Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tech is NOT the solution....Wait what?

     Yea I know. If you are reading this you are saying, "But Michael, you are using tech right now!?Don't you use tech ALL the time??" Yes I do and I still believe that the use of tech is a part of the solution, just not the only thing we should be embracing in education right now. So, how as a teacher, with all of the digital tools and devices out there, are you suppose to integrate tech in such a way that it works well and does not take away from the learning? Well.....that's the rub, that's your job to navigate through all of this! Here are some ideas/tips to help you think about how to use tech to enhance learning.

"Yet it seems clear to me
It pounds inside my soul
Why don't we all see
We can cry out for a change."
     ----Fishbone, Change
     I threw tech at the students and they still aren't learning!?

Look. They are teens. So they get distracted. Yes, even you AP Students, you get distracted. So throwing an iPad, Chrome Book, or Mac Air at the students and just have them use Google is not going to produce the results (the droids?) you are looking for in your class. You have to design it so students use the device in such a way that they are engaged with the material, each other and you! If you stand in front of the students lecturing for 48 minutes while they have a device (other than their cell phone) you are doomed. Doomed. How about intro some material for 5-10, give the students a problem, walk around the room and help them in solving the problem. Are they always going to be 100% on task all the time? No. Are they 100% on task all the time when they are not using technology? No. What is silly then is to blame the tech for the problem. "All kids are going to do is look up Youtube videos or check their email!" Trust me, after 20 years in the field I have found that students are amazing at finding ways to distract themselves. However, a part of your job as a teacher is to minimize and eliminate those distractions as much as possible. That job has not changed? How does the integration of technology change any of that? It doesn't. It just makes it different, that's all. You have to change your mindset and try to be one step ahead of the students.

     Interest and a connection are easier.

Something else about teaching that hasn't changed is making your lessons as interesting to the students as possible and to try to connect it to the world around them. When you integrate tech the right way, this becomes a lot easier to do as a teacher. Is it more work? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes! Remember, you have to learn to let go a little bit. You don't have all the answers. You can't possibly. But that's okay. You shouldn't. One of the advantages of using tech to create lessons of interest and connection to the real world is you are not bound (see what I did there) to a textbook or worksheet. You have the world at your fingertips. Like the students, though, that can be daunting for teachers. That reality is probably one of the biggest roadblocks to teachers embracing tech. It's very intimidating. But, help is out there. Tons of it. If you are not using Twitter for ideas, feedback, and support, then you are on an island that you shouldn't be on right now. I love my PLN on Twitter!!! That is a good way to start is to see what others are doing and to ask for help when you need it. There are people out there who are integrating tech in amazing ways. Seek people in your building out that are doing good things with tech. Ask them. I would make an argument that there is not a class being taught out there that you cannot make interesting and connect to the world around your students. You just have to look, ask others and push yourself to embrace this change.

     Baby steps. Baby steps. Baby steps.

There is so much out there that it makes your head spin. It's true. One of the issues with diving into the use of tech into your classroom is the zillions of available tools out there for a teacher to use. Do I use Google Classroom or Schoology? Do I grade using Kaizena or through Doctopus and Goobric? Do I formatively assess using Socrative or Infused Learning? Well if you are reading this and don't know what any of those are, you are welcome. I just gave you some tools to use in your classroom right now. But I suppose that if you are already reading this you are a bit tech savvy. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. Please, please, don't change everything overnight. Do a little at a time. Make one project that uses tech beyond just researching information on line. Do one project and do it well. Trust me the more you change in this way, the more you will want. I have been slowly changing over the last 4-5 years to incorporate more tech so I feel comfortable changing more of what I do in my classroom. You may not. That's okay. Take it a little at a time and if you do need ideas or help, I will post my email at the bottom of this post. Feel free to email me anytime!

     Know Your Role!

I have made some significant changes in my teaching in the last 3 years. I have tried to remove myself from always being the one delivering the material and just talking, talking, talking. It's been a big adjustment for me and the students as well. You have to adjust what you do and how you do it. In the last 3 years I have changed my role to become more of a guide and a deliverer. I have asked so many questions about content than I have in probably the last 17 years combined. Why? Well I have tried to design lessons where students are just simply filling in a blank. I have tried to push them to do more than that, to solve problems and to analyze the material they are engaged with as well. "Mr Wolski its not working!!" Do you know how many times I have been asked that question this year since for the most part we have become a 1 to 1 school since I have access to Chrome Books pretty much everyday. Next year? Yea we will be a 1 to 1 school. I like to work ahead to find out all the little issues and quirks that you have to be ready for when you integrate tech. I am the tech support in my room. You have to be, so get ready for that when you do make that leap into technology. But remember this, you have to actually use what you are having the students use in order to solve those issues that come up. How can I fix something if I don't know how it works to begin with? That is one of the role changes that you are going to have to deal with when integrating tech into your classroom. But what is nice is that once you show a few students, you can use them as a resource when other students have a similar problem. I have done this and it helps when you are trying to be 3 places at once. Finally, you are going to have to re-think how your room is set up. Traditional rows and technology are not the best of friends. Having a flexible set up might help you. I have moved the desks to pods of four to foster collaboration. While they are the traditional desks, change is coming since I volunteered to have my room redone for our move to a blended model. I am excited to see how that looks at to work with that.

