Collateral Learning.

At the end of every school year, I talk to my classes about collateral learning. I tell them that I realize they have six or seven teachers who, for 10 months, tell them their class is vitally important to their lifelong success. And then I tell them, almost like it’s a secret, that for me, I’m more interested in their collateral learning. What did they learn this year about time management? Friendship? Setting boundaries? Identifying passions?

Yes, math and science and social studies and English and the arts and journalism are important, but what did they learn about how to live a fulfilling life? That is equally important.

This morning at 2 a.m., I thought about collateral learning in my current schooling. I’d been working on a JavaScript lab for nearly 7 hours, and while I’d asked for help and identified minor bugs, the lab still wasn’t passing the autograder.

It’s 2 a.m., an hour I hadn’t seen in who-knows-how-long, and I’m tweaking bits of code in hopes of being declared worthy, and I’m failing over and over and over again.

Oh, let me be clear: the code works just fine in simulators. In code validators, I’m getting zero errors. The people who helped me say they can’t find anything wrong with the logic or syntax of my code. It’s just the class automatic grader that doesn’t like something about my code and refuses to pass it. And since the autograder is a robot and can’t point to a specific choice I made, I’m a little stuck.

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Same errors for seven hours. I mean… just give up, amirite?

So at 2:12 a.m., I finally shut my laptop, turn on my meditation app and think: what am I doing to myself?

I haven’t written anything since starting this class. I haven’t practiced the piano. Haven’t practiced the music for the choir I’m singing in this summer. Haven’t read anything for enjoyment (because let me tell you, while informative and helpful, reading about JavaScript is not really enjoyable right now). Haven’t seen any new movies, haven’t binge-watched any TV shows. Haven’t edited any podcasts, organized my real or digital life, or seen any friends.

(I have gone to Jazzercise, so at least that’s something.)

What am I learning, exactly?

So before drifting off to sleep, I resolve to reevaluate my goals for this class. I make a list of things I need to do today, and things I want to do. And I go to sleep.

I woke up this morning with collateral learning still on my mind, and in the past month of working on this class, I’ve learned that I am not the best about self-imposed boundaries. It’s always been hard for me to say no to people, so this should not come as a surprise, really. But I didn’t think I would ever work on something for so many hours and be unable to set it aside, take a break, and do something that brings me joy.

I’ve learned that–right now, at least–I enjoy web design more than web development.

I’ve learned that I need to track my time spent on this, I need to plan more things in my days so my time with the class is more focused, and I need to be a tidge more forgiving to myself when I’m slow to grasp content.

I’ve learned I need a break.

A Math Story.

Once upon a time, I was really good at math.

And I mean, really good.

On the first day of 9th grade Geometry, we took an Algebra test. The teacher wanted to know our math aptitude. Algebra made so much sense to me. It was easy, and when it wasn’t easy, finding the right solutions was so satisfying. Math was like putting together puzzles, and I could always complete it with dead accuracy.

On the second day of 9th grade Geometry, the teacher announced that one person scored 98.5 out of 100 possible points on the test. She smiled as she handed me that test and she said, “I expect good things from you.”

And perhaps hubris led me to wait so long to get help in Geometry–I didn’t want to go to the teacher who had high expectations for me–but it didn’t take long for me to realize Geometry was not my wheelhouse. Nothing made sense. Everything was abstract. The puzzle pieces I loved in Algebra didn’t exist in Geometry.

When I finally did go to her for help, sometime in the 2nd quarter of school, after several minutes of trying to explain a problem to me and my still not understanding, she became exasperated.  I can’t remember her exact words to me, but I left her room knowing I was stupid and had no business taking math.

I’m pretty sure my mom had to fight to put me into advanced Algebra 2 for 10th grade, because my Geometry grade should’ve put me in regular Algebra 2, if not remedial Geometry. But advanced it was, and I did fine, and I had a teacher who was patient and kind and slowly that year, I remembered I was good at math.

