This week has been absolutely wonderful! In fact, it has been the most enjoyable week of my ten year teaching career. We put our regular social studies lessons on hold while we worked on our Budding Artist project. Back in December I requested art supplies through DonorsChoose and this week we finally got to use them! I had been looking forward to this week since December! I could not wait to see what my students would create.
So this week we painted. It has been incredible to see what my students have come up with, but what I have enjoyed even more is getting to know them. So many stories were shared this week that would not have been shared if we had been working on regular school work. I intentionally created a very relaxed space outside of our regular classroom to make it feel less like school. We listened to music, we laughed and we joked around. I was nice to be able to take the time to play and create. While it did take time away from our regular lesson plans, what was gained was well worth the sacrifice of two class periods. I don’t mean to sound too sappy, but we bonded.
None of this would have been possible without the wonderful people who supported my DononsChoose project. By giving money to this project they sent the message to my students that they matter. Each painting will be hung up in the hallway of our school and each one will be dedicated to a specific donor. Each student made a handprint which will be displayed in the hallway with a description of the project and a sign that reads “Each of these students had a hand in this project.” Because of this project my students feel like they have some ownership in their school. They are very proud of their work and I am SUPER proud of them!
Earlier this evening my friend Shana Bull asked her Facebook friends what their favorite holiday cookie was. Lots of people replied and so many of the things they shared sounded so good! Her post inspired me to do something special for the holiday season. I put together a Google Doc where everyone can share their favorite holiday treat as well as the recipe. Since our personal learning network is spread across the entire world, I thought it would be special if we were able to share some holiday traditions with each other. If you participate (and I hope you do!) please include your name and Twitter handle, your location (country), and a brief story about why this recipe is important to you. Can you imagine what a fabulous document this will be if lots of people share their favorite treats?! If you share this link on Twitter please use the hashtag #plntreats.
I have come across two blog posts in recent weeks that have resonated with me. Both are about the use of Internet filtering and the role of the IT department in schools. Doug Johnson’s (@BlueSkunkBlog) Don’t be a mushroom when it comes to filtering and Gary Stager’s(@garystager) One in a Million are definitely worth reading, especially if you can relate to what it is like when you are in the middle of a project with your students and you find you are blocked from sites that you KNOW have educational value.
Some of the pushback to these two posts came from IT directors who were quick to point out that they have to make sure their network complies CIPA, FERPA, and other laws. If you are not sure what all of these acronyms are then I recommend taking a look at Unmasking the Digital Truth. Wes Fryer has done a superb job busting some myths surrounding CIPA and other legislation. Henry Thiele’s FUD vs GAFE presentation might be of interest to you if you work in a district that is anti-Google.
Filtering in school is necessary and required by law in order for schools to receive eRate funding. I don’t think you will find many teachers who are opposed to filters that are required by law. I have some concerns regarding excessive use of filters and I’m pretty sure a number of educators share these same concerns.
I’m not saying there are not really good IT departments out there. I definitely don’t think that 999 out of 1000 techs are evil, but I think sometimes they can be overzealous when it comes to filtering content. I believe so much of it comes down to the desire to control the network and the people who are using it. Many teachers are afraid to use the Internet with their students because they are intimidated by the IT department. The only way to get past this is for teachers to become informed and for the lines of communication between teachers and tech to be open. Students have the right to be on a network that is as open as possible. It is our job to teach students how to filter out information. My biggest concern is that if the person with the keys to the kingdom is allowed to block sites they deem distracting, then what is keeping them from blocking sites that don’t fit within their idea of what is educationally valuable? What safeguards are in place in districts to make sure this doesn’t happen?
UPDATE-–Project has been funded! Please consider helping me get a jump start on my next project which is a field trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The trip will cost approximately $1400 which will cover the cost of a charter bus ($1100) and tickets to the special exhibit ($300) on the Mayans and a ticket to the planetarium for 45 students. General admission is free for schools until next December. This world class museum is about 3 1/2 hours away and it will be the first time that many of my students have visited Denver. For some of them it will be their first trip out of the state! The teachers will be making providing sack lunches for the students to help keep the cost down.
