Archive for the ‘learning enjoyment’ Category

Thursday Thoughts: Coursera and Duolingo

Evening Moon

Evening Moon

I have been taking courses – MOOCs (massive open online classes) from Coursera for over a year now. Some I just read the material and watch the videos – a lot for research for my novel. I have done enough for the certificates for a couple of the classes: Art History for Animators from Cal Arts (great class), Coaching Teachers from, and A Look at Historical Fiction. I learned something from every class, and my art appreciation went up considerably. I also did Post-9/11, Counterterrorism solely for the research.

Currently I am looking at The Camera Never Lies (too much lecture, not enough photos, so I won’t work for a certificate), Beauty Form and Function in Symmetry – absolutely fascinating, love the videos, but the math isĀ  beyond me (but I’m following it a little bit – I just don’t want to spend the time actually studying it). The last is on Human Trafficking, which is for research, but I am also working on the certificate.

The information in this latter class is staggering – and frightening, and disgusting. We all need to be aware of the labor and sex trafficking that is happening all around is, not just outside our borders.

If you are at all interested in continuing your education, this is an easy, quick, simple way to do it – and no cost, unless you actually want credits.

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Also, I’ve hated the fact that I can’t afford Rosetta Stone to relearn my French. I used it for a while at the high school and really liked the approach. Well, enter Duolingo – major languages at your pace, and entirely FREE. Already reviewing basics in French and I love it!

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10 Things I WILL Miss About Teaching

While retiring is going to be a joy, there are definitely some things I am going to miss about teaching. So here goes:

1. The Kids. Even the class from H*** this year had its good moments. The kids keep me young, they keep me laughing, and they’ll believe just about anything you tell them. Case in point: Nicole a year ago asking me where zombies go when they die. Despite my trying to get across to her that zombies don’t exist, she kept asking, saying “Hypothetically.” So I finally answered “They go to algebra heaven.” And she was fine with that answer.

2. The challenge of teaching so many different subjects and learning so many new things. Over the years it’s been high school American History, AP US History, psychology, literature and writing, grammar, earth science, basic math, middle school social studies, elementary gifted programs, middle school math, and finally high school math. I’m a walking Jeopardy board.

3. Mathematics, particularly algebra and geometry. After some dismal experiences in high school, I have relished understanding the ins and outs of algebra and geometry, and I will miss the opportunity to continue to improve my explanations of how algebra really works.

4. The Kids. I am in touch through Facebook with so many former students, and I just love watching them grow and have families.

5. Student theater. I did this for 15 years, thanks to one of my first mentors, Sue Ann Loudon. From Carousel to Oliver to Music Man to Peter Pan and numerous small plays in between, I loved every moment, and I have the pictures and tapes to prove it. But that’s a job for someone much younger.

6. Conferences, especially when paid for by the school districts. I loved my time with the art partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. A great time at the ASCD conference both in Baltimore and Anaheim – and if the principal had approved our plan for taking kids to the Getty, so many more would have benefited. To think it all started with the National Association of Gifted and Talented in Portland, and included being in DC the night of – and day after – the 2000 election for the International Dyslexia Conference.

7. The creativity of planning a successful lesson. When it goes right, there’s nothing better.

8. Being “on stage” and having a good time with the kids during lessons. There’s all the voices and chants and little dance moves, the quadratic formula to the tune of Jingle Bells, and all the videos.

9. The “Big Projects.” All the plays, World Peace Day in April 1972, Model UN in 1973, the Shakespeare Festivals with 150 kids, the Learning Lab, and many more.

10. The Kids and making a difference in their lives. It took me a long time to realize that this is what I was meant to do.

On Rethinking Retirement……

Today was the first day of two for professional development on Understanding by Design, or UbD. The staff at the school all has to have this training as part of our three-year plan, and I was resisting this because I’ve read through elements of this on my own, as well as tried to apply some of the “big ideas” to a museum project several years ago. I am here to say today is causing me to seriously rethink retirement – the day was amazing, and I do not say that lightly about professional development.

Understanding by Design is a three-stage program to develop more meaningful curriculum that is effective, engages students, and promotes enduring understanding, as Howard Gardner would say. We spent the day on Stage 1, unwrapping the curriculum in order to plan for the end result. Duh. In 20 years of doing student theater, I always did what I call “backplanning,” but NOT ONCE did I think to apply that skill to my classroom teaching.

As we continued through the day, I kept seeing lights at the end of the tunnel, answering for me ways to fix what I am unhappy with in my algebra classes. I do too much direct instruction, I don’t have the kids do enough inquiry, and they aren’t engaged enough or see algebra as a meaningful course of study. I actually wanted to read through standards and try to cluster some of the performance objectives so the planningĀ  makes more sense. The warm-up we did would make more sense than the (to be honest) drill and kill I usually do for practice (and, really honest, management…). In fact, I have some ideas for small group bell work for next week to extend some of the understanding.

