On Saturday I was honored to present the keynote address at the Michigan Connected Educators Un/Conference. Here are my thoughts I shared with the group.
I started teaching in January of 1995. This is who I thought I needed to be in the classroom and to some extent it was required. I took over a fourth grade classroom for a retiring teacher who had taken every Monday and Friday off the entire first semester. When I had been there eight days, it was the longest stretch of consistency these kids had had all year.
If I wasn’t being Sergeant Hulka from Stripes I was coaching like Bo Schembechler. I had high expectations. I was loud with very low tolerance. I expected my students to be exactly like I had been. Do what I ask when I ask it with few questions…It wasn’t very fun. I wondered how I would ever endure 30 more years of this.
In 1998 I faced what I figured would be a “make or break” task. I would be teaching a 5-6 split. I would have six 6th graders who all were academically gifted in one way or the other and seventeen fifth graders who hadn’t been selected for the previous year’s 4-5 split, primarily due to academics. How was I going to tackle this?
This is what I discovered when I started using project based learning with the sixth graders….primarily to keep them occupied while I tried to get my 5th graders ready for the state assessment….MEAP test. That approach overtook my teaching that year and by June all kids were working on all kinds of projects and learning together in so many ways. It also became one of my favorite years of my career. You can smile and cheer instead of bark and gripe when your kids are constantly engaged.
I have also discovered that everything we need to know about engaging learners is in an 80s movie somewhere.
I present to you the ultimate piece of educational technology. Just watch this trailer and think about how this phone booth does exactly what we want our technology to do. These guys have incredible access to primary sources and get to witness history. It is total immersion in content.
If you remember how the film ends, these two put on an amazing rock concert-like oral report. They had the tools to gather information and then presented in a way that expressed the learning through their skills as rock and rollers.
The next step is to value the time together. We can not monopolize the time. Jeff Spicoli actually makes a great point in the following clip from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Mr. Hand shouldn’t be the only one having all of the fun…if we can call it that.
There is probably a better way to set up a “feast on our time” though.
Kids love to the make stuff. It’s our job though to channel that energy into the right opportunities. Gary and Wyatt learned the hard way about being responsible with tools. Okay….this 3d printer might trump the phone booth for top tech honors but we are still talking about technology being used educationally! Weird Science brings one more thought to mind. Did these “two guys” grow up to the “Two Guys and some iPads” that host a fabulous Google Hangout on Tuesday nights and are augmented reality ninjas?
Kids love to mess with stuff…even back in 1983 they were monkeying with NORAD and its super sophisticated computer the WOPR. Then in 1986 a kid who looked a lot like the War Games kid was hacking his high school attendance computer so he could go to the museum and a Cubs game. Poor Ferris. He asked for car and got a computer. Talk about being born under a bad sign. But….he had Internet in 1986. That’s not all bad. I wonder if David Jakes ever bumped into Ferris’ principal Ed Rooney in any Suburban Chicago educational circles. Rooney could have learned a lot from Jakes.
One of the hardest concepts for me to get my head around was the idea everything cannot be the same for every kid. Adam Bellow mentioned it at MACUL, the idea of an IEP, or individualized plan for every kid.
So, here is your opportunity to do just that. Pick one character from the Breakfast Club: Bender the Criminal, Andrew the athlete, Allison the basket case, Claire the Princess, or Brian the Brain and design some engaging learning activities for them.
Here is the form:
Here are the responses readers are creating. Some are pretty awesome. Please pardon the ones from aspiring comedians.
The principal in Breakfast Club, Mr. Vernon, had required them to each write a 1000 word essay about who they thought they were. Here is the essay Brian ended up writing for all of them.
He is exactly right. Let us never forget that every student is a complex human being and we need to foster development of their whole being.
Get in there and dig around with the kids. Dean Shareski told at MACUL, “It’s not good enough to be the guide on the side anymore. Be the meddler in the middle.”
Make your teaching an excellent adventure and not a bogus journey.