Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LaCUE Post-Mortem

Go figure, I decide to fire up the blog then have to go into a two-week hibernation due to professional and academic commitments. That's life for you.Two weeks ago I Louisiana Association of Computer-Using Educators (LaCUE)conference in Baton Rouge. Being the Webmaster at BEBMS, I got the inside track on attending, albeit at the last minute. When I got there, I had quite the familiar feeling in that I knew absolutely no one there. I peeked in, registered, then promptly beat a retreat back to the motel room over in Port Allen where I planned my session-attending strategies for the next day.

I attended the keynote session where two chaps who work for Industrial Light and Magic and ostensibly it was about education but it felt a bit more like two geeks showing off what they did for a living with a nod to how they got started due to a teacher. Not exactly complaining about it, but that's how I felt.

The first session I penciled in was the session on Wikis in the Classroom, which is something I have tried with some degree of success, but was chomping at the bit to take it to the next level in that virtually all free Wikis out there aren't exactly built on the same backbone on as the MediaWiki engine that runs Wikipedia. After all, why teach kids how to use a Wiki without showing them how the real Wiki is done? In the end, I found myself bored to tears because the teachers around me were coming to grips with having to enter an e-mail address to create an account. I asked the assistant for the session if the presenter was going any deeper into Wikis than he was going. The assistant said no and looked at me strangely in that I found the session lacking.

After this I attended a session on Podcasting done by folks from the state's TLTC (Teaching, Learning, and Technology Centers). It was well done, but I've already had student create podcasts using those tools and ended up helping teachers around me to get their podcasts off the ground. Once that was done I attended a session called "Tricking Teachers into becoming Techie" by a college professor from Nicholls St. I was sitting in the back and got a jump on the activity only to find out that tricking teachers into becoming techies was to make another website with links and get them to use them. In my experience, that's about the best way to drive teachers running and screaming away from using technology, but I don't know much about teaching, so my opinion is null and void. After this I met up with someone from the Central Office who presented a session and we chatted it up about what I had experienced so far and how I saw I really needed to be a presenter next year (More on that later) because I have that level of technical knowledge.

Friday was a rather different proposition. I eschewed yet another "Ooh! Google!" session to pop in on a session on GIS in the classroom, another of my hobbies. Nothing I learned was new, but the presenters were fantastic and it was something real and tangible to use in the classroom that was off the beaten technological path. Afterward I talked the poor presenters' heads off about how impressed I was with the session as well as how I too use GIS in my classroom, even if it consists of just showing locations in ArcGIS Explorer so the students could get a feel for the setting their stories took place in.

After that I took two sessions back to back that had me laughing (Making students create a music video where they sing "We didn't Start the Fire" in Karaoke with the words changed to include modern history events) and a valedictory session that sent me on my way with a head full of ideas (More on that in a bit). All in all, it was a smashing success.

What I learned from LaCUE

(1) Teachers aren't as Techie as they think they are

Sorry. Hate to break it to you, but just because you know about Google Docs does not make you Techie in the real scheme of things. Kids these days are fully integrated into the Web 2.0 lifestyle (Collaboration, Social Networking, being Online everywhere) and the tools that are being touted as the greatest new thing are in fact a couple of years old. If you were a real techie, you'd be on the EtherPad bandwagon in order for your students to work on documents in real-time. If we're going to get serious about being really techie teachers, we need to get out of the box and make a serious effort in using tools that the students will feel at home using, not just a program that has features that we're comfortable with but is in a new package.

(2) I really am at the far end of the bell curve tech-wise

Sitting in the Wiki session I got the feeling that I had lapped the knowledge being given. I tried all of the free Wiki options online and found them wanting. I've been playing with a build of the actual MediaWiki server package on my home server with the intent of trying it in my classroom. Considering Wikipedia is the gold standard for Wikis online, I'm of the opinion that if we want to teach our students how to use Wikis, we should get them into the swing of using the actual Wiki markup language, not an odd hybrid of BBCode and HTML.

Regardless, my views on technology in the classroom and what can/should be used is far beyond that of your average teacher. Is this surprising? Of course not. What does it mean for me? I need to just get used to sharing what I know to other teachers. Speaking of which...

(3) It's time for me to stop griping and start sharing

The biggest thing I learned from LaCUE is that I should stop whinging about the lack of tech knowledge of my peers (Like I did during LaCUE on my Twitter feed!)and do something about it. As the school webmaster I'm professionally (and contractually!) obligated to assist in professional development of my peers. I'm already doing that in a way by presenting at our parish's ShareFair in January (Web 2.0! Let's Share!), but I need to get to work at the grass roots level.

