Sunday, April 21, 2013

Top 10 Ideas

My top 10 ideas:

10:  Technology is just another tool:  Technology is not the be all and end all of education or teaching.  It is just a tool like the pencil, blackboard and overhead projector.  Technology must be used and implemented with a purpose.  Technology can increase our productivity, expand our reach, open up new worlds and even entertain us.  But, technology in and of itself does not make a compelling learning experience all by itself for very long.

9:  The physical school building and class room are not necessarily the best places to learn:  Tear the roof off and kick down the walls.  Most schools resemble prisons in more than just appearances.  Open up the world for your students.  Let them explore outside the classroom.  Bring the outside world into the classroom.  Build bridges to the world outside your classroom, the world in which our students will live the rest of their lives.  Students can learn a lot from interacting with people outside of school.  Teachers are not the only ones who can teach.

8:  Step back and take a look around.  Lift your head and look around you!  Most teachers have tunnel vision focused on our jobs and our students.  We need to force ourselves to step back reflect and observe the world outside our schools if we truly want to make our schools a better place to learn and work.  The industrial revolution is over.  The factory model has to change.

7: We can't teach in isolation: But most of us do!  Teaching is a lonely profession.  Most of us are isolated in our own little classroom usually a 30' X 30' space with 20 to 30 students and very little interaction with other adults.  We may eat lunch with other teachers but it's a 20 minute choke it down lunch.  When do we get to talk with other professionals in our own profession let alone talk to people in jobs outside of education or experts/specialists in the fields we teach.  Never, hardly ever?  We need to find time to get out and learn from others and recharge our own batteries.  

6: Make it real:  Relate it to the real world.  Kids can see through the act.  They need to know why they are being asked to learn something and the value it holds to them. Have your students focus on real problems/questions and new designs.  Let them own the process.

5:  The Hook:  You get about 10 to 15 seconds to get their attention.  If you don't it is going to be a long semester.  You have to have something the is going to grab their attention and give them some kind of a real interest in what you are teaching.  A problem or a task that grabs their attention and is repeated periodically through out the class to keep them focused on the outcome.

4:  Creativity; The key to keeping their attention:  Creating and designing a solution to the problem. (or related to the hook) is the way to keep their attention.  When students are allowed to design and create their own solutions to the problem they become captivated by the process.  They do the reading, they do the research, they do the writing and they create and design their own solutions to the problem.  The problem/product or question needs to be real. Not something made up for the class without a real application or demonstration.

3:  Public performance as the test:  Students need to be able to present their work in a public forum.  The teachers in box provides anonymity.  It's to easy to hide the garbage.  Provide students with a public forum to present their work.  Either a digital portfolio or a live audience.  My students work has improved dramatically since the whole world is watching.  

2: Take a chance / Opportunity:   To often we let opportunities pass us by.  Take a chance.  Try something new.  I'm so glad I did.  Know one in their right mind would agree to take 10 students have way around the world to search for missing airplanes from WWII, would they?

1: Passion:  Follow your passion.  The kids can see through people going through the motion pretty darn fast as can everyone else.  If your not loving it maybe you should find something else to do.  You'll never become financially rich teaching but I am happy sharing my passion for underwater robotics, World War II history and searching for missing aircraft.  Just think all this because of one phone call from someone else thinking outside the box.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2 Minute Moment 3

2 Minute Moment #3

The BentProp Project

Two minutes really isn't enough time to explain why this is a compelling experience for me.  As I stated in the video, before becoming a teacher I sent 20 years in the Army.  As a sergeant in the Army I was responsible for taking care of soldiers.  I feel that the U.S. has an obligation to take care of its military men and women.

All of us who enter the military know that we may be called upon to risk our lives.  That comes with the territory.  But, we also expect not to be left behind on the battlefield.  We expect that our buddy's will continue to fight for us and look for us if we become separated from our unit.  We hope that our country will honor its commitment to us and if we are lost or captured fight for our return.

I've been a member of the American Legion since Desert Storm and while the Legion is a veterans organization.  I feel that they spend the vast majority of their time lobbying congress and are not completely focused on the plight of POWs and MIA's.  What the Legion does is important but I wanted to do more so I joined the BentProp Project.

I feel that the mission is compelling.  To search for missing airmen in the Palau Islands.  While it is demanding and challenging work it is also rewarding.  I'm able to use my former military skills and training in a positive manner.  The work is ever changing and rarely boring.  Plus I get to scuba dive and work in some potentially dangerous and exciting situations.  Something I miss in my new career as a teacher.  The chance to travel and work with like minded individuals is also part of this experience being compelling.

The chance to spend time with WWII veterans and their families is also compelling and touching.  Just last week a 90 year old WWII veteran contacted me at school.  He was a B-24 pilot during the war and flew off of Anguar Island in Palau.  He heard about our work in Palau and he asked about a former pilot and friend of his who he watched get shot down over Koror, Palau in 1944.    The question he asked were the greatest questions all week in school.  The pilot he mentioned is in our records and I've actually seen part of his wrecked B-24.  We are still searching for members of that crew.

