Selling my soul, or not

Over the last couple years I have found my way into endless discussions regarding the nature of assessment, the idea of common or equitable assessment, and impact standardized testing is taking on education as a whole. As my school attempts to recover from years of misdirection, we have had to explore these issues on a regular basis and really try and balance the idea that much of what we do with our students on a day-to-day basis cannot be measured on a 60 questions multiple choice exam. The notion that it can seems laughable. 180 days of discussions, projects, lectures, readings, etc. cannot be boiled down that far. Can it? Not only that, but are those intangibles and learning opportunities actually more valuable to the students as they progress through their education?

What is more important? That the student memorizes the dates and specific facts of a historical topic, or that he or she learns skills that might allow them to understand similar situations there (here) in the real world. Do we sacrifice lessons with that push critical thinking, public speaking, debate preparation, and technological literacy in favor of facts. The answer is obvious, right? But, we still have that darn state testing. And it looks like it isn’t going away any time soon.

This conversation has been going on for years. It is really old news, I know that. But for me, there is another side to it. What about AP classes? I love my AP kids, but in the end, I teach to the test. In AP World History, we are on a forced march across the ages and through a laundry list of skills (many of which important “big picture” skills that will help in life). I specifically address the types of essays they will be writing and how to do well on each one – sometimes at the expense of a more holistic approach to writing. I guess the main difference between AP tests and state testing is that the AP test directly helps the student. I guess that is enough. For now at least.

I do know that if I had taken AP history classes, I might not be here. The spark that ignited my love of history (and then teaching) was based in projects and discussions. I don’t remember the tests, though I’m sure I had them, but I do remember thinking and obsessing over skits, video productions, art projects, short stories, and debates. These ideas defined continue to My goal has always been to bring smaller chunks those types of lessons to AP, but is it enough?

Seven Things

Adina Sullivan over at How Do We Get From Here to There tagged me to do this Seven Things thing.  Having a moment to breathe, I decided to do it.

Here are the rules:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post – some random, some weird.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter and/or Plurk.

Here are my Seven Things

  1. I first decided to be a teacher in elementary school when I took an extra copy of a worksheet home to store it safely until I became a teacher. When my parents finally told me to move all of my stuff once I graduated from college, that paper and a few others were still in pristine condition, complete with the purplish ink.
  2. In college I was a history major, but I spent an equal amount of time (if not more) working as a photographer for the UCSD Guardian. I even did a couple internships at a couple of the smaller local papers.  I considered photojournalism as a career – everyday provided a vast array of great experiences where I got to see parts of the school and the local communities that I would have otherwise, both the high and low moments.  After going to a hit-and-run accident that involved a seven-year old on a bike and seeing the distraught parents, I decided that the I just couldn’t do it.  So I switched gears and turned my photography obsession into a hobby.
  3. I have terrible organization skills.  It is a curse.  Drives my wife crazy.  Drives me crazy much of the time.  I have the desire, just not continuous ability to follow through.  Not to say that I don’t know where everything is – I know exactly what pile or folder to find everything!  Plus, I always get what needs to be done, done
  4. I am a music freak.  I always have been.  I started with a tape and record collection, moved on to CDs, and now I fill my hard drive with mp3s, etc.  Back in college, that newspaper photographer position got me into just about every show I wanted to see.  That got me hooked on live recordings of shows, which only has made the collecting of music more intense.  Some of my favorite bands include U2, the Decemberists, the Cowboy Junkies, and the Grateful Dead.
  5. I used to really want to spend some time traveling through Europe, but in the last few years I’ve really been more interested in Indian and Chinese history.  After working on the Story of India project, India currently sits at the top of my must-visit list.  It will take a few years still.
  6. I have braces, again.  I had them when I was younger, but some severe TMJ pain has forced me once again to be metal mouth.  I could have worse problems.
  7. My family is everything.  While the kids occasionally drive me crazy or keep me from getting any real sleep, they are my world.  My wife and I make an amazing team, don’t know where I would be without her support on a day-to-day basis.

Hmm.  Who do I tag?  I’ve been somewhat “out of the loop” for the last couple years, so I’m not going to tag anyone.  If you want to do it and haven’t been tagged, leave a comment.

