“The Age of Google”

December 19, 2009 11 comments

There’s been a lot of fuss about the upcoming Google Teacher Academy for Administrators lately. I look at the site and the application process and was quite disturbed with what I saw. I saw a huge attempt at privatizing education. From the little “Im a Google Teacher” badge every accepted applicant recieves to the application itself, it appears that Google is not content with dominating the virtual world but is infecting our school systems.

First off, these badges. As written by David Jakes on his blog, I agree that teachers tend to miss out on a lot of local recognition which can create a dire need for it. This, however, is the totally wrong way to do it. Teachers are flaunting this, and other corporate sponsored logos, on their blogs and pretty much any appropriate opportunity. These badges do not symbolize your portfolios, your work, and the lives you’ve helped to shape. All they do is help get that company’s logo. I’m not saying teachers should not be proud of their professional developments, but the fact that you maintain a blog and the lesson plans that you develop say far more about you as a teacher than a small image file.

Then I saw the application. One of the most important requirements is the 1 minute long video that MUST be posted on Youtube (owned by Google) on the following topic: “Innovative Education Leadership in the Age of Google”. Something about that makes me feel uneasy. “The age of Google”? Somehow this “Academy” is beggining to sound more like a Google indoctrination camp. I am definitely curious to know what actually goes on. The whole seminar reeks of corporate sponsorship.

It’s hard to determine the line on where recognition and support in education should come from. Views vary from 100% government to 100% corporations. I personally am unable to determine my own line the sand but I know that this “Academy” should be taken with a grain of salt. For a badge you can truly be proud of, you should have to do a little more than  make a quick advocation video for a company to attend a 1 day seminar.

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On Legos and Teddy Bears

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

Since it is a time to be with family I visited my mom a couple days ago and the topic inevitably turned to my childhood and I found a box that had two of my most prized possesions – my teddy bear and my Lego.

First of all, why isn’t Lego in schools? I understand that the small pieces may be harmful to those in Kindergarden or grade 1 but to the older children, Lego is one of the best toys you can have. I often hear of compaints from teachers and professors that play is far too “structured” and toys today don’t spark any creativity. So why don’t we introduce toys that do. Lego has been around long before my time yet I don’t remember seeing it once in class! Especially at this time of year where indoor recesses tend to be common, why not have toys that spark creativity rather than follow a set list of rules like a board game? Lego was probably my best form of creative outlet growing up. Which boy doesn’t remember making some spectacular Lego mothership at some point in his life.

Then came my teddy. I think everyone should (if you haven’t recently) go take a look at their old security item. Everyone has one but when was the last time you saw it felt that rush of warm fuzzies fall over you. I’m not sure what is about them but, especially during the hecticness of final exams, things just get a lot more peaceful in the company of your teddy, blanket, doll, or whatever else you had to call your own growing up.

The lego and the teddy are both with me now, much to the protest of my mother.

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The “Thank You” Post

December 13, 2009 Leave a comment

It would only be fair to practice what I preach. A while back I posted a blog urging all of us to thank our former teachers for their efforts in shaping who we are today. That said, I would like to thank each of my proffesors this semester:

Alec Couros – I would like to thank you mostly for my professional development this semester. Through the development of this portfolio as well as the introductions to technology I had either previously been unaware of or dismissive of, I have grown significantly as a professional. The tools I have taken away from your class have sparked career long projects that I am anxious to continue.

Patrick Douard – Thank you, above all, for being frank and honest with the class. With what could be some very sensitive issues, you refused to sugar coat the truth and showed the issues as they were. This helped me personally put the issues of multiculturalism into a much deeper perspective and helped me shine a new light and numerous societal issues and events.

Patrick Lewis – I appreciate you for emphasizing the importance of critical thinking. Through each of the assignments in class, I felt I was able to always ask the “Whys” needed to better understand the topic at hand. Keeping this valuable trait will be of utmost importance and I am very happy to have been able to develop it.

Rhonda Nelson – I am very thankful for the information in your class that has allowed me to be far more empathetic to youth then before. I would also like to say your obvious passion and dedication to what you do is definitely something to be emulated.

Wendy Willis – Thank you for bringing me “out of my shell”. The very nurturing environment you were able to provide in your classes really helped me improve my ability to speak in public and is an environment I truly hope to duplicate in my own classes in the future.

