Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Ahhhh, mid-terms.  The time of year where we ask students to put in context everything that we have talked about for half a year in a 75-minute span.

As a teacher, I have recently started to struggle with the value of mid-terms as a practical exercise.  There is the idea that we need to prepare students for the high stakes exams that are to come, whether they are MCAS, PSATs, SATs, or whatever college exams they might take.  But if we are preparing them for something else, should we be assessing what is essentially practice (particularly freshmen who have yet to take such an exam)?  Is it right that 10% (in my case) of their final average for the year is based on one day's testing? 

There is also the thought that students should have to demonstrate to us what they have learned over the course of the first half of the year.  Does this make mid-terms just a knowledge dump then, and not allow them to actually use the material they have learned in any kind of meaningful way?  What are we telling our students about what we have done for the first half of the year?  That they can now forget about and move on to what comes next?  Some teachers, at the school I teach at and beyond, have great end of term/end of year projects that allow students to truly demonstrate what they know.  Is that the directions that we should go in?

This is not to say that I am opposed to mid-terms or what they represent, just that maybe there is a different and, perhaps, more meaningful way for our students to demonstrate what they have learned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Is Including Technology Into Teaching So Important

So, I have used my recent "vacation" (snow days combined with weekends and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) to do some much needed professional reading.  I have used it to come up with new assignments for my students, new ideas for keeping me going professionally, and new ideas for blog posts.  The latter is certainly my focus for tonight.  When people ask me if I ever take a day off, I guess I have to say "no," because education in the 21st Century is always changing.  As I watched the video of a recent TED talk posted by its caretaker, Chris Anderson, I realized that so much of what I am asking my students to do is preparing them for the world in which they are going to need to be part of the Crowd Accelerated Innovation that he is talking about here.  Our students need to be ready for a world in which they learn from watching what people around the world are doing.  Maybe it's a new dance move picked up on YouTube, or a new way to view science and medicine through Jove, or it's their participation in a digital debate about whatever topic they choose to debate about.  If they are not ready to add to this world-wide discussion, then we as educators are doing them a disservice.  As much as I want my students to learn and understand their role in American history, I need to realize that they are part of something much larger than that.  That I am not doing my job to prepare them for what comes next, not just as students or as adults, but as citizens in a world community that may develop goodness only knows what.  I am proud to be part of the technological revolution in education, and can only hope that as many of my colleagues as possible jump on board and join me.

(For more information about the TED talks series, click on "Chris Anderson."  To see his thoughts on the importance of video technology and its future importance on the global stage, click on "Crowd Accelerated Innovation." or watch it here.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Inspiration

As the calendar turned to a new year, I decided it was probably time to get back into the blog-o-sphere.  Part of what motivated me to start writing again was reading what some of my students have written and posted about Transcendentalism over the past couple of days.  Many of them have really grasped the concept and have shown they are willing to work with a rather difficult philosophy.  More importantly from my "let's try something new to help my students work more with the curriculum" point of view, many of them are really starting to move beyond the basic "here is what happened today" blog post and start to go beyond that and use the blog as a place for them to share their connections to the curriculum that they have found on their own.  Maybe I can use their work to inspire myself to write more consistently again.