Jun 122014
 

iStock_000010622696SmallWhenever there is a labour conflict between Teachers and Government all the mythology that surrounds the teaching profession begins to swirl about

Every myth ever conjured about teachers by child or adult is suddenly used to twist together a bizarre caricature. The image of teacher is transformed into that of an immoral, greedy, freakish demon which needs to be put in its place for the good of the children. To that end, the Government is inevitably called upon to exorcise the beast and the demon teacher is legislated back to work.

I have managed to survive two rounds of demonization and legislated exorcism in my career and I figure I am destined to survive another but In the meantime, lets take a look at some of the myths society uses to shape their concept of ‘teacher’ in both good times and bad.

Myth #1: Teachers never leave the school.

I think everyone at some point in their young grade school lives, figured their teachers never left the school. I still remember standing dumbfounded when I saw my grade 1 teacher out and about in the community one Saturday. I still remember asking   “Mom! Why is Mrs. MacDonald out of the school?

Myth #2: Those who can’t do, teach

I would say this is the most famous and perhaps most resilient myth out there about teachers but ultimately it is a falsehood.

In my 18 years a teacher I have worked with a former olympic athlete, a CFL lineman, a world-class marathoner, lawyers, a fire fighter, a former military officer, a professional dancer, a touring musician, authors and a myriad of other talented and wonderful people who have come to teaching for any number of reasons.

What is perhaps more inspirational are those who went straight into teaching because THAT is what they wanted to do more than anything else in this world. It is these teachers that are the foundation of our school system and to speak ill of them is tantamount to speaking ill of Gandhi, God or Gershwin.

Myth #3: Teachers are not as well-educated as people in other professions.

Let me just start with this. What a load of stinky horse manure.

90% of the teachers I work with have Masters degrees. Of that 90% most have 3 degrees. A number of teachers I have worked with over the years have had PhD’s and one of my colleagues is finishing up a PhD from Oxford. So if you think this myth to be true… You might want to reassess your definition of education.

Myth #4: Teachers don’t have children of their own.

Even as a Sr. High School teacher I get looks of amazement or an audible “Ew gross!”, when students learn I have children of my own. It is as if there is this belief that teachers take and oath of celibacy or are surgically sterilized as part of some ritualistic initiation into the teaching profession.

Honest, many of us have children and we know what it is like on both sides of the playground fence.

See #Thisismystrikepay for further evidence that we procreate.

Myth #5: Teachers don’t care about kids!

Lets just stop and think about that for a second… Yah you are right. That one is just an outright stupid myth.

Myth #6: Teachers don’t understand how difficult job action is on families

Refer to myth #4

Myth #7: A good teacher can be effective regardless of circumstance.

This myth is a favourite amongst those who are looking to ‘reform’ the education and justify cutting teacher wages, taking away teacher benefits or changing conditions of employment. They say things like “If we had better teachers, our school system wouldn’t be in decline” or “The reason Finland has such a GREAT education system is that they have better teachers”

On the surface it is easy to get on board with this myth and say “YAH! If only we had better teachers!” and as flattering as it is to have people thinking that teachers are capable of overcoming massive class sizes, lack of resources, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, family discord, eating disorders, physical abuse, hunger, medical conditions, bad parenting, learning disabilities… All without any help. It isn’t going to happen.

As fantastic of a teacher as I think I am, there are just some kids I cannot help within the confines of a classroom without the proper supports in place outside of the classroom.

Myth #8: Teachers are not as good as they use to be.

Let’s be honest. Teaching back in the day was a piece of cake. There was nowhere near the complexities in the classrooms of the past that we see in our classrooms today.

If you grew up in Canada and are over 40, your school experience was more than likely very WASP’Y. There was no diversity of any kind when I was a kid. There was no such thing as ESL and if there was, it wasn’t in my school. Learning disabled kids went to a “special school” or they dropped out. Bad kids were eventually kicked out.  The curriculum was simple and straight forward. There was no special adaptations or deadline extensions.  All anyone needed to do in order to pass was to be present, polite and have a pulse. Life and teaching was simple back in the day, today not so much.

Myth #9: Teachers don’t care about taxpayers!

Lets see… Last I recall, I get a whack of money taken off my pay cheque just like everyone else in this world and it is called income tax. I guess that makes me a tax payer just like everyone else.

Of course we care about the tax payer because you and I are getting hammered to death with rising fees and rates to compensate for the corporate tax cuts the Government handed out when they came to power. This whole mess we have before us today is because of taxes and the lack or misappropriation of said taxes.

Myth #10: Teachers get paid through the summer.

One of the very first conversations I ever had about the teaching profession after I graduated was based on this myth. No I do not get paid during summer. I get paid over 10 months, September through June. Some teachers choose to have their pay distributed over a 12 month period so they have some income over summer but we get paid for a 10 month period.

Myth #11: Teachers can collect unemployment benefits over the summer.

There was a time way back before I was a teacher that this nice little perk was true (in some jurisdictions). Today however, if you have a job to return to in September (Continuing Contract), you cannot collect UI.

If you have a Temporary Contact and do not have a job to return to in September you can collect Unemployment benefits and the tax payer is funding your summer. The irony here is that the Province would like to be able to run the education system as if all teachers were temporary teachers. This would end up costing Tax Payers far more than what the current system does because the Province would be on the hook for paying 40,000 teachers during the school year and paying unemployment benefits for 40,000 teachers over the summer months as well.

Myth #12: Teachers qualify for a full pension after five years. 

This fallacy comes from the way a teacher’s pension is calculated. Even my family seems to think this is a truth. “Boy must be nice to qualify for a full pension already!”  Is the usual summer time backyard barbecue refrain.

Teachers qualify for a full pension after reaching a factor of 90. (Years of Teaching + Age = 90). This qualifies you for a full pension and your income is based on the income of your best five years.

Myth #13: The teachers pension pays you 100% of working income and all their health benefits for as long as they live.

Don’t I wish! If a teacher reaches factor 90 they can collect 70% of their working income during their retirement years. Health benefits are not paid once the teacher reaches 65.

Myth #14: As a tax payer, I am paying for every last cent of a teacher’s retirement.

I could see how people would be annoyed by a teacher’s retirement package if this were true but the teachers’ pension is 80% fully funded. This means that 12 billion dollars worth of investments, managed through a joint trusteeship between the BCTF and the Provincial Government generate enough revenue to cover 80% of the payouts to retired teachers.

The remaining 20% is funded jointly between tax payers and teachers but the ultimate goal is to make the teachers pension entirely self funding so absolutely nothing comes out of the tax payers pocket. In fact it would be in the taxpayers best interest to ensure this pension fund does become self funding rather than seeing it dismantled.

Myth #15: Teachers can’t be fired.

Well I hate to break it to you but since I have been teaching, I have seen a number of teachers dismissed and it didn’t really seem all that difficult to send them packing. If the union was standing in the way, it acted as more of a door mat than an obstacle

What people don’t seem to understand is that there is a process for dismissing teachers and this process is there to protect everyone involved. Contrary to popular belief, to have a system that allows teachers to be fired on a whim is neither ethical or practical and can result in more harm being done than good.

 

There you go. 15 common myths about teachers that are just a bunch of bunk. So next time you are talking to the demon in your child’s classroom, remember their horns and devilish red skin are probably made up of myths.

May 072014
 
IMG_3913

Our Printer – Cat NOT included

3D printing in my classroom has taken over my life. I need to go to 3DPA (3D Printing Anonymous) post-haste. Last night was the final straw as I was flopping and flipping about, trying to figure out how I am going to get 30 student 3D print jobs completed before the end of the year.

Since this very cool piece of machinery arrived in my classroom May 1st, I have been doing everything in my power to get the kids up and running. Creating their own 3D objects to print before year’s end. The main focus has been figuring out how kids can create bobble heads of themselves.

The machine we decided to purchase the Flash Forge 3D printer based on the reviews we found on-line and ultimately the price point. As conscientious educators, we had to seek out a product that would provide us the most bang for our buck and I think we hit the mark. So far the printer has been bomb-proof and worked right out of the box. One of the extruders is a bit finicky but I think it is just a simple matter of finding the right setting. The biggest challenge is capturing an image that you can actually print.

We have had a varying success over the past three weeks trying to capture and render a 3D image of ourselves. Our first go round we were following a guide from a website called Instructables. It used an app called 123D capture to collect our images and render a 3D model. Unfortunately, of the 30 kids in the class, only 4 of them managed to capture and render an 3D object worthy of printing.

This is not to say that this particular method wasn’t any good just that it wasn’t intuitive or efficient enough to get a classroom of 30 kids up and running without a lot of hand holding and troubleshooting.  I would still recommend reading the guide as it has a lot of good information for preparing the capture for printing so it is still worth a perusal.

Enter Skanect

I stumbled upon this bit of 3D capture software while looking for another method of capturing 3D images that was quicker and less fussy. Essentially it is a brilliant piece of software that allows you to hack the scanning power of the XBox Kinect and employ it to do a 3D scan of pretty much anything you want.

Now all I need to do is connect my Kinect to my laptop using a $2.99 adaptor from Amazon, fire up the software, sit a kid down in an office chair, line them up into the scan zone and tell them to slowly rotate around for 30 – 50 seconds. Voila! Bob’s your uncle and you have a 3D scan of yourself.

The following scan of pretty old me took 15 minutes from scanner to printer. Kids work coming soon.

ScanningRendered ImageCleaned up Image
PrintingFinished ProductPainted

Resources

Here are some 3D scanning and editing resources worth checking out.

Skanect - 3D scanning with your XBox kinect scanner

Instructables - Great resource for learning how to creating 3D objects for printing (FREE & Paid)

123D - 3D capture software. On and offline versions (FREE)

Meshmixer - Great little 3D editing tool for prep your images for printing (FREE)

Sculptris - An AWESOME 3D sculpting too worth checking out (FREE)

 

 

 

 

 

Feb 152013
 

I am elated to introduce the single best tablet ever designed for the classroom. Finally we have something that works the way a Classroom Tablet should… I give you the EDUTAB

kpad

Features


case

 

Construction

  • Encased in carbon fiber
  • Godzilla Glass! Like Gorilla Glass but 10 x stronger
  • Water resistant
  • Field study ready
Entire Network Network Capable

  • Each tablet networked the way you want
  • Microsoft & Novell Network Compatible
  • Multi User profile logins from 2 to ∞
  • H Drive accessible
Groups2 Complete File Freedom

  • Up or download files
  • Share files from device to device
  • Move files from device to networked drive
  • Move files from device to cloud
  • Share files between applications
Print (1) Wireless Printing anywhere anytime

  • Print to any shared printer over a Wi-Fi network
wireless WiFi Enabled

  • WiFi Syncing capable with network or desktop
  • Non Proprietary WiFi Projection
Bluetooth Bluetooth

  • Connect keyboard
  • Tether your data enabled phone
  • Connect to other bluetooth enabled devices
google_desktop Google Tools Friendly

  • Google Drive
  • Google +
  • Google Apps for Education
apps Full complement of productivity Apps

  • Document creation
  • Presentation creation
  • Math tools
  • Science tools
  • Reference materials
flash Flash Support

  • Need I say more
Browser Fully Functioning Browser

  • Reduce the need for apps
  • Freedom to roam the web
Video Multi Media Capable

  • Video editing
  • Audio editing
  • Podcast ready
  • YouTube Friendly
preferences_desktop_keyboard Physical Keyboard

  • External keyboard capable
  • Physical attachment
  • Bluetooth connection
1360883378_Library_Black E Reader Ready

  • Multi format capable
  • Annotation capable
  • Read access from Network Drive (required less storage space)

Player Volume
Audio

  • Dolby 5.1 output
  • Universal mic input (built in condenser)
camera_video Camera

  • Still & Video ready
  • 8 Mega Pixel
  • Front and back
usbflashcardwithcardreader2 USB & Memory ports

  • Expandable SD memory slot
  • Easy connect micro USB
  • Compatible with all operating systems
  • Transfer files by drag and drop
  • Great for pushing out network images
1360998829_battery_two_thirds Battery Life

  • 10+ hour battery life
1361003386_money_bag Cost

  • 16G $250
  • 32G $350
  • Institutional lease options
  • Bulk purchase discounts

Cool Eh! And then I woke up.

Device makers have yet to come to grips with what educators need out of a digital device.

I am quite certain that an educator, has never been involved in the design of any tablet on the market today. The utility of the tablet as a classroom device, continues to be more of a function of marketing than design.

The classroom is a flexible, ever-changing and frequently unpredictable place and as such, digital devices need to be able to keep up and roll with the needs of the student and teacher as they arise. The confines of a device’s limitations or lack there of, is the true measure of its value as a learning tool.

A multinational’s vision of what a classroom should look like, matters not. We need to remember, they are selling devices not education. What I have listed above is what I need as a teacher in a dynamic digitally driven classroom. I don’t care about proprietary posturing and protection of trade secrets. Give me something that does what I want it to do, when I want it done. No restrictions, no workarounds, just pure unadulterated classroom utility.

Happy Weekend.

Reader Additions To The Ultimate Tablet

people Multi User Profiles

  • User profiles that are not tied to network
  • Provide different access and rights to groups or individuals
  • Student – Teacher – Parent

Shared by @_valeriei & @KEgilsson

Radix_SmartClass_Teacher_students_laptops_control_management_small

image credit Radix Management

Classroom Management Tools

  • Control and manage a class set of devices
  • Push out content to class simultaneously
  • interact and evaluate with students on the fly

Shared by Michael from Radix classroom management system

 

 

Feb 032013
 

Got my hands on a new Surface RT this week. Found it just sitting there on my Principal’s desk doing nothing, so I absconded with it. Actually, being a charitable fellow, Le Grand Fromage let me have it so I could give it a good going over. So I present to you, the Microsoft Surface – Ed Tech Smack down. I will have it for about a week, during which time, me and my cracker jack team of digital device experts will put the device through its paces.

The Testing Team

SONY DSC

Grumpy old dad Seasoned Educational Technology Expert with a keen eye for innovative design and application

Crazy 14-year-old Emerging Ed Tech aficionado who has a knack for finding practical Ed Tech solutions for herself and classmates.

Tenacious 10-year-old Ready willing and able to lay thumpin on the 14-year-old to get equal time on the household digital devices. Budding Blogger and Ed Tech neophyte

The First 24 hours

Grumpy Old Dad

Really like the look and feel of the surface. Doesn’t feel cheap and has some heft to it. The iPad… Well it is the iPad what more is there to say that hasn’t already been said

After trying to set up my user profile on the surface, I thought to myself “Man the iPad is Fisher Price Simple” but here is the thing. The iPad is a one person device. You set it up the way you like it quick and easy and it is a reflection of that one user. The surface on the other hand, might not be Fisher Price Simple BUT you can set up multiple users on one device.

This makes me think the surface would be a better device for a school, which might have dozens of different users, especially districts that are running on a Microsoft Network. With the surface you can set up workgroups and other useful multi user functions, especially if your organization is running a Share Point Network. (SPN) This leads me to the second important distinction between the iPad & Surface.

Historically, Share Point did not to play nice with Apple products. It would drive me nuts when kids using an Apple product couldn’t access my online classroom. With the most recent version of Share Point however, Apple users can navigate through an SP site without too much trouble BUT with that said. The iPad still has some annoying issues with scrolling and rendering a SP site. The Surface on the other hand has full functionality in a SP environment.

Once I set up my profile and visited my Share Point classroom, I figured I would grab Google Chrome and load it onto the Surface. Unfortunately Chrome does not have a Windows Surface RT version… I assume it is coming but for now I am stuck with Windows Exploder.

After I mucked about trying to get Chrome loaded on the surface, I had to get to an Online meeting so I tried to load the Blackboard Collaborate applet and lo and behold… No applet for the Windows Surface RT operating system.

I see a theme building here…

14 Year old

  • “COOL! Is that the new Windows thingy? Can I play on it!?”
  • “Keyboard is cool but it is weird”
  • “Too much moving around to get to stuff”
  • “The corners are too sharp”
  • “WHAT! Angry birds is $4.99?”

10 Year old

  • “What is that?… Oh cool!… Where is the iPad?”