Again, thank you to all my professors for helping me grow both as a teacher and, more importantly, a person.

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Pew Pew

December 11, 2009 1 comment

To those who still don’t know, I am an avid gamer and have been all my life. From my first computer with Windows 3.1 in 2nd grade to my over indulged beast of a machine today, gaming has been a huge part of my life, despite the scrutiny that gamers often face. Is it really such a bad thing? I read an interesting story that shows a teachers first hand experience with a gamer. The kid was an average student with no extra curricular activities (wow could I relate) but would get home every night and level up his World of Warcraft character and lead his guild. What floored me was another teacher’s response – “No wonder he had such lousy grades”. Really?

I think far too many teachers and parents have not quite realized just how far video games have come since the days of Pong. No longer do gamers try and defeat a souless AI in game of chess (though still enjoyable), I have the opportunity, within 30 seconds, to load up a game and meet as many as 63 new people (more if the game is an RPG), immediately have something to talk about, find a small group of people to work with, and help achieve a common goal. I know my job in my squad and I do it for the benefit of my team. Responsibility is far more vital in games today then in the past. I have had one teacher in my life realize this and that was the only class in high school where I completed and enjoyed 100% of my assignments.

Much like playing that game of chess, gamers also develop some interesting mental tools. Many games, in particular Real-Time Strategy, require an enormous amount of critical thinking, analysis, decision making and planning. Sadly, these traits are too often overlooked (no matter how they are acquired) in schools. These traits often do not produce something tangible which teachers can assess but rather help the student grow individually.

I understand there are legitimate concerns involved with gaming. The percieved physical inactivity can cause health issues if not monitored, though I feel this is what is being addressed in future games, previewed by the Wii and it’s assortment of “active” games. I agree that the violence in games may be somewhat glorified but ESRB Ratings are there for a reason. Much the same way you wouldn’t allow your 8 year old child watch a rated R movie, ensure that he/she isn’t playing a rated M (Mature) game. As for the issue gaming vs. schools, the scrutiny gamers face often leads them to segregate their professional/scholastic life and their gamer life. I garuntee that the more effort teachers make in trying to combine the two identies that gamers have, the more successful these students will be.

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Reorganizing the Blog Pt 2

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Originally Written September 19th 2009

As I sat yesterday in my ECE 205 class, I glanced periodically from my laptop screen (which, of course, was being used for some fantastic note taking) to see what was being shown on the big screen. I saw this:

“I complete 49% of the reading assigned to me” – “Only 26% are relevant to my life”. Compare that to a 4 class semester. Out of all your classes, 2 of them are just interesting enough for you to be willing to put any effort in to them and only one of those two classes will actually benefit you. Personally this is a sigh of relief to me. I have felt I’ve been mocking the education system I wish to be apart of merely by being apart of these statistics. As (mostly) mature individuals, we can usually figure out what is important to learn and what can be cast aside. Obviously, change is needed if the majority of students feel that more than half of their supposedly highly valued education can be disregarded and seen as “unimportant”. If this change does not occur, I believe it is future generations that are at risk. The ever changing climate and culture of elementary and secondary schools seems to be a direct contrast to the rather stagnant culture of university. There was a day where from Grade 1 on, you might spend your entire day in your desk, listening to a lecture or speech. When you grow up to this somewhat bland teaching system, university is not much of shock. Now that teaching has become more student centred, how will these students cope when the only personal affiliation with their professor might be a weekly 1-hour meeting on the problems of their essay. The stats in the video are only going to get worse as universities continue to keep the “19th century environment” that dominate the majority of our classes.

“I buy $100 textbooks that I never open”. This does not surprise me at all. My textbooks this year cost me $560. $60 of that was spent on textbooks totally unrelated to any of my classes this semester. I’m sure it’s no surprise which books have had the most value so far. I’ve already read one extra textbook (“The First Days of School” by Harry and Rosemary Wong which I strongly encourage ALL teachers to pick up) while 3 of my books are still in the bag I brought them home in. Some may even stay there for the whole semester. Why? Because I know my professors are just going summarize the important parts of the reading and tell me (explicitly or not) what parts I may be tested on. Did I learn anything? A lot actually. I learned how to “read” my professor better, I learned how to pass the class, and I learned whatever information happened to be on my laptop whether it was related to the class or not. I write this not to mock or criticize my professors or the university in general but only to inform how easy it is for a student to become a statistic like the ones in this video. Change is needed in university just as much as it is in primary school.

