they began the LEGO WeDo unit and chose to complete the first lesson with minimal drama and almost every pair built their first robot before the end of class. The same could not be said for one fifth grade class that decided not to do their Scratch programming lesson and made it all about their dislike of their assigned partner, such that only one pair out of 12 completed the lesson. Something here needs to be adjusted.

Admin thinks it’s all about classroom discipline and “consequences,” but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Earlier robotics classes floundered because too much was expected with too little time to get the job done. We just ran out of time to get anything done and really have fun with the robots before our four-weekly-sessions were over. So, I simplified things and reduced the number of robot builds and added time to compete and reflect on the process. Conversely, I think the problem with Scratch is that because we’re not programming a physical device it’s harder to make the team thing work. It’s too easy to get derailed and choose to NOT follow directions. Building and programming a robot can be a two or three person activity, but Scratch really works better when everyone has their own computer to program. You wouldn’t know that if you haven’t spent time watching groups of students do the Scratch programming lessons. I should have known this from my Full Sail Labs experiences. Physical devices, like robots, can be group/paired experiences, while programming characters on a screen is better served when everybody gets to use their own computer/iPad.

We’re still spending way too much time just with the login/getting things started process. There are lab-supervision software programs that I really should push for, so that I can have better control of all the computers when I need to do whole class instruction. When I talked to a couple vendors about this, they admitted that they can do everything I need, except control iPads. So I can anticipate having to control iPad access more directly, because some kids are dedicated to derailing things. That said, I would like to see more instruction completely conducted via iPad, so that everyone has a device.

If we had enough iPads, I’d consider switching from Scratch to Apple’s Swift Playgrounds (which is iPad only). We would need five more iPads to make that work. At the same time Scratch itself is going HTML5 in January (and finally leaving Adobe Flash), which finally makes it something that we can do on either iPads or computers. So, I’m thinking that I’m going to shelve Scratch with 4th & 5th graders until January/February, when we can have either enough devices to Scratch is ready to be used on the devices we have.

I posted on one of my classroom walls the giant maps of our neighborhood created by my kindergarteners and first grade classes. I’m thinking that the follow-up activity will be for them to create houses and buildings using the small milk cartons that I collected earlier this month and then Velcro the little buildings to the map… Finally, second and third grade classes are into multiple weeks doing a “Student Learning Goals” research/presentation process (that was originally supposed to happen in one class period). So… lots of room for growth. What was that quote that I used from week two of this year:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, German Field Marshal

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_student-community-maps

Year3-Week14_Songs-from-the-Educational-Trenches_student-community-maps

Real Computers Versus Toys, Part 2

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I can understand how some might feel that devices like iPads and tablets aren’t real computers, especially those who’ve never really used an iPad or those who think a real computer has to have a keyboard, mouse and USB port. Anything less are just toys, expensive toys, but still toys. Like I mentioned before, I don’t encounter this sentiment that too often, mostly because I normally find that the long-suffering classroom teachers I’ve worked with are used to taking whatever they can get and making the best of it. This bunch would gladly “put up with” a classroom full of iPads.

When I first started teaching I populated my classroom with two PCs that I’d thrown together from parts left over from my latest computer upgrades. With the lone Mac in our non-networked classroom (this was before the Internet had reached our outpost elementary school in Cerritos, California), I set the computers up as stations for student to use in pairs for their language arts and social studies assignments. Basically I used what I had or could cobble together and the addition of the two vintage PCs meant that my students got to be on computers more than just once a week. There was a teacher in another district who populated his classroom full of Apple ][cs that he bought very cheaply or retrieved from school that were going to throw them out. On his own, without school money, he was able to populate his classroom with one computer for each student, long before any one-to-one program existed. Part of being a classroom teacher is working miracles with very little or out of your own pocket, usually both. Ha, we’re used to working with “technology” that’s missing things like working keyboards or mice. Bring it on!

We’re used to working with less than ideal situations. But that’s no excuse for decision makers to underfund us or make purchasing decisions purely on the basis of how much they think they can get for how little and expecting our resourcefulness will make it work. An outspoken hater of iPads-in-the-classroom, Dr. Garry Stager, feels that the technology is too crippled to be truly useful and that decision makers are only thinking of dollars and cents and not the educational value of how technology should be used in the classroom. Granted, we’re still in this asinine numbers-driven/testing mindset, so the value of technology in the classroom from the point of view of district people tends be focused on managing the testing regime and not on learning or Dr. Stager’s beloved (and politically exiled) Constructivism. Screw all that we learned in the late-70s and 80s about useful learning models in the classroom. Hell, because of the scripted test-prep curriculum, we don’t even have time for the wasteful drill-and-kill tech-model, it’s all about training for the test. So, iPads for everyone, my friends, just make sure they’re properly locked down (LAUSD!).

In the end, this version of “real computers versus toys” isn’t about technology but about how little we regard the teaching profession and that, as much as we say we believe in education, we’re not willing to properly fund it. When my district stripped out a huge chunk of our Magnet grant funding, we were able to make it work anyway because something called the”iMac” had just been introduced and cut the expense of buying computers in half. Given any kind of say in the process and we’ll make it work. But it’s shameful that we’re forced to do so because decision-makers have forgotten that this enterprise of learning is more valuable to our culture and society than all other civic responsibilities combined. Fail at this and forget about your healthy economy or tax-base or middle-class, etc. If bringing iPads into the classroom is based on the usefulness of the tools for learning, than go for it. If it’s another workaround more underfunding than shame on you decision-makers and disinterested community for not giving teachers and students the proper tools to get the job done.

Resources:

  • image: 2011-04-14 FaceTime Everywhere by Joe Bustillos, http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebustillos/6035006175/, retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • Point/Counterpoint: Should Students Use Their Own Devices in the Classroom? By Jen LaMaster and Gary S. Stager (posted Aug 7, 2012, 16:36 PM), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • L.A. Unified’s iPad rollout marred by chaos: Confusion reigns as L.A. Unified deals with glitches after rollout of ambitious an-iPad-for-every-student project, By Howard Blume and Stephen Ceasar (posted October 01, 2013), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • youtube video: Seymour Papert 1983, posted by Cynthia Solomon (posted May 25, 2007), retrieved 10/23/2013.