Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 2 Where Jonathan Kozol Comes To Visit Us

Jonathan Kozol at CMK11
One of the very first books I ever read about teaching and education was "Death At An Early Age" by Jonathan Kozol. I don't remember how and why and when I picked it up but what I do remember is the impact it had on me. When I heard that Jonathan Kozol was one of the speakers at this summer's session I started to seriously make plans to return for a second time. I was not to be disappointed. Jonathan Kozol exudes all the compassion and empathy and insight in person as he does in the pages of his books, and them some. It was an honor to be sitting just a few feet away from him as he spoke of the book he has just wrapped up and of his journeys to congress in an attempt to bring an experienced voice to the current education debate/reform/debacle.

What I truly don't understand about education is why there seem to be so very many people involved in the positions of power who don't seem to have any sympathy or compassion for the learner. Why is education framed in such a punitive way? Why does it seem to be based so much on rewards and punishments and not on imagination and ideas and wonderment?

Mr. Kozol reminds us that education and learning is (or should be) about personal relationships and the bonds that develop between children and their teachers. It is unfortunate that the current political climate doesn't seem to lend itself to this notion, the wrong sort of people seem to be vying for control of education policy and the money that goes with it.

It is indeed a sad time to be a teacher. I don't know why teaching as a profession, has so little control over the policy and decision-making of the profession. What would happen if we attempted to take charge? Or is there really so little power in the hands of each teacher that we cannot ever hope to make any changes? I am not easily defeated but I don't know if I could continue to teach if I were forced to go against the what I truly believe the experience of learning should be for children.

When I get back to my project I start thinking about how to narrow down my area of exploration and what tools would really be best to work out the ideas I have for making an animation based on input from sensors. Besides the Pico tools, there are a couple of other options I had yet to play around with. Go-Go boards and Arduino controllers were also available to use and experiment with. I am reminded of the fine line that often occurs in my own classroom when students are working on projects and figuring out different things they can do or create with the tools at their disposal. I want my students to explore the range of possibilities and to discover success in mistakes or failure. I also want them to be making a certain amount of progress, which I define as the generation of ideas and inspiration and motivation that comes from the work they are doing. As a teacher I see a big part of my job as making sure students are not just dabbling in many things without any focus or ideas.

With this in mind I decide that based on the ideas I have, and the amount of time to work, that the Pico Board and the Scratch program would be best suited for my needs. So I get to work on making my ideas something more concrete.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011

Thoughts on the first day of CMK2011.
This is my second year back at Constructing Modern Knowledge, a conference happening in Manchester New Hampshire this week. It is an opportunity to work with a range of materials and work through several ideas that may of been put on the back burner throughout the busy school year. Equally important is the fantastic range of participants and speakers and facilitators who work side by side and who are a constant source of inspiration and ideas.

This week I wanted to focus on using the Pico Crickets or the Pico Board. I was interested in combining sound and animation. In my own classroom I am very careful that my students focus not only on the tool(s) but to allow the ideas and the concepts drive their learning and their creating. The computer is a powerful means to extend ideas and thinking that might otherwise not be possible. I wanted to think of ideas or questions that would drive my week long project and the tools I would use would fall into place.

Another interesting result of experimentation and "tinkering" are other interesting (or maybe not so interesting) ideas. So armed with the Pico materials I spent my first day exploring the possibilities of using the Scratch program and the Pico Blocks program and the many sensors and input and output devices that can be attached and used.