disapproving kitty

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When I Remember, I'll Tell You

     While cleaning the house today I had two or maybe even three possible threads going through my head that I wanted to post about.  I even started fleshing them out, deciding what tangents to follow and which ones to leave, what details to include and so on.  At the time, I remember thinking "I really need that Star Trek computer that allows me access my log from anywhere in the house so I can speak this out loud.  Otherwise, I'm going to forget this."  I was right.  I have forgotten everything except that thought about forgetting it.  It's like a dream I can *almost* remember, but can't.  Argh.  I think maybe it had something to do with gender identity and nail polish, but that doesn't seem quite right.

    I know I could have written down a few words on paper that would have reminded me, but I didn't.

     So, in lieu of whatever important and interesting topic I'd planned to write about, I'll just say that I had intense dreams last night, two involving getting back at bullies and one that involved time-travel and virtual keyboards that enabled me and my time-displaced companions to fly.  It was, in a word, cool.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Wanted Larry, but Got Moe Instead

   I have had so much in my head lately that I haven't been writing.  It's like my thoughts are all jammed up in the doorway, Three Stooges style, so nothing can get through.  In addition, most of what comes out in my mental ravings to myself are rants about politics, or teaching, or society in general, and I need to keep these thoughts from running rampant in a public forum.
   So I think I will choose a safer topic, like using technology in the classroom.  You see,  I went to another teaching conference a few days ago.  This one was heavy on the ways we need to integrate technology into our classrooms if we are going to truly prepare kids for what lies ahead.  We have this old model, see?  The model where schools have all the information and we parcel it out it workable chunks and kids learn it and while they're doing that they learn how they are learning so that eventually they can do it on their own.
     Only we got bogged down somewhere along the way with really good sounding words like accountability and quality which are Good Things, because we do them in the real world.  We quality test in the real world.  We take the product and we use it and stress it and try to make it break.  That's how we know if we have a good product.  If the product fails, we go back and redesign it and try again.  This is a fine way to treat a product.  It's not so fine a way to treat a child, though, and we keep forgetting that.
     We have also fallen victim to "The Streetlight Effect."  The Streetlight Effect is from an old joke, about a drunken man, on his hands and knees, searching around a lamp post at midnight.  A cop comes along and asks what he's doing.  The man replies, "I'm looking for my wallet, ossifer."  "Oh," replies the cop, "where did you drop it?'  The drunk waves a hand, indicating a dark part of the street a ways off.  "If you dropped it there," says the cop, "why are you looking here?"  "Because this is where the light is good!" exclaims the man.
     This is where we are in our desperate quest to improve schools by making teachers and students accountable.  We are testing and collecting endless reams of data to demonstrate our progress.  Facts and figures and anything that can be answered by fill-in-the-bubble tests.  The lamp light is strong and bright here because it's easy to see if someone has learned what year the Gettysburg Address was given.  The vast majority of these assessments test only a little bit of knowledge and comprehension.  But it's really, really difficult to assess the ability of students to apply knowledge to new situations, or to test analytical reasoning, or synthesis or the ability that students have to evaluate what they are learning.  All of these higher levels of learning are nearly impossible to accurately judge based on a standardized paper-pencil test.  So we don't do that.  We look only where the light is good.
    What we really want schools to do is prepare our children to become productive members of society, able to work, have stable, meaningful personal lives and contribute positively to the community.  We want to hold teachers accountable for doing that.  But we only know how to test for whether they've taught kids how to memorize facts and figures, and how to effectively take tests.  As long as we keep insisting that everyone play this meaningless game, then we are not going to create successful schools any more than the drunk is going to find his wallet by that lamp post.
    The really idiotic part is that good teachers CAN and DO assess for all of the truly meaningful learning!  We just can't parse it down into standardized bubble-test numbers.  And so much time is spent worrying about the test, teaching to the test, working towards that lowest-common-denominator that there is little time left for actual learning.  We've become so convinced that teachers can't do a good job that we don't give them time or support to do it.  The system is working against itself--the very quest to hold teachers accountable and make them better at their jobs is actually making them worse.  Which makes me wonder what the real goal of all this testing is in the first place.
    I wonder this even more when the results of all this testing, which doesn't really test what we want it to test, is going to be used then to evaluate teachers.  Something stinks pretty badly here, and I'm fairly certain it isn't the drunk guy.  To quote Mark Twain, "There's lies, damn lies, and statistics."  And all this questionable data is ripe for some very funny number crunching, cherry picking and even some downright lying.