     Remember, the integration of technology comes with changes for you as a teacher. Some of those changes are quite significant. We have to get over that fact. Those changes are already here when many of our students have access to the world via their smartphone anyhow. To resist that seems silly to me. Students also need to be retrained in how they interact (Future post? I think so!) in this new environment. They need to know that the infusion of technology will require them to tap into skills that maybe they use, maybe they have not been in a while. However, this is crucial for them to use these skills more and more as that world we are preparing them to enter.
     Have questions? Need help integrating some tech? Email me:
I can help with what I know so far!

Friday, November 7, 2014

I Don't Know

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

"I know nothing! Nothing!"
     ----Sargent Schultz, Hogan's Heroes

     Three very powerful words that say a lot and mean a lot and I believe as teachers we should be saying more often.....

     What do I mean by this?? Well, I think for way too long that teachers, students, parents and even administrators have thought that teachers should or do know all of the information about the subject matter. While many teachers are very knowledgable and appear that way, isn't it a bit silly to think that one person knows and contains that much knowledge? What kind of message does it send to students that unless we as teachers have that knowledge that it doesn't exist? I think this is a product of giving answers to students and students repeat them for the test. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. But is that learning? Are students really being forced to think and analyze like we want them to? I don't think so.
     Bam! Then there was the internet. And Google. And smart phones. And tablets. And this beautiful Macbook Air I am using right now. (#techcrush) Now all of a sudden teachers monopolies on the truth was in jeopardy. We could no long claim to be the keeper of all knowledge about history, science, English, math and everything else. Mr. Wolski can I use my phone to look this up? Why would I say no?? When they leave my room they are going to do it anyhow. There are two ways we as teachers can look at this change (which by the by is already here). We can resist and refuse to change or we can embrace this world that all of our students are already living in and are trying to adjust to on a daily basis. But they need our help. They need us to say those three magical words of "I don't know" and help them to find the answer.
     But Mr. Wolski, you say, the students don't know how to use all of the information at their fingertips and get wrong answers and we have to teach them the right answers anyhow. So why bother teaching them search terms, reliability, bias, and how to formulate an argument? But isn't that our job? Are we not responsible to our students, parents, aye! our nation to produce thoughtful citizens that can solve problems? Even if the students need to be shown the right answer, isn't the process as important as the end result? Are we just teaching them content and not skill? I would argue that is 1950s thinking, not 2014 thinking. What kind of worker is needed right now? One that can recall simple knowledge or one that knows that same knowledge and can solve problems as well? Who would you hire?
     I don't know. What if we said this more often because we designed lessons that made the students investigate, explore, wonder,  and inquire? Instead of having students lather, rinse and repeat why don't we ask them to create something, to fix something, to actually solve a problem. By doing this, though, we have radically changed our role from the pronouncer of information to the guide who says I Don't Know often. I get it. I get it. Students want to be told here is the information repeat it later. Yes, it is a scary thought as a teacher to really not know where your lessons might take students.

Let go.

Tell your students, I Don't Know.

Help them discover the answer. They will learn. You will learn. But if you hold on to that notion, that tradition of always being right, how will you grow? How can you expect your students to grow? Model that growth. Be a student yourself and show them that being wrong or simply not knowing is a part of the process. It's powerful. If knowledge is power then not knowing is the fuel to that power.

Or maybe, I'm wrong.

I don't know......

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wolski's Top Ten Teaching Tips for Newbies

     I have been thinking about this post for a while and decided that it was high time I put my thoughts down. I know that many of us have collected wisdom over the years and while teaching for a long time does not necessarily mean you have been doing it right, but it does mean that hopefully you have found little things that have worked and that you could pass on to others. This is the purpose of this post. Tips to new teachers that I have found that have worked for me over the last 20 years or so. Remember folks! Teaching is not that hard, but teaching in a way that is compassionate, passionate while still being academically challenging is more of an art. So here we go.....

