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Sunday
Sep092018

BFTP: When a picture is all you need

I spent a few minutes yesterday morning with grandson Miles successfully practicing our bicycle riding - learning to balance sans pedals. Rather than writing a description of the happy event, I took a short video with my phone and e-mailed it to his mom and dad. 

The incident made me think about this post making the rounds: Disruptions: Social Media Images Form a New Language Online. Nick Bilton. NYT's Bits June 30, 2013. The main argument of the piece is:

Photos, once slices of a moment in the past — sunsets, meetings with friends, the family vacation — are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue. The cutting-edge crowd is learning that communicating with a simple image, be it a picture of what’s for dinner or a street sign that slyly indicates to a friend, “Hey, I’m waiting for you,” is easier than bothering with words, even in a world of hyper-abbreviated Twitter posts and texts.

Another herald of the coming post-literate world? Another nail in my generation of educator's literacy coffin

I don't know. As the example above suggests, turning to the visual - especially when it is convenient, simple, and fast - seems like the natural way to communicate. On reflection, I find myself using my phone's camera rather than a pen a lot! 

  • I snap a picture of hotel room number or parking garage space instead of writing them down when traveling.
  • I take pictures of content heavy PPT slides during conference sessions.
  • I Facetime with the grandsons rather relying on e-mails or even texts.
  • I increasingly use graphics, diagrams and photos to convey messages when giving a presentation. (I am re-reading PresentationZen.
  • I turn to YouTube instead of Google when looking for "how-to" instructions.
  • I see teachers creating video tutorials for at home viewing, "flipping" their classrooms.

So, OK, I'd still prefer a novel to a graphic novel. I'd rather reflect using writing than video. And I still make a grocery list. So I haven't gone completely visual - yet.

But even given an unlimited word count, I am not sure that one could describe the joy of learning to ride bike in text as effectively as showing it in a 30 second clip.

Friday
Sep072018

Kind act of the year award

Impostor syndrome ... is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Wikipedia

I've often felt I should go back to the town in rural Iowa where I began my teaching career and put up a billboard that reads "If you had me as a teacher in Stuart-Menlo High School in the 1970s, I apologize. You deserved better. Mr. Johnson."

In 1976, I was clueless 24-year-old with what I know now was an only partially developed pre-frontal cortex. My job included teaching 6 classes (with 5 preps) of high school English, speech, journalism, and drama. My extra curricular duties included directing plays, sponsoring the yearbook and weekly newspaper, and coaching speech contestants. Oh, I worked on the weekends at a gas station to supplement my mighty $8900 a year salary. And I had a family.

In the classroom 1978

Despite having received a teaching degree from a good college and doing student teaching, I really don't think I knew what in the hell I was doing. I learned grammar from Warriner's grammar book the night before I tried to teach it. I was bored by most of the stories in the literature text so we acted a lot of them out. I probably lost it with some kid 3 times a day and had an adversarial relationship with my principal who liked to listen into classes using the PA system without anyone's knowledge. My room had been an elementary classroom once upon a time so the chalkboard started at about my knees and went no higher than my chest. Smartboards, computers, and even VCRs were in the distant future. At least the teachers' smoking lounge was close by.

I did love directing the plays and coaching the other activities, but still I have been living for 40 years with the guilt of not being a good classroom teacher to those great kids.

But I had a visitor yesterday at one of the schools where I was helping distribute Chromebooks to middle school students. This nicely dressed man wearing the school's visitor badge saddled up to me and asked "Do you remember our Dirty Works in High Places?" Seeing my total confusion he introduced himself. "I'm Tim. I was one of your students at Stuart Menlo in the 70s. You directed the play Dirty Works in High Places. Remember?" If I had false teeth, they would have dropped on the floor. I indeed remembered Tim well since he was a star in our class plays and speech contests. I just didn't recognize him without the giant Afro hairstyle he sported back then. 

We had a nice conversation reminiscing about the good times and with him sharing videos he had made for a class reunion in which other students said they enjoyed being in the plays and what they learned in my classes. He followed up with an email that reads in part:

Not to keep repeating myself (this will be the last time, I think), please know that you were so loved as a teacher by me and by a great many of my classmates. I absolutely loved your class, because it involved being able to use my creativity in writing and in drama. You played a huge part in fostering that creativity in me, and for that I truly thank you! I truly enjoyed English class as well as Drama class, and to this day I am a grammar hound. (I only hope this e-mail doesn't disprove that in some way.) Also, you weren't one of those cranky teachers. It appeared that you loved what you did, and we loved being in your class because of it. Your great personality and generally-upbeat attitude were key factors. If there was something about those first two years of your career we should have picked up on, trust me...we didn't. This morning I was particularly touched by how you were touched after receiving this information when we talked. Thank you again for taking the time to sit and talk with me today!!

Tim, I was truly touched. You helped this old man dissipate 40 years of worry about his first years of teaching. 

Thank you for your kindness.

Blue Skunk readers, find a teacher who you liked and say "thanks." I guarantee you will make his/her day. Or year.

Drama Club, 1977-78 School Year

Wednesday
Sep052018

Teachers who can be replaced by computers, should be

I remember 1981.

I was a 1/2 time language arts teacher and a 1/2 time librarian for a 150 student junior high in rural Iowa. And 1981 was the year I got my first computer in the library - an Apple II. I used it with (as memory serves), AppleWriter and the MECC Gradebook. The principal used VisiCalc to calculate teacher salary proposals during teacher negotiations. The kids played Oregon Trail, Lemonade Stand, and Eamon after school. An inauspicious beginning to a career dominated by technology.

Professor Smith's prediction in the article above that computers in the classroom would kill literacy has not come true. His prediction that computers would replace teachers has not come true. (Although I still like to say that teachers who can be replaced by computers, should be.)

Today the same Cassandra-like warnings can be heard about computerized learning systems and AI and robots. I'd say the same thing: if what you do can be done by any one of these technologies, they should replace you.

As an educator, you are hired for your judgement, your passion, and especially your compassion.

Have a happy start to the new school year.