The last session I went to was put on by the Plaquemines Parish School Board and discussed their Tech Cafe concept they use to do technology-based professional development. Rather than boring teachers with websites, long-winded blogs (Like this one!), and useless teaming meetings, the Tech Cafe concept has the in-school facilitators take a broad focus from the Central Office (Like using Excel better) and create a 30 minute session that shows teachers how to do one thing in the program and as "homework" they integrate it into a lesson and reflect on how it went. Repeat this over the school year with the whole coffee shop theme and you have a rousing success with teachers getting something tangible out of technical professional development that isn't a major drain of their free time (30 minutes every two weeks) and is on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We're going to try it late this school year to see how it works, and if it goes like how I think it would, I could see it adopted across the district, which would be fantastic.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A New Post a Year later? Why not?

I've decided to start the blog back up after a while, and for an opening shot, here's something I wrote as a Facebook note. Enjoy!

Today wasn't exactly a banner day in my life. It won't go down as one of those horrible days you remember for years on end, but today was a case where the two buttons that I can't stand being pushed were pushed and pushed hard. It took all of my constitution in one case to not bite a student's head off, but thankfully I stopped before going over the edge.

It is perhaps my biggest problem as a school teacher at a struggling school in a community that thinks someone who's mediocre is showing off by being uppity is the fact that I really have a short fuse when it comes to stupidity. I can put up with innocent ignorance, and even people who just don't get it despite their best efforts. What I can not stand are people who have the mental capacity to step up and be... normal, yet completely and utterly refuse to be competent and, in fact, go out of their way to be incompetent.

Rather than recite the litany of incidents today, I'd just point to the fact that about ten seconds after reminding my students for the third time in a two-minute span that when they come into my classroom they are to sit down and do their work, a student got up and started talking to a student across the class. When I informed them they would be receiving a minor infraction slip for being out of their seat and talking out of turn, they looked at me with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

I'm beginning to debate whether my students have figured this out and are proceeding to mash this button with glee. My cynical side says this is 100% true, but in light of how incompetent some of my students act at times, I think I would be giving them too much credit if I thought they were cunning enough to act dumb and get away with it, natch.

The other thing that really mashed my button was today's assembly, which was a giant facepalm for me. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I was raised in an Assemblies of God church, attended a (nominally) Christian school and later graduated from a (very) Christian high school, went to an evangelical Christian university for two years, and am a full voting member in an Assemblies of God church (Not to mention my mom's a licensed minister in the Assemblies!). I generally approve of the concept of church groups coming into schools and giving students a pep talk about making good choices in their life, and making the equivalent of the wrestler's advice to kids to listen to their parents, say their prayers, and take their vitamins.

So with that said, upon realising that today's assembly would be one of those, and it would be hosted by folks from the church I used to attend, I thought it would be sporting of me to toss aside my cynical nature and see how this thing would play out, since it couldn't be any worse than the semester of chapel services in high school about how premarital sex was bad, evil, etc. ... only to have our school's first pregnancy near the end of the semester. It wasn't that bad in light of that, but the same things that get stuck in my crawl when I deal with youth group culture stuck themselves in my crawl.

It wasn't the fact that the speaker said that Ernest Hemmingway wrote Invictus (Hemmingway was too manly to admit to weakness... which is why he blew his brains out!), or insinuated that Nelson Mandela got out of prison, looked around, then decided to run for president of South Africa (Ignoring that whole Apartheid thing, or the fact that he was the physical and spiritual leader of the popular resistance against the Apartheid government, but who's keeping score... other than the Social Studies teacher and the native-born South African teacher sitting next to me?), but rather the contradictory message that they sent.

The thrust of the message was that Pop Culture sends the wrong message about what is cool and what the measure success is in comparison to what being "cool" and "success" really is. In all fairness to my students, I seriously doubt any of them caught onto it, but why on earth would I listen to someone telling me to ignore pop culture when they're dressed in the latest style with the coolest glasses and the hippest haircut, and their folks in tow look like rejects from a Panic at the Disco! music video?

I may be a bit biased because I've never bought into pop culture, almost never comb my hair, and think wearing a sweater with a collared shirt underneath is edgy, but I think this is a huge problem in modern student ministries--youth leaders, in an attempt to reach our young people, go out of their way to adopt elements of the same culture they say is something you should ignore for a higher cause.

Of course, the clothes people wear and their interests aren't what makes a person (The Bible's fairly clear about that) and all that, but common sense has to come into play at some point in time and we have to look at the nonverbal things we pass onto the teenagers deal with and see if they are contradicting the words we are telling them. I'm sure someone whom I've tagged will tell me how wrong I am and how I just don't get it because I'm a sheltered curmudgeon who thinks soccer really is better than armoured catch, but I just can't buy the concept that I should be sold out for Jesus and to toss aside the things of the secular world like you when you're busy listening playing with your iPod, wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt, and otherwise going out of your way to buy, wear, listen to, and watch what Pop Culture is telling you to buy, wear, listen to, and watch.

Don't know if I'm just being old and bitter, or if I'm onto something. Chances are it's just the former.