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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Work for love, Learn from Experience



As educators, we must observe the world using the scientific method and always willing to glean knowledge for how we may be better teachers. Today I'd like to give you two inspiring stories from some blogs I read.

Innovators work for love, not money

Anne of Anne 2.0 says

"radical innovations are only going to come from people doing their work for love and not money, because the risk-reward ratio is not on their side."
She comes at it from the context of research into innovation and entrepreneurship from an article entitled "Economics rediscovers entrepreneur" in the Economist this week.

How it applies to education?

I agree too, that radical innovations in education come from people who do their work for love and not money.

You can buy someone's presence in a chair for money, but you cannot buy their spirit, their enthusiasm, and all of the creativity that person embodies. That is what education has lost by emphasizing only salaries and not working condition, student discipline, and empowerment of the individual teacher.


With technology, experience is the best teacher

Jason Kottke, web designer, talks about some time he took to listen to a friend who makes custom wedding dresses. (I think listening is important!) His friend says that she's learned that the heavier women tend to get heavier as the wedding approaches and the thin women tend to get thinner, it is all about how they handle stress. Jason then goes on to make this insightful statement:

"Aside from how general a statement you can make about relation of the stress/eating/weight factors, the fact that she's able to accurately size dresses based on this simple rule is another reminder of how misleading it can be to rely on asking people about their potential behavior."

Jason goes on to say that is why he designs better websites by watching people use prototypes than by asking them what they want.

How it applies to education?
I have found that when I have something new, like wikis, I don't ever explain and ask students "Would you like to do this?" Students don't know what they want and it is not cool to admit that they want to be challenged and learn. Usually kids have to groan and moan, but secretly they will be thrilled that they are being pushed beyond their limits.

If a new technology tool fits in with what we already know about good education, we must be willing to attempt it, tweak it, and evaluate it. We must use it and watch the students to evaluate the tool.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for research-validated tools. However, a tool doesn't get on the list to be researched until someone has used it first. Which comes first the tool or the research? Chicken or egg?

How do I find to attempt a new tool when I have so many objectives to accomplish?

1- Start quickly - your day, your week, your semester. Be ahead!

I'm a "frontloader" for lack of a better term.
I am very goal and objective driven-- I dive very quickly into my subject and move at a rapid pace. I teach as the bell rings (and sometimes before.) Then, when we complete the goals of the day or of the semester, I have time to explore, experiment, and enjoy the learning process as I enrich and build on the knowledge base they have acquired in my class. By starting quickly, it gives us the freedom of not being behind. That is how I find time to utilize new tools and evaluate things.

2- Add more, never be complacent!

Every year I cover new material and add more to what I taught last year. I also use new tools. It is interesting when kids from "last years class" are in my room working on other projects, they often say, "Mrs. Vicki, you didn't teach us that last year. When are you going to teach us that?"

As I become a better teacher, I learn what works and I use it. I also learn what is a dead end and I use another tool. Do more, be more, stretch. It is so invigorating! We should become more efficient and better at this and be able to cover just a little more than last year!

3 - Don't drown the important in a sea of urgency.

Also, we must discern the difference between urgent and important. Sometimes a teachable moment is birthed out of the clear blue, at that time I must savor it and teach with all of my heart for such a moment is a gift and is to be used wisely. At those times, nothing is more important than utilizing the teachable moment for I am then connected with the innermost mind of my students.

The Importance of Getting Sidetracked for a purpose: Web 2.0 discussion
Today, as we were discussing XHTML, the Web 2.0 phenomenon, databases, etc., my computer science class had a group class epiphany for lack of a better term. They got excited. One girl said something like this.

So, Mrs. Vicki, I love fashion, but all of the fashion magazines are written by 'old people.' I want to hear about fashions from other teens. So, you're saying I can blog and write about fashions for teens and others. There is nobody doing this yet? I can do that?


Yes, I said, you can! Another girl chimed in,

"All of the adults I know ask me how to dress because they don't trust the magazines. I can use that and it is something that people would want to read? I would read it!"
Yes! A big old boy of a hunter in the group said,

"So I can have my friends and I who like to hunt and fish and we can use our GPS to note where we get the big fish and game. If we knew how to use API's we could merge that information in with Google Earth and have a Mashup. That would be cool! Then we could see the best places to hunt but also be careful not to overhunt or fish!"
Yes!

They went on to talk about how they can share their faith, their hobbies, their knowledge. They realized that knowledge from teenagers is an asset, a commodity that is largely untapped.

Teenagers up until this point haven't had a voice. Today, they realized that they do! I hope that it changes their lives! I hope they see the potential and don't sit back later and play "coulda shoulda."

Take time for the important, learn from watching kids do, and work because you love it. Innovate because you love it. And always teach because you love others!


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