Monthly Archives: December 2010

It Began with a Chalkboard!

What an amazing decade it has been! It is with a fair amount of amazement that I look back on the classroom of 2000 and compare it with the work that I do now. Ten years ago, it was not only the tools that were different; it was the way I thought about my job as a teacher. I had been teaching for years, in the classroom and homeschooling. I felt comfortable and competent in my career. I understood kids and the skills and information that they were supposed to learn in my classroom. It was a time when I knew what I needed to accomplish my job, and I felt secure in being able to help the students in my class.

It was a paper and pencil, chalkboard world. I had a desktop computer, that I used strictly for word processing, mostly creating worksheets. The students had no access to computers in school. In truth, I wouldn’t have known what to have them do on computers, even if they had had them. The world of digital tools was still completely foreign to me and to most educators. Most of the tools that I use today simply didn’t exist then. If the students had had computers, they would simply have been for word processing, because that was all that I knew to do with them.

Over the course of the decade, I was given new tools, tools that challenged me to figure them out and then figure out what use they could be to my students. From desktop computers to SmartBoards to laptop carts to 1:1 programs, each step has provided me and other teachers with an opportunity to grow and learn. That is the awesome choice that has confronted educators this decade. With each new tool and each new way of learning, we have had to leave our former security and venture into the unknown. For me, the lesson of the first decade of the 21st century is that change is now a part of life. If I want to provide the best education for my students, who live in a digital world, I must make an ongoing commitment to grow. New learning has become a perpetual requirement for good teachers. We simply can not expect that what we did before is all that our students will need.

While they still need much of what we taught before: study skills, control over information, self-expression, effective reading, there is now more. It is our job to teach them these while also making sure they learn how to be effective and ongoing learners, ones who are not going to stop growing with a good grade or degree, but ones who will move into the future with the skills needed to adapt and grow, to create and build in the world. Educators need to make it our goal for the next decade to model how to be that kind of learner, demonstrating a love of our subjects and a love of learning that will be hopefully be contagious.

Happy New Year!

Reflections on a Year!

I have two reactions to the fact that this week is the 1st anniversary of Middle School Matrix. The first is amazement that it has only been a year. In many ways, it feels like writing for this blog is something that I have been doing for a much longer time. It is quietly always in the back of my mind. “Is this worth writing about? How would I discuss that?” Having a blog has made me more consciously reflective. I think about my practice more deeply than I did before, partly because there are people who are taking the time to read about what I do in my classroom and why I do it. The students from Dr. Strange’s class at the University of South Alabama have added a wonderful new perspective. It is great to know that students studying education are reading this blog and others. At edcampnyc two weeks ago, I had a conversation with Tom Whitby  writing blogs. He started his just about a year ago as well, and we were commenting on how amazing it is to have our thoughts saved in our blog, that we have created more than we thought we were going to when it began. (For more on my thoughts about edcampnyc, the last post is about it.)

My second reaction is “Where did the year go?” In many ways it flew by, in a blur of growth and learning. There was never a moment of “sitting still.” Every time I checked on Twitter, there was a new idea or great website to visit. In many ways, being a teacher shifted dramatically for me from being in control of the pedagogy and content to being a  constant student, learning new ways of thinking about the work that happens in my classroom as well as new challenges for me personally to grow and understand. It has been wonderfully stimulating and enlightening.

One of the primary reasons that I started this blog was to deepen my relationships with the members of my PLN – which for me stands for Passionate Learning Network, an adaptation that I got from Shelly Terrell. After months on Twitter, sharing resources, asking questions and reading other people’s blogs, I felt that I needed to share my thinking and practice. I have been a teacher, in one form or another, for over 30 years, and I have ideas as well as questions about how we should best teach in the 21st century. This blog gave me a place to talk about those and to hear back from others who are equally passionate about making education the very best that it can be.

The people in my PLN have changed my life. Each one of you has contributed to the ongoing conversation, adding new ideas that spark my curiosity and imagination in rich and wonderful ways. I have spent more time than I ever imagined I would becoming friends with people around the world. I have made connections that sustain me when I am confused and support me when I experiment.

As always, at the heart of it, has been time, time to reflect, to write, to follow the stream on Twitter, to comment on other people’s blogs. That was the commitment that starting this blog solidified, and that is the one that I am remaking as I move into Year Two. I will take the time to learn and share, online and hopefully in person, with educators who want to make each day a day of joyful learning and growth for every student. Thank you for sharing in the journey with me!

Saturdays for Learning

Yesterday I traveled up to New York City to go to edcampnyc, an unconference that sprang up following the model of the edcampphilly, that I helped to organize last spring. It is so exciting to see what can happen when groups of people make a commitment to education and to being part of a community of educators who want to make schools better. Many of the organizers of edcampnyc had come down to Philadelphia last spring to take part in the 1st edcamp. They were people who had connected on Twitter, who shared ideas and resources there and were excited to meet and talk in person. After experiencing the power of an unconference, they wanted to organize and hold one in NYC. To learn more about an unconference, check this post where I write about it.

The day started early, leaving home on a Saturday at 6:30am to drive to Trenton and catch the train to the city. As I was driving there, I couldn’t help but think about why I was doing this on a cold, blustery December morning. I could have been warm in bed, but instead I had made the choice to head north. What was it that was so important about these kinds of times? There was no doubt about the answer. They were times when I could get re-energized and excited about my job.

Don’t get me wrong! I love my job. I have always loved being in a classroom and facing the challenge of sparking interest and energy in my students. It is an exhausting job, and there are days when my energy is low. There are times of the year when there are too many days until the next break. At those times, I am not sure how to connect with each of the students in my classes; I am not convinced that I know the best strategy or activity. December can often be one of the times of the year. It is dark and cold with too much to do and very little stability.

To hold an unconference on the first weekend in December was brilliant. Three cheers for the organizers! It was the perfect antidote! I spent yesterday being nurtured and challenged. There was no room for lethargy or apathy when among the educators that were there. It was like a strong wind of wisdom and energy filled the School at Columbia, where edcampnyc was held. Each new session was filled with teachers and administrators who wanted to grow, who wanted to share their best practices and find solutions to their doldrums. These were teachers who willingly gave up their off-duty time to come together. They were often people who considered the others there part of their PLN, their Personal or Professional or Passionate Learning Network. Many of us had never met in person, but we regularly helped each other online. So being together in one space was even more special!

We live in a world that is changing every day. It can overwhelm us, or it can energize us. We can choose to ignore the changes, or we can become students again, eager to learn and grow. As teachers, we must become part of the solution. We must be willing to try new strategies and march bravely into this new world that global and digital connections is creating. When we do it together, we will be wiser and stronger. So take up the challenge! Find ways to share and learn with other educators!