Being in BentProp is sometimes explained as kinda like being in an Indiana Jones movie.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Imaginative Bridges 12 - "Fashion"

Imaginative Bridges 12 - "Fashion"

Fashion creates a sense of belonging and of fitting in.  Most people and especially students want to fit in and be part of the group.  Dressing like others in the group makes you look like you fit in and helps to make you feel like part of the team.  You need to look the part to fit in and every team has a common uniform of sorts.

You see this in schools all the time.  Hell I think some kids join certain teams just so they can wear a jersey on game day.  High School Football is a prime example and certain classes within the school have adopted this same idea with varying degrees of success.   I've coached high school sports since I started teaching and most years the biggest decision the team makes it the design of the team Tee-shirt.  More kids are concerned about that than the sport itself.  They want and need to belong to something and the team Tee-shirt gives them that feeling of belonging, even if they never get to play meaningful minutes in the game.

You also see this with certain classes.  Yearbook, journalism, choir and others.  These classes become a team of like minded individuals and the shirt is their uniform and it gives them a sense of belonging.  You usually don't see this with the core classes though. Although before AP classes became a common occurrence/commodity in our curriculum I saw an AP calculus teacher try it.  Of course back then only about 8 or 10 kids a year would be in the class and it really meant something to be in the class.  Now most of our AP classes are dumping grounds for the above "c" students because our curriculum and class offerings have been gutted do to budget cuts.  Enough of the rant.

Kids want to belong to something that means something and gives them a sense of belonging and fitting in.  This is hard to create in core curriculum.  But, as I mentioned above certain elective classes do offer that feeling and sense of belonging.  I've tried to create that with my classes as well.  We do have a team shirt.  We wear it for pictures and use it as a marketing/give away item to thank people who have helped us out.

Team photo post card sent as a thank you note to our supporters

It doesn't even have to be a common Tee-Shirt as shown above it can be a way of dress.  Our class is often called on to give public presentations.  So dressing up to present as a group can also give a sense of belonging.  Getting kids to dress up is a little easier for girls I've found then for the guys.  But, eventually they begin to get with the program and dress up to be part of the team.  

Robotics class dressed up for an evening presentation at Sam's Tours
Creating a compelling educational experience with the help of fashion is possible.  In many ways.  First is creating the common team feel.  But it can also be in the design of the team shirt or uniform.  The main thing is that the students want to feel as if they belong and fashion can be away to make that happen.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Imaginative Bridges 11 - "Holding and Keeping Their Attention"

Imaginative Bridges 11 - "Holding and Keeping Their Attention"

When designing a compelling educational experience or class the "hook" is not enough.  Your "hook" will draw them in and give the students something to focus on but it is probably not enough to keep them focused for a week let alone a whole semester.

Students need to know where you and they are going.  They need to see the big picture and how it relates to them and their future.  How do we do that?  I start with the goal in mind and I show that to them early and often.  For my advanced underwater robotics class the goal is to design, build, test and then deploy and ROV 8,000 miles to the other side of the Pacific Ocean and then use it to search for missing aircraft from World War II.  A complex task for most adults.  I know.  I've done the same thing in the military and it's not easy, nor is it impossible.  The kids start from scratch.  A pile of parts and no funding.  They then come up with a plan to build the ROV and raise the funds to complete the project.

The target - Sonar image of our target
The "hook" or ROV is brought into the conversation everyday.  But, by the end of the class that is the smallest part of the whole class project.  It then becomes about raising money.  Then it is about testing their design in the pool.  Then it is about getting the word about their project out to the public and potential funders, then it becomes about the airplanes we are looking for.  And, then it becomes about the missing men and their families.  
Karly showing U.S. Ambassador to Palau Helen Reed-Rowe the view captured by the ROV.

In the end it is a huge accomplishment for these students to run this entire project with "NO" funding from our school district.  They get much more out of it than how to build a robot.  Hell we do that the first day of class as the initial "hook" to get them interested.  

Imaginative Bridges - 10 "The Hook"

Imaginative Bridges - 10 "The Hook"

The "Hook" is just as important to teaching as it is to music.  The teacher must develop a "Hook" to quickly grab the students attention.  We need something to draw the students into our lessons and our classes.  My hook is the robot.  I use it to draw students in and to keep their attention.  As you can see by my Venn-Diagram below it is the center of everything I teach and everything is related to the robots.

When presenting my projects, even before this class I have described the robots as the "hook" that draws the students in.  The class becomes about much more.  But, you've only got about 10 minutes at the beginning of the semester to grab their attention or you're going to be fighting to get it for the next eighteen weeks.

So, I grab their attention with the robot.  Then it becomes about the projects, and then finally it becomes about the outside world.  Whether that be the missing airmen we are looking for, meeting the president of a foreign country or a U.S. Ambassador.  The robot is the hook which allows me to teach even more than the STEM topics.  They learn about the politics or the Pacific Rim, World War II history, marine biology, oceanography and last week one of my students earned a paid internship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and another earned a $10,000 competitive scholarship to study marketing at
Northwood University.

It all starts with the "Hook."  But, then the real work begins.