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DABA: Andrew Watt

[I’m reviving my Blogs That Deserve a Bigger Audience (DABA) feature. If there is a blog that you think should be featured here, drop me a note.]

CrimsonMegaphone01Today the Crimson Megaphone goes to Andrew Watt. Andrew is a history teacher at a small private boarding school in northeast Connecticut. He also is a level 1 USFA-certified foil coach, a NOLS-trained outdoor educator, and Chair of the Commission on Professional Development for the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools. I’ve been reading Andrew for a long time. His blog definitely deserves a bigger audience.

Blog: http://andrewbwatt.wordpress.com/

Twitter: www.twitter.com/andrewbwatt

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603849193

Here are excerpts from 5 of Andrew’s posts to get you started…

The Mountain & Me

It is then that I realize that the girl is not having difficulty climbing because she’s tired, or slightly on the large side.  She is having difficulty because she is acrophobic, and she is now two thousand feet above the surrounding countryside.

It doesn’t matter that there is a solid mountain of New Hampshire shist and quartz underfoot.  It doesn’t matter that there is a crowd of people around us at all times.  She is small, and afraid, and on top of a mountain.

Oh, and we are alone

I taught an acrophobe how to climb a mountain today, and how to come down again.  One step at a time.  In some ways it’s a wonder that either of us is still alive.  In other ways, it’s how we always teach – one step at a time up the mountain, and one step at a time down.

Sometimes the students take the lessons to heart quickly, and sometimes they absorb them slowly.  Sometimes they run on ahead and leave us behind so rapidly that we’re still catching our breath.  And sometimes?  Sometimes you’ve got to be the crutch, all the way up.

And all the way down.

I’m a Vested Interest

as my friend pointed out, those things that I’ll accept and those that I won’t allow make me a vested interest.  I’ll fight tooth, nail, and claw to keep certain rights, push back against others, and expect radical change - as long as it does not really inconvenience me, wreck my tenure, or my pension, or damage my seniority.

That makes me a vested interest.

What Teachers Do

There is a strong desire to re-make American education from the top down, and the laws and grand grant programs of the last decade seem uniquely suited to carrying out that vision.  The “little people” who stand in the way of that vision are going to be rudely pushed aside for a little while as those forces push for the logical conclusions of the programs.

But the other side of the coin is the real problem.  We aren’t about to get some new educational plan out of all of this.  There isn’t going to be some new tech-based teaching style and there isn’t going to be a massive shift to a new, progressive creativity-based approach in the classroom, with a lot of innovation in the classroom, and a lot of effort to institute change.

Because a lot of teachers just got scared for their jobs.  A lot of teachers just got put on notice that they can’t negotiate, and they can’t argue, and they can’t dawdle or delay or fight back, even though they can’t afford to toe the line.

The Three-Fold Web

It’s not enough to teach kids how to use the web.  We also have to teach them how to use books, as well.  We have to teach students how navigate between multiple sources of information – some digital, some paper; some secondary, some primary, some tertiary; some books, some magazines, some weblogs.  We have to teach them to express themselves in multiple modalities: giving up authorship control on wikis, claiming opinions for themselves on blogs, arguing formally in papers, chatting informally in podcasts, reporting impartially in newspapers, creating beauty in graphical displays; and standing up to present what they know in a way that showcases confidence, intelligence and poise.

And that means that I have to think of each student as enmeshed in a Three-Fold Web.

Setting Targets

one of the points that he makes is that it’s not enough to teach kids to think critically.  And it’s not.  I’ve been trying to get my kids to think critically for years, but that means observing the process of my own critical thinking – which is harder than licking your own neck.

I also asked Andrew to participate in 5 Questions

1. Besides your own blog and Dangerously Irrelevant, what are 3 blogs that you’d recommend to a school administrator that’s new to the education blogosphere?

Andrewwatt2. What’s something that recently caught your attention from your personal learning network, RSS reader, Twitter feed, etc.?

I think the big thing that I see is that the teaching profession is starting to be "in-flux" in the same way that the recording industry started being in flux ten years ago, and the newspaper business started to be in flux three years ago.  I meet teachers all the time now - both at my school and at conferences and in transit between other things - who are losing their jobs, or having to shift schools because their old school is undergoing re-assignment (magnet school to STEM school, STEM to magnet, public to charter etc).  I don’t think schools are going to look like they do now in as little as five years, and the stuff that I see coming out of Clay Shirky, Dangerously Irrelevant, Seth Godin, Weblogg-ed, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, TeachPaperless, and The Tempered Radical suggest that teachers need to start thinking of ourselves as entities that may be teaching in five years, but disaggregated - that means fired - from traditional school environments.