But the damage from Geometry was fairly permanent, and any math synapses in my brain appeared shut down for good. I was now one of those girls who was “bad at math” and since I was a gifted pianist, I had a fall back anyway, so I threw myself into the performing arts for the rest of high school and left math behind.

Present day: last Wednesday I received my acceptance letter to the Grow with Google scholarship program. This is a coding bootcamp of sorts–a three-month initial program to show the program I “have what it takes” to make it into their six-month program.

The math side of my brain is screaming at me: “Whyyyyyyy? I thought we were done with this 30 years ago! Go back to writing. Go practice the piano. Read a humanities theory book. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?”

I’ll admit–I’m in the middle of a project for this class that I worked on for 90 minutes and I still can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. My brain hurts, much in the same way my muscles first hurt when I started Jazzercise, or the way my ego hurt the when I got edits back on my first published piece, or they way my fingers hurt when I sight-read the score for the musical. And my initial instinct is to give up.

But I know from Jazzercise and writing and playing the piano that the pain isn’t permanent. With practice and consistency, tasks become second nature. So I’m firing up my math synapses, long dormant, and reminding them that once upon a time, they really loved math and solving puzzles–and they can love those things again.

 

A Case For Putting Down Your Phone.

First, watch this.

I showed this to my newspaper staff last week, and then issued a challenge to them: track their tech use for five days. How often were they looking at their phones, how many tabs did their browsers have open that weren’t relevant to the task at hand, was their tech use purposeful or rudderless?

I made a list on the board of all the things I want to accomplish, goals I’ve set for myself this year, and shared how my tech use often impedes my longed-for achievements.

I use two apps to try and wrangle my phone into something to serve me, rather than something I serve. Moment notifies me every 15 minutes I log on my phone and sends me a weekly accounting of which apps I’m using the most. ATracker Pro, when I use it, helps me to see how I’m spending my day, with categories I create. Then I get a pie chart of how much time during the week I’ve spent doing things like working, reading, practicing the piano.

I’m grateful for technology’s benefits. Without it, I wouldn’t talk to my sisters everyday. I wouldn’t be able to see photos of friends far and wide. I wouldn’t be able to stay current with the news I prefer to read. I wouldn’t be able to blog.

But there really is a point where, like I asked my newspaper staff, I have to wonder: are we using the tech? Or is the tech using us?

The bright side, I learned from my own efforts and from my newspaper staff last week, is that we have the power to choose how we use our technologies.

Try it for five days–make a list of what do you want to accomplish, and then honestly assess whether your tech use is helping or hindering those accomplishments. You might be surprised at what you can do when you put your mind to it, and set your phone down.

Make The Thing.

When I was in grad school, my super-tech pal Mike taught me about podcasts. I had never heard of them before, but he showed me some basic ones to start with (Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!, Pardon the Interruption) and I was hooked. Podcasts became a primary source of entertainment and information.

Fast forward ten years and not much has changed. I now subscribe to 20 podcasts, with another 10 I check in on from time to time. I love listening to people tell stories or debate issues. It makes me feel less lonely at home or while driving.

At the end of last school year, I thought about producing my own podcast. I had an idea, so I floated it to my friends at school. Here is Stueve’s recollection of how it happened. (Spoiler: it’s not entirely accurate. But it is entertaining.)

So we’ve recorded 16 episodes and have released three so far. I edit them–so I’m learning GarageBand better every week–and for now, we’re just hosting them on a free service called SoundCloud. But if we really want to get serious, we’ll have to go pro before long.

Sometimes when I edit the podcasts, I am wracked with the same thoughts that hit me when I’m writing: Who are you to publish a podcast? No one will listen to this, besides your sisters. No one cares what you have to say. And your laugh is annoying.

When those voices invade my brain–and they always do–I come back to this, from the sagely Ira Glass:

“Don’t wait. It’s so hard to make anything, that it’s just easy to put it off, and be like, when I get the right financing, when I get the right this or that — just start doing it now. Because one of the great things about this moment in our culture, it’s never been easier to make something. The technology’s never been cheaper, and honestly the way to get the thing out to people is get your stuff out on the Internet, and get an audience, and get a small version to get you enough backing to do the big version.

