Top 10 Things I Learned in Tech Class

So I always push that if you can’t be honest about ups and downs in your blog, then don’t blog. Write articles for magazines or something if you can’t be completely honest. So here I am, open. I have just finished my first semester teaching this technology class. I learned from my failures first 9 weeks and totally revamped 2nd 9 weeks. And I have learned a whole lot, some of which I can change and make into positives, some things I know work and will keep doing, and somethings I cannot change and not sure how to avoid. So I have made a Top 10. Top 10 Things I Learned in Tech Class.

10. I will never make parents happy.

No matter what I do, how bad I try, it is my fault. Or as I was told last week, “I’m incompetent.” I tried so hard to make everyone happy last 9 weeks with more traditional approach. They were angry I had to give a grade in technology class and it was “ridiculous they had to spend time at home” on the class. So this 9 weeks, nothing went home, everything in class, and I taught it my way. I got the “why can’t they just do it at home?”

9. Project Based Learning is exhausting when it comes to grading. (I have to give grades so don’t waste your time arguing with me on this because will straight up ignore you, I like getting a pay check, so I will give grades.)

So when you have 130 projects to grade, OMG! Takes me forever. I am getting emails I’m not grading fast enough but I am seriously trying. When things are digital, it is definitely harder to grade. You have to “open” or download each file. Even when in groups, it still takes a while.

8. Sixth graders respond better to PBL.

They work hard and take pride in their work. They are quiet. They work together. Was sick last week, my coworkers were able to let kids go to lab, work and just have someone monitor and they worked, they worked hard, without me.

7. If you put middle school kids in pairs or groups, you must give them an assignment that is easier than the assignment would be is done individually.

I have always done this, but the last few weeks have reiterated it to me. Don’t think “since in groups, I’m going to make it harder” or “this is hard activity, I’ll put them in groups.” Yes eventually they will be better at team work and learn to bounce ideas back and forth and prove that two minds are better than one. But with sixth graders, life is drama. They end up spending more time trying to figure out how to work together, the project takes second fiddle, so to say.

6. Schedules and Plans are laughable.

Oh good grief I just want to stick to plan. I gave kids a time management plan. Well that ticked parents off, why can’t they just turn it in when ever they want or finish?? It ticked me off because they refused to follow so a simple Word doc (learning Office is in state standards for them, they were clueless, don’t judge, I got it all done so we can move on to real technology) took weeks longer because day it was due, they were still researching and looking for pictures. KILL ME NOW. I’m learning, give them a day, they don’t start until the day it is due anyway. Ok maybe won’t do that, but time management is a HUGE skill lacking that they need to learn. I think I am going to make them fill out their own check list now. Have them grade it themselves and see what is missing. Also, you can plan all day, but you can’t plan for you as the teacher to have to take a sudden trip, sickness, death in family. Happens, throws everything off.

5. Kids don’t remember to Google when there is a teacher.

I’m not going to always be there, so this is skill I’m really going to focus on. They forget how to do something they immediately want you to tell them. Nope, I want you to try to look it up. Not answers to questions as much as actually doing something. Going to have to work more on this. Maybe Google a Day needs to make more appearances. I’m not sure.

4. Digitally turning in work is hard for 6th graders.

Completely a new skill for them. Edmodo does a stinky job helping with this. If the assignment needs an attachment, but they just click “turn in,” it tells them they have turned it in. But they didn’t. So have to be really careful. Make them “open” the file to check. It got better as the 9 weeks went on. Thank goodness. Just remember this is new for them. You have to keep checking and reminding them. And yes they forget how every time, just go back over it.

3. Teaching a tech class in a computer lab with no projector is hard.

There is a huge disconnect when kids have to walk across the hall to the lab from the classroom where skill was taught. Even with notes, screenshots, etc. It becomes hard. I just have to buy the projector mount. I have a projector and even a IWB but no mount. So with money I could be buying 2 engineering kits, I’m buying a mount 🙁

2. Give kids choice.

They rock this. I gave kids a choice of 13 emerging technologies to choose from and they surprised me with their choices and you could tell the ownership because their choices were something they were somewhat interested in. I gave them complete control of the choice of their interactive ppt game or movie and all but one of 130 kids chose really good stuff. And since I let them choose I did not criticize their choices. Some did video games that may have some violent parts. We talked about how to make it tasteful. They did amazing jobs on this. I may could go the rest of my life not having to hear about Jameis Winston and how he is kin to them or friends with a cousin (he is from the area and I love how that gave me flash backs of growing up in this area and hearing the same stories about Bo Jackson) but they did amazing jobs with this!

1. It is HARD writing a curriculum as I go.

I had 2 weeks to plan before school. So I drew a timeline. That was pretty much all I got to do before diving in. The KIDS and admin have been patient while I feel around and fumble. I mentioned the parents thoughts already. I am not completely satisfied with how I am doing. I wish like heck I was doing a better job. There have been so many success and realization of what is working but also I see what doesn’t and it is too late because time has been spent on it. I have many wishes, like more supplies, enough computers for every student, etc. I feel bad giving kids grades for my trial and error so a lot gets tossed or grades get round up like 10 to 20 points (lol). If I get a chance to do this next year, I know what is not working, what is working, etc. I wish I could set up this class in other schools in this district now I know what works. Next semester is going to be a huge challenge because I’m not even close to being an expert at engineering, makerspaces, and design thinking. Research has been on going. I am lacking HUGE in funds. Only 10% of my students paid their class donations and I can’t make it mandatory. This is going to be a huge challenge, just getting Legos and play-doh will be stretching funds. I still want LEGO Mindstorms BAD so if you know anyone that can help, please send info.