3. What does ’21st century teaching / learning / schooling’ mean to you?

Increasingly, I think there’s a divide between those three things — teaching, learning and schooling.  Teaching is what I do in the classroom, which is to try to impart an information-set to a group of students.  Learning is what I and my students do together, in a digital environment.  And schooling is all the rest of conveying social norms — don’t fight in school, don’t grab a girl’s private bits, this is how you play lacrosse, this is how you set a classroom or conference room in order at the end of the school day, and so on.  I do a lot more schooling than I’d really like.  I do think that the students who come to me are arriving less-prepared every year.  I used to be able to assume some knowledge of ancient Greek myths in my classes, and an understanding of writing basics, and some literary exposure.  It’s proving less true, and I do think that 21st century learning has to cater to an audience more influenced by movies and games and television than books and newspapers.

4. What is a special learning experience you had when you were in elementary or secondary school? What made it special and memorable?

My mother recalls that when I was in second grade, she was called to a special meeting.  A teacher had given a quiz on the federal government, and many students had done very poorly. There was outrage and anger, because the teacher had given the quiz without providing any information ahead of time.  The meeting was an opportunity for the teacher to explain that it was a pre-test, to find out what students already knew.  A woman sitting next to my mother leaned over and said, "only one little boy knew all the answers.  Your son.  Why is that?" And my mother, startled and slightly unnerved, said that her uncle worked in Washington DC, and had hosted me for a long weekend as a visitor and guest, and had taken me to the Smithsonian and the White House and the Capitol.  I remember the trip, and the places, but not the quiz, of course. On another occasion, when I was in fifth grade, I was recommended to a special science program, and I and another boy from my class got to spend a weekend at a mountain-top astronomical observatory run by the state department of education.  We stayed up all night to watch the stars, learn the constellations and see the planets, and observe the moon through a telescope.  In a dark basement room, we got to watch one of the first lasers available to students shine its red light through a cloud of chalk dust.  A lot of my best educational memories are along those lines - unusual places and events in locations far distant from home, where experts taught me something new that I might need for the life that was ahead.

5. What impacts do you think ubiquitous wireless broadband Internet access would have on us?

I think that I’m already carrying the Library of Alexandria around in my pocket thanks to an iPhone and an iPad.  Even without internet access on it, I carry around about 600 books in Stanza, Kindle software, and iBooks.  If I had an SD chip reader that worked with either device, I’d carry around 5000 or so, just to demonstrate the power of this kind of device: an entire school library in the space-equivalent of a 3-ring binder!  This kind of always-on firehose of information is seductive to students. I spend far more time policing Appropriate Use issues than I’d like, even in a class where they’re discussed regularly and openly.  Yesterday a kid was watching a replay of a baseball game, two others were playing a game, and two more were "wandering vaguely", to use A.A. Milne’s prescient description of web-surfing.  This is a class of seven kids! I think lecture-based learning is dead, unless we start including meditation and focus and willpower exercises in grades as low as 1.

Thanks, Andrew, for all that you do!

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5 Questions: Lucy Gray

[This is a new feature here at Dangerously Irrelevant, meant to help us get to know some edubloggers a little better. If you’d like to be featured sometime, drop me a note.]

LucygrayName: Lucy Gray

Blog: http://elemenous.typepad.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/elemenous

Facebook: http://facebook.com/lucygray

Besides your own blog and Dangerously Irrelevant, what are 3 blogs that you’d recommend to a school administrator that’s new to the education blogosphere?

1. What’s something that recently caught your attention from your personal learning network, RSS reader, Twitter feed, etc.?

Possible changes to Ning have caught my attention recently on Twitter. It was fascinating watching the reaction unfold over Twitter. And it was enlightening to discover all the alternatives to Ning. One tool I’m interested in learning more about is Bloomfire; Clayton Christensen is on their team interestingly enough.  I’m also just hearing about TEDxVolcano and I’m wondering how that turned out. I’m a fan of all things TED in general.

2. What’s something exciting that you’re working on right now?

For my current position I’m working on aligning digital resources to our science curriculum. In my copious spare time, I am working with Steve Hargadon to plan an online virtual conference on global education that will hopefully happen in November!

3. What is a digital technology tool that you can’t live without (and why)?

My iphone…It carries all my content and lets me capture interesting things and moments in my life with its video camera and still camera. Because of the plethora of apps, it’s many digital tools wrapped into one device!

4. What does ’21st century teaching / learning / schooling’ mean to you?

21st Century education means to me that we focus on the  preparation of kids to be fully participatory in the world. There is no reason that kids can’t reach beyond geographical boundaries to interact with other, share knowledge and to think critically about real world dilemmas. It means that we are empowering students to take control of their learning to truly reach their collective potential.

5. How do (or would) you respond to someone who says ‘The kids know more about technology than I do. How do I handle this?’

