Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Author: Carl Oliver (Page 1 of 41)

Looking towards the future

We had a bunch of kids who got in big trouble. NYPD trouble. Having to spend the night in jail kind of trouble. When they came back to school we had to address it because it was related to school, but we also wanted to to be supportive because those kinds of interactions can be traumatic.

So we’re sitting in the room with all the kids, lots of individual meetings with parents have happened, or have been scheduled, but we are still going to meet with the whole group as a whole one last time. The other administrators go in hard with the fact that they need to stay out of trouble and what life is like with an NYPD record, especially one without a high school diploma. Then everyone finished and there was a clear chance for me to jump in. What should I say?

Here’s what I came up with…

“Alright kids, we’ve done a lot of talking to you, but you haven’t said anything, let’s go around and hear from you. Let’s have you say these three things:

  1. How many credits you need to earn in order to graduate
  2. What you plan to be doing 5 years from now
  3. What class gives you the most trouble.

And pay attention to what each other is saying because there will be a quiz. ”

The kids went around, awkwardly at first saying off there things. “12 and a half, I think. I’m supposed to be done in April, that’s all I know. I want to be in College. Math…” Then after that I said…

“So now let’s see if you’re listening, Jonathan, do you remember any of the three things that walter said…” We went around again, less awkwardly giving everyone a chance to say what other people’s big 3 are.

“Ok great, now why am I asking you to do this before you’re allowed to go back and attend your classes?” They started to fidget so I quickly answered my question. “Well you guys are lucky to have found a really good group of friends, so you should use your relationship to support each other. The next time one you starts trying to do something dumb you can jump in and say ‘Walter, you know you have 12 and a half credits left, you’re not going to be in college if you keep cutting math class.'” This was met with some laughter. “For real, if there is any positive thing that came out of your whole situation it’s the fact that you have a good group here. Lots of people walk through halls or through the neighborhoods and don’t have anyone. If you guys can figure out how to help each other look towards the future you can do anything.”

Then I might have gone into something about that book the pact or something. Actually, no I would probably have just cut it there.

Ok actually I didn’t say any of it. When it came for my turn to talk I just sat silently and agreed with what everyone else was saying. I wasn’t really sure that I would have a chance to chime in or when it would be and then the moment was gone. Everything I wrote after “Here’s what I came up with…” was what I came up with at 4:48 in the morning and decided to write up here. On the chance that this group gets in to trouble again, I’ll see if I can use this and I’ll come back here and comment on how it went.

Face-To-Face Registration: Losing more Than Time

Today the entire school was working as a focused whole on creating student schedules. It’s more to it than that, but essentially the purpose that Registration serves in our school. It’s an important purpose because of our internships, as it allows for face-to-face placement. Underlying that is a period where all parts of the school can grow stronger through face-to-face interactions of all kinds.

Figuring out all the factors that will build a schedule that’s a good fit for students is hard. If efficiency is the only concern, we can boil it down to a school’s typical system of requests and course grids. Going through the process more deliberately allows slight adjustments to be made but most schools have a limit to what customization student’s can achieve. Those limits are built into a scheduling process that carries the school to an efficient and optimized solution in whatever time frame matters.

What has happened at our school for as long as it’s been open is the schedule building process is put entire in the students hands. Each student has to come through the school and align their classes and internships for the next term by sitting down and talking with a teacher, or multiple teachers. This means students who didn’t do what they were supposed to do last cycle might have to sit in front of the teacher who was expecting work from them. Any lingering issues between the two have to get worked out so that we can get this process going.

At the end of the day, students have a schedule, and they also have agency. They now can feel proud of the collection of classes they put together and can articulate why it will move them towards their desired future. The school community also benefits from issues being resolved, or at the least having a venue for resolution. Doing things in this big mishmash at the start of the school year always invites people to ask why we can’t just create a smooth bureaucratic process for this. However the time-efficiency gains might not be worth the losses that would also come with the alluring bureaucratic process.

 

/1

What I’m celebrating

I’m celebrating right now! I’m up eating pizza, watching tv and staying up late with the family because moments like these are worth celebrating. It’s valuable to fully experience joy when it comes. This year is proving to be the definitive example of that.

I’m celebrating Joseph Robinette Biden Jr winning the presidency. I like his middle name, I like the fact that his old home state of Pennsylvania delivered the final electoral votes. And I like that the country is going to be run by someone who knows how a government should run, and believes in why a government should run.

I’m celebrating Kamala Harris winning the vice presidency. She is the first woman to hold an executive position in the US. She is Black and Asian like my girls, and a symbol of what they can accomplish, and what glass ceilings they should look to shatter.

I’m celebrating because America told Donald Trump what they think of his toxic, selfish, rhetoric. In a race that seemed to be all about him, the 3 days that we had to wait provided a slow but steady progress of America turning it’s back on this administration, one ballot drop at a time.

