Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Now, I'm lucky. I know many great educators, but today I visited with one of my all-time favorites: Justin Metz. Justin teaches vocal music in various classrooms, ranging from kindergarten to high school, for the Fargo, North Dakota School District. He's just in his fourth year of teaching, yet he kicks my 20-years-of-teaching butt when it comes to innovation in the classroom. Let me explain...
Justin is driven by a great love of music and people. He is committed to assisting EVERY student he sees to reach their potential---potential the student might not even see in him/her self. His brilliance and incredible musical talent enable him to create amazing learning activities for his classroom.
Justin teaches a class called "Adaptive Music." This is a course Justin designed for kids classified as severely or profoundly handicapped. "But I hate that word 'handicapped'," Justin said. "I'd rather say 'challenged." I immediately thought of Aimee Mullins' rant on her TEDTalk about much she hates the word disabled. Justin's rant wasn't quite so long, but it was comparable. (BTW...this is another reason I love him). Here is another:
Justin wanted to do something special with his adaptive music kids that would feature each child in a special way. So, Justin used his many gifts (and some terrific technology) and created a modified version of the great play The Wizard of Oz. It is an amazing piece of educational creativity, for Justin found ways to let each child shine. One boy who cannot speak played the Wizard and was given a button to push. Each time he pressed his button (on cue, of course), it would say, "No!"
"Can I have a heart, Wizard?"
Another girl in the class cannot speak, but she can manage four different buttons. So Justin wrote the script so that she had four different "lines" to "say." He recruited the assistant principal to narrate and invited friends, family, and other students to the final performance. They performed to a full room. After the show, "the wizard's" mother approached Justin in tears: "No one has ever done anything like that for my child." Wow. What a moment...it gives me goosebumps.
Thanks for the inspiration, Justin. You are an amazing educator!
Comments with Justin Metz
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
But neither my parents nor my teachers taught me how to protect my identity online, how to avoid adults who pretend to be your friend so they can harm you later, or what to do when tortured by a cyber-bully. And these are very real dangers my children face in 2011.
And the trouble is, many parents don't know how to teach these lessons. For many parents, the cyber-world is a foreign place of which they have minimum understanding. Asking them to teach their children how to be safe and responsible on the internet is too much for them.
We, as educators, must help. We must teach our students to operate safely and responsibly in this new place. And this may demand that we educate ourselves as well, for the cyber-society is new to many of us, too. Ignoring this complex landscape in which our children operate is not an option; we must dive in and learn what our children are doing and then learn how to keep them safe. Turning off the computer just isn't a realistic reaction: they will find a way, and a screen.
One piece of the teen cyber-life today is cyberbullying. My computer underlines it as if it weren't a real word, but it is VERY real. Recently I watched the movie Cyberbully starring Emily Osment with my teenage daughters. It was an excellent movie. It powerfully illustrated how the bullying kids suffer on social media sites can have serious consequences in a person's life, and I am SO glad I could discuss it with my girls, who face these challenges nearly every day. After the movie they shared posts and tweets they had witnessed...or suffered....in their lives. Wow. Painful and scary stuff.
Listening to my daughters' stories (OK...and a grad class requirement) inspired me to create a unit on cyberbullying for my school's advisor/advisee program. I don't know if we will implement it, but I am hopeful that something similar will evolve. I learned much creating it. And this lesson involves pieces for everyone: parents, teachers, and students. We all need to work together to protect our kids.
BTW...if you have not visited the wonderful website CommonSenseMedia.org, I suggest you do so. They have some wonderful curriculum and teaching materials all ready for those leading educators willing to tackle this brave, new world. Check it out and think how your school district can prepare your students. The world is not going to wait for us...we must catch it.
Olson's Cyberbullying Unit for Boone High
Google Presentation for Boone High Lesson: Cyberbullying
Photo courtesy of springstonschoollibrary.blogspot.com
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
This week, my classroom reflection involved the examination of how "infused" is technology in my classroom...similar to the TIM examination of last week. This week differed, for I had my students complete an evaluation form used by Shawn Holloway as he evaluates classrooms in his walk-through procedure. It involves a Google form with various statements, such as "Students are at the center of learning; the teacher is facilitating the process." Students checked all categories they felt were present in my classroom in the first half of the semester (for our midterm just occurred).
The results were surprisingly pleasant. Over 90 percent of my students felt my classroom was a student-centered place where I function as a facilitator, prompting them to look for answers but never flat-out giving it to them (despite their helpless acts). They also noted that the classroom is full of collaboration where students work on challenging work and with LOTS of technology. If fact, one student wrote, "I wish you'd stop pushing technology on us; I don't like it."
I did find areas of weaknesses, though, and these weaknesses I identified were also identified by my students. One weakness is that I don't give them enough choices. This is partly my fault, but my hands are tied in many ways by a district curriculum. And I am not the only instructor that teaches my courses, so if I go all "rogue" and do other things, it puts the other teacher in an uncomfortable position. After all, they wrote this curriculum and obviously value it. Rogue doesn't seem like a good option. However, I will work to find areas where I can build more student choice into the units.
Another area I would like to explore more effectively is project-based learning.
So here is the plan: my goal is to create a project-based unit in English 3B where students must identify a social issue they wish to address. This will be built on our study of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Just as Bradbury's character, Guy Montag, decided to take action on the ills he perceived in his world, so will my students. They will have to create some project that would raise awareness or promote action on this issue. It will need to have "real world" application. Perhaps it will be a letter to the editor; perhaps it will be a public service announcement, or maybe it will be a podcast available on our school website. But students must produce one project--and here I can infuse choice, too. They choose the issue; they choose the project; they choose the audience. This will, I believe, be step in the right direction. Choice and project-based. Baby steps, perhaps, but they are steps.
I'll keep you updated in my quest to build a classroom appropriate for the twenty-first century.