I would reassure him or her that that’s okay, that the universe is not ending, and and would encourage this person to look at kids as a resource for their own learning!

DABA: José Vilson

[I’m reviving my Blogs That Deserve a Bigger Audience (DABA) feature. If there is a blog that you think should be featured here, drop me a note.]

CrimsonMegaphone01Today I am awarding the Crimson Megaphone to José Vilson. José is an educator, writer, poet, web designer, and activist. He has one of the most distinctive voices in the education blogosphere. His blog definitely deserves a bigger audience.

Blog: www.thejosevilson.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/thejlv

Facebook: www.facebook.com/thejosevilson

Here are excerpts from 6 of José’s posts to get you started…

The Education Boogey-Men

the general conversations in education scare me. Deeply.

Some of these conversations make even the most seasoned administrators shake in their boots and question their own thought process, the most veteran and professional teachers more apprehensive about their pedagogy than they already are, and the most brilliant and inquisitive students feel like their whole spaces have no true security. The people we often refer to – the collective “they” – serve more as boogeymen than actual leaders of a people. We can name names like Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, et. al., but the minute they move, someone will eventually fill that position with more of this anti-people rhetoric. Furthermore, while these ladies and gentlemen attach their legacies to this work, there are hundreds of others behind the scenes who supplement these ideas, even unwittingly.

Frank McCourt and The Whole Teacher Respect Issue

A part of me feels that those of us in social services ought not to delve too deep in the realm of stardom as it detracts from the constituents you’re trying to serve. Yet, a larger part of me says that it’s about time teachers stop being relegated to fairy-tale movies, political ads, and instructional videos. All three of these forms of the teacher image do nothing more than limit the dimensions of the spheres of influences we have.

On The Reason Why You May Only Get One Black Male Teacher Ever In Your Life (If At All)

Many teachers of all races, backgrounds, sexes, and ages have come in the classroom and proven effective facilitators of learning for urban youth, and to a certain extent, that’s true. And if the children is learning (I know what I wrote), then I admit there’s much to be gained there. I love that so many people are concerned about the plight of urban youth that they’re this open to talking about it and making a difference in a field that really needs teachers regardless of background. Plus, I get that there needs to be a diversity of experiences for everyone, as they have to survive in the same world that everyone else does. A small part of me also thinks who better to teach urban youth the tools needed to survive in a predominantly White country than … White people.

But I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t disturbed by the lack of representation of Black / Latino males as teachers.

The Vilson Manifesto

this is why I teach: not only is this a job for me, but it’s an understanding that I’ll pay forward what I’ve been given. There are teachers in our system who are case studies for the retraction of tenure, but the teachers I’ve had by and large not only made me the man I am, but gave up so much of themselves to be figures of inspiration for me. I did my end, working hard to achieve the heights I did, but when I got out of line, they disciplined me. When I needed the encouragement, I got it and tenfold. I remember their ability to make me feel like everything I had to say was important, and my thoughts mattered, and for someone with the aforementioned history, it means a million.

A Synopsis of the Road Less Wanted

Many of these children don’t really have a disorder, and it’s been proven that if you just talk to some of these kids like human beings, those disorders start going away. And even if they’re not getting mistreated for some disability, they’re getting mistreated in the classroom. Some people who don’t belong near a classroom but see the value in looking like they’re making a difference let their inherent classism and racism shine brightest and thus build mistrust for an education for kids who need it.

Whereupon I Might Encourage Bodily Harm to a Teacher

“He says we’re stupider than dogs.”

Say what?

“He said he can teach a dog quicker than he can teach us.”

My eyes probably went from an off-white glow to a bright-red blaze. Infuriated that any teacher would try to academically dehumanize students who I’ve had for years and known to be fairly astute, I envisioned pounding this imaginary teacher’s face in for kicks. I’m a peace-loving man and I’ve never met this teacher, but when we can’t differentiate between a student’s acts and a student’s humanity, that pushes me over the edge.

VilsonI also asked José to participate in 5 Questions

1. What’s something that recently caught your attention from your personal learning network, RSS reader, Twitter feed, etc.?

The biggest thing that’s caught my attention is that these students, whether extroverts or pretend extroverts, want desperately to find solutions for their classes and for the system as a whole. They’re looking to share as much as possible about the things they work for them, but without pretense or prejudice. It’s not just political talk; it’s about the pedagogy, and that’s awesome.

2. Besides your own blog and Dangerously Irrelevant, what are 3 blogs that you’d recommend to a school administrator that’s new to the education blogosphere?

3. What’s something exciting that you’re working on right now?

Right now, I’m working on advocating for the increase in racially underrepresented males (i.e. Black / Latino / Asian men) in the teaching profession. I’m also working within my school to synthesize and clarify the role of the math teacher in the next 4-5 years. As part of the Teacher Leaders Network, I’m seeing my work in the lens of local and national teachers.