Media Infusion Blog – January 2009

Teaching World History in the Digital Age

Like so many other Americans, my early perception of world history was focused through American and European lenses. The civilizations that shaped the West were considered to be more deserving of our attention than those that had fallen under the boot heels of European imperialists in the 18th and 19th centuries. This attitude was certainly a reflection of the times. Throughout the 20th century, Western civilization dominated world affairs, caused the bloodiest conflicts in human history, and pushed forward some of the most innovative technological advancements ever seen.

Read the rest at the PBS web site.

Should Have, Would Have, but Didn’t

The emptiness of this blog gives me some guilt. I have great intentions, but something else always comes first in my constant shifting of priorities to get what needs to be done today, done. So here are three ideas that I have jotted down – in some cases even started, but never finished…

  • And the winner is…. Not me! While I was selected as Grossmont Union High School District Teacher of the Year (a great honor in itself), I was not selected as San Diego County TOY. I thought I had a good shot, but in the end it didn’t happen. Maybe I sold my staff development training experience too much, let my introverted person-to-person personality show through too much in the interview (as opposed to my in front of the class personality), or those who did win were just better (and they were inspirational). While disappointed, there was an upside, I got to get out of the spotlight and get back into all of the other priorities of my professional and personal life.
  • Drinking the Google Kool-Aid – Back in 2006 I did become a Google Certified Teacher, but since last spring I’ve been living la vida Google. I’m sure I’ll revisit this…
  • Accreditation Coordinator – I took over as our WASC Coordinator this year, got a little more than expected, but have used Google tools to organize it.

There were more, but I want to move on.

Looking Forward?

I am a big fan of all of the ed tech visionaries out there. My Bloglines account includes the likes of Will Richardson, David Warlick, Chris Lehmann, Vicki Davis, and about 50 others. Plus, in the last few months I have grown fond of Twitter (other than it’s regular downtime) and have followed what I will call the “conversation” that drives the cutting edge of educational technology as it currently exists. I respect the insight and discussions about where we should go shared by all of the edubloggers in extended (blogs) and abbreviated forms (Twitter). However, in the last few months I have begun to start asking myself where are they/we all going. The need for change is blaringly obvious – to me and most of those who are part of that community, but for most teachers, I don’t think they even know there is a conversation taking place. You certainly have your exceptions – Chris’s Science Leadership Academy sounds like an amazing place to work. There are a collection of teachers like myself who integrate these ideas into our classrooms and then share those experiences with the world through workshops and our blogs, but it isn’t enough to change the world.

There is a great quote from the movie Gandhi that I have been thinking about for the last few months (I have done some research and haven’t been able to confirm if he actually said this, but I know he believed at least in the spirit of the quote that appeared in the movie). Here it is:

This Congress (the Indian National Congress) tells the world it represents India. My brothers, India is seven hundred thousand “villages” not a few hundred lawyers in Delhi and Bombay. Until we stand in the fields with the millions who toil each day under the hot sun, we will not represent India – nor will we ever be able to challenge the British as one nation.

The plight of education differs significantly from the independence movement in India, but there are some parallels (While I won’t delve into the comparison between colonial Great Britain and NCLB, let’s not overlook that fun observation). There are a growing number of us (educational technologists) both in and out of the classroom who are participating in this conversation about how to bring technology and skills that will be valuable in the coming years to the classroom, but despite the explosion of educators participating there are thousands who aren’t. Those thousands of classroom teachers are literally bound by state standards, limited/no access to technology, a lack of institutional support, little/no understanding of the importance, and even an outright reluctance to break with our industrial revolution model of education (it was good enough for me….). You start talking about blogs, wikis, social networking, and podcasts with educators in anyone of those categories and most of it will be lost (or at least filed away) when they return to their classrooms. I think in a lot of ways many of those who talk about Web 2.0 and widespread technology integration are as disconnected to the real situation that most teachers face as the British-educated Indian National Congress was to the rural population of India. I don’t know that we have Gandhi in our midst. Plus I don’t think hunger strikes will get teachers to start a blog, but hey – who knows? Any takers? I’ll write about it.