But what I’m celebrating the most is the victory for the protestors. All of the people who were loudly in the streets during the spring and summer can now see their cause taken up. All the people who worked quietly to register voters and pay off the fines preventing them from voting got to see the record number of people at the polls. There will forever be this election to point to this moment and say “We did it.”

How do we pull kids out of these rabbit holes?

This is going to start like a political think piece, but I swear it’s about math curriculum and pedagogy.

Next to ‘THE TELEVISION’ in my high school textbook is a picture of Kennedy and Nixon having the first televised debate. At this debate Nixon showed up sort of

JFK and Nixon at 1960 debate

prepared, looking hot and sweaty, and perhaps a little rattled by the appearance of his opponent. As my teacher told the story, JFK spent weeks prior at Martha’s Vineyard relaxing and preparing for the debate. He showed up looking relaxed, tanned and screen-ready. He even had a makeup crew! JFK was prepared for the new medium of television and because of that he won the debate, and a lot of popular opinion. His control of that medium, led to control of the white house and the establishment of presidential debates as a critical part of any campaign.

If my daughter grows up to be a history teacher, she will probably have a section to teach about ‘THE RISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA’ they will probably have one of  Trump’s tweets. Trump is the figure here, because he is probably the first person to really master that medium, and hopefully no one will ever manipulate the public in that way again. Trump shoots off tweets faster than the fact checkers could keep with him, which I’m sure his followers loved. At the same time, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms were directing people to more and more content using machine learning algorithms. Delivering people things what they want from the universe of content on their platforms helped these companies sell more ads. As shown in the Social Dilemma, the technology can push people down rabbit holes, some of which can be dangerous and toxic. As the new technology helped people find more and more about his message, aided by targeted campaigns from Russian and Cambridge analytica, Trump shocked the world with his 2016 win. The rabbit holes kept burrowing deeper conspiracies like Pizzagate and QAnon continue to snare Trump supporters.

Today after math class a group of students started listing a group of conspiracies they heard online, too many for the teacher to counter. It sounded as though the students were delivering outrageous claim after outrageous claim, but could only back it up by saying “I saw it online”. These teenagers had been pushed down the same rabbit holes that are leading to much of the political extremism of our now polarized country. When faced with an actual argument, an actual opposing view, it sounded like the students faltered. Perhaps this is where math class comes in.

If we do it right, math class could address the problem of students we are losing to social media. In math class we talk about communication, argumentation, and proof from Pre-K to PhD with an emphasis on applying it in new situations with fluency. Often schools skip this work and focus on computation, but that is dangerous. Students deep into social media get fed post-after-post of things they agree with, where they may stop expecting ideas to proved with logical arguments. If we want schools to teach students to logically pick apart an argument, ask questions, write out proofs and to do it all with speed and fluency, then math is subject to teach it. Math class is be the place where students build the muscles to apply, analyze, and support what they learn in History, Science and other classes or at least it could be.

How envisioning the future helped us work together

As I write this we are all waiting for the results of the election. For me I’m trying to do something between waiting with bated breath for cnn.com to update. While I wait I will extend a little 3 day streak for blogging in the month on November. The thing that I keep thinking about is the activity we did to open a recent staff meeting.

Envisioning the good life

A lot of time was spent planning this particular staff meeting because we knew there was tension and anxiety in the air because, well… [gestures broadly at everything]. What was proposed to open the meeting was a visioning exercise that we each did mentally before engaging in small groups. We were each envisioning a future where our work has flourished, making positive contributions to our community and an overall good life. To fully imagine this we had to close our eyes and get relaxed and really try to immerse ourselves in the sights and sounds and smells of this future. After some time to think about that we brought our awareness back to the room and talked a little bit about it in small groups.

When our group got together to talk about this future it was one of the most interesting discussions that we have ever had in the school. We talked honestly about the things we were hoping for, but people also were able to discuss the things that we should change in order to really serve our students. The positive vision was so valuable that there was no resistance to the internal shifts we would have to make in order to move towards that vision. As we moved to the rest of our agenda, that future perspective pulled our discussion towards what matters and held us together even as contentious issues were brought up.

The interesting thing of thinking about that future was that no one described what they saw. We talked about how students would be their full selves, and how we effective we could be, but no one sketched out a game plan. Our tight schedule prevented us from describing what our futures with the color and the detail that a kid would if they were explaining what their ideal homecoming date would look like. This means that we were all talking about different futures, and that was ok. Trying to move towards all of our futures helped us all work together.

As I’m writing this and we are currently unsure of how this election will work it seems like taking a minute to think about a better future can help how I approach whatever news I get tomorrow morning. What will 10 years from now be like? How will my efforts to the communities that I’m a part of make our work more significant? How does what I do tomorrow impact that future?

Page 1 of 41

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén