I love it when the seniors leave little gems in their OneNotes for me to find. Especially when in the midst of The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood.
Every teacher I know is playing their first day out- whether with the experience of last year fresh in mind or the optimism of the very first year ahead. I quite enjoy the anticipation; it forces me to reflect on last year’s good intentions, last year’s “what worked and what did not work” so to speak. I’m also a goal-orientated educator; articulating objectives or reflecting on past practices helps set the tone for the year ahead. And, since I have a captive audience, I’m adding my list to the millions of other posted lists about the first days of school. Only this list is the real list; the list of things you most need to do. After twelve years of teaching, this is the list that works for me.
Establish your core. I’m not talking about exercise, at least not physical exercise. I mean your support group, your colleague core. If you are new to your school, reach out to the person you will most work with and establish some mutual grounds. Email your librarian, your IT department, and your department head. Ask questions, schedule a time to meet before the school year gets started. I reach out to the librarians with my course syllabus; the IT department and I meet to discuss the new technology I’m implementing. I usually lunch with a few teachers in my discipline and invite new ones. It’s important to feel connected to a sense of community, whether that be big or small. Teaching very much takes a village and realizing how each of us connect is a big part of student success. Any teacher who feels like an island is never well placed for a good year; if you aren’t a fan of big groups in the lunchroom, invite others for a coffee break. While it takes time to develop a professional learning community, it takes one coffee break to feel connected. And that’s a start, for both you and your students.
Now I’m feeling like I need cupcakes, a kitten, and my course schedule completed. Happy first day to all my teacher friends, and be sure to add to my list. What did I miss?
ISTE, or the International Society for Technology in Education is held every year nationally and this year was hosted in San Antonio, Texas. It is part conference, part massive share session, part exposition, and all teacher-student focused. And while this is my second year in attending, every humanities teacher should attend at least one ISTE. I was thinking about the “why” behind that statement very much during this year’s conference; how exactly does English (or humanities for that matter) fit into a growing STEM curriculum?
I’ve got five reasons in no particular order.
1. Sometimes a new idea is best found outside your comfort zone. This was a good part of keynote speaker Jad Abumrad, co-creator of Radio Lab. (And yes, I was completely fangirl about his speech!) He spoke of the need for teachers to re-think, re-know, and re-create. And the more I think about it, some of my last year successes came from last year’s ISTE. Some of this year’s new ideas came from this year’s ISTE. Especially from….
2. The Playground is more than swings in the 21st Century. Our students are living in a world where the playground is virtual or at least a mix of both the virtual and the real. ISTE acknowledges that the best learning is understanding how they work together; the best teaching involves lessons that give students both theory and application. And instead of listening to some amazing educators, you can go to the ISTE Playground and interact with educators, students, and even “play” with some of the new technology and curriculum developed in different schools. My favorite “playground” this year is a three way tie. Technically, one is in the exhibition hall, which I’ll get to in number 3. The other two share a space: Microbit and Code Academy. Microbit is a new toy obsession microprocessor from BBC that introduces both a way to code from your phone (via their app) and coding in general across multiple platforms. It works with Python, Java, Scratch and others. And if you are new to code and want to learn, Code Academy was right next door to demonstrate their free coding classes. I’m on my fourth one. I’m addicted. Grab me and I’ll tell you all about how I re-ignited my love of html (oh my angst high school blog…how I miss you and your html) and started learning CSS. I’ve started Java, and Python is on the docket. (And if you like learning languages or graphing sentences #nerdhere, then you will love this.)
3. The Swag to Meet all Swags: The Exhibition hall at ISTE is a claustrophic nightmare, but a great way to really get your hands on something. Literally- exhibitionists (I couldn’t stop myself…)bring their wares/technology/software/etc to the massive room and set up shop. This year, I studied the map before entering so I knew what vendors or peeps I wanted to meet. It’s also a great way to get some amazing swag: I came home with a free microbit from BBC, four cool tshirts, entry access to a couple new software programs, and a hot wheels car. Which brings me to Microsoft, my third favorite “playground.” This year, #hackMicrosoft used their exhibition space to create a hotwheels STEM playground. Using the retro toy ( I was totally a hotwheels girl- my parents found it a bit unnerving), they set up a station where a hotwheels car, a paperclip, a micro processor, Microsoft excel, and a race track helped you understand and measure the velocity, speed, and friction of an object in motion. I have pictures. I am happy to share. It was amazing. They even had a station set up where you wrote about your experience (more on this in #5). If you could tear yourself away from the cars (it took me 45minutes), around the corner was the nextgen of OneNote and the premiere of Microsoft teams. I’m using both in my classroom next year.
4. Who run the world? Educators. Last year was a bit of hit or miss for me when it came to the sessions. This year? I couldn’t find enough time or clone myself to attend all the ones I wanted. Every one I went to was a great way to dialogue with other educators, a way to learn how to look at curriculum a bit differently, or just a really amazing idea I’d like to adopt. I even met one of the authors of a book I purchased in the ISTE bookstore and had an incredible conversation about the changing nature of English education and the importance of preservation. I met librarians, English teachers, theater directors, ESL teachers, and even a few high school students who presented their digital partnership with a school in Africa. If nothing else, ISTE is an invigorating reaffirmation in the power of education and the incredible resilence of teachers.
5. How does this relate to English? At the end of the day, it’s not technology that connects us to the world or each other. It’s not even the experience itself; it’s how we communicate our experiences, how we express our solutions, our innovations, our passions. And where can you find that curriculum in abundance? The humanities. Every tech/science/math teacher I met at ISTE argued that the humanities have never been more needed. Every Microsoft developer I spoke with (and there are surprising quite a few at ISTE) emphasized how important communication, critical thinking, divergent thinking, and even empathy were core values to their company. I’m not just learning to code because it’s fun; I’m learning a different way to communicate albeit with a program. And then, I’m writing about that experience to a very human audience. Yet, our students have trouble transfering their very applicable English skills to the STEM classroom. My theory? If we don’t see STEM/STEAM as an interdisciplanary collaboration with the humanities, if we don’t practice and work in tangent with other departments, then how can we expect them to do the same? My own ruminations on this have motivated me to re-invent my science fiction course. Even more so, I would love to see every school embrace a creative non-fiction class where students would learn how to respond, react, and even collaborate with a very interdisciplinary reality. And that is really the new reality.
So yea. Go to ISTE.
I have much to post this week, but I thought I’d do a quick share: my favorite week at school was last week, or Kindness Week! It runs in conjunction with National Kindness Week, and I’m happy to see that tradition grow. At my school, we keep it simple. Sometimes, this is the best way- after all, kindness in its most simple form is a powerful thing.
Our guidance counselors invited the whole school to write notes- of encouragement, of gratitude, of greeting- to anyone in the school. Teachers were encouraged to write colleagues, students, and staff; students the same. The cafeteria dedicated a whole table to notecards of all sorts, makers, crayons, pens, and stickers so that anyone could write their note during the day. The notes were delivered via snail mail, which in our school means the student board or your faculty box.
I cannot tell you how incredible, how moving it is to watch a student squeal in delight (I teach all girls, so squeal is really the right word) when they get a card. I cannot tell you how much it just makes my week to open up my own notes and find words that make my job so meaningful, even from the most unlikely sources.
And so, while I am behind in posting, know that I spent my time writing others. If only we all did this year round!