There remains no simple solution. Really widespread institutional change needs to occur within the educational system. I do not believe I will see that level of change in my career. We have too many standards, tests, textbook companies, federal acts, and even unions. So now what? We do the best we can. We recognize our limitations and work with them. We will not see these changes permeate all classrooms in the immediate future, but hopefully the movement will grow. Certainly it won’t be fast enough, but it will have to do.

I know this sounds a little pessimistic. As a history teacher I’ve come to recognize that many great ideas that should be implemented are often ignored, corrupted by politicians, or lost amongst bad ones. I have the spirit of an idealist and the mind of a pragmatist. Sometimes I hate myself 🙂

I have another post in draft form to follow up on what I think we should do.

Recent Workshop

A couple months ago I attended and presented at an alumni event for the Educational Technology Department at SDSU. It was a nice afternoon and I think the presentation went well. I just remembered that it was UStreamed and archived. So here it is…

The associated web site can be found here. This summer I am taking the spirit of this hour long presentation and turning it in to an all day workshop for my district.

World Without Oil and $5 gas

Back in February people were hypothetically talking about $4 a gallon gasoline. Now with my corner gas station at $4.39, there is talk about $5.00 gas by the end of July. Crazy stuff. Who knows when it will all return to normal, or at least to the new normal – you know $3.75 or so.

Well, people have been talking about peak oil (when production of oil peaks and then starts to decline) for years. I had a friend in grad school who moved to Portland, Oregon in part because that city is one of the few in the United States that is preparing for an oil shortage. And a year ago a grant funded by PBS (and others) allowed a group of people to create an alternative reality game called World Without Oil. Essentially, each day in May 2007 represented a week in a World Without Oil. Almost 2000 people from around the world posted blogs, podcasts, and videos in response to the fictional crisis. The turnout was amazing and links to all of the posts are still housed on the WWO web site. Earlier in the year it won the award for Activism at the South by Southwest Conference. It was also nominate for several other awards.

I was lucky enough to be hired to help develop a series of lesson plans that incorporated the main themes of the game. Working closely with one of the main WWO game designers (Ken Uklund), we produced ten modular lessons that teachers can use to recreate the game in their classrooms. We hope that teachers across multiple disciplines will incorporate these lessons and the bigger ideas they represent regarding the future of our nation and the world.

I was able to do about five days worth of the lessons (or at least the main concepts) with my college prep world history students at the end of the school year – literally it was the last days before the final exam. These two classes of 15-16 year-olds, really had no idea that how deeply we rely upon oil and how many products are actually derived from oil itself or energy produced by oil. These lessons gave them some greater insight. A number of my students did blogs which can be found on my WWO-specific web site. Some of the students really bought in to the game and produced some great posts. I hope to have a little more time next year to do it.

It seems like we as teachers need at least give some awareness to the issues immediately facing our students. My awareness to the issue of energy consumption has certainly broadened. Here is an article the was recently published at Education Week in the Digital Directions section. I am quoted! So read it.

Class of 2008

Have a lot to say these days, maybe with school over I will have time. Graduation was today. Nice event as usual. I probably “connected” with more students in this class than ever before. This was my first group of AP World History students. It was the year we almost had to vote on a strike, the year we discovered my son had Celiac disease, and the year I finished grad school. This was also the group that I connected together through Moodle (all four classes interacted as one online group). I think I really helped create a great community within the class and I actively participated in it – showing up for online chats at 10pm the night before an exam.. Since moving the course out of Moodle to Wikispaces, we (myself and my AP teaching partner) haven’t been able to recreate it.

So why no sadness? Two years ago when they left my class, we were done. It was time for them to move up the ladder. Today as watched them walk across the stage, I knew they were ready for bigger things than West Hills High School. Instead of a handful of students heading off to four-year colleges as in previous years, I have dozens accepted. Berkeley, UCSD, UCLA, SDSU, Boston College, USD, UCSB, and many others will be receiving MY students. For the others who are starting at a community college, I have confidence that most will find their way to a university or other career. Isn’t this what we are all about, trying to guide our students to the future. I will miss them, but I am more excited for them.

Congratulations to the class of 2008. Collectively, you will do great things. Individually, make it happen. I would name names, but there are too many. I hope you know who you are.