• The Scary Thing I Did This Weekend Published 2008-05-30 under ,

    scary "I pronounce you husband and wife..." How these words made for a scary weekend - even though I was not the one getting married.

    In a recent post, I spoke of advice once given me: to do something that scares you on a regular basis. The point of this advice was to stretch me - put me in situations that are uncomfortable and challenge me. We learn and improve from such situations.

    This past weekend, I had the opportunity to preside over my friend's weddings. While this was the first wedding where I was the officiate, I have spoken in front of larger crowds. So, it was not the idea of public speaking in it self that scared me. Actually, I really looked forward to being up there participating in their marriage.

    But why was I scarred? It could have been that I had not completed my speeches (three during the ceremony) and obviously, I had not had a chance to practice. It could have been the amount of preparation that was going into this event and the knowledge that I was in a unique position to screw it all up. It could have been the conflict I was feeling between keeping my words to the traditional, limiting the chance I would insult or offend anyone, and expressing my feelings and making the ceremony unlike others. In the end, the real reason for being nervous is not important as much as the fact that this was a challenge, one of those scary things that I remind myself to embrace on a regular basis.

    To be a successful scary adventure, I needed to come away with something new. At my brother's wedding, I came away with a silver calling card case, or was it a hip flask? For this wedding, we got chopsticks (actually they were from the rehearsal dinner). But that is not what I am talking about. What did I learn? How did it make me a better person?

    The first "lesson" or success was my ability to craft the ceremony to be unique, include traditional elements, and (most importantly) be very personal. The second "lesson" was that you can't prepare for all contingencies. I did not anticipate just how emotional I was going to be. I lost it when the flower girls came down the isle and was a mess to the end. (In a moment of role reversal, the groom had to reassure me.) All that emotion made me forget what little of my speeches that I did manage to memorize. But in the end, the emotion was one of the greatest factors for the success of ceremony (more than my actual words - I have to admit).

    But the greatest success or gift that this experience offered was the chance to reflect on marriage, what is important to me, and my deepest love of my wife. My words while written for the bride and groom, were really an expression of my feelings for my wife and our wedding. Actually, my writing became much easier when I pictured my wife and started writing for her.

    In hindsight, my "fear" was about the pressure to make the ceremony perfect. Perfection, while an amiable goal, is rarely experienced and is really not necessary. I decided on settling for this wedding to be as special and meaningful as the one I got to have.

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  • Teacher Learner: We Must Also Learn Published 2008-05-21 under , ,

    One of the most rewarding moments in teaching for me was when I had the opportunity to tutor a student in Algebra II.

    One of the most rewarding moments in teaching for me was when I had the opportunity to tutor a student in Algebra II. My approach was fairly simple; each afternoon I would have him teach me the topics addressed in his class that day. I was teaching Algebra I then and was not necessarily familiar with the topics of his class. Thus, his efforts to teach me were not just a trick, I was learning (or re-learning) the topics.

    My approach forced the student to reflect on the topics which in itself is a powerful teaching tool. But I would offer that my role as learner and the respect I showed to the student's teachings was a principal component behind the success of our tutoring experience.

    I have been reading about the use of case studies as a teaching method and came across an essay by Charles Gragg titled "Teachers Also Must Learn". His basic premise is that the best teachers exhibit a attitude of being willing to learn from their students.

    The teacher who has given up the art of learning from his students should also give up the practice of learning.

    ... how can he lead his students to undertake for their own parts the creative interpretation of knowledge? The answer lies in part at least in the ability of the teacher to listen to his students, not with a view to appraising them, correcting their mistakes, and filling in the gaps in their knowledge, but rather in the constant and true expectation of learning something.

    from Teaching and the Case Method: Text, Cases, and Readings

    Boy, if I think how I listen to my students, it is almost always with the air of the learned one ("the teacher") and infrequently as the one trying to learn. This could be explained by egotism, lack of confidence, lack of respect for the student, or just a traditionalist view of the relationship between teacher and student.

    This points out the how important the art of listening is to the successful teacher.

    The funny thing is that I started this blog with two purposes: an opportunity to reflect on ideas and to learn from this community of educators. Why shouldn't I expect to learn from students as well?

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  • Week In Review: 2008-MAY-16 Published 2008-05-15 under , ,

    This past year, I have been working with a school exploring our digital world from a human development perspective. One of the issues to emerge was the need to revamp the school's acceptable use policy. Thus I was drawn to David Warlick's recent post "School AUP 2.0". Dave points out how AUP grew in popularity in the 90's but many have not been modified to reflect the "information landscape [which] has grown enormously and evolved in some significant and impactful ways."

