Tag Archives: learning

What I learned from “taking” my own class.


Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

For the past month or so the TECHS class has been working with HTML, CSS and Java. As a final product, the students will produce a simple slideshow web app.  Programing is just out of my expertise, I learned Pascal in high school.  But, my job has sparked ideas for different apps for education.  So, I have been taking the class too.  And I reached a level of knowledge that I took the T3 Workshop and remixed it as a web app (See the Web App page).

But the process has reinforced a few ideas I have about education.

First, 50 minutes a day is not a way to learn something.  I spent hours studying code, experimenting with code, and researching code.  On Friday, I spent a couple of solid hours working with my app idea.  I struggled. I got frustrated. I accomplished small steps and had light bulb moments.  It was awesome.  But it took time, and high school is not set up for this process. Both time and frustration.  Growth comes from tension, from having the edges of our abilities and thoughts challenged.

Courtesy of Centura Student Angelica

Second, I needed help from co-workers.  I might have spent more time in the network room than my office working out my problems.  And when I needed help, the guys were there.  Writing and editing code is a lot like old school grammar, you have to pay attention to all kinds of writing errors, from capitalization to unwanted string information.  There was one situation that took a third set of eyes to see the problem, and it was a simple problem.  They network guys were my teachers, but I presented them with what I had done and we worked from there.  Learning is a relationship.  Sharing, guiding, and helping work with and through what ever the lesson may be.

Third, writing code is still above my head, but I am getting better.  And I am excited to see my ideas meet a real outcome.  What gives our education meaning is that fusion of ideas and reality.  That age old question, “Why do I need to know this?” At times lessons are steps to future goals and we have to build that foundation.  But do we give students an avenue to take their learning to a level that affects the world around them? To show them the power behind what they are learning?

I enjoyed being a student, and can’t wait to share what I learned with my students.

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IR Pens

Here are examples of IR Pens, that combined with a Wii remote, software, and a projector you can have a SMART Board anywhere.  This project is a part of ESU 10’s TECHS program.  The photo shows student constructed IR Pens for this year.  The first thing you will notice is the “personality” of each project, a reindeer, two cars, a wand, and a bubble gum container to just name a few.

This has been a tough year as I continue to understand and work with the TECHS class, but these IR Pens are a highlight for me. These represent a deeper aspect of true learning.  All the students understand some basic constructs (wiring, Infrared light, design) but they were allowed to express their personalities in the project.  Awesome!  As educators we strive to help students to achieve that personal connection to learning.  When possible, projects can do that.  The IR Pens show that. I think the students did an incredible job!

Here is Johnny Lee’s TED talk about hacking Wii remotes.

What projects are you doing with your students?

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First Year, Again

The only time I totally lost my cool with a class was my first year of teaching.  I threatened them all with detention.  I even slammed my hand down on my desk.  That first year of teaching is such an eye opening experience.  All theory seems to evaporate in the controlled chaos of everyday life of school.  That year challenges you, makes you dig deep into your creativity, resolve, and meaning of it all.  Thirteen years later I am experience that again.

Instead of standing in front of a class of new students, a clean marker board behind me, walls decorated with motivational posters and first day jitters; I sit at a desk in front of a HD camera, 50 inch TV and students who are attending schools miles away.  I have taught distance-learning classes for the last nine years, but have always had a room full of my own students.  It is not the system that is challenging; it is the loss of any person-to-person contact.  I am purely a teacher on the TV to them.  All theory seems to have disappeared with that little red light on the front of the TV.

This year has challenged me in ways I wasn’t expecting.  In so many ways I am again a first year teacher.  My creativity is challenged in creating lessons that can bridge the technological divide between the students and me.  I am challenged to work through all the bumps in the road, from technology issues, to student apathy. To be honest, some days I feel like a total failure at this and wonder if I am even doing anything worthwhile for the students and my own life.

My own personal struggles got me thinking about the other aspect of my job, working with teachers on integrating technology into their curriculum.  I have had the privilege of already doing a school wide workshop, presenting at Nebraska Distance Learning Association’s conference and helping ESU 10 colleagues with their workshops.  Through all these events, I realized that sometimes when we talk about getting technology into the classrooms and getting teachers to use technology more, we forget that in a small way we are asking them to go back to being a first year teacher.  Obviously it isn’t as extreme as a true first day of school, but it has some of the same challenges.

We are asking them to stand in front of their class as a new teacher.  That is exciting, but it is scary.  Teachers take pride in their lessons, they teach to see their students grow and learn.  Nothing makes a teacher smile more then when a student’s face lights up with understanding.  Even though we know not to take it personally, it hurts when a student says a lesson is stupid, or walks into the class announcing they hate English (the class I teach).

Technology integration asks teachers to go back to that first year, but now they have tools and lessons that have worked for them.  Lessons that have brought their students to that light bulb moment.  We cannot ignore that we ask them to be a first year teacher.  We need to address their fears… but also tap back into that other feeling which all teachers had that very first day as they stood in front of that class, took a deep breath and thought, “I’m ready to make difference in these students’ lives.”

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Adjustments to Freedom

Student Life

Student Life

A part of change is adjustments, and in my new position I am finding the biggest adjustment comes from the freedom I have in my position.  The two biggest factors of that freedom are time and working.

Spending the last 12 years in high school, time is segmented out for you.  The calendar is set, the bells ring every 48 minutes, planning period is the same everyday.  Life in school is a tightly run routine.

