Tag Archives: Justin Aion

Wrestling with the Modern World

Sometimes I am convinced that the universe is sending me important messages to sort out. I am not sure if I am always up to the task of making sense of these meanings. In my last post I was wondering aloud about how to incorporate technology into my assessments in a way that made sense. I asked my Calc BC kids to wrestle with a tough problem about circles. The problem made much more sense (to me, at least) when I graphed it using GeoGebra. It allowed me to lock in on a region of reasonable solutions. I asked if anyone out there has logical ways to incorporate this newer technology during assessments. For years my students have come armed with TI calculators. Sometimes they know how to unlock its powers, sometimes they do not. Somehow, the world of GeoGebra and Desmos (and Wolfram Alpha, and and and) seems more dangerous or intimidating to open up to classroom assessments. I worry about how to evaluate my students’ progress when I do not know where/how they found answers. So, that’s one part of what is in my head now. I have struggled with cell phone presence in my school. A little background might help explain where I am. Eight years ago when we moved north I became involved with our local Unitarian Universalist church and I volunteered as a youth group counselor. I attended a number of weekend ‘Cons’ with our youth. One of the persistent messages at these events was that this was an intentional community that was being created for the weekend. The youth were urged to be present to each other and to the event. They were expected to put electronics away for the weekend and they were asked not to engage in public displays of affection. For the most part, they bought into these requests and the energy was palpable. Kids were engaged with each other, they were talking, singing, laughing. It was a fantastic, but exhausting, weekend environment. Just last week I visited a school and sat in on four classes and two assemblies while I was there and did not see one student (or one faculty member, by the way) staring at a screen in their palm or in their lap. Kids were present to each other, to their classes, and to their assembly speakers. I found it refreshing. In my school there is a gathering area right outside my classroom window and I often see two or three kids on one bench all staring at their phones. I know that this is my bias (maybe this bias belongs to others as well!) but I find this dispiriting. In my class, I tend to stand near the door to greet people as they come in and some of them are trudging through the halls staring in their hands and barely aware of those around them. I used to have to spend time getting my classes to quiet down at the beginning of class because they’d be talking to each other as they sat down. Not so much anymore. Again – I know that this is my bias here, but I find this a bit depressing. I try to utilize the language from my UU experiences and since I teach in an independent school I CAN invoke the idea that there is a choice made in being at our school. The reality though is that this choice is often the choice of parents and not my students. At the youth group it was much more a matter of choice by the youth engaged. So, after my school visit I was feeling that my bias was being confirmed and supported by the environment of the school I visited. Then my brains was rocked yesterday by Justin Aion. Justin blogs over at http://relearningtoteach.blogspot.com and his posts (nearly daily ones!) are a treat. I have also had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know him in person here at a workshop we hosted (run by the wonderful Jennifer Silverman) and at twittermathcamp this summer. He is as delightful in person as he is through his blog. Yesterday Justin wrote a pretty moving post (you can find it here) about cell phones and I want to try to address his points as a way to help me clarify my own mixed feelings. His final point is the most important (by the way – read his whole post, don’t just take my highlights!):

If the answers to my tests can be looked up on Google, are they really worth asking in the first place?

I want my students to be creating, to be evaluating, to be synthesizing information.  I want them forming opinions and interpreting answers.  It would be great if they could determine the circumference of a circle from it’s diameter.

It would be better if they could tell me which of the given answers is the most reasonable estimate.

A smart phone can’t make judgement calls.  They can’t interpret answers.

If a smart phone can answer my test questions, I’m asking the wrong questions.

I agree 100% with these sentiments. When I first visited my current school I saw a chapel presentation that completely won me over. It was one of the 4 or 5 major reasons why I am here. Our  Reverend addressed these ideas and won me over. I do not think that this is the real reason why I worry about cell phones or other connectivity issues on assessments or in my class. Justin writes passionately about students doing what he wants (needs?) them to do while still being connected electronically through their phones or their headphones. What troubles me is a persistent belief that I have that we all benefit when everyone is engaged in class. The student who is doing solid math while wearing headphones is depriving their classmates of a strong voice and they are depriving themselves of the opportunity to explain their own thinking or to hear the thoughts of their classmates. I believe SO strongly that learning ought to be social and interactive. Maybe I am just inflating any logical concerns about relating to each other but that is where my heart and my head are right now. I don’t know how to balance what I want, what my students want, what I believe is best for the group as a whole, and the needs of the individuals. I know that there is a sweet spot there and that it almost certainly varies by class – hell, even by time of day.

