Okay. So it wasn’t the wallpaper of Miguel Guhlin on a computer that got my middle school teachers engaged and excited on Thursday. It was something better.
MacBooks, iPod Nanos, two 165 quart all terrain Igloo coolers, and plenty of Pasco science probes. So it cost a bit to get them going, but it worked. As we rolled in the two huge coolers with boxes stacked on top of each and two rolling carts with a dozen Higher Ground laptop cases, I felt like Vanna White as I unveiled the new tools these educators have at their disposal this year. For the record, all of this was planned and ordered months before my wife ever was hired to teach 6th grade ELA (which I am extremely proud to have her in our school district now). I am already getting the “She is way better than you ever were” comments, and they are right. 🙂
Anyway…..We began with 4 GB flash drives. Each teacher received one with his or her name engraved onto it. We felt like that gave them the true ownership each of them needed to feel free to utilize the thing without fear of it being taken away or whatever. It was a hit to say the least. Michael and I had some grant funds we used for them, and the teachers thoroughly appreciated it.
Next, I handed out iPod Nanos to each table. No, it wasn’t for them to keep. They did get to help me unwrap them and got to play with them for a little bit while we discussed possible uses in the classroom. With two 15 unit docking/synch stations, they should see plenty of action even with being new to teachers. My hope is that they become in such high demand that we must buy more. This is, of course, meaning that they are being utilized in the classroom to improve content knowledge, deeper understanding, and a higher level of student engagement in the entire learning process. See, Gary Stager. I was paying attention.
Then we opened the coolers up and shared some information about the probes inside. Some may wonder why we put them in coolers. Well, we are building a 23 acre nature center (behind our elementary schools in the picture above) for all campuses to use. The coolers will make it easier to tote the tools out to the learning site while also giving some heavy duty protection to the equipment. The pneumatic tires will make them easy to roll over even big brush, rocks, and what have you. For the most part, the only folks worked up here were the science teachers, but that’s okay. I was excited, and I am an English teacher. Well, and a techy (and all of the probes had USB jacks, so that made it click for me). For me, the highlight of this part was having the sixth grade science teacher figure out what the nearly six foot long physics probe bundle was all about. Something about inertia, speed, something, and some other somethings. Truly, that baby is on its way to the high school since they are the real physics folks. That will be true of other probes we bought as well. Our middle school science teachers will be working their way through all of the science probes and helping us move them to the appropriate campus for other teachers to use. Thank goodness for those ladies, because I would have been lost on that sorting deal. I do plan to stick close and learn more about it, though.
Finally, after about thirty minutes of the other stuff, we hit the MacBooks. I had each person grab a laptop, battery (fully charged from the battery dock), and a comfy chair. Since Macs are new to our staff, I spent plenty of time walking them through the basics (icons, Finder, shortcuts, the cool Ctrl+two finger zoom function). We spent a few minutes in each of the iWorks apps: Numbers, Keynote, and Pages. Then we hit the popular suite of iLife: iMovie (I downloaded HD since no one can figure out 08 anyway), iPhoto, iTunes, and Garageband. I showed them how easy it was to record a lecture in Garageband, add a quick audio clip to the beginning as if it were a news show, and export it out as an MP3 file. Then we uploaded it to the Apple podcast blogs we use. I think they were relieved seeing that it was as simple as sending an email. I showed them how easy it was to do the same thing in iMovie with the built-in iSight camera to make a video podcast. Cool enough. They really enjoyed the part where I had one of the teachers use iChat in the back of the room and call into my session. Once they saw how easy that was, I think their attention got even stronger with the Mac. Everyone loves a good video chat.
Throughout the session, I stuck to the same mantra: You now have a very powerful tool in your hands to create, captivate, engage, enthrall, and any other snazzy verb you can think of. You can capture priceless learning with the students. You can provide resources for absent students or those needing remediation. You can allow the kids to teach you. You can allow yourself AND the students to publish. They NEED a creative outlet to do this.
That is my son. Give him a MacBook (or Legos or piles of scrap whatever) and a little instruction, and he can create like crazy. He will show you how his understanding goes beyond what he might could show you on paper or on a state test. That is my son. He will show you how the right brain can engage in ways the left never can by sharing beautiful bits of himself that his teachers, his mother, and I helped to create by teaching and loving him. That’s my son. He will WOW you with his awesomeness of a sponge-like brain, not by regurgitating facts on a score sheet, but by composing his own score sheet to share with the world. That is my son.
It’s also your son (or daughter). We must provide new outlets for kids to practice and publish their learning. They need to showcase their content knowledge in some way other than a bubble sheet, a test proctor, and a newspaper article reporting the results. When they publish personally in these new ways, there is immediate feedback and reflection and relearning. When their knowledge is judged by one day and a few hours on a test, the only thing they get there is a snapshot result. They do not use that to motivate themselves to learn more, to discuss the successes and failures with peers, or as an opportunity to find a mentor to further their knowledge. The most they get is either a party or extra tutoring (my rant on the state, by the way, not the teachers).
This is the driving force behind what we are doing at our middle school. We are working toward building electronic portfolios (WordPress MU) that the students can upload these types of products to where they can showcase their learning and skills. They can build on them and add new ones. They will be able to edit, recreate, share, and even take the portfolio with them when they leave our district. They will be the models for the campuses they left and the ones they head to. Their expectations will be higher than ever before when they enter a new classroom. They need the freedom to produce, reflect, rethink, and react in their learning. This is their chance. This is an opportunity to collaborate with peers and teaching faculty at a whole new level.
While we work through this process, I will share more of my reflections in this blog.
I want to leave you with the same video I left my middle school staff with (and I shared back in June on this blog). My wife said it tied everything together beautifully (not consciously planned on my part). My lead in (off the cuff) was that we are the ultimate force in the classroom. How we prepare and present ourselves to our students is ultimately how they decide whether they turn themselves on or off for learning when they enter our doors. Is our focus on teaching the same year of instruction for thirty plus years? Or is it to refocus how we perceive actual learning with today’s youth and offer and foster an environment that promotes their full participation in the process with an open mind and an innovative spirit?
Photo Credits: (1) Miguel Wallpaper – me, taken at TCEA office in Austin during Thinkfinity training; (2) Google Earth snapshot of WOISD – me in Google Earth; (3) “I like my voice” – Peter H. Reynolds, scribbled on a napkin if I remember the story correctly.