Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Using tools.

On Friday, history teacher and SecMAC graduate Caroline Speer talked about how it's a good thing that rote knowledge -- that is, memorizing information -- is gone, replaced by whipping out a phone and Googling your query. It breaks my heart that an educator, especially a humanities teacher, is not merely not fighting this change, but encouraging it.

I suppose I'm old-fashioned, as you all know, when it comes to this subject. But honestly, moments like this make me question whether or not I should be a teacher. I love teaching; I love my subject; I truly want to propagate an understanding of and passion for literature and literacy. I believe in its power to change lives. But I feel like the world doesn't want me to teach the way I was taught, the way I love teaching, the way I believe is right. I will never, ever be comfortable with e-readers and audiobooks replacing physical books. I don't want to teach students that it's okay not to remember information since they can always look it up later. As a teacher, I have a responsibility to prepare students for success in the world they'll enter; what if I don't like a lot about that world? I don't want to prepare them not to remember, or not to know how to write by hand (let alone not value handwriting and the feel of paper and the smell of ink), or not to love the scent of paper bound with glue and fabric-covered boards.

Technology is a wonderful tool, I grant you. However, it should not be the only tool we use, as is becoming the case. The modern world is enamored with its own creation, to the point of letting it replace what did not need replacing, and what might in fact damage the future of education by being lost: human interaction. That is what frightens me so about technology: its advancement has put us on the path to forgetting that, as George Williams (math teacher and SecMAC graduate) put it on Friday, "Education is about making human beings," not just for college and career preparation, and not just to boost a school's statistics about how much technology it uses.

When I was growing up, my father loved to use the term "well-rounded": he wanted us to grow up to be well-rounded people. Of course, he meant that I should like playing sports just as much as reading, which was not going to happen; not that I don't like being active, but--oh well, I'm getting off-topic. I do agree with him on this: we should teach our students to be well-rounded. Yes, by all means, teach them to use laptops and Tablets, teach them how to find articles online and the miracle that is JSTOR, but also teach them the joy of writing a letter by hand. Teach them how to search for books in a library and how to use the index of a source to find more books. Teach them how to hold a conversation, not just type one, so that they'll know how to talk without being able to delete the things about which they've changed their minds. Teach them how to use a calculator, but also teach them how to do some math in their heads or on paper, so if their calculator breaks or they left their phone at home, they can figure out the tip at a restaurant. Make sure they learn what happened in 1066, 1492, 1775, 1969, because having that knowledge deep inside them will mean that when reading a book or listening to a lecture or watching a movie set around that time, they will understand what it means because they know the context.

We're so much like the revolutions that have come before us. In the early eighteenth century, the world was discovering the microscope, and therefore the human body; it made them cling to reason and technology, too. That was the period of mind-body dualism. In the nineteenth century, the wake of the industrial revolution had made a world much more interested in steel and steam than the backs upon which it was built; it, too, forgot humanity in its rush for progress. I don't think it's much of a stretch to compare ourselves to them.

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Doctor and Professor X do Shakespeare, with a special guest.

When I began reading HuffEnglish, the blog of English teacher Dana Huff, I was a little wary at first: lots of Diigo links, and a post about being "connected." Y'all know me; I immediately though, "Really, lady? Thanks for that. Bye." However, at the bottom of every post, she has a, "You also might like..." list of three other entries she's written that might interest the reader. At the bottom of one Diigo links post was a review of my second-favorite novel (Ahab's Wife, for those of you who are curious), a post about "Why Fiction Matters," and another about "Indie Writing." SOLD, madam.

Allow me to take a moment to discuss what she brings up in "Why Fiction Matters," a post from December 2010. She writes in response to another blog, actually, one that proposes we stop reading fiction in schools that we may "encourage boys to read" and "help students improve nonfiction reading skills." The author of that entry claimed to have been writing in irony, but nevertheless, the point is one worth considering. Why is it important to teach fiction?

According to Huff, Hemingway, and myself, it is because fiction "shows us who we are," as individuals and as human beings. It is not just important to teach fiction; it is essential. But it must be taught the right way. Huff argues for backward design as the solution to getting boys more engaged in reading. She says that in order to make it matter, we have to give them an essential question for which to read. I think she may be onto something, though I'd hope that along the way, the students discover something more than the answer to one question alone.

Her blog is an intriguing mingling of techno-joy and more settled writing about the material we teach. For those of you who have fallen for this brave new world of technology, you should like her; even I will keep reading.

I stole these from Dana Huff. It made my morning.

I believe in blackboards.

