Sam Harrelson

Folding Cranes

From one of my students, Jesseca about another one of my students who fell ill this week…

Tree Frog Science: “These stories show us that hope can go a long way and can be exhibited in many forms. Meredith deserves our hope and our support every waking moment, so I challenge you. All of you 8th graders, and any other griffins or friends alike, to take a stand and join me in folding a thousand cranes to send to Meredith to remind her that even though we are not physically with her, we are with her in spirit.”

Let’s fold cranes indeed.




Trusting Students and Teachers as Servants

Yep and yep…

In a New Training Program, Students Teach Teachers – NYTimes.com: “As a teacher, it’s really hard to give up control of your classroom,” he said. “I think we have to trust our students more to work together.”

Interesting read of how some schools are putting students in charge of teacher “trainings” but I’d also like to see more students having a sense of control, ownership, value and purpose in their own studies.

That’s when we’ll have true “education reform.”

Teachers as servants… dangerous and revolutionary proposition, eh?

There’s something to the whole servanthood thing, of course.




FlexBooks

Hadn’t run across this before, but I’m pretty excited about the possibilities here…

CK12.ORG – FlexBooks

Already incorporating some of this into our existing textsbook over on GriffinScience.




Reality Shifts Aren’t Novelties

Fantastic post that answers many of the “iPad is a fad and has no place in our schools” critics…

TeachPaperless: Novelty, Huh?: “As for the specific case of the iPad, it’s hardly an ideal device if you are looking for a catch-all. I’m especially concerned about the closed nature of the system and the emphasis on sales at the app store and on iBooks. But it is a device that speaks to several of the important features of our time, most importantly: mobile and accessible instant Internet connectivity. And I would argue that to see the iPad as a fad is to miss the bigger picture: the iPad only exists within the context of a mobile-connected world. That mobile-connected world is not a novelty; that’s a paradigm and a reality.”

Go read the whole thing.




Logic Behind Modern Schooling

This is a long piece that I’ve had in my Instapaper account for a while and have intended to read for years.

After a few jolts of caffeine, I tackled the piece and wasn’t disappointed…

Against School, by John Taylor Gatto: “Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.”

Follow the link and read the whole piece. I don’t agree with many of the logic skips of Gatto when it comes to constructing a Prussian-Marxist structure of compulsory education but the spirit of the article certainly rings true.

Time for me to start being a teacher that encourages leaders and adventurers instead of employees and consumers in our classroom.




iPads and Classroom Essentials

This is a wonderful walkthrough by Fraser Speirs on how his school (Cedars School of Excellence in the UK)implemented an “iPad for Every Student” initiative and some of the resulting reflections the school has made.

I’m prodding my beloved Spartanburg Day School to do the same (at an annoyingly daily rate, I’m sure).

However, I was arrested for a moment when I came to this passage in the post…

An iPad for every child | Tablets | Macworld: “We are now at the stage where the iPad is embedded in the way we do business at the school. When we first started, we thought we could guard against misuse by threatening to take away the child’s iPad for a day or so. It turns out that doing so would now completely break the school day for that child. We might as well make them sit in the hallway and face the wall for the entire day. I did not expect that we would reach that point so soon.”

I hadn’t really considered how integrated a tool like an iPad could become to a classroom or a school. I have a “class” iPad that we use but we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of its possibilities and being that there’s only one to go around, it’s more difficult for students to dig deeper than note taking or quick reference searches with the device (although more and more students are getting iPads and bringing them to school).

However, I’ve purposely gone half the year now without renting the “laptop carts” which carry 18 white Macbooks for class. I have a very liberal policy when it comes to technology in my classroom (allow iPods, earbuds, iPads, mobiles… and even Androids to be used at a student’s discretion), but I don’t want the students to feel as if the laptops are a crutch to fall back on when we need to find material, make a connection or prove a point.

I guess that’s the same reason I keep a “mimimalist” look to my classroom with as few things on the wall etc as possible. It’s a science lab, but we’re just meeting in that room temporarily. I don’t want my students (or myself) to get fooled by the notion that the room itself is where science happens. Instead, I want them to look out the window at the beautiful dogwood just outside my classroom and realize that is their true classroom where all the lab supplies lie.

Everything in my classroom is very modular and utilitarian. The laptops could certainly serve as part of that utilitarian design, but I’d rather let student discretion and need drive the decision to use the web or an IM or a text message rather than saying, “Today, we will use the internet!” for a lesson.