I seem to have gotten off-topic.  This post was supposed to be about wanting to seriously use technology in the classroom, and not just as novelties or toys.  Me wanting to write a grant for iPads in my room.  Instead, this rant on education.

This is what happens -- I finally start to write and the wrong Stooge gets through the door.

Ah, well.

There's always tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I don't think there is a better term than futility, really.

     I started unpacking my school things into my new room today.  I'll actually be setting up two classrooms, which I've never had to do before.  I've been a traveling teacher, going to 4 or 5 different schools and carrying my "classroom" with me in my car, though.  If I was lucky, I had part of a bookshelf to store some essentials in each building.  In this case, I need two full rooms, all set up for 10 - 20 kids.  So it's a new experience.
     In a strange sort of way, I enjoy unpacking, and seeing what treasures lie in each box.  I did label the boxes, but often in cryptic "Random books!" sorts of labels, so it's less helpful than one might hope.  And despite all the labeling, I did not find the box with the scissors (handy for opening lots of well-taped boxes) until I had gotten to the bottom of the massive pile.
     This time the unpacking is laden with all sorts of mixed emotions.  I wasn't supposed to be doing this job this year, and while I'm happy to be doing it, I don't want to do it alone.  I've always had at least one team member with me, and now I don't.  Furthermore, as a teacher split between two buildings, and only teaching a small fraction of the students within each one, I won't truly be a team member of those buildings, either.  Through no fault of anyone there, I'm bound to be viewed as an outsider, and not really part of their staff.  It's just the way it is.  If I'm lucky, I'll see one of my gifted team mates once a month.  So I feel a bit adrift, and already missing my friends.  The other feeling is one of, for lack of a better term, futility.  This particular teaching position was saved by some last minute maneuvering of the district's administration, and they just revealed that gifted ed is on the chopping block again should the next levy fail.  A new levy is on the November ballot.  There is already a lot of negativity swirling about it, and I think it's going to be a rough sell.  So I hesitate to unpack for just a year.
     A lot of my "teacher books" are staying in their boxes entirely, and others are going into opened boxes, lids placed onto their bottoms, tipped onto their sides on the shelf.  I have access to them during the year, but when the time comes to move again, I need only put the lids back on top, and we're ready to go.
     A few days ago I went to a teachers' conference with a keynote speaker who was adamant about how school needs to be, and needs to change to teach effectively for this century.  So many of the things he talked about were things that we do with our gifted students in our non-traditional classroom.  I know that this is so good for my students, and I also know that there is a very, very good chance I will not be doing it next year.  I'll be prepping kids to answer bubble-in-the-answer questions on standardized tests.
     And it makes me sad.  And that's no way to start a year, so I'm trying to work myself out of it.  But I haven't quite gotten there yet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

things to be thankful for today

    I have about 3 weeks of vacation left, and a lot of my friends are bemoaning the end of summer, but I figure that 3 weeks, all together, is a luxury very few other Americans have.  So I will not gripe.  I will soak them up and be thankful.
     The vacation-y thing I did today was an excursion to a point midway between our house and my parents' house, to meet up with my mom and an Aunt I haven't seen in four years, but dearly love.  I was supposed to go up on Sunday, after a weekend helping run something called a regional gathering (food, games, speakers for about 100 people at a hotel.  Fun, but exhausting.)   I called off the trip.  I was just too wiped out to drive all the way to the Lake.  My mother suggested a meet-up someplace between here and there, and my Aunt, after driving a reeeally long way to get to Ohio, was gracious enough to drive some more to see us today.  We spent the day at an indoor pool which was not nearly large or exotic enough to merit the cost, but it was plenty big for my little ones.  Also not crowded at all.  And it was indoors where it was not 95 degrees and scorching.  So, good times.
    This Aunt is not one by blood--she married into the family -- and made a real effort when I was little to be special to me.  I can remember her taking me out to see "Annie," and another time to buy shoes--something that would have been an errand for my mother but became somehow a special outing with my Aunt.  She worked at it, and I appreciate and love her for it.   It makes me want to be a better Aunt to my own nieces, and try to do some special things for them, too.
    So, I'm grateful that there was something reasonably fun and entertaining to do with the kids halfway between here and the Lake, and I'm grateful that my Mom and Aunt were willing to make the trip, and that I have a pretty enjoyable family in general.  How many people can say that?