why flat classroom?

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As usual, I must start with the obvious: why NOT flat classroom? Why NOT open your students – and yourself – up to authentic learning? And what is this alleged “authentic learning” anyway? I don’t know what the proper definition is, and if you’ve read any of my posts you know I don’t care much for “proper” anyway, but I take it to mean REAL LIFE STUFF. The process that we engaged in over the last 48 hours at the 21st Century Learning Conference Hong Kong is what happens in reality. It’s not a lecture, it’s not passive (nor is it aggressive, thank goodness), it’s a genuinely tangible manifestation of real life. It’s a real problem, it’s a real solution, and it’s real time.

Getting my four students to Hong Kong was a blur; the process of application seems like it was years ago; but these last 48 hours made it all worth while. I feel like it’s one of those “why I teach” moments: I gaze across the room and see my four little angels engaged in a real conversation on the concept of the Digital Divide (aka the haves and the have-nots, the digitally informed and tuned in and the not, etc.) and they are THINKING. They are MOTIVATED. They are OWNING THEIR LEARNING.  You know, I wonder when I’ll move past using capital letters to emphasize my points and just let the points emphasize themselves…but I digress. After the usual flailing, “What-do-we-do-Ms.P-What-do-they-want?” conversations to which I responded “What do you think?”, the inspiration struck and they ran. They planned, they researched, they reflected, they pitched their ideas, they skewed their ideas, they created a digital artifact that reflected their ideas, they presented their ideas, and above all, they BELIEVED in their ideas. It wasn’t what we told them was right, it wasn’t what the rubric said was right, it wasn’t what would get them into Harvard, it was just a real-life solution to a real-life problem and the kids believe that they have the real-life answer. That, my friends, is authentic learning.

Getting to work with the likes of Kim Cofino and Julie Lindsay, collaborating and doing my OWN project with other international educators, challenging and being challenged – to up the cheese quotient (seriously, you might like a gorgeous baguette to slather this cheese all over…mmm, that sounds yummy…I digress again), this changed me. I mean, I’m still me (fear not, dear fiancee), but I feel like I can see something, like I’m making bigger Connections to What This Is All About.

And I love it! The teachers had an exhilarating conversation last night and threw ideas around about making things happen: students teaching students who need them, students using their social networks to gain momentum behind an idea (hello, real life anyone?), and students serving something bigger than themselves.

It was beautiful, and this experience was beautiful as well. And so I shall shout the rooftops: “Join Flat Classroom! Connect With Others! Change The World!”

why tune in (because all i want to do is tune out)?

Seriously? Seriously. So in my last post, I was all “we should appreciate stuff” and “we’re so lucky” and stuff, right? Riiiiiight. And now, here I am, in a super-de-duper important class – in fact, the FINAL class I need in order to receive a masters degree in International Education – and all I want to do is tune out.

Research, as many of you are well aware of, often includes something many people refer to as “numbers”. And for those of you that know me, you know that me and “numbers” do NOT get along. We fight. We squabble. We do not, unfortunately, have a witty repartee in the vein of a Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film. Indeed, it’s ugly. Right now in class we’re having a conversation about positive correlations and validity and reliability and a plus minus something rather, and I want to curl up in a ball. I have the sick feeling in my stomach that I used to get going to Mr. A*****r’s 9th grade math class. Why? Why do I feel this way?

Because I don’t like it when I don’t know the answer. I like literature, because while there are right answers, the emphasis is not on “right”, it’s on the conversation, the analysis, the idea behind and beyond something. Now, there’s probably that same discourse in the upper echelons of mathematics but I’m not there so I can’t speak to that. What I also like about literature is that it’s my strength; I get it, I know it, it’s my bag, it’s what I get down on.

Ok. So…what now? I am trying to make sense of this for me in the hopes that maybe it might make sense to someone else and this is what I think: when you don’t like something you should do it more. My professor is great and all this fear and frustration is my own. So I’m going to research like crazy and try to produce a cohesive paper that reflects my research on the validity of AP courses and I’m going to ask a million questions and look stupid but I’ll be better off because of it. I believe that it is – gasp! – okay to NOT always know the answer! True intelligence comes from knowing just how much you don’t know.

As a grown up (kind of?), I have to do things every day that I don’t want to; I don’t want to clean my apartment, I don’t want to do dishes, I don’t want to run errands, but I CHOOSE to because I accept the responsibility (and the fun perks) that comes along with being an adult.

So why tune in? Because I made the choice to pursue this degree, and therefore I won’t run away from it. And you shouldn’t run away from stuff that you don’t like either; however, that doesn’t mean I won’t procrastinate and write my essay at the last moment (I AM human, after all).

Edited to add: I just took a practice test for the chapter we just discussed and I haven’t seen a score that low since my horrific 9th grade math class. Awesome. Learning is greeeaaat.

why go to school (when you don’t have to)?