I’m moving to a larger room next year with proper lab tables, gas lines, a chemical closet (and even an office). It will be interesting to see if my thinking changes then.

Regardless, I wonder if/when my dream of having iPads deployed across our school happens if we’ll have the same sudden realization about their essential nature to our character as a school. I also wonder about the ramifications if that does happen?




Keynote and Learning Experiences

The new beta functionality of playing Keynote presentations anywhere (well, anywhere there’s a browser, iPad, iPhone or iPod) is major for me…

iWork.com – The Great Wall

Most of the lessons or quick points I want to cover with my students are done on Keynote. We’ve always been able to watch them over the projector at school, of course. I’ve also uploaded the slides to the iWork.com beta site.

However, they were never able to play the presentation and get the full experience of the transitions and effects.

Now that has changed. Plus, with more and more of my students getting iOS devices, they can have that same experience in a mobile or tablet context.

That’s awesome.




Survival of the Focused

I would add that beyond the ability to “concentrate,” the ability to sift through the mountains of data, information, junk and propaganda will be the most essential skill for 21st century learners (an ability we’re still not doing a very good job at helping current students learn or sharpen)…

Book review: Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? – WSJ.com: “One theme emerges frequently from enthusiasts and skeptics alike: Precisely because there are such vast stores of information on the Internet, the ability to carve out time for uninterrupted, concentrated thought may prove to be the most important skill that one can hone. ‘Attention is the fundamental literacy,’ writes Howard Rheingold, the author of ‘Smart Mobs.'”

Attention is a new literacy, but there are also many other literacies out there we can’t ignore.




Creating Your Own Education

Exactly what I’ve been wanting to try with my 8th graders…

Create Your Own Assignments « Teaching as a dynamic activity: “This semester I am planning to let students create or choose their own assignments. “

I just have to be brave enough to trust what I know they can do and give up the preconceptions of what “assignments” and “assessments” really mean.




Good To Be Back

Back to work. So excited.

I love what I do.

Quit your job and teach.

Media_httpwwwsamharre_ngigh




Architectures of Participatory Learning

But the meat of the argument is about how the best explanation for many of the group phenomena we see online, from ICanHazCheezburger to Wikipedia, is that people like sharing with each other and collaborating. Not always, of course. But there are architectures of participation that encourage the kind of sharing and generosity that enriches us all, and by experimenting with them, we can create media and social change that harnesses millions of people to help and amuse each other.

Just got this on my Kindle/iPad/Desktops/iPhone (have I mentioned I love the type of portability the Kindle platform offers and hope that iBooks can replicate that type of cross-platform experience?) and can’t wait to dig in today.

I’m a big Clay Shirky fan (click the link if you need a sample), and I’m hoping this book, along with Daniel Pink’s ongoing work, becomes a pointer I can use when folks ask about the “effectiveness” of my teaching style.

I love the idea of the Teacher/Learner as an Architect. There’s something inherit about teaching that lends itself to the type of mystical and very practical practices of masons-meet-Howard Roark.

We’ll see and I’ll, of course, keep you posted.




Find out what basic safety equipment is in the lab. This affects what kind of activities you can plan. Ask ahead of time if notebooks and other consumable materials have been ordered. Once the school year starts, it’s often hard to get things that are not in inventory. Ask what technology will available to you in the classroom, such as an interactive white board, “clickers,” probeware, cameras, or projection attachments for microscopes. If the school does not provide a laptop you can take home, invest in some USB flash drives you can use to take files to work on at home.

Question from a new teacher


Very relevant and timely info for those of our species lucky enough to be entering the teaching profession but that have no clue what they’re in for…




Ourlast big economic driver was engineering and the first stage of the digital age. At Institute for the Future, in our annual ten-year forecast program, we see an underlying shift to biology as a driver, and what I’m starting to think of as the “global well-being economy.” If biology and the global well-being economy will drive the future, what does that suggest for leaders? How can leaders grow their own empathy with nature and the global well-being economy?

Self-interest and competition will not be enough. Business leaders will still need to drive revenue, increase efficiency, and resolve conflicts, but financial mandates (I win/you lose) won’t be enough. Leaders must expand their view of self and embrace the shared assets and opportunities around them — not just the individual takeaways that will reward them alone. Leaders must learn to give ideas away, trusting that they will get even more back in return.