48 Hours

I am a little less pleased with the surface at the moment. It is almost like the Surface tries to be too much, both a tablet and a computer. As such, it is not Fisher Price simple like the iPad. Perhaps it will just take some time to unlearn Apple and get the functions of the Surface burned into my thick skull.

A couple other negatives I discovered in the past 2 days. I haven’t found a decent twitter app and Internet Explorer wants to render everything in compatibility mode. Both are little things but very annoying, sorta like a thorn in your sock that you can’t track down.

What I do like about the Surface is that I can upload documents into Edmodo with it, something that has been a Royal Pain in my backside with the iPad since I started using it in the classroom. As user-friendly as the iPad may be up front, it is far too restrictive when it comes to moving YOUR OWN FLIPPING FILES! around. The old “Apple way or the highway” thing gets a bit wearing when you are trying to get work done. This is something that the Surface does not do to you. Need to put a file someplace, no Problem! Just like a regular computer.

I also found that I liked the sound quality of the Surface when the kids discovered the live streaming radio feature. It is part of the Xbox live integration on the device. I have a deluxe Xbox live membership, so all the cool features available to me on the TV, are now available on the surface. Kinda nifty!

The last thing on today’s list is the keyboard cover combo. I like the ergonomics of it but I don’t really like the feel of the keyboard but with that said, it is better than having to pack around a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. My dislike of the touch and feel of it is probably more a function of 30 years of using real keys. I don’t even like my Macbook keyboard. I like big, stiff, noisy keys like those on an old Hewlett Packard electric typewriter. The kind that you can actually feel the mechanical parts clicking and clacking under your fingertips. Ahhh Those were the good old days.

14 Year old

  • “I still can’t believe that angry birds is $4.99!”
  • “I like how Google Docs is exactly like it is on the computer, using the surface. I hate trying to work on Google docs with the iPad, it doesn’t work right!”
  • “I don’t like the onscreen keyboard, getting to the numbers is stupid! Why can’ they all be lined up on the top like the iPad keyboard?”

10 Year old

  • “It works good with my classroom blog but I didn’t type anything in so I don’t know if that works or not”
  • “I like the music streaming! I can listen while I play Cut The Rope.”
  • “I don’t like how the on-screen number pad works, it is weird that you have to change keyboards to get to the numbers”
Oct 242011
 

I have been batting this blog post around in my head for some years now. The reason I took so long to put it down, is that I could never quite find the right way approach what I had to say and the reason for this is two fold. One, in order to lend some credence to what I had to say, I would have to have a bit of a coming out and second, what I have to say will probably offend or perhaps even anger some folks.

First, lets get to the coming out part.

Most people who know me, are aware that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Actually, all it takes is abut five minutes of conversation with me to come to this realization but my close friends know that I have a couple cognitive deficits which have made me the bumbling but lovable fool, I am today. In today’s world we refer to deficits like mine as “Learning Disabilities” but the pedagogical term for it back in the day was “dumb as a post”. In keeping with this less than flattering label, I regularly joke that my nick name when I was a kid was Special K. but in actual fact, most things I have been called over the years are far worse.

Fortunately we have come a long way in education since the 1970′ & 80′s and today most people realize that there are any number of legitimate neurological reasons that can make learning difficult for some. We also have a myriad of instruments with which we can identify cognitive deficits today and as a result, we treat kids who don’t learn nun too good with a little more respect and understanding. What is more, it is from this place of respect understanding, that educators have become much better equipped to address the learning differences of all the kids they teach. Unfortunately, even with everything we have learned since the dark ages of education, we still struggle with ensuring kids engage in learning.

I can’t help but ask myself, how did I manage to make it through in spite of my difficulties? and why, in this amazing world of advancements in brain research, educational innovation and technological tools, are kids still struggling in school?

I would like to think the answer can be found along the long and winding road I have travelled to my mediocre but happy place in this world. It is not just one thing but a collection of people and events which allowed me to become a functional person in this world, in spite of what were my learning issues. What follows are what I consider to be the key people and events in my life, which allowed me to engage in learning and move forward, while others did not.