Here I am, sitting in masters class. It’s 7:50pm on a Wednesday night, I’ve already taught all day long, I’ve had approximately three large cups of coffee. I’m tired, I’m frazzled, I look like…well, ask my students: “Ms. P, you look really, um, tired?” I do. Over the course of nine days, I complete one graduate level course. It’s intense, it’s cool, it’s frustrating, it’s like, hard. So why do this? Why should I keep going to school when I don’t have to? I graduated from university with honors, I’m a certified educator, and I’m an okay (not in any way great, but boy you could be worse) teacher.

But I can’t stop. I love learning stuff! It’s so cool! I’m serious: when you are learning about stuff that you care about, stuff that’s cool, stuff that’s interesting, it ROCKS. IT ROCKS YOUR SOCKS OFF (Fact: I do not have any socks on right now – take that!).

And yes, I have boring days, or frustrating lectures, or pointless work, but the bottom line, my friends, is this: I am taking part in continued discourse on the nature of learning, I am questioning and reflecting on my teaching philosophy and pedagogy, and – this is my student’s favorite part – I have become a much more sympathetic fellow learner. Oh, you’re stressed and tired and you have too much to do and you forgot something important? Me too! You are constantly questioning your mind and your perspective and **hopefully** growing intellectually? ME TOO! This is so cool!

LIFELONG LEARNING IS COOL. Here’s the rub, though: I love learning this stuff because education is my passion, my bag, my cat’s meow, my version of the bees knees, right? But every day my students take courses that they don’t love, that they don’t have passion for…in fact, there are students sitting in my class every day that Don’t Like English. I KNOW – you’re SHOCKED! I AM TOO! I don’t understand how someone couldn’t L-O-V-E my class, because it is infinitely fascinating. Fact. 😉 So what do we do?

How do we make things interesting that we don’t find interesting? Well, from my perspective, I go for inspiration. I go for enthusiasm. But what if your teacher doesn’t dig that style? What if you don’t dig my style? I say own it. Own that subject. Make it your own. Find a way to enter into a subject and enjoy it. Maybe even (desperate measure here) love that subject because you can; there are individuals all over this globe that don’t get to learn, that don’t get to do what we take for granted. Man, it’s cliche, but DUDE, it’s true: we are so lucky, I am so lucky, you are so lucky, so FEEL LUCKY. Sit in Algebra (my most hated class since I failed it in the 8th grade and Mr. At***** told me I was an idiot and would never understand math) and FEEL LUCKY. Soak it in. Embrace it. Marinate in it. Roll around and savor it.

I am. Right now. At 8:20 on a Wednesday night.

photo: laos chalkboard / s.patterson / 12.08

why blog?

This is what I like to call an “Excellent Question” – why should we do this? What does it matter? Does it matter?

Since I have again embarked on the journey of blogging with my students, I have been barraged with the inevitable queries as to why we have to do this (usually spoken in a planitive and/or whiney voice) by my students and colleagues (not in the whiney voice though, of course).

My answer? Because I believe in it. I believe that there is a world out there that goes deeper than Facebook superpokes and MSN instant messages. I believe that my students are a the edge of a precipice and they have two choices: leap into the unknown which is rife with fear and possibility and the potential for greatness or meekly tiptoe back into the blank safety of normalcy and mediocrity. I believe that these incredible fifteen and sixteen year olds are finding out who they are and what they believe in and they need a creative intellectual outlet for that process. I believe that what they have to say outside of class is just as valuable – if not more so – because it allows me to learn about Who They Are.

“Write about music! Write about TV! Write about identity! Write about socialization! Write about food! Just write!” I have heralded in class, trying to transmit my deep enthusiasm and excitement over this endeavor. I’ve made the party analogy: when you go to a party, who do you talk to? Do you talk to the interesting person with varied interests and a passion for life, art, architecture, theatre, politics, something, anything, or do you want to talk to the person with nothing of interest to say? One student response was, “But I don’t have ANYTHING interesting to say!?” And my response was this: “YES YOU DO! YOU ARE INTERESTING! YOU HAVE THINGS OF VALUE TO SAY! YOU DESERVE TO FIND A COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE WHO ALSO BELIEVE IN YOU! YOU CAN DO THIS!”**

So. I’m excited to see what happens. Last year blogging was hands down the best way to get a better sense of who my students are and what they need…I don’t want them to focus on grammar or a certain number of words (though posting with regularity is key to establish the regular habit of self-expression and developing your online voice), I want them to focus on meaning, on ideas, on passion, on excitement…on anything that inspires them. Because that, my friends, will inspire me.

**Caps added for emphasis but not necessarily to indicate yelling.

photo: laos village child / s. patterson / 12.08

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