Leadership, Thinking Ten Years Ahead – Imagining the Future of Leadership – Harvard Business Review


Things to remind myself as I work with my 13 and 14 year old students everyday…




Don Chance, a finance professor at Louisiana State University, says it dawned on him last spring. The semester was ending, and as usual, students were making a pilgrimage to his office, asking for the extra points needed to lift their grades to A’s. “They felt so entitled,” he recalls, “and it just hit me. We can blame Mr. Rogers.




The Kids Are Alright

Children are unconsciously the most rational beings on earth,” says Alison Gopnik, “brilliantly drawing accurate conclusions from data, performing complex statistical analyses, and doing clever experiments.” And not only does empirical work reveal this about babies and small children, but what is thus revealed throws light on some of philosophy’s more intriguing questions about knowledge, the self, other minds, and the basis of morality.

via barnesandnoble.com

Beautiful thought-provoking post pertinent for us parents, us teachers and humanity-at-large.

My how we damage kids with our “absolute” truths, marketing, advertisements, career paths and buffets.




Using MindMeister for Mind Mapping in the Classroom

MindMeister Academic Edition

The Academic Edition of MindMeister is a complete collaborative mind mapping solution for educational institutions such as schools, universities and learning centers. It helps teachers and instructors to apply essential thought mapping elements in the classroom and ensure that learning is an effective and memorable experience.

After doing some researching and testing, I’m going to be using MindMeister for our “mind mapping” classroom (and out-of-classroom) sessions in my 8th grade science and 6th grade robotics classes this year.

I’m hopeful this will be a great augment to our classroom learning.




Powerpoint in the Classroom Must Die

His philosophy is that the information delivery common in today’s classroom lectures should be recorded and delivered to students as podcasts or online videos before class sessions. To make sure students tune in, he gives them short online multiple-choice tests.

So what’s left to do during class once you’ve delivered your lecture? Introduce issues of debate within the discipline and get the students to weigh in based on the knowledge they have from those lecture podcasts, Mr. Bowen says. “If you say to a student, We have this problem in Mayan archaeology: We don’t know if the answer is A or B. We used to all think it was A, now we think it’s B. If the lecture is ‘Here’s the answer, it’s B,’ that’s not very interesting. But if the student believes they can contribute, they’re a whole lot more motivated to enter the discourse, and to enter the discipline.”

In short, don’t be boring.

via chronicle.com

The part in bold is exactly my approach for student engagement. I admit that I do rely on Keynote too often, but I’m going to do my best to shift towards more engaging conversations pre-and-post lab work this year.

Looking back on my own education, I couldn’t agree more that PowerPoint is a classroom hindrance and security blanket for both teachers and students when used solely in the classroom.




Stunning Lack of 2.0 Teacher Tools on Web or iPhone


When I taught 8th grade science from 2004-2006, I made heavy use of MyGradebook and it eventually became (much to the delight of my students and their parents…and eventually administrators) my complete gradebook and student documentation platform.

What wasn’t to like? In 2004, the social web was just getting cranked up and folks were still becoming familiar with the idea of blogs…especially in the education space. What the students, parents, administrators and I realized is that everyone enjoyed being able to access grades, progress notes, lesson schedules and lab details via the web at anytime. Transparency and education do go hand-in-hand.

Fast forward five years to 2009. Not much has changed. MyGradeBook still seems like the most advanced platform for online grade/progress access. I even use objective-based grading and MyGradeBook supports that kind of customization, which is a great feature.

However (more like BUT), there is no iPhone app for MyGradeBook. There is actually only one iPhone app for teachers keeping grades. That’s a huge market not being served. Where are the developers? Charge me $20 or $30 and give me an app (even from MyGradeBook) that offers offline sync’ing, mobile grade/note inputs, etc… I’ll sing your praises all day long. It just doesn’t exist yet for some reason but there are a great deal of teachers, students and parents using iPhones, so that’s just unbelievable.

There are some solutions such as using FileMaker Pro’s Bento database on the Mac and porting a database over through Bento’s iPhone app. However, it still befuddles me that there’s not a better way to have that sort of access other than using an offline product and creating a database by hand a la 2001.

So, if there are any iPhone devs out there who’d like to make a few bucks… figure out a great way to make a web/iPhone app that brings the 2.0 goodness to teacher gradebooks. We’ll love you forever and make you rich.

Until then, I’m off to pay $60 a month for MyGradeBook…




Interesting or Comforting?

Too good not to share.

Thanks to those who passed it on.