Monday, September 19, 2011

UPDATE: Deskless in Cedar Rapids

At least two people have requested that I update my blog after going a few weeks without a desk. So, I guess I can honestly say that there are people waiting with baited breath to find out how the grand experiment goes.

Lammers, B. (09/09/2011) "Look Ma, No Desk!"
Here to the right is a picture of the space that was formerly my desk. Making use of bookshelves, I have arranged my computer workstation, and the essentials that I need for my class. The plastic bins along the top right of the shelves contain the student supplies that had been garrisoned in my desk. They are there for the students to use, whenever they need. Easy access, and so far, no one has abused the system to open their own black-market office supply operation. I've noticed that the use of highlighters has increased now that students can retrieve them on their own. The most essential paraphernalia is housed in the plastic bins below the computer - again, formerly housed in the hallowed space that was the center top drawer of my desk. There is space for additional shelving, and I am still reconciling what I will do with that space. So far, though, that corner of the room is far more organized, far more neat looking, and the function is right up to speed with the form. This photo would suggest that this experiment is a raging success.

Lammers, B. (09/09/2011) "I Swear, Ma - I don't know what happened"
Until you see this picture at the left, which is the opposite corner of the room. Yup. There is still some work to do, and this is where the experiment is not doing so well. Immediately you will notice that there is an object that looks remarkably like a desk ... with a computer atop it ... surrounded by papers ... and stuff ... lots and lots of stuff.


This WILL be a student workstation. It will, I pledge this to you here. Right now, it is a place where my paperwork is backing up after a week of Homecoming activity, set building, and InstructionTechnology study work. There are piles both on the shelves and the floor. This kind of organization was once the exclusive domain of the desk - and I have yet to weed through the chaff, so to speak. The upside is that I do have a great deal of file drawer space now, so there's at least the opportunity to develop a new routine where papers will land with a sense of order. The downside is that right now, the top of the cabinets is home to a bunch of stuff - crap, if you will - including an eMac that needs a new power supply. In addition, on the workstation desk there lies:
  • a plastic spoon
  • a broken CD case
  • two flash drives that went through the washer/dryer
  • a light bulb (maybe it works, maybe it doesn't )
  • a bottle of Simple Green (with a creatively amended label)
Lammers, B (09/09/2011) "Green Cleaner."
Some habits die hard, and it appears I need to work on really getting rid of the bunker mentality. However, the positive goals of this exercise are coming to fruition. I move around the room and interact much more than I have in the past. I am doing less on the computer during class time - although I do find that silent sustained reading really is a good time to take care of the essentials (take attendance, respond to parent emails, update calendars and class blogs, etc.) I don't see this part as a failure, but as separating the essentials from the non-essentials. So, the work will continue.

I'll update this grand experiment at the mid-year point. Who knows - by then, I'll either have the shelves in "Amen Corner" cleaned, or the desk will be back and I will have succumbed to my erstwhile ways. But, so far, so good. Is there anyone else out there who has taken on this unique challenge? If so, post a comment or response.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Image credit: Elysia in Wonderland. "Jaws," 2008.
By now, those of us in education likely have a solid week under our belts - or at least here in the Midwestern US. (I know, for some reason, we like to start school in the stinkin' hot part of summer. We're funny that way.) For many of my colleagues in this part of the world, the routine has once again begun, and about now is the time when we figure out if the new activities we are using are working. We're finding out if all if those great ideas we've collected since last year can be implemented. We're finding out if the materials we have prepared and are presenting to our students are going to float.

Do we need a bigger boat?

For me, it's possible. The beginning of the school year is always busy, and with my Technical Theater contract, we hit the ground running with our first production. I'm not swamped yet, but here are the big things that are happening (and perhaps not happening) so far in my classroom so far:

1. No teacher desk. So far, so good, and I'm planning an update after the Labor Day weekend to show you how that's working. For details of what this means for me and my students, see my previous posting.

TM Microsoft, 2010.
2. All school district computers (or at least the vast majority) have been upgraded to Windows 7. While we all feel fortunate that we are now up to the current version that the rest of the world is using, the jump from Windows 2000 has provided the predictable headaches: permissions not being set correctly, incompatibility, older non-Windows files not working as normal, etc. Most of these problems are by our own doing as a district: not all of the previous software has been installed, or newer versions of applications have not been tested for compatibility. We've been told that this will all be rectified by the time we get back after Labor Day (and you'll pardon my lack of confidence with that prediction).
  • What this means for me as a teacher: about half of my Google Doc presentations are not working predictably; two critical software applications that I have used regularly have yet to be installed; creating new instruction to teach students how to navigate Windows 7 and Office 2010; communication between my and the technology department are delayed because many others who are having the same issues are also trying to communicate their needs.
  • What this means for my students: time lost to me scrambling for plan B when the unpredictable issues happen (and while that's always the chance we take with technology,  this year it's a daily struggle); students not having access to programs they have used in the past; limitations (so far) on using Web 2.0 tools; learning and adapting to Windows 7 and Office '10.
Image credit: lgb'06. "Technology is not technology," 2010
3. District and building directives to - wait for it - integrate technology. Did I pick the right MA program, or what? I am now hearing from administrators a few of the things we've been studying and researching in our IT program - and it makes me smile. Finding ways to connect with students and parents, using emerging technologies for learning, and thinking outside of our antiquated brick-and-mortar box to accommodate student achievement are at the forefront. It's been a slow journey, but it appears to have some momentum
  • What this means for me as a teacher: using newly acquired knowledge and materials in my classroom with not just the approval of administration, but their understanding as well; validation for our efforts as a staff; motivation to build upon what we have started.
  • What this means for my students: a unified front encouraging technology in our schools (as opposed to hit-and-miss efforts by individual teachers); more opportunities to use technology; the appearance that the school technology is lame, useless, or that we just don't care.
Image credit: Ice Birdy. "Teamwork," 12/31/2008
4. Intensified efforts to increase student achievement. This is nothing new at all, but with each year, there are always some additional steps in our effort. Our PLC efforts have created formative assessments and student learning expectations - and this year, we will continue to implement and develop evaluations for our students and the way we teach. A new and more intensive attendance policy will help us keep tabs on students to a) identify patterns of attendance that directly impacts learning, and b) keep students safer by knowing exactly where they are physically. An intervention pyramid guiding our efforts is at the center of this policy.
  • What this means for me as a teacher: concentrating on learning rather than teaching; continuing to build professional bonds with teachers beyond our school walls; pay closer attention to chronic attendance problems and follow the new specific procedures related to the district policy.
  • What this means for my students: a teacher that is focusing on their learning and new ways to improve it; specific goals to focus on in each class and - eventually - each unit taught; heightened awareness of absences and why they affect their own acheivement.
What condition is your boat in? What additional things are on board? What has been jettisoned? Please share your thoughts and experiences - and let's hope there isn't a large set of nasty teeth lurking below.