29 April 2011


Not great circumstances, but at least I have something about which I can write. I've not had much to say over the last couple of months, but this needs to be said.

Don't you hate change? I mean I REALLY DISLIKE IT.

We usually all have our faculty meetings in the mornings, on the first Thursday of the month. We never have them in the library after school. The last two times we have had them in the afternoon, in the library, it was because a faculty member had passed away or had gone missing. So, when a meeting was called, we thought, "Nah. Not again. This is just going to be the debrief of the first week of testing." We'll just do some good things, have a few positive comments, and start the weekend. Wrong.

Our head principal informed us that he will be leaving to become the head principal at another school. Let me remind you, I HATE CHANGE.

I have been teaching for 4 years. I have been at Putnam City High School the entire time. I did my student teaching at Putnam City High. I had the head principal as a professor for one of my undergraduate classes. He is the only principal who has ever interviewed me. He is the only person who has been the example a head administrator for my entire teaching career. He's even going to be my professor for the final class of my Master's program. Maybe there is a little irony there or maybe it's just coincidence.

Publicly, I would like to say, Thanks Dr. Wentroth for your leadership of Putnam City High School. Thanks for being willing to take a stand to support students, even when it wasn't popular or got you into trouble. Thanks for being willing to encourage the legislature to change the law regarding the amount of time we have to be in class so we could institute Friday tutoring. Thanks for being a leader and sometimes letting your anger show when parents act like idiots concerning their kids. (I personally think kids need to know that educators support them when parents are stupid, but that's just me.) Thanks for being a mentor and believing in my abilities even when I didn't think I had what it took to accomplish my goals and dreams. Thanks for encouraging me and always being there with a smile and a kind word. Thanks for your words of encouragement when I did something you thought was special or "over and above". Thanks for being the captain of our ship when we were in rough waters or fair. Thanks for being someone students (especially my own children) could talk to and know you would listen. Thanks for being someone who recognized that even though you can't make everyone happy, doing what is best for students is always the right answer. Finally, thanks for being someone who helped me to see what being an educator looks like.

Bethany High School, you need to know you are getting the best principal in the State of Oklahoma. I just hope you guys can convince him to wear your Purple Broncho clothing because he will always be a Black and Orange Pirate to us!

21 April 2011

Student Engagement vs. Teacher Engagement

One of the issues I've been struggling with over the last month or so is student engagement. However, at this time of year, I think it only fitting that we ask the question, is student engagement related to teacher engagement? Are my students less engaged as a result of something I am doing? Am I really giving 100% to ensure that students are learning at the highest level? I recognize students bear a significant responsibility to meet me in the middle and engage in the learning process. But what if they feel they are having to walk the extra mile to make that happen? What if they feel that we are so distracted by testing that they refuse to even get on the dance floor?

I'm fascinated by the idea that we are in a relationship with our students. We have a responsibility to design lessons that will draw students out, to give them some cognitive dissonance, and challenge what they have been taught and think they believe. Some students will not even pick up the bat, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't give them a little bit of chatter from the outfield.

04 April 2011

computational thinking: a digital skill for everyone

I grabbed the first periodical I could find for this article review. I wish I could say I headed directly to a journal I knew I could connect to the learning objectives for our course, Long Range Planning. I ended up finding Computational Thinking: A Digital Skill for Everyone, (Barr, Harrison, & Conery, 2011). Since my focus of education is technology integration, I am very interested in objective number 4, “Understanding the Characteristics of a 21st Century School.”

The article summarizes Computational Thinking as a way of “solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science,” and refers to an article by Jeanette Wing from 2006 in the Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery. The ideas in this article are even more interesting to me because I am fascinated by the idea of computer-human interface and how we interact with machines. But I digress.

If there is going to be a fundamental in the way we do business in education, our spaces are going to have to be conducive to some informal thinking in the ways described in this article. Students will have to have spaces in which they can think, draw, sketch, collaborate, and analyze. Many of the problems described in this article are open-ended and very difficult to solve. In fact, some of these problems may not have known solutions. This means students will have to have the ability and confidence to deal with complex problems, be persistent in finding a reasonable solution, be able to tolerate ambiguity, and the capability to communicate their solutions and ideas to other students. This may be over the web through web 2.0 tools such as Skype, GoogleChat, or through a wiki. This means they will need a space with wired or wireless access, whiteboards for face-to-face collaboration and tables on which they can spread out their work.

Nothing in this article alludes to a classroom in which students sit in rows, face the front, and have information delivered from a lectern; the article talks about skill development, specifically collaboration, communication, and analysis. When I read about this kind of work with students, visions of a casual, informal space come to mind. Students are free to work, research, experiment, and communicate in the same space. There is not a separate lab in which they work and a separate room for lecture. Students would also need a small space for presentations. Maybe something with a few chairs situated around a Smartboard on which their information could be projected and used for brainstorming activities. This ideal classroom would encourage decision-making. It would allow teachers to differentiate learning, and encourage analytical thinking.

A change in education is going to require a re-design of where students work. They will expect to have information “talked-down” to them if we continue to have rows of desks facing the front. Multi-use spaces should be considered if we are going to expect students to use multiple skills. Actually what I have just described is my ideal classroom. I have moved away from the rows this year. I am resistant to that change (or any change) because my personality loves rows, but it was a conscious decision to begin to move towards a student-centered classroom. Our classroom now has 7 small groups of desks arranged facing each other instead of rows facing a Smartboard. As I tell my students, you cannot eat an elephant in one bite, you have to take tiny bites. My re-arrangement was a very small bite. A classroom as described above would be the entire herd of elephants!

It's nice to think about what you would have in your ideal classroom. What would you do?


Barr, D., Harrison, J., and Conery, L. (2011, March/April). Computational Thinking: A Digital Age Skill for Everyone. Learning and Leading with Technology, 38 (6), pp. 20-23.

Wing, J., (2006) Computational Thinking. Communication of the ACM. 49, pp. 33–35.