Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tear down this wall

So we received some exciting news this past week at school, which is that my school within a school is going to be one of the few county magnet programs, in our case, for Communications.  A lot of thoughts about that, and about my school in general, but let me focus in on one thing tonight.

Along with becoming a magnet comes some pretty cool news that at some point next year we'll be 1:1 in the School of Communications.  Since I'm flipping, using google forms assessments, having students make videos and tutorials on Explain Everything, etc, that is pretty good news.  In fact, one would think that I would have jumped up at the announcement.  And honestly, I am fairly excited about it.  But I have a bit of trepidation as well.

First off, let me just say that even though I teach in an urban school, we have a ton of technology.  We won a huge grant a couple of years ago, and since then have installed I think somewhere around 6 new computer labs in our school.  Wifi went up in the whole building this year.  Every room has a smartboard and projector.   There is an ipad lab in our media center.

We are truly blessed at our school, and having taught in a school where my computer lab was all of 6 computers, I know what a blessing it is.


  • The iPad lab is officially speaking, to be used in the library only.  The thin portable tablets meant to be carried around are in one place, essentially anchored.
  • Even though I like to think I'm one of the more tech savvy teachers, I had no working computer outside of my ipad for over a month last semester.  The IT guys had replaced parts in my computer no fewer than 4 times, and yet it would not even run 20 minutes without rebooting itself spontaneously.
  • My new computer by the way, won't play video through the projector...which is a bit of a problem since I spent a significant amount of time creating my 60 or so videos last term.
  • I said I used my ipad at the end of last term, which I did...with a connector cable that I purchased on my own.
  • The iPad lab only recently actually got useful apps on it....6 months or so after we got the devices...and about 2 months before the next iPad iteration comes out.
  • At the height of my frustration last term I noted that right across the hall from me was the room that is to be our next computer lab, stacked with Dell boxes for that new computer lab...that have been there for months waiting for furniture.
  • Officially, I can't use my personal iPad on the school wireless...which begs the question of what it is actually there for...
I actually have more, but I should sleep at some point.   Let me be perfectly clear, this is not the fault of our Tech coordinator (@techcoor on twitter) who is one of the kindest, most solicitous people on the planet.  And really, it's not even my biggest complaint, because most of that is about me and my tech issues.

So let's get to where the rubber meets the road, the kids...

All social media is blocked...why?  I have 60 videos on youtube, educational videos that are essentially their first go to part of the curriculum.  Oh yeah, put them on the slow frankenstein school website...done...I'm a team player.  Guess what, even though one of the 3 formats I made them in is especially for iOS, they can't be watched at school on the ipads, because the school website converts them to flash... Even youtube/edu is blocked on most of the computers.

So you know what my kids do instead...they pull out their phones and watch them on youtube.  So do I when I need to use something.

I went to a meeting a year ago where the IT department folks and science folks were tauting the benefits of Skype in the classroom, and then proceeded to explain the forms in triplicate and weeks notice we would need to use them...

A few of the teachers use twitter to do connect with students or parents...but of course the only way the kids can access it is on their phones.  They can't use the school computers, which becomes a real problem for those students who don't have internet at home...

We have this crazy new evaluation system in Tennessee this school year, that we actually piloted at our school last year.  I'm ok with it since I'm an arrogant jerk anyway, but a lot of folks are nervous.  One of the biggest focuses is on grouping, creating, thinking in teams, showing knowledge in ways other than tests.  I'm actually down with this, I think it is a good idea.  Teh new hawtness in edubabble is that of 21st Century skills... but what good does that do if the system is walled?

We're in the middle kingdom, trying to peer over the wall into the celestial kingdom.

I understand fully that there are privacy concerns and laws out there that require filters...I just think they are mostly ill-informed and crazy in some ways.

Here's what I it your teachers to moderate.  Even better, expect your teachers to help teach proper ways to use these things.  Are kids occasionally going to watch something on youtube that they shouldn't?  Absolutely...and when I see that, which I will, because I moderate my room, I'll stop it.  Will fights get arranged through twitter?  Probably...someone could get stabbed with a pencil, do we ban those too? (thanks #pencilchat !)

You want me to have my kids create, innovate, be prepared as much as possible for the 21st century, fine...I'm all for that...I want to be on the bleeding edge of that stuff.  I'm prepared to be the guy taking the hits to pass my knowledge of what doesn't work to others.  I have no problem with stuff going wonky as the students and I figure it out.  

But I can't...we're stuck on the wrong side of the Brandenburg gate, able to see what is over on the other side, but kept back, because the stuff over there is dangerous and we can't be trusted with it...

Tear down this wall...

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