Our final project for my Teaching With Technology course asked us to make a "This I Believe" podcast; here it is, for your listening pleasure! Enjoy.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Little Boxes

Friday revolved around organization, a skill that's always been a sticky spot for me. My entire family suffers from pretty severe ADHD: Inattentive Type -- the condition formerly known as ADD. Therefore, learning to keep everything in my life where I can find it, rather than shoving it all into a closet of miscellany, leaning against the door to jam it shut, and hoping for the best--that's been essential, and a constant challenge.

You can imagine, then, what a nightmare cyberspace is for me: so much room wide open, invisible, intangible, with only bookmarks to make any sense of it.

 Basically, that.

That's why I leapt on Pinterest: because suddenly, I have icons and little descriptions to remind me why I saved this link. Marvelous. It also suggests ways to organize the rest of my life: household management tips, vocabulary handouts, DIY toiletries...an A-type personality's fantasy. I'll probably keep using that for my personal life. For research projects, though, I can certainly see the benefits of Diigo, and will definitely try to make use of it in my classroom.

Evernote is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

I use it like a binder. Of fish. No, of documents, but accessible from anywhere. It's clearer and more aesthetically pleasing than Diigo, although it does have some limitations. For what I need it, though, it's perfect. I make these beautiful schedules/to-do lists, like this one (which all of you might find useful:

None of the other tools we discussed will let me do this, and I love it. I'd love to hear about what you all found most useful, too!

P.S. Apparently Macs have Podcast Capture and Podcast Publisher apps? Anyone tried them?

Books, forever and always.

After reading James Gee's article on the merits of video games, I was impressed with his--no. I'm sorry. That's utter balderdash. I was just as skeptical as you'd expect me to be. As for Jane McGonigal's TED Talk: missie, your fictional counterpart would be appalled.

Sure, yes, let's keep open minds. Perhaps there are video games out there with genuine benefits and legitimate claims to educational influence. Perhaps I'm a brackish-tempered curmudgeon. But let's face it: all this championing of gaming is nothing more than an anxious scramble to justify the two generations we have now lost to it. I will never accept that something designed to have no connection to the real world, something that lacks analytical depth or value, something that sucks up hours, days of one's life and leaves one with nothing to show for it, stands any chance as an enrichment tool. Just...no. I refuse.

"But Sas, you're being hypocritical! You spend just as long hidden away with a book as I did hidden away with a game!" my game-devoted younger brother indignantly exclaims. True, I grant you. But I maintain that books give at least as much back as they take in. You learn about yourself, as well as about the world and time during which the book was written. You acquire more vocabulary and improve your writing skills. You can explore other cultures and places. They hone concentration and focus in a way that nothing else does. They sharpen memory. People with higher literacy levels are also three times more likely to be above the poverty level than those who don't read well. They deepen language-learning.

Video games might offer a tiny fraction of a few of those things, but you are removing yourself from the entire world. They are not connected to any reality, not even the author's, because too many people contributed for it to reveal anything about one person. They leech, with very little repayment for your attention.

Friday, 27 July 2012

For those who respect the English language.

From the Hellmouth.

I apologize for my disappearance, compatriots; I live in the mouth of hell (not in a fun, Joss Whedon-scripted sense),
 and the ever-present disease that oozes from that abyss holds me -- and my work -- hostage. I do want to take some time out from battling those demons to address our class from last Friday, though. But not how you think.

Yes, it's very imaginative that our guest used Angry Birds to engage his students in math class. Yes, I respect him for pushing the boundaries. No, I am not going to focus this week's post on any of that.

I'd much rather talk about the windows of opportunity that were flung open by Weebly. Seriously? Making an attractive, fluid website is that easy? No way.

Why am I so excited about making websites, you ask? After all, I'm Miss Quill Pen, Chalkboards Forever, Death to Technology. All true, I grant you. However, I accept that the future is here, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century

has tazered Felicity: An American Girl,

and I need to find my place in this. Let's preserve at least some aesthetics, though.

Are any of you familiar with Edline? It's"the first truly integrated website communication platform for K-12 school districts and their learning communities," according to their website, and it certainly has its merits, despite its frequent glitches. Bottom line, though, it's ugly. It is the taupe=walled office cubicle of websites, an ultra-utilitarian administrator's approach to the digital age. It looks old and boring, no matter how efficient it might be. I would love to design my own answer to that on Weebly. Beautiful fonts, color schemes, layouts. Salient photos, videos, and links. A page that includes regularly updates assignment prompts and a copy of the syllabus. A page of resources (MLA Citation Guide; the OED; etc.). A page of pertinent miscellany: news articles, podcasts, memes (check out possible examples in the follow-up post), comic strips, all that. Maybe the welcome page would feature a word of the day, which students would correctly use in class for extra credit.

Totally better than video games, right?

And in closing, because Buffy is a brilliant show: