Are we educating for now or later?

I have read two articles in the last 24 hours that ask the same question, I think from possible completely unrelated sources. Read them both.

To me these article articulate so clearly a question I have struggled to put words to. What is the best education? Does it prepare kids for now with standards written by older people who know what made them successful or does it prepare them for the future that has unknowable standards other than it will be filled with creative, broken, and communal people?

A theologian I follow was evidently a Teach For America participant. I did not know this. He was at their 20th Anniversary Conference and picked this quote out of the opening session from Wendy Kopp,
In aggregate, we have not seen a meaningful closure of the achievement gap. Where a child is born still very accurately predicts whether she’ll ever have a shot at college…there are still whole neighborhoods that put more students in prison than college.
Perhaps we need to rethink what we are educating for?

Each student, in fact everyone we meet, has some unique piece of the image of God in them, that will be lost until time ends if it is not brought out. As a teacher I help students explore what that piece might be and express that to the world. I think this is educating for the future.

I have to admit that when face with a room full of student who are not getting some concept the first instinct is to make it more basic. Instead perhaps we need to make it more life like, more of an exploration, more likely to reveal the unique people in our classrooms. This is messy, but so is life.

Green Screen

A little project to get ready for a film class next year is to experiment with putting green screens around school. We have picked some walls to paint (green is one of the accent colors in our school) and made this portable storable frame. What other solutions have you found? I would love to have a half dozen locations always available to students and teachers.

Learning and Ribs

Ribs in the smoker

I love ribs. I love them with BBQ and with rubs. I love them all year long. I can eat a lot of ribs. I love to look at them at the meat counter and pick out my ribs. I love to cook them. And I cook them like you have too... slow.

So here is what I observe about my heat and temperature inquiry. It was a process. And I think this is OK. Learning that takes time lasts. My objective was to have student run into a need to understand both specific heat and latent heat in their quest to show me a scenario that matched my conditions. Many groups did. I would get great questions and answer them with more questions. This was especially true as student prepared their presentations. One of the main components of the presentation is telling us what a physics professor would have said would happen. They dig into the book and the wikipedia and the physics classroom trying to figure out what someone more trained might say, and they come with more questions. Many times questions that I do not know the answer to.

It just feels like it take a long time. Mainly because, like tasting the ribs after hours of cooking, I know how good it is when you understand something new about the world. I find myself explaining things perhaps more often, and in orders that I would not have chosen, but students hang on the words. Instead of me wondering if they have ever cracked the text, they come with it open asking for help with a passage.

By the way, not every group gets there. Some get it during the presentations when I highlight stuff and ask questions. Others seem to need a problem set to get it. Some need the first quiz, but even that is fine because they can take it until they are happy (SBG!). Some probably escape from the topic somehow, just like they always have, it is just not as many as it used to be.

Diigo Educators Group

In my third period class a couple weeks back a student asked about her old bookmarks and whether the school would have a backup of them. I wondered why a junior at a one to one laptop school did not know about Delicious, and proceeded to show it to her and the class, including how to upload her current bookmarks. Then someone else in the class said, "That sounds a lot like Diigo." This made me very happy and I showed the class my Diigo account. The original student who had asked the question asked why anyone would use Delicious when there was Diigo? I did not know the answer. So that day I imported all my Delicious bookmarks into my Diigo account and set it up to post everything to delicious just in case.

This also prompted me to investigate the free Diigo educators account, and the email exchange below with our district Technology Integration Specialist.

Recently when I switched to using Diigo I applied for an ad free educator account. The process was simple and I had created a couple of groups that had students posting in them so they approved me a couple of days later. You become then a member of their educators group, which I am finding to be a rich but not overwhelming source of outside perspective. It is not all the usual suspects posting links there, which makes it different. A little more practical. If you have not joined or if you delete the group emails take a look.

