AHA…or Duh??

I love learning!  It energizes me, it makes me happy, it puts me in the shoes of my students, it keeps me humble.  I like knowing that there is always something bigger and better out there to be looking for as far as my teaching is concerned.  I think that if I ever felt like not learning, it would be time for me to hang up my recess whistle and step out of the game.  So this week, I was in HEAVEN!!

Those of you who follow me on twitter have probably heard that I have been at a week long Kagan conference.  One thing that makes it great is that I am attending with two of my best teacher buddies, who are also geeks.  We spend our days soaking up all the great Kagan structures, and our nights soaking up the free wi-fi at the hotel!  Doesn’t get much better…(especially when you have some perfect margarita’s within walking distance..yummy.)  But I digress….

If you are like me, you hear Kagan, and you think “oh yeah, that cooperative learning stuff, from the 70’s, I do that”  .  So my friends and I came into it expecting to gain more tools for our already fairly well stocked bag of tricks.  We are all eMINTS teachers, we all stray from direct instruction, and we all work to make our classroom a collaborative learning adventure for our kids.  We were ready to improve on a good thing.  Here is what we learned in a nutshell:

Day 1- if you do cooperative learning without structure, research says that your students will perform lower than a teacher who does direct instruction all day long.  WHAT!!!??  Yes, it’s true!  If we put kids in groups, give them a task, then don’t ensure that they all equally participate in the learning during that task, we are doing harm.  We left day one with a big AHA moment, that was more of a DUH..we should have realized that!

Day 2-  Now we know that our kind of classroom needs some specific tweaking to get the most out of the cooperative learning we are doing.  We realize that we are so engaged in learning that none of us has even thought about checking to see if the building has free wifi.  We haven’t even texted each other!  Wow! 

Day 3- Thinking that today will be the day we top out, overload, and start checking email.  Didn’t happen.  We are too busy taking every structure he dishes out, and plugging it into our own classroom situation.  We are staring to realize that we do have a bit of an advantage over others in the room, because we are used to having students in small groups, managing a classroom where kids are talking and moving.  We start thinking about how cool it would be if our whole district knew Kagan structures! 

Day 4- Still the amazing workshop leader manages to keep our attention, and the day flies by!  We start looking at how the lessons we already do can be tweaked to ensure that students are active participants in learning.  It’s not rocket science for sure.  In fact, it’s common sense. 

Example:  Many times to check for understanding during a mini-lesson or mentor text reading, I tell the students to pair and share the answer to question, or an idea that we have discussed.  Good idea, bad structure, because it does not ensure that every kid participates.  All I have to do is set a timer, tell each kid they have 30 seconds to share, then switch- suddenly it’s equal.  Well, DUH!! why didn’t I think of that myself???

Day 5- yet to come…

I guess my point in all this rambling is that as I start my 17th year of teaching, I am having an AHA moment…again!  You could say I am having a DUH moment I suppose.  I mean, wouldn’t you think that by now I would know what I am doing??  Lord, I sure didn’t think when I started this career that I would be re-inventing myself and my classroom on such a regular basis!! So I can look at it two ways- and I am choosing the AHA path.  AHA!! This is going to benefit my kids so much!  AHA! I don’t have to stop doing what I am already doing well!  AHA!  This is what my kids feel like when I ask them to remember things the first time I teach it!  AHA! My students will love this almost as much as they love blogging!  AHA!  This is why I became a teacher!  I love learning!

What Will I Do? NECC Reflection #2

The further away I get from NECC, the more I see.  The specific conversations that I had, from the time I sat down at the web 2.0 smackdown at Saturday’s Edubloggercon, to the last conversation I had in the elevator the night before I left are all starting to weave themselves into this tapestry of voices.  It’s all coming together for me, and I am realizing that every conversation I had leads me to one question in my own mind…what will I do?  The whole idea that teaching needs a good kick in the pants is really not up for debate, though I must say I heard a few.  What I did not hear, is a lot of solutions.  Who has the answer for that?  What exactly does the everyday, teach between the bells teacher do to impact the future of education?  Yes, we talked alot about what is wrong, and what we don’t have, and what we don’t do.  I just want to know, what should I do?  How can I help?  I suppose I wanted someone to come over to me at the bloggers cafe and just answer that question for me…lay it out and tell me to run with it.  But I realized about 2 days into the deal, that we were all just really in the same boat, rowing the same direction, not really knowing how to get where we need to go.  So, I started asking some people..”what should we do, what can we do?”  I had some great conversations about that- I talked to Bernie Dodge about my struggles with using webquests in a student-centered, constructivist classroom, and how I could balance those things.  I talked with Tina Steele, Kevin Honeycutt, and Wes Fryer about how we needed to take advantage of our geographic proximity and make something great happen in our little corner of the world.  I talked to Riptide Furse about my ideas for a new kind of technology training model for teachers.  Those, and many other conversations are all mashing up together in my head, and I am beginning to see what I will do.  I spent the last hour creating a model for change, and tomorrow, I will share those ideas with my tech person, and my principal.  Then, if they don’t fire me, I’ll share them with you….well…I’ll share them with you anyway:)  I was beginning to think that all of my social networking (fun as it was)  at NECC had not really produced anything tangible.  Now I see..the powerful force of my network.  Thanks to all of you!!  Also.. to Jeff, Will, Jakes, Shareski, Wagner, and the others in Utecht cafe that morning, who let me just listen for awhile- made an effort to say hello to a newbie, and let me toss a few ideas-thanks-it was empowering to me.

NECC reflections

I have started 3 posts about my experience at NECC, and none of them have made it out of the draft box.  Partially that is due to the fact that I was busy having so much fun that I had little time to just sit and write!  I also am having trouble wrapping my head around how to sum up such an event.  I think that as time goes by, things will slowly start to seep out, and I will share those things bit by bit as they come along.  Here is the first bit…NECC, for me, was all about putting myself out there and making the connections.  I did not go there to collect the most t-shirts on the vendor floor.  I did not go there to see the latest new tech gadgets.  I went to connect.  I spent most of my first day running from session to session, and then realized that I had not yet really spoken in depth to anyone.  Day two then became a specific effort to slow down, soak in some conversations, start some as well, and that was the turning point for me.  I realized that the powerful change that would come for me from this conference would happen there..in the Second Life lounge, or the bloggers cafe, around the dinner table, or anywhere else we could find to sit face to face and start to sort out what we wanted and needed from each other as a connected network of educators.  What a great feeling it was to actually collaborate with people who were ready to do the work it takes to make change!   I have to say that the DEN folks are some of the most fun, interesting, and dedicated people I have ever met.  Thanks to Lor, Rip, and the others for taking me under their wing for my first NECC- it would have been a drag without you!  When I get home, and recover from my sleep deprived two weeks, I will be sure to fill in some more bits.