All through the day I was (and still am) very conflicted. I am planning to retire in two and a half more years. I have been dealing with some health issues that may make me retire early. Plus, I realized if I go the full years more I will actually end up hurting my retirement benefits, as there hasn’t been a raise, and nothing is in sight. Two and a half years would cut off one of my higher salary years. So I am looking at numbers.

But then I sit in a workshop and get truly excited about trying some new strategies and ideas for teaching algebra, and I don’t want to leave. Retirement is an ending, as well as a beginning. I started teaching 40 years ago this September, and while it is probably time – age-wise – to go, it feels like “the end.” I don’t think I’m ready for closure, even though I want to seriously expand my art work and licensing. I’m not sure I can “let go” of 33 years of teaching, when I still feel like I have a lot more to offer. I still love this stuff – workshops, class management, curriculum, and all. I miss the teaching teachers that I used to do. I have all these skills and experiences (and endorsements) from all these years, and I’m not sure I can give it up…..

So just when I think I am coming to decisions, something happens to change it all. Darn you, Dr. Larry….now what do I do?

Work-In-Progress Wednesday – The Education System

I attended an interesting meeting after school today, a discussion about what makes an honors program at the high school. We brought up loads of ideas and good points to pursue further, but a number of things stuck in my mind – maybe it’s because I have been at teaching for over 30 years.

Point 1 – and I think the MOST important when it comes to learning – is that the JOY of learning is gone for students. Everything is assessment-based, to the detriment of actually learning. Students no longer know what to do with an idea that might be interesting, or a book to read that’s recommended just because it’s good. A number of years ago – and this was before the mess that is NCLB – I asked my fifth graders to choose a piece of science fiction and read it. I then spent 15 minutes trying to convince them that there was no assignment or test – they might just find the book interesting. It truly was a foreign concept. Nowadays it seems that students try to figure out just what they need to do to pass a test and get the grade. The actualy learning is way down the scale.

Point 2 – “regular” classes are now considered the “stupid” classes. This was a shock to me. I am three years into teaching at this school, and I know there’s a strong Honors/AP set of classes. For two years I’ve been working with the kids who had difficulty all through middle school with math. A good many of them didn’t belong in the support classes, and they would admit they didn’t want to do the work. Now I am teaching “regular” algebra classes, and trying to improve on the rigor in the classes. It never occurred to me that is was considered “poor form” to be in a regular class as opposed to an honors class. The big question is how to we provide an education that is rigorous and appropriate for every student? Given the class sizes this year, it’s even harder than in the past.

Point 3 – should there be requirements for being in an honors class? When I taught AP US History, I let anyone in who waned the challenge. My biggest class was 33 and most of them worked really hard in the class. When we looked at stats last year for our students who are exceeding on the #^$%@$# state assessment test, we found we had fewer and fewer kids who were excelling. Students were getting by. So requirements or open invitation? How do we get kids to take the challenge and want to do some appropriate and different work?

From the meeting I went to the chiropractor. This year is taking a huge toll on me physically: cement floors for very sore legs, white board writing which is throwing out my shoulder, long class periods that are messing with my bladder – this is definitely a job for young people. And then I listen to discussions, and I think that nothing ever changes, it only gets worse. I guess I really do recognize that it’s getting to be time to retire…I can’t generate the enthusiasm that I used to, even two years ago.

Education will always continue to be a work in progress, which is as it should be…..but we need to see some progress somewhere along the way….

Learning (no kidding….)

I’ll preface this by saying I’m really tired tonight. We had testing, short classes, and the other usual loose ends. I planned what I thought was going to be a good short interesting lesson in introducing functions. So I started with the old IBM punch cards (googled the old images), and talked about the changes in data entry jobs, and how one card had information coded on it that wasn’t on any other card. Then we talked about hotel cards that are keyed to only one room, ATM codes, and other similar things.

Now a function is a math relationship where 1 input has ONLY 1 output: a hotel card will open only one specific room. I thought I had a good way to lead into this rather difficult concept. From the codes I then went into a quick look at binary code and how computers operate. Since we have just finished working with powers of 2, I thought base 2 might be interesting, and we could play around with translating some numbers.

All I was after for the kids was to see some practical applications of math concepts in everyday life. Silly me. I had students in each of the classes keep asking why we were working on this and when we would ever use it.

Aside from the fact that I was just trying to present an interesting introduction, I thought it might just be interesting material. But no. The kids overall saw no point to it.

Which brings me to my rant…..whatever happened to learning just because something is interesting? Granted I work with a very at-risk population, and I really make an attempt to show the practical side of the math they are learning. But sheesh…sometimes things are just cool.

Maybe it’s age. I still love to learn, and I don’t need a reason – “just because” is enough for me. It’s so sad that this love of learning just doesn’t seem to be spreading – everything has to have a reason and a purpose.

I’m a dinosaur….

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