Tag Archives: problem-solving

If today was 1989


I have to think that, for some very unconscionable reason, that a motive to be a high school teacher is that I really enjoyed my time in high school. I enjoyed the sports teams I played on, I loved my friends that I shared time with, and I can honestly say that the classes I took were fun (not all the time). I was blessed to grow up in the time and space of upstate NY where I was able to experience pretty much everything that I could have imagined.

Sitting around and playing with all the creative tools that make visual literacy happen in the world, I began to wonder what I could have done with such innovations such as the ipod, the smartphone, the laptop computer and it dawned on me that kids today aren’t really tapping the true potential of existing technologies for both academic and personal use. I am going back to 1989 and I’m going to show how these technologies could have significantly enhanced my teen years.

Here are some ways that the 1989 me would have utilized the 21st century tools:

1. love letters

I am assuming that email has replaced the love letter but that lacks creativity and imagination. I am wondering what teen boy with a crush on a girl has created the romantic powerpoint or prezi that shows they really want a date.

2. parent communication

I really want to go to that Bon Jovi concert or need $20 bucks to go see Pretty Woman with that girl I sent the awesome “love powerpoint” to. Prezi may work here to convince parents of the difficulties of adolescence.

 3. my friends

Facebook right. No, wrong. Friends require more effort. They require information and a personal touch that appreciates the time they covered for me when all the gin in Dad’s cabinet went missing or they are in a jam with the school bully.

That’s kind of lame I guess. Here are some other augmentations I would have made in 1989:

  • Instead of mixtape……play list to here my Vanilla Ice, Arrested Development, and Madonna, and Skid Row.
  • Evernote to run the 8,000 Sunday Errands my mother had me do like clockwork.
  • Slingbox to watch football while at my cousins horse shows and WKRP in Cincinatti
  • Flip video to refine my hitting in baseball
  • Twitter to really understand the events around the collapse of European Communism and Operation Desert Storm
  • Voicethread to ask girls out
  • Livebinders instead of Trapper Keepers
  • Youtube to get a laugh when ever a teen crisis kicked in.
  • Ebay to sell stuff if i needed some quick cash to shop at Chess King.
  • Google maps to find carnivals in the region to hone my skills at winning stuffed animals.
  • How Stuff works to get better at playing pool in my friends house or to distill my own spirits.
  • Shaving, typing, and spanish speaking tutorials
  • Self defense training
  • Visual and data collection for use in competitive swimming and Bell Biv Devoe analysis
I’m sure there are more but I have to get back to my wife and kids in 2011.


Tutorials to the Rescue

Due to Thailand’s flooding situation, we lost an extensive amount of face to face time with students. The situation called for the implementation of e-learning in the virtual environment through various containers and communication devices. The results were at most mixed but it became clear that many students were uprooted or disconnected leaving them with little or no prospect for learning.

A still image from Tagwatchai Saengthamchai's "Blue Whales" cartoon.

Upon returning it became abundantly clear that this situation necessitated some thoughtful reflection and I was happy to see that I wasn’t alone in in my assessment of the effectiveness of e-learning. By and large the positives are far reaching in showing the critical nature of self-directed learning. As a school, too much emphasis is placed on the face to face time as being teacher driven. I would assume that the students who benefited most from e-learning were those who have already adopted and been exposed to 21st century learning. If anything this experience should support that 21st century learning principles are essential to any program committed to developing a generation able to navigate resources, achieve independently, and seek advocacy. The negatives are that not all teachers/parents believe in these principles, ignore the realities of modern education’s role in developing learners, and avoid the responsibility altogether.

As the HOD, I emphasized to the social studies dept. the need to transform assignments into more meaningful tasks that can be extended and modified to fit individual situations. Readings and content may be easily digested but the gradeable activities should have a more metacognitive focus. I myself used blog entries as the medium for turning in tasks. Our reliance on video and external web resources should facilitate narrowing the gap between those engaged over the hiatus and those disengaged. There are a number of realities to consider here as some parents will use this experience to make excuses for student achievement (or lack of) and more likely or not students will do the same. I am inclined to believe that many teachers will turn around in the next 8 weeks and do nothing but lecture in order to “catch up.” This would be the exact opposite of what we should be doing in the classroom. The face to face time is now more crucial than ever and now students can effectively peer review, dialogue on the learning process, and problem solve. There is an opportunity here that must be acknowledged. Instead of a catch up mind-set, embrace a management concept that meets the requirements of the curriculum and the needs of the individual student.

I see this is an opportunity for us as school to decide what is the single most important thing we do as a institution of learning and focus on that singularity. My specific thoughts are that the quantity should not be the question addressed but the quality of the time we have face to face. I would be most critical of two important indicators: teacher communication with students throughout the ordeal and what methods teachers utilize to bring them back into the fold.

YouTube Preview Image

We are addressing the situation in the IB Psychology Course by constructing tutorials using screencasts. All students have been assigned a specific outcome from the syllabus and have been asked to design, execute, and share a 8-10 minute screencast on their specific outcome. The steps I’ve outlined are as followed:

Step 1. Research
Step 2. Organize & Curate their data
Step 3. Sketch an approach/storyboard
Step 4. Filter enhancements
Step 5. Do a one minute practice screen cast on a subject in psychology of their choice.
Step 6. Share their one minute screen cast with 1-2 others for feedback. Share their ideas as well
Step 7. Produce the screencast
Step 8. Share

These finer points were found at The School Library Journal:

Fast Tips

  1. Keep it short & concise.
  2. Credit licensed media as you go.
  3. Choose a generic file format. (Not all hosts accept Flash)
  4. Offer iPod versions.
  5. Consider using captioning to offer subtitles or translations.
  6. Add your brand/logo to title slides.
  7. Remember the 100 MB limit of most hosts.
  8. Reduce file size by only recording an area of your desktop.
  9. Post your screencasts on Facebook & other social sites.
  10. Have fun!

Finishing on a High Note….

My project/unit plan for my course final is a very basic research assignment that asks students to explore a topic of interest and develop a systems-based understanding of how that topic of interest has changed in the last 30 years. I have taught world history for 15 years and absolutely love the systems history approach as it allows for a deep understanding of the connections between people and ideas, their geography, and other people. I also chose this project because it is at the end of a modern world history course and very rarely do most history classes (except for token “current events” days) ever address recent or contemporary change. Like MTV or Reality TV.

The research process is the key here and ninth grade students are expected to establish research skills along a continuum with their senior year demanding extended essays or English papers. I have embedded opportunities to practice search skills, visual literacy, organization, content-analysis, and ultimately presentation/design elements. My students will be constructing a slideshow with exactly 15 slides that change every 20 seconds, a presentation technique referred to as Pecha Kucha (pronounced “pa-kach-ka”) . After five minutes the audience will have heard a research based “story” about the last 30 years that demonstrates understanding of systematic change. We will employ a PERSIAN chart for their research plan, video examples, and ultimately a tool box of appropriate terms used specifically by social scientists. The assignment will be be four class periods with one class for presentation. Rubric link is embedded into the lesson plan:



Well, after two months of exploration, organization, and autonomous thinking about the craft of teaching and what is happening, I am left with a number of very real questions and dilemmas about the systems we still use to educate young people.  If I trace the genesis of my beliefs regarding education I end up with the birth of my son (and two years later, my daughter) and the very real concern that I (still) have that he is allowed the freedom to learn and grow socially with other members of his cohort. That my children are able to think critically about the world around them and that direct instruction in skills will be made available along with the opportunities to shape their own learning. This course is a beginning in allowing me to facilitate a change in mind set: that education is a journey employing all the senses and brain functions in order to understand and shape our environments. It never stops. Our focal point as educators is the tendency to be age-restrictive (roughly ages 4-18) and that preparation is the paramount responsibility. I think this is a very narrow view of teaching and in general ignores the real roles of teachers (which are approximately 23 different roles).

Blogging is great because I get to say what I want.  Current teachers must consider collaborating on a regular basis, consider upgrading stale and disengaging curriculum, and above all stop complaining. I hear so many teachers complain about so many different matters that it is very uninspiring and difficult to be collegial. Current parents need to be much more engaged and informed on what is happening in their children’s class rooms. Know the curriculums and question when they appear stale or lacking in 21st century skills. Administrators must be involved as well in evaluating classrooms and begin to push their schools in a progressive direction that emphasizes higher level skills, rigor, and pride.

My favorite excuse for not keeping up with the times is “I am a traditionalist.” (whatever that means) I literally throw up in my brain. All I can promise is if my son or daughter ever has a “traditionalist” for a teacher, all I can promise is that it will be one very long year and they better get used to seeing my face. I read Nurture Shock;  plus, I know how the brain learns.