The second day on the job I wanted to go to the Casey’s up the block for a pop.  I stopped at our secretary’s desk to ask if it was OK.  She was nice about the situation, but I saw in her eyes that “I can’t believe this” look just after I asked the question.

Also that week, the staff was gathered together for lunch.  Guess who was done first?  Yep, me. Finished in less than six minutes.

The freedom of my time affects the second aspect; my work.  I am responsible for producing my product.  If I have an idea, I’m responsible for it.  One example is an idea for an online only workshop covering 2.0 tools for teachers.  My boss likes the idea.  So it is up to me to produce it.  Yes, there are some guidelines and standards to meet, but if I want my idea to be a reality I am responsible for it.  Powerful way to work.

Powerful way to learn? Yes, I think so.

The first aspect of time is crucial to the second aspect of learning.  Every teacher has had the situation when the class is just clicking.  The energy is high, students are engaged, as a teacher you are flying.  No one notices, or cares, about the time… then the bell rings.  You try to finish the point you were on, kids are trying to listen and grab their book bags at the same time.  You can see the bell has intruded on them too.

There is no easy answer for the time constraints in school, without some radical change.  But, I think it is an aspect of school reform that needs real attention.  In my discussions with students, one area that time has the greatest negative impact is the industrial and art classes.  In one conversation with a student who was taking a welding class, he expressed his frustration with only getting 10 minutes of real welding done in a typical class session.  There is attendance and class issues first, then prep work, and then having enough time for cleanup.

Which brings us to what students produce.  The freedom to work on things they love, or to stay with a concept until that light bulb goes off.  Some of my best teaching has happened as I walked with students to their next class (so they wouldn’t be tardy) talking with them until the idea clicked.  That is a teacher’s gold medal: that look when a student’s eyes get big, the corner of their mouth moves into a smile, and I swear, the room becomes bright.

What would school look like with more freedom?


Filed under Education, Life


What does golf, starting a new lawn, having five children, and learning have in common? Frustration.

My life right now is filled with all kinds of different frustrations:

I have five children, the youngest only months away from being two… (If you are a parent that is all I need to say)

We are trying to get a yard started for our new home. Our dirt is clay based, we don’t have underground sprinklers, and we are on our second attempt of seeding. Every 30 minutes you can hear me say, “Be back, got to change the water.”

This month I started my new position and there are so many things that are different that I get overwhelmed with the changes.

Then there is golf…

Yesterday was my day to play golf in the morning. Almost every Tuesday and Wednesday I play nine holes in the morning. This week I was especially excited to get a round in because I had a good practice session last Saturday. I thought I had my swing for my irons figured out. I played the back nine and started well for me, a 5 on the par 4 tenth hole. As any golfer knows without reason things got worse.

A quick side note, I take one of my older boys with me when I play. They like to get a Gatorade and tend the flag for me. But when frustration hits, they remind me to watch my outbursts. Which was a challenge Tuesday morning.

Hole 14 par 5… I score an 8 (never once in the fairway).

Hole 15 par 4… I score a 7 (Water ball)

Hole 16 par 4 … I score an 8 (Walk off the green feeling so frustrated that I would love to throw a club)

So, I walk to the 17th hole frustrated…
Frustration is a powerful emotion. But part of its power is an illusion. When we get flooded with frustration it feels so wide and deep. It seems to filter into every aspect of that moment. Thinking, feeling, we can even feel that fate is against us. It feels like we are treading water in the middle of the ocean. But if we would put our feet down, we would see that frustration isn’t deep, that is its illusion. We can go deeper than the frustration. When we do, then we truly learn.

My son is watching me as I pull out a 5-iron for this hole. I wonder what I look like through his eyes. Does it look like I am drowning?

As a teacher and a coach I see students fight against frustration. I see them splashing around trying to find the beach. To get away from frustration. There are the excuses of not knowing what to do. Or the quiet giving up. Each student has their own way of dealing with frustration. But if we can get them to put their feet down, or even better to dive down through the frustration, the outcome will be powerful. More powerful than frustration, any frustration they will encounter in school or life.

My son stands quietly next to my golf bag. I mentally try to put my feet down, concentrating on what I worked on during practice. I swing. Not perfect, the ball starts at the flag, but then hooks. The ball lands about 20 feet from the green on an up-slope. I have to get the chip up in the air but soft because the green rolls away. I continue to think about the chip instead of the frustration, to set my feet down. My chip comes up nicely off the grass, soft and high. The frustration starts to drain away. I do two-putt for a bogey. But I am happy with that hole.

The last hole is a par 5. My son starts to talk again as we walk to the next tee box. He can feel that my frustration is fading, but it is nagging at me as I think about my drive. I haven’t hit a good drive all day, but I mentally set my feet down, trying to get past the negative voice trying to scratch at my mental state.

I slow down my swing, focus on the fundamentals, and send the ball straight down the center. Not long, about 200 yards. Second shot lands just off the right side of the fairway, but a solid hit. My third shot lands just in front of the green. I chip and two-putt. Bogey, yes. But I walk of the course feeling that I played those last two holes like I can.

Everybody feels frustrated, in all kinds of situations, but we can learn and improve when that frustration hits. It is a powerful emotion, but part of the power is an illusion. Frustration is not that deep; just below it is the opportunity to improve.

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