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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This Nine Weeks in Education

With every new year I have to do what I always do, decide I need to change things up! I am going to classify that as "pulling an Emily." I can't ever leave well enough alone; there is always another big idea or interest I have that I must find a way to pull into the class. Let's face it, even though there are serious educational standards met in teaching Serial, my ultimate reason for including it in my curriculum is because I need someone to talk to about something I am interested in and my husband refuses to listen to a podcast. I guess he is too afraid he will wake up wearing skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts, in other words 19 year old John. 

But back to starting the year, I made the decision to restructure my AP Language course by topical units.  This was not a wholly original idea as I spend much time reading other Language syllabi online, and now also have the AP Seminar model to gently take ideas from.  For each nine weeks, we are exploring a different topic with the overall goal within each nine weeks being we will practice rhetorical analysis as we look to identify the construction of arguments in various modes (video, audio, articles, and passages), argumentation as we develop our positions in response to each topic, and synthesis as students are asked to see the connection between each piece we cover identifying common threads in seemingly unrelated materials. 

This nine weeks is all about issues surrounding education. I have several articles, TED talks, documentaries, etc. that I began this unit knowing I wanted to cover, but I am allowing for the flexibility to see where the students' interests develop and adjust as needed. This probably drives some of my students crazy that I can't hand them a calendar of assignments for the nine weeks...but thank goodness for Google calendar! Easy to move around with no mess! So what has been the result half way through the nine weeks? 

Well, first we started by looking at a course letter written from a professor, Bill Taylor, discussing academic integrity. The letter gave my classes an opportunity to discuss transparently some really sensitive issues concerning their own behavior within the academic environment without actually talking about themselves (clever right?). It also allowed me to discuss what I feel is my responsibility to my students as a teacher. I found that overall students were really engaged. We were able to talk about the real root of cheating and plagiarism; a lack of confidence in their own abilities. One of my students even emailed Bill Taylor, which the class decided was really dumb because this guy is way too busy to respond to a bunch of teenagers. To their surprise he e-mailed back a thoughtful response withing 24 hours. Thanks Bill! Here is the letter.

Next, we watched two videos concerning issues in education. The fist was Derek Muller's “This Will Revolutionize Education” in which he discusses why technology won't revolutionize education focusing on two reasons: 1. Technology is not inherently superior, animations over static graphics, videoed presentations over live lectures etc. and 2. Learning is inherently a social activity, motivated and encouraged by interactions with others. My initial thought was that my students would return to class disagreeing with many of Muller's statements seeing has how I frequently find them watching videos solving math problems and Chemistry concepts. However, they overwhelmingly agreed. I had them complete a follow up using an anonymous Google form as to try and get honest feedback. The students want to have face to face interactions! Most seemed to feel that the technology integrated into their classrooms caused more problems and generated more work. While the flipped classroom is an excellent idea, it still requires students to be accountable for material outside of the classroom when their lives get even more hectic. It essential keeps them connected 24 hours a day, and I don't know about you, but I like to do "m y life" when I'm at home. That's really a whole issue to discuss in itself and probably just extinguished any hopes of me being added to a technology committee. One comment that stuck with me was when a student asked "why don't these people making decisions ever come and talk to us about what we want?" We also followed up this discussion with Sir Ken Robinson's "Education Paradigms" video

For the rest of the nine weeks we will be exploring different issues in education dealing with gender, race, and socioeconomic concerns. This gives me a chance to show students the documentary Waiting on Superman. It is an eye opener for them to see how desperately some students want an education and are put in an impossible situation in which to try and succeed. I am full of ideas about what I want my students to do with this information. They are also full of opinions about what teaching models they believe work best. So here is my idea: why not give students the opportunity to present a lesson to the class in a way they feel like would be most effective. This is for two reasons, one being that I am interested in their ideas and if they work! Also, they need to see how very difficult it can be to adapt lessons to a multitude of learning styles. I am also considering testing out the stability ball theory for students who have difficulty focusing. Could be very risky....

I am trying to be flexible and let the students dictate where we go next! The hope is, in the end, they will be able to create a compelling solution to all of the education problems we are facing. Big dreams!!! 

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