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Coursekit: An essential tool for engaged Professional Learning Communities

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Whenever I meet educators at EdcampNYC or engage in Twitter chats (#scichat, #edchat, #edtech, and #kinderchat are my favorites), I shake my first at the sky and say “Man, I wish there was a way to engage in a structured and collaborative Professional Learning Community with these people!”. I have similar needs during in-house professional development, Professional Learning Communities, and grade level meetings. By the time we’re really digging into a topic, it’s time to leave. There isn’t a central place we keep notes, action calendars, or resources. Engagement needs a place to live. This week, I’ve been experimenting with Coursekit – an engagement manager that’s useful for a variety of digital and in-house professional learning communities.

Coursekit has features we’ve seen before – gradebooks, a place to submit work, and calendars. The innovation is the focus on peer to peer interaction. The case studies on Coursekit’s website feature professors teaching hands-on classes in a university setting. As a primary educator, I am drawn to Coursekit because I can use it to support my Professional Learning Communities whether participants are at my school or the other side of the world. I’ve created a mock Professional Learning Community coursekit called “Professional Learning Community: Integrating Social-Emotional Content into K-2 Lessons“. I’ve left the coursekit open so anyone can join. Have at it! Pretend you’re a part of this learning community – post questions, links, and media.

Coursekit is free. Create your own and comment with the link. Do use Coursekit? Are you as excited about it as I am?

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BTW, I blog about Community Management now (and education too, LOLZ!)

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I’ve been in sick in bed for 6 days. After exhausting all of the “Sh*t _____ say” videos, I decided to clean-up my social media outlets. I found a post in the draft section of my dashboard: “2009 Resolutions: Work out. Blog more. Survive student teaching.”

Well, I survived student-teaching and 3 years of teaching in my own South Bronx classroom. I have a healthy approach to fitness – long Bed-Stuy walks and longer 5 boro bike rides. I’ve decided to change the focus of this blog so it’s a relevant place for me to facilitate meaningful conversations. My Classroom Management Plan on Scribd has over 20,000 hits and continues to start conversations about what it means to create lively intellectual, social, and activist communities in our classrooms. Community-building is the foundation of my professional practice. On the side, I’ve begun to engage in the world of Community Management. In the digital world, Community Managers are people who build and facilitate communities around brands and causes. Most think  social media is the primary focus of Community Managers. Like good teachers, good Community Managers foster meaningful collaboration amongst small groups of people. They help members build community norms and roles generate meaning and value for participants. From now on, this blog will focus on community-building from a teaching perspective, a digital perspective, and of course, an edtech perspective. Stay tuned, folks!

Written by TeacherC

16 February 2012 at 10:37 am

I don’t empower students.

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Last Friday, I met Donaldo Macedo (friend and collaborator of Freire) and listened to him give a talk about racial, ethnic, and class identities; xenophobia, and suffering in the United States. There were many things that struck me in the talk, but these words helped me understand myself and my role as a teacher:

It is dangerous when teachers say they empower others. If I have the power to empower you, I have the power to take away your power….We should give students enough critical tools to empower themselves. Through their own power they can come to voice. Empowerment involves pain and struggle.

Macedo put into words a feeling I have had for awhile. In terms of social justice, I am not responsible for the empowerment of my students. The very notion implies a flow of power that is not consistent with socioeconomic/political realities or social justice. As my science ed teacher says, “I can tell a student information, but I cannot tell them learning”. The same distinction is true of empowerment: I can give the students information, build mentor relationship that extends beyond their year in my classroom, and help them gain critical thinking skills, but I cannot give them power in our society. Learning and empowerment are both student constructions. If I try to take on my student’s process of empowerment,  I will burn out. It is impossible for me to lift children out of poverty, racism, classism, xenophobia, and the many other forms of prejudice and oppression that exist in too many realities. What can I do? I can think about the path my empowerment took and what paths theirs could take as young adults. I can create a classroom community that functions like a caring, student-centered learning lab, where students can experiment with their own power and learn how to “come to voice”. Just like learning, empowerment is a process of self and community-driven deconstruction and reconstruction. I think we need to stop using the term empowerment so lightly. It’s a life-sustaining process.

What do you think? Do you use the word “empower” to describe what you do in the classroom and/or why you do it? Am I being too heavy-handed here?

My classroom management plan on Scribd

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A few months ago I had to submit a classroom management plan for one of my graduate classes. As I’ve switched grades, had new classroom experiences, and read more information, I’ve tweaked my outlook. The first draft of my classroom management plan is on Scribd. I have seen a few educators post their plans and hope to see others do so as well. As I update my plan, I’ll post those drafts.

Elementary Classroom Management Plan

Publish at Scribd or explore others: How-to-Guides & Manu children learning

When is inequality constructive?

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In the Boston Review article Inequality matters: Why globalization doesn’t lift all boats (via thickculture), Nancy Birdsall clarifies the distinction between constructive inequality and deconstructive inequality:

Distinguishing between constructive and destructive inequality is useful. To clarify the distinction: inequality is constructive when it creates positive incentives at the micro level. Such inequality reflects differences in individuals’ responses to equal opportunities and is consistent with efficient allocation of resources in an economy. In contrast, destructive inequality reflects privileges for the already rich and blocks potential for productive contributions of the less rich.

I’m used to thinking about issues of inequality and social justice on the macro-level. Inequality of social, economic, and political opportunity is one of the reasons why I teach and advocate for the rights of children.  What about at the level of my classroom? When does inequality constructive or deconstructive in the context of pedagogies and learning environments? The most pervasive example of inequality teachers and administrators construct is grades. Although many schools try to make grades a reflection of how students are progressing on standards, the reality for many schools, is that grades both reflect and institutionalize tracks and hierarchies. Students with relatively higher grades have access to different pathways and resources than students who have relatively higher grades. There are different reasons why decision-makers at the classroom, school, and district level choose to have grades. In the classroom, I have noticed many teachers believe grades are an incentive structure: students and parents, on the whole, want higher grades rather than lower grades. Many are willing and able to change their behaviors to reflect this incentive.