Failing Grade 4 was a biggie but I will be the first to admit it was necessary. Had I not been held back, I am certain I would have suffered far more significant issues in my life then the slightly bruised self esteem I suffered for all of about 2 weeks into grade four part II. To this very day, I tell my students at the beginning of the year that without failure there is no learning and that failing once in a while is good for them… It builds character.

Mrs. Macdonald Was a lovely woman. Based on my foggy memory, she was about 90 years old and use to work with me and another kid who was “dull” like me. She was the first person to mention the term Dyslexia to my mother and I and suggested that this might just be the reason I have so much trouble reading, writing and doing arithmetic. It was the early 70′s and although Dyslexia had been identified decades before and considered a medical condition, it wasn’t until around this time that it was considered a learning issue which should be addressed in the education system.

My Mother worked tirelessly at all things, including me. She spent hours every week, drilling me on spelling, math and reading. Never did she illustrate her frustration with my inability to grasp the simplest of facts, even though she had to be dumbfounded at how thick I seemed to be. This was long before the notion of don’t try harder, try differently so it was a long hard haul to grade 12.

Being Polite, Respectful & Trustworthy opened doors for me which would not have been opened even if I was smart. People liked me because of these three things and with that, I got opportunities to prove myself in other ways. I remember having to work a BINGO for my high school cycling club along with a dozen other 16 – 17 year olds. Some nights when our teacher sponsor wasn’t there to take home the deposit for the night, I would be given the task to take it home and bring it to school the next day. Some nights it was in excess of $20,000 and I was trusted with it! In my mind that was saying something about me, which was far more important than an A on a report card.

Mrs. Arnold had been teaching in my high school forever. She taught my eldest brother who was 14 years my senior and he said she was ancient when he was there. She was mean, tough and from what I had been told a damn good math teacher but I never got to find out. On the second day of class she met me at the door and told me that I was not welcome in her class, that I would be nothing more than a labourer and that I didn’t need math to dig ditches so I needed to go and drop her class. Although I despise that woman to this very day, this was perhaps the single most motivating experience of my life.

A Different Time & Place had a big part in the direction I took. I had two no Bull Shit parents and I knew that I would not be living out of their back pocket for long if I wasn’t in school. Simply put, counting on them to look after me was not going to fly. I also grew up in a time when it was still possible to make a living with a shovel in my hand or working in the oil field as a Rig Pig. Because of this dynamic I knew that doing nothing was not an option but if I tried something and failed school wise, I could always make my way as a labourer some place.

University of Alberta LD Guinea Pig, After a year of upgrading Chemistry and Math at Alberta College while working at Tip Top Tailors, I got accepted as an unclassified student at the University of Alberta. I was only allowed to take one course and ONLY if I participated in the University’s new Learning Disabilities Project. I was interviewed, tested and participated in two evening group sessions every week for a year. It was here I learned that I did not actually have dyslexia but there were a couple other issues that were causing my problems. Most importantly, there were people who I met that were far more “LD” than I and they were getting their degrees so why not me?

The Introduction of word processing was HUGE for me and my academic success. I am convinced that without it, I would have never made it. As clumsy as the early computers were, anything was better than the illegible scrawl that I called writing. Although I was never tested for dysgraphia at the University of Alberta, (not sure it existed as a label at the time) I am sure this would have been added to my list of challenges.

My Parents, although they are bringing up the end of this list, they are certainly not the least important. Although they never gave up on me, they did something even more important. Even though they knew I had difficulties learning. They never made excuses for me, they never allowed me to give up and most importantly, they praised effort over marks. The last one is of critical importance and waaaaaaaaay ahead of their time. As research now tells us, praising effort is more important than the grade. I learned that effort, is the single most important element to success. It didn’t matter if I brought home an F or a C+, if I tried my hardest then it was all good.

So what is my point?

Well as the Blog post title would suggest, at some point, we are going to talk about why kids are failing to Engage In Learning? It is a question which I consider daily and I firmly believe that part of the answer can be found in my own experience as a “Learning Disabled” kid who bumbled through a school system that did not identify, never mind accommodate learning differences in students.

Now that I have established where it is I come from, the next post will be about some of my thoughts on Engaging Learning in what is a much better school system then I ever knew.