“There’s so many fucked-up things in our country and in the world right now, and we live in a very dark climate. But the one place where things are going great is, if you want to do creative work, you can actually make some version and get it to people. And just don’t wait, is what I’m saying. Don’t wait. Just make the thing. Make a version. And then make it better. And then make it better.”

We made a thing. It’s a small version. I hope every episode gets a little better. And I like to think it makes our dark climate a tad lighter.

Subscribe! If you like it, leave a review!

But more important, tonight’s message is this: if you feel like creating something, don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Make the thing. Then make it better.

Technology requires an investment in people.

Today while I was at an iPad training, this article popped up in my Tweetdeck. Read the article, but here’s the headline:

Even Apple is acknowledging that the “iPads in education” fad is coming to an end.

I held back a giggle–I was in a room with 60 educators who teach with iPads, all of us collaborating about how to use them best in our classrooms, who had just listened to our district tech facilitators talk about future directions of district technology. I was in the middle of developing a lesson in which students would use their iPads to answer an essential question in my curriculum–and I was reading an article about how iPads are a fad and on the way out education’s door.

But the article highlights a major problem that education has had with technology dating all the way back the Apple IIe: throwing tech at teachers without any training whatsoever.

When I first started teaching with the iPads, I was terrified. I’ve blogged about the triumphs and failures of the past four years (just look to the left and click on the word “iPads” and you can read all about it), as I’ve tried to figure out how to best use the iPads in my classes. And one thing is certain: without adequate training and time, any technology will fail in a classroom.

Last spring, I wrote about how Bellevue Public Schools prepares teachers to teach with iPads. As our district’s Director of Technology reminded us today, we began introducing iPads in our district with six teachers (I was one of those six). Then we expanded to a few more, and a few more, each time bringing in more grade levels and content areas and each time, the district provided all of us with training and time and freedom to take risks and fail and try and succeed. It takes a special kind of leadership to accept and implement a slow-burn approach with such a high-ticket item as the iPad, but our district leadership was willing to do that instead of the alternative that I read about in so many districts across the country.

What bothers me most about the article’s attempt to spell doom for the iPads, is this:

According to one of the teachers surveyed, tablets provided “no educational function in the classroom.”

I would like to sit down with that teacher and listen to what s/he tried to do to use the iPads to improve student learning. I would like to know what kind of training s/he received prior to using the iPads.

I would like to talk with the teacher from Virginia about how the iPad “undermined her pupils’ conversation and communication skills” and ask if she ever used GarageBand to record her students’ reading fluency, or had her students interview each other using the Camera app and make an iMovie to introduce students to the class.

I would like to ask these teachers who declare the iPad such an utter failure how they manage other behaviors like writing notes, texting, daydreaming, reading books, or doodling, when students should be listening or engaged in learning activities. Because blaming the iPads for behaviors that have been around since the dawn of time is unfair.

iPads in education is no more a fad than SmartBoards were ten years ago, than the Internet was twenty years ago, than typewriters were fifty years ago. If districts continue to throw new technologies at their teachers and students without proper supports, if teachers continue to believe that technologies are to blame for behaviors–thinking that the technology supplants classroom management–headlines that blame the technology will persist.

Once again, I find myself incredibly grateful to be teaching in a district that values training teachers how to use technology in the best way possible. Where I’m expected to take risks and fail. Where I’m encouraged to learn constantly so I can improve my skills and teach not only my students, but also my colleagues.

So I offer my sympathy to the teachers in Maine, California, Texas, North Carolina, or any district where the promise of how an iPad could transform a classroom never quite materialized. It is possible for technology to thrive, but it requires an investment in teachers, an investment that I’m afraid too many districts are unwilling to make.

I’m glad that my district invests in its teachers.