NECC[1] = Monday

June 29, 2009 – 10:25 pm

In the style of “release early release often” and “perfect == good.enemy()” we bring you this totally unedited, case rapidly typed post, because I need sleep.

This was the late-night idea. Results forthcoming. Traffic not as good as hoped, but it did meet our primary criteria of “hey, we need a way to meet people!” (In other words, we were so busy talking to people that we didn’t have time to constantly man #neccwall. This is good.)

Manned the Sugar Labs booth for a bit; had a good conversation with Scott Bullock on how engineers interested in education tend to make things for the kids they used to be (a tiny minority) and the problem of how to reach the rest.

Stopped by and talked with teachers who had gotten HP tablet PC grants. An Arkansas school had children annotate photographs with geometric drawings (“This sunflower exhibits symmetry over this line! *drawdraw*”). I asked if it was far more engaging to do that than to print out the picture and hand the kid a marker. They said yes, but didn’t know why – I wonder how much “technology helps students!” is attributable to students being excited by shiny new things, how much is due to the self-selecting nature of teachers willing to experiment with new tech (they’d tend to be the more adventuresome, dynamic ones even without “technology”), and how much the design and enablements of technology actually chips in to “increased performance.”

Another note: as an engineer, I’m used to being able to think about the “perfect” solution and then take the time to build it. Most teachers can’t do that; they don’t have the skills or time to create much in the way of new things (said the Arkansas teachers). You look around and see what’s on the shelf and do something with it. You don’t waste time thinking of things to build from scratch because you’ll never have the resources.

Then there was the Mt. Vernon high school that had gotten tablet PCs for their teachers. They didn’t have them for students; maybe 50% of their students had computer access at home. One of the teachers mentioned that he’d done his student teaching in a neighborhood with much more computer access, where you could actually email the students files and expect all of them to be able to print them out and bring them in the next day – this was a very different situation. Computers are expensive.

They were so proud that they had moved to using Powerpoint for classes. “The students love it,” they said. “Some teachers don’t have good handwriting… and this way it’s clear what they have to study [by memorization]… if they’re absent, they can watch the video at home without having to come to class and talk with the teacher…”

I… have conflicting feelings about this. On the one hand, they’re doing the best they can with a difficult situation. On the other hand, this is an incremental improvement down a road I don’t agree with (drill and kill, turning learners into automatons and using technology to script away human interaction). But to overturn such a difficult situation would be extremely difficult, so maybe this is the best that they can do.

Overheard amusing conversation: “Municipal wifi? Won’t that spread all sorts of viruses around?”

There is a film titled “Autism: The Musical.” It is a documentary of an acting teacher coaching 5 autistic children to perform a musical, and looks intriguing.

The exhibit hall is HUGE.

These notes take me nearly to lunchtime on Monday. I will have to finish them tomorrow.

If I were making NECC bingo cards, they would have the following words: collaboration, sharing, management (as in “classroom managment” – this bothers me, as if children were an industrial process that we need to keep in line), problem-solving, 21st century learners, integrative, accountability, standards, immersive, constructionist, community, reaching-outside-the-classroom-walls, rigorious, standards, innovate.

There’s power and honesty here. There’s also a lot of thin glossy washes of sounding-good – educators aren’t in particular positions of power, nor are the kids they teach, and both have (as people in those situations tend to do) become extremely good at giving the answers that those in power like to hear. You can see that gloss occasionally washing over someone’s passion – projects designed so that the outcome is in ready-made press-release format, obligatory scatterings of buzzwords (you know what? I will make that bingo card) but it gives me heart that oftentimes the fire will break through. The best thing I can do, I think, is be on fire myself these next two days so that nobody else will be the only one outside their comfort zone.

Speaking of fire, I’ve got a low-grade fever – my immune system has decided that DC is full of allergens that it must FIGHT! NOW! so I’m going to sleep and write the remainder of Monday’s notes tomorrow.

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  1. 3 Responses to “NECC[1] = Monday”

  2. Noooo!!! PowerPoint is the devil. I hated the classes that used PowerPoint in graduate school, and they are the ones that I had the least guilt about skipping. The slides never change, and teachers end up using the same sets of slides year in and year out without any thought to whether it could be done better. Additionally, my impression is that all teachers eventually migrate all information to the slides and eventually just end up reading from them almost verbatim.


    Okay, there are exceptions. Mark Chang at Olin does PowerPoint really well. He has slides displayed from his tablet with minimal information. During class, he will fill in the rest by writing on the slide with the marker on his tablet, save the slides at the end of class, and post the results. You get a lot more out of the class by working out the stuff during classtime, but if you do have to miss or couldn’t keep up in your notes, you do have the slides to fall back on.

    By Andrew on Jun 29, 2009

  3. classroom management=how you as a teacher fight the fires of apathy, disrespect, and anarchy in order to maintain a classroom where learning just might take place.

    K-12 this is super important, and a super difficult thing to do well.

    The problems are: kids are human. unpredictable individuals, sometimes with no manners or conscience in common. Sometimes with goals in common = pull the teacher off track so we can just hang out because this is school and school is the oppressive enemy to us all (the premise is a total lie mostly, but believed by students inside “the system”)

    Even as an art teacher (the class kids really enjoy?? and don’t mind coming to?? and get excited to go make messes in??) I’ve had trouble in PRIVATE schools with middle school classes working as teams to distract me from the teaching and art making that I’d prepared for them.

    “I mean, c’mon guys! This is fun! Why are you pulling out all of your flattery and rabbit trail questions on me? We only have 45minutes to make fun messes and clean them up again before the bell and you would rather have the satisfaction of effectively distracting me from conducting class than the opportunity to get messy?”

    Maintaining order (not chaos) and interest (genuine curiosity) and engagement (real doing and thinking) are the magical powers of a good teacher– it requires a lot of love, preventative measures, and constant vigilance. Especially if you don’t want to resort to death looks, punishment, and trips to the principal.

    In faculty meetings, when staff are asked what aspect of their job they feel they need help with (what kind of speaker should the school invite to inservice trainings next year?) — it’s classroom management. Because they want to maintain peace without marshall law, and that’s an art.

    And without order and trust in a classroom, you can’t use paint brushes let alone technology.

    By erin on Jun 30, 2009

  4. if not power point, you could have used open office or s5 or other open source tools. I’d love to see teachers use the same style as some FLOSS presentations — humor, detail, engagement. As for the same material, what would the result be with wikibooks, of making an open licensed text book where the material is meant to be honed to a stable form?

    By Kevin Mark on Jun 30, 2009

What do you think?