Tuesday, January 25, 2011

perceptual adaptation

Back in the late 1800's, psychologist George Stratton began an experiment in perceptual reasoning. He wore a pair of lenses that allowed his world to invert - that is - everything was upside down. After 4 days of wearing the glasses, everything started to look right side up - unless he looked closely. By day 8, his brain had fully adjusted, and everything looked upright again. When he tried to remove the glasses, the world appeared upside down. But, given some time, the brain worked it's magic. A few neurons firing here and there, a new pathway forged, and our brain was back to doing what it does, turn upsidedown images from our retina, into upright images in our mind.

This experiment is not all that unlike my current educational experience. Though I started using twitter over a year ago, I didn't incorporate it into my PLN until late November. First I was following 1 or 2 people. Then 10. Then 50. Then people were following me. By mid-December I started using Google Reader to keep up with all the ideas and information that were coming my way. By late-December I had started my own blog. January 1st I started my 365/2011 photo project to enrich creativity in my life. And by the time I went back to school on January 4 I was communicating with people world-wide. Between my laptop and iPhone I was connected to people and ideas more hours a day than I ever thought possible. Before school, during school, after school. While watching TV. My tweetdeck would be chirping through dinner and first thing in the morning right after my alarm went off. I have been accumulating and contributing information at a rate I didn't imagine possible. But in the process (and don't mistake me, because the journey is AMAZING), I feel like my world has been turned upside down. My philosophy of education has been ripped apart - in a good way - through the pushing, pulling, nudging and challenging of my peers. Articles I've read have changed my view. Different blogs have encouraged me to rethink the expected. My colleagues at work have brought forth statements that made me rethink why I do what I do. I'm still trying to find my sentence. And I'm not quite sure I am always better today than yesterday. My perception of what it is we do here in education is upside down. And then right side up. And then upside down again. Glasses on. Glasses off. repeat.

So now that semester 2 is about to start I feel like I have a clean slate. I am sitting at my desk, in an empty classroom, debating course outlines. They are full with blank spaces so I can come up we can come up with classroom expectations next Monday as a class. They tell students there will be a final assessment - but it won't necessarily be a final exam. They mention that students are expected to apply themselves, but that I won't be marking their homework. It reminds them that I am here every day for 1-on-1 support. I defines feedback and tells them how to get it. It outlines our class twitter feed, and how to use it effectively. I have so many things I want to do, and change, and everyday, with every new idea, I stop and have to completely rethink what it is I'm doing - if only for the nobel goal of doing as many right things for the best of reasons, in the interest of my students. I don't mind being challenge. Strike that. I thrive when being challenged. So thank you to those who challenge me each and every day. Please continuing doing it. Because I don't mind being turned upside down.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

the awesome things

I love books. And recently I have been reading (and re-reading) a great one, "The Book of Awesome," inspired from the website
1000 awesome things. In the introduction to the book, the author talks about the "tiny little things" and bring joy to our everyday lives. He reminds us that things like finding money in your coat pocket, snow days, listening to ice crackle in your drink, or building cushion forts - can bring a smile to your face. In fact next time you have a stressful day, I encourage you to pick up this book, or go to this website. I dare you not to smile.

And as I was thumbing through this book for the third week in a row, I couldn't help but think of the parallels to education. As Neil Pasricha reminds us, in light of global warming, financial struggles, illness, famine, war and strife, somehow the cold side of our pillow or popping bubble wrap can still make us smile. So why don't we focus on these things? Instead we can so easily become riddled with stress and misery. On a daily school day it is rare that i don't overhear a conversation complaining about "the system." Class sizes are to big, school days are too long, merit pay is ridiculous, standardized testing is unfair, I don't want to change classrooms, I don't have the resources I want, why aren't my students working the way i want it to, our model for ______ isn't working, my students are unmotivated (often the word is lazy, but I don't believe that's really true) - the list goes on. Think about it. I'm sure you could add more to the never-ending complaints that teachers concoct on a day-to-day basis. So what happened to all the good stuff. The little stuff. The moments that make you smile and think that the rest of it doesn't matter. Strangely enough, the little stuff can cast such a large shadow the those big complaints aren't even visible. So I challenge you to think of the little stuff. Make a list. Here are a few of mine this week:
  • student was excited because he was the first one to class
  • shy, struggling student got a B on a math test - gave me a high-five
  • student with autism wrote me an amazing comic about Simba going to the zoo and used it to solve the pythagorean theorem. I laughed out loud because it was brilliant. (it was also 7 pages long!)
  • 5 new students joined twitter this week to follow my class account
  • 3 of them tweeted me today
  • 1 of them used twitter to get advice on how to use an equation editor
  • 1 of them used it to share a link for a cool website he thought I/the class might like

Monday, January 3, 2011

are you a consumer or a creator?

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase." - Martin Luther

I've got to be honest - I'm not quite sure what direction this blog is going to take. I couldn't tell you in advance its direct purpose. I don't have a specific end goal. This post is not my thesis, and I do not plan on spending the next 52 weeks trying to make any one point or convince anyone to side with me on any one issue. You may consider this short sighted - and I'm okay with that.

A year ago I read an article talking about the nature of technology to different generations. They stated that those born before 1985 are most likely to approach the internet to CONSUME. They will research hotels or flights, do their banking, read the news, check their email. The internet has become a dictionary, encyclopedia and pile of brochures. It has provided them with convenience and easy access to the things they would have d
one anyway (banking without having to drive to the store, news without paying for a paper, letters without having purchase stamps, booking travel without an agent). I doubt anyone of us would disagree - the internet has brought so much of the world to our fingertips and we have the ability to do so much more for ourselves.

Then there are those born after 1985. This generation of users have become known for their ability to CREATE. They started with creating relationships with online chatting and gaming and then sharing a bit of themselves when myspace entered the picture. They became (and are) heavy users of Facebook. They create avatars in video games, and write blogs, and share pictures. They give opinions. They create content. They put themselves out there to the world.

Now of course this is not a hard and fast rule. But it did leave me wondering, "Am I a consumer, or am I a creator?" Because I am teaching a generation of creators. At least, we'd like them to be. Creators think outside the box. They put themselves out there. They solve problems. They adapt. They possess so many of the features we would like to see our students obtain and take with them into the world after graduation. But somehow we seem to (intentionally or unintentionally) make them into consumers. We put them in chairs at desks with books full of already outdated material and ask them to repeat, remember and summarize already existing i
deas. It seems that schools have become environments that are built to beat the creators of our them. But why, when they are predisposed to being creators?

And so I say again, "Am I a consumer, or am I a creator?" Would it be fair to assume that maybe teachers who are creators are more likely to nurture a classroom full of creators? I can't say for sure. But I would like to test it. So I have decided to make 2011 a year dedicated to creativity. I am going to CREATE. I am going to contribute to the conversations others have started, and sometimes I am going to start my own. I am going to share the things that work in my classroom (and the things that don't) for the benefit of others. I am going to engage my creative passions, such as photography through the 365/2011 project and welcome all feedback. I am going to create.

How about you? Are you a consumer? Or are you a creator?