Gary Stager – A Very Thought Provoking Evening

Dean asked in class how long it takes me to write a blog post. Well, I guess I better figure this one out. It is now 1:32 p.m. I will confess that I take time in class a little bit after (maybe five minutes) to jot down some talking points for myself. It’s my way of taking notes, and it makes blogging a little bit easier and faster too.

Now, on to the good stuff.

*****

Social Media. She’s a powerful beast. I am so intrigued that Dean that used twitter to entice a hotel to drop some excessive WiFi charges. I still cannot believe how powerful social media is. That got me thinking about how social media has really affected the way we approach life as a society. That is a whole other blog post. So in honour of that, I’m challenging myself to unconventionally use social media to bring about a change. I’m not going to try to solve world hunger here, but I would like to explore a new facet. Had Dean not said anything about his tweet, I would never, ever think to do something like that.

As the class progressed, we started talking about self-grading and how we will define success. This scares me. I’m not going to lie. I have ridiculously high standards for myself usually. I’ve decided to approach this self-grading from an objective perspective as if I was grading one of my students. I’ll just use my mental rubric that I’ve created. My question out to the public is this: how do you choose to self-assess? I know exactly what mark I would like to have in this class, and I will stop at nothing to work to achieve it, regardless of whether I’m grading myself or a prof is. Do you believe that grading should be the same no matter who is evaluating and assessing it?

Now on to the meat of the post. We were blessed to have Gary Stager in our class this week. I always look at every guest as an opportunity to learn something, whether I agree completely or not. What I found interesting is that I couldn’t decide if I agreed with Gary or if I disagreed. He really made me think and I learned more about myself as educator. I suppose that Gary created a turmoil in my personal philosophy. I certainly know more about myself as a result of listening to and thinking about what Gary presented to us.

While I was listening in, one phrase caught my attention: Gary said that math has less about learning actual mathematics, and more about working through superficial problems. One the outside, yes. He is correct. In math, we do work through what might seem to be superficial problems. However, there is always a reason for these problems. Whether or not we care if a plane is leaving Chicago and another plane is leaving Detroit, we need to use these problems to help teach about thinking. My prof, Rick, always says that “Math is the vehicle to develop the mind.” Senseless word problems sometimes aren’t even about teaching math—they are about teaching thinking. No teacher will ever tell you that they will do these problems in place of “actual math,” but they will focus on them to help students learn to problem solve not only in math, but in there of their studies and their lives.

On the other hand, I found it very funny how completely I agree with Gary about rationale and transparency. Some days, it seems that half of the work of being a teacher is covering your bases—make sure you’ve documented this and that, send out an email that you will be marking this project using this methodology, etc. I cannot agree more that if you don’t make certain that you are transparent and keeping the lines of communication open and accessible, you will find yourself in a pile of trouble. You will leave yourself open for a lot of criticism. This sounds a lot like my Moral Education post from earlier…

However, Gary did mention that parents will be on your side if you communicate and are transparent. On the whole, yes. Are there exceptions. Definitely. In my internship, no matter what I sent out via email, note, or whatever, there seemed to always be a parent who couldn’t help but think that I was wrong. It will happen. Parents’ jobs are to protect their kids, and they will do so. I just try to not take it personally.

I have to say, I’m left scratching my head about one thing in particular. Gary commented that scheduling restricts learning. High schools live on schedules. The bell rings to change classes. Each class is only one hour. Lunch starts at 11:50. I do understand that he also meant that hyper-scheduling a class down to the minute is bad too, but when you only see these students for an hour a day, some scheduling needs to be maintained, as do regular procedures. I’m not going to pretend that I am one of those teachers who can fly by the seat of her pants. I like my lesson plans. I do plan with time estimates. I know how much time I can spend on each activity each day. Perhaps what I can take from this is that it is important to step out of routines from time to time and build in some flex-time. What are your thoughts?

I’m also at loggerheads with myself over one other point that Gary made. He said that teachers are living under rocks when it comes to technology. I agree, most are. We also have to ask why. Is it because technology is new and scary? Probably a little bit. Is it because technology takes time in class? Probably a bit of that too. Is it because technology has the potential to backfire big time, whereas our chalk/whiteboard will never malfunction? Probably a touch of that as well. Here’s one question that I don’t think we ask enough though: is it because a lot of the new technology costs a good amount of money? Probably that too. I agree that there are a lot of free tools available, but when it comes to being an iPad teacher, schools can’t always afford to “try it out” with a class set because that is creeping up near the $20,000 mark. Is it really fair to expect teachers to purchase their own iPad? I’ve heard of several iPad teachers who use their own personal iPad. That is so generous, caring, and committed. As a teacher who will just be starting out on her own, I don’t think that dropping $750 for an iPad is really in the budget though. I guess this is where I need to get creative.

On the note of coming up short, I’d like to talk about failure. This is not something that I have ever been used to. I’ve never failed a class. The closest I’ve come is failing a couple of assignments in a university math course (read: theoretical proofs with lots of letters and crazy stuff that I’m not sure anyone really “understands” except for a Ph. D. in math), and even that class turned out okay. Gary promoted that failure in schools is important, just not something to be strived for. Agreed. Well, sort of. I think that the biggest disservice we can do to our students is to pass them just so that we don’t hurt their feelings. But is failure, as we know it, really the answer? I would have to say that accurate assessment is vital, but kids “fail” for many different reasons. I guess this is another tension I’m toying with in my head. I don’t know the answer. Quite frankly, I don’t even know what I think about it. I can guarantee that if I was writing this tomorrow, I would’ve written this paragraph with a different view point. I guess I’m looking to find my guiding light. It all boils down to my philosophy of education which is still ever growing, changing, and adapting.

I promise I’m almost done. I do have a beef with Gary for one thing in particular. I completely disagree with Gary on one thing: “Can you imagine observing all day without checking facebook or texting?” Yes. And I survived. Not only did I survive, I loved it. I always approached my observations (and there were many) with the mindset that I’ve got a lot to learn. It is boring if you are sitting in the back taking up oxygen. It is boring if you aren’t thinking critically about your teaching, the teacher you are observing’s teaching, and how the students are learning. I never once even took my phone with me to observe. I took my pen and paper, and I have a book full of notes that reflect on myself as a teacher, as well as ideas to make myself a better teacher.

*****

So I’m just finishing up now. It took me about an hour. It’s nearly 2:30. I guess for me, this is worth it. I helps me process ideas and work toward my own understanding. In the next few days, I’ll revisit this draft, but only for a moment or two. Part of my professional image is a clean, well-written blog post, I suppose. I have an English minor, so I don’t want too many errors hanging around!

2 thoughts on “Gary Stager – A Very Thought Provoking Evening

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