Are grading I’ve seen examples of constructive or deconstructive inequality? On one hand, they are deconstructive because students are receiving marks on a scale without having access to the same academic and socioeconomic opportunities as their peers. Over time, students who fit into the culture of power and continue to have experiences that are valued by the school get higher grades, while students who do not have these opportunities get lower. The grades of students are compared and opportunities are doled out accordingly. This is deconstructive – the “potential for productive contributions” of struggling students is blocked. On the other hand, I have seen grading practices where the function and reason is feedback. When students are presented with qualitative and quantitative feedback about their performance, and have access to resources to improve, this feedback might alter micro-level incentives for them to engage in the process. This is more constructive  than the case given above because the quality of resources and environments we offer children are not a function of their perceived level in academic hierarchies. Other examples of inequalities we construct are our classroom management schemes. They often feature preferred behaviors paired to positive and negative consequences that change a students’ academic and social reality.

Constructive and deconstructive inequalities exist in learning environments. Teachers have control over some of these inequalities, especially classroom management and community building structures. Administrators have more control over grading, curriculum, and tracking. Students also create their own inequalities via social hierarchies that are based on perceived intelligence, beauty, and other factors. Although teachers do not have complete control over the inequalities that manifest themselves in a classroom space, when it comes to the choices we make, we have to ask: “Am I generating inequality? If so, is this inequality constructive or deconstructive?”.

What are your thoughts? Does this distinction hold or does it rely too heavily on capitalist constructions?

Podcaster workshop: What makes a good podcast? (part 1)

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Last week, I decided to start podcasting. Being the tech geek I am, I Googled the web for howtos, and quickly found the best freeware and (reasonably-priced) digital recorder. Now, my Amazon.com box is cracked open, and I’m asking myself hard questions about podcasting. What makes a good podcast? It seems like howtos for podcasting focus on what should come second -the tools of the trade, rather than what should come first – content.  If I’m going to create a podcast for listeners, or use podcasts in my classroom next year (both to deliver content and for student projects), good content has to be at the heart of my planning and execution.

Dan Meyer says it best:

Consider these three mediums, in increasing order of technical difficulty: blogging, podcasting, and vodcasting.

  • Successful blogging requires original thought, sturdy writing, and bloodthirsty editing.
  • Successful podcasting requires original thought, sturdy writing, bloodthirsty editing, and a command of the aural experience.
  • Successful vodcasting requires original thought, sturdy writing, bloodthirsty editing, a command of the aural experience, and a command of the visual experience.

In order to achieve the same communicative result, not only does the number of necessary skills increase across all three mediums but the editing process for each grows harder and vastly more technical, the difference between hitting the delete key in one and wielding Final Cut Express’ digital blade in the other.

What does it mean to have “a command of the aural experience”? Should I ship my digital recorder back to Amazon because my content is best conveyed via blog? I’m a big fan of writing workshop in my classroom. Students work through the phases of the writing process: immersion, collecting ideas, drafting, revision, editing, publishing, and celebration. I’ve decided to put myself through a podcasting workshop.

Now, I’m in my immersion process. In the classroom, I read texts by genre, author, or craft strategy. Then, I chart students’ observations about the texts, and we make an attribute chart. Over the past few days, I’ve listened to a variety of podcasts. I’m in the process of creating an attribute chart.

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When I started making the chart, I realized it needs a different layout in its final version to separate different podcast formats (two hosts w/no interviews, roundtable/multiple people, narrator and story/interview, etc). This chart is still a good way to get started. When I have listed all attributes, I’ll sort podcasts into type. To start an attribute chart, pick your favorite podcasts (or ones you think are noteworthy), and figure out which features are shared between the podcasts. The final steps are to figure out which common attributes I should include in my podcast and the “holes in the market” – attributes my podcast will have that others do not have.

Stay tuned for my completed and sorted attribute chart in part two of my podcaster workshop series. What are attributes you’ve noticed in your favorite podcasts? Are there holes in the market – attributes you think should be in some podcasts but are missing? Can you reccomend podcasts I should listen to and add to my attribute list?

Podcasts listened to: Science Friday Podcast (NPR), This American Life (NPR), Stuff You Should Know (Howstuffworks.com), various news podcasts (The Economist, BBC, CNN, etc), Rachel Maddow Green 960, SMARTboard Lessons PodcastWicked Decent Learning Podcast, Project Xiphos, Bit by Bit, and EdTech Weekly.

Written by TeacherC

3 April 2009 at 6:33 pm

Free Health Care Opportunity for Your Students

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Know students in your class who lack access to health care? Walgreen just announced that uninsured and unemployed families (with proof of unemployment) can receive treatment services at any of their clinics.

The Associated Press says:

Walgreen said patients who lose their job and health insurance after March 31 will be able to get free treatment at its in-store Take Care clinics for respiratory problems, allergies, infections and skin conditions, among other ailments. Typically those treatments cost $59 or more for patients with no insurance.

This article on Consumerist tells you where to find clinics, the hours of operation, and a cheap prescriptions.

Wal-Mart has a $4 prescription program (90 day prescriptions are $10). There are hundreds of prescriptions on the list – from antibiotic treatments to asthma medication.

Walgreen and Wal-Mart are offering amazing preventative care opportunities that could keep children and their families healthier. Spread the word.

Written by TeacherC

1 April 2009 at 6:04 pm