    Instead of just blogging about it, Dave has created a School AUP 2.0 wiki so we can all contribute to what we feel is appropriate use and more importantly discuss ways successfully adopting the AUP. (See the Notes section for an interesting discussion.)

    Barbara Barreda enters the conversation drawing our attention to policies affecting cell phone use in class in her article "Cell Phone Conundrum". Barbara references a techLEARNING article ("Cell Division") while wondering "how to help the students develop the maturity they need to responsibly use this tool". As Barbara points out, an "AUP is much more than a set of rules", it should reflect consideration of the issues from many directions: curriculum, human development, legal, safety, and cultural.

    The other topic that caught my eye was from a post by Chris Hitch who writes about "The Best Advice I Received". Chris offers three helpful bits of advice:

    1. Recognize the "difference between working high value hours vs simply being at the office or working just to slog through some stuff."
    2. "Rule of Three" which states that after three iterations of an email conversation (send, reply, reply-to-the-reply), the conversation should move to a more direct means - that is call the person or go visit them face to face.
    3. It is important to always be learning.

    While Chris' advice is useful as is the advice offered in the comments, I was taken to the post more because it made me think about what important advice has affected my professional and personal life. Of the many great pieces of advice that I have received over the years, two standout: 1) Do something that scares you every (day/week/month), and 2) have a bias toward action. What makes these two standout is that I see the benefit of each but need constant reminders to follow their wisdom. It is too easy to avoid uncomfortable situations (not to speak of scary ones) and it is easy to rationalize the need to approach projects and tasks cautiously erring on the side of too much preparation.

    I thank Chris for reminding me that we occasionally need to step back and evaluate how we are doing. His post acted as a kick in the pants - one that we can all use from time to time.

    Finally, I wanted to point you toward Detensionslip.org. While I admit to not really reading the posts, I have added their RSS feed to my reader as the titles are good for a laugh.

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  • Week In Review: 2008-MAY-05 Published 2008-05-09 under ,

    This begins the first of a series of posts where I showcase issues, ideas, opportunities, and solutions that have come across my (virtual) desk during the week. The source of these posts will be news articles, blog posts, email messages, and coffee house conversations. Obviously, there will be a ton of things to choose from each week, but I hope to narrow it down to just a few that either focus around a theme or represent the most interesting.

    This week, the focus is on professional growth opportunities. The first comes from Steve Hargadon who tells us about the first ever live Flat Classrooms workshop from the teachers behind the Flat Classroom Project. Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis are well known for their expertise and experience working in a Teaching 2.0 environment. The workshop will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, July 8 & 9. For more information, checkout www.flatclassrooms.com/Workshops

    The second opportunity comes from CUE. There has been some confusion about the future of Google Teacher Academy, or more precisely, who would be taking on the training and when/where would there be more opportunities to become a Google Certified Teacher. But the Academy is back and is being co-presented by CUE. Google's FREE training program is an great chance to gain hands-on experience with Google's many tools for educators. The Academy is taking place on Wed, June 25, 2008 at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, CA. Applications are due on May 28, 2008. For more information, checkout www.google.com/educators/gta.html

    The last opportunity is really more for your kids. If you are interested in film and film making, then the American Film Institute (AFI) is a great source for learning how to become a film maker. The institute has a strong education component and includes workshops for educators and a recently launched site for hosting videos. They also run "challenges" for high-school aged film makers. The current challenge is the Hometown Claim to Fame film contest where participants submit a short (e.g. 5min) documentary about a local legend or what your town is known most for. The winner receives an awesome video camera package! As this is the first challenge (and response has been slow so far), your chances of winning might be quite good. Contest Rules

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  • Just Remember: + C Published 2008-05-07 under ,

    It's AP time! And today is Calculus Day! All that work has come down to just one test. Derivatives, integrals, Riemann sums, rate of change, area of an object. Some memorization and a whole lot of problem solving. You have spent a year preparing your students and now they are on their own, hopefully with a working graphing calculator, new batteries, and a good nights sleep behind them.

    Wait a minute... Did you tell them to remember the +C? Or more importantly, will your students remember?

    For those non-Calc teachers, most answers to questions involving an integral include a +C (plus some constant). Often, this little item will earn a point for a student on the free-response section, or more accurately, a student will loose a point even if her solution demonstrates complete understanding of the math behind the question (sans the +C).

    I was constantly trying to think of ways of getting my students to remember the +C. I tried the stick; I marked a solution totally wrong if it did not include the constant. I tried the carrot; I gave bonus points to students who spotted a missing +C in class work. (Students quickly learned to game this approach.)

    A friend of mine has taken a totally different approach. He gathered all of his Calc students and took the picture below. Well Done! What a fun way to remind the students of the importance of +C.

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