Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sparky Anderson

When I was growing up, Sparky Anderson was the manager of the Detroit Tigers.  I loved the Tigers and baseball (still do…Joaquin Benoit is my Tiger).

[For trippy 80’s Tigers flashback, click on this link: Bless You Boys!...yes, people actually used to dress like that.  For the record I was only three when this happened.]

Sparky was the central figure of the success of the mid-eighties Tigers, and especially their 1984 World Series win.  Sure, Lance Parrish (my fav), Jack Morris, Alan Trammel, Tommy Brookens, and Sweet Lou all played critical roles, but Sparky had to do something that none of them had to do.

In an ideal setup in team sports, the individual players only have to worry about one thing: their own performance.  Sparky had to worry about all of their performances.  It is the manager’s job to essentially do two things: inspire his players to play at their top level and craft a game-plan that effectively utilizes these top level performances.

If the manager is only successful at one or the other, the team will fail.  Sports history is replete with examples.

I liken my position with regards to technology tools, to the managerial role of a baseball team.

In class on Friday we learned the basics of at least six relatively new technology tools.  It is up to us to manage these, and the myriad of other tools out there.

First, we have to form our roster.  We have to decide which tools we need to get the job done.  We have to decide which ones we can expect top performances out of.  Just as importantly, we have to decide which ones we do not want on our team right now.

We might not need DropBox.  We might need Evernote.  We might send Google Reader to the minor leagues till we need him.

Next we have to decide how to best utilize our roster. 

Excel is my leadoff hitter.  I’m a former engineer.  That should be enough explanation. 

Batting second is PowerPoint.  Always reliable for making contact.  Batting third for me is Evernote.  I’ve used this tool for a while now and am discovering new ways to use it (thanks to Friday’s class).

Batting clean-up is my iPhone.  Greatest capability to knock it out of the park.

You get my point…

Maybe you don’t think of Excel and PowerPoint as tools?  Yep, they are.  Just like Diigo and Skype.  Only difference is we’ve been using them for longer, so we know how to use them better and are less intimidated by them. 

Believe you can get there with these new tools too.  You did it once, you can do it again.

The trick (not easy) is to think of them as tools.  Be Sparky.  That’s never bad advice.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Missed Class...went to Ohio...usually a bad idea...not this time

I had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Convening Thursday and Friday of last week with five of my WW colleagues.  Alas that we missed class……sounded like a good one (as always)!

The event was very good, to be honest, much better than I expected. 

There were several great talks by WW Fellows who are now in the field, as well as Dr. Sonia Nieto.  We also had the opportunity to attend two elective seminars and participate in a panel forum for the Michigan WW Fellows.

As a side note, the event was in Columbus, Ohio.  I have a close friend there so we hung out Thursday night.  He took me to a place called “Jennie’s” which has some of the best rated ice cream in the whole U.S……needless to say it was fantastic!  I had some cherry/white chocolate/pistachio……unbelievable……

I also uttered a few choice words as we drove by the Horseshoe.  And sang a certain SONG…the greatest fight song in the world!! Only six weeks left!!

My highlight for seminar was the first elective I took, Classroom Management In Urban Settings.

If there was one thing I took away from the class, it would be an admonition to myself and my colleagues to make sure we are working with local non-profits and volunteers to help our students out.

The class was lead by the founder of a non-profit called Voices Against Violence (click link for details).  His group works with local school districts to help students with emotional needs, and to help get drugs and weapons out of schools.

What is his number one obstacle?  Not the kids……not the administrations……not the parents……it’s TEACHERS.

Teachers who think they know it all.  Teachers who think they have everything under control.

Looking in the mirror…and looking to my colleagues…we need to make sure we are doing everything we can for our students, whatever it takes.  Obviously we need to make sure that groups are legitimate and are using research based proven methodology, but let’s make sure our kids go before our pride.

Probably easier said than done.  Especially on this side of the classroom.  But at least my awareness was raised.

Does anyone know of any similar groups here in Michigan?

I intend to do some research on my end.

As well, even though the V.O.V. group is based in Pittsburg, they are available for consultation. 

Check out the link.  Save the link. Here it is again:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

They mentioned Plato...

They did it.  They mentioned Plato in the readings for this week’s class.  While I don’t necessarily buy into all of Plato’s philosophy, I do love reading his works.  They are still brilliant, thousands of years removed. 

Plato makes you think. And in that day, thinking for yourself was quite a novel thing.

Here is the excerpt from the text:

Plato in the Phaedrus famously complained that books were passive in the sense that you cannot get them to talk back to you in a real dialogue the way a person can in a face-to-face encounter.

Read it again, with emphasis added…

Plato in the Phaedrus famously complained that BOOKS (books!!) were passive in the sense that you cannot get them to talk back to you in a real dialogue the way a person can in a face-to-face encounter.

So I have a test for you.  Go into the 21st century classroom…any classroom…and take out the books.  Tell the students, teachers, principals, and parents that the books do not promote learning.  See what happens. 