So that is my list. I have a lot to learn. My kids have learned a lot. I see it often. I have had so many ups and downs. The ups make it worth it. Next semester is a lot of STEM. This is huge passion of mine so I am looking forward to it. Only “tech standards” left are website building and video editing. I think we are going to mix that with design thinking and start mixing that in. I think we may be more successful since we will have more “learn by playing” this semester. If I had to give myself a grade for this class so far. I’m looking at pros and cons and averaging, I’d say a C. Hey, a C in middle school isn’t too bad, right? Middle school kids grades always bottom out first semester. We have parent meeting warning about that. Soooo looks like I’m on track! Ha!

Happy Holidays to all! I’m a little behind wishing that but Happy New Year!  

What Exactly IS Science? and Math? Is That What is Being Taught?

This is my first year to teach technology after 5 years of science and 3 years of math before that. I’ve had a lot on my mind about STEM and the connection of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math part. Even throw in an “A” for Arts and make it STEAM. To me they can all fit together seamlessly. Think about it. Science is this ongoing process of testing knowledge, it test the “unknown” as well as the “known.” Math is that “known” science of space, quantity, and numbers. In my tech class our definition of technology is having scientific knowledge, skills, or tools to perform or improve a task. We discuss how only 1/5 of tech is actual hardware, rest is that knowledge and skill. Lastly, engineering is the combination of math and science to design real world solutions. The “A” in STEAM focuses on the art of the design. So no way you can argue these do not fit together.

Now lets look at it from a classroom perspective. Look at a school day. A typical math classroom. A typical science classroom. Maybe a computer lab class. Do they fit together seamlessly? Look at standards, benchmarks, and standardized tests. Are they completely separate? Does the science class fit the definition above about “ongoing process of testing knowledge?” Are math classes focused on just the number part or all three listed above? Do technology labs focus on learning hardware or scientific knowledge and skill? Is that skill tangible? Do you use all of these skills to design and build? Well if you live by standards, probably not. If your students have to take benchmarks that are pure memorization or formulas, probably not. I can be as guilty of this as the next guy. It’s hard not to fall into that trap. Benchmark asks “which biome __?” You fall into “here is the facts…” Be science is not facts, knowledge yes, facts, no. When I taught math “memorize this formula” not “take info and ___.”

So here is what is the problem. School and real definitions do not match. Matching is a 1st grade (or was when I taught first grade) math skill, so we all should know how to do it. I could sit here all day and point fingers and say we need it to be __ way. But common sense tells us, “we ain’t doin it right.”

This month the 2012 PISA scores came out. PISA measures scholastic achievement in math, science, and reading in nations around the world, and ranks them by comparison. According to the rankings, the US fell below average in science and math. *sigh* People want to blame teachers, poverty, etc. Please don’t blame teachers. Teachers are told “teach __” those blanks do not usually match those definitions of science or math mentioned above. Students are tested on __. Those skills tested do not match the definitions above. So of course when we are assessed on our global knowledge of science and math we are not really “doing” math or science.

This past week was Computer Science Education Week. During this week there was a big push for all students to spend one hour this week coding. The Hour of Code was promoted by everyone from President Obama to Mark Zuckerburg. But for every teacher who had students participate I have to wonder how many teachers did not because “it didn’t fit the curriculum.” When looking through information about Hour of Code I heard coding called “the one thing not taught in schools.” I first I wondered why then realized, duh, there is no “standard” that says “Learn to code” and so often if it is not on the benchmark test or written word for word in the standards we feel like we can’t spend time on it. I’m sure many teachers thought it was insane to waste an hour on it this week. But that idea has got to change. I saw a lot of praise that half of US students participated in Hour of Code, that is so exciting, but what about that other half? Half is not acceptable. But it is a start.

The technology and engineering takes those math and science skills makes them practical. It brings them out of the text books and off the paper and into real life skills. The state I live in does not follow Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we have College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) so I’m not 100% sure what all the CCSS are, but when I look them, and the CCRS, I see these math abstracts that are right on with higher level Blooms domains using words like “model” and “reason” but then you see the standards and we are back to “understand” and “solve.” When you have all these basic levels it is hard to focus on the higher level skills, ones you know may not be on the multiple choice test. This is why STEM needs to be in place in schools. It allows for the “create” and “evaluate” domains to come first. It allows for taking that basic and giving it a place for practical use. This week my state announced that computer science will now be accepted as a high school math elective. This is definitely a step forward to the matching and combining. The state superintendent Bice put it perfectly “These courses are rigorous and are an innovative way to teach our high school math curriculum. In these courses, students will learn the core concepts of mathematics, but they will go one step further and apply these concepts to real-world situations.” Ta-da! That’s what we need!

When it comes down to it, I wish STEM programs were not a separate class or after school program. I wish it was a huge few hour combo of math and science. We need to stop separating it. We need to have “standards” that stop with these nit-picky skills instead of knowledge. When we teach these classes, we need make this a focus. We heard over and over about tech integration, but lets make that tech integration more than “google your answer.” Let that tech me the 4/5 of technology that is not exactly tangible. Let’s take that knowledge and design and create to support it.

Lastly, this video was recorded in 1996. It is of Carl Sagan an advocate for science and science education who died in 1996. He was a little radical but this video did a pretty good job predicting science education.