I recommend the educator account to all the teachers I talk to about Diigo.  It really works well for teachers who want to manage their students in groups.  I get the emails from a variety of Diigo Groups and I find them very valuable - Diigo in Education Group, The Apple Group, Group I Love Teaching Math, Google in Education, Group Classroom 2.0.  Sometimes I can't keep up with the links even though they come about once a day.  But usually when I look at the links they are some great things.  I have really bought into Diigo for the past year - hopefully it doesn't go the way of delicious.  I recommend Diigo to teachers now as a tool for finding those nuggets online.

I should add that I have at least one teacher doing the same thing with a Posterous account, which can also be linked to Delicious.


It is easy to read Seth Godin and say yes. Especially when he says this:

It's so tempting to shut people down, to limit the upside, to ostracize, select and demonize. It makes things a lot simpler. Not seeing means you don't have to take action. Not opening means it's easier to announce that you're done. And not raising the bar means you're less likely to fail.

I am adding it to my list of people who think we have to have a posture of the Image of God. Each student. Each colleague, each administrator and board member. Each one has something that is only revealed in them.

What I would like to do as I explore this is figure out how to make that posture happen in reality. It is really easy to read and agree with. It is really hard when every fiber of your being and the entire culture around you is crying out to close people down.

The Hardest Things Are Worth Doing Right

The title of the post comes from Camp Roger. Camp's have a lot of hard problems to solve. There probably is not a lot of math in the problems, but sometimes there is. I sent a link to the post entitled Pleasantly Frustrating by Joe Bower to my camp director. The post, and its title reminded me that the hardest things are worth taking the time to do right.

In view of my change to allowing WolframAlpha into my physics class has made problem solving just plain frustrating to many students. So where is the balance between solving real problems, complicated, multiple step problems  and just being frustrating students? What is a pleasantly frustrating physics problem?

In my change of the course to look at a real problem, energy in Nicaragua, I have tried to solve the pleasant part by making the problem really real, hoping that the focus on the small steps would come from a bigger purpose. I must not be holding that purpose in front of them correctly yet, because at least the mathematical problem solving is still mainly frustrating. This is something to continue to work on.

WolframAlpha in Physics

For about a year and a half now I have been using WolframAlpha (WA) in class. Students may use it for any assignment or assessment. This changes the problems that you assign. Drastically.

Many easy problems can be simply cut and past into WA and solved. So what becomes important is assigning problems that get at the real skills we would like students to have from problems. Problems that they have to break apart and digest and put together the simple things that WA can solver for them. This is not unlike what I do when I solve problems in my own work.

What I did not know until now was how little of that kind of problem solving I used to teach. I assign many fewer problems that are much harder and require a ton more thinking. Since this is not what I am used to many of my old methods of teaching problem solving are not working as well. Here is the punch line: WA is making me think that I need to have my students talk more about the problems they are solving. This technology is making me see a need for my students to be more social. I should have read Frank's post more closely.

There are so many complaints out there that technology makes us less social, but I think in the end it frees us to be more social. But it is hard work getting there.

Mathematical Standards

As a part od every inquiry unit there have been mathematical standards. This keeps the rigor in the course. I am convinced that you can teach using inquiry and also have rigor. I am struggling with how to do this better.

I had a student after that inquiry on heat, temperature and phase change send in this scribe post. Essentially she is asking why I teach it backwards, inquiry first then math. I actually brought this up in all my classes as both a new kind of scribe post (less words more thought) and just to ask the question, why do you think I would do this? Amber reflected on the original reflection. So did another student.

Physics teaching, may be more than any other subject, is fraught with balance problems. It seems so hard to leave behind the "rigor" in exchange for the true rigor that is learning. This journey to energy in Nicaragua is making it even harder because both are required. There  is no way of not having your math in order if you are going to make something. A number of students proven that just in making solutions to stay at one extreme temperature for a long time. On the other hand if all that is learned is memorized algorithms quickly forgot, what have I helped the student reveal about themselves to the world?

Any insight would be appreciated.