Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The “Uh oh!” scale?

Although I’m curious about it, I’ve never gone sky-diving.  If you have, I’d like to hear your thoughts.  One of my biggest curiosities is about that exact moment when you jump.  What are you thinking?  “Uh oh!”?  “What a rush!”?  “Oh $%#!”?  “Why am I doing this?” “Here we go!”?  Probably all of the above. I grew up in a educator’s household and, after 28 years of teaching , I have come to think of September as the first month of the new year more than January.  It isn’t jumping from a plane, but it may have some similarities.  There is an excitement in the air as we talk about “Opening” this and “First” that.  There is the disappointment that summer wasn’t quite long enough or that the “to do” list is still “to be done,” but here we go into a new opportunity.  Stepping off.  Where are you on the “Uh oh!” scale?   

Here are my thoughts on TLC from last year into this one:
The two most important things that happened for me last year in TLC were 1) that I got to learn a great deal about what my colleagues were doing in their classrooms and how they think about education, which provided me with both language and deeper understanding to examine my own philosophy, teaching and approaches.  2) was that I learned about “simple” technology.  I learned that setting up a class blog not only wasn’t the big daunting project I thought it would be, but also that it was useful for some of my students as another means to wrap their minds around the material and concepts we were addressing.  Cathy D. and I ran parallel projects on this in our PreCalculus classes and I was surprised and impressed by how some of the kids used the blog, both as a sounding board and as a study guide.
My biggest failure last year was becoming the TLC “resident skeptic.”  I am a skeptic, but I dislike being a wet blanket.  I was really excited about being part of TLC and still am.  I was and am so impressed by the ideas and approaches and discoveries that people brought to meetings.  It turned out that the process of reframing the question in my own head that I was trying to answer – “so, how is this better?” – played out in meetings as “I’m skeptical, prove it.”  I wish that I had been quicker to recognize how limiting my initial internal central question was.  At least that I had realized it before I felt like I had fallen behind in the wonderful discovery learning that was taking place.  I hope this won’t be that hard to turn around this year.
I’m always rethinking my classroom practices - this can be a bit exhausting at times, along with invigorating. I came into TLC with too narrow a focus.  The only question I had allowed myself to consider was “how will the use of technology augment the instruction in my classroom?”   The biggest area of growth for me was recognizing that the question really was, “here’s a powerful tool, what can it do to make things easier/better?”  I picked up a number of organizational tools for both me and my students and, more importantly, I began to realize that even though I haven’t found out much about how to use a computer to improve instruction yet, the ways in which technology gives kids access to another means for expressing what they understand is powerful.  It isn’t a new idea to me that different forms of presenting student understanding access different kids’ learning styles, but I needed the change of mindset to see how technology opened up the possibilities even wider.
I’m pretty liberal politically, but I have learned that I am pretty conservative educationally.  I want to really believe that what I am doing is making something better before I am willing to go for it.  In that sense, the biggest “preventer” to my progress as a TLC’er is my own perspective.  I am scared of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”  I also have a pedagogical style that has apparently “worked” for a long time, and, while old dogs can learn new tricks, they sometimes do so more slowly.  I also feel confined by time.  Personally, I can’t think about big educational matters as successfully in snippets of time and I have a great deal of trouble carving out longer blocks of time in the often chaotic realities of a school week and year.  For example, I wanted to produce a video for my responses to these questions and I thought I had some great ideas about how I was going to do it, but when push came to shove, I was unsuccessful in making the time to do it, which disappoints me a bit.  I have recommitted myself to making the time weekly this year to change this, I hope I can! 
The idea of “changing” one’s teaching and how one thinks about it is a tough one.  I’m me in a classroom, and I can’t really comprehend changing that.  Being personally authentic is an important part of teaching for me. On the other hand, my teaching has had to evolve over the years to address changes in curriculum and what is perceived to be important.  As I pick up things in all areas, they work their way into my technique, my choices, and how I try to reach my students.  As I mentioned above, incorporating more technology in the presentation of understanding for students is a way that my teaching has been changed by my participation in TLC.  That isn’t really a change in thinking about teaching so much as an evolution of my understanding of how to better access an existing tenet.
What would I say to teachers that have resisted using technology?  - “Me too!!!”  I would start with trying to better understand the genesis of their resistance.  A lot of mine is fear that I won’t be good at it.  Some is fear that I will have to do a lot of extra work to learn new things that don’t really make me a better teacher, but simultaneously make me less confident and competent in the eyes of my students. Reframing the question is how I am getting past these things.  Small steps of incorporating things that clearly DO help make things more efficient or access a student in a new way seem to work best for resisters.  Also, allowing those teachers to feel that they won’t be looked down upon, in fact that they will be supported, when they know less or less well.

I have three personal goals for my TLC involvement in 2012-13:
1)   I want to figure out how to make my classroom blog piece from PreCalculus Acc last year work in my Calculus classes this year.  Most of the kids have had an experience with it already, but we sort of had to bribe them into participation by offering points for it.  I want to try to make it more interactive and build on the effort of last year. 

2)   I am teaching Geometry Regular for the first time in a number of years and will be collaborating with David Neilan and Cathy Douglas.  They both use a software program called “Geometer’s Sketchpad” and will want to use it in this class, I’ve used it occasionally in the past, but my goal is to get proficient with it and be able to use it effectively in the classroom, ultimately developing my own suggestions to them for ways it can be used in certain projects.

3)   I want to find ways to address my skepticism without feeling like I am slowing positive momentum.  I want to unleash the curiosity!

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