4. What is a special learning experience you had when you were in elementary or secondary school? What made it special and memorable?

I’ve had plenty of learning experiences that I appreciated. My favorite one was reading "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry". As someone who didn’t really understand the racial divisions that existed and still exist, the book and the proceeding discussions planted the seed in me to examine those and fight for equity in this country. Part of that was becoming a teacher. (Though I teach math, and not ELA).

5. How do (or would) you respond to someone who says ‘We’d be moving forward if it weren’t for the standardized tests.’

A part of me feels like we need standardized tests. It’s hard to measure and compare our students as a whole if we don’t have assessments that measure specific items we’d like students to learn by a certain time. I do have to say, however, that our focus on standardized tests has been to the detriment of schools. The lack of diversity in equitable and sustainable models for examining student knowledge has limited the ability for all schools to push their students into this century as thinkers. Students can’t critically think if they’re just taught to manipulate multiple-choice questions and give a "proper" answer for an open-ended question.

Thank you, José, for all that you do!

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5 questions: Steve Dembo

[This is a new feature here at Dangerously Irrelevant, meant to help us get to know some edubloggers a little better. If you’d like to be featured sometime, drop me a note.]

DemboName: Steve Dembo

Blog: www.teach42.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/teach42

Facebook: www.facebook.com/teach42

1. What’s something that recently caught your attention from your personal learning network, RSS reader, Twitter feed, etc.?

Lately, I’ve been very focused in on the iPad, and many people in my PLN have shared some interesting insights with respects to it.  It has become a tangible representation of so many polarizing issues, from 1:1 initiatives, to digital books (textbooks and otherwise), as well as the role of technology in education.  While only a few are doing the exploring, the initial comments create conversations that ripple outwards, increasing in size and momentum as more and more people chime in.

2. Besides your own blog and Dangerously Irrelevant, what are 3 blogs that you’d recommend to a school administrator who’s new to the education blogosphere?

3. What is a digital technology tool that you can’t live without (and why)?

The iPhone.  It has truly become my digital hub for an incredibly diverse number of things.  I use it to read and respond to emails, both work and personal.  I use it to manage my various calendars and to wake me up in the morning while traveling.  It entertains me through movies and music, as well as serving as an e-reader in a pinch.  I take notes on it, set reminders, and store my passwords there.  I use it to log how many calories I consume each day and it connects to my shoes to keep track of how far I run (and have lost 25 pounds thanks to these two).  While away from a WiFi network, I use it to provide internet to both my laptop and iPad.  It keeps me connected to my instant messenger while away from my computer, and provides me with easy ways to keep up with Facebook and Twitter.  It is my news reader, my digital camera, and digital photo album.  I have ordered books with it and played music on it.  I am playing Scrabble-like games with 15 people right now.  It is my mobile reference stations as well as entertainment console.  It is a distinct pleasure watching my son practice his letters, numbers, shapes and colors through the games I have provided him. /  / Oh yeah.  And it makes phone calls too.

4. How do (or would) you respond to someone who says ‘The kids know more about technology than I do. How do I handle this?’

I’d say that’s a wonderful problem to have.  The key to remember here is that just because one knows how to use a application, program or piece of hardware, doesn’t mean they know how to do so effectively.  When to use and when NOT to use it.  What students may have in natural aptitude, they lack in experience. They may be experts at social networking, but don’t know where to draw the line.  They may know how to edit video, but not how to use it to tell a compelling story.  They may know how to create a Powerpoint, but not communicate their learning effectively.  The main thing to keep in mind is that there is much more to an exemplary use of technology… than just the technological aspects of it.   /  / Educators don’t need to have more technical skills than the students.  They need to be able to guide them into effective usage of those skills.

5. How do (or would) you respond to someone who says ‘Students have to learn the basics first. Only then can they work on 21st century skills.’?

In some sense I agree, but only to a point.  The issue is when students are being directed to a point that the instruction becomes a shell that students are unable to break out of.  For example, if you provide step by step instructions along with a clear description of what exactly you want the students to create, they will likely be able to provide you exactly the results you requested.  However, change just one or two variables, and they will have extreme difficulty adapting.  Part of 21st century skills is being able to look at problems analytically and determining the best course of action.  When failure is encountered, being able to take it in stride, make adjustments and try from a different angle.  In many situations, a heavy focus on what is known as ‘basic skills’ can be a detriment to the sort of flexibility students need to succeed in these situations.  By focusing on the larger concepts instead of the basic skills, students are better equipped to be able to transfer the same ideas to new problems that they may encounter.

Thanks, Steve, for sharing your thoughts with us!


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