I have asked my students to have their phones on their desks this year. We know that they are in the classroom and I don’t want surreptitious use in their laps. I ask them to look up stuff, I recognize that some of them use their phone as a rudimentary calculator. I don’t pretend that these don’t exist and I want to encourage honesty and openness about their presence in the classroom. Some students have complied while others have not. I speak patiently (but consistently) with those who keep them in their laps and text friends during class.

I know that I want my students to interact and I believe that they do less of it when they are plugged in to their phone or their headphones. I want students to research and solve challenging problems and I know that they do less of that when they are not connected to the internet through their phones or tablets or laptops. I chaired a committee at our school that helped develop a 1 – 1 program in our middle school. That program should soon bubble up to our high school. I believe in technology. I do, I think it improves learning and depend understanding. I am jealous of my students when I get to display complex ideas with Desmos or GeoGebra because I am old and did not even have rudimentary graphing technology available when I was trying to learn trig and calculus. I cannot tell if my visceral reactions to cell phones is at all logical and I am trying to sort that out. Justin – thanks for making me think and making me uncomfortable. Anyone else out there reading this – please poke at me through comments or through twitter (I am @mrdardy) I want to sort through these conflicts. I want to create an environment that is meaningful for my students AND for me. I sometimes feel like the grumpy old man yelling at kids on the lawn (even though I don’t have my own yard!) even though I don’t want to believe that is me.

sigh… This stuff is hard.

Two conversations and a Blog Quote

Okay – so I’m thinking out loud here. Hoping some wisdom comes from this exercise and/or from brilliant comments by my dear readers.

 

Conversation #1

Working with my outgoing Calc BC group and I comment to one of my students that it’s a tough day for him. He’s on our swim team and they had a 6 AM practice Tuesday morning and a meet that afternoon. One of the other students – a member of our field hockey team – says that her team never ran sprints the day before a big meet. Now, it’s important to understand that our field hockey team has won’t he state championship three of the past four years. This student was a member her whole high school career. I take this opportunity and I ask her if she thinks that this strategy (don’t stress out your body the day before an important match) might be carried over to another realm. I am greeted by a quizzical look and I say ‘Maybe you should not cram the night before a big test.’ Another quizzical look. She asks if I am advocating not studying. I say that the daily diligence of regular work and studying is comparable to daily hard practice in field hockey. Then, relax a bit before an important match (or test) and maybe this is a formula for success. I don’t think that many of my students saw that as a winning strategy.

 

Conversation #2

I just observed a lovely Precalculus class taught by one of my colleagues. The class was working on a variety of word problems – coins, movie tickets, area/perimeter, etc. My colleague is a remarkably calm, zen-like fellow. He sat in a student chair the whole time (sort of invisible!) and asked one student at a time to come to the board. The rest of the class was attentive, offering help to their colleague and generally being cooperative and positive. The teacher kept asking nudging questions of the student at the board. “What do we want to find here?” “How can we relate the number of coins and the value of the coins?” etc. Being an observer in the class (and not stressing out about HOW to do the problems) I saw that my colleague was modeling for his students a lovely strategy for tackling these problems. If each student could play that conversation back in their head as they struggled with any problem, then they would see much more progress. They might still make mistakes, but they’d have a sound strategy for success. What troubled me – and I spoke with the teacher about it the next morning – is the fact that I KNOW that some of them will not ask themselves those questions. They won’t take his advice for attacking these problems to heart. I am not saying that all of our students need to mimc our behavior. What I am saying is that students who struggle, ought to feel that it is a lifeline that is being offered here. When I asked him about this the next morning, I told him that I was impressed by his careful teaching and modeling. His response was something along the lines of ‘I am a big believer in teaching. I just think it works better when learning happens.’ I really don’t think he was being mean or cynical. 

 

Quote

This morning, I awoke to another terrific blog post by @JustinAion over at his blog Relearning to Teach. If you are not familiar with his work, you should change that and visit him. Pay attention to his tweets as well. Life will be better. He closed out his post today with a powerful quote – “Even with everything I’ve seen, done and learned, even with all of the conversations I’ve had with other teachers, I still only feel as though I’m “teaching” when I’m answering student questions or going over examples.

I wish I could scrub that feeling.”

 

I think that I’ll walk away from my computer now and let these conversations and this quote marinate a bit. I know I have some questions, but I am not sure that I can ask them accurately enough yet.