For those of you who don’t already know this, I teach at an alternative high school. Many of my students are the ones that, for a variety of reasons, did not fit well in the traditional school system. We only offer classes in the four core areas. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer art or music classes. I try to work in art projects throughout the year, but sometimes I feel like I could do a better job encouraging my students to express their creativity. Since we only offer classes in the four core areas we have never had a descent amount of art supplies. I would like to change that!
My school is housed on the campus of Western Nebraska Community College. Artists from across my region have their work on display in the building where we are located. My students have expressed how much they would like to create artwork to display in our hallway. A couple of my students have brought pieces up they created in art classes when they still attended a traditional high school that we have hung up, but I would like to have something from every student.
My vision is for each of my students to paint a canvas to display. This will provide them with a sense of ownership in our building and a feeling that they are part of a community. My students come from nine different districts including Scottsbluff, Gering, Mitchell, Morrill, Banner County, Bridgeport, Bayard, Kimball, and Minatare. When their principals, counselors, superintendents visit our building I want to be able to show them how talented these students are. Not only will it provide a much needed boost of confidence in my students, but it will make our school just that much more beautiful and cheerful!
Please consider making a donation to my first project. From now until December 5, any donation you make to my project will be doubled (up to $100). To have your donation matched dollar for dollar, enter the promo code INSPIRE on the payment screen.
If you know anyone who is passionate about education, please pass this along. Your donation will brighten my students’ school year, and you’ll get photos and thank you notes from our class.
Here’s my classroom request:
Budding Artists: Painting Our Way to a Prettier School
My students and I greatly appreciate your support.
Recently one of my friends and colleagues, Rodney Turner, shared a blog post titled Tech and Trust written by Doug Johnson. In a nutshell, the post compares two very different philosophies of device and network management. He discusses the futile attempt by the LA Unified School District to lock down the iPads that were recently distributed across the district and how students found a way around to circumvent the measures. The he discusses a forward-thinking high school in Connecticut where safe and responsible internet use is woven into all lessons. At New Caanan High school students are allowed the freedom to make mistakes. These mistakes are turned into teaching moments where students can learn from their mistakes. Students at New Caanan are encouraged to explore their interests and create new information all while under the guidance of trusted educators. The teachers at this school act as guides during the learning process, not roadblocks.Just days before Rodney shared this post I had a conversation with a colleague from my region who works in a district that is 1:1. He said that if a student violates one of their technology policies then they will suspend their internet privileges for 15 days. One student had his computer access revoked because he left his laptop out. (It was a 7th grade boy.) Since this school is 1:1 I can only assume that most assignments are completed online or at least require the use of the Internet. So I asked how teachers handle situations where students have lost their access. He told me they have to have something “printed and ready to go.”
WHAT!?! Really?!? I was fired up, but I walked away and I let it go. (If you know me then you know that is not an easy thing for me to do.) I tried to push the conversation out of my mind until I read Doug’s post on trusting students with technology. The part of the post that really stood out to me was the quote from Jonathan Kozol’sbook Savage Inequalities in which he stated, “Children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe.”
I could not help but recall the conversation from earlier in the week and feel the students in that district are getting cheated out of some very valuable lessons. Instead of having a logical consequence the main tools they use for learning are ripped away from them for weeks at a time. What I really wanted to ask (but didn’t) was what the consequence would have been if Little Johnny had left his textbook in another class. Would they have denied him access to his book? I don’t think so. If he had left his crayons on the other side of the classroom would he have lost his ability to use them for three weeks? Again, I don’t think so. So why do some schools feel the need to punish students by taking away the very tools they must have access to in order to learn? How can ANY district that claims to value education have such punitive policies in place? I just don’t get it.
My solution would be to create a variety of groups that would be assigned different levels of access to the Internet. Students who show they are mature and responsible would have full access to the Internet (obviously with the exception of what must be blocked.) This would include music, social networking, and other sites that are typically blocked because they are seen as purely entertainment. If a student abuses these privileges then they would be placed in a group that does not have access to all of the social sites. They would have to earn full access back over time. I realize there is an issue with who would have to move students back and forth between groups, but it can be done efficiently. In this system students still have a consequence, but a consequence that does not interfere in their education.