10. Communicate, communicate, communicate
     Answer parent and student emails as soon as you can. Even if you take a few minutes during class to do so. The quicker you do this, especially when panicky parents email you for the first time, the better the relationship will be with both parents and students. Speaking as a parent myself, there is nothing more frustrating than emailing a teacher about an issue with your son/daughter and then either hearing from them 2 days later or never. And yes, yes, yes, you should be checking your email at home. Comes with the job.
9. Use humor
     I don't know if it has just been my luck, but some of my best teachers I have had are also the funniest teachers that I have had too. Look the bottom line is students do not truly want to be in school so anything you can do to make it more bearable will only be a win win for you as a teacher. Now I don't mean to just stand there and tell jokes but knowing your content and infusing humor into your discussions with students about either content or just whatever, only makes what you tell them more memorable. I also believe that the use of humor let's the students know in a subtle way that you know your content and are able to mix in some humor as well. They dig that. Work on it! Remember, 90% of teaching is building a rapport with students. If you can connect with them using humor as your vehicle you can get students to do a lot when it comes time to push them. (See #6)
8. Be human
     Today a student was so tired, I let her sleep a little in class. You know that phase when you are just so tired that you are slap happy? Yea, that was her. She was so unfocused that she was going to get nothing done anyhow. She is a good kid (aren't they all?) and remember it's the little things like that which will be remembered by the students She told me that she had not slept much in the last two days with homework and a non-school related sport, so I felt bad for her. Now if this happened every day we would have to have a discussion, but for 20 minutes? I wouldn't even bat an eye at that. Sometimes we get so focused on control and on task time that we forget that it's okay to be human and give our students a break every once in a while. Again, not a habit, but I honestly do think that little gestures like this allow students to see that you are in fact, human, and that you can sympathize with them.
7. Give up control
     You really never had control to begin with. It was an illusion that you lured yourself into as a teacher. Yes, yes, yes you can tell the students what to do and they "listen" but see that student in the second row? He's being sneaky and has his phone in his lap. Another student is looking at the worksheet you gave them to do and is drawing cartoons on it and will just copy a friends assignment later. I could come up with a million of these examples. But what do I mean by control? Well, it is a lot easier to not have to worry about "controlling" your students when you are engaged with them, moving around the room. Are students still going to try to be on their phones and copy stuff? Yes! But you have a much easier time when the lessons and units have student input and are designed with engagement in mind. These lessons should also allow for students to be the focus and not you. While I have yet to perfect this, I have found it a much better approach than the traditional stand and talk and give a worksheet.
6. Push your students
      No silly, not that kind of pushing! I could site research that says when teachers have high expectations, and demand those expectations are met, students perform better and meet those expectations. But it is hard to do. Students want the easy way out and sometimes we as teachers want to please students, so we cave in to those demands. But you cannot. You have to constantly fight with the students to do a little more, to dig deeper, to push themselves to go beyond what is expected. While students may say that they love teachers who "gave" them easy As, they will realize later on that it was the teachers that pushed them, that made them do a little more are the ones that they will thank later on.
5. It is about the students
     I know this is a phrase that sometimes gets overused or abused, but the statement is still true. Stuck on whether or not to do something? You should ask yourself whether or not it is the best interests of the students. Now again, that does not mean you let them run all over you, but you should still always consider the impact on students. Will this help them? Can they do it? Will it help them learn? I probably spend way too much time thinking about these things, but I also think that it has made me a better teacher. There are many traps that lure you in when you teach and you have to avoid ones that are not in the best interest of students. Deciding what those interests are is not always easy and you have to spend some a lot of time pondering this. Good luck!
4. Your grades should make sense
     This is probably my biggest pet peeves about teaching. What are you attempting to do with the assignment? What is it measuring? What should the students get out of this? Please don't say "points" Teaching has become a point obsessed profession. I hate to admit that, but we have. I think we have to do some soul searching as teachers and look at what the "points" are suppose to represent. Isn't it learning? That's what I thought we were suppose to be measuring with our assignments. So when you are going to have students do something that you want to put in the grade book, make sure it's not just an assignments for points and points only. Make sure it has meaning and is related to something in your content. Points are just points. Measuring learning is assessment.
3. Know your students names
     I know this sounds like a no brainer, but you would be surprised at the number of times I have heard students say that they seriously don't think one of their teachers knows their name. Wait. What? Look, make flashcards, take attendance using the seating chart, but you have to make it a point to know your student's names. The sooner the better. This gets back to designing lessons where you are not the center of attention and you can use the opportunity to know the students by walking around and not only making sure they are understanding the lesson, but you can learn their name in the process.
2. Do what is right, not what is easy
     Look, if someone told you teaching was "easy" because you get the summers off and all you have to do is stand there and talk about the subject, they clearly lied to you. Teaching is not easy. Not everyone can do it and I think some get into the profession thinking it's easy and then are sorely disappointed when it is not. Many times I think that people fall into the trap of doing what is easy in the classroom because well, it's easier on them as a teacher but it's not good for students. Doing your job as a teacher is by the very nature of doing it right, a difficult task. You have to constantly reassess what you are doing and cannot just SALY everything. (Same as Last Year) So you have to be introspective and remember that the goal of what you do is learning. Learning is not easy, its a very complicated process so it makes your job difficult. But again, it is the right thing to do, so DO IT!
1. Enthusiasm 
      Remember when I said that you should approach this job with passion? Well, yea. That. While simple enthusiasm is no substitute for a good lesson and content, it is far better to be in a classroom with a teacher that knows their content and is actually excited about what they are doing. Hey, you are going to have to do this job for a few years, so why not make the content interesting and approach it with some enthusiasm? I think that excitement and enthusiasm for a lesson is infectious and a great thing for a teacher to have. If you are into it, how could the students not be excited and into it? I also think that enthusiasm helps you as a teacher to grow and to have the mindset that continuing to want to improve your teaching is worthwhile. So dive in!

     I hope dear constant reader that you have found this helpful and I may add more lists like this in the future.