As far as my teaching goes. My university experience as a student will definitely impact my own methods. However I regrettably feel that the lesson is “What not to do”. I find it amusing how many education professors will preach the values of student centred learning while the university continues to create classes of around 100 students. Why is student centred learning limited to the K-12 program? Every student of any age reading this should remember to ask themselves the most important question. “What exactly did I learn today?” Learning about math, English, and science is nice. Learning about life is better.

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Reorganizing the Blog

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Originally Written September 25th 2009

Today I would like to share with all of you a page taken from “The First Days of School”. It tells the story of a student returning to his old class to say hi to his teacher and to thank her for everything. The story touchingly ends like this:

With 28 students watching her, and with tears flowing down her cheeks, she says, “Keith, we teachers rarely get any validation for what we do. But what you have done today is all we teachers want – the knowledge that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”

Her voice choking now, she says, “Thank you for making my day”

He responds, “Thank you Mrs. Riley. But you made my life.”

I suspect everyone reading this can relate. The teachers we grew up with helped shaped our lives and we owe them more than we can offer. Especially to those education students. Many of you (myself included) have known you wanted to teach for a long time now and though we have our myriad of reasons, many of us have that one common experience; we had an exemplary model of a teacher in our lives. A paragon who, even now, can be looked towards for guidance and advice. This person really did make your life what it is today. No award, degree, or cash prize can truly commend that amazing teacher for what he/she does. The best reward is showing the smile on your face knowing you have succeeded. To see your face 5, 10, or 20 years later and witness their investment of love and care pay off. I hope by now all have you have payed tribute to all those who have helped you come this far. Your teachers, parents, and friends all know how capable all of you are and have done and will continue to do all they can to ensure success from you. I urge all of you to continue or at least reconnect your relationship with the teachers that have made a difference in your life. Just because you are not in class with them does not mean they can’t still support you, especially in what can be a turbulent time for all of us.

Soon it will be our turn. These leadership qualities that make a good teacher are being instilled (if not there already) in our minds. It is stories like this that makes me personally remember, we may have almost limitless technology at our fingertips, we may have hundreds or thousands of theories to try, and we may even have all the funding we could ever require, but it will all mean nothing if we do not show our students that we are capable leaders and we care for them. Always be the best you can. Your students will see this and model you. In fact, their success depends on it.

To end, I’d like to share my favorite quote:

One hundred years from now it will not matter

What kind of car I drove

What kind of house I lived in,

How much I had in the bank,

Or what my clothes looked like

But the world will be a better place because

I was important in the life of a child

-Forest E. Witcraft

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Multiple Degrees in the Education Industry

December 6, 2009 1 comment

In Saskatchewan, the STF has worked very diligently to ensure that all teachers are paid well and fairly for the job they are doing. Below is the salary grid negotiated through the Provincial Collective Bargaining Agreement:

STF Salary Grid

As these terms expire at the end of August, I would like to point out a certain issue that I feel should be addressed.  Why should the number of degrees a beginning teacher has increase his/her salary? Personally, I feel a degree shows how well you can learn, not how well you can teach. If two teachers both have no experience yet one has another degree than the other, there is still no clear determination of who the better teacher is. If anything, would a 2nd degree not be detrimental to a beginning teacher?

According to the grid, a teacher with no experience and multiple bachelor degrees is almost identically paid to a teacher with 1 year experience and 1 degree. Assuming that teacher had a good year and received a good reference, wouldn’t that person be favored over the teacher who studied the theory for longer? I suppose my main question is what is more valuable – theory or practice?

I was discussing this/disagreeing with a colleague of mine. Personally, I would always value practice and experience over theory and degrees. I feel that the salary grid should be adjusted so that all teachers starting out should be paid equally no matter the number of degrees they hold. In fairness, however, I feel that the raises given to those with multiple degrees should be higher to those who continue to stay with one degree. Flaws? Incessant rambling? Let me know!

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