Fahrenheit 451 anyone?

So why would we rush to say that video games are of no use in the classroom? 

If there is a chance they might help some students (or a lot or a little) why not keep the playbook open?

I was never a “gamer” growing up…mostly because my parents did not want us having video games.  I did not have a video game console till I was 16.

Was it good?

YES - It forced me and my brother to go play outside.

NO - At worst, I was the brunt of a lot of jokes in school because I was out of tune on the video game scene.  At best, I missed out on some good time with my friends because I sucked at Mortal Kombat (FINISH HIM!)

So I say “try it”…if it works, great.  If it doesn’t, set it aside.  We don’t know what we don’t know.

Do I see any risks?  Yes.  Two things.

First, as we learned in Rachel’s class, children, especially younger children, have difficulty distinguishing reality from fiction.  My biggest issue with video games is how do you help children distinguish what looks possible on video games from what is reality? 

Second.  Balance.  Video games are good…and video games are bad.  Books are good…and books are bad.  (If you just sat with books all day and never left the couch, is that so much better than video games?). 

A balanced approach is needed for EVERY teaching method.  One of our MAC benchmarks is Intellectual CHARACTER which means a well-balanced, well-rounded approach.

So after evaluating the risks, I say, "Try it"......we won't know till we do.

Monday, July 16, 2012

EDUC 504 Class #2 Reflections: A New Normalcy

·       1920: Post World War I, Warren G. Harding runs a presidential campaign on the slogan of, “A Return to Normalcy”

·       2012: U of M student (never gets old hearing that) Ryan Said contemplates the “New Normalcy” that is the 21st century grade school learner.

[Yes…the two topics are not even close (or are they?) but “normalcy” is a fun word to use.]

There were two parts to class today.  Both parts were great.  The dynamic of the second part got me thinking.  But first, a few lines on Part I.

I was with the Math cohort and our assigned librarian/media expert was Ms. Laurie Olmstead.  Aside from the work we did, Laurie was a wealth of information on teaching practices in general.  I learned a lot from her today.  (Kristin, Jeff…keep this part of the class!)

Lakeza, Katherine, Katie, Pete, Mike, and I spent the full two-and-a-half hours working on our project.  In the end we were pretty satisfied with our final product. 

The biggest thing I took away from the project was ideas of the others in the group about how to present the material.  Some of it I had thought about before, some of it I had not.  All of us had pretty good ideas to contribute.  Laurie tried to impress upon us the importance of having similar meetings once we get into our teaching careers.  She said that, unfortunately, they are not that common, but to push for them.  I can clearly see the value in this type of group lesson planning.

In part II of class we made podcasts.  It was fun and not too difficult. 

For any fans of The Dark Knight, check out my grand five-second podcast called, “Kill the Batman.” (July 20th is only a few days away!!)

Thinking a little bigger, both in this class and in the last class, I found in myself a “first impulse” that I will only describe as some kind of “anxiety” toward all of this technology.

Anyone agree? (I read I lot of the first blogs…I know you’re out there!)

I’m getting over the anxiety, but I won’t say it’s not there.  I suspect many in our class feel the same way.

Conjecture #1
My conjecture on the reason behind this initial anxiety impulse is not that we (I) am opposed to technology, or even learning technology, but rather questioning if we will be able to master it and utilize it to the satisfaction of our future students.

I had no problem creating a blog last session.  I had no issues making an mp3 and creating a podcast in the recent session.  But it’s another demand on my teaching if I have to not only use this technology, but also really master it to do the best job I can for my students.  Run a blog, create podcasts, utilize Google docs (and similar formats), utilize video technology…oh yeah, and grade regular papers, prepare lesson plans, deal with parents…the list goes on. 

While technology clearly gives us more formats to educate more effectively, it also clearly places more demands on teachers. 

What to do?

Well, I think the answer might be simple.  Sink or swim.  Get over ourselves and, “just do it” (Nike, 1988). [Note my clever use of APA format.]

Conjecture #2
Here is the New Normalcy: our students posses a different mindset about technology than we do.  Learning and using new technology is a way of life for them.  It is “normal.”  Yes, they have to learn it just like we do, but they don’t view it as this radical new expectation.  Again, they have a different mindset.  We need to get it.  We can stay on the outside looking in, or we can open the door and get in there with them.

Not saying it’s easy…

I think our recent reading from Willingham (2009) for Rachel’s class sums up part of the problem nicely:

Contrary to popular belief, the brain is not designed for thinking.  It’s designed to save you from having to think.” (pg. 3) [More APA just for fun…which is a joke…because APA is not fun.]

One of my recent favorite reads is a book called, What Makes the Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo.  (Click the link for an excerpt.)  DiSalvo makes similar claims to Willingham.  Our brain craves, above all else, and even to its own destruction, stability.  Stability, stability, stability.  Learning new things, especially when they possess large unknown quantities as technology seems to do, threatens the stability of the brain, thus our initial anxiety impulse (or at least mine). 

Here’s the deal though, our students are not threatened by technology.  It is not an unknown quantity to them.

Which leaves us with a decision…

Agree / disagree?  Let’s have it!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NYC Soda Ban Lesson Plan (...and I love Pepsi)

Because I love Pepsi, and who doesn’t love old school Michael?

I’m a math major so I am not really seeing this topic coming up as part of a lesson plan or part of normal in-class discussion per se.  Yes, there are all sorts of mathematical things you could do with this magic “44oz” number: how many smaller cans would have to be consumed to equal that amount; how much pop the average American consumes in a day; what is the recommended daily soda intake maximum (a quick internet search will reveal its “zero”). 

None of this is really the point of the discussion though.  I wouldn’t feel like I was being honest with my material to go this route.  I would be making an attempt to be “relevant” without actually addressing the core of the topic.  Our Willingham reading in EDUC 606 directly cautioned against this sort of lesson planning (as I interpreted it anyway).

That doesn’t mean this topic has no relevance to math.

For discussion sake, let’s pretend my class is in NYC (would be awesome!).  Let’s pretend my students roll into class one day roaring about Czar Bloomberg and his pending edict on soda consumption. 

Although I am a math teacher, I love the humanities and philosophy in particular (although admittedly, due to my educational background, my experience is limited).  I decide to tackle this issue in my math classroom.  All year we have been learning about methodical ways to solve mathematical problems.  Let’s take ‘em to the streets.  No more numbers.  Let’s use the same tools and ideas to solve real world problems (or at least form intelligent opinions).

First, like any good math student, we need to clearly write out what the problem is.  I would probably have my students work in small groups to come up with an initial question/problem statement.  Then, as a larger group, we would agree on a statement.  If we couldn’t find agreement, then I would possibly do the next steps as separate groups.

In encouraging Intellectual Character in my students, I remind them that while their ideas are important, they are only the starting point.  Just like in math, we need solid data and proven tools to solve problems.  We need to analyze the problem in front of us objectively to know what to do with it.  In Step Two I would direct the students to the internet to research data and op-ed pieces from various media outlets like the New York Times, The New Yorker, health websites, etc.  I might have them work individually or in groups to go after different types of data. 
The biggest mental exercise I would encourage in this step?  I would tell them I don’t want their opinion anymore.  I want other people’s ideas and data from respected sources.  Math is not a subjective discipline.  Data research should not be either if you are truly trying to find a right or best answer. 

Note: Perfect anti-example (made that word up): People posting political memes on Facebook when they know nothing about the real issues and have not done objective research.  While I would teach my students that everyone has the right to express their opinion, it is only the informed opinions that elicit worthwhile change…and rarely can informed opinions be condensed into Internet memes.

Step 3.  So we have some objective data now.  Does our problem statement change or stay the same?  I would encourage discussion on this…do we need to reformulate?  Can we clarify our problem statement?  The better we can define our terms, the more likely we are to agree on the terms, and the more likely we can either reach a resolution, or reach an agreement to disagree.  It is the lack of definition, or agreement on definition, of terms that lies at the root of most problems.

Step 4.  Time to think big.  Any equation in a math class is the result of a need that occurred at some point in history.  We have the Pythagorean Theorem because Pythagoras (more likely others before him) had a need to more quickly calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle.  We have Integration in Calculus because there was a need to figure out how acceleration was related to velocity.  So why do we have laws in this country?  Who gets to make the laws and why?  I would drive my students up to the macro level to understand the purpose of governments.  If I was feeling really ambitious, I might even break out some Plato, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and others for varying perspectives on government.  If we can answer these questions about laws and the purpose of government, they might give us clues to solve this problem. 

And that’s really all math is anyway: looking for clues and utilizing proven tools to solve problems.

Caveat: I fully acknowledge that social problems are not math problems.  There is no social equivalent of y=mx+b.  Often social issues are extremely complex and no complete answer exists.  That doesn’t mean that mathematical concepts can’t be applied.  Mathematical concepts are just another tool, another way to think about something.  At the very least, we might get a clearer understanding.

There are a lot more steps I could take if I wanted.  At this point in the lesson (likely due to time constraints) I would try to bring my students back to the original problem statement.  We have objective data on the issue.  We have some history about laws and governments in general: why we have them, who gets to make them, etc.  Now what can we say about this issue?  This is where the debate would come.  And it would be fun and I would thoroughly enjoy it…hopefully my students would too!

Lastly, I would remind my students that we are privileged to be able to have such a debate.  It is uncommon in history.  We live in a country where we have collectively decided that no one person or group is above the law or below the law.  We live in a country that, while certainly not flawless, strives to respect the law on both the lawmaker and law-abider sides. 

As passionate as we get about our politics, we can’t ever forget that.  Our respect for the law